Today on Making Things up for a Living I’m delighted to host a guest blog from fellow Kristell Ink author and a long-term online friend of mine, Lindsey Duncan. Lindsey is a wearer of many hats; as well as being an accomplished SFF writer she’s also a professional Celtic harp performer AND a chef (pastry and regular!). More about her soon-to-be released SF novel Scylla and Charybdis follows below, but I’ll hand you over to Lindsey now, on the subject of creativity and adaptability, and how it can be applied to cooking as well as writing:
If you read my biography, the professional section might seem as if comes out left field: writer, harp performer … and chef? But for me, it’s a natural outgrowth of my creative tendencies. Cooking is very creative, both in the traditional artist sense, and in the more literal sense of the word: it’s about making something, about turning raw ingredients into a satisfying and filling form.
I’m fortunate to be working for a catering business that allows a lot of creative freedom in how dishes are put together. Beyond the basic ingredients and the expectation of the name of the dish – if your “Steak Tartare” is cooked well done, for instance, something is very wrong – I can make whatever alterations and additions I feel would result in the best dish. There’s a compote I make where the secret ingredient is maraschino cherry juice; it adds just the right amount of sweetness while enhancing the color. (Now it’s not a secret! But I won’t tell you what compote it is.)
Even in more regimented kitchens, though, there’s still creativity and adaptability. No dish is exactly the same twice: produce might be larger or smaller, tarter or sweeter; outdoor humidity can creep into the kitchen in a myriad of ways, including flour density; herbs and spices have different intensities depending on age and treatment. A recipe is an outline, not a first draft. If I decide to saute onions just until soft, I end up with a slightly different dish than if I cook them to light golden color.
There’s one area of professional cooking where necessity is the mother of invention. It reduces waste, trims expenses and sometimes, turns out food combinations that might never have been put together otherwise. It’s known as cross-utilization, which is a very dry and formal term for using a product in multiple ways. It’s rooted in practicality and conservation: buying items in bulk is cheaper, and why throw something out when you could find a way to use it?
And that’s where the fun comes in. At my work, for instance, we routinely buy carrots in 25lb bags (sometimes 50lb bags), so we’re always looking for other ways to use them. Carrot chips? Excellent, especially when paired with parsnip chips. Carrot soup? Combine it with fresh cilantro and you have a classic, Indian-inspired British soup (though they usually call the herb coriander). I haven’t made carrot halwa yet – a type of Middle Eastern pudding – but it’s on my mental list. Our carrot cake includes dates, which we buy in bulk for another recipe. They add a darker, more contrasting note of sweetness than the traditional golden raisins would.
Working on two unrelated desserts recently left me with various components. I squinted at the whipped cream, bananas, chocolate pudding, peanut butter cream … and had a brainstorm. Candied some bacon, and lo and behold: an Elvis trifle, inspired by his favorite sandwich.
Cross-utilization is also making use of many parts of the product as possible. Again, it starts with the practical: a whole chicken breaks down into bones for stock, the breasts for grilled chicken breast, thighs and legs for soups and stews … and, of course, chicken wings! But the outer leaves of brussels sprouts (yes, that’s proper pluralization) taste excellent roasted: they turn into crispy chips with an enticing bitter bite.
Sometimes, we experiment, and sometimes it doesn’t work out. On a whim at home, I attempted to turn sweet barbecue sauce into ice cream. It tasted about as strange as you would expect the description to. On the other hand, a coworker and I combined two sauces we had made independently for different dishes, added eggs for thickener, and created a filler for palmiers, folded pastry fans. It was the perfect blend of sweet and savory.
That’s just a snapshot of creativity in the kitchen and how cross-utilisation comes to the rescue.
Lindsey says :
I have been writing fantasy since my fingers first touched the keys at the age of eight. My contemporary fantasy novel, Flow, was released by Double Dragon Publishing in March of 2012, and my soft science fiction novel, Scylla and Charybdis, is forthcoming from Kristell Ink. I have sold numerous works of science fiction and fantasy, both short stories and the occasional poem, to venues such as Abyss and Apex (reprinted in their first Best Of anthology), GUD, Leading Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy and numerous anthologies. My style is high fantasy mixed with intrigue, but I also have a comic streak. As for poetry, I’m a traditionalist at heart: I love form poetry, from sonnets to villanelles. The draw is making magic within the strictures of the form.
SCYLLA AND CHARYBDIS
For Anaea Carlisle – raised on an isolated space station populated solely by women – the world is far too small. On a salvage mission, she helps rescue a hypermental named Gwydion who challenges everything she thought she knew. When she flees the station to prevent him from having his memory erased, she finds herself in a brand-new world and struggling to find a home.
Many thanks to Lindsey for her interesting post, I’m trying to apply what she says to both my writing and my cooking (though I might just draw the line at Elvis Trifle…)
As an allotment owner this was of additional interest to me as I’m often trying to think of ways to enliven food when we have a glut of something, which led to some interesting experiments last summer including Italian Style Easy Broad Beans, Broad Bean Soup, and the odd-sounding but rather delicious Broad Bean Crumble. (And if Broad Bean Crumble sounds like your thing feel free to follow my other farming/cooking/self-sufficiency blog at that link.)
Have fun cooking and writing!