Cooking is creative
‘End-gaining’ is the rather curious term used by Alexander Technique practitioners to describe the universal (amongst humans) habit of focussing on the result while paying less attention to the means by which the result is achieved.
A very basic example of this is the gardener who, determined to finish digging a border before sunset, ignores the twinge in his back only to wake up the next day unable to move.
On a loftier level we have Thich Nhat Hanh’s saying, ‘There is no way to happiness - happiness is the way’. Instead of assuming you’ll feel better when you get that job/car/partner, start now with small steps, such as enjoying the sun on your face when you go out for a walk.
But I want to talk about cooking!
If you’ve had a long day at work and you realise there’s nothing to eat at home, you may be satisfied by a microwaveable ready-meal. But if you invite friends to eat with you, that won’t be good enough. Apart from wanting to know exactly what you’re giving them, you’ll also want to put some love and effort into the process of preparing the meal.
At Christmas I was given a book by Nigella Lawson called ‘How to Eat’. It’s not the sort of book you read straight through, as it combines thoughts, advice, and recipes. Dipping into it the other day I came across this: ‘Cooking is about working towards a goal, towards something you have decided upon in advance. But any creative work (however cringe-makingly pretentious it sounds, cooking is creative, has to be) needs to liberate itself from the end product during the act of producing. This can be very difficult. There are practical restraints, which are what make the form, in cooking as in poetry. You have to learn to use these constraints to your advantage.’
Sticky coffee pudding
This really struck a chord with me as I love to fiddle with recipes and see what happens. After several experiments I’ve come up with ‘sticky coffee pudding’. I was trying to make a coffee and cardamom cake but in the end it works better as a pudding and the original bananas have been replaced by dates. I was after a taste that would trigger memories of my time in the Middle East, and I’ve found that taste, even though I never ate anything similar while I lived there.
I’ve also been having fun with gnocchi … but you get the idea.
In cooking, as with all things, it’s worth freeing yourself of your old habits and experimenting; if you don’t like the new dish then that’s fine – you needn’t make it again.
Look after yourself
Enjoy using all your senses: the aroma of herbs as you chop them; the sticky-dry sensation of pastry forming between your fingers; the combination of colours as your creation takes shape; and even the sizzling, bubbling, and hissing from your pots.
Be sure to look after yourself as you work in the kitchen; don’t become so immersed in what you’re doing that you forget where you are. Use your hip, knee, and ankle joints to lower yourself in height. Ensure your knives are sharp so you don’t strain your hands. Maintain a sense of lightness and length along the spine as you allow the floor to support the whole of your body, right to the top of your head.
Notice what you’re eating
Whether or not there’s someone else to share the meal, take some time to enjoy it. Notice what you’re eating and take full pleasure from the experience! If it’s not as good as you expected, then you have the opportunity to do it differently next time. And if it’s really bad … well, there’s always beans on toast, - not to be underestimated!