Creativity reloaded – life, ex-pats, & outsourcing

I enjoy my life here in Hong Kong as an ex-pat. I work, I drive, I speak Mandarin, I cook, and I wash my own car. The Internet flows free and fast. Parks, beach, and hiking trails are minutes away, the food is fantastic, and it’s safe. What’s my guilty pleasure?  Outsourcing! I outsource all cleaning and sous chef duties Monday through Friday.

Every week, I meet fantastic people and families, ex-pats & locals alike, who all engage in outsourcing in one form or another. Some still cook, others outsource cooking completely along with the shopping. Some have drivers, yet no one works on their own car. Sure, we all wash a few clothes on the weekend, but rarely do we iron. We live in apartments with management fees. So drilling holes in walls is frowned upon. Painting is negotiated ahead of time. Replacing washers on leaky faucets or basic plumbing. “Please there are people to do that kind of work for us.” Moving house from country to country and packing your own boxes. “Shirley you jest!”

I am familiar with Reaganomics and trickle down theory. I am good as this, so I do only this. I leave the other things to those who are good at them or have no other choice. No doubt at work you are the creative force affecting change or keeping the organisation together. I get it, you may not be great with a needle, knife, iron, plunger, or wire cutter, so you outsource. Yet, what does this do to your creativity outside the office? Does creativity transfer across the discipline of life if you don’t get it out and show it off? I learned a lot helping my Dad with the car and being a sous chef for my Mom as took care of my newborn sister.

Why bother about creativity at home when products keep getting more complex? Average tinkers stand no chance against certified technicians. Manufacturers often replace instead of repair. Occasionally, they tell you what went wrong. Worse, they threaten to void the warranty if you crack open the case. And even if you wanted to fix something, would you have the tools? Circuit boards are all integrated. Engine compartments are designed keep us out. True story, few BMW owners know how to jumpstart their car because everything is tightly laid out and the battery is in the back. Of course, we have no garages, basements or workshops to store tools or just tinker around.

As life gets easier, you don’t need that much creativity. Google maps, I love ’em, but where’s the fun? We don’t get lost. We don’t stop and ask random strangers for directions? We just go from point A to point B. And that’s a shame. We prefer to watch reality TV instead of being in our own reality. Let someone else take the risk and succeed or royally screw up. It’s safer and more entertaining. From bread makers to rice cookers, we add ingredients and get near perfect results each time. Sure, maybe you can live without great bread crust, but what of experimentation, innovation, and getting it wrong? . 

No, I am not advocating to end domestic outsourcing. We all work hard and will probably continue so, especially with Samsung building bigger smart phones. Yet, do get into the creative game. Yes, it’s more work. And yes, you will need to push a few comfort zones. Chances are, it won’t matter. Plus, you’ll get a a great story to tell.

And yes, I know Mandarin is the easiest of all the Chinese dialects. 


Spontaneity, Mashups, and Meatless Meatballs

Leafing through the August 2013 issue of Food & Wine at the beach last week (yes, the beach), I happened upon Eggplant & Porcini “Meatballs” in Tomato Sauce. I scanned the ingredients and thought I had an instant quick dish hit on my hands. Bubba, my son, is is nearly eleven and is constantly hungry. We dashed to Jason’s, bought everything, and rushed home only to discover the eggplant needed to be roasted for an hour. Bogus!

Caught by my own favorite question, “did you read the directions completely?”

Cooking, like life, is all about organization, planning, and attention. Look for the patterns and try to assemble them where you can to save time. Now, fast forward to Saturday. I need to roast nut, usually almond & walnuts, for our weekly snacking. So, why not roast some eggplant at the same time? Sure, you might need to pay a bit more attention to roasting time and oven temperatures, but anytime I can multitask, I jump on it.

Roasted eggplant in hand, I got to work stripping off the skin.. True, I had no Porcini mushrooms, but I had Shiitake. The recipe wanted cheese, we went with Vegan Monterey Jack. Along with the basil, I chopped and married in a little Chinese parsley. Improvising, I tossed in a 1/2 cup of roasted walnuts for a little mouth feel.

Confession one, I skipped the tomato sauce.

Confession two, I would flash fry or saute the mushrooms next time.  I arrived at this conclusion through a feedback comment from Bubba, “too much mushroom taste.”

Folding and mixing, I combined all the remaining ingredients, bread crumbs,  eggs, and garlic. My only regret, I had no fresh chili peppers!. Arrabiata Meatless Meatballs, now that would be interesting! It was wet going in there and the faux cheese was not helping in the binding and adhering department. Undeterred I mixed on. Maybe a skimped on the bread? Or maybe I should have toasted the bread first? In my next revision, I might go with some corn starch.  Note to self, check with Mom, she knows things!

I dusted the balls as directed, but I didn’t really see the point. I find dusting very subjective? I never know how much dust is required. Into the refrigerator they went. After cleaning up, life distracted me and the balls ended up chilling for quite some time.. Honestly, I  thought, why not just pull them out as Bubba got hungry. If I had no other time to make anything else, there was always Bubba’s favorite, meatballs on a fork. And, he could actually fry them himself.

Instead of going with a 1/2 of oil for frying I used about 1/4. Note to reader, go with medium to low heat and pay attention. They burn easily! Ask me how I know? I used tongs to gently turn them in the pan as they lacked the cohesiveness of actual meat meatballs.

While I love bacon for breakfast, I thought, why not eggs over easy, with asparagus, and meatless meatballs. If you don’t have any asparagus, try bok choy. No bok choy, wing it. While experience may vary with equipement ruined, I prefer to think of it as there is nothing I can’t fix. And if you can’t fix it, spin it with a great story.

Eggplant & Porcini “Meatballs” in Tomato Sauce by Domencia Marchetti  in the August issue of Food & Wine.

Bubba’s verdict, “what if you added a little bacon?”