Saturday, November 7, 2009

Cooking up Creativity

Last rose of summer in November!
Powder Biscuit rolls, we ate the cake.

The holidays are roaring towards us, laden with expectations and promises and angst. First up (at least for my U.S. readers) is Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is the easiest holiday for me. Perhaps it's because it has the fewest expectations, promises and angst--and most of them are around food, or rather the creation of food. In my experience, many if not most creative people enjoy making stuff, in this case, food.

For example, my dad, an artist, adored making fudge. He never ate sweets, but every couple of months he'd make an enormous, vast amount of fudge, two to four pounds of the sweet stuff. He'd use all the best ingredients and spend hours creating pan after pan. When it had cooled, he'd take a tiny square to taste and make sure it worked. The rest of us ate the rest.

I've wondered about why he made fudge and have come to the conclusion that he enjoyed the process. He enjoyed using myriad ingredients, sometimes in new and different ways. And when those new and different ingredients and ways didn't work, he'd toss the batch out and start over (even if we wanted to eat the experiment). Because it was only fudge, only took a limited amount of time, and unlike his art work, was not going to go up for sale, he played while he created.

This is transferable to our creative work. When I remember, during process, to play, to try new ingredients and new ways, and to be willing to toss the entire batch out, I'm much more creative. I'm more likely to get into the flow of the work, instead of slogging through page after page.

I wish I had my dad's fudge recipes, but they were all in his head. Instead, in honor of the big food festival, follows are two recipes, both easy and delicious.

Here's a baking powder biscuit recipe:

2 cups white flour (can be unbleached)
1 teas. baking powder (I use more)
pinch of salt (omittable)
5-6 tablespoons of any oil or fat (I use canola)
2/3 c. of milk (soy ok)

Mix, dough will be stiff, I usually don't bother to roll into roll shape, 'cause I like 'em weird, but feel free to roll your dough.400 degrees for 15 minutes. Done.

Molasses Cake (This is one you can play with a lot, very forgiving.)

1/2 c. molasses (light or dark, your choice)
2/3 c. water
1/2 c. raisins (can be omitted, other dried fruits can be substituted)
1/2 teas. cinnamon
1/2 teas. cloves
1/2 teas. baking soda (I use more)
1 and 3/4 c. white flour

Boil water, combine with molasses and raisins, boil 5 minutes (to soften dried fruit) let cool.
Combine other ingredients together, add mixture.
Spray 8" by 8" pan (or oil and flour) bake in 350 degree oven for 45 minutes.

I use more of the spices listed above and often add ginger and nutmeg, sometimes even a touch of chili powder. I often add a half cup of chocolate bits and/or a half cup of nuts. This cake is a little dry and not terribly sweet, so sometimes I melt chocolate bits on the top for a quick frosting and sometimes I frost the cake, depending on mood. Plain, this makes a good breakfast cake.

So, dear readers, what are your favorite recipes for creativity? How do you bake up a wonderful novel or painting or song or?


Jennifer Shirk said...

Mmm, those recipes look good. But where's your dad's fudge recipe? :)

Conda Douglas said...

Unfortunately, it was all in his head and he's passed away. He was an artist, not a writer. And he varied it so much I could never figure out the base recipe!

Helen Ginger said...

It sounds like your dad made fudge as if it were a piece of art. He wanted perfection and loved sharing it with others who appreciated it.

You seem to be quite a bit like your dad when it comes to cooking. You give us the recipe for the Molasses Cake, then tell us you add different stuff to it.

Straight From Hel

Enid Wilson said...

We don't have thanksgiving in Australia so it's great to learn about your tradition.

Bargain with the Devil

Conda Douglas said...

Helen, that's so true about my dad and his fudge-making. And my style of recipe sharing drives my sister-in-law nuts because she has a tea shop in Waller County Texas--so every recipe must come out the same!

Conda Douglas said...

Thanks, Enid--and really the holiday is not about food but being grateful--but somehow food sneaks in there...

Carol Kilgore said...

Waller County, Texas???
That's where my mother was born.
Small world.

I've never yet made a biscuit that wasn't heavy and hard as a rock. Can't make piecrust either. Maybe I'll try your recipe.

Your cake sounds good :)

Conda Douglas said...

Carol--pie crust defeats me too. And the secret to the rolls is threefold: extra baking powder, do not work the dough, just plonk down on a cooking sheet, and don't over bake (trust me, I've done all of it wrong).

Swubird said...


THis piece took me way back to the good old days of the fifties and my early childhood. My aunt Mary used to make fudge and I can still conjure up the memory of that delicious fragrance wafting through every room of our small house. I wasn't a big candy eater, but I loved the smell of chocolate fudge.

So, how to bake a piece of creativity? Well I've been using the same writing recipe for as long as I can remember. It's nothing new, it's just what I do.

1. Write rough draft as soon as possible after idea conception.

2. Reshape rough draft into some semblance of a story or poem.

3. Apply fine tuning (edit like crazy).

4. Bake in computer oven for at least two days.

5. Make changes (again, edit like crazy).

6. Read out loud to wife for criticism and correct as necessary ( again, edit like crazy).

5. Return to step 2 and continue until satisfied (wife determines degree of satisfaction).

Yeah! Story or poem finished.

Happy trails.

Conda Douglas said...

Swu--amazing how our memories collide sometimes. And interesting how you "bake." We're all different, although I suspect all writers edit, a lot.

Dave King said...

The rose photo is really lovely. We have a couple of yellow roses that opened only yesterday. I think the coming storms may see them off, though.

What a pity so many holidays are angst-ridden, usually due to expectations. Christmas is the one most loved and dreaded by us.

Kathy McIntosh said...

Wow, that rose is a survivor. And lovely, as well.
I love to bake pies and bread but unlike your father, I love to eat them, as well.
I bake and/or cook a nice meal when my creativity levels seem low; a way to get quick feedback for good results. It's finished, it's good (or not), it gets eaten, and it's gone. Unlike my novel, which takes MUCH longer to finish.

Conda Douglas said...

Good point, Kathy--but perhaps if we could more often consider our creative works as, um, dispensible? Not as a child, an infant to be nurtured, but as something to be baked up that hopefully can be consumed by others--it'd be easier!

Conda Douglas said...

Dave, I agree wholeheartedly, Christmas seems to have all the emotions attached.

Conda Douglas said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Paul D Brazill said...

No connection but just a quicky to say top story at Everyday Weirdness.

Conda Douglas said...

Thanks, Paul--and I get some of my inspiration for very short stories from yours.

Lynda Lehmann said...

Your dad was able to give himself to play and experimentation just for the sake of it. How cool...

Many people have trouble letting go of goal orientation and never experience spontaneity and free exploration. But I think it's the secret of happiness!!

What kind of art did he do?