Cooking up creative conversations

Recipes for success

I wrote this article a while ago. It may be silly but its fairly festive.

CULTURAL INTERACTIONS… with unintended outcomes…beautiful surprises and outcomes that surpass what any of us ever plan.

Of course, the quality of the “ingredients” you use in what you cook also determines the outcome.

If you use foods that aren’t fresh, for example, the dish you prepare will not taste very good, no matter how good the recipe is.

So- a little guided tour of Cooking and Cultural Engagement…

Creative engagement in the form of a simple cake… A Christmas Cake.

Now I am very particular about Christmas Cake and I know that not everyone may like Christmas Cake, but I DO believe that there is a Christmas Cake for everyone…

I make mine with a mixture of ingredients based on who might eat my cake but there is a standard baseline formula to use before you can play around with the elements of it.

Our core ingredients:

Sultanas, currants, candied peel, Raisons, glacier Cherries

Otherwise known as the

Research and development stage:

So, for a Christmas Cake you need to pre-soak your ingredients and juicy bits before you make the cake.

Ensure that you pre soak all staff, partners and participants before you made the cake as well- otherwise known as building a relationship and researching your area-what they do and what they need and want.

So- for the cake, put all the ingredients in a big bowl and mix it up with Brandy. For the staff, partners and participants do not soak them in Brandy unless required, however invite everyone together and soak up information, asked all the questions and gain an understanding of how they work and what they NEED and share your thinking.

Before you leave them (the people) to soak you must ensure that you have the correct ingredients… Obviously not everyone is a lover of the raison or the currant but together with the right sultana or candied peel things can taste better. A little bit more of some things and less of others…ensures everyone is happy.

For the Christmas cake, leave the ingredients to soak for a minimum of 12 hours- but I like to soak for longer- a slow steady build up… with some clear direction. You cannot leave dried fruit soaking forever!

The same can be said for people/participants and partners.

You have now started to soak your project or fruit with research or Brandy in this case…make sure you turn your oven on, gas mark 1 or oven 140c- otherwise known as the formation of our Aims and Objectives. Nothing is going to happen with your cake unless it has a clear pathway to achieve its intended outcome- to become a cake which you will share and enjoy. Likewise, for creative engagement, it is important to gather clear evidence and be sure about what you want to do and achieve.

In theory… The next stage is simple

All you need to do now is sift the flour, salt and spices into a very large roomy mixing bowl then add the sugar, eggs, treacle (warm it a little first to make it easier) and butter and beat with an electric hand whisk until everything is smooth and fluffy.

However, you also need the Baking parchment for your cake tin- cut into the correct length and shape before you grease your tin and prepare your brown paper to be tied outside the tin to protect the cake during the long slow cooking- otherwise known as a partnership agreement…it’s good to be clear about what everyone wants to agree to. No one wants a sticky bottom! You don’t have to write it down, but it might help if there are multiple partners.

Next up, butter and sugar- otherwise known as-TRUST and Collaboration…imperative to have this as it holds something together and makes everything taste better once we have TRUST. If you don’t have it- turn back to your soaked fruit and repeat this process until you have trust. Mix your trust well until it is creamy, light and fluffy. You get nowhere fast unless you have this…

Now for the difficult stage…

Planning to Activities:

Otherwise known as adding the eggs…

Now this stage can appear to some like you are home and dry. But don’t be fooled. You need to lightly beat 4 large eggs and add a little at a time, to the creamed mixture.

It can sometimes happen that the beaten eggs are added to the sugar-and-fat mixture too quickly, causing the whole mixture to separate. This breaking-up means that some of the air incorporated at the creaming stage will escape and the finished cake will be slightly heavier. If it does curdle, though, don’t worry: the cake won’t be as light, but it’s not a disaster.

Likewise, in arts interventions– when the breaking up of the mixture happens we can call this Communication… and that is where a regular measured approach is needed. It is all about regular and well-paced communication. When the eggs separate here…it’s not the end of the world…but it does mean that you are in danger of the cake not rising as well … so again in terms of arts- keep your conversation going slowly and steadily. A Long run in is required and a steady hand to work with different groups. A sensitive amount of communication is always needed.

When the eggs have been added- the next stage will be the Enabler- otherwise known as the Flour– When all the egg has been added, sift plain flour together with nutmeg and mixed spice. Use gentle cutting and folding movements to incorporate this into the mixture to keep in as much air as possible. If you do this correctly in terms of cultural engagement- it is a smooth and enjoyable process where all participants are learning together. This is the time where we need to check that all partners are learning and still growing and understand what is happening. Good cultural engagement brings new learning and confidence to everyone. The key is allowing as much AIR into your project or practice- so a space to share learning/delivery or engagement.

Now it is time to complete your cake, known as the Production-PART. It gets exciting now, you get to see the real fruits of everyone’s work. So, adding the soaked fruits to the cake mixture, chopped almonds, zest of 1 orange and 1 lemon and black treacle. Fold these in carefully, using the same movements as before. In arts intervention, this again requires patience and a quiet celebration of what is happening. You are all working together to create and produce something that everyone should be proud of.

Now you are home and dry…the cake is ready to bake, Known as Recording and evaluating, baking the cake. Bake on the lowest shelf of the oven for 4½-4¾ hours. Sometimes it can take up to ½-¾ hour longer than this, but don’t look until at least 4 hours have passed and yes I know that the recording and evaluating should have started at the beginning but I did ask you turn the oven on at the beginning didn’t I ?

In arts interventions, this is the part of the process where times can vary immensely but what is important is to agree what works for your project. Go back to your partnership agreement and check what works…it is vital to get this part right otherwise no one will ever know that you did to prepare and create a brilliant cake together… if you let it slide by and burn your cake, you will regret it and no one will learn anything or indeed want to!

Having very clear and concise evaluation as part of our practice is imperative but there are varied ways to do it this- you must check with your partners about what works best for them… like you must check  and put your oven at the start.

After 4 odd hours, you have a cake…let it stand.

Remember to feed it nice alcohol at different intervals until you need to ice or eat it…

In cultural engagement, you might call this finding and exploring new ways of working… and keeping in touch with your new team…