Category Archives: creativity

Dorie and I calmly brainstorm.

“For years, I wanted to make a cookie that would go with beer. From the start, I knew I wanted it to have pretzels and some cheese. I worked on the cookie on and off and never really got what I wanted. Then one day, when I was making a shellfish recipe that called for Old Bay Seasoning, I had that eureka moment: Old Bay was what was missing. A couple of spoonfuls of that blend, which relies heavily on celery salt, and the cookie came together. Is it good with beer? Yes. But here’s the bonus: The Old Bay makes the cookies a winner with Bloody Marys too.” -Dorie Greenspan, in Dorie’s Cookies.

Frontispiece of Dorie’s Cookies

This fall, I am revisiting my old self of, say, twenty years ago, that woman who would start many weeks in advance to stock the freezer with cookie tins, the contents of which would be revealed in all their corporate glory beginning on Christmas Eve. The first visible sign of the revisit was me taking Dorie’s Cookies off the shelf this morning and perusing a few recipes. I think it is the only book here that is devoted solely to cookies, and when I read the stories of Dorie’s creations I feel that I have a friend in my kitchen. She’s always telling me to “play around.” Yes!

Two pots of ginger broth were simmering on the stove and the aroma lent its warmth to visions of Christmas feasting. That would be the culinary sort of feasting, but its purpose, we must remember, is to celebrate The Feast of the Incarnation; if not for the real presence of the Son of Man among us, we have slight reasons for bothering.

Neapolitans

I don’t drink beer or Bloody Marys, but I hope to make Dorie’s Old Bay Pretzel and Cheese Cookies. I do drink wine occasionally, so some of her other recipes are worth considering, if I were to start up a wine-and-cookie snack tradition. She claims her Garam Grahams are good with beer or red wine, and tells us to bake the Triscuity Bites “with a sprinkle of salt, and start mixing the cocktails or pulling the cork on some sparkling wine.”

Both of those are in the “Cocktail Cookies” section of the book, but also in chapters such as “The Beurre and Sel Collection” or cookies for “Every Day, Any Day,” drinks other than my own traditional milk or tea are suggested as an accompaniment; for example, the Italian Torta Sbrisolona, which Dorie thinks go well with strong drink and a hunk of cheese.

I noticed years ago that reading recipes is for me incredibly relaxing and calming (and it doesn’t make me sleepy the way wine does). It might be that this is partly because it is the first step in that creative process of cooking, and specifically right now, Christmas cookie-baking, that I find so satisfying. I’m brainstorming about this year’s cookie platter, and in this stage of the project there is little effort required, no timers buzzing and no mixing bowls in the sink. No real commitment, only a vast palette to dream over.

Pippin gave me the book several years ago. At least sixteen pages have post-it notes stuck on by me, suggestions to myself, and there is a note about Kit having made the apple bars when she lived here. Dorie’s Cookies has provided hours of fodder for musing and researching — but I don’t think I have used one recipe! 2021 just might be the year to begin.

I find the oomph in flowers and prose.

My first sewing teacher used to tell me that she found sewing relaxing. I have never become skilled enough that I ever found that to be true for me. Even when I generally derived great satisfaction from sewing darling doll clothes, my neck would get stiff doing the tiny hand stitches at the end. It would never occur to me to pick up a needle and thread for fun or sustenance, during the days of preparation for a big expedition.

My usual way is to endanger my overall health by snacking and forgoing exercise as I become more anxious about setting off, so I was surprised at myself for taking several walks this week. This morning I even walked the whole two miles of what was formerly my daily routine. I saw a family of quail, and some old favorite plants, but it was too early for the bees.

And now here I am working on yet another blog post, after reading and thinking and perusing this and that… one might think it a pretty inefficient use of my limited time, because I am up against looming deadlines. But, I am finding that these activities are as necessary to my overall well-being as the walking is to my legs and back — sometimes I think they are more so.

Evidently there is something about engaging in creative activity that is calming, and clears the mind. The preparations for a big social event also constitute a creative work, but that one is not my favorite, and requires a lot of extra oomph, plus a type of thinking that is a stretch for me. So I sustain myself with words and flowers. 

My first Love-in-a-Mist flower bloomed today! This was a Big Event, a project that started off with my longstanding admiration for these flowers, and a desire to grow them myself. It took years, and the donation of seeds from two friends, and then a couple more years, before I got them planted in the greenhouse in the spring. I put them in three different places in the garden, and hope that they will self-sow at least a little and keep themselves going from now on.

All the white echinacea are standing up tall and elegant, not losing their gracefulness even when the overeager asparagus fronds drape themselves on them.

When the sunflower that the bee sleepers were using began to fade, they rearranged themselves on others. The three above were seen yesterday morning, but last night and today, no bees at all were bedded down in the open — only this small creature was nestled in a sunflower bud:

I am traveling next week, driving nearly to the bottom of the state, which I’ve never done before. My trip will involve lots of visiting with friends and family, a wedding, and a mountain cabin. I hope to tell you about some of the bloggy details as they emerge, but once I’ve torn myself away from my desktop and my garden, there’s no telling what might happen!

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!