Rejecting “Always Do More”

For a few years now, I’ve been struggling with more. I want to work more, write more, and do more. I want to cook more, clean more, talk to others more, listen more.

I don’t often think about where the time for such “more” comes from. I think I assume that I’m a magical efficiency machine, who keeps figuring life out so thoroughly that I am always doing things quicker and less – my laundry magically is done faster, or I can multitask my way through dinner while simultaneously washing dishes.

This is sometimes true; my tasks at work take much less time than when I first began. But I also have more tasks, and the growing mound of tasks is growing faster than efficiency can mitigate.

All I’m saying here is that I need to stop pegging success and satisfaction with myself to the feeling that I’m doing more than I was doing last year. Never mind whether these things are valuable; I was letting myself feel comforted that at least I’m operating at 110%! At least it’s a whole LOT of nothing!

I’m trying to see my life as refining instead of adding – what must come into my life because it will enrich it? At the same time, what can I lay down, now that I see I cannot or do not need to do it any more? I’m not so good at this part. I either throw a task away, furious at myself for having to admit defeat, or I just try to keep doing it, complaining all the way.

I’m working on it. There are things I need to do less of every time I try to fit more in. I cannot magically make everything hard in life take less time, and I’m starting to really plan my life to cope with that fact.

Advertisements

Making Garden Plans: Reading Homegrown Harvest

homegrownharvest

I’ve been reading a new book! This gardening book, as opposed to a lot of others I’ve looked at, seems geared to be a reference guide for a home gardener, not something to be read cover-to-cover. Using the seasonal sections and the guidelines for each kind of plant, kind of gardening space, and kind of climate, you can isolate small pockets of advice on your particular goals and start planning!

For instance, my area of the country is right at the edge of USDA Hardiness Zones 5 and 6, so I look for the advice that the book offers to mid-temperate and cold-winter areas, often splitting the difference since I’m so close to being in cold-winter but not quite. I know I want tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, strawberries, squash, basil, cilantro, and a mess of other things in my garden, so I look for those foods or the families in which they are grown (herbs, rather than basil and cilantro specifically) and get advice on when to plant, how to plant, how hardily they will grow, cautions about thinning them out or hardening them off in the new warm days of May and June, etc. It’s making planning much easier, because when I tried to “plan” last year, I just got overwhelmed by the individual needs of each kind of plant.

This way, I’m creating some week-by-week checklists, which will make my time commitment to gardening much less haphazard but also will hopefully yield better crops! Reading about them now, I am lucky that as many of my plants survived last year as they did; I didn’t follow almost any of the guidelines! What’s nice is that I can take what I learned from experience and the advice given here to make less work for myself but hopefully yield better results, with more delicious fruits and veggies for the rest of the year. I recommend this book!

 

Playing with your Food

wasabi

This past weekend, two friends came to visit me, K and K. They both have had rough months – family tragedies and romantic trouble, not to mention that they both have demanding jobs that keep them almost constantly working. They made time to come see me, which I was thrilled about, but I could tell that what we all wanted and needed was a little bit of going back in time, to when we all spent a summer living in a house in our college town, working jobs with far less responsibility than we have now, having dance parties most nights in our living room, and never quite knowing where we were going to end up as “adults.”

We didn’t end up cooking together – too much, I think, like regular life – but we did end up at a sushi restaurant, because K mentioned how ravenous for sushi she was. We sat in a booth on a rooftop patio, and ordered food with nice presentation made from high-quality ingredients (I think? I guess it just tasted fresh and good). K, however, cracked us all up by stealing a toothpick and everyone’s wasabi cubes and making a little creation out of it. I was a little embarassed, but in the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t hurting anyone, and our server was already a bit amused with our silliness… Grown women shouldn’t act this way all the time, but… sometimes we need it.

It got me thinking about how much adults benefit from being around kids – we claim, usually, that we ‘play’ in order to benefit the child, but often adults get severely burnt out from lack of play. The night before sushi, we all wanted to go out dancing in the city near where I live, but when we all ended up in our pajamas, playing a crazy game of charades, I think we had a better time. K is a doctor, for goodness sake, and saves lives every day, but she can act goofy for pictures and play hang-man on the chalkboard when we’re waiting for dinner. I think it’s part of a balanced life, both playing in general and maybe also playing with our food.

Breaks from Cooking, and My Favorite blog

One of the times I’m my most silent is when I’m sitting in front of a fire, looking at the flames and maybe listening to others chatter, but just being there myself. It’s a time when I’m not doing much: no cooking, no cleaning, no working, no commuting. The fire puts my mind into an in-between state, where I’m neither trying to move on to another activity nor recovering from the last one. These moments give me the rare chance to think about my big-picture life, not just what’s next.

One of the blogs that inspires me most is zenhabits.net – it’s run by a man named Leo Babauta and his insight on how we create habits for ourselves is usually uncomfortably familiar. He recently posted about having a flexible mind, and I felt how much the past month or so has made my mind inflexible. I want so badly for things to go correctly, I’ve allowed myself to fall into a rut of disappointment and annoyance whenever they don’t. Whereas I should be able to try something new¬†and laugh at the resulting mess, I too often spiral into thinking that I’m a terrible cook or writer or teacher, just because I cannot do it well the first time. His blog does something that I think much good writing should do: it should make people feel understood and give them a way to move forward.

I have noticed that while I still post recipes, pictures of food, and memories of food with family and friends, I’m also posting more and more things about life habits – they are so important to me. As an adult, I don’t have teachers imposing deadlines and parents imposing goals, but I still want to see myself as a growing, changing person who is capable of better skills, better habits. One thing, for example, is that I have gotten lazy about eating salads, and they are so easy to tack on to another meal and get more greens into one’s diet. I’m trying to do that more for the upcoming month of October. Another is to make sure I take pictures both when I’m cooking and when Husband cooks, because both of us have great food to contribute to this blog. Small goals, small changes to my occasionally-inflexible mind, but hopefully they will have long-lasting impacts.

Chicken Parm Bites! and cooking by feel.

This is a version of a dish I’ve made a zillion times – cut up chicken into bites and fry it in butter on high heat, mix tomatoes and onions and a zillion spices and simmer/boil until rich and thick, add cheese. But something last night was different.

Husband was working on some work in the living room, and we had music playing, and I realized, as I cut onions and felt the familiar eye-burn, and grabbed half-a-dozen spice bottles from the shelf, liberally seasoning without measuring, and it somewhat hit me: I make something like this frequently. Some combination of a tomato sauce, something cheesy, and chicken or beef or pepperoni to add protein. I am actually a “regular” at this particular dish.

At the beginning of this year, I was only a regular for a few things, and most of them were dubiously cooking: does adding cheese to a meager-topping-ed frozen pizza count? Stir-frying a frozen veggie mix was a big deal to me. I certainly didn’t have an intuitive sense for how much red pepper flake I should add to a sauce. Now, I know how to shake in enough to get Husband to say “this is good, hon,” without shaking enough to send me gasping for water.

It’s still not true for every dish, but this dish was fun because chicken parm tends to be heavy on the parmesan and heavy on the chicken, but my version reversed the proportion. I served the whole thing on a bed of the chunky sauce, treating that like the main dish, with a sprinkling of chicken bites and shredded parmesan on top. It was pretty filling (I thickened the sauce with some corn flour, to my great happiness. Thank you to all the bloggers who gave me advice about my watery sauce last time!) but not reliant on cheese the way I generally am with dishes. Whatever your favorite chicken parm recipe is, consider using all the same ingredients but proportioning it this way – the sauce is a treat itself and fills you up!img_4678

Mindful Eating in a Rushed World

Today, I’m grateful that someone else is cooking – namely, the school cafeteria. Many of the people at the school where I work gather for lunch on Wednesdays, and it’s a wonderful morning when I don’t have to, in a tizzy, see if there are leftovers in the fridge. I didn’t appreciate at all what I had going for me as a child and when attending college; other people made my food, and I didn’t have to spend hours a day making or thinking about the food I would eat.

No lie, I love taking time to cook (really, you think?) – I think mindful cooking is one of the most wonderful experiences, when you are letting your worries go and thinking about food as a nourishing part of life. The problem comes when cooking isn’t mindful at all – you don’t really have time to cook anything so you choose something fast that doesn’t nourish you well, or you cook something with resentment in your heart because you wish you weren’t so rushed. No one can help having these times once in a while, and I’ve had a lot of them lately with school starting up again.

However, the one nice thing about experiencing these difficult moments of non-mindful cooking is that it makes me so much MORE mindful when I have time to sit down to a meal prepared by someone else. The folks who work at our school cafeteria are so kind and good, so accommodating of the staff and students, and I am always a little honored to eat the food they make. Plus, in this case, by not having to cook myself, I’m winning a few minutes to really enjoy every bite of salad, every forkful of potatoes, and definitely the dash of whipped cream on top of dessert. I know it would have taken me ages to make even the most simple of cafeteria food spreads, and getting to eat them quickly and in good company is a blessing.

Do you have a favorite memory of a meal prepared for you? It can be a restaurant or a particular person, but what meal really makes you grateful for food and for those who make it?

Following the Ingredients to… Macaroni and Cheese

I am not a recipe writer; I’ve been learning a bit about food blogging lately and that seems to be the most daunting of the aspects of it: what if my recipe works for me but fails because I forgot some detail I needed to tell the readers? Perhaps this is why I like trying other people’s recipes and tweaking them, because it is easier than writing my own.

Lately though, since I started daily posts, I’ve found that I don’t get around to enough new recipes a week to keep the blog full up on only completely new recipes. For instance, we were quite tired the other night, so I did something I call “following the ingredients” – I start with one thing I know I want to eat, then add things that I think will be good until a food emerges.

For me, it started with some pasta shells. They looked like they were aching for some cheese, so while they boiled, I scrounged in the fridge. I found a smoked gouda spread that we were given a long time ago; since we don’t sit down with fancy crackers and cheese spread very often, it really hadn’t found a home, but I had a hunch it would make a good cheese sauce, if I added (consults fridge) the last of this block of cream cheese!

When the shells were finished, I put some leftover cream from when I made liquid truffle, and began dissolving the two kinds of cheese into it. In went my go-to spices for italian food: oregano, garlic, sea salt, cracked pepper. The bowl of recently-picked cherry tomatoes stared up at me accusingly, reminding me that there was no vegetable matter in this dish. I sliced them all up in halves and threw them in with the pasta on the side. The cheese sauce smoothed out, and a few leaves of basil later… something was born.

Husband loves cooking this way, just throwing in what we have, not worrying too much about recipes or whether the flavor mixes are perfect, but personally? It feels like a one-off – when I’m a little lazy, it’s great, and I’ll tell you – smoked gouda cheese spread doubles as a killer mac and cheese sauce. Recipes still are my favorite though: getting to be a part of that difficult, long-term creation process starting with originator of the idea and coming all the way through a bunch of grandmothers and mothers and food bloggers and pinterest-pinners all the way down to you. It’s pretty special.