In lesson 10 of our text book, we are briefly introduced to the concept of mental imagery. Mental imagery, according to Goldstein, is “the ability to recreate the sensory world in the absence of physical stimuli” (Goldstein 270). It is similar to the more common idea of visual imagery, except that it takes place in the other senses, like taste and smell. As I read this, it suddenly occurs to me that it has been the key ingredient whenever I experiment with a new recipe in the kitchen!
I’ve actually included this ingredient for years and never realized what I was doing, and I do it quite a bit. I love to cook and bake. I’m at my happiest when I’m in the kitchen whipping up one thing or another. I’ve created many, many wonderful recipes over the years. And my process, which involves mental imagery, is –or was, in my thought– unique.
First, I realize the finished meal in my mind, and then I reverse-engineer it. Over Christmas, for example, I wanted tamales. However, since you simply cannot find a vegan tamale, I started constructing a meatless, cheese-less variation in my head by thinking of what makes a regular tamale and substituting different ingredients. Masa, for example, is heavier than cornbread but suitable for enveloping the filling. In my head, I imagined the taste and consistency of agave, which I could use to sweeten the cornmeal mixed with coconut oil and soy milk. Combining those ingredients in my mind, I recall their individual tastes and textures, then decide that it needs a small kick. I make a note to add a dash of cayenne pepper when the time comes.
Satisfied with the combination of flavors, I decide on the ingredients for the filling. I imagine the fat-free re-fried black beans will push the filling aside to make a glob, so I ponder using my own vegan chili recipe and adding dairy-free cheese. That feels right to me!
Once I figure it all out, I put it together in my head in baked form. I feel the hot bite touch my tongue, and as I press my tongue to the roof of my mouth, I break through the slightly spicy hot faux masa and the beans in my chili come to life, and the clean, cold feel and taste of my sour cream completes the experience. I decide that’s what’s for supper, and then I start pulling ingredients from our pantry.
Cornmeal, coconut oil–no! Olive oil! That’s what I need since coconut oil will make it dense and crumbly. I put together the cornmeal mixture, sprinkle my vegan cheese and pour my chili on top. I think about it a moment and I can feel the baked cheese with a cold bit of no-dairy sour cream. I sprinkle more cheese as the image of that first bite tantalizes my taste buds. As I put it in the oven, I decide that 375 degrees for 35 minutes feels right. Once it comes out of the oven, my husband and I put our plates together and another creation is in the mix of our favorite suppers.
For the record, several tamale pies later, I tried coconut oil and it was as I suspected… dense and crumbly.
Goldstein, E. Bruce. Cognitive Psychology: Connecting Mind, Research, and Everyday Experience.Belmont: Wadsworth, 2011. print