Sunday, December 6, 2009

Feeding the Creative Mind

by Caren Crane

I've noticed I blog about food a lot. I hope you will bear with me as I trip down this well-won path again, since we're supposed to write about what we know. *g* I love to cook, which is a tremendously creative occupation. I know I'm not alone, either. Among the Banditas and Bandita Buddies there is a powerful store of culinary talent.

It struck me recently that my husband, while enthusiastic at times, is...well...not very creative in the kitchen. He has invented a couple of great recipes. As in, two. One is his Chicken a la Ronnie. It features soy sauce, seasoned salt and lots of ginger and it is absolutely DIVINE.

His other culinary masterpiece is a mashed sweet potato concoction that is wonderful as well (though he tends to get carried away with the cinnamon). When faced with the contents of the kitchen cabinets and refrigerator and 30 minutes until the teenagers begin to self-digest, he tends either tell them to eat cereal or call Papa John's.

I, on the other hand, can whip up something tasty with only a few minutes of planning and aome creative thinking. I explained to my husband that to me, the contents of the cabinets and fridge sort of float in a cloud over my head and I mentally sift through them until a semblance of a meal begins to emerge. Once I make some important connection (like, leftover turkey + chicken broth + half and half + spices = curried turkey), I am off and running. I can improvise around things I don't have and brainstorm side dishes from leftovers, canned goods and vegetable drawer rejects. He gave me and my cloud idea an odd look.

Then I realized it is the same way with my writing. I usually get an idea for a character or a scene first, then I let it marinate a while. I start to get a sense for who the main character is and the kinds of problems she has. Then I think about what kind of family she comes from, what kind of work she does, what her ambitions are. If I have an idea for a scene, I may play with different ways she got into the scene and what could happen afterward.

All those possibilities hover in a cloud in my head and I wait, patiently, until something connects and things start to make sense to me. I have no idea how those connections are made or where they come from. They simply emerge from the mist and I try to grab them and get them on screen or paper or a scrap of a napkin or my hand before they evaporate.

Fiction is challenging because there are an endless number of things that could happen. Choosing the best ones, narrowing all those choices down to one great one, is the hard work of writing.

Maybe cooking is like that for my husband. Maybe he gets overwhelmed with the endless possibilities of all those ingredients staring at him from the shelves. Perhaps the cavalcade of dinner options leaves him stymied and unable to launch into action. Sort of a cook's block, rather like writer's block.

Then again, maybe he just lacks imagination. Except there IS that delectable Chicken a la Ronnie...

What about you? Does your kitchen seem like an endless sea of variety and wonder? Does the potential in a box of beads or a basket of yarn send your creative wheels spinning? What gets your creative juices flowing and feeds your creative mind?


Linda Henderson said...

Mine ?

Linda Henderson said...

Sewing definitely doesn't do it for me, not cooking either. I would say that books get me going.

Virginia said...

Congrats Linda and getting the GR! I don't think cooking does it for me. I cook about every day and planning the meal is the worse part. My problem is the boy here don't like varity or anything different.

I don't thing sewing does it for me either.

Helen said...

Congrats Linda enjoy your day with him

Great blog Caren I too can usually whip something up in the kitchen from what I have at home and they always turn out great but not always the same if I do it again LOL. My Hubby cooks dinner most nights because of the time I finish work and let me say he has no imagination at all we usually have the same things and he constantly rings me at work to remind him what goes in the dinner if I have asked him to make something other than his usual. He has made a dish made with mince that all the kids call Dad's Mince and it is nice.

What gets me going I would say cooking and reading books get me enthused all the time.

Have Fun

Linda Rader said...

I am a recipe follower to the letter, except I change or add one ingredient sometimes. That's how I write too. I am a plotter not a pantser and I take inspiration from other works of fiction thinking if just one aspect was changed how much better or different would it be.

Caren Crane said...

Linda, congratulations! I hope you and the GR have a fun-filled day. WARNING: Do NOT let him help you decorate OR wrap gifts. He always gets carried a bad way.

I can certainly see why books get your creativity going. I think romances, especially, get LOTS of people's minds working overtime! *g*

Caren Crane said...

Virginia, I am SURE there is something that gets your creative spark sparking, surely? I have been through some droughts, but at times it has been embroidery, neeedlepoint, woodworking, leather engraving and a few other things.

The thing that NEVER gets me itching to create? SCRAPBOOKING. Ack! I know others love it, but it makes me twitch. No idea why!

Caren Crane said...

Helen, isn't it interesting what the hubbies get up to when they must? I have no idea what prompted mine to create his chicken recipe, but I am so glad he did!

I think it's nice for them to have something that is just theirs. I have tried to make his chicken a couple of times, but it is never quite the same!

Caren Crane said...

Linda, I like that idea of changing one aspect to make a story better. I often do that with recipes, so why not with fiction? It's like taking the prize-winning recipe and kicking it up a notch. Something else to put in the arsenal, for sure!

Any recipe substitutions or changes that have been especially good for you?

Caren Crane said...

Virginia, picky eaters are really hard on the cook, aren't they? My older daughter had a very limited diet when she was younger. Thank goodness it expanded when she became a teen. Otherwise, she would be even thinner than she is and someone would call Social Services!

Amy C said...

I'm not very creative in the kitchen, but pretty paper gets my creative mind flowing. I've actually been in that creative mode the last week and just posted my second post this morning with the second project my son and I just did over the last few days. I love scrapbooking, working with all the pretties you can buy today and even making your own embellishments. I don't do it much anymore, and when I do get in the mood, I always wonder why I don't still do it regularly. Something about designing page layouts, and cutting paper, and playing with pictures is rather relaxing.

Joan said...

Snapshot moments. Yup, that's what gets my writing creativity going.

Seeing a black haired, blue eyed Irishman working on a stone wall.

Boyfriend and girlfriend exchanging that "special look"

A Daddy's broad, strong hand cradling his daughter.

As to cooking....well, in my case baking....I tweak and experiment on a regular basis. Make it my own.

Now off to church then Christmas shopping....(twitch)

Kirsten said...

Hi Caren! I loved your blog because I am soooo jealous of people who can just throw things together in the kitchen. I have a very limited repetoir (lord, I have no idea how to spell that word) of recipes I can make without looking.

The tough part is that I don't get home from work until about 6, and the husband picks up the kids from after-school care around 5:30 and they are all FAMISHED. So no one has time to cook. I try to make a weekly menu list and grocery shop on Sunday so I know we've got everything we need for the week. I pick recipes that take 30 minutes or less and require very little prep. That narrows our options quite a bit!

So...not a lot of creativity in my meal planning. In my writing, I have to move to plot. I can't plot sitting down. I can't cook and plot because then I leave out key ingredients!

My muse is definitely exercise. I need to keep the body busy, so my mind can wander...

Louisa Cornell said...

Congrats, Linda! I am sure the GR is glad you aren't into cooking!

I think creative types tend to be creative in many aspects of their lives.

I do a lot of needlework, or at least I did before writing took over every free minute of my time! I used to paint and do other crafts and I used to garden as well. One of these days, IF I get to quit the DDJ I will do those things again.

I have to admit that since I started managing a bakery cooking at home is much less appealing. Spend all day cooking bread and decorating cakes and frying donuts and somehow doing anything with a stove just doesn't appeal.

However, once I get home I can throw something together with what is in the kitchen. Sometimes it turns out well. Sometimes ... it's dog food. And sometimes they look at it, walk away and I can hear the doggie version of "No thanks!" going through their heads.

Writing I am more like Joan. I get ideas from historical sources I read, photographs, a phrase, a conversation. I let it swirl around in my head for a bit and hopefully it cooks into something workable.

Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...


I love how your story elements "marinate" in your creative sub-conscious before you can write the story. I have some marinating time is necessary for me too in order to come up with some unexpected twists and turns.

Cooking has never done it for me, and I was happy to let the DH (or anyone else) take over most of those duties. I find the dishes I like to prepare most are the family recipes (mostly my gramma's) that were never written down, just passed along in "learn by doing."

Those baskets of yarn at the end of your post really made my fingers itch! But like Louisa, I seldom find time for any of that stuff any more. It's all about the writing.


Caren Crane said...

Amy C., congrats on the creative energy burst! I love the excitement of a new project or book. Endless possibilities!

I can see why doing layout and design for a scrapbook would be fun. I used to enjoy doing collage and it was the same sort of thing. Using different media, finding interesting shapes and designs, coordinating colors.

I have no idea why scrapbooking itself never appealed. EXCEPT, I went to a "crop" once and I think I got the sense there were a bunch of rules to follow. I know there actually aren't, but the lady leading it was kind of a scrapbook Nazi. Maybe that's why I got a bad taste in my mouth about it. I have a love/hate relationship with rules! *g*

Caren Crane said...

Joan, don't you love the snapshot moment? Though I have no eye for actual photography, those moments get burned in my brain.

A guy giving a girl that "look" I recall so well from my youth. *g*

A woman watching her teenager bustle off with friends with love, frustration, joy and fear all battling on her face.

A little girl fussing at her grandmother for not turning off her cell phone after it rang in church. (Okay, that happened this morning.)

An older brother trying hard not to pound his younger brother when he continually pokes him during church...only because the younger brother has CP. (That happened at church this morning, too.)

Those moments that encapsulate one aspect of a life. They make you think and often get stories ideas popping into my head. I use them in my books all the time. No one would ever recognize them, probably, because they only seemed significant to me. Fun stuff!

Please don't mention Christmas shopping. I am trying to buy as little as possible this year and dialing Christmas back to focus on the hopeful anticipation of Advent. It helps to stay out of the hustle and bustle, especially if you enjoy it!

Caren Crane said...

Kirsten, I love it that exercise frees up your mind. I try to use my exercise time to work on stories, but usually end up working out scheduling issues and figuring out strategies for getting all the parts of my life taken care of.

I hear people say they often have epiphanies in the shower or when they are falling alseep or in a dream. I envy them, because I never have anything useful happen to me at those times. I CAN turn my brain off, but only if I am doing yoga or meditating. That does help clear out the muck and allows me to concentrate more on important things.

Sadly, convincing my brain that the plight of my heroine is an "important thing" is a tough sell some days! *g*

Caren Crane said...

Louisa, I think if I worked in a bakery all day, the LAST thing I would want to do at home is cook! I love cooking, though, because it's completely different from what I do all day.

I can be creative and control all parts of the process and even ask for help if I need it! Very different from my days as a corporate grunt, for sure.

I realized after I started writing that I had given up all my handicrafts. That made me sad, until I figured out that I may have time for them someday if I get to retire.

Watch out, because if I do you will all be getting hand-painted wooden ornaments for Christmas and I may not even be able to see by then! *g*

Caren Crane said...

AC, I have tried to hurry my writing process, but it never works. If I start writing before the story or characters are ready, then I end up tossing it out and starting over. I rewrote 2/3 of one book TWICE, before I finally figured out the real story on the third pass. So really, what's the point or rushing? *g*

If you ever start knitting again, I would gladly take anything you care to knit! I am MAD for scarves and understand those are very forgiving and don't require much concentration. So remember me if your itchy fingers take you to the yarn shop! *g*

jo robertson said...

Interesting post, Caren. I think my creative writing process is quite similar to yours. The different varieties or possibilities and combinations of character and plot sometimes boggle my mind until I settle on the one perfect thing for my story.

I wish my husband's single culinary "masterpiece" were truly mind-blowing, but alas, his is wiennies and noodles. I KNOW!! Such a blow to chefs everywhere.

Caren Crane said...

Jo, I would love to hear what is involved in Dr. Big's weinies & noodles. The mind boggles! Is there a sauce involved? A canned vegetable, perhaps? Are these mere hotdogs or some sort of sausage?

I'm sure he shows his creativity in other ways. Creative betting to finance his golf game, perhaps? *g*

Louisa Cornell said...

Creative golf game to finance his betting?

Caren Crane said...

Ha! Louisa, Jo has led us to believe the betting is financing the golf, but it seems it could work the other way around if one were a good enough golfer. *g*

I wish I were good enough at betting to make money to pay for, say, the RWA conference! That would be a skill worth having. Then again, if I were a handy sort, I'm sure I could knit cute things and sell them. It's all about finding a niche!

As it is, I only want to cook for my family and friends. I'm not sure I would want to cook for other people even if they were paying!

Barbara Monajem said...

My creativity in the the kitchen results in endless varieties of soup. Each one is unique, and surprisingly, most of them are pretty good.

Except for a few tried and true recipes for muffins, biscuits, and the like, I can't follow a recipe worth beans. It's way too tempting to change the ingredients and see what happens. This results in plenty of catastrophes, but I always have fun getting there.

Caren Crane said...

Barbara, you are my soup sister! I love to monkey with soup recipes. Matter of fact, I found one a couple of months ago that I naturally I changed it. *g*

It's a kielbasa and collard green soup, which seems odd but is fantastic. It calls for water, so I use chicken broth. And turkey kielbasa instead of regular. And fresh collard greens instead of frozen. And garlic (which it doesn't call for). And black eyed peas instead of great northern beans.

I made it the other day and had no white potatoes (as usual) so I used diced sweet potatoes. It was even more fantastic than usual!

Yes, soups are an endless playground of creativity. I was also pretty proud of the turkey curry. I have never followed the directions completely on any curry recipe, but it's always great.

PLUS they just did a study that indicated that curry powder (the curcumin in it, actually) helps prevent esophogeal cancer and actually kills esophogeal cancer cells better than chemotherapy. Now THAT is power food!

Deb Marlowe said...

I can attest to the yumminess of Caren's culinary creativity! I keep remembering that yummy chicken salad you threw together--the one with yogurt and cranberries--Mmmm, I'm hungry!

Caren Crane said...

Deb, that is great chicken salad. In case anyone is ever trying to feed Sabrina Jeffries, please note she does NOT eat mayonnaise. She was the motivation behind the chicken salad.

That one was particularly inspired. I used plain yogurt instead of mayonnaise, then threw in flavors I like: celery, dried cranberries, toasted pecans, balsamic vinegar, green onions. I don't have a recipe, although I've tried to write something down to give to other people. I just throw things in until it tastes right to me.

Thank you for the compliment, Deb. Now I want some chicken salad!

Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

Hy Linda! COngrats! Is this the first time the Golden Rooster's come to visit with you?

Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

Hey Posh! What a great blog. I had to LOL about the kitchen skill of your darling DH. Mine seems to be somewhat the same way. Now, he loves to cook - esp on the grill - and he can do just about anything from a recipe, but he has to HAVE the recipe and the ingredients and all that and know in advance that he's going to do it.

Me? I'm more like you. I know what we have. I can put it together and rearrange it in all sorts of ways.

I think it's the "women multitaske better than men" thing. :>

Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

Oh, forgot to say something about that creativity thing. :>

I love all that creative stuff - you know, the craft stuff, the beads, the yarn, the scrapbooking supplies. I don't always do stuff with it in an organized way, but I love to play with it, have it around and make stuff. Grins.

As to ideas, I'm like you. I get a scene or a character's personality in my head, then I have to hustle to get that "gem" down. Sometimes I know immediately what to do with it, sometimes I don't. :>

Caren Crane said...

Jeanne, I think you're onto something with the multitasking. My dh cannot multitask AT ALL, which he readily acknowledges. Sometimes, though, I have a sneaking suspicion that he uses this as a crutch.

I can understand if he can't have something in the oven and a couple of things going on the stovetop and still assemble a salad.

But when he's stressed out by making couscous (which involves boiling water, taking it off the eye and stirring in the couscous, period) while watching the George Foreman grill work its magic (literally, you put the food on and close it, then take the food off when the timer goes off!), I think it's gone too far. *g*

Caren Crane said...

Jeanne, I can't imagine you have time for your fun stuff these days! Sometimes I wish I had time to sit and paint wooden ornaments and resin Santas...

Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

Exactly! I'd love to be able to do that too, Caren. I love painting resin Santas. Grins.

Mostly, I have to set aside a time and do it, just to be sure I keep my sanity. I have to do something besides writing and chasing baseball-playing-boys. :> Although I don't technically scrapbook - Sorry Tawny! - I do vision books and success planning books with all the cool scrapbooking stuff. :>

Cassondra said...

Wooohooo LINDA! Good grab on the Rooster!

Hmmm. Posh T Bandita, now you've got me thinking. I have, only in the past six or seven years, come into my own with food. And that's stretching it a bit, because "coming into my own" would suggest that I know what I'm doing. I don't. I've always wanted to learn to cook well. But the time to focus on it (and I think it does take some focus) was never there. A few years ago I decided to make the time. I needed to eat well on a budget. I was bored with the food I cooked. So I started not only experimenting, but writing it down. And that helped a LOT. So now I wouldn't say there's a cloud of possibilities over my head, but I can usually look through the cabinets and fride and figure out something decent.

As to your my experience, Engineers are not ones to experiment much. Yes, I know you are one. But honestly, you're an anomaly. You are a creative goddess. Engineers, as a rule, play it safe. It's the risk seems to bother them.

You think outside the box WAY too much to be an engineer.

Cassondra said...

Good LORD, where is everyone? The lair is as quiet as I've seen it in a while. The Cabana boys are playing five card draw with the gladiators....

AH yes...It's Christmas Shopping Season. Today is the day when the whole world tries to beat the last-minute crowds. THIS is what makes me twitch....the crowds...the grabbing.....(twitch)

Caren Crane said...

Jeanne, we'll have to talk about success books. Now that I could do!

Caren Crane said...

Cassondra, I can't tell you how much it bothers the dh that I insist on being a creative type. He really doesn't get it. He kind of admires it, though, which is nice. I think engineers are capable of creativity, but it has to be for a reason and make sense. Which sort of isn't what creativity is about. It's a fascinating dichotomy.

I think the only reason I made it through engineering school is because something in each course would capture my imagination. I could see cool possibilities in theories and I loved to think about the sorts of people who came up with these brilliant ideas. They were a bunch of dreamers, for the most part. I think modern engineers are only distant cousins to the renegades who changed the world with their crazy, subversive ideas about science and math.

Caren Crane said...

Cassondra, I'm sorry to say that Demetrius cleaned out the other gladiators in a suspect game of Texas Hold 'Em earlier in the evening. The others started hitting the Wild Turkey and I haven't seen them since.

If I were you, I wouldn't go near the basement tonight. The boys don't really understand Christmas, per say, but they were on about the winter solstice and there was discussion about crowning a snow queen. With your pageant history, Cassondra, you should hide out!