On Feeling Uninspired (Alternate Title: Who am I?)

It’s been a while, my little doves. For some reason, I’ve been feeling wholly uninspired and directionless for the past three weeks, and it makes no sense. Here’s the source of my confusion: In the last month, I’ve been greatly productive at work and have been gaining confidence as a leader; I’ve been spending a lot more time with my friends/loved ones; and I’ve never experienced so little anxiety about tangible life things (of course, with the notable exception of my acute vertigo episode). So what gives?

From the New Yorker

Perhaps, with all the momentum from my past few posts, I was a little too excited about what was supposed to be the next entry: On White Chefs and Ethnic Restaurants: The Fetishization, Commodification, and Appropriation of the Other. I recently took a look at all my notes from the various books I researched in preparation for that entry, and laughed. I had ten pages of notes, and two-pages worth of seemingly nonsensical or all-too-lofty ideas/theses statements. Because I was trying to do too many things with the essay, I started to feel overwhelmed. And, as I often do, I started to feel stupid.

I’m pretty sure that this isn’t the source of my general ennui, but it is a pretty typical trajectory for my descent into a totally unnecessary path of self-loathing.

In any case, I was wondering, is it possible that I have no frame of reference for the experience of contentment? Is this what life is like when I have more control over both internal and external stressors? Is it a lot like…boredom? Perhaps this feeling comes from the following pairing: the current absence of maniacal anxiety + my penchant for feeling unintelligent or uninteresting.

This is usually how I talk to myself.

Who knows?

Back to food. I can tell when I’m feeling uninspired, because my menu of meals either ceases to exist, or it doesn’t reflect my usual joy of cooking/eating. It’s possible that this feeling has something to do with cooking for myself for two weeks. As I mentioned in my previous post, I was sort of conducting an experiment to see if I could practice self-love by cooking for one. It was hard. And tiring. And clearly, it was difficult to convince myself that I’m worth my own time, energy, and effort. Anyway, there have been no complaints, but I’ve definitely approached my food in a super half-assed way since then (poor hubby!), and haven’t felt compelled to write. I could look at this dry-spell as a sign that I’m growing. Funny/strange but related anecdote: For the first two months of therapy, I always prepared an agenda, because I wanted to make sure we addressed everything that I identified as a problem, that week. As my seventh session was beginning, I freaked out and told him that I didn’t have a plan for the conversation, and felt extremely guilty. He pointed out that this was a good thing, that perhaps I was slowly learning how to let go. Let go of what, you ask? Let go of my intense desire to control everything that I think and feel, of my urge to orchestrate a maximized process for productivity and intellectual growth, of my fear that I am nothing and no one if I’m not constantly marked by motivation and passion. By letting go of these practices, he says I open myself up to new tools and paths. So, maybe this is like that?

So, rather than do what I would normally do in this type of situation (which would be to force myself to create an inspired and fun menu, as if that would signify that I’m back to being a passionate and ambitious person), I’ll ride this out as a confused and passive passenger, and see where it takes me. I’ll cook what I want, when I feel like it.

Ugh, that sounds so weird.

Even though I’ve been scheduling weekly menus for several years, now, I have not been able to do this for the past couple of weeks. And I can’t get myself to do it, today. However, I do know that I want to eat some, if not all, of the following:

  • Roasted pork belly with lettuce wraps
  • Pasta salad with cherry tomatoes, olives, cheese, tuna, and basil
  • Summer vegetable strata
  • Crabcakes
  • Farro salad with toasted pine nuts, currants & mustard greens
  • Pesto pasta w/ potatoes and string beans
  • Fried green tomatoes
  • Sour cream coffee cake with orange and chocolate

I may make all of these things, or none of them (this is preposterous!) Let’s see where this loosey goosey approach takes us. Maybe it will be SO strange and foreign that I’ll run back to my controlfreak ways. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, I promise to post a recipe, soon! And, I am still working on the white chefs entry, a second installment of Pairing TV Shows with Three-Course Meals, and Meal-Planning 102.

In case you are curious, here are some of my less half-assed meals from the last couple of weeks:

Kimchi rice with fried tofu and an egg

Kimchi rice with fried tofu and an egg

Chicken thigh katsu w/ jasmine rice, a salad, and sweet steamed corn

Chicken thigh katsu w/ jasmine rice, a salad, and sweet steamed corn

Herbed chicken roasted on a bed of vegetables (carrots, shallots, broccoli, cauliflower, potatoes, garlic, and lemons) w/ bread

Herbed chicken roasted on a bed of vegetables (carrots, shallots, broccoli, cauliflower, potatoes, garlic, and lemons) w/ bread

Cooking for One: A Bummer, or an Act of Self-Love? Plus, a Recipe for Fish in a Bag

Even though I’m an anxious person, cooking for a crowd is one of my most favorite things to do. Sharing a meal with others has always been a significant pleasure in my life, and to be the person to prepare that meal, well, that’s just the goddamn best thing ever. Perhaps, this makes me feel a little closer to my mother, who played a similar(ly gendered) role in our family. Maybe it satiates my ever-present need to be nurturing (admittedly, this is likely a problematic need). Maybe it offers an easy way to receive external validation (ugh, I’m working on that). Whatever the reason, there’s nothing quite like loving my friends and family by cooking for and feeding them.

Cooking for one? Now, there’s a fucking bummer.

A couple of months ago, I was recounting my incredibly competitive and self-deprecating nature to my therapist. These go-to behaviors have served as the pinnacle of my essence for years, where concepts like “productivity” and “proactivity” and “achievement” were the only goals that mattered. I would frequently go through periods of loathing myself for not performing at my highest potential (it’s a mystery how I make that assessment of my potential – it is always suspiciously juuuuuust out of reach), which would motivate me to do better. To be better. For a long time, I believed that this rather extreme strategy of self-betterment was an act of tough love. But, really, it’s not. It makes me internalize and project anger, and provides me with a roundabout way of letting myself off the hook. If I’m my own worst critic, then I can never be hurt or impacted/bettered by the criticisms of others. This is stagnating and isolating.

In any case, this way-of-being has impacted my ability to experience pleasure in activities and hobbies. Though it seems rather obvious that I enjoy cooking, I only take pleasure in it when other people are involved. My therapist asked me whether I ever cook for myself, not just out of necessity, but for the sake of pleasure. I responded by telling him the story of how last time my husband was on tour, I ordered a large, everything pizza, and consumed the whole thing in 30 minutes. Two nights in a row. So,  no. I have never really cooked for the audience of me, and I have never been able to enjoy the fruits of my labor without someone to love beside me.

It makes sense that I am less motivated to cook when I feel a little lonely. But, in my estimation, the biggest problem is that I feel like I don’t deserve my own time and energy. If cooking is an act of love (for me, it most definitely is), then to cook for myself is to love myself. And, blech, who wants to do that? It feels so uncomfortable.

So, in an act of defiance against my own norms, and despite my instinct to shotgun an 18-inch pizza every night of the week, I’m cooking for myself while my husband is gone. Sure, none of the meals so far have reached my self-imposed standards. Obviously, my brain cannot properly adjust to cooking food in smaller quantities, so I have been making way too much of each meal, even factoring in leftovers for lunch. I have a sneaky suspicion that I’m a grandmother, at heart, and therefore feel the need to make too much food in order to feed impromptu guests/loved ones, just in case. Maybe my acute vertigo has left me a little lazy or hazy.

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For example, this bibimguksu w/ chopped ddak bulgogi and a picked egg was not as tangy and delicious as it could have been. It was pretty great, but not amazing.

I could go on and on about everything that has gone wrong, so far. But, I won’t.  I’ll focus on the fact that this has been a strangely and slowly empowering process. I will probably always be hard on myself, but for the first time in my cooking tenure, I’m listening for and to my own joy, my own criticisms.

I cooked and ate a dish new to my repertoire, the other day: Fish in a Bag, with lemon, fennel, olives and white wine sauce. It was nice in appearance, smelled great, tasted good, and taught me about a technique that I hadn’t yet utilized. I decided that I deserved a plate that was pretty, so I worked on the presentation, a little. And, I critiqued it. Perhaps, I was a little hard on myself. I could have seasoned the fish a little more. I probably should have pre-cooked the potatoes, a little less. I accidentally forgot to buy pitted olives, so that element of the dish was annoying to eat. But, I formed my own opinions, and listened to them. To me, this is a small act of self-love, because I often won’t listen to my own thoughts when I am in the presence of brilliant and wonderful people. And, I often am surrounded by brilliant and wonderful people.

In any case, I’m pleased. Small wins are always big. And Audre Lorde reminds me why self-care is so important.

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” – Audre Lorde

Finally, here is Jamie Oliver’s recipe for Fish in a Bag.

IMG_1874

Fish in a bag with lemon, fennel, olives, and white wine sauce 
Recipe from Jamie Oliver (slightly modified)
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cooking Time: 20-25 minutes
Servings: 1

Ingredients

Instructions 

  1. Bring a small pot of salted water to a boil. While that’s getting ready, create a “bag” out of foil. To do this, take a large piece of aluminum foil (about 14×18 inches), and fold it half. Tightly fold the two sides adjacent to the original folded edge, and leave one side open. Jamie Oliver recommends you brush the edges with egg before you fold them in, to help with sealing, but I found that I didn’t need to do that.
  2. Drop the potatoes into the boiling water and cook for 5 minutes. While they are boiling, place the prepared fennel, lemon, and cherry tomatoes into a bowl. Season with salt and pepper to your liking, add a drizzle of olive oil, and mix gently but thoroughly. Separately, season the halibut fillet to your liking.
  3. Once the potatoes are done, drain them, and add them to the bowl of mixed vegetables. Once everything is mixed, carefully place the contents into the foil bag, place the fillet on top, and sprinkle with some fennel fronds.  Add a splash of white wine, and seal the remaining edge.
  4. In an oven preheated at 400ºF, place the foil bag onto a baking tray and cook for 20-25 minutes, depending on the thickness of your fillet. Once cooked, place the bag on a serving plate and gently pierce to release the steam. Serve to self on a plate.

Coming Up
The Problematization of Authenticity Series: Musings on White Chefs and “Ethnic” Restaurants

Meal Planning 101: On Reusing Versatile Ingredients, plus a “Nourish Bowl” Recipe

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, my initial motivation to schedule all my meals came from anxiety – anxiety that I would be wasteful with ingredients (and therefore money), that I wouldn’t enjoy my food. It’s become much more than that, more than a pressure valve for my neurosis. It’s a way for me to think creatively, to exercise a kind of freedom that only exists in the presence of strict parameters.

I’ve tried to outline a Meal Planning 101 entry, but found that a singular post would be far too long and verbose, and probably super boring. So, I’ve decided to start a series, highlighting different elements of my planning process. This first one is going to be about thinking ahead and reusing ingredients, and I’ll go through my thought process behind this week’s menu.

The process of reusing ingredients is important to me for a number of reasons:

  1. It tightens parameters. I don’t know if you know this, but there are like a gazillion food blogs (read: food porn sites) and a bajillion recipes for everything. Diving into the endless abyss of books and blogs to find that perfect dish is probably a gigantic time suck, and this helps. And, even though I like planning stuff out (clearly), sometimes I find it exhausting to make completely new things, everyday, and to find delectable recipes for each. Choosing versatile ingredients that I can reuse gives me a weird sort of peace of mind.
  2. It helps me to develop my palate. I learn more about the ingredient when I cook it in a number of different styles. Also, by focusing on one or more reusable ingredients for a week’s meal, I have the opportunity to actually taste different ingredient pairings and formulate my own opinions.
  3. It can save time. For example, I can prepare the ingredient for the whole week in one fell swoop (e.g. trimming or blanching vegetables), or cook the ingredient(s) in one batch and use them throughout the week.
  4. It can save money. I am often on the prowl for what’s on sale or in season. If I’m okay with reusing an ingredient or two throughout the week, it means that I can spend less money. Also, if I find that I’m reusing a great deal of something (an example for me would be jasmine rice), then I can save some money by purchasing in bulk.

There are obviously other elements to meal-planning. Often, I’ll start with what kind of stuff I’m craving, or what I think my body needs. But the focus on ingredients and how I can make them versatile is a key element to my planning process, one that I use every week.

This Week’s Meals

This week, because my husband is on tour (I’m lonely!), I’m making a lot of one-pot meals, reusing loads of ingredients/elements, and cooking things that are easy to bring to work. Additionally, because it’s been getting warmer, I want to cook and eat things that don’t make me feel like a sweaty slimeball. Here were some of my thoughts in coming up with the menu:

  • I wanted a versatile grain that would be good either hot or cold. I chose farro, because it’s not one of the foods that just tastes really healthy (read: boring or icky), it is healthy but has a relatively complex character. I can cook all of my farro at the same time, and use it for different meals to save on time.
  • Honestly, after a week of eating very little meat (since we binged in Maine), I am craving some animal. I decided to go the chicken route, since it’s kind of on the lighter side. And I’m not afraid to admit this to the world: I like eating chicken. Like, I like it a lot. So, I bought enough chicken for roasting, and for ddak bulgogi (Korean chicken BBQ). The latter will be its own meal (with rice or farro), and then serve as toppers for farro bibimbap and bibimguksu.
  • Roasted vegetables are amazing on or with everything. I’m going to roast a bunch of vegetables on a cool morning (w/ my new spice mix obsession for vegetables: salt, pepper, cumin, chili powder, cayenne, and paprika). Then, I’ll use them as a side for rice & beans, cheese omelette and fish in a bag. And, they will serve as integral elements to my farro nourish bowl.
  • Eggs. I love them so much. This week, I’ll pickle some soft-boiled eggs as part of all the rice or farro dishes. Also, since I’m allowed to be “lazy” while Nico is on tour, I’m going to make myself a delicious and easy omelette, one night.

I should also add that I needed all the meals to be relatively simple, since I had my first trip to the Emergency Room (as an adult) on Wednesday. Apparently, I have pretty severe vertigo, so lots of movement, or movement at all, is pretty disorienting and disconcerting. WOMP.

Now, with all the context, here is the weeks’ menu:

FRIDAY

  • D: Fish in a bag, w/ lemon, fennel, olives, and white wine sauce

SATURDAY

  • L: Farro nourish bowl w/ roasted vegetables and a pickled egg, topped w/ lime dressing
  • D: Bibim guksu w/ chicken bulgogi

SUNDAY

  • L: Leftover bibimguksu
  • D: Chicken bulgogi w/ jasmine rice and roasted vegetables

MONDAY

  • L: Leftover bulgogi, rice, and vegetables
  • D: Farro bibimbap w/ chicken bulgogi topping and a pickled egg, and an arugula salad

TUESDAY

  • L: Leftover farro bibimbap
  • D: Brie omelette, baguette, and an arugula salad

WEDNESDAY

  • L: Leftovers (of anything)
  • D: Roasted chicken thigh w. cherry tomatoes & asparagus, baguette, and an arugula salad

THURSDAY

  • L: Leftover chicken
  • D: Rice & beans and roasted vegetables

FRIDAY

  • L: Leftover rice & beans
  • D: ORDER DELIVERY (woohoooo)

And, here’s a recipe for an amazingly simple farro nourish bowl that has swept me off my feet. By the way, I think the term “nourish bowl” is the worst, like it’s the top selling (and only) food item at a CA smoothie store. But, it’s easier to say that, than to say “healthy but delicious bowl of grain with other hearty and mostly vegetarian toppings.”

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Farro “Nourish Bowl” with Roasted Vegetables and Lime/Maple Dressing
Adapted from Cookie Monster Cooking’s Blog
Servings: 4-6
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cooking Time: 45 minutes

Ingredients
Roasted Vegetables:
  • 1 medium red onion, sliced
  • 2 small or 1 large yukon gold potato, peeled and chopped into ½ inch chunks
  • 1 large sweet potato, peeled and chopped into ½ inch chunks
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 2 heads of broccoli, chopped
  • 2 ears of corn kernels (cut right off the cob)
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon of canola oil
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne
  • 1 teaspoon salt
For the dressing:
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon pure maple syrup
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • pinch of pepper
  • ¼ cup olive oil
For serving:
  • Farro, cooked per instructions
  • Avocado, sliced on top
  • Pickled egg

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 400ºF.
  2. Chop up all the vegetables, and place them into a large bowl. add the cumin, paprika, chili powder, cayenne pepper, salt, olive oil, and canola oil. Mix well, and place the vegetables onto a baking sheet (use two if necessary – you don’t want to crowd the pan).
  3. Bake for 40 minutes, and stir halfway through. The vegetables should be beautifully browned and aromatic.
  4. In a small bowl, whisk together the ingredients for the dressing.
  5. To serve, place some farro in a bowl, and add the roasted veggies, sliced avocado, and pickled egg on top. Dress with the lime/maple syrup mixture, and enjoy!

Pairing TV Shows with Three-Course Meals: Part I

Because I am a gigantic dork-bucket, I sometimes find myself coming up with menu-planning etudes. For example, I’ll think about what types of dinner I could create with only one cast-iron skillet and 25 minutes to spare. Then, I’ll make a list of options, pick the yummiest choices, find some recipes, and happily identify the winning dish. I don’t end up cooking any of this, which seems absurd. But, really, I want to keep my mind “sharp” so that whenever I’m in a food or cooking pickle, I have some practiced and seasoned muscles to push me through. Perhaps this is a ridiculous exercise, since I likely will never find myself in some kind of meal-planning apocalypse, but it’s fun for me, and I feel like it provides me with the tools to continue making my weekly food schedule.

ANYWHO, based on the poll from a previous entry,  I’m starting a blog series where I’ll pair my favorite TV shows with three-course meals (dishes I can cook). If you know anything about me, you probably know that I love TV almost as much as I love cooking and eating. So, this is great.

Let the games begin!


THE SOPRANOS

Photo taken from Vanity Fair

Why I love the show
Though I was initially very critical of this show for its rather dichotomous dealings around race and gender, I could never deny that The Sopranos was expertly written, directed, and acted. Of all the shows out there that demonstrate the emotional and psychological complexities of (criminal) white men, this one is definitely my favorite.

Thoughts for a Three-Course Meal
Obviously, Italian/Neapolitan food is the way to go, here. I’ve excluded a dessert because there is very little about this excellent show that leaves me feeling sweet. I wanted dishes that could be construed as both hearty (masculine) and delicate (to demonstrate the fragility of masculinity). HA. Also, each dish is named after some of my favorite quotes from the show.

The Paulie: Can I just get some macaroni and gravy?
Frittatine (deep-fried pasta balls stuffed with minced pork, bechamel, and peas)

The Tony: I can’t find pussy anywhere OR The Ralphie: She was a whoooooore
Spaghetti alla Puttanesca

The Anthony: So what, no fucking ziti now?
Carne alla Pizzaiola (pizzamaker’s beef)


TRUE BLOOD

 Image taken from HBOWatch

Why I love the show
Duh, I love the show. Painfully obvious comparisons between vampires and marginalized communities, hot supernatural creatures, delightful sexual fantasy sequences, kind of progressive politics, and insanely stylish femme villains…what isn’t to love (besides the downward spiral the show took after the third season)? Plus, my somewhat embarrassing love for the Sookie Stackhouse novels makes it impossible for me to dislike the show. Quick aside, I made a book cover for the first Sookie Stackhouse novel since I was slightly ashamed by the cover illustration (and the content). On it, I scribbled “OLD MAN AND THE SEA” and felt so very smart. I sat on the subway, took the book out with great confidence, and started reading. The man sitting next to me smirked at me (I fucking hate smirks from men) and said, “That is clearly NOT Old Man and the Sea.” I realized that he was reading over my shoulder, and sadly, I was on an especially smutty part of the book. After that incident, I decided to read my books loud and proud.

Thoughts for a Three-Course Meal
I think it’s important to utilize very seductive and bloody food for this meal. Think: bloody/decadent chic. The name of each course is based on episode titles.

Dead Meat
Steak tartar with quail eggs, horseradish yogurt, and a bright lemon-dressed arugula salad

You Smell Like Dinner
Chateaubriand (cooked RARE) with a red wine sauce, baby potatoes roasted in duck fat, and garlic sauteed julienned vegetables

Plaisir D’Amour
Dark chocolate cake w/ Irish cream buttercream, spiked mascarpone whipped frosting, and whisky ganache

Nothing is sexier than constipation and gout, which are likely outcomes after eating this meal.


HIGH MAINTENANCE

Why I love the show
For those of you who don’t know about this wonderful webseries, it follows the life of weed dealer in NYC/Brooklyn as he interacts with his customers. It is a surprisingly tender and loving show, and occasionally reaches some incredible emotional depth. Also, it’s hilarious and sometimes VERY Brooklyn specific.

Thoughts for a Three-Course Meal
I’m basing these dishes off of my initial reaction to some of my favorite episodes. Each dish is named after the episode that inspired it.

Ruth: The Guy sets up Ellen with Victor. The date goes from awkward to funny to great. I came up with an appetizer that is awkward to eat (especially on a date), but ends up being great once you get comfortable enough with the messiness to enjoy the taste.
Rachel: A cross-dressing author struggles with writer’s block, which puts a strain on his marriage. The Guy makes a delivery to him and is introduced to Rachel. The big reveal at the end is unexpectedly sweet, so I picked a dish that starts salty, but ends with a sweet aftertaste.
Matilda: The Guy struggles to entertain his teen-aged niece who is visiting from out of town. He doesn’t want to conduct business in front of her, but when their plans to see “Matilda” get complicated, one of his customers offers to help out. During a DIY “TED Talk” in Brooklyn, the niece has a great time. The episode walks a wonderful line between irony and sincerity, so I chose a dessert that I would both mock and love.

Ruth 
Korean fried chicken wings in a spicy/tangy sauce

Rachel
Shanghai-style braised pork belly with jasmine rice and garlic sauteed bok choy

Matilda
Assortment of cronuts


I hope you enjoyed! Write in the comments section if you would have made a different menu. Also, if you want a hand in selecting the next three TV shows to pair with three-course meals, vote below!

Lastly, I know I’m long overdue in posting a recipe, so I promise that the next entry will include one.

Announcing Monday’s Poll Winner, plus this Week’s Menu

We have a winner from Monday’s poll! The next entry will be the start of a series where I’ll pair my favorite TV Shows with three-course meals. Shows to be paired are: The Sopranos, True Blood, and High Maintenance. Check in this weekend for the post!

Now, onto this week’s menu.

Having already posted a very long entry earlier this week, I’m going to keep this one short. A few factors have gone into planning the meals for this week:

  1. Hubby and I ate an insane amount of food while we were in Maine, and, in particular, consumed a great deal of meat. So, we wanted to keep our meals light, flavorful, and satisfying.
  2. Our vacation helped to remind us that we love seafood, so I picked a dish with shrimp, and another with salmon.
  3. I wanted at least one dish that is easy to take to work as lunch.
  4. As much as I love cooking, I wanted things that were easy and quick to make, especially after that culinary marathon in Maine.

So, without further ado, here is the menu:

Dinner: Chipotle shrimp w/ rice, beans, grilled corn, and a salad
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Dinner: Miso-glazed Alaskan salmon w/ rice and roasted lemon asparagus
Processed with VSCOcam with hb1 presetDinner: Farro bowl with roasted sweet potatoes, yukon gold potatoes, broccoli, corn, and red onion, dressed in lime/maple syrup vinaigrette, and served with pickled soft-boiled eggs  (leftovers for lunch)
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Dinner: Egg noodle pappardelle w/ peas, lemon, butter, mint, and grana, and a salad

Lunches: Roast beef, caramelized onions, asiago, fig jam, and mustard sandwiches

This week is short since we’ll be going to NJ to visit my father over the weekend.

As always, if any of these meals look particularly interesting to you, let me know in a comment and I’ll be sure to provide the recipe in a later post!