Category Archives: Vegan cooking

Can you relate to The Dark Night of the Soul? #creativity #inspiration

Week #5 Despair

Or: Dark Night of the Soul

(This is Part 5 of a six-part series. Here is Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4)

How does one feel when one has invested hours of research, money for materials and glistening bits of self in a project? At some point the hour may come to bare all. If one decides to share.

My plan is in place and I’ve practiced the process more times than I am willing to admit. I stand before the big event and I feel like I’m coming out of a cave, into the open, to expose my soul to the rest of the world. I’ve finally mustered up enough courage to submit my story. And the guests are coming tonight.

The sun is setting as the year heads towards the dark and damp winter solstice. A door opens elsewhere in the apartment and a cool draft goes through the hot kitchen. I hear stamping boots in the hallway. I peek around the door. A sigh of relief escapes my lips. Thank goodness, it’s not an early guest, only my significant other.

The heat of the kitchen is stifling, tension is mounting. Self-doubt creeps up my spine. I’ve come this far: everything that needs to simmer is simmering, what needed to be baked is baked, what needs chilling is chilled. Except me. I need to wash up and get dressed. I wonder if I can really pull this off. Who am I to think I could actually show anybody else what I have done here?

Suddenly the soup tastes too salty. The gravy has the consistency of wallpaper paste, the salad is wilted. I prepared yet again another piece of venison and it hasn’t gone the way I had planned. My mood slips from less-than-confident into a downright panic. I wonder why I even attempted this in the first place. A blackout or an earthquake would be a welcome relief. I feel like I’m in my own ‘All is Lost’ scene towards the end of Act 2.

I should not, no, I cannot judge my project at this stage by myself. I am my own worst critic. I see problems where there aren’t any. My brain manufactures grave scenarios when I step back and look at what I have created. Heck, I do this with lots of things in my life, not only my projects. As soon as it becomes important to me I am afraid. Afraid I can’t trust my intuition, afraid that I can’t write, afraid that I can’t cook, afraid that oh my God, what will these people think of me when they see what I have done! I don’t want any guests. I don’t want anyone to read my writing. Everything just plain sucks!

Heat rises in my face and I smell like fear. Despair sets in. When I was younger and wrote on paper, it was easy to set a ream of poems on fire and watch them burn with an almost ritualistic fervor. Not so easy with a laptop. Somehow pushing the delete button just doesn’t satisfy like fire does.

And here I stand over my perfect savory chocolate gravy. My tweaked Mexican Mole. I have cured the sauce and I taste it over and over until my tongue is numb. Yet another piece of meat is in the oven at a low temperature and can stay there until I’m ready for it. But the color is all wrong. It smells like a cadaver. I thought the desserts were perfect but I am now unsure.

I am no longer in the position to decide these things for myself. I need a fresh set of taste buds, a fresh pair of eyes.

We all need someone we can trust to honestly tell us if we’ve been true to our goals. I want to ease my guests’ spirits with my aperitif. The pumpkin soup should whet their appetites and leave them wanting more. The meat should carry the basic theme. I need the potatoes to hold their own like a supporting character. And I want the gravy to make a walloping impact; a subplot that rises to influence the final twist. The dessert is the climax. Have I done that?

Hopefully we have someone who has the guts to tell us what we need to hear, no chocolate-coated, candy-covered input. A willing food taster. An objective beta reader. I personally need someone to say, ‘Why did this character do that?’ Or, better yet: ‘This is a muddle!’ Then I’ll know if I’m getting my point across and if my plan is working the way I see it unfolding in the little world I so often inhabit alone.

I want my story to weave a classic mystery–did my beta reader ‘get it?’ If the reader didn’t get it, then I haven’t done my job. An honest reader tells me I may have missed a snippet. For me, an external opinion can make the difference between me throwing a meal out the window, setting a story on fire, pressing the delete button, or, hell, giving up on the rest of my life! It could make the difference between me melting down or buckling down to finish the job.

I write because I do. I always have done. I write for myself, keep a journal and devise stories–it’s a great way to keep my bored brain entertained. But I want to share my stories. They come alive when someone else reads them. In the same vein, I eat to live. I can go weeks on boiled potatoes and carrots and a few handfuls of nuts. But the kitchen is the beating heart of the home and comes alive through the banging of metal pot lids, the smell of frying onions and a splash of sherry, the laughter of fed and watered friends.

Bring on the guests. Bring on the readers.

It’s showtime.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Learn how NOT to follow a recipe #MondayBlogs #amwriting

d25f6-syrup

Week  #2: Chaos

Or: How Not to Follow a Recipe

In my last post we discussed the project at hand. I am writing a short story called The Women of Tragic Hearts and working through the trial round of a three-course meal for unknown guests in order to compare the creative processes involved and underline some of the similarities. And I have time today to practice the meal and to write. But I’m not feeling it. The inspiration has left me. Or could it be that I will regret exposing my so-called talents?

My life has changed drastically over the last few months and stress levels are high. I have taken on commitments, have deadlines and other obligations to meet. I cannot just bow out now because I’m not coping. On top of this, I have invited four unknown guests for a meal and they are going to want something to eat. I haven’t been able to stomach a decent meal for the last few weeks and have lost so much weight none of my clothes fit. But these guests don’t want to hear my problems, they want something to eat.

Like my editor. She is awaiting my writing and I have to get this work done. No one is going to ask me how I’m dealing with my life situation. No one wants to know that I accuse my neighbor the painter of holding the muses hostage in his cellar while I sit in my tower alone, my hair hanging out the window, like Rapunzel waiting for her rescue.

I sip my alcohol-free aperitif and pull out a cook book. Wipe away a few tears, pull up my big girl panties, throw the cookbook in the corner and look for recipes online. How do I want my guests to feel? October is upon us, its pungent, spiced breeze invading. Our bodies are slowing down for hibernation. I want to give my guests and my readers motherly warmth and protection, a feeling of security and solace, solace that I myself seek. But they can get those feelings at home, can’t they? They expect something more from night out or a good story. They both better involve a bit of adventure, something to pull them out of their comfort zones and offer them some drama. Otherwise they could just as well sit on the sofa in front of the TV.

As autumnal ideas flow and take shape, I find and print out some recipes that fit my basic idea. Harvest, gratitude, mystery, shorter days, cool nights, cold mornings, crisp-blue sky, sitting in the sun, skin sweating with a chill up my back. I study those professionally-photographed dishes and note the feelings and memories that might come up. Brainstorm.

I open a Word doc and type out some initial impressions. How involved is this story going to be? I want to keep it under 1000 words. Not as much planning needed as a novel, of course, but again, it could be the opening scene for one! These can take me anywhere from three to six hours, not counting the times I reread, days after I post them. That’s about the time I think I need to cook this meal, assuming I have all the ingredients.

Time to take stock of my experiences. Do I have enough to be writing the piece I want to write? What feelings do I want to convey to my readers? Maybe I’d just been to a restaurant that inspired the setting I’d like to write about. Maybe I had a deep conversation with a good friend the day before last and that set up the mood and the conflicts. Maybe I made up a fictitious city and would like to inhabit it. The best way for me to take stock is just to continue typing. Or stare out the window. Or go look in the pantry for something to cook. Then I can hopefully focus and story will take shape.

I end up in the pantry. What sort of groceries do I have on hand? A little pumpkin called the Hokkaido, also called red kuri squash; onions and all kinds of veg; vegan and dairy cream; yeast and flour; all sorts of exotic spices like cinnamon, cardamom, pepper; fresh, candied and dried ginger; dried chilies; dark chocolate; almonds and other nuts; venison for my meat-eating friends; some prepared lupini beans for the vegans; red and white wine, sherry; enough baking stuff for dessert. If I need anything else, I may have to send some good soul to the store.

I Inhale the all-too-underrated aroma of cinnamon; allow a square of dark-70%-cocoa chocolate melt on my tongue, skim my recipes holding a pen and correcting nuances that don’t fit into my savory scheme. I can almost taste the twists and turns. So here’s the brainstormed structure of the meal: hokkaido cream soup, marinated and grilled venison with a savory chocolate sauce, roast potatoes, sweet-sour red cabbage, an optional salad and then dessert. I don’t know how to end this yet but we’ll come up with something. I often don’t know how to finish up things so I leave the endings for last. It’s just the way I like to work.

Back at the computer, I re-read the chaos I just wrote. The doc looks like it’s been brainstormed into a story about two women who have not seen each other for two years. The main character is unnamed right now because I’m writing her part in first person so I can get into her head. I will change that in order to create some distance; that’s just healthier for me. She left her husband a few weeks back and has now come back to the restaurant called the Tragic Hearts, the place she worked at two years ago before she fell out with the owner, her best friend of many years. Let’s call the owner Amalie. I have started the brainstorming with a conversation between the two so I can get to know them. But reading back through this, it is too ‘boring’ for a short story and I am more inclined to start the story with the conflict that drove them apart. Drama.

Back to the kitchen, dramatically inclined, I take my recipes and throw them into the fire. Grab that butcher knife, hold it in a tantalizing position over the guilty red kuri squash. Plunge the knife into its little heart and split it open. Dig out its innards. Chop onions and garlic, throw the onions into some hot oil. Open a vial of curry, breathe in the passion and the ambivalence of the spices, throw it onto the searing onions, add the garlic. Feel my heart rate rise. I’m on to something. Pour just a zisch of sherry and a few ladles of homemade lamb broth. Inhale. Good…

 

 

Greetings from the Chaos Kitchen #ambaking

Tear-and-Share Vegan Bread by TheVeganWoman.com

Laura’s Chaos-Cooking Tip #1: 

     Beat the winter blahs with bread baking.

     Yeast dough smells yummy when it’s rising, kneading dough is a fun way to let off some steam and you get to punch the daylights out of something!

     But isn’t bread baking hard? No, not at all. All you need is yeast, flour, water and salt.

     First, skim some sort of recipe. Just look one up on the internet. I found a vegan recipe, just follow the link up there, by googling ‘vegan bread recipes.’ Ok, flour, salt, powdered yeast, soy milk and something else. After skimming the recipe, go into the kitchen and see what you have in the pantry. Well, I don’t think we can buy powdered yeast, but I have these little 40 gram blocks of fresh yeast. Is that still vegan? Yeast, check. Flour, check. I don’t want to use soy milk in bread, how about olive oil? Check. Doesn’t yeast need sugar to feed on? I read that somewhere. Sugar, check. Water, duh. This is the twenty-first century.

     Dump the flour in a bowl and make a depression in the middle. I don’t know why, just do it. Mix the yeast with lukewarm water and a teaspoon of sugar and stir it until it dissolves. This part has to be right. If the water is too hot, the yeast will die! And I just throw the whole block in because what am I going to do with a half a lump of yeast?

     Now you may open the wine bottle.

     Pour the yeast mixture into the flour. Throw in some salt. A teaspoon looks about right. Pour the olive oil over the top. Maybe four tablespoons. I don’t like to dirty a spoon, so I count. One banana, two banana, three banana, four…tablespoons. Then get your hands in there and mix it up.

     Man, this looks really dry and crumbly. How much flour is in a bag? I already threw the empty bag in the fire. Checking a pizza dough recipe, I notice that 500 grams of flour would have been enough. And looking in the drawer at another bag, I notice that the bag was a whole kilo.

     Pour a big glass of wine, get out the half a lump of yeast that is still in the fridge (oh, that’s what you can do with that!) Mix with water, who cares how hot, get out the oil and one banana, two banana…

     Sip wine.

     Get your hands back in there. Mix it around until it starts to look like dough. Ok, this looks better. Cover the bowl with a kitchen cloth and let stand for about an hour and a half in a warm, draft-free corner of the kitchen where no mice will go. Grab the wine and get out of the kitchen.

     Don’t panic when you come back coz it’s ALIVE! Now picture someone who you might have a beef with and punch that sucker in the face. Funnily enough it feels like flesh. Punch punch punch punch! Take it out of the bowl and throw it onto a floured board and punch some more. Some may call this kneading, but I call it stress-management.

     Now, there’s lots of turns this scenario could take. One could slice the dough into small handfuls and make rolls. Maybe stick some of those big Spanish olives inside or some fresh chopped herbs and sautéed garlic. Or some vegan cashew cheese. One can bake half of the dough and put the rest in the fridge for the next day.

     Punch punch punch sip gulp.

     One could roll the dough out flat and put some tomatoes on top, maybe some homemade pesto, fresh chopped red pepper, sliced mushrooms, onions, garlic. Then throw it in the oven and make pizza (since this is probably a pizza dough.)

     Punch punch punch gulp.

     OR…I can see an evil twin moment coming…the situation gets out of hand…

Greetings from the Chaos Kitchen

Laura’s Chaos-Cooking Tip #2: Survive the snow by serving steamy soup!

On my way to PA today! And it’s still friggin’ snowing there and here in Germany, too. I can’t wait to cook with my big sister this weekend. I’m sure she can’t wait to have me in her kitchen.

Now, there’s a big soup discussion going on over at Terrible Minds today. And I love soup coz you can throw just about anything (presumably edible) in there. So I thought I’d share one of my favorites with you.

Hokkaido Soup (Hokkaido is a little, dark-orange pumpkin from Japan that you don’t have to peel).

Take one hokkaido and wash it. Cut off the stem, cut it open, remove the seeds and cut it all into cubes. You might have a bowl full, that’s enough.

Peel a big onion. If you don’t have a big one, then peel two or three little ones depending on if you even like onions. And a couple of cloves of garlic while you’re at it. Chop it all up. Heat a big pot, pour in some oil, (a few splashes is good. I like cold-extracted olive oil) throw the onions in first, let them cook a bit and then throw in the garlic. If you like curry, you could sprinke curry over the oily frying onions until the smell makes your mouth water, then it’s enough. Then pour something liquid over the top. Like that white wine you’re sipping. Or vegetable broth. Homemade lamb stock is really good if you’re not serving to vegan friends.

Ok, Hokkaido, go! Throw that in, unpeeled, of course. Add four peeled and cubed potatoes to help thicken. Cover it all up with broth (that’s enough wine!) Cover the pot and set a timer if you’re going back online or, um, going back to your writing. Twenty minutes unless you find yourself composing a volume-sized comment on some blog or another. When you come back you’ll be surprised how fast that cooked. It should be really mushy.

Puree the soup now using your favorite kitchen utensil. If you’re serving to meat-eaters, you can add creme fraisch or real sour cream. For our vegan friends, soy cream does nicely, too. Salt and pepper to taste. Add fresh grated ginger and serve. Serving suggestions: top with roasted pumpkin seeds and a little spash of pumpkin seed oil.  

Guten Appetit!