Amiet, Bruegel and Christmas

An unprecedentedly mild December set me searching for snowy scenes… in the lull between the twin peaks of festive excess, which are Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

The chance to spin my wheels is a rare one; but I have put it to good use: a splendid Lego Millennium Falcon is built for my son, turkey soup has been slurped by all and I have a birthday jigsaw belatedly on the go. 

But the post-Christmas peace will be short lived. Soon I will be pressed into activity and jollity, like the skaters in the younger Bruegel’s “Bird Trap”.

   
And once that is done, it will be back to work, fitting more people into less space in the manner of his father’s “Census at Bethlehem”.

  
So I’m enjoying my rare day of solitude. This expanse of white is by Swiss painter Cuno Amiet. It’s his 1904 “Snowy Landscape” discovered on the ever wonderful DailyArt App

  
The tiny figure looks lost. But on closer inspection he (although it could be a she) seems to have a sense of purpose about them. 

The chance to have a mind as blank as Amiet’s snows is a treat indeed – as is cooking up leftovers and piecing together my New York skyline jigsaw in glorious, if temporary solitude.

Still, returning to Brueghel’s “Bird Trap”, no-one would choose an entirely solitary life… As Aristotle famously said.

  
The thin string to the tiny dark window is a reminder that neither poor nor alone, I’m very lucky to have food, friends and family all around at Christmas.

Relevant Complexity 1) The Spice of Life

20120108-152605.jpgMy new theory of everything: all purpose and enjoyment in life is found in ‘relevant complexity’.

I came to the idea via the Hungarian American psychologist Mihili Csikszentmihalyi’s theory of ‘flow’: that we achieve optimum experience when we meet considerable challenge with considerable skill. Or put another way – when we master complexity.

I propose, that, the value of doing something and the intrinsic enjoyment in doing it, lies in it having and creating further ‘relevant complexity’. Let’s prove the pudding with food.

Does relevant complexity describe our relationship with food? Yes, I think it does. I’ve started doing lots of cooking lately – not least Indian. I seem to really enjoy it. Why? It needs doing. I get a break from the kids. When I get it right I get positive feedback from the missus. And, I mostly quite enjoy eating what I cook.

Notwithstanding there are some great dishes which are very simple, most of what’s considered ‘tasty’ in the world’s cuisines involves blending different ingredients, tastes and textures in relevant complexity.

To many, too much of one, one that’s out of place or the wrong blend of ingredients creates irrelevant complexity – often simply nasty. In fact I’d argue that even the simplest ‘great’ foods rely on great ingredients – which are often very complicated to grow, make or rear, requiring optimum care and conditions.

As the scientific chef Heston Blumenthal points out, cooking is applied chemistry. The complexity comes in applying it to that most unpredictable of non-linear systems – human taste.

And tastes develop and mature with experience. Taste doesn’t stand still, it is cultivated and grows. Blame ‘flow’, if the challenge doesn’t move on we become bored.

So, I conclude the joy in making and eating food lies in creating, enjoying and cultivating a taste for ‘relevant complexity’. It’s the spice of food life. Mmmm.