Cryin’ Over Wine

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.

Morning Madness

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.

Every Vote Counts, Dammit!

Every Vote Counts, Dammit! Recipes are merely a Suggestion K.C. Shomler

 

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.

Every Vote Counts, Dammit! Recipes are merely a Suggestion K.C. Shomler

Gift from The Sea, by Anne Morrow Lindbergh

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.

Is It Time to Say Yes to Mr Rightnow?

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.

 

50 for 50

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!

What’s in a Name?

What’s in a Name? by KC Shomler Recipes Are Merely a Suggestion

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.

What’s in a Name? by KC Shomler Recipes Are Merely a Suggestion

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.

Fuck it; from now on just call me Veronica.

KC Shomler

What’s in a Name? by KC Shomler Recipes Are Merely a Suggestion

A Grief Explored

A Grief Explored by KC Shomler

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.

 

KC Shomler

The Tyranny of The Shoulds

The Tyranny of The Shoulds Karyn Shomler

The goddamned shoulds are everywhere and they are out to get you! In fact, they came for me just this morning while I was on the most pleasant walk with my dog. Luckily, this time at least, I was able to tell them to GTFO. I’m not always this successful. The shoulds are wily, insidious and come in all different shapes and sizes.

The Tyranny of The Shoulds Karyn Shomler The Tyranny of The Shoulds Karyn Shomler The Tyranny of The Shoulds Karyn Shomler

Little shoulds: I should be weeding my yard. I should read that pile of magazines that is gathering dust on my coffee table. I should update my kids’ memory books. Big shoulds: I should learn a foreign language. I should work out more and lose weight. I should paint the house and fix the front steps. Super-sized shoulds: I should be making more money. I should have a full-time job like everybody else. I should be saving more for retirement and my kids’ college educations.

Shoulds are tyrannical because they prevent you from enjoying your present moments. They guilt and shame you for not doing what you think you oughta be doing instead of whatever it is you are doing. And consequentially, they suck the pleasure out of your activity/day/life. They prevent you from really inhabiting yourself. They leave you torn between what is not happening now but you think is a “better” use of your time and what IS happening now. That’s a total mindfuck and useless to boot!

So, do just that – boot those shoulds out of your head and own your decision to really do whatever it is you are doing right now and ENJOY it. Try to be just there and there alone. Wherever “there” is. I’m not perfect at this, but I keep trying. When a should lands on me, I throw it back. Starting with the small stuff to build up my anti-should muscles and working my way up to the bigger ones. Definitely a work in progress.

Rainbow American Diet (RAD)

I know so many people that, sadly, eat the SAD (Shitty American Diet) and it makes them feel shitty. Processed crap, little to no fruits or veggies, precious little that resembles actual, real, satisfying food. Comes in a box or a bag with more than 5 ingredients on the label? That’s not food. Obtained through a drive thru? Most likely not high quality food (only weirdos with poor taste order the fast food salad which is invariably kinda limp and pale).

Real food is colorful and makes you feel good. Kinda like rainbows. Don’t tell me you are too busy, too poor or too lazy to eat right. It is not that hard. And you should be a priority to yourself. Food is fuel and you are what you eat, so improve the quality of what you put into yourself for chrissakes! Don’t get all overwhelmed either, you can start by simply adding some color.

Here is one very basic thing you can do to start turning things around that hopefully won’t send you running back to the drive thru for comfort: Buy frozen veggies and fruit. Whatever you like. They are cheap and already cut up for those of you who are poor and/or lazy. Plus, they won’t go bad very fast, they require almost zero prep and you don’t even have to know how to cook; you can just add them to stuff you are already eating, even if it is crap. Throw a handful of mixed veg into your ramen or mac and cheese. Roll some corn and peppers up in a tortilla with cheese and refried beans. Put broccoli on a baked potato with some salsa. Mix green beans, carrots and a can of kidney beans with pasta and broth for a quick minestrone. If that is too hard, start by adding some mixed veg to canned soup. Make some rice and put your favorite veg in there with soy sauce for pseudo fried rice. Whatever you are eating, think about if you can add some fruit or veg to it. You can do this.

My goal is to eat veggies with every meal; yep, even breakfast. How do I get them into breakfast? 2 main ways – on top of toast or mixed into eggs. Toast topped with hummus or avocado then add diced bell peppers and onions, sometimes cucumbers. Sometimes cheese toast with green onions and pickled peppers. Does require fresh veg and minimal knife skills, I know, but not very complicated. Fritattas or scrambles are a cinch and you can use fresh, frozen or even leftover veg from another meal. It’s basically just scrambled eggs with colorful stuff added in; made in a pan on the stove or baked in the oven. Easy. If you are more of a fruit lover (unlike me), try putting fresh or frozen berries or apple slices on top of peanut butter toast. Ever tried freezing orange segments or grapes? They are delicious little mini popsicle snacks. Add fruit to yogurt or cereal. Its ok to start small, but get some color in there! Eat RAD not SAD (I am aware that I am a dork).

Who Am I and Where Am I Going?!

 

Who Am I and Where Am I Going Recipes Are Merely A Suggestion kc is me Karyn Shomler

I am really feeling this one lately. I grew up and into a person that wasn’t me. Not blaming anyone, I let it happen, but changing direction at 48 is no fucking picnic! Without the protective invincibility of youth, striking out on your own and away from what is tried and true, especially with a family in tow, is really scary. I began this journey, somewhat reluctantly, about a year ago.  Continuing to live my life as a full-time working zombie in the American healthcare system was no longer tenable. Not sure how much actual progress I have made since leaving that life behind, but I’m still going! And I am (mostly) happier on a day to day basis compared to when I was a full-fledged member of the rat race. Except for the minutes, hours, days, weeks that I allow my fears to get the better of me – How is this all going to work? Will we run out of money? Am I good enough? What does my family think? How does this story end??

It is difficult to move away from the only shore you have ever known and stay the course when you aren’t even sure where the fuck you are headed! There is folk wisdom that advises “think from the end, from where you want to be”, but what if I don’t know what or where “the end” is for me? I mean,  I do have some ideas (I want to be self employed and creative), but there are no guarantees that  promised land even exists (for me) and no roadmap to get there. I can be very goal oriented, but that doesn’t work here. Its not like before when I decided I wanted a career in healthcare and there was a very well-defined path  and series of steps to get there. This is something else entirely and involves multiple and consistent leaps of faith while also remaining relaxed enough to just roll with it and have peace that everything will work out. Historically, these have not been strengths of mine!

I have been following “the rules” for so long, living in a (mostly) socially acceptable way, that it is hard to even imagine what my life could look like without them. And I’m a pretty creative thinker! But, it’s almost as if I’m afraid to dare to dream. To really sink into what I want for myself and indulge those thoughts because somehow, it is naughty to do that. And prideful – why should I have a better, more dazzling and fulfilling life than anyone else? What have I done to deserve that? What makes me think I am talented enough to make a living off of the power of my own creativity? Besides, I’ve got it pretty good right now; great family, solid, recession worthy job, tidy suburban home in a safe neighborhood, my health and health insurance (such as it is) – I’ve got “The American Dream” so why ask for more? Isn’t that greedy? And ungrateful? And unnecessarily risky? Am I just lazy and shirking my responsibilities as a grownup? Yet, I chafe. And my mind and heart and soul won’t let me drop it. I don’t want more, I want different.

I don’t know exactly who I am going to become or exactly how I am going to get there, but I do know that who I have been in the past no longer fits. Best keep swimming and keep my eyes open for a tantalizing new shore. And have faith I will recognize it when it appears.

Who Am I and Where Am I Going Recipes Are Merely A Suggestion kc is me Karyn Shomler

Laptop Confessional

I’ve got a confession to make:

I’ve got a big ol’ crush on Richard Branson!

This book –  Like a Virgin offers a glimpse beneath the mane. Great business mind, kind heart, likes to break the rules (for good), empowers his employees to take exceptional care of customers. An all-around Rockstar who is not afraid to take risks. And he owns his own private tropical island.

Yeah, that last bit kind of gets me. The risk part, not the island part. I could take some lessons from Sir Richard’s example and dismantle my own aversion to risk. One of his mottos after all is “Screw it, let’s do it!” I could definitely benefit from more of that attitude in my life, more courage to go for it and pursue what interests me and what I find personally fulfilling. Damn the consequences!  And… that tropical island bit wouldn’t hurt either.

 

Don’t Let Yourself Get Too Comfortable

I spent a lot of years trying to outrun or outsmart vulnerability by making things certain and definite, black and white, good and bad. My inability to lean into the discomfort of vulnerability limited the fullness of those important experiences that are wrought with uncertainty: Love, belonging, trust, joy, and creativity to name a few.  -Brene Brown

 

I’ve been cooking with reckless abandon and a devil may care attitude for as long as I can remember, but I still get intimidated at times. And I think that is good for my growth!

Case in point: my sweetie and I were left to our own devices on Christmas day this year with nary a commitment in sight. We had planned to take ourselves out to a dive bar breakfast, but once the cold foggy morning dawned, the lure of a cozy house complete with warm fireplace and cute cuddly dog was too hard to resist.

What to make though? Should be something special given that it was Christmas, but not require a trip to the store which would defeat our whole hermit plan…then I got it. But I kept quiet and let the thought roll around in my head for a while before saying it out loud. I knew he would pounce, but I was feeling unsure of myself. Can I actually pull that off? Leap of faith time: “How about eggs benedict?”

Then I was committed. And I did it, not without vulnerability, feelings of clumsiness and uncertainty, but I did it. And I felt a sense of accomplishment  like I haven’t felt in a long time, because I chose to stretch myself. What’s your “eggs benedict”? Hint: Doesn’t have to be about cooking either 😉

following the rules is overrated

i chafe at being told what or how to do something. i quit my full time job in favor of mercenary work that allows me control of my time. i avoid flu shots when i can get away with it. my way to get “there” may be different from yours since i drive for work and typically know 3 or 4 alternate routes. i don’t like punching a time clock so i have consistently avoided jobs where my punctual presence for a prescribed amount of time is required. and you already know how i feel about recipes.

some rules make sense to follow though. traffic lights are good. i wear my seatbelt. avoiding mixing bleach with ammonia is a solid idea. ignoring ikea directions is probably not a recipe for successful furniture building. theft, rape, murder – i’m ok with rules prohibiting those.

wisdom is knowing the difference.

i ignored grammar rules and avoided using capital letters in this entire post – did that affect the conveyance of my meaning? sorry to my 7th grade teacher mr whipple, but the answer is no.

The Mindset Needed To Create This Fritatta

“Don’t let failure be final”. -Steven H. Shomler

 

I love this quote and it lends itself beautifully to the concept of embracing improvisation; in cooking and in life. If you give up after one fuck-up and remain afraid to try new things, you will never progress.

This is exactly the mindset needed to create something out of (seeming) nothing. Like this frittata. I made it this morning from odds and ends I found in my fridge and pantry. It took me some time and lots of experimentation to get a good feel for how to throw stuff together like this. Has every single one turned out perfectly? No. But so what? They were still edible ( most of the time). I just filed away the errors I made or the tweaks I thought would improve the dish and incorporated that knowledge into my next effort. Cooking without a script is so much fun though – there is reward in that all by itself.

Back to that frittata: It is a cozy Saturday morning here at HavenHome and I knew I had some goodies in the fridge from last night’s dinner and lunch last week to use up. So I chopped up the tater tots, some red onion and leftover cooked bacon. Tossed that into a greased baking dish. Added some diced green chilis from the pantry and some pepperjack cheese. Then whizzed up some eggs and coconut milk (unsweetened and unflavoured). Seasoned with salt, pepper and dried tarragon from the garden (I am obsessed with tarragon right now and add it to whatever I reasonably can). Baked it in the oven until done. So good with crusty baguette toast topped with butter and marmalade. If I didn’t have shit to do today, I’d also have a ruby sunrise (champagne and ruby red grapefruit juice. WAAAAYYY better than a lameass, boring mimosa).

Cooking is science, but it is also art. No wrong answers here. The worst thing is to become so afraid of failure that you stop trying. Cooking can be a daily, creative outlet that nourishes both body and soul. Don’t be afraid to experiment!

 

 

 

 

Just Like Kool & The Gang Sang…

“The more you praise and celebrate your life, the more there is in life to celebrate” -Oprah

Everyone needs a champagne stopper. It instantly removes the barrier from going ahead and opening that bottle of sparkling wine, champagne, prosecco or, my favorite, cava. It allows us to celebrate more often without having to commit to the whole bottle (if you’re a quitter. JK).

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Celebration and sparkling don’t have to be reserved for just ultra-special occasions. I keep a bottle ready to go in my fridge at all times because I like being prepared to celebrate at the drop of a hat. A book contract, a windfall, surviving a challenging work week, the full moon, Tuesday night. Big things, little things, silly things, why not?

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And I believe in the inherent value of celebrating as much as possible. Because celebration is the manifestation of gratitude and that’s a great place to have your attention. Keep focused on what is good, what is working, what is right with the world.

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So get yourself one of these gadgets, get something nice chilling in the fridge and pay attention to what needs celebrating. However small or seemingly insignificant. Try it, it’s fun!

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“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as if nothing is a miracle. The other is as if everything is a miracle”. – Albert Einstein

 

The Historical Significance of Scalloped Potatoes

This dish is legendary in my family. I am the youngest of 6 (sadly, now 5) and this was a crowd pleaser when we were growing up. My mom totally rolls her eyes at us when we (still) ask her to make it. From her perspective at 81 years old, it is too fussy and time consuming and she ain’t got no time for that. My mom would never be accused of being overly sentimental, but that is definitely a big part of her charm!

I first started making it for myself and my hungry, clueless-in-the-kitchen college roommates. And it WAS time consuming. At least how it was written in The Joy of Cooking, which was my only cookbook at the time and I had yet to learn to bend recipes to my will. There was peeling, soaking, layering and pre-cooking involved. But I did it anyway because it was a taste of home and a bit of comfort to all of us big kids living away from our parents for the first time.

Many years later, my dear (late) chef brother opened my eyes to a better way. He did that a lot! He was probably my biggest role model and  inspiration in cooking without rigid recipes. He was a classically trained chef, but ironically, never followed a recipe and made it all look effortless, fluid and fun. Maybe the recipes were in his head, IDK. Anyway, he took all kinds of liberties and was something of a MacGyver in the kitchen (you’ll have to be as old as I am to get that reference). I remember one time I was hanging about while he catered a fancy meal for a bunch of fancy people at an estate deep in the wine country of St Helena, California. VERY far from any kind of market. He was making a skewered chicken app and forgot the skewers. Without a moment’s hesitation, he ripped some rosemary stalks from the yard and threaded the meat onto those. Genius! Looked and tasted fucking amazing. He would do shit like that all of the time. Miss him so.

So back to scalloped potatoes – my brother and I were together one Christmas far from home and decided to make the old family favorite. So I started to peel and chop and was about to start parboiling, layering and pre-heating the milk when he (thankfully) stopped me. “You know you can just mix that all up in a big bowl and toss it into the baking dish right?” Mind. Blown. Duh. So I’ve made them that way ever since and it is way more fast and fun and I never measure a bit. Just trust myself to make it look right, even if it is different every time. Which is part of the fun.

From Expert To Novice. Again.

I am so not following the recipe in my working life right now! And I say that not so much in a proud way (at least today), but more in a scared shitless and totally uncomfortable way. Ugh.

I’ve managed to go from having a solid, regular, full time job in a niche in my field where I excelled to now a part-time position in a different, nichier niche where I have no idea what the fuck I am doing! And it shows!! Expert to novice is definitely not how the recipe for professional success is written, but here I am.

And how am I doing with that you ask? Not well! I like being the one who knows, the one who people look to for guidance, the one who can do the work and do it well almost in her sleep. It is so much more comfortable to have all of the answers rather than to be asking all of the questions. I don’t want to traverse this sea of mediocrity again damn it! I’ve already made that journey plenty of times! But this time the distant shore is really where I want to be: self-employed in a creative way on my own terms with plenty of time to spend with my kids while they are still at home. Guess I better suck it up and stay the course.

There is no substitute for experience though and that just takes time. Trying to force something to cook faster won’t turn out well. It will be burned on the outside and raw on the inside. And I just keep reminding myself that cooking without a recipe was not easy at first, but now it is effortless and fluid, like breathing. I’ll get there.

 

Cooking Without a Recipe is Scary. At First.

And I think this is a good metaphor for life as well. We all are just trying to figure out what makes us happy, or in cooking, what tastes good. Recipes offer a promise that things will turn out well. The problem is, what tastes good to you or what makes you happy may not follow the recipe. Recipes are safe, predictable and offer a tested and trusted way to a specific result. But what if that is not the result that suits YOU? Or, what if the act of cooking, or living life your way is the reward in itself?

For much of my life I have stubbornly proclaimed that I am not a baker. Why? Because baking is more science-y and requires following the rules. Unlike other cooking, I couldn’t see a way to improvise to my heart’s content and also produce baked goods that were actually edible. I resisted baking for years and I lived down to my own expectations every time I did try it. I could not find any joy in the process of following a recipe.

Then something changed. I gave myself permission to screw around with baking recipes, treating them more like suggestions as I routinely do with my general cooking. Two things happened; I learned I could do it my way with good results and I was a whole lot happier baking. Now I turn out homemade pizzas, focaccia, muffins and cakes like nobody’s business. And they are uniquely, imperfectly, deliciously mine.

Now I’m applying that same found wisdom to my life. I have jumped ship and departed from the generally accepted recipe for a happy life. I no longer have a leash (steady job), but neither do I have a recipe to follow either. I am making this up as I go along, finding work that suits me and fits into the rest of my life. I’m a little (sometimes a lot) scared about it, but I just keep telling myself that I don’t have to follow the recipe and everything will still (probably) turn out ok. And I am already much happier in the process.