Tuesday, August 11, 2009

39) cooking with lavender, writing with ingredients

the literary life 8/11/09

Last week I attended a cooking class in my neighborhood; the class was on cooking with lavender. I'd never cooked with lavender. It sounded unusual and different. My sister and I went together and spent three hours sampling everything from lavender lemonade to chicken-strawberry salad with lavender. It was definitely a treat. This summer I've been into cooking, specifically baking cupcakes. I like to do this from time to time--select one type of food and make different versions of it. I've made strawberry cupcakes, orange chiffon cupcakes, and vanilla cupcakes. Last night I decided to make something I'd learned in the cooking class: lavender blueberry cupcakes. They turned out edible, which made me happy.

I'm not some sous chef in the making, but I do think cooking can be fun and creative. It also feeds my writing. Other creative endeavors, like drawing and knitting, feed my writing as well, but the sweet thing about cooking is that if all goes well, I can share my results with others. So for me cooking has a double benefit: social and personal. In cooking the senses take over. The same thing can happen in writing a poem.

But what I've learned most through the cooking adventures of this past week is that it helps to experiment with unusual ingredients. I'd never thought to cook with lavender. But this class exposed me to a new flavor. This made me think, how can I take small aesthetic risks in my writing? I believe when we write, we find our way to some basic ingredients as well as what become our own signature ingredients. In other words, there are images or words or colors that we tend to repeat, that come to define our individual style. I love the image of a tulip, the word "star", and the color "green." I exploit these ingredients in my poems. But what ingredients haven't I tried? I don't think I've ever mentioned a yucca plant in the my writing, used the word "indelicate" in a poem, or described anything as carnelian. There's nothing to say I have to use these images or terms. But if we think of images and words as writing ingredients, then it can help from time to time to step out of our comfort zone and experiment with something new. Sometimes this happens naturally; other times, as with the cooking class, we have to seek such ingredients out. Make a quick list. Think of an image, a word, and a color that you never seem to "mix" into your writing. Build a poem or description around them. See how these new ingredients bring unexpected flavors to your signature "dishes."

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