The Key Ingredient is ‘Mental’

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.

Works Cited

Goldstein, E. Bruce. Cognitive Psychology: Connecting Mind, Research, and Everyday Experience.Belmont: Wadsworth, 2011. print

5 thoughts on “The Key Ingredient is ‘Mental’

  1. Lojie Martin

    I’m echoing what’s already been stated, but “YUM!” That’s what I was saying to myself as you led me through your mental imagery. I can tell you, that I was definitely along for the ride. Your story has actually given me a new way to think about creating in the kitchen. Usually I alter meals that I already know how to cook (I don’t care for recipes too much) but I don’t think I ever gave it as much though as you do! What you do makes an awful lot of sense and it is something I often use -just not in the kitchen. I’m especially not very good at baking. Sadly. But after reading your post, I feel like using your mental imagery to create something!! Great way to make mental imagery easy to understand.

  2. Crystal Lynnette Burton

    In reading all the post and comments, I must say that I agree with Ashley Keller. I this that this was a great read, I found this post to be very interesting. I feel like you did a great job in capturing your readers attention. As well as helping them to obtain the information you gave on mental imagery. What better way to do so than doing so with a topic that we all can relate to eating or cooking a meal. However I can see the point that Lauren Alberston made. I feel as though I use mental imagery more when reading a book or study. I feel like the things you described may lean more toward visual imagery. But either way excellent writing.

  3. Ashley E Keller

    Aside from making me hungry, your post was a very interesting and entertaining read! This was an excellent way make mental imagery relatable and it actually makes a lot of sense when you think about it. Unfortunately I lack any sort of culinary skills. I rarely ever cook and when I do, I need detailed step-by-step instructions. And sometimes I still manage to mess up! I prefer baking but nothing I ever make is from scratch. On the other hand, my mom loves spending time in the kitchen to prepare delicious meals and desserts the exact same way that you do. I never understood how she (or anyone else) could come up with recipes, estimate measurements, or substitute ingredients. But that’s what makes cooking shows like Top Chef so exciting. Perhaps what I’m lacking is the “key ingredient!” The next time I attempt to whip up dinner, I will try to add some visual imagery.

  4. Lauren Mary Albertson

    Your post was an excellent example of mental imagery. I wish I had such skills while cooking or baking but I seem to lack that. I am the type of person who loves to cook and bake as long as an exact recipe to follow is right in front of me. I think as a vegan you must have to swap certain ingredients out often to keep the meals vegan and maybe this is why you do so well with mental imagery of cooking. I personally think I use mental imagery most while reading a book and imagining the scenes or while studying. I find myself to visually remember texts or pictures from studying while taking my exams. Over the years I learned to study flash cards but not only memorize from repetition but visually as well. After a while, I can visually picture the definitions after the words. It is time consuming, but very effective for me when I do study that way. $

  5. Batsheva Tenenbaum

    Very entertaining post! Your example of mental imagery is a really great one, and I can definitely relate to you. Both my husband and I enjoy cooking and baking, so the process that you described that went through your head before you started to cook is something we do out loud together. We do this whether one of us, or both of us are cooking. When we plan menus we picture what the table with all the food will look like (whether it will be enough), and we imagine each plate and if each has enough variety. However what you described is not quite the same, but it is very impressive, I must say. It is very clear that you have a lot of experience in the kitchen, and that you have a deep understanding of different foods, flavors, and what goes well with what. I imagine that each person has their own area where they use visual imagery before beginning certain tasks to help them carry it out as efficiently as possible.

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