Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Cooking for the Writer's Soul

Cooking is a writing exercise one can eat.
A bit much?
Let me explain.
Cooking let's me see firsthand how various ingredients go together. Do they work together for the common goal of a tasty meal? Or do they make a complete hash of my efforts, falling apart, foul-tasting, burning, gluing up the works like a character who does not fit in no matter what I do, or simply tasteless?
I can experiment with spices and flavours, try different vegetables, or flours, or new ways to hold a creation together.
It will work or it will not.
If I'm lucky the thing that didn't work can be played around with and made into something serviceable, much like editing a story. It can take several passes to make a story readable just like it can take many experiments to make a new dish palatable.
I'm gluten intolerant. This means I've been learning how to use alternate flours in baking. Lately I've turned my attentions to nutfluff, nuts like almond, brazil, walnut, pecan, and hazelnut ground to meal or into flour.
They're tasty as all get out, but don't hold together well without significant help. The help I've been trying out is psyllium husks. Please go easy at first if you try this as it is a colon cleanser.
That said, it works wonders. It makes the dough stretchy and fluffy. To work in a writing metaphor I suppose it's like adding in an interesting subplot to make the main story more substantial.

Cooking lets me work with my hands which in turn helps me think. It is both mindful and mindless.
Mindful in that I often decide to add or delete ingredients as I am cooking. Like stories, many of my cooking creations have started with "I wonder..."
Also, I am not big on measuring. I consider recipes a jumping off point, nothing more. This makes me mindful of each ingredient as I have to scrutinize it in the spoon or the cup until I can declare, "Yeah, that's about right."
Mindless in that I can think about several others matters or nothing at all except in those moments of preparation that require attention. I'm reluctant to admit it, but some of my writing has been downright mindless, too.

Once a story is done it is ready to be read. Once a cooking experiment is done it is ready to eat.
It would probably be wrong of me to go on about cooking and writing without providing an example.
Here's a pizza I made the other night using nutfluff  and psyllium husks in the crust:

Bacon and Mushroom Pizza

 I used walnut and hazelnut flours with chickpea, flax, and oats for the crust.
The sauce was two tomatoes, a bit of olive oil, a dash each salt and sugar, basil and oregano.
I cooked the bacon in a Panini grill on medium until it was just done, removed it to a paper towel, and threw the sliced mushrooms on the grill in the bacon grease for a few minutes. Because much of the grease drains away, I added a bit of it back for the mushrooms.

The crust was 1 ½ cups of flour: ¾ cup of walnut and hazelnut meal and ¾ cup of mixed chickpea flour, ground rolled oats, whole rolled oats, and ground flax (1 tbls of flax).
1 ½ tbls of psyllium husk as gluten substitute
½ tsp salt
1 tbls sugar
¾ cup lukewarm water to which 1 tbls fast rising yeast is added. Leave to sit for 10 minutes
1 large egg
½ tsp vinegar (as dough enhancer)
3 tbls softened coconut lard (butter or margarine is fine)
Mix all the dry ingredients together while you wait for the yeast to fluff up in the water.
Add egg, vinegar and yeast water when it's ready and then the lard.
Mix thoroughly. Cover and set aside for about 25 minutes or until the dough is doubled. It will be moist like really thick cake batter.
Most alternate flour crust recipes call for 1 cup of water. This amount worked for me.
Spread batter on solid-bottomed pizza pan. Cook at 425F for 15 minutes.
I let it cool and then set it in the fridge until I needed it.
I used homemade tomato sauce, cubed soya cheese, bacon, mushroom, onion, pepper, and pineapple on mine.
As an experiment, I cooked it at 500F for 10 minutes. It was fine, but like a story that gets shopped too soon, it could have used a bit longer in the oven.

*ETA - I see I have metaphor/similie issues. Sorry. I do know the difference, but often not until later. I'd change them, but it's a mistake I made and I will own it.


Laurita said...

That pizza looks amazing, but I haven't heard of most of that stuff you used for the dough. Interesting post, and I think you make a really good (and delicious) point.

Leah J. Utas said...

Gluten free is quite the learning experience, Laurita. Thanks.

messymimi said...

That's how i cook, and how i taught cooking -- experiment, see what works. It sounds like it would work well for a writer, too.

Pizza looks so good!

Leah J. Utas said...

Messymimi, cooking experiments can lead to some tasty results. I like that you taught it that way. It's a great help when you find you lack an ingredient of five for something you want to make.

Reb said...

hm, interesting, I think I might be a bit gluten intolerant also. I have been experimenting with spelt and rice flours so far, but only in recipes that don't need to rise or be stretchy.

Leah J. Utas said...

Reb, happy experimenting. Spelt works really well as a wheat substitute. It needs a gluten substitute like guar gum, but not all that much of it. I haven't tried it with psyllium yet.
I've set aside Spelt and most other grains the last few months as an experiment.I'll be trying the two together next time I make pita bread.

the Bag Lady said...

That pizza looks fabulous! (not sure how I missed this post - my excuse is that I have been really busy.)

Crabby McSlacker said...

Interesting... I came back after leaving a comment, suspecting I'd used the wrong email account, and it's not here at all! Hmm, wonder how often that's happened before? Yikes!

Anyway, great photo, and hope you're having a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Leah J. Utas said...

Thanks, Bag Lady.

Crabby, glad you checked. Thanks.

Dana said...

Oh. My. Goodness. This looks DELICIOUS! I've never heard of hazelnut flour before either. Going to give this a go this week for my hubby :-)