Fits and Starts + Chard, White Bean & Tamarind Stew

09 . 20 . 11

Fall arrives in fits and starts in here in San Diego. Friday was a tease with its grey skies, cool breeze, and invitation for thinking books and black coffee. Sun, shorts, and summer squash on Sunday — September keeps us wanting. My creative process follows suit. Ideas come and go, passing through me before I have time to bottle them up or at least find a working pen.

I bought a sketchbook at the end of summer, it was on sale at the art store and at the time I had these great intentions of writing everyday; “creativity for creativity’s sake.” I was inspired by a recent feature Shaun and I had collaborated on about a new friend, colleague who encouraged “artists need to be creative for the sake of it, not for work, but because it’s who you are.” Agree. So does Julia Cameron, who insists on a practice of writing every day, among other things, to “recover creativity, as it is the natural expression and direction of life.” It’s been three weeks, and that sketchbook is barely filled with the caught inspiration, captured realizations, or daydreams like I envisioned.

I love, and fully one hundred and fifty percent believe in the practice of “creativity for creativity’s sake,” but as Elizabeth Gilbert, writer, says in her ’09 TED Talk, it can’t always account for “the utter maddening capriciousness of the creative process, a process which everyone who has ever tried to make something knows doesn’t behave rationally, and sometimes seems downright paranormal.”

Case in point, Shaun and I saw Bon Iver this past weekend, and in the middle of a solo set the creative rain comes like a flood and I have nowhere to put it in the dark, musty auditorium. Vernon is singing, I am completely in the present moment, engrossed, emotional, and the ideas come a’knocking. WTF, creativity? I needed you a few days ago. I can’t deal with you right now.

We have to be okay with that. Part of being creative for creativity’s sake is not documenting it, saving it for later, making it a practice. Let it just be. A thing that comes, at random, irrationally, and reminds you that it’s there and that it will come back because it always does . Let the creativity just be there for the sake of it, even if it’s stuck in your head or heart and can’t be rendered “useful.” Perhaps this is the extended meaning of being creative for the sake of it. Feeling it. Enjoying it. Not having to go anywhere with it. Just letting it affirm our sometimes maddening humanness.

Fall will come in San Diego. Eventually. It will fake us out for a while. And it may feel inconvenient when it does make an appearance because we’ll be wearing shorts and sandals. But heck. Let it come when it does. The sketchbook will be there, and if it doesn’t get love everyday, there will be times later when I’ll be glad I have all the extra pages. I think. I hope.

White Bean, Tamarind, Chard Stew with several adaptions from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Chickpea Stew in Plenty 

  • 4 tbsp seedless tamarind pulp
  • 1 bunch (stalks and leaves) Swiss chard
  • 2 tsp coriander seeds, ground
  • 3 tsp caraway seeds
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 lbs roma or plum tomatoes
  • 2 1/2 cups water
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 2 cups freshly cooked cannelli beans
  • handful of fresh cilantro
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 cups short-grain brown rice, cooked with a tsp of olive oil
Soak dry beans overnight, and cook for 45 minutes before you plan to get started. Alternatively, you could use canned, but I discourage it – BPA, the same stuff we’re on the watch for in water bottles is found in tin can linings. While you’re cooking the beans, put on the rice too.
Okay, now we can start. Whist the tamarind with 3 tbsp of water until it dissolves into a paste. Set aside. Place chopped onion and caraway seeds in a large pan with olive oil and saute on medium heat for 10 minutes. Add tomatoes, water, honey, beans, ground coriander, cumin, chard, and a bit of salt and pepper. Strain the tamarind water through a fine mesh strainer over the pan. Bring to a slight boil, then reduce heat, cover, and let simmer for 30 minutes. If you like a more soup-y stew, add a bit more water. If you prefer a thicker stew, remove the lid to let the steam evaporate. Add salt and pepper to taste.
When you’re ready to serve, spoon rice into a shallow bowl, creating crater in the center. Put a ladle or two over the rice, and top with fresh cilantro.

  • Looks amazing, as usual!
    I relate to the creativity thing—when I’m longing for it, it doesn’t come. But when I’m really present and clear, it flows right in. When I put my focus on finding ways to be present rather than on seeking something specific, I get “more” …although I periodically need reminders of that too :)

  • I love that TED talk. So inspiring.

    I’ve been doing the Morning Pages thing – wake up, drink coffee and write first thing, at least one page. I like writing when it’s still dark, when I’m the only one awake, when the world still seems like a dream. So far, it’s been both creative AND productive, which is the best combination.

    This recipe looks wonderful. I can’t wait to try it out!

  • First of all, I love waking up to a Happyolks post. Second, I was inspired by a similar talk by Gilbert on a Radiolab episode. I’m going to get around to watching the TED talk today, for sure. On the subject of creativity, I started my blog as a much needed creative outlet while I was working at a mind-numbing office job. Sure glad I did! Still, I I want to (absolutely need to) step away from the computer and read books and write on paper more often. Creativity can be maddeningly fleeting and elusive, but I don’t think it would be creativity if it weren’t a little maddening. I appreciated Gilbert’s idea that you could put creativity on hold and it would come back to you. Oh, and lastly, your tamarind stew looks delicious. Everything you make looks delicious. I’m sorry if I get a little too taken with your stories to comment on the recipe part!

  • Gorgeous post, Kelsey! I’m loving the photos and your words on creativity. For me, those moments (like the one you had at Bon Iver) are what being live is all about. :)

  • What great flavor profiles! It looks delicious!

  • these photos are absolutely beautiful, i can’t believe it. i tried chard once and wasn’t too crazy about it, but maybe it is better cooked? definitely want to try this recipe! thanks for sharing :)

  • My goodness, does this look good (and warm and filling; yum)!

  • This looks delicious! I can almost smell all the spices and aromas that would come from cooking this dish! What I love most about it is that it’s so super healthy, something I’d eat, and aside from the tamarind pulp…something that can be put together with essentials on hand in my pantry. LOVE!

  • I LOVE this post. thank you. I 100% agree and have blogged these thoughts myself before (the fleeting-ness of creativity) so i loved knowing you feel the same way, and, that you were able to articulate it in such a beautiful way. thank you!

  • What a great post and I love your insights on creativity– so very true. Love this recipe– swiss chard and tamarind?? Never thought to combine those but sounds delicious!

  • This sounds excellent? Where do you get tamarind pulp?

  • Oh wow!! what a delicious recipe! the photographs made me sooo hungry!!

  • So well put, Kelsey! Creativity doesn’t always strike when we want it to, but I think that’s ok. Summer also comes in fits and starts in San Francisco, though, unlike San Diego, we haven’t really had our summer yet! xo

  • I love Ottolenghi’s recipes! This one sounds so so tasty, I can’t wait to try it :-)

  • Elizabeth

    Just made this for my dinner tonight! I served it up sans rice, and my husband and I loved the flavor of the broth. Next time I’m going to puree some of the vegetables (been on a creamy soup kick)to see how that changes the feel of things. Tamarind is one of my favorite flavors and it added such depth to this soup. Will be making it again for sure, thanks for the recipe!

  • I really just love your recipes. And your photographs are so gorgeous. I could spend all day just looking at your blog!

  • gyonyoruani

    I made this recipe two days ago, and it was really delicious. :) I really like your recipes.

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