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My ideas are constantly changing as I learn. Sometimes they even change midway through writing a post.

Friday, December 17

Cheese Sticks and Creativity

I used to think I hated cooking. It was boring and repetitive. I was sick of it. I wished I never had to cook. Then one day I realized that on occassion, I really did like cooking. I liked cooking when I was making something new and it turned out well, or I at least came up with some good ideas for making it turn out well next time. Still, there's a risk involved with experimenting. It might not be edible and then I've spent time, used up food, and am likely still hungry.

Today, as I was cutting up cheese into sticks for a child, I got to thinking that it might be nice to have cheese sticks (cheese fried in a sort of batter). I hesitated, though. I had lots of other things to do that seemed important. I've attempted to make them from scratch a few times and hadn't been very happy with them. I thought it might end up being a lot of time used up doing something piddly and unimportant instead of good, useful things.

I talked this over with a friend who asked some questions about them. What are cheese sticks? How are they made?

Usually, I cut up all the sticks. I get a bowl of flour, one of milk, and one of egg. I season the flour and cut up the cheese. Then the cheese sticks all get dipped in milk and flour. Nex, I put them all in egg and then flour. Finally, I fry them all. Somehow, the flour always ends up sliding off and some of the cheese escapes and gets fried too. They're still pretty tasty and edible, but they're just not as pretty as the ones you can get in restaurants.

I had shown this same friend how to make chicken nuggets one day and was amazed at how he went about becoming a chicken-nugget-frying expert. He tried it without eggs, with bread crumbs, with different seasonins, with differing amounts of oil. He'd do a few at a time in different ways to find the ways that worked better. He still hadn't quite found something like my favorite HEB chicken tenders, but he managed to get some very good ones. He'd also figured out a lot about what did and didn't work.

I thought of this and realized that maybe I could change the recipe too, but I wasn't sure I wanted to stand around cooking for that long with possibly bad results. He suggested I do a few at a time and stop if I wasn't enjoying it anymore. It sounded a lot more promising that way. No huge waste of time plus some better ideas for making it work.

I suspected the milk might be part of the problem. The flour just doesn't stick to it well. I didn't particularly want to deal with eggs either. I settled on mixing the flour and seasonings together and adding milk until it was something like a thick pancake batter. I messily coated ONE cheese stick and fried it. It didn't look anything like the restaurant cheese sticks. It was flatter and smoother, like a pancake, and the cheese came out a little on the sides so that it looked a bit more like a toasty cheese sandwich finger. It tasted really nice. I thought I might experiment more with the pancake style since it seemed promising. I experimented strictly with varying batter thicknesses.

I had a great time doing it. It wasn't boring and repetitive. It was more like an interesting science experiment that I could eat. I have some ideas for next time - using egg, bread crumbs, baking powder, different seasonings. At some point, I'll probably come up with some really nice ones and want to make them again. I've often experimented with. It seems so "obvious". Why didn't I think of it?

It's something I run into a lot. I can be flexible and creative, but it doesn't seem to happen enough to be really useful. It seems easier to move onto something easier or seemingly more important. Then again, I've noticed a decided improvement in creativity when I systematically LOOK for a solution. It didn't occur to me to look for a better way to make that food right then. Maybe because I didn't think it was important. As it turns out, though, it was VERY important. It inspired a lot of learning - about cooking cheese sticks, cooking in general, and generating creativity. I think writing helped with this quite a bit too.

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