New Year, New Creative Exercises
The writing prompts I keep turning to again and again
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This week's post is a bit different than most, but is one I hope will help you nurture your creative practice. I've been thinking a lot about my own creative practice, and how to support and refine it as I continue to build classes for Root, to write, and create art.
If you enjoy writing prompts or just journaling in general, or you’re feeling stuck in a creative rut, maybe it will help you, too!
Building upon my new year's reflections and last year's monthly vision journal prompts, I thought I would share a couple exercises that have helped me in my own creative work. This is especially timely as I'm in Europe currently, galivanting around with friends new and old, learning from some of my culinary inspirations, and laying the groundwork for whatever magic I have in store next.
I've framed both of these exercises in terms of my writing, but they can easily be adapted to whatever your creative practice is. Maybe instead of your most enthusiastic reader, it's your dream client or the person who will fall in love with your artwork.
Focusing on their enthusiasm, though, is important, because thinking about who your work excites can help lead to new revelations about who you're creating it for. While I write about food, for example, my most enthusiastic reader is not just "someone who likes food," they are curious and engaged and interdisciplinary: They want to be edutained but also to draw new connections they haven't before.
Focusing on their enthusiasm helps you focus on your own, too: A win-win for everyone.
Who is my most enthusiastic reader (or client, or whatever else)?
This is an exercise I've done with most of my writing clients this year, as we think about how to lay the groundwork for our future writing practices and to create a body of work that's joyful and fulfilling for us as writers.
For this exercise, journal/draw/dance/vision board/whatever around the person who you most want to attract to your work. Maybe they're a client for your research services, a reader of your next book, or someone you hope will buy your art.
Some people will have specific individuals in mind who embody the kind of ideal reader they imagine, but most likely you'll have a set of traits or interests or professions that align most closely with your ideal audience.
Some questions to guide your thinking: What is most exciting about my work? What value does this work bring to people's lives? What is my ideal audience interested in? What kind of work do they do, or hobbies do they have? How does connecting with my work enrich and improve their lives?
What gifts am I giving the world?
I think a lot about the role each of us plays in this world, as someone sitting at the intersection of past and future, playing the role of both descendent and ancestor as we decide what gifts to take from the past and bring forward to tomorrow.
There has been a lot of talk (in my circles at least) about the importance of being a good ancestor, and this exercise came out of those reflections.
You've now thought about how your work connects to your ideal audience, but what about the goodness it's bringing to the world writ large? In other words, what legacy are you hoping to leave behind?
For example, I want the work I do with food to help others connect their foodmaking practice to their whole, creative self. That perspective is at the basis of the Irish creative residency program I'm trying to start: A space for people to make ferments, forage, make art, write, and think about the relationship between all these creative acts (on that note, if you know anyone selling some acres in West Cork, let me know!)I also want to help people feel connected to the land, to history, and to each other and I use food (and food writing) as the way to do that.
But your legacy doesn't have to be all about work: The work we hope to share with the world is also deeply intertwined with our personal lives and the two inform each other. I like to think about the gifts I'm giving the world within the context of my whole self: I want to love fully and deeply in all my relationships, for example.
Don't worry about what anyone else thinks about your legacy: These notes you make and dreams you have are yours alone. What matters most to you? Maybe you hope to help more people fall in love with cooking vegetables, or you hope you raise your kids into empathetic and loving adults, or you hope to write a book about the history of spaceships. Or you hope to do all three. Let your mind wander to the most exquisite "what": If you could create anything, what would you create?
And most importantly, imagine what you create as a gift you're sharing with others. What does that gift do for their lives? How is the world better or changed as a result?
I hope both of these exercises help you feel inspired as a creator, or maybe help you identify some new folks to share your gifts with.
I've been thinking about my audience in terms of myself as a writer but also a culinary educator, and I'm excited to see where both go from here.
I was also interviewed on KCRW's Good Food, talking about fermentation and its power to feed us and connect us to our history.
I'll be teaching in Edinburgh, London, and Wicklow this month:
Koji Kitchen Edinburgh with Robin Sherriff, February 15th, 6 pm.
Nourished Communities cafe London with Robin Sherriff and Pao-Yu Liu, February 18th, 11:30 am.
River Run Ferments, Wicklow with Terri Ann Fox, February 25th.
I’ll also be speaking at KojiCon on February 20th: Get your tickets if you haven’t already!
I'll then be taking a much-needed vacation in a cottage in Schull, so will be slow to reply to emails. I'll be back in the swing of things in early March!
This reading list from Sophie Strand.
This reminder from Dinner: A Love Story to repurpose your pickle juice into cocktails.
Jenny Dorsey's relatable, beautiful love letter to restaurant cooks.
Rebecca May Johnson's Small Fires, which I've just received an ARC of and which promises to be an electrifying, engrossing read.
And finally, I'm planning summer travels, including a return to Alaska, and am looking forward to seeing Michael George and crew again. Read all about him and McCarthy here.
Make: Julia's simple mead from Our Fermented Lives
Mead speaks to me of possibility and ancient connections: A beverage rooted deep in the histories and spiritualities of the past, making the trek from Africa to Europe and around the world.
Meadmaking can be as complex or simple as you'd like it to be: Here, we're making a simple version using materials you have on hand.
This is my basic mead recipe from Our Fermented Lives.
MY BASIC FRESH MEAD
Mead is one of my all-time favorite drinks (it is also one of humankind’s most ancient foods). I love the flavor of honey in just about anything, but I find many commercial meads to be cloyingly sweet, so I often make my own. That allows me to add whatever I like to my mead, and I usually forage ingredients from around my home so that my mead reflects the season and landscape in which it’s made.
I encourage you to take this basic recipe and run with it. Play with the ingredients, flavoring your mead with fruits, shoots, nuts, leaves, and more (some good standbys include blackberries, fresh herbs, and warming spices like cinnamon). Play with the amount of honey and the length of time you ferment it. Over time, you’ll learn what works best for you, in your season and place, giving you a mead that’s all your own.
2 cups honey (raw, local honey is best)
2 quarts room-temperature water
Flavorings of your choice (optional)
Stir the honey into the water until dissolved.
Transfer the mixture to a fermentation vessel. I typically use a wide- mouthed crock, but a large glass jar or other food-safe container also works.
Add your desired flavorings (if any) and stir to distribute. Cover the fer- mentation vessel with a tea towel or cheesecloth (held in place with a rubber band, if needed) to keep insects out.
Let the mixture ferment, stirring it several times a day, until the mead is good and bubbly and has the flavor you want, 4 to 7 days. After 3 or 4 days, start tasting it once or twice a day. Pull out the flavorings (the herbs, spices, or whatever else you added at the beginning). You can compost these, or you can get creative and try chucking them in a dehydrator (like the turmeric and lavender in the recipe on page 13) or in whatever you’re making for dinner or dessert (berries that have been used to make mead make a fantastic sauce for ice cream).
5. You can drink the mead at this stage, which was the most common choice historically, and certainly the easiest method. Just store any unused portion in the fridge to slow further fermentation. If you would like to make a mead with a higher ABV, or one that is carbonated, there are a lot of great resources out there with specifics on how to do so, including Jereme Zimmerman’s Make Mead Like a Viking, Sandor Katz’s The Art of Fermentation, and Kirsten and Christopher Shockey’s The Big Book of Cidermaking.
I’m taking a bit of a break the next two weeks as I travel to Europe (paid subscribers, you'll be getting my notes from the herbal and healing vinegar class next week).
Next month, I'll be thinking about food waste, including simple, practical tips for using up food scraps, sharing an interview with an artist who explores music and food, and sharing some thoughts from my first book talk of the year.
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