This New Yorker article on what motivates us to cook was a great and timely read for me.
"Once upon a time, food was about where you came from. Now, for many of us, it is about where we want to go—about who we want to be, how we choose to live. Food has always been expressive of identity, but today those identities are more flexible and fluid; they change over time, and respond to different pressures. "
In the few days that I was at E's I cooked more than I have done in months past. Her eagerness to help and her delight in what I made gave me energy I have missed in my own kitchen for a while. There is also the matter of being able to take time off and shut the mind down - which has proven very hard to do this past year. The change of scenery at E's helped me with both. We went to the local farmers market for produce and meats, tried to use up all that she had left in the fridge to make room for new things in the new year. Beyond that there was no plan - I had a large canvas and varied palette to work with. The experience was a lot like painting free form - something I enjoy a lot.
I realized I have missed creating food where no rules applied. I could go any direction I chose, change plans along the way. J learned to bake apple pie following a recipe from E's grandmother. It was a hugely successful debut based on how quickly it disappeared at dinner at C's. This is the most engaged J has ever been in the kitchen. We have in the past collaborated on art projects and quite successfully but it has never extended to cooking. J's style is completely unlike mine - she is precise, methodical and pursues perfection quite ferociously. Baking should come to her naturally. I have trouble staying on point or following recipes. Perfection is not nearly as important. All of that has made it hard to find common ground in cooking. E reminded me that cooking is a basic life skill the kid has to learn before going to college. So the apple pie was a step in the right direction.
Similar to this somewhat manic streak of cooking, I have experienced other bursts of inspiration lasting up to a few days. Last year it was painting. After seven or eight in a row over that many evenings, it just died. I showed them to my friend S when she visited me recently and she thought they could light up the walls of my home office. I don't know that I feel comfortable displaying them anywhere - mainly because working on them was such a cathartic and emotionally draining experience. I would feel a lot better destroying them but you grow attached to your productions no matter what their quality.
I notice that I gravitate towards people somewhat similar to me - almost all my friends have some kind of creative outlet. Photography, murals, crochet, gardening, landscaping, baking, jewelry making, refurbishing flea market furniture are among many things they do. Like me they are largely self taught. We have many unfinished projects and those that went horribly wrong. But when we share the successes with each other, it can sometimes drive a burst of creative frenzy. I hope my cooking gave E energy to work on her projects - she has a large queue of them and could use a jump start.