Nothing is quite so energising as getting up from a day’s wordsmithery and heading for the kitchen. The brain’s active areas swap sides and now the right — or is it the left — comes into play.
Recipes serving six must be converted to recipes that will serve the eight I’m having for dinner tonight. It’s a mathematical drill no writer’s brain should be called upon to execute. Then there’s that unspeakable ingredient, desiccated coconut. Unsupervised, it will dominate every dish that calls for it so it must be traded for almond meal or ground hazelnuts in all desserts. In salads or fish dishes, lightly toasted sesame seeds or pine nuts are the go.
Kitchen improv rules!
Take this white chocolate mousse I’m making for dessert; its sweetness is extreme. It needs to be cut — the way dealers claim cocaine is the better for being cut with a little supplementary laxative.
Oops. Where were we?
Too sweet, yes.
So, lemon? Too ordinary. And it might curdle my other ingredients besides. Then, behind a Valu-Pack of 40 frozen fish fingers, I find frozen raspberries in a plastic pouch. I tear it open. Think cascade. Think scarlet sour-bombs tumbling into the bottom of a deep crystal dish. Now think giant chilled pearls of sweetness spooned over them until the whole creation rests.
But the absolute master of improv was my mother. In her rag-trader heyday, she and my Dad travelled the world to bring back garments from all over. She was not a designer but could operate every type of sewing machine on her factory floor.
Improvising madly, she would remove a frill here, insert a row of buttons there, put in a panel of velvet, take out a fan of lace. You name it, my mother could see it in her mind’s eye and render it into fashion reality. She came to understand that it was the style of garments from L.A. that shoppers from Sydney and Melbourne in the sixties and seventies liked best. But left to their own devices, those West Coast garments would never have left the racks.
Only my mother could have looked at them and said, Hmmm, something’s missing. Ah yes — raspberries!