Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The zen of cooking and writing

by Rick Blechta

We’re just pulling into the finish line of our annual canning, pickling and preserving binge. It's a lot of work, but when you can go down to your cellar in the depths of winter and pull out a jar of chopped, super-ripe San Marzano tomatoes to make a pasta sauce of great flavour, that’s a real blessing — as well as great eating.

But this isn’t a post for my food blog.

This past Saturday, I was sitting at a table in our back yard peeling and chopping tomatoes. My wife was in the house dealing with getting my handiwork into jars, so I was alone for about half an hour.

One reason I enjoy cooking is that I get into what you might call “almost a trance-like” state. My mind sort of spins free. It’s not like I'm not paying attention to what I’m doing, something particularly dangerous when you’ve got a industrial-quality vegetable dicer (one of my better kitchen purchases of the last decade) that’s made up of a grid of razor blades and a two-pound weight to push the vegetables through. It’s as if everyday cares just float away. I’m focused on the job at hand, but some of my conscious is left over to think of other things, more important things than what I have to do tomorrow. It’s a sweet spot in which to be.

Now you all know I haven’t been writing really at all this summer due to designing the programme book for this year’s Bouchercon. Even though I handed in the finished product to the printer last week, there were a number of other things apart from my writing that had been neglected and need immediate attention. Then the weekend was taken up with canning tomatoes and making crab apple jelly.

I’ve been aching to write the past few weeks and I should have been doing it, but, well, other things intervened.

Then right in the middle of prepping tomatoes to be chopped, story-in-progress resurfaced in my head and an issue I was having with the last chapter on which I was working suddenly seemed to resolve itself. It’s as if my muse stepped up to say, “You idiot! All you have to do is this and you won't have a problem, will you? Do I have to tell you everything?”

I immediately went into the house to find my little dictation device so I could just speak the words to resolve this scene and hopefully move on to the next one.

Then my three-year-old grandson came outside and wanted to know who I was talking to (being “all alone”) after which he spotted the little digital recorder and immediately wanted to play with it.

So much for getting any sort of work done, but it did prove a point to me. You only need to get your head in the proper state for your “writing imagination” to kick in. For me, it’s usually when I’m out walking, occasionally driving or riding on transit. Never before has it happened when I’m preparing food.

Maybe I should do that more often…


Rick Blechta said...

Yesterday I made pickled beans for the first time. No glory on the mind-wondering front, though!

At least I have the beans to look forward to...

Frankie Y. Bailey said...

I've never had this happen to me while canning veggies -- don't know how to do it. But when I have a sink full of dirty dishes to wash by hand, the repetitive motion seems to free up my muse.

Sybil Johnson said...

My mom used to do a lot of canning when I was growing up. My favorite things were the tiny dill pickles and wild blackberry jam. Wouldn't know how to do it myself.

Rick Blechta said...

My mom way in the dim, distant past made some red currant jelly, but that was it. However we moved to an Italian neighbourhood where families get together every fall to make tomato sauce (one family makes over 1000 litres every year!) and that got it started. Soon we were roasting shepherd peppers (directly on wood embers so they're smoked as well as roasted). Then came the pickles, jams, jellies. Then I started curing meat in the winter.

Sometimes it seems as if it’s getting out of hand, but then you make a dish with your preserved food and it’s suddenly very worthwhile.

As for not knowing what to do, that’s what the internet is for. Or you could go to my (about to be far less moribund) food blog: A Man for All Seasonings

Sybil Johnson said...

I shall check out the blog, Rick. Thanks. Maybe one day I will have the energy to do that.

Eileen Goudge said...

I get some of my best story ideas while I'm baking. My hobby is the yin to the yang of my writing. Keeps me balanced. And makes a happy man of my husband, who has a sweet tooth.

Rick Blechta said...

Glad to find out I'm not alone, Eileen!