Diversion

I found myself desperately searching for a podcast, an audiobook, a familiar movie, or yet more music to listen to while putting dinner together last night and I realized something. I have a real problem with silence lately, with a lack of diversion, with time spent with only my own thoughts. I’d like to do something about that. It’s time to get comfortable not listening to someone else’s thoughts again for a change.

On a similar note, I see that I worked through 90 books last year. Ninety. That’s kind of nuts. Probably a quarter of those were audiobooks that I listened to while running, walking, cooking, doing chores, or doing nothing at all. I’m at 24 books for this year, about 1/3 of which are audiobooks. I’ve listened to three complete podcast series since the beginning of the year. I might need a break from my favorite diversion tactic to see if there’s something I’m trying to avoid or if it’s just a too-easy habit that I’ve fallen into.

Time alone with our thoughts is time worth spending. I mean to listen a little closer.

We’re not gonna talk about the meatballs

IMG_2736.JPG
Pantry Staples Spicy Red Sauce

This is the easiest, tastiest, most requested thing I make. Dead serious. Jeff absolutely craves this shit ‘love is the main ingredient’ concoction. It slow simmers in the over for 5 hours though – yes, 5 hours – so plan ahead or dinner’s going to be late.

You can see above how labor intensive the prep process is. Would your Italian great-grandmother approve of this take on marinara sauce? Hell no. Are you going to scarf it down before spontaneously belting out Brindisi from La Traviata? Damn straight.

Turn oven to 250F
Go to your cupboard and pull out:

2 – 28 oz cans of good, quality WHOLE tomatoes
(cut them up into large chunks while still in the can)
1 – 6 oz can tomato paste
2 bay leaves
1 Tablespoon dried basil
1 Tablespoon brown sugar
1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Dump all of the above into a large oven-safe pot with a lid (a dutch oven works great)

Add:
1 medium to large onion, diced
5 cloves of garlic, minced

Mix it all together

Cover almost completely with lid, tilting it just slightly so some steam can escape. The tilted lid is very important. This will cause it to simmer and thicken slightly. If the lid is all the way on, the liquids will boil making a drippy, nasty sauce.

NOTES:
1. Only use good, quality WHOLE canned tomatoes. Diced and crushed tomatoes have stabilizers added to keep the texture from falling apart. Cut, dice or smash the tomatoes yourself.
2. Look for bright green, fragrant bay leaves. If you use dried bay leaves, opt for Morton & Bassett if available. They’re the best ones I’ve found by far. Those pale, grayish bay leaves that look like they’ve been under florescent lighting for 15 years are worth less than the plastic container they come in.
3. Coarse, kosher salt is your friend. Your kitchen BFF. I use Alessi for cooking and Maldon salt flakes at the table. There is a remarkable difference between high quality salt and that stuff in the big blue tube. It’s more than worth the price difference. There’s plenty of iodized salt in our lives and food already. You don’t have to cook with it or use it at the table.
4. Do yourself a favor and make a double batch like I did. With the oven on that long, get the most food for your energy buck. Tomato sauce and chili freezes well and always tastes even better after sitting a day.

Soooooooo about those meatballs…

All I can say for my first attempt at making homemade meatballs is that whatever those things ended up actually being, they at least tasted good.

What’s 12 hours roundtrip between friends?

Two years ago this past April, an acquaintance who worked at a bakery that I frequented commented that she, a self-described life-long non-athlete, “could never do a triathlon.” I disagreed and said that it was simply a matter of deciding to do it and then putting in the work, piece by piece, day after day. If I could learn to swim when the mere thought of water gave me hives, she a comfortable swimmer could complete a triathlon. After a few more back and forth comments on the topic, I said that if she really wanted to do one I would train with her. But only if she was serious about it and was willing to commit to the work.

Long story short, she committed and she completed an Olympic length triathlon by the end of that summer. It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t always enjoyable – for either of us. We trained in the heat, the cold, the rain and even some snow. There were tears and more than a few ‘I hate this’ moments. We learned that she has exercise-induced panic attacks when her heart rate exceeds 175 bpm while running. So we got her a heart rate monitor and she learned to plan for and work around this condition. But she did it. She met her self-stated goal of running “every step of that fucking 10k”. In addition, she finished her first 1/2 marathon with me two months after the triathlon.

Over that summer, she introduced me to Ragbrai, talked me through my own panic attacks in the water, and on one (particularly ridiculous and awe-inspiring) weekend, we ran her first 10 miler on Saturday and rode my first century ride (100 mile) the very next day. And we became very good friends.

Last year, she moved away to pursue her dream career and I’ve missed her ever since. I especially miss training with her. I miss her determination and the way she shouted “Hell yeah!” after reaching a new milestone. I miss her goofiness and spontaneous laughter. I miss her loud running outfits, headband obsession, and enthusiastic “Let’s do it!” to life in general.

Last Friday on the phone, we lamented that we didn’t get to ride together anymore. So she called me back later and said, “I’m coming out on Tuesday, we’re riding on Wednesday, and I’m heading home again on Thursday so I can get to class on Friday. Think Shan will let me borrow her bike?” And that’s how it went down. She arrived last night after 6 hours on the Mega bus, we put in a solid 45 miles on one of our favorite trails in picture perfect weather today (but alas, no pictures were taken), we had dinner this evening with Jeff (an excellent vegan chili as she likes her food HOT), and she’s leaving tomorrow. Shan is meeting us for breakfast after she gets off work so she can get her own hugs and hellos in before heading off to bed for her ‘night’.

One of the things I’d forgotten about riding with Jess is how well we ride together. That’s a rare and beautiful thing. Our pacing is synchronized, we anticipate each other’s movements, and the conversation and silences are comfortably organic. We just flow. Something I’ve learned is that no matter how much I enjoy cycling by myself – and I enjoy it a lot – I enjoy cycling with her more. I am lucky to have many people I can ride with locally, but those hours and hours and hours we spent training together that first summer gelled something special between us and I’m grateful to have experienced it. May she and I ride again together soon.

Nourishment

A week ago I got back from a trip to the Pacific Northwest to help my closest friend move into a new apartment. It is, for the record, wonderful. Near the water, the view – especially at night – is enchanting, overlooking a large twinkling metropolis of glass and steel. Her bedroom and the book-filled guest room are separated by a sun-drenched living room. The cheery kitchen, dining and storage area holds more spectacular wine than I’ll likely drink in a lifetime. It was hard to leave the sunny patio during the perfect spring days we had.

The night before I came home though, something odd happened. I still don’t know how to make sense of it except to know that my mind was trying very hard to tell me something and it was determined to be listened to. As I was falling asleep, the word Nourishment kept bubbling up into my thoughts for no reason that I could put my thumb on.

Like the good counselors we were trained to be, relationships fascinate my friend and me. It’s who we are. It’s what we do. So we often talked during that week about relationships, taking care of ourselves, when (and when not) and how (and how not) to care for others, protecting our emotional and mental selves from situations outside of our control, what we needed and what we needed to avoid, how and when to step back, and seeing situations for what they are as opposed to how we wanted them to be or how they had once been. I loved having so much time to talk uninterrupted with her. It felt like our grad school days again when everything was new and terrifying and wondrous and bursting with potential.

On the seven hours of plane rides home, Nourishment kept popping up unbidden as I looked out the window, reclined with an audiobook, rested. Anytime my conscious mind began to wander, Nourishment, and sometimes its partners in confusion Nourish or Malnourished, would pop up like a reminder – only, like Neville in the first Harry Potter book, I had no idea what it was I was forgetting. This was my auditory Rememberall.

Once I landed and had roughly unpacked my backpack into piles on the floor, and I lay down exhausted in bed, it began whispering again: nourish, nourishment, malnourished. Knowing I wanted to make sense of it but also that I was too tired to think clearly, I wrote up a quick tweet to the effect of – weird, but so this is happening – and slipped into oblivion knowing I could think better on it in the morning. It garnered no attention, because let’s be honest Why would it?, and I forgot about it too as the to-do’s and tasks of being home after a week away kicked into high gear. By Thursday though, I was thinking about it on and off, playing with it, watching for the things that popped into my head alone and when interacting with others.

So as I got started on what turned out to be a truly amazing dinner of pan-fried pork chops with brandied cherry sauce and oven-roasted cauliflower, I let myself mull things over. And things began to fall into place.

I thought about the frequent knot in my stomach after reading things on or after posting to social media, which has long been a source of stress but also sometimes of connection and keeping up with ideas and people far away. It was too easy to ignore though that often, social media with its daily outrage and sarcasm, its frequent disingenuousness and circle-jerk tendencies, its flavor of the day and pile-on justice, its preference for witticisms over wisdom and clamor over kindness, leave me feeling emptied and wary, in a word malnourished.

I again felt the force of a No unexpectedly snapped at me, instead of the Thanks, but no thanks, that I would have expected. My desire to offer (or in this case, re-re-offer) was not perceived/received as the affectionate gift of my skills and time that I had intended, but as a re-gifted and inedible fruitcake to be avoided. I admit that it feels good at this point in my life to be able to physically, financially, and logistically offer to help out when people I care about express stress over a situation. I can see the selfish side of that. But I guess it can feel – well, I don’t know exactly how it felt because it wasn’t said – cloying, mothering, suffocating, pompous, or maybe just fucking annoying sometimes. Instead of nourishing a friendship, my ill-conceived offer left me with stomach pain, a deep sense of shame at offering, and probably some resentment on their side.

I recognized the dangers of falling too far off my training schedule in the last couple months. The lack of regular and sustained movement, the not uncommon reduction from three times a week to two in the gym due to ‘circumstances’, some forced rest from shoulder, elbow and knee pain caught up with me. Yet it’s these very physical activities that not only keep my body strong, my immune system high, and my energy levels soaring, they are also part of the nourishment I need to sustain the emotional resiliency and mental clarity that I’ve grown used to. It’s time I got back to working out consistently again.

Many simple and some difficult things flooded my thoughts afterwards. Things that I saw I needed more (or less) of in life. Behaviors that could be eliminated or changed for the better. Things to nourish myself with as I pick my way along personally, relationally and career-wise. Beliefs that need to be re-evaluated. Things to fill-in my areas of self-neglect. Habits that should be supported or dropped. Things to push back the likelihood that simply hearing a song, let alone an entire album, by Julian Baker will cause tears to begin streaming unchecked down my face.

Because sometimes that’s just how it is

A pot of 5 hour spaghetti sauce is simmering away in the oven, some pasta for boiling is at the ready, a vat of homemade chicken broth is condensing on the stovetop, and I’m eating a bowl of Cheerios with 2% milk for dinner because it’s most perfect thing I can imagine right now. The pasta and sauce will make a nice batch of lunches for the rest of the week. The broth will get divided up and dropped into the freezer for as-needed use.

But this odd It’s golf league night for Jeff dinner? Sometimes that’s just how it is.

Confessions and a promise to myself

My to-do list began with arriving at 9am at a friend’s house to follow her to the auto repair shop. Easy, right? Well, it would have been if she’d remembered about the appointment and wasn’t still asleep when I arrived. Hitch: she has an infant. Much discussion and what-if’s later, we decided that getting both of them ready and swapping the carseat base into my Mini was going to take too much time, so I ended up babysitting and she got a ride back home in the courtesy van. Two hours of baby time was fine, but also plenty.

Confession: I don’t really enjoy other people’s children. They’re fine for short periods of time, but I’ve never been particularly kid-focused like some people naturally are.

The weather this afternoon was sunny and what we’re calling warm (mid-50s) after a long, hard, cold winter so I cracked out the cool weather cycling gear for the 2nd time in a week and got out on the trails for an easy ride. The wind was gusting but that’s to be expected heading west and it made for a quick return. I’d been invited to ride the SOG hill loop with a few friends later in the evening, which would have been nice as Jeff is out of town for a few days on business, but I decided that a quiet solo ride at my own pace was a better fit today. It’s been one of those much-internal-pondering-going-on-in-my-head periods lately. It turned out to be an excellent way to spend an hour and a half.

These periods are often a result of too much clicking and scrolling, liking and commenting, wanting to check-in with friends but not wanting to be annoying, so I’ve decided that it’s Spring Break time for me. The distraction apps are off the phone for the time-being and my search engine’s history has been wiped clean (requiring me to log back in before using any distraction sites). So things here will be quiet for a week or so while I reset my attention and get back into the habit of focusing on things that don’t require passwords, thumbprints, power cords, or dongles.

Promise to myself: I will take some time to create for creativity’s sake, learn for knowledge’s sake, cook/exercise for health’s sake, and remember that my friends and family know how to reach me, too. As literature so often reminds us, While love is able to dwell within the heart of only one person, relationships require two. (And I need to let others embrace their part instead of always rushing in.)

Here’s to living intentionally. Take good care of you.

My Irish ancestors just made extra space for me on the family tree

IMG_2453.JPG
Cheesy hasselback potato gratin in my late Grandma’s casserole dish

Jeff’s Dutch ancestors are still on the fence though, notwithstanding this cheese and potato masterpiece, wicked non-Calvinist that I am. If you ain’t Dutch, you ain’t much and all that. Yes, they actually still say that where we grew up. I’m not mad, you’re mad.

So the above is a marriage (see how family-friendly I am) of a traditional potato au gratin recipe and relative new-comer the hasselback potato, as thought up by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt.

All hail Kenji and The Food Lab.

These potatoes, dear reader, are so good. Like, roll me into bed and turn off the lights good. Yes, there are 2 cups of heavy cream in the sauce. No, I don’t want to contemplate calories counts, thank you very much. Geez, just enjoy the cheesy-creamy-potato-y goodness. Some people, I tell ya.

It’s a bit of an event to make and takes 1.5 hours in the oven so it’s not a quick-a-minute side dish by any stretch of the imagination. Jeff did get to break-in the new mandolin slicer though, shaving 4 pounds of potatoes 1/8″ thick, and I think he dug that quite a bit.

I realize it was a little like a production line.
Jeff:      grate cheeses
Jamie:  peel potatoes
Jeff:      mince garlic
Jamie:  add cream, seasonings, herbs, garlic to cheeses
Jeff:      slice potatoes
Jamie:  dip slices in cheese sauce and layer upright in casserole dish
Jeff:      pour remaining sauce over potatoes

This dish has holiday-gatherings written all over it, although I don’t know if I’m willing to wait that long to have it again.

We’re not poor meal planners. We eat in courses.

Jeff reminded me, as I grumbled about my oven-roasted sweet potato fries needing another 10 minutes after he was done cooking his part of the meal, we paid a rather hefty sum of money on our last anniversary to get our dinner brought out to us as a series of small dishes, over the course of a few hours. So long live dining via courses because I don’t see us figuring out this “timing” thing anytime soon.

In my on-going effort to live a little lighter, make do with what I have, and reduce unnecessary expenses, I’ve gotten pretty serious about not bring any more books home – no, not even the $1 ones from the library book sale room – until I’ve read the books I already have. Since the year began, I admit I have borrowed a few library books (all photography- or cooking-related) and listened to a few books on tape via the Libby app while I run, but beyond that I’ve been sticking to it. This is my physical books pile from a month or two ago. I’ve read The Celts since then and I have at least two unfinished books stored on my Kindle. I think it’ll be enough to get me through the year.

IMG_1430.jpg
left and center left – Fiction, center right – Non-fiction, right – Dutch

On Monday, about an hour after I deactivated my Twitter account, I remembered that the book Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now by Jaron Lanier was still on my Kindle and decided to give it another quick run through. It was very good timing. Really, I highly recommend it. I finished it today and will possibly finish Ogen van de Wolf tonight. After that, I’ll pick up where I left off with Boundaries (non-fiction and boring af) from my Kindle and re-start Harry Potter en de Vuurbeker (#4) since I set it aside quite a while ago.

Someone go check Hell because I happily ate mushrooms again

Before we go too far, let me ensure you that I still think raw mushrooms are one of the nastiest foods on earth. Nasty. Vile. Tiny rot-scented sponges in my salad? No. But cooked mushrooms, that’s become the newest member in my most-beloved-recipes category.

*Photo would go here if we hadn’t inhaled them too quickly*

Roasted Mushrooms – serves 2
super easy, rich and earthy, an almost meaty texture
Note: These things are going to look terrible while cooking. It’s ok, they’ll be fine in the end.

1 pound white button mushrooms: wash, cut off woody stem ends, quarter them
2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
kosher salt and fresh black pepper
6-8 springs fresh thyme

  1. Set rack in oven to the middle, preheat oven to 400F
  2. Toss mushrooms with the olive oil in a large bowl and season with the salt & pepper
  3. Layout on rimmed baking sheet
  4. Scatter the thyme sprigs evenly over the top.
  5. Roast until the mushrooms have released all their liquid and the liquid has evaporated. The mushrooms will be quite brown, about 30-45 minutes depending on your oven.
  6. Discard the thyme and serve

(or eat most of them right off the pan while the rest of dinner is finishing up)

If we’d live differently after a windfall, why aren’t we living that way now?

About once a year Jeff goes behind my back and buys a lottery ticket. Occasionally this time of year I’ll find Cadbury Cream Eggs hiding out in his briefcase. Yes, that’s about as clandestine as he gets. Pretty lightweight in the dastardly deeds category. For about an hour, he dreams of how life would be different with that obscene pile of cash, but then reality kicks in. We have more than we need already. We live comfortably already. We travel a bit already. We enjoy our lives already. We’re happy with who and how and what and where we are already. So outside of being totally debt-free, having more ease in seeing friends and family, exercising at our convenience rather than after dinner with everyone else, and seeing a bit more of the world than we already have and do, it would probably become a massive game of charity whack-a-mole when all was said and done. And who needs that kind of hassle?