Sunday, October 10, 2010

Daily Creativity -or- What I Learned from Cooking

I would like to point out that we're all creative on a daily basis.  I never quite know what to say when someone tells me just how creative I am (and, reading between the lines, how not creative they are) as if creativity exists only in the realm of art making or that it's something that happens for just a few, select people. 

I also consider creativity and problem solving to be synonymous -- a series of actions and decisions made towards the goal of solving a problem, whether that problem be finding a cure for cancer or formulating ideas that end up as paintings in galleries or a concert on a stage.

In Math in Your Feet (elementary version) kids make up their own percussive dance patterns.  While we're engaged in this process I make the point that 1. both problem solving and the creative process usually don't occur with one action, but with a series of actions and choices that bring you to a solution and 2. sometimes, if things aren't going the way you'd like, you have to revisit a previous step of your process to refine or redirect your ideas. 

One of the other things kids experience in Math in Your Feet is the difference between choreography and improvisation.  Choreography is usually the end result of a lot of improvisation -- trial and error and trial again.  There are a lot of choices and decisions you have to make a long the way.  Sounds a lot like problem solving to me.

So, we are all creative, on a daily basis.  We all have multiple opportunities throughout the day to identify a need, make choices, and strategize about what to do next.  Not every problem needs to big and not every solution needs to be a work of art or cure cancer for us to engage daily in this wonderful process.

As an example of daily creativity, please consider Exhibit A: a list of ingredients for a recipe I used to make called Skillet Black Beans:

4 medium potatoes
1 1/2 tbs olive oil
1 med-large onion
2-3 garlic cloves
1 med green bell pepper
1 4oz can mild diced green chiles
1 16oz can diced tomatoes
2 tsp ground cumin
juice of 1 lime
6 6-inch corn tortillas, cut into narrow strips

This is a great recipe, don't get me wrong, but after eating it four or five times it just wasn't working for me.  I didn't like the potatoes or the bell pepper.  I'm not a fan of chiles.  We can't eat corn in our house right now.  So, I used the original recipe as a starting point.  I experimented and made adjustments.  It's still called Skillet Black Beans, but now it looks like this:

Oil (not measured, just eyeballed)
1 sweet onion
Lots of garlic
Half a small head of cauliflower, cut into small pieces
1 big can of fire roasted crushed tomatoes
2 small cans of black beans
2 tsp ground cumin
3 large rice tortillas, cut into small strips

It's still the same recipe, but different, and it suits my tastes and my needs.  I'll never be considered a gourmet (there are many, many better cooks out there than myself) but when I cook I feel a sense of my own mastery.  My food is the direct result of my choices, for better or worse.  If I don't like what I made, I get to try again to make my dish more the way I'd like it.

That's why helping kids create their own dance patterns is so satisfying for me. Once I figured out how to provide just the right amount of structure (which is really the topic of a future post) I found that kids had lots of ideas and were really excited to try them out, with only a minimum amount of struggle.  And, surprisingly, they were all happy at having a chance to solve a problem (a choreographic one, with limits, but still a lot of freedom for personal choice).

We are all creative, on a daily basis.  Maybe not in the kitchen or in a dance class, but in some other venue.  What's yours?


  1. Digging this! Enjoying hearing more about your praxis these days!

    Greetings from Limerick.


  2. Loving your posts Malke! So, when are you coming out with a DVD? :=)


Thanks for reading. I would love to hear your thoughts and comments!


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