Culinary, cast-off creativity

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leftover parsley pesto on chicken unearthed from the freezer; roasted potatoes; and clean-out-the-crisper succotash (with Greek yogurt onion dip)

I have been lamenting, for months now, the fact that I haven’t really knit or sewn much of anything since Russell’s birth. Scott bought me a serger a couple of Christmases ago that has sat untouched in its box. I’ve been trying, in fits and starts, to finish a baby quilt. The intention was to finish it in time for Russell’s birth, but the deadline keeps stretching, with hopes that it will be finished by his first birthday.

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crispy sweet potatoes topped with sauteed kale and ground beef; lemon-roasted cauliflower with tahini sauce and sesame

I’ve been grappling with the concept of time: how it’s changed since having a baby, how to spend the time I do have, and how I can carve out time to be creative. And the entire time that I’ve mourned the loss of my hand-making spirit, I’ve ignored the intense daily habit of creativity in the kitchen. Barely an evening goes by where Scott and I aren’t bumping elbows in the kitchen, scrapping together meals out of whatever odds and ends are left in the fridge or freezer, cooking and cleaning until almost 9 PM (which is practically bedtime for us).

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onion and potato latkes with bruised-apple and onion chutney

It’s easy to cast off this type of experimental work as drudgery or utility because it is: we need to eat, every day. Cooking serves purpose while, these days, something like quilting does not; we have indoor heating and don’t need to burrow under blankets for warmth (like the Texan women living in dugouts in the excellent oral history book I just finished, The Quilters: Women and Domestic Art). We try to stick to a tight budget and minimize waste in our household, which means that we keep all of our leftovers and, once we inevitably tire of something, have to figure out how to re-mix it into something exciting.

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In participating in perhaps the most basic and necessary of domestic activities, we’ve entered into daily practice of a type of craft. And because we’re using leftovers and scraps, we’re working within a set of parameters. For someone like me, who is mentally paralyzed by the concept of a blank canvas – whether meal planning, or choosing yarn or fabric for a project – these limitations are a great starting point. I have something upon which I can improve or alter. I favor patchwork and knitting with scraps over everything else, so it makes sense that cooking with cast-offs would offer the same sense of joy and accomplishment.

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carnitas unearthed from the freezer; sauteed kale with homemade ranch dressing; roasted potatoes; crisped corn tortillas and avocado


The problem I’ve had in acknowledging this as creative work is the ephemeral nature of cooking and eating. We can labor over something for hours, tend it at the stove or sculpt a pie dough into a tin– but then it disappears. In our visual, phone-attached-at-the-palm culture, did you even cook anything if you don’t have photographic evidence of it? Is the trick, in my situation, to pay more due to these scrappy meals by taking their picture and sharing them? I think that I’m craving validation, a proof that I have done something constructive with my time, to make up for the fact that I’d rather be crafting.

The lack of personal time and a drive to retain or reshape my identity in my new role as mother has led to lots of navel-gazing and ~*deep thoughts*~. I’ve been doing a lot of reading on work breaks and having long conversations with Scott over dinner about the topics of identity, motherhood, the concept of home, and much more. Expect to find some of those brain drippings here; as the great Joan Didion said, “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.”





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