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The Unnatural Cook

a chronicle of weekly meal plans from someone who can't just throw a meal together

Tag Archives: Divergent Thinking

I almost did something crazy today. I almost renamed all the posts. I noticed something on WordPress’s website about the importance of a good title and it occurred to me that titling each post by the week and day of the meal was the least interesting way to look at the blog. When I think about the posts I like best, I like them because they’re not just about the food they’re about obsession or creativity or love or failure.

But the editor in me likes structure. The need for structure, the beauty of structure, is part of what keeps me meal planning in the first place. I know the benefits of an organizing principle. And so I balked.

Then it occurred to me, what about the tags? The cloud could include the ideas that interest me along with the food. I will remember that I once wrote something about Adam Gopnik, but will I remember we also had pasta for dinner that night? Why not put his name in there? Or how about divergent thinking? The cloud is a non-linear form of representation. I’m growing! So I went back an obsessively re-tagged everything.

Because I was obsessively re-tagging everything dinner was late. But I did manage to pass another salad off on the children. I thought it might be the vinegar that was causing the salad problem so I used a new vinegar that my friend Iana introduced me to this summer, White Balsamic Vinegar from Trader Joe’s. It’s very mild. Dinner was white bean soup from the freezer. I knew making the beef stew last night would be labor intensive so I purposely followed it with something easy. The little joys of meal planning – for someone who doesn’t like to cook, that constitutes the benefit of structure.

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I haven’t made beef stew in a long time because the one I loved had parsnips and got rejected by the kids. But it’s a new year and judging from tonight’s clean plates, parsnips are in! The recipe is from a 2004 issue of Fine Cooking Magazine in an article that is supposed to teach a ‘formula for creativity’ by which the author means a technique for developing your own recipe. What it really means is that the recipe was out of order and I had to rewrite it. I can’t cook when the instructions are buried in three separate sections, each presented in a different visual style and spread across two pages. Does that make me a linear thinker? What if I am creative and linear? Is that possible?

So much of what is considered creative is based on the idea of divergent thinking – the endless possibility of a thing (say, beef stew). A good cook is supposed to be one who takes the ‘idea’ of beef stew: meat, vegetables, seasonings and comfortably spins variations on the theme. I can’t do that, but I am obsessive enough to save the magazine, index it so I remember where the recipe is, rewrite the recipe so I can follow it, photograph the results, and write about it. Can obsession be a form of creativity? Revisiting a thing over and over until is essence is understood? I’m sort of banking on it. Maybe I’ll call my version, Linear Beef Stew.

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