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.

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Making Garden Plans: Reading Homegrown Harvest

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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!

 

Food Memory: Many Cupcakes for E’s Wedding

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One of my college roommates, E, got married 2.5 years ago, and this picture of bags of marching cupcakes down the hall in her home reminds me of how much food plays an integral part in social rituals. While flowers and lights, dresses and invites, all play a huge role in the way a wedding happens, the dinner or snacks, drinks and dessert that are served are almost always planned down to a tiny margin for error. E chose cupcakes for portability (they didn’t need to be cut!) and, in this case, because they tasted amazing. It was fun to be a part of the backstage for her wedding; at the time, I was probably far more blissfully ignorant of how hard she’d been working than I should have been, but I got my comeuppance 1.5 years later, when I found myself biting into my own cake samples and choosing what would be served at my wedding.

How I Changed my Food Formula

It was pretty easy to predict how my meals went when I was living in Spain or when I lived alone in the States. My volume formula, if I’m honest with myself, went like this:

  • 50 percent carbohydrates (pasta or bread, usually)
  • 20 percent meat or meat substitute like lentils, tofu, or chickpeas.
  • 20 percent sauce/flavorings (often creamy or cheesy!)
  • 10 percent veggies/other plant-based foods.

It’s not the world’s worst proportion, but whenever the sauce/cheese crept up, or the carbs held steady, my meals might look small on the plate but were actually calorie packed. The formula that I’m aiming for these days is more like this:

  • 40 percent veggies – salad as a base, or roasted tomatoes.
  • 30 percent meat substitutes like lentils, tofu, or chickpeas, with maybe 10 percent of that coming from meats used as flavorings, like a few pepperoni on top of a dish.
  • 20 percent carbs (often in combo with the protein, like farro or quinoa)
  • 10 percent sauce (still creamy or cheesy, but in the smallest quantity possible while still being delicious!)

This means I’m getting similar volume to my meals, but I’ve subbed in more nutrient rich foods. Sauces like the butternut squash and gouda pasta sauce¬†¬†allow me to actually replace sauce volume (which would have been butter or more gouda!) with a vitamin rich veggie. When this affects flavor negatively, I try to keep my sauce “pure” and just use very little of it.

I’ve been amazed, now that I think with this formula, at how a lot of the foods I crave most are actually equal proportions fat-laden sauce, meat, and carbohydrates: almost no veggie, and not even lean meats and whole grains! My transition, when I can, is to eat the flavors I love but not in the quantity I love – spreading those flavors out over a big baked potato or a tasty pan of farro has been helping me to realize that there are some healthy foods that are also craveable (see kale chips!).

It’s not a perfect system, but this is how I tend to behave when I’m not following a recipe at all; some combination of a small amount of sauce, a big pile of veggies, and small amounts of meat and carbs for texture and flavor, yields a regular-sized meal that doesn’t sacrifice flavor.