Ditching the ‘shoulds’

It can be a little scary to break out of a routine and do less of the things you think you ‘should’ be doing. For me, it’s one of the biggest challenges of being self-employed and starting a business. To help stop myself getting stuck in the boggy mire of too many ‘shoulds’, at the beginning of the year I made a commitment to take more opportunities to be creative and have fun. I promised myself that every day I would carry out at least one creative act.

I’ve been keeping a track of these activities – and the strange thing is, the more I look for opportunities to do or try something a bit different, the more I find. Unlike so many resolutions in previous years, I’ve stuck to this one. Maybe it’s because it’s actually pretty fun. But I also know that because I’ve made a public statement I’m more likely to keep going with my commitment (for anyone who’s interested in behavioural economics, this is an important way to create behaviour change and is what organisations like Weight Watchers use to help people stick to their goals).

2016 Creative Commitment


The other reason I made this commitment is in relation to my creATE workshops that I kicked off at the end of last year. During the workshops I ask people taking part to make a creative food commitment in the week ahead. Doing something new and challenging is a great way to kick our creative brain into action. I wanted to go one step further and make this part of my everyday behaviour.

In the spirit of sharing and public commitments, I wanted to let you know just some of things I’ve been up to so far. It might even spark off some thoughts for your own little acts or experiments. Not everything has been food related, but because I love food and cooking a lot of them are.


My creative January highlights

During my creative January, I…

  • Drew a colourful version of my 2016 commitment and took a photo as a record and reminder
  • Started a ‘Joy’ board: this is basically a big piece of cardboard to which I’m adding pictures or objects that make me feel happy (including things I’d like to experience this year). It’s mainly photographs and illustrations that I’ve cut from magazines, but I’ve also punched holes in the bottom so I can hang things on the board.
  • Created a spice mix based on what I already had in my cupboard rather than buying something new. I discovered I had 4 different types of pepper (black, pink, Szechuan and Indonesian long pepper). I ground them together in my pestle and mortar, taking time to inhale the wonderful scent of crushed pepper, and sprinkled them over a big tray of roasted vegetables.

2016 Creative Commitment

  • Carried out some rosemary flavour experiments: I picked lots of rosemary from the pots at my front door and added freshly chopped leaves into some choc chip cookies. I also added a piece into my morning chia porridge and let the flavours infuse. The result was incredibly soothing.

2016 Creative Commitment

  • Staying on the porridge theme, I borrowed and adapted a recipe from I Quit Sugar: Simplicious and made a Shitake mushroom porridge topped with toasted macadamia nuts. And it was delicious!
  • Over 3 nights visited different sections of London’s Lumiere Festival, making sure I stopped and made time to really look at the wonderful light displays.
  • Played around with Abel & Cole’s 15 minute marmalade recipe (and I’ve only ever made jam before, so this was my first experience of marmalade), adding blood oranges, a little rosemary (again!), chilli and ginger.
  • Had my first experience of Ethiopian cuisine. I’ve eaten Eritrean food before which is very similar, but this was my first Ethiopian adventure. I visited Kokeb in North London with my husband, and the food was wonderfully rich and spicy. I don’t eat meat, so it was a good choice given Ethiopian food has lots of veggie options.Kokeb Restaurant
  • Wrote my first haiku poem since school – and then physically wrote it out with my Aquarelle pencils, which I also haven’t used since school! (I had the foresight to pack them in my suitcase when I moved to the UK almost 18 years ago).
  • Made a soothing cup of afternoon matcha (green tea powder), using almond drink and infused it with cardamom pods.
  • Discovered half way through a day that I had my jumper on back to front – and kept it like that for the rest of the day.

As you can imagine, there were many other examples across the month, but I don’t want to bore you with them all. I particularly loved experimenting with flavours as they were mostly a success – though I maybe slightly overdid the chilli flakes in my 15 minute marmalade. Is also ended up being a bit more like chilli jam as I needed to added a bit more liquid. However, I see it more as a happy accident than a mistake, as it still tasted good. I’ll also play around with the recipe again and see what works. Experimenting and trying things out is half the joy of getting creative with cooking!

15 minute marmalade



What’s next?

Over the next month I’ll share a few more recipes based on my favourite January flavour combinations, including a very tasty butternut squash curry with cacao nibs. Hopefully you’ll then have a go at recreating some of the dishes yourself and trying your own flavour experiments. I’m planning to have some more fun with warming flavours over this last stretch of winter. In fact, I’m actually spending a week of it in India so will come back with some more spicy suggestions to help your toes and taste buds warm before spring arrives.


If you discover any fantastic flavour combinations I’d love to hear about them! Just add them in the comments below.