write about a cholla bud

I have the mixed blessing of working on a campus with a culinary arts program that prepares lunch. For $6.22 (including tax), I can get a full-course meal with entrees such as vaquero pulled pork, sizzling catfish with ginger and ponzu sauce (what is ponzu sauce?), and sides such as braised cabbage with apple and fennel, and baby kale and pineapple salad. On the one hand, the foodie in me loves exploring the new dishes. On the other, I always buy the full meal, which means I have to try the desserts. I’m pretty sure my pants are tighter than when the semester started. But the slice of lemon dacquoise cake I had last week was worth it. I had never heard of a dacquoise cake.

Tomorrow, the meal will be filled with indigenous dishes, including a squash and cholla bud enchilada, tepary bean and nopale salad, mesquite corn bread, and capirotada for dessert. When I looked up “capirotada,” I found out it is a kind of Mexican bread pudding with highly religious connotations and is served on Good Friday. I still don’t know what a tepary bean is, but I’m pretty sure “nopales” are the buds from the prickly pear cactus. I think. Aha! I was almost right. The nopal is the pad of the prickly pear cactus, not the bud that can be made into jam.

The culinary arts school sends out the weekly menu and includes information about one ingredient. This week, I learn that cholla buds are calcium- and iron-rich and taste like asparagus. I am eager to eat cactus parts tomorrow.

What does any of this have to do with writing? My creativity has been a bit corraled by the time constraints of a full-time teaching job, and when schedules get tight, writers need to get even more creative in carving out writing time and sparking creative prompts. My prompts hang out in culinary arts these days. Trying different foods allows me to experiment with taste, and that creative meandering spills over in to writing.

So if you’re stalled, stumped, or even somewhat slovenly, shake up your daily routine and look to another art form to play with. The sensory input of taste can shift language. Or, write about food. One of the culinary arts staff participated in our National Day on Writing celebration by bringing three poems about food, and the one by Seamus Heaney called “Oysters” is a feast: “My tongue was a filling estuary, / my palate hung with starlight: / As I tasted the salty Pleiades …”

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