Category Archives: creativity

Poetic cooking while in fetters.

coconut curry with garbanzos

Since my husband’s death three years ago I’ve had three long-term housemates. Two of them have moved on, so that Susan and I are the only ones here, just two of us using the cupboards and large freezer space. This situation dovetails with my own less-burdened mind, which  now is able to grasp:

Yes! The obvious thing is to clean out the larder, use up the food, and start planning and cooking interesting meals with all the bits of this and that squirreled away. Facing up to what is unusable is part of the process; the soup that got lost in the back of the freezer for too long is one of the hidden costs associated with huge life changes, and is not a cause for guilt.

kasha (buckwheat)

Chesterton’s wisdom on creativity always helps me: Thrift is the really romantic thing; economy is more romantic than extravagance…  economy, properly understood, is the more poetic. Thrift is poetic because it is creative; waste is unpoetic because it is waste. It is prosaic to throw money away, because it is prosaic to throw anything away; it is negative; it is a confession of indifference, that is, it is a confession of failure.

The most prosaic thing about the house is the dustbin, and the one great objection to the new fastidious and aesthetic homestead is simply that in such a moral menage the dustbin must be bigger than the house. If a man could undertake to make use of all things in his dustbin he would be a broader genius than Shakespeare.

Another development since I returned from India is that I can’t go back to the weird eating habits I had fallen into as soon as I no longer had anyone to cook for routinely. Eating normally and very tastily for eight weeks cured me forever, I think, of my go-to frozen chopped spinach that I had been eating as the main part of every meal. Yesterday I used the last of it with a little container of likewise defrosted meaty red sauce and a (fresh) egg, to make a perfect breakfast:

These limitations I have placed on myself made me remember other things Chesterton said about art and painting and limits, and that led me on an interesting path through fields of quotes on the topic. Talk about limits and people will argue that they only exist in your mind, and must be “dropped,” if you are “to go beyond them into the impossible.” Even Winston Churchill is reported to have said, “The vistas of possibility are only limited by the shortness of life.” But he wasn’t trying to get dinner on the table in an hour.

Modern man seems especially prone to this delusion, but there are many sage exceptions, like Robert Browning: “So free we seem, so fettered fast we are!”

In matters of food and cooking, even if you had unlimited money you have limited time, and limits on whom you might find to prepare the ingredients, the choice of which is always limited to some degree, and on and on. I know you all know these things; this is my philosophical rambling you’re reading.

“Untitled” by Richard Diebenkorn

I am not advocating for an unhealthy fear of trying something new, but actually the opposite. As George Braque said, “It is the limitation of means that determines style, gives rise to new forms and makes creativity possible.”

And though Richard Diebenkorn was talking about painting, this word from him is empowering when considered at the beginning of any creative work: “My freedom will be so much the greater and more meaningful, the more narrowly I limit my field of action and the more I surround myself with obstacles.”

Yesterday I found several very ripe bananas in the freezer, and I did not want to waste them, even if their monetary value at purchase was minimal. You can imagine what they looked like after being there for a while; I’m sure I couldn’t have found a neighbor who wanted them. Anyway, part of my “style” is to stay home. I avoid going shopping, and knocking on doors for any reason. If only I had got my hoped-for worm bins set up, I would have given them to the worms!

But various baking supplies were sitting in the refrigerator begging to be used, so I put everything together into an unusual banana bread. It started from a “paleo” recipe with almond flour, but when I substituted egg replacer for the eggs I created a Grain-Free Vegan Chocolate Chip Banana Bread.

It is a work of super enjoyably edible art!

The cabbage white lurches honestly.

FLYING CROOKED

The butterfly, the cabbage white,
(His honest idiocy of flight)
Will never now, it is too late,
Master the art of flying straight,
Yet has — who knows so well as I? —
A just sense of how not to fly:
He lurches here and here by guess
And God and hope and hopelessness.
Even the aerobatic swift
Has not his flying-crooked gift.

-Robert Graves

First I laughed out loud, and I know I was laughing at myself, because the poet had already communicated to me in the poem what he is quoted as saying at the bottom of the page of Poem A Day Volume 3: “Robert Graves discussed this poem in an unposted letter of 1933; he lamented that scientists ‘fail to understand that the cabbage-white’s seemingly erratic flight provides a metaphor for all original and constructive thought.’”

This particular cabbage white of whom I found a photo seems to be resting on a flower very similar to the one my recent honeybee was drinking from.

Neapolitans–the cookie

Just a long-ago Christmasy post for this season!

Gladsome Lights

I’ve made these exotic Italian cookies the last two Christmases before this one. Not this year. But they are so pretty, I’m going to post the photos for your enjoyment–and the recipe, too. I got the recipe from a library book ages ago and don’t know where to give credit.

I looked at scads of other Neapolitan recipes on the Internet–I forget why–and they were all dreadfully inferior. This one uses two different doughs, each with many tasty ingredients, whereas the others I saw used just one fairly simple dough that just had different food colorings added. This one also has no food coloring other than what is in the candied fruits.

Neapolitans

These Italian cookies present an interesting way of making icebox cookies. They are dramatic and unusual. You will make two entirely separate recipes for the dough—and it must chill overnight.

DARK DOUGH

3 cups sifted all-purpose flour

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Again I attempt Ukrainian art.

gl P1040397 pysanky in house 16Under the Soviet regime the making of pysanky was forbidden as a religious practice, but as this art form had pre-Christian beginnings and had spread well beyond Ukraine by the 20th century, it by no means was repressed for long.

In my world there is no connection of Ukrainian pysanky eggs to the realities of Christian faith and practice, though over the centuries people have come to use eggs as symbols of many truths or events. Many artists in my parish have through the years given informal instruction in this wax-resist method of dyeing eggshells, and this spring between Holy Week services I was able to take advantage of a class in which I was the only student.

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About 15 years ago…

Twice before, about 30 years ago and again 15 years ago, I took part in homeschool group efforts to try this art — the more recent occasion I actually organized the class! — and both times I’d enjoyed the process much more than the quality of my own results. A few of the pysanky in the top picture are from those attempts, but the only one I am certain I created myself is the one I did last week; the bowl of eggs is a combination of my collection and housemate Kit’s.

Pysanky2011
From the Internet

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You use the same method that is called batik: you dye the egg and then apply a design in beeswax over that color in the places you want it to appear in the final product. As someone said, you have to think in reverse.

I’m not good at remembering a strategy with a sequence of steps to be taken in the future, or in reverse either, so without a lot of planning and notes to myself, which I didn’t want to take the time for, the results I get are pretty random and surprising.

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At least, following my teacher’s example, I did draw a design with pencil on my eggshell. Several hours stretched ahead of me, but I knew I could easily get bogged down in the design phase — my weak area — and never get an egg made, so I sketched something like I often doodle when talking on the phone, and even that wasn’t quick. Then I dipped my egg in the lightest color, yellow.

Because I had drawn those crosses and dots on the plain white egg, using the hot wax pen called a kistka, the wax would keep the successive layers of dye from infusing the egg shell and those areas would remain white in the finished design.P1040314

As I continued applying wax, whatever lines went on the now-yellow egg would remain yellow. And so on through whatever dippings I made.

My teacher Tatiana had told me at the outset, “It takes about two hours to make a pysanka.” I think hers each took less time than that. It seemed that by the time I had dipped my egg in two colors, she had finished hers. It had been a light brown egg to begin with, so the undyed triangles are creamy.

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She applied some metallic color with a pen to make her design even more brilliant.

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I dipped my egg in the red dye, and she began her second design:

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Meanwhile, when she learned that I would like a purple color, Tatiana suggested a series of immersions in colors that she thought might bring about that result, as she lacked a straight purple dye in her collection of jars. I tried it and we were both very pleased with this deep and glowing shade which, when I took the picture below, I was in process of covering with wax as much as possible in hopes of retaining a good amount of it in my finished design.P1040329My teacher was removing the wax from her second egg, and soon I had done my final dip of black and held my egg to the candle as well.

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At this point it’s back and forth between melting patches of wax with the candle heat and rubbing it off with a paper towel, until you have worked your way all around the egg and only the dyed eggshell remains. I was warned not to hold the egg too long near the candle, because I might burn it.

Here is Tatiana’s second egg, with some silver metallic embellishments…

 

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And here is mine… It had taken me nearly four hours!

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I don’t like it very much, I’m sorry to say. I would not use that green color again in such a prominent part of the design. And I know, I should try some curved lines next time. I hope my next time is sooner than another 15 years from now — I’m sure my hand will be even less steady by then. And once again, even though I am not thrilled with the end product, the whole process is like magic to me, the design hidden more deeply step by step until finally the waxy black cloak is taken away and the final picture is revealed in its uniqueness. Let’s do this some more!