Don’t loaf and invite inspiration; light out after it with a club, and if you don’t get it you will nonetheless get something that looks remarkably like it.
Ah, inspiration, that most fickle of mistresses. Every person involved in any sort of creative enterprise has at some point thrown up their hands and been heard to cry “I just have no inspiration to write/paint/sculpt/cook/shoot an image today!” – I know I have, while staring at this very blog. Inspiration, though, does not conform to any sort of schedule and has a perverse sense of humour. Why else would it be that people have their best moments of inspiration while in inconvenient places (like the shower, or while dreaming) when any recording this flash of inspiration is at its most difficult. And then when you are sitting in front of a blank page, screen or canvas… tumbleweed. Inspiration has gone on a short holiday – or maybe even a round-the-world trip.
It does amuse me though that it is only creative people who feel that their ability to do their work is governed by this elusive ingredient. You don’t really hear of a brain surgeon downing tools as the patient lies anaesthetised and shaven-headed on the table, telling his team “sorry guys, I am just not feeling it today – I’m having surgeons’ block”. Or your boiler man arriving listlessly to diagnose your boiler problems and failing because he just has no inspiration today. But all of us who do creative things feel entitled to throw up our hands in despair when our muse has not visited and sprinkled our pillows with Inspiration Dust. Drama queens. If I only wrote or cooked of photographed when inspiration was flowing freely and at its peak, this would be a very, very compact blog indeed. Because although people may think that creative types rely on the ephemeral helping hand of inspiration, in fact (like every other industry) we rely to a large degree on boring old hard work.
“Amateurs think that if they were inspired all the time, they could be professionals. Professional know that if they relied on inspiration, they’d be amateurs.” So writes author Philip Pullman, and I’m inclined to agree with him. To be sure, inspiration is fantastic when it strikes – that wonderful feeling that you could write or cook or shoot all night and not be tired because you are just SO FIRED UP by an idea. But to be honest, this happens maybe half a dozen times a year. For the other 360 odd days that your content hungry blog begs for fresh ideas, you simply have to do as Jack London suggested, grab your club and go out hunting. People often ask me where I get my inspiration from (especially as I am known for my, shall we say, not very brief posts, ahem…!). The answer, of course, is “it varies” – but here are some thoughts on where I find inspiration that might resonate with you on one of those days that you need to take your club and go hunting.
- Think about the person who taught you the recipe you are making – perhaps a relative or a friend, or a colleague. Think about a moving or amusing anecdote about them and tell that story, ending with their passing the dish on to you.
- Consider the name of the dish – does it have comic potential (yes, spotted dick, I am talking about you!)? Or maybe it hints at the origins of the dish (peach Melba or Caesar salad)? Writing a paragraph on either of these could provide the acorn from which you can grow a mighty oak of a blog post.
- Read the newspaper. No, I don’t mean the food section necessarily – the good old free Metro newspaper here in London often mentions the latest slightly offbeat survey results (e.g the recent statistics about how many Londoners do not even know the names of their neighbours). These can often provide a springboard for starting off a blog post.
- Find a quote that appeals to you or relates to a story you want to tell and start your post with it and a few lines about it. It worked for this post, so why shouldn’t it work for you?
- Keep an ideas file. Inspiration is a bit of a thunderstorm – it arrives without warning and often not when you need it, so make sure that you have a tank for collecting rainwater. Either have a notebook or an electronic document where you only write down ideas for future blog posts as they come to you (like inspired strawberry recipes that come to you in the depths of Autumn!). If you have an idea for an opening line, jot that down too – for me that’s often half the battle won.
- If you want to go all high-tech, there are even topic generator websites available – here are a few listed in this post. Some allow you to enter three words and the software will come up with a potential list of blog post titles for you. Can’t ask for more fairy dust than that!
Where do YOU find your inspiration? Let me know in the comments!
Looking back over my blog for the past couple of years, I also realised that one of my main recent sources of inspiration as regards what to cook (if not always how to write about it) has been Nick’s very productive allotment. Recipes like my deep-fried stuffed courgette flowers, my radish leaf pesto, or my spaghetti squash, chilli and feta risotto might never have seen the light of day had it not been for the ever-changing inspiration provided by what Nick brings home from the allotment. One of the things that truly has amazed me about his allotment business (other than the ridiculous number of fruit that a courgette plant can bear in one season!) is for how much of the year it remains productive. Back in the cold and frosty depths of this February we were still eating kale and chard from the allotment – and a stray crop of broccoli from a plant left behind by the allotment’s previous incumbents. I don’t know if it was the variety of broccoli, the weather or the lateness of the season, but rather than form a compact head this plant instead made smaller shoots, rather like sprouting broccoli. I decided to use this to my advantage and make a pasta dish that required bite-sized broccoli chunks, paired with the excellent smoked, semi-dried tomatoes that Unearthed had kindly sent me. Sadly, they have recently discontinued they smoked tomatoes, but you can still make this with Unearthed’s plain semi-dried tomatoes and add a dash of chipotle sauce to give it a smoky kick.
DISCLOSURE: I received a tub of Unearthed semi-dried smoked tomatoes as part of a free sample hamper.
If you love semi-dried, sunblush or sun-dried tomatoes, you may also like:
- My spinach, feta, sun-dried tomato and toasted seed salad
- Meeta’s Gruyere, bacon, leek & sun-dried tomato spaetzle
- Jac’s roasted red pepper and sundried tomato pasta salad
- Bintu’s mozzarella, sun-dried tomato and pesto sandwich
- Sarah’s gluten-free sundried tomato loaf
- enough pasta for 2 people (I used tagliatelle but feel free to use whichever shape you prefer)
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 2 shallots, finely chopped
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- 2 small boneless skinless chicken breasts, cubed
- 1 cup lightly steamed broccoli florets
- 1 Tbsp flour
- 125ml single cream
- 100g smoked semi-dried tomatoes in olive oil (or unsmoked)
- ½ tsp dried oregano
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Prepare the pasta in plenty of boiling salted water according to the package instructions.
- While the pasta is cooking, heat the oil in a large heavy frying pan and add the shallots and garlic. Sautée over medium heat for a few minutes, then add the cubed chicken. Continue to cook until the chicken is cooked through and the onions are soft and translucent (but do NOT brown them).
- Add the broccoli florets and continue stirring for a few minutes. When the broccoli starts to soften, stir in the flour – enough so that all the liquid in the pan is absorbed. Stir constantly to prevent lumps; then stir in the cream a little at a time, stirring continuously. If the sauce is too thick, thin it with a few spoonfuls of the pasta cooking water.
- When the sauce has reached the desired consistency, stir in the oregano and sun-dried tomatoes and heat through. Check for seasoning and add salt and pepper as necessary.
- Drain the pasta and return it to the cooking pot. Add the sauce to the pasta and mix well. Divide the pasta between two serving bowls and serve with a full bodied white wine – Chardonnay or Viognier would work well.