Monday, March 7, 2016

Spice of life

It's not a secret but here's a confession anyways: I love to eat.  More specifically, I love to eat good food.  Wholesome, fresh, crunchy, earthy, dense, light, tangy, complex, savory, sweet, spicy, umami et al.  I love all of it.    I was raised in the kitchen: stirring dishes and chopping vegetables, learning how to beat egg whites to patient perfection, watching my dad make an Argentine asado every Sunday night, flipping through my mom's cobbled-together binder cookbook with plastic sleeves holding torn out pages from magazines and print-outs from the web...the list goes on.  My parents have a step stool/chair in the corner of the kitchen, and I spent my childhood camped out on it watching my folks cook.  I grew up having an intense appreciation for not only eating quality ingredients, but for the process of cooking them as well.

One of my newly developed (by reason of becoming a mom) techniques for multitasking is something my husband and I call "cooking show."  It's not that our daughter constantly needs attention: she is perfectly able to play alone for 30-45 minutes uninterrupted, and can accomplish some truly impressive destruction in her play area if left to her own devices.  But I discovered that if mommy is banging pots in the kitchen, she wants to be a part of it.  So I plop her into her high chair or into the doorway jumper, and narrate the steps as if I'm the star of my own Food Network show. (I will admit that sometimes I also do funny accents and dramatically sing the ingredient list to keep things interesting).  My daughter loves it and watches all the steps intently; I could probably convince myself that she is learning how to cook at 10 months old.  I was in the middle of this week's episode of "cooking show" (Sautéed tofu with fresh basil & garlic) when it occurred to me that one of the reasons I enjoy cooking so much is its relationship to my engineering background.

The previously addressed topic of mindful engineering/science relies heavily on building up an effective intuition about common events.  Deeply ingrained procedures make a useful "tool belt" for rapid problem analysis and solving.  The creation of a "tool belt" directly relates to my experience in the kitchen.  I love spices.  I have an entire, fairly large, cabinet just for my spices.  I am always looking for new and unique combinations, and read cookbooks and foodie blogs to better understand how spices balance and mix together.  One of the greatest pleasures I derive from cooking is being able to look at a fridge full of raw ingredients and know how to create a meal of dishes that balance and compliment each other.  The ability to know ahead of time the expected outcome, even without having tried it before, is exciting and empowering.  It drives my mother crazy (she's more of a textbook recipe follower) but I never measure spices,  making it impossible for her to recreate my dishes.

My husband, who plays the guitar, pointed out to me while I was drafting this post that the way I mix spices together is very much like musical improvisation.  A strong improvisor will have a repertoire of rehearsed licks that they can rely on for a particular style or performed piece.  This really got me thinking, because I always thought of musical improvisation as a channel of pure creative expression, rather than a demonstration of seamlessly rehearsed technical ability.  --But that's exactly how it manifests.  Applied to mindful engineering, the same tool belt of intuitive problem solving knowledge can look elegant, beautiful, and creative, even when it is built upon a solid understanding of the theory and highly-technical aptitude.

No comments:

Post a Comment