Once you go pan, you’ll never go back to that weird, unnecessarily highly processed microwave stuff. Or the bland and tasteless air popped variety that makes you feel like you’re chomping on a mouthful of styrofoam pellets. Blech!
Haul out a heavy bottomed pan that has a tight-fitting lid. I use my pasta pot. Put a couple of tablespoons of oil in there; I use olive, sometimes coconut or avocado. My dad’s secret was using half butter and half olive oil, delicious. Crank the heat up to high and toss in 3-4 handfuls of popcorn kernels. Shake the kernels around so everybody is coated in the oil and then cover with the lid. Wait patiently.
Soon the popping extravaganza will begin. When the popping starts to slow, shake the pan around again. Once the popping slows to every 2-3 seconds, turn off the heat and keep it covered for another minute so the last stragglers can complete their journey to popped goodness.
While still warm, add toppings if so desired: Extra melted butter, truffle oil, herb-infused olive oil (Rosemary!), salt, nutritional yeast, wasabi salt, parmesan, garlic bread seasoning are some of my favorites, though not necessarily all together. Sprinkle on salt and sugar and you have kettle corn, if that’s your thing. Possibilities are endless.
Lima beans?! Yes, stay with me…I’ve never met a bean I didn’t like, but I am aware that lima beans are polarizing and often reviled by those with a more discerning palate. I gotta say though, this dish I cobbled together last night was really good!
I wanted to make hummus for the kids, but didn’t have garbanzos in my pantry and was too lazy to look further in my alternate stash. So I went with the dusty bag of dried lima beans. Cooked them for several hours in the crock-pot with a sprig, ok maybe a branch, of rosemary from the yard. Smelled heavenly all afternoon. When the beans were done, I realized I’d have way too much for hummus (I’ll write that one up too) so started researching other recipe ideas. I came across a Cypriot (as in from Cyprus) dish involving lemon and garlic, sold!
In a sauté pan I sweated some white onion, celery and wasabi stems in olive oil (I grow wasabi and had some garden bounty to use). Once soft, I added some greens (I used wasabi leaves cuz I had a bunch but any other green, but especially a slightly bitter one would be good here) and lots of garlic. Cooked til fragrant and wilty, then bumped the heat up and added some chicken broth, lemon zest, lemon juice and the lima beans. Cooked til all warm and creamy. Lots of salt and pepper.
We ate them served over some basmati rice with hot sauce (of course). Incredibly nourishing and satisfying, like most beans and rice dishes are. I’m betting they will be even better today. I’m thinking of a bowl with a soft cooked egg over the top for breakfast. Lemon lima beans, who’d have thought you’d be so darn tasty?
We eat a lot of hummus in this house so I started making my own. I like experimenting, so no bean, spice or condiment is off limits when I’m in a hummus making mood. The lowly Lima bean is no exception. My poor family are my guinea pigs.
I like to use dried beans for a variety of reasons. They are cheap. Bags of beans don’t take up a lot of space in my pantry. I don’t have to open or recycle cans. I can control what goes into them while cooking. I also like the way the house smells while they cook in my slow cooker. Starting with dry does require planning ahead, but I find it easy to start the beans in the morning while I make breakfast. Just pop them in the slow cooker, cover with water and maybe throw in some bay leaves, rosemary or smashed garlic cloves. Easy. I never pre-soak. Because A) I’m lazy and B) I don’t believe that really makes a difference. At least not enough to warrant that much extra time and effort.
Yesterday all I had at hand was a package of dried lima beans. Yes lima beans. But they were fantastic! I cooked them in the slow cooker with rosemary from the yard. I just throw the whole branch in there and then the leaves fall off during cooking. I do recommend removing the woody stem before consuming though. That was sarcasm, I know you knew that.
My mini Ninja food processor is my go-to tool for easy hummus making. It is powerful, compact for easy storage and cleans up easily by hand or in the dishwasher. That’s a win. The cooked limas were really creamy and soft after cooking, not that mealy texture you get from the frozen variety. Limas went into the Ninja along with some spicy chili oil poured off from a jar of Mama Lil’s peppers and some brine from dill pickles plus salt. Blended and done. It was super! I think it will be especially yummy as a sandwich spread, but it may not survive long enough to try that since it is pretty delicious eaten with crackers!
This memoir from music journalist Lisa Robinson is like catnip for me. Not just a glimpse, but a long, deep, satisfying look behind the scenes of the music world from someone who got up close and personal. It is a bit misleading to constrict the title to “rock and roll” because it covers way more than that genre. Sure, most of the usual suspects are there – The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, John Lennon, U2 and more, but she also takes substantial forays into punk rock, blues, rap, hip hop. As well as other artists who sort of stubbornly defy categorization – where do you put David Bowie, Lou Reed or Lady Gaga? Even with everyone who is in here, you get the sense that it has been carefully curated and there is tons of other dirt that didn’t make the cut. I reckon you could ask Lisa Robinson about nearly anybody in the music biz over the past 40-ish years and she would probably have a story to tell. I enjoyed it tremendously and her writing and style are inspirational. She was there, with all those amazing people, yet her writing is clear-eyed, crisp and never feels name drop-y.
After finishing this book, I had to ask myself, “Why do I like reading about rockstars (sounds better than “musicstars”, though less inclusive)?” Hmmm. First off, I am a music fan. From a young age I can remember feeling moved in an almost indescribable way by the loud 70s rock music my brother subjected the whole family to at ear-splitting decibels. There was no escaping a basic, though forced musical education in my house. I found my own way into appreciation for punk and new wave (which my brother heartily derided), “discovered” Bowie, sang along to the oldies through my crappy first car’s AM radio, lived through grunge (so depressing), got the blues, educated my kids about all of this, “discovered” Lady Gaga and now am experiencing a second, forced musical education courtesy of my kids who like all kinds of “new” music. Whatever that means. And I love it all! Good music inspires me, makes me feel things, feeds my creativity, makes me want to be a better me. God, that sounds so incredibly cheesy! But it is the truth. Music isn’t just in the background of my life, it feeds who I am and who I want to become.
Part of why I find musicians so inspiring is the absolute fearlessness that is required to make a go of it in that business. There is no school for rockstars. No formal internships or competitive training programs. No surefire path or playbook to greatness. They are born, not made (the good ones, at least). The concept that someone can feel so moved internally by their own creativity that they have no choice but to make music is both intriguing and inspiring to me. What confidence they must have. And tolerance for risk. Singlemindedness, dedication, direction and purpose. Not to mention talent. All traits I admire and, sheepishly, envy.
Its not just rockstars either, though they are arguable the most fascinating of the bunch. Writers, especially but not always travel writers, often fall into this category for me. Peter Mayle, Frances Mayes, Anthony Bourdain, Ernest Hemingway, Roxane Gay. Other inspiring folk are found in a multitude of settings but share similar appealing traits: Albert Einstein, Tara Stiles, Richard Branson, Julia Child, Lousie Hay and Wayne Dyer. So many more, but they all go (or went) their own way on their own terms and proceeded to make a life that is creative and uniquely, honestly, true to themselves. I may very well be seeing everything through rose tinted glasses, sure, but this is what these people’s lives and work represents to me. And I want that.
Ok, I must confess an enduring love of bad tv. Particularly and embarrassingly, reality tv. I’ve kept up with the Kardashians, said yes to many dresses and no to my fair shar of 90 day fiancées. I know it is spectacularly stupid, pathetic content, but that is part of the draw I guess.
I find it especially magnetic when I am trying to work through other stuff in my head. The opportunity to space out to other people’s misery is oddly helpful to processing of my own internal world.
So I had a lot on my mind and that’s how I found myself glued to the couch through 2 seasons of 1000 pound sisters. For those unfamiliar with this tv gem, it is about 2 sisters who are obese with a combined total weight of, you guessed it, 1000 pounds. Over the course of the show, one sister manages to drop some weight and get bariatric surgery while the other one…doesn’t. There is much mutual enabling.
A couple of relationship things stood out to me as interesting in this show. One is how both sisters tend to focus on how the other is doing instead of on themselves. They say they are worried about the other sister and how badly they are fucking up, but never turn that lens inward, toward their own situation. An appalling lack of insight and personal responsibility but cloaked in a veneer of concern for their sister. Weird. The other notable thing was the apparent lack of any significant focus on the psychological aspects of the eating disorder. This is clearly an eating disorder; you don’t get to be that large for any other reason than you are eating way too much. And working pretty hard to do so. But nobody ever seems to dig in there – to try to figure out why they are eating such astoundingly huge amounts of food. Seems pretty clear to me there is some hurt and pain driving that, so why wasn’t here an effort to give them some psychological support to address those aspects? Instead, the focus was on continued shaming for not losing the weight. But if these women are eating to manage pain and the underlying cause of the pain is never addressed and they are never taught better coping skills, how are they expected to succeed? Bariatric surgery (if they can get it) will just be a big ol’ temporary band-aid. Like much of American style healthcare. Sadly. I am not naïve, I understand that these shows are often edited to provide more titillation and may not reflect actual reality. But then what does that say about us as a viewing audience (or at least the producers’ perception of us) that we would prefer to watch people struggle and fail rather than see someone take charge of their mental health, do the hard work and succeed? Guess that doesn’t make for good tv.
As I get older and more experienced at my job, the less I think I know. It almost becomes overwhelming how much I realize I don’t know. Or can’t remember anymore. In my younger days I felt so confident that I had the right answers. I felt comfortable, even complacent in my level of knowledge.
Does it leak out with age? Am I actually getting dumber? Or is this just a memory issue? I don’t feel I’ve ever had a great memory, but definitely adequate. Now? Sievelike. Stupid stuff like usual doses of common meds or details of basic physiology are just gone, buried somewhere deep in the recesses of my mind. I know they were in there in the past, but I struggle to access them now!
Its an uncomfortable feeling, not having that knowledge at the ready. I’m embarrassed how often the fear of being asked about something and not having the answer keeps me up at night. Sometimes I study stuff and make cheat sheets just in case I get asked about stuff. Am I sick or is this just how brains age?
So my brain on facts and details absolutely sucks. But my big picture thinking is maybe even better. I think this is where all of the experience goes – toward enabling a better grasp of how things interact and move together, even if the particulars are a little hazy. For example: When I’m called requesting sedative orders for a restless patient I know to ask more questions about why the person is anxious before jumping to medication. I also will include other team members (like chaplain, social worker) if they are the best “tools” for the job. I also might suggest changes to the environment if these are provoking anxiety and look at if the family is well-meaning but contributing to the problem (not uncommon). I’d also assess the person’s feelings about sedation in general and consider fall risk before trying a sedative. Younger me would have probably just ordered the drug and called it good, not thinking much about these other angles. So, my older brain may be slower and not have as many details accessible in the “top drawer” anymore, but I think I probably make better, well-considered overall decisions. I guess this is wisdom? I’ll take some comfort in that.
I have been singing Kaiser’s praises as a HMO for the past nearly 2 years that I have been a member. It is delightful and refreshing how easy it is to get care there, in a variety of ways. I have had video visits, phone visits, email interactions and a flu shot in a walk-in clinic. The pharmacy was amazing; I’d request a refill on my app and my drugs would be in the mail to my house the next day, free shipping. This was also one of the first encounters with a provider in a long time (and few and far between throughout my life, truth be told) where I felt honestly cared for and listened to as a real, individual person. . Everything so organized and helpfully connected. I was kind of reveling in feeling so good about my health care provider for once, that I was shocked when it all abruptly went to shit.
See I have a minor medical condition that wreaks havoc on my body and mind on a monthly basis. To add more fun to the situation, I am approaching menopause with all of the wacky symptoms that entails. I’ve been offered medications and treatments, even a hysterectomy to treat these things. Some of those things I have tried with variable success and some I have declined (cutting out my womb for anything less than raging cancer seems extreme to me, no thanks). I was thrilled to see that my beloved Kaiser offers yearly visits with a contracted naturopath. Hooray! How progressive! And much more in line with my own personal belief system about wellness. I immediately requested a referral from my primary care doctor and my request went to the review board for a blessing.
It was denied.
The reason? I am allowed care from the naturopath only after I have failed all traditional, “accepted” treatment. Since my employment has changed and this is America, my health insurance (and therefore, my healthcare providers) has also changed. Frequently. Don’t get me started on how messed up that whole scene is. However, as a result, records do not always follow in an orderly or timely fashion (I love our HC system), so the Kaiser reviewer was unable to see what I have already been through. For a hot minute I was all fired up and ready to collect all of my records to prove to them that I deserve these visits with a naturopath, I have earned them. But then it dawned on me how utterly fucked up and ass backwards this is. Why is this type of care reserved for “failed” cases? What if I want to reserve traditional care for the scenario where naturopathy has failed? Why am I not allowed to choose the primary modality that suits my needs and values? Kaiser: you have let me down; the honeymoon is over and now I can see you are just like all the rest.
The knives in rental homes invariably suck. That’s why I have learned to bring my own.
Too much baggage you say? I think not. Cooking is one of my biggest creative outlets, and I enjoy doing it every day, home or away. It is legitimately my hobby, and just like other people might bring their golf clubs or tennis racket on a trip, I bring my favorite knife.
Cooking with shitty knives makes cooking feel like a chore instead of a joy. When I cook I most love that feeling of being “in the flow”, creating, planning, timing, moving with ease about my kitchen and a cheap, dull knife blocks that flow. I’ve got to work harder to make things happen and that’s not fun. But with my trusty steel in my hand, I can navigate a rental kitchen with all of its crappy, mismatched cookware, dreaded induction cooktop and weird smelling utensil drawers. And that is part of the adventure – making delicious food in unfamiliar and less than ideal circumstances. But my knife, my most useful and beloved tool, that I won’t compromise and travel without anymore, lest cooking become a bummer and a burden.
And I get it why rentals don’t stock good knives. People don’t know how or don’t take the time to care for them properly. They throw them in the dishwasher (shudder), instead of washing and drying them lovingly by hand. They use them for all variety of non-cooking related jobs such as opening bags, boxes and beers. Or as a substitute for other tools like screwdrivers. They leave them out in the sun, sand and surf. So why bother? Those of us who care enough can and will just bring our own.
Healthcare (HC) is the perfect profession for enabling perfectionists. Ask me, I know! Where else is perfectionism not just desirable, but actually deemed essential? That’s like crack for perfectionists. In this context, we are expected to be perfect not just for our own internal satisfaction, but for matters of life and death. HC is a comfortable spot for perfectionists because it fosters this illusion that perfection is a desirable and attainable goal. As perfectionists, we are comfortable with feeling like everything we do or say or produce is up for judgment. Fear of being or appearing imperfect is real and feels untenable, like we won’t survive if we aren’t perfect. HC just feeds our belief that perfection is not only possible, but necessary. Because the real-world stakes are too high if we mess up, or even just appear to mess up – people may be hurt or die or sue us. We could lose everything – money, profession, reputation.
There’s the rub though – perfectionists may strive for perfection = an absence of errors, but we won’t make it. In HC or anywhere else. Why? We are human. Understandably, patients have bought into this illusion that perfection is possible in HC. Their expectation is that medicine can cure all and providers won’t make any mistakes. And they are not shy about taking legal action or threatening to, if things don’t turn out the way they think they should. No matter how unrealistic. This has led to a dilemma in HC where even if you don’t know something or you make a mistake, it may be tempting to keep quiet and at least continue to appear perfect in order to avoid retribution for being human. HC and patients demand the maintenance of this illusion. I guess a similar situation might be with airline pilots. I know intellectually that they are human and thus will make mistakes sometimes. But I don’t want to think about that possibility too much or have it happen when I am on their plane!
What makes it all the worse is that the culture of HC does not allow us to talk to each other about this. I suspect all HC providers feel the onus of perfection to some extent, but we cover it up with bravado. We talk “shop”, many of us enjoy the sound of our own voices and like nothing more than to ask questions that will stump the presenter and showcase our own superior intelligence on whatever matter is being discussed. But can we make ourselves vulnerable and talk to each other about our mistakes, the times we didn’t get it right or our fears about shouldering this ridiculous amount of responsibility everyday? I’ve been in 23 years and I have yet to have a real, open, honest, meaningful conversation with a colleague about this stuff. We just don’t go there. Is it the type of deal where we don’t want to speak about even the possibility of failure for fear it will be invited into our lives? All I know is it is pretty fucking lonely.
I picked the greyest area of HC in which to practice on purpose because I find rigid, garden variety black and white decision-making kinda boring. I like variety and challenge and using my brain, but even here in hospice I struggle with my own perfectionist tendencies. As a HC provider, I make oodles of decisions on a daily basis. Some big, some little, but all involve the care and well-being of humans. That’s some pretty heavy shit. I can’t afford to have bad days, I’ve got to be on at all times collecting, analyzing, synthesizing what information I have and putting together a plan to hopefully help and not hurt someone who is counting on me to care for them. There are days where I wear that responsibility lightly; I’m in the flow and enjoying my work as a combination of pleasant puzzle/problem solving, education and advocacy. And then there are the other days. The days when I am second guessing every decision I make, where I feel at a loss about what is the best thing to do, when I over research and overanalyze in an attempt to bring myself some measure of peace about what I’ve done or am about to do. That sucks. And then sometimes, I continue this pattern in my sleep and either dream about it or wake up at 3 am thinking about it, going over everything again, did I do the right thing? Is that patient going to be ok? Do I look like a complete idiotic buffoon to my peers? How would a lawyer demonstrate my culpability in this situation if things go wrong? It can be exhausting. And I’m not going to tie it all up with a neat bow and tell you that is it hard work but worth it because I get to help people. None of that martyr-y bullshit. I am altruistic at my core and I do enjoy helping people, but sometimes it does not feel worth it. At least not to me. Sometimes it feels like a much too heavy burden to have all of those people (including myself) counting on me and expecting me to be able to make 10,000 decisions without a single error. The recovering perfectionist in me is tired out and ready to hand it all over to somebody else.
I had a weird idea, tried it out and it worked! Yay! No more yucky wok to clean. No more prying stray grains of rice and veg remnants off of my stove. No cooking oil facial. Why? Because a sheet pan in the oven works for making fried rice!
Fried rice is one of my favorite vehicles for basically whatever is left in the fridge. Leftover meats, veg, grains. Yep, I’ve even made fried “rice” with leftover couscous! It makes a great meal for breakfast, lunch or dinner and travels well. A pile of this rice in my lunch container makes the work day better. Or at least tolerable; let’s be realistic.
Cut vegetables of choice into smallish bits (fresh, frozen or even leftovers) and toss with oil and soy sauce in a bowl. Spread out on a sheet pan and roast in a hot oven until soft and/or crunchy in spots (I like burnt edges personally). Spread leftover rice (or another dry-ish grain) on top of roasted veggies and roast again until rice is getting crunchy in places. Remove from oven and toss the lot together, adding more soy sauce (and/or Worcestershire – trust me, try it!) to taste. You can scramble up an egg or chop up some leftover meat to mix in too. I cooked up some sausage because it is what I had and it sounded good. And it was good! A little sesame oil and some chopped green onions to finish would also be fun, but unnecessary if you don’t have them or are just lazy.
If you line the sheet pan with foil, clean-up will be a snap. This is lazy cooking 101 and there is no shame in that!
Ok, so I’m a word nerd who loves alliteration, don’t judge! Farro is a chewy grain that kinda looks like barley (another beloved grain). Healthy AF, but don’t hold that against it, it really is fabulous. And satisfying. I haven’t cooked with it a lot, but plan to start. Especially after this salad I made last weekend. I know, you’re thinking “salad, big deal; I don’t get excited about salad, salad is punishment; salad is penance I do for other poor diet choices” -or maybe that’s just what I say to MYSELF!
I had a dear friend coming over for dinner, a friend who is very much open to my kitchen experiments with new flavors and ingredients. Planning a menu for guests is one of my favorite daydreaming topics. I sometimes begin with a theme, like maybe “Fall” or “Hawaiian luau”, one time it was even spam. Don’t ask. Next step, I mentally (sometimes physically) review what is in the larder, with special attention to what needs to be used now or lost to rot. This time, I had a slightly tatty bunch of kale, some previously roasted and gently pickled beets, a hunk of blue cheese calling out for attention. It pleases me to no end if I can avoid an extra trip to the grocery store and just use what I have.
So then I looked through cookbooks and googled different combinations of these ingredients for ideas. I briefly considered some sort of savory tart (knew I had a slab of puff pastry somewhere in the freezer), that could be good. Kale is yummy in soup, maybe a bean and kale soup with beet and blue cheese salad on the side? Could be tasty on a cold winter day. I know kale salad is a thing, so maybe go in that direction, but it is winter so must be hardy…that’s when I saw a recipe combining kale and farro. Wait! I have an unopened and unloved box of farro in my pantry! No time like the present to use it up. Their version used pomegranate arils and hazelnuts, but I had neither, so I went with my beets and some of the half bag of roasted pepitas I had way in the back instead. Here’s my version:
Kale salad with beets, farro and ginger vinaigrette. Cook the farro in a pot of salted water until tender, this took about 30 minutes for me. It plumps up pretty big, so I only used about ½ cup dry. Drained that and let it cool. Made the dressing in my mini blender with a chunk of fresh ginger chopped up, apple cider vinegar, grapeseed oil (I wanted a neutral flavoured oil), salt, pepper and a little bit of honey. Maple syrup or sugar would also work for a hint of sweetness. Chopped up the kale, minus the stems, and massaged it in a bowl with part of the dressing. Then added the farro, the beets, the pepitas and blue cheese to the bowl and mixed it all together with most of the dressing (I kept some aside to add later, if needed). Let it all marinate in the fridge for a few hours and it came out delicious and a delightful shade of pink! The rest of the menu? Acorn squash soup with seedy bread croutons; Puff pastry tartlets with ricotta, apple sausage, caramelized onions and Mama Lil’s peppers; Banana cocoa n’ice cream sandwiches with Effie’s cocoa biscuits. And, no trip to the grocery required!
I’m not sure why I’m feeling such angst this morning – a feeling of emotional and physical restlessness. Like I should and want to be doing something, but I’m not sure what. It is uncomfortable because I am an old hand at self-reflection and looking deep inside myself is typically a comfortable excursion. I know I’ve got that down to a science. I know where to look for answers in my psyche and history and deep corners of my mind and heart. I know myself. But this, this feeling is just puzzling.
Maybe I’m trying to find meaning where there isn’t any. Maybe this feeling is in response to a global pandemic and 10+ months of avoiding people and places like the plague, literally. Or maybe it is the anti-climax of the holiday season to cap off such a shitty year. Could it be that it is year-end reflection time and I’m unsatisfied with where I am in my progress toward living a full-time creative life? Do I need more exercise? Or is it just that this is a dreary, rainy, cold Sunday in December, my kids are complaining about being bored and I have to be on-call for a job that pays the bills but doesn’t light my fire?
And why do I always have to have a reason for feeling bad? Why do I need to justify my feelings to myself? Can’t I just accept that sometimes emotions blow through that are unpleasant but blessedly temporary? I tell other people that and give them permission to wallow and allow it to wash over and through them, but can’t seem to take my own advice. Why is my love, compassion and understanding greater for others than for myself?
Ooooh! That right there is a dark, unexplored corner of myself that needs some illumination. Not a bad endeavor for an angsty day…
‘The cup is already broken’. Ever hear that saying? In my mind, it is a mental nudge away from getting too attached to stuff, because at some point the stuff will break or otherwise be lost. There is an impermanence in the world that it is best to make peace with sooner than later.
This saying flashed in neon in my brain this morning when I dropped my brother’s coffee cup that he got on our trip to the Big Island when my teenager was just a baby boy. It is one of the few personal things of his I still have since he died unexpectedly in 2013. It has served as a cherished though melancholy reminder of him and our fantastic trips to Hawaii together and I had just broken the handle clean off. Damn.
I guess I could have just kept the cup on a shelf over the years, safe and protected from potential harm, but I didn’t. The risk of it breaking was acceptable for me to keep using it and enjoying it in my daily life. Every time I made my tea in it or saw it sitting in the cupboard, it was an opportunity to remember Mike.
I thought I might freak out when it eventually broke, because I knew it couldn’t last forever. My brother didn’t. Nothing does. But I didn’t freak out and I didn’t whip out the super glue and desperately try to fix it either. I was surprisingly calm. Briefly wistful maybe, but totally ok. Those memories are still there and those will never break. Even though it is no longer suitable for daily use, I’m still going to keep this cup because I like all of the things it symbolizes: Mike, Hawaii, impermanence, treasuring memories and people over stuff. Like many things, it is still beautiful even broken.
What’s the difference between being in a funk which prevents creativity and experiencing the phenomenon of failing to engage with your medium that is sometimes called resistance, obstruction or perhaps disconnect, maybe simply failing to TCB (Take Care of Business, to quote the King)?
I think being in a funk, at least for me, is when I’m feeling kind of down and emotionally drained. The cause could be a whole variety of things (work or family stress, world events, raging hormones, too much peopling and going) but the thought of opening my computer to write at these times feels like a mountain too high to climb. Plus, my creative energy feels all stopped up and trying to “work through it” leads to lots of frustration, no flow and ultimately, more funk. Or maybe a deeper or longer funk. And then I start to feel bad about that! I’m not writing, my creative energy has left me for good, I have no talent or good ideas, I’m never going to make it as a writer…horrible thought spiral. Thankfully, these episodes do seem to pass with time, sort of like a storm blowing through.
The more difficult situation for me is when I have ideas and I want to write, but I just…don’t. Not for any good reason either. On most days I wake up at the crack of dawn before the rest of the family, so time and a quiet place to write really aren’t issues. I replaced my clunky old laptop with a sleek, beautiful machine with the apropos model name of “yoga” to keep me fit and flexible as a writer. I’ve got notebooks full of ideas ready to be fleshed out on paper. So why don’t I just sit down and do it? Inherent laziness? Fear of failure/success? Depression? A time-consuming habit/pseudoaddiction to pimple popping videos and endless hours of scrolling social media to see what the drones I went to high school with are doing?
Though the situations are different, the outcome (not writing) is the same. And I also think the cure is very likely the same. I suspect, even though I’d prefer to remain ignorant on this score, that at least part of the reason I am having both these frequent funks and periods of creative inertia is because I’m not taking care of myself as well as I could. As a living, breathing organism. I don’t mean this in a self-shaming, should-ing kind of way, but more in a practical, handle your shit kind of way. I think these uncomfortable situations may have increased in frequency lately because I need more real, nourishing food and fewer Cheez-its and martinis. More walks, more books and less phone, maybe a rest, maybe some journaling and yoga. Yep, that’s right, I’ve got my new age-y side (so sue me)! And though I’m far from perfect at recognizing and dealing with my funks and faults when they show up, I am more aware of them and moving in the right direction to be kind to myself when they do occur. I am nurturing self-compassion and committing to investing more in myself and my own well-being. Even if these measures don’t cure all of my writer’s woes, it is not a bad place to start. There’s no downside. Except to Cheez-it sales.
My sweet brother John sent me some fantastic wine in the mail and what do I do when it arrives? I burst into tears.
Not happy tears either. Deep, soul-level sad tears.
Not an expected reaction to a nice gift, you say? Well, let me tell you a little about grief:
It is sneaky. My older brother Mike died over 7 years ago, but the arrival of this particular wine that we had shared many times over the years to celebrate a variety of special times brought a big wave of grief crashing back on me. It caught me unawares, such a visceral reaction so long after losing him. But that’s another thing about grief – it eases up over time, but never completely goes away. And another weird thing about grief? Even though it is an uncomfortable feeling, I also sort of welcome it when it shows up because it reminds me of some important things: I was lucky to have such a great brother in my life and that we took time to make some really great memories together. I am grateful for the great brother I still have and that we can continue to make great memories, and share old ones. It also reminds me that life is pretty unpredictable so remember to focus on the things that really matter and bring you joy on a daily basis. I’m so grateful for all of it.
Why do I leave my house in the early morning to get to my workplace long before it opens? Why do I then sit in my car outside my office typing on my computer in the dark? Because to me, this simple act symbolizes that my personal work, the work of writing and creating, comes first. So on my way to my paying job, I make time for this concrete reminder of who I am and what is important to me.
Its important and that’s why I leave my house an hour earlier than I need to in order to get to work on time. Just like I make time to cook and feed myself and my family real food. Its all about priorities. What do your priorities say about you?
What I am trying to say with mine is: my creative life is more important than my money-making job and I will always strive to put it first. My brain also works best in the morning (sometimes VERY early mornings) so this arrangement works well for me. My creative work gets my best brain power. This makes me feel good, or at least better, about spending time at my job that pays the bills because I’ve already taken time to feed my soul and further my creative dreams.
It’s a tangible way I can express my priorities in life while still taking care of business (earning a living). It’s a Jedi mind trick, that prevents me from feeling like I’m selling out my dreams to make a buck.
Or maybe you do win friends with THIS salad! It was one of my usual wingin’ it dinners, this time with an Autumn theme. I was feeling Fall and these things I had in my kitchen filled the salad bill way beyond expectations. But this one was admittedly kind of special. My kids even like it. And talked about it the next day! Please note, that’s a major achievement with teenagers so allow me a moment to bask.
Plus, it’s pretty.
And, OMG, accidentally healthy! Bonus!
I started with a bed of mixed greens, because that’s what I had, but any lettuce would do. I liked the dark green background though. Then some red onions sliced thin, yellow bell peppers, pomegranate arils (aka seeds), toasted pepitas and my homemade (world not-famous) croutons. The dressing is where a lot of the magic happened. Into my adorable mini-blender went some chopped up apple (I can’t remember what kind, probably a Fuji or maybe it was a Granny), apple cider vinegar, a little sugar (honey or whatever other sweetener would work here too), tiny bit of dried tarragon from my garden (it’s easy to overdo that flavour, but other herbs could be used), avocado oil (I wanted a light oil with little flavor of its own), salt and pepper. Blended til smooth and it was great tossed with everything else.
I feel bad that I kind of lost it with a friend the other day. He is one who enjoys politics as sport; loves to dissect the minutiae and talk about how idiotic it all is. In the best of times, I merely tolerate politics. I generally find it discouraging and frustrating to follow. But I do so grudgingly, enough to remain reasonably and respectably informed anyway. But currently, this fucking mess refuses to be ignored or kept at any kind of a safe distance to preserve my sanity. It is everywhere! It’s like passing the scene of a horrific accident and being unable to look away. And I am exhausted by it! The worst parts of ourselves and our country are continually on display. All of our country’s dirty laundry is just hanging out there for the world to see. Every. Ugly. Part.
I’m not saying this is necessarily a bad thing. But it is painful and discouraging when these truths come to light. Growth often is painful and discouraging.
My frustration with my friend was about his insistence in repeating “my vote doesn’t matter”. I finally had to ask him to stop saying that (maybe a little firmer than I wanted to), at least around me. I get what he is trying to say – his one vote won’t affect the electoral outcome of our historically blue state, so why bother? The way I see it though, is that the exercise of voting has intrinsic value all by itself. It matters! Not just as a means to an end (impacting the outcome), but as an exercise of a right we enjoy that many around the world do not. Therefore, we need to take it seriously and use it or lose it. Once we allow others to make these important decisions on our behalf, we have ceased to be active engaged members of our society. Then we’ve really lost everything.
I’m not saying that any one of the candidates for president, or for any other office for that matter, will get us exactly where we need to go. But we can at least vote for those that are heading in the right direction, whichever way it is that we think is best. We have an opportunity and a duty to make our voices heard, and that always counts.
I’m not a meal planner or prepper. I know a lot of people find these strategies useful for planning purposes, eliminating food waste and preserving the brain power and energy involved with getting food to the table on a regular basis, but they just feel way too restrictive for me. What if I have chili planned for Tuesday but then when Tuesday rolls around what I really want is chicken piccata? I’m no good at following rules, recipes or scheduled menus.
That being said, I am a champion pantry stocker, larder liner and food repurposer. I detest food waste and these strategies allow me to keep good food moving through my kitchen and into the bellies that I love without winding up moldering in my fridge or relegated to the compost heap. I also have an uncanny ability to keep an accurate mental inventory of my food supplies and when they might be approaching expiration. I have a pretty good idea of what we have on hand at any one point in time, unlike others in my household who shall remain nameless, but are responsible for multiple open containers and redundant buys that clutter our fridge and cupboards. Ahem. Moving on…
I think part of the secret here is keeping a consistent stock of staples. These are the majority of my shopping (probably 80%) and are highly versatile so that I can make most of the stuff we like to eat on a regular basis. For instance, we always have carrots, onions and celery in the fridge because we make a lot of soups and other dishes that have these as a starting point. We always stock broth in a jar, noodles, rice, potatoes, olive oil, garlic and tons of spices. I’m not going to go through my whole larder, but you get the idea. I also make a point of keeping spares of frequently used items and immediately replace the spare as soon as I put it into action. For example, when I open my reserve jar of stock from my pantry, it goes right on the next shopping list so I never run out at an inconvenient time. Its smart to make most of your stock stuff that use regularly, then you always know mostly what you have. Only about 20% of the stuff I buy varies, usually seasonally but some times opportunistically. Like berries in the summer or when we are given some fish or meat or hazelnuts or we get a wild craving for something not typically on the menu. The 20% is harder to keep track of in my mental inventory and these items are at highest risk of being overlooked and rotting. The 80% comprises most of our meals and allows me to make use of the 20%. Is that too math-y?
Repurposing is another favorite strategy and has become something of a game for me. Much to my family’s amusement. Or maybe whatever the opposite of that is. But they indulge me. Leftover rice, meat, omelet, cooked, frozen or fresh veggies are fair game for fried rice. Bones and veggie tops are gathered in a Ziploc bag in my freezer for making stock. Aging, wrinkly tomatoes get roasted in the oven with olive oil and salt then blended up into sauce. Wilty greens get a second life sauteed and added to soups, frittatas or pastas. Leftover mashed potatoes become tasty “glue” for breakfast quesadillas; I made my husband one the other day that incorporated mashed potatoes, a couple of straggler spaetzles, sliced chicken schnitzel and red cabbage; it was a teutonic feast! Leftovers and scraps are culinary creativity just waiting to happen.
This book is tiny, but mighty. Written by an obvious introvert, so she basically had me right there.
It’s a little dated, but still relevant. There is an assumption that the majority of women do not work outside the home, but remember this book was written in a totally different generation when that was true. When you look past that, there are all sorts of gems found here.
Beautiful words and imagery couch some incredibly deep analysis of changes women (primarily, but also men) go through, particularly at middle life. Her writing speaks to me on a deep, heart level. She has eloquently put into words the internal and external struggles I have been feeling over the past few years. Who am I, where am I going, what is my purpose, why am I not satisfied with what I have?
I feel understood and validated that this is a less well-defined but nonetheless predictable developmental stage in life and it is ok, even expected and natural that I am feeling this way. Most developmental theory seems to kinda gloss over these middle-aged years (especially for women). Lots of emphasis on your body beginning to break down, your mind starting to slip and how you just soldier on with raising kids, working and making money with nothing particularly interesting happening. Oh, except maybe you are also lucky enough to be caring for your aging parents as well (right here) or perhaps having a middle life crisis. But this is a crock! Not the part about helping parents (that’s a privilege, at least for me it is), but the part about this stage of life being a yawn-fest that sometimes culminates in an epic, tragic, negative struggle.
It sounds a little cheesy, but I prefer to think of this transitional time in life less as a “crisis” and more as a huge opportunity to start a new and fun chapter. It is not without any struggle to be sure, but overall, I feel like my life has gotten richer and deeper. I enjoy using my brain which feels powerful – like a muscle car amped up on experience, creativity and wisdom. It is fucking fun to drive this thing around! I feel like I am breaking new ground, letting go of shit that no longer serves me and I am excited to see where this new creative phase of life leads me. This book is a great reminder that getting older doesn’t have to be a downer, but rather, offers its own charms and opportunities to those of us who choose to see it this way.
I just spent the last 5-10 minutes at my kitchen sink washing chicken shit off of 3 dozen eggs. Why, you ask? Because fresh eggs are totally worth it! And we eat A LOT of eggs.
Whenever we run out, instead of toddling on down to the Safeway to collect some sad, sad commercially raised chicken eggs, I instead head a little farther east and pick up some fresh eggs from a neighbor that raises backyard chickens.
They are affordable ($3/dozen), but require a little more effort (less convenient than the grocery and require aforementioned washing). They aren’t uniform and come in all colors, shapes (yes, even shapes) and sizes. If you’ve only ever used commercial eggs, you are in for a surprise! To my eyes, the variability makes them even more appealing. I feel like I’m eating something real.
And the taste? Absolutely delicious. They have brighter, more vibrant yolks, richer flavor and commercial eggs literally pale in comparison. The process of washing and drying the eggs is also rather meditative, not entirely unpleasant. Go ahead, find a neighbor or local farm and just try it.
I’m taking a lot of liberties here, but the main messages I took away from reading this succinct little book of wisdom include:
Our creative or artist side (whatever our medium of choice) exists on kind of a parallel plane to normal everyday life.
It is up to us to find our way and tap into this other reality and let our creativity flow out of us.
Problem is, we let stupid shit get in the way of this = resistance.
The best way to access our internal wisdom and creativity is to regularly sit down and just fucking do it. For example, if your medium is writing, you’ve got to create habits that get you in front of that keyboard on a regular basis.
I also appreciated how this author’s voice careens back and forth between classical literature to pop references, brass tacks tough love to woo-woo wacky existential stuff all the while merrily ignoring the accepted “rules” of how to write a traditional book. This delights me to no end! It’s a wild ride of a trip through one artist’s stream of consciousness about how to unleash your own brand of creativity but does not suffer for this format. It is at once entertaining and incredibly inspiring, but thankfully, avoids the pitfall of shaming readers for not just doing it already.
I feel like my creative analogies are becoming hopelessly mixed up with each other! Or, perhaps more optimistically – intertwined.
I talk and write about dating and relationships, I write about cooking as a metaphor for carefree, creative living and both of these are currently informing how I think about my job prospects! What a world of wonder. Anyhoo, as mentioned before, I have been on a journey away from the rat race and toward a more fulfilling professional life. I left a perfectly good, full-time corporate healthcare job on principle and for a while anyway, frantically sought to replace it with another just like it. I was trying to follow the recipe for what grown-ups my age are supposed to do; Have a steady job and provide for their families. This desperation slowly morphed into a new attitude toward work; a more mercenary approach to work as a transaction, a way to simply make money to fund other more personally important creative projects. Oh, and keep my family afloat. And less tangled up with my identity. I could work, but not have it define or consume me.
And it has been good. Mostly. Emotionally and creatively it has been fantastic. I don’t have to choose between my family and work. I am rested enough and not burned out so my creative energy for writing and podcasting has been amazing. I’m cranking out content like nobody’s business! The not so great side of it all? I have to think about money more, like where and how to get it. So far, knock on wood, I have managed to cobble together enough freelance work to survive. Comfortably, if not lavishly. My work-related stress is at an all-time low since I am not a regular employee anywhere; just a pinch-hitter, so to speak. Another bonus – all of the politics and other shit that comes with regular employment does not affect me. I have to buy my own health insurance which hurts the wallet, but otherwise, this is all working out.
To use a dating analogy, I’m dating casually right now but not jumping into any long-term commitments. I’m biding my time and waiting for Mr Right (my independent, creative “job” that I don’t know if it exists anywhere or ever will, but I’m still going for it). Here’s the wrench though – I’m kind of tired out with dating (working freelance). I might be ready for a break, but I still haven’t found Mr Right and I’m not going to settle for less. Enter Mr Rightnow. One of my freelance jobs wants to hire me as a regular employee. Do I take it and relax in the warm embrace of a steady paycheck, crappy but covered health insurance and an office to hang my degrees? Not for long term, but just for now? Is it worth it or am I going backwards? How will I feel having a set schedule again? Will my kids be ok with this? What (if anything) will this do to my creative energy?? So many questions, not enough answers. I think I will at least allow the offer process to play out. And, seeing as how I am now clear about approaching work with the goal of money and not identity or long-term commitment, it may feel like less of a noose and more of pleasant boat ride where I can put my feet up and cruise to the next stop on my journey. I’ll still do a good job of course because that’s who I am, but I just won’t let it become my whole life. We will have to see how good the offer is…stay tuned.
Potato salad has never been beloved by me, though I understand it holds a dear place in many people’s hearts. I’m talking that gloppy, light yellow, faintly eggy mess that my mom, and probably many other moms made in the summertime for barbecues. To me it has always been just ok.
The one I made yesterday though was a game changer.
I guess I’m currently in my lemon period, because I’ve been putting that shit into everything lately. But here, in lowly potato salad, it really shines. Transforming something that is at best mediocre in my mind into a divine dish. Here’s how:
Boil up some potatoes, I used gold ones because that’s what I had, but anything would work. I peel mine before, but the skins do slip off easier after boiling. I guess I just enjoy the meditative ritual of peeling them beforehand. Whatever, you do you. Drain them once they are tender to a fork, but not falling apart. This isn’t a mashed potato recipe. Cool them off while you mix up the dressing in the bottom of a bowl. I made mine with mayonnaise, lemon juice and zest, garlic olive oil, salt and pepper with chopped up fennel fronds. I love roasting fennel bulbs but was stuck about what to do with the leftover beautiful and bountiful fronds – this was my solution! Instantly added color, texture and a faint hint of anise-y flavour (don’t fear the fennel, it is really subtle used in this way). Then I added the potatoes, some red onion (why do we call them red onions when they are really purple??). Mixed it all together and added more salt and pepper to taste. This is destined to become my new signature potluck/BBQ contribution. At least until I enter my next flavor phase.
I can’t believe I’m in my 50th year of life. How the fuck did that happen?!
I like birthdays. Its like your own personal holiday. And I’ve never felt weird about my age or getting older. I’m not feeling bad or sad or mad about turning 50 in 2021, but I do feel a certain sense of wonder. Like, wow, that’s a lot of years on Earth.
I am also reflective; a lot has happened in that time span! Both good and bad, happy and sad. Hard to believe it is all part of the same story, my story.
I love stories, especially those found in books. Fiction, non-fiction, cookbooks, travel books, self-help, philosophy, memoirs – you name it. Books have been constant and treasured companions during my life. So I’ve decided to include them in a little commemorative challenge I have set out for myself during my 50th year – read 50 books before my 50th birthday. That’s a lot of books! And my social media consumption is likely to suffer, but I am committed. I’m a little over a week in and already 3 down, stay tuned!
You know, I’ve never loved my name. It didn’t ever feel like it suited me. I always dreamed about being a Julie when I was a kid (Why this particular name, I have no idea. Possibly the cruise director from The Love Boat?!). In high school my close friends started calling me by my initials, KC. That became a treasured nickname. So I guess even my friends didn’t see me as a Karen. For a while I entertained the idea of having a nom de plume or pen name. The name I came up with? “Serendipity Chance”. Ha! Sounds so cheesy now, but it might have been ok if I was going to write erotica. Not that there is anything wrong with that. Later, a friend and I decided we would each have alter-ego names to suit the non-mom side of our personas. She was Coco and I was Veronica. Sounds more daring and a hint glamorous. We had some good adventures. I still kind of like the idea of Veronica.
There was a story about my name this morning in the New York Times. The goddamned New York Fucking Times! All about how “Karen” has degenerated into shorthand for a middle aged, white racist asshole of a woman. Jesus! My name has morphed from an ill-fitting suit of clothes to something akin to a Nazi swastika. Before, I just sort of tolerated my name but didn’t ever really identify with it and now…well now I don’t even know what to do with it.
Changing it seems cowardly and perhaps somehow like I am admitting guilt. I get it that sensible people probably won’t assume that just because I have the name and I am middle aged and white that I embody everything about this particular meme. However, I also know that people are often lazy thinkers. So, there will be plenty of people that will make these assumptions about me based on my name. Nothing I can do about that I guess, but it still irks me. My name has been hijacked.
I finally realized that I am grieving for my country. Duh. I’m no stranger to grieving, but this is new.
I’m grieving for the loss of any sense of an attitude of cohesiveness, shared burden and basic common decency toward each other. It appears we are increasingly out for our own interests, every man for himself, fuck you I got mine.
I’m grieving for the absence of a presidential president. Someone with class, vision, leadership and, well, couth. Or maybe even someone who at least recognizes the value in appearing this way (I’m not naive).
I’m grieving for our loss of place in the world. We used to be great. Maybe rather brash and crude at times, but still, perhaps arguably, a commanding and inspiring world leader. Now? We are basically the laughingstock of planet Earth. And slowly imploding in a fiery ball of unchecked rampaging virus, civil unrest, racial injustice, economic freefall, and a healthcare system finally unmasked for the total shitshow that it really is. Now is the time for us to come together to fix this. Sadly, we can’t even to talk to each other when so much needs to be said. I thought we were better than this. My heart is heavy.
Lemons, fuck yeah. More versatile than you think too.
Of course the prime use is as a twist in my vodka martini, but that’s obvious.
Other uses for a bit of that signature yellow brightness: Squeezed over roasted vegetables. In a mustard vinaigrette. Zested over steamed asparagus or broccoli. In dips like hummus or guacamole. In pestos and pistous. Might even be good in pea soup. Zested or juiced into chicken soup. Sweet stuff: lemon bars, lemon curd, lemon cheesecake.
And make your own damn lemonade, plus or minus booze. Add the zest (that’s flavor, don’t trash it). Squeeze the juice (after zesting, much easier). Add water to desired level of tartness. Make a simple syrup (1:1 water and sugar, warm til dissolved then cool). Sweeten lemonade to taste with the simple syrup. Could even keep the sweetener separate so people can sweeten their own. Fuck that Country Time nonsense, just a can of chemicals.
I read this book in one day over a month ago and I am still thinking about it.
The subject matter is relevant, to be sure; I think we’d be hard pressed to find an American woman today without “body issues” and/or a history of some sort of sexual abuse.
The honesty and artistry of the telling though. That’s what really got to me. The openness to her own vulnerability and willingness to share it was incredibly awe inspiring. I felt exposed myself by virtue of her exposing her deepest self. There could be no hiding anymore after reading this account.
So beautifully written too. A casual tone and an economy of words, but with nothing left unsaid. How does she do that?! Truly a work of heartbreaking beauty. Makes me want to run right out and read everything she has every written and give her a hug of gratitude (which she wouldn’t want, the latter that is).