We don’t always feel creatively inspired and it’s not until very recently, two days ago in fact, that I’ve discovered that this is ok. I’ve been stuck in this rut where I’ve been cooking, baking and taking photos and then trying to force words out of myself and onto my keyboard. As I start to read these words back, their lack of natural-ness becomes apparent to me and everything seems far from the perfection that I am constantly striving for in my writing.
I realise our definitions of perfection, in writing, might be entirely different. One person’s may be grammatical perfection, whilst another’s might be the satisfaction in finding the perfect simile or metaphor. My idea of perfection in my own writing is defined by a few characteristics: capturing the essence of emotions/experiences/relationships authentically, honestly and beautifully. In a tone so true that readers who know me can hear my voice and recall our memories and happy moments together and those who don’t, feel like they are in the kitchen with me, getting to know me and cooking along with me. Also, showing people my passion for cookery, photography and writing and the warmth it brings to me. Spreading that warmth and encouraging others to spread it too, in the way of creating (successfully or unsuccessfully) honest, heartwarming, homemade food that is purely for comfort not to impress. I want to capture love, comfort, memories, emotion, beauty in every post but sometimes this just isn’t going to happen in the most ‘perfect’ way possible, the ‘perfect,’ that I want.
That’s the thing about creativity: we have total freedom. This can be both incredibly liberating but also incredibly overwhelming and pressurising. I can make simple choices. Let’s use an analogy. I can choose to paint my (metaphorical) canvases with a palette of black and white or with one of technicolour. I can use thicker strokes or finer strokes. I can paint with realism or abstraction. But how do I go beyond the simple art of brush in paint, brush on canvas, paint on canvas? How do I paint outside the lines? How do I do something… extraordinary? Simple answer, I’ve found, is I can’t. But what I can do however is do something better than the extraordinary, I can do… me. I can write how I write, I can sing how I sing, I can bake how I bake and, even if I tried, my ‘strokes’ will never be the same as somebody else’s. They may not be ‘perfect.’ That’s what makes me extraordinary. I am me! …I am the extraordinary?
And today, I found comfort and reassurance in these little carrot cake rock cakes. They are the perfect example of beauty in imperfections. On the outside, they may not look like perfection: irregular, a little bit bumpy, a raisin jutting out here and the skin of a date peeking out there, an odd patch of unmixed cinnamon rippling through the centre. Full of ‘imperfections.’ But oh on the inside, boy are they beautiful. An interior as soft as you like: a crumb tender enough to be deliciously moist but just light and spongey enough to be wonderfully moreish and quickly gobbled up from the plate in instants, leaving everyone sadly gazing at the empty, white plate on the coffee table – “is there no more?” They’re laced with warming spices of cinnamon and ginger bringing us cosy moments in the autumn and beckoning to Winter and calling for Her gingerbread-scented candles and Christmas time.
But wait one moment, I am in no way saying that the interior has to compromise for these ‘imperfections’ because that would be horrendously incorrect and misunderstood. Those imperfections are perfection! Those irregular, odd, little bumps and humps are what catch and brown to give us those comfortingly familiar, toasty-sweet flavours that we find in lightly-toasted bread, gold-rimmed biscuits and perfectly, bronzed sponge cakes. A smooth surface would never be able to give you those delicious crispy bits that I enjoy cheekily picking off in secret, when no one’s looking. (My cakes, my rules!) Those raisins and dates, that awkwardly jut out, are what give you those dreamily intense hits of deep, rich, caramelised molasses flavours due to their accidental exposure to the heat of the oven. That big, ‘ugly’ patch of unmixed cinnamon is that little dash extra I added in the mix, for the sake of my dad who is a self-confessed cinnamon addict. The one with the patch is dad’s rock bun, to put a great, big smile on his face as he takes a bite and the fiery cinnamon bites him back.
Maybe, by constantly hunting for this perfection and extraordinary-ness I’m losing my own voice and heading more towards something that truly is ‘imperfect,’ to me: inauthenticity. Like if I were to try and perfect the rock cakes. Put them in tins and smooth their tops taking away their knobbly bumps that tell us these are something grandma used to make, before the time of fancy miniature gateau cake tins, embracing the greatness in simple ingredients and simple equipment. Tuck in the little gems of dried fruit that poke out of the cakes and take away the beautiful, wonderful flavours they have to offer. Mix in the ‘correct’ amount of cinnamon, evenly throughout the batter and take away that personal touch for my dad. With writing, it goes the same way. My in-eloquence, awkward phrasing, ill-fitting adjectives and long, clumsy, difficult-to follow sentences are me and if we take those away then, what’s special? These imperfections are charm and character and personality and stories! Now, you see? The imperfections are the perfections!
With these carrot cake rock buns, my friends, together, we have found… the extraordinary!
Recipe (by Ruby Tandoh, from her new book ‘Flavour: Eat What You Love’): https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/aug/06/summer-holiday-recipes-favourite-chefs-seafood-shellfish (first recipe in article)