The Mother of Invention
August 15th, 2011

Apparently I should challenge myself more often.

I enjoy cooking and I like to think I do a pretty good job of it.  I make dinner from scratch nearly every weeknight (although pregnancy has seen me slack off a bit more than usual) and I’ve developed some decent culinary skills in the past 10 years.  However, I’ve come to realize that I’m in a bit of a rut, and that rut has been enabled by weekly grocery trips.

Last week the Family P skipped town for a few days.  We’d been planning to escape the heat and enjoy a change of scenery.  So our usual Sunday grocery trip was significantly curtailed and only included a few basics that we needed to get us through Wednesday.  I took it upon myself to create dinners for Monday and Tuesday nights from things we already had on hand.

I’ve given myself this challenge before and it doesn’t always pan out so deliciously.  I’ve ended up eating cottage cheese, baked beans, and leftover biscuits.  Blech.  But last week I guess I was inspired.  On Monday night we had a pasta dish with broccoli, chicken and a white wine and mascarpone sauce.  On Tuesday we had BLTs on challah with homemade fried okra.  Both meals were both wonderful, and wonderful departures from our typical go-to menu rotation.

Wednesday evening as we left town I got to thinking about my culinary adventures from the prior nights.  They didn’t require any more time or skill than dishes I normally make.  They didn’t require that much more creativity.  But there was something about them – something about the challenge at hand – that made them more fun, both to prepare and to eat.

I’m not usually one for extrapolating broad meaning out of specific situations, but this one got me thinking about other ruts in my life.  I wonder if there are other aspects of my daily routine that I would find more rewarding if I broke out of my normal patterns.  What if I hopped on a rowing machine at the gym instead of the elliptical?  What if I took the back roads to work instead of the highways?  What if I turned on some music when I got home in the evenings?  Some of these changes might not delight me as my menu shake-up did, but others might.

The old maxim goes that necessity is the mother of invention.  Last week I experienced that very phenomenon.  However, I am very blessed and rarely find myself needing anything I don’t already have.  It isn’t often that I’m called up to invent.  But my kitchen adventures last week made me realize that perhaps I should force myself to invent more often.

5 Responses to “The Mother of Invention”

  1. TheKitchenWitch Says:

    Oh, I love those dinners! The ones where I open the fridge and raid the pantry and just wing it. When it turns out, I always feel so proud of myself.

  2. Gale Says:

    Kitch – Exactly. Even though there was nothing that spectacular about a chicken/broccoli pasta or a BLT, it was the fact that I pulled them together without planning them that made me so happy. A good reminder for my overplanning self that sometimes things turn out great (better, even) when we let them unfold on their own.

  3. Laura H. Says:

    Your post today made me think of an article I read recently about things to do to keep adult brains sharp – taking a different route to work, brushing your teeth with your non-dominant hand, etc. Basically changing our routines is good for our brains. So I agree…we should force ourselves out of our ruts more often!

    I write this moments after printing out the “morning routine” lists I have for my children in preparation for the new school year (and smooth mornings with independent children)! My brain may need change, but their brains need organizing still…i.e. getting dressed includes putting on socks and shoes; the nightime pull-up belongs in the trashcan and not the bathroom floor; etc.!

  4. Ana Says:

    Yup, agree with TKW—I love pulling off “pantry meals” when we haven’t been shopping in a while and husband is begging to just order pizza. Its pretty satisfying, in that same family of smugness that I get when I score a fantastic bargain on something :)

  5. BigLittleWolf Says:

    It’s amazing how much we thrive on routine, and feel cradled by it, especially when life is hectic. It’s equally amazing how creative and exciting it can be when we deviate from our usual, and try something new – a style, a route to work, a place to shop, a set of recipes.

    I think this break in routine is great. I’ve been trying my own hand at new locations to shop (including a fantastic farmer’s market), not to mention entirely new recipes (viva the pressure cooker). The process and results have been fun, economical, and remind me you can teach an old dog new tricks… and young ones, too.