I hosted Easter dinner on Sunday.

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I briefly considered doing a Tutorial From Hell on how to make the teensy Easter baskets, but then noticed that a) I did not snap any photos whilst making the craft so as to document how the baskets were constructed, and b) they really are just fancy cupcake wrappers with half a length of fuzzy pipe-cleaner attached with tape.

(I could probably write an entire book called: Half-Assed Crafts for Every Season)

I love Easter.  I love the prospect of renewal and possibility that comes with this time of year.

And I love candy.

Our Winesday Easter was one of those lovely, happy holiday dinners where people were in good form, and everything was funny, and there was a lot of wine but not too too much, and the food was glorious and there was Enough of Everything.

This winter was long, and cold, and nothing seemed to work out right.  But having our little family around the table again — surrounded by wine and cheer — reminded me that we made it.  It was just a moment; a season of darkness, and now we are stepping out into this wonderful new light.

What talent do you have that your usual blog readers don’t know about? Talk about a time when you showed it to its best advantage.

Little known fact:

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I am actually a decent baker.  And I make well-received fruit pies.

(This was perhaps not the prettiest example or best example of baking I have done, but it is, nonetheless, an example that I do, in fact, possess the bake-it-from-scratch skillz necessary to survive.)

I know I cannot give context for the challenges and weirdness of the first eight weeks of my 2013, but please allow me to enumerate some small joys that are keeping me keeping on:

1) Neil Diamond Radio on Sirius

2) My continued efforts at becoming the world’s worst professional amateur home “chef”

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Potato Henge

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Lemon aioli

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Salmon

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Finished product.

3) Re-reading the tweets from our Parisian adventure

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4) Adrienne Rich’s poems

Rich died of complications from rheumatoid arthritis in 2012.  This is horrible, and scary and profound to me — that this twisted thing inside of me kills people.  There are writers whose words rock my heart, and they die from this shit…this shit that I live with every day.  This thing that I go to bed with; that I wake up with.  That makes me look down and see the bruises on my thigh where I injected myself with my biologics, and because I was on another course of steroids, the needle left a mark.

It’s not just headaches, and joint aches, and emergency room visits, and bad news, and blood draws and needle-sticks…

…it actually kills people.

But there is something beautiful, too, in living with something that eventually kills.

5) Sometimes, and for once, saying “yes.” 

 

I am a notoriously picky eater.  So.

This whole cooking thing has been a challenge in a lot of ways.  I cry a lot.  I use my many years of yoga training to breathe my way through it.  I generally feel like a big idiot, because the vast majority of you out there in Internet Land and in Real Life can make your way through a meal and not give it nearly this much thought as I have been giving it.

The reality, too, is that I am not a “foodie.”  After you go through treatment for an eating disorder, you encounter this ridiculous process of learning to “re-feed.”  And in some ways, it’s as silly as it sounds.  You sort-of feel like a fool, or a baby bird.  You feel like you should know this stuff.  You should know how to eat.

But in reality, you don’t.  And it’s not until you are standing in your kitchen, years later, staring down a bunch of ingredients and a new set of pots and pans that you realise you have absolutely no idea how to eat.

I resolved at the start of this year not only to cook, but to finally take the recommendations of my doctor and nutritionist and put some meat back into my diet.  The medications I was taking had left my body in such a state where meat might help me feel a bit more…normal.  So when I’d signed up for Blue Apron, I’d picked the “meat” package, instead of the “vegetarian” one.

Also, I will be completely honest.  The selections on the meat menu were all things I would eat; the ones on the vegetarian menu simply were not.

My nutritionist had told me at one point: You need to get to know your food.  And I had laughed at that, as if to say: What utter bullshit is that?!  Because really.  Was I supposed to go out to the farm, and pet the chicken and hold the egg in my hand and give it a name before making a scramble?

Um, no.

But on the first day I was supposed to make a dish with beef, I just couldn’t stomach the idea, and I swapped in ground turkey — which I had to go out and buy.  I popped into Citarella and spoke with the butcher, explaining: I was a vegetarian/pescatarian for years, and now I’m back on the meat train.

Welcome back! he said, wrapping my ground turkey breast.

He was sort-of a heavy-set guy.  Beefy, if you will.  I counted that as getting to know my meat.

But, all joking aside, I found myself on Saturday night, cooking “Five Spice Hanger Steak with Stir Fried Brown Rice.”  And trying very hard not to freak out about it.

Behold:

In which I prepared the mise en place:

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At that point in the experiment, I was beginning to remember my ninja knife skills.

(The Malbec was obviously a part of this preparation.)  It was at that point that I began to steel myself for the handling and cooking of…red meat.

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The steak was covered in Chinese Five Spice, a product about which I am quite passionate.  I am confident that the prospect of Five Spice is what got me through this.

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Rice was off the back burner, and for once, I properly cooked rice.  Steaks were starting to finish.

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Resting.

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Cooked the vegetables in the meat pan, per instructions.

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The finished product.

I stared at this for a moment saying: But I don’t like snow peas.  I don’t want to eat them!  I’m going to leave them out!  Waaahhh.

Then I realised that I was making these meals because I need to try new foods.  I needed to not drown everything in Newman’s Own Honey Mustard Dressing and not taste anything, ever.  I had resolved to enjoy meals, and part of that meant trying new tastes; experimenting with old ones.  Suffering snow peas if necessary.

Also, at that point, I’d had a few glasses of wine, so…bring it on, snow peas!

Veg notwithstanding, the meal was delicious, and cooking/tasting red meat again was not the worst thing in the world.

Total prep time: 45 mins

Taste of my own cooking: Very good!

Ease of recipe/equipment required: frying pan; small pot; knife; fork; prep bowls

Fear factor of experience: Assuaged by four glasses of Malbec, which, incidentally, complimented the meal beautifully.

Every year, I resolve to “cook more.”

Contrary to popular belief, I can cook.  I’ve taken cooking classes in New York and Los Angeles.  I have fairly good knife skills.  I have cookware and kitchen equipment that would make most home cooks jealous.

It all collects dust.

This year, I decided to give the idea of cooking at least a fighting chance.  I signed up for a service called “Blue Apron,” which delivers ingredients and recipes to your door for you to cook.  They menu plan for you.

My nutritionist was a fan, since I am not good at menu planning, and order a horrifying and expensive amount of restaurant food.  Even with the groceries I buy, I wind up with a lot of food waste.  I am still, this many years out of treatment, so terrified of grocery stores that effectively, the only way I can shop (unless I’m just picking up an item or two) is online via Fresh Direct.

Blue Apron promised to deliver exactly what I needed for three dinners a week — the only catch was that I had to order for two people.  That was fine by me, because it meant that I would have a ton of food, and leftovers to freeze and eat during weekends when I was home.

After some initial hiccups, I received my first order on Thursday.  Behold:

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They send you literally everything — exactly the right amount of veg; the flour you need to dredge the fish; the tiny amount of mirin, sesame oil, spice, etc. required for each recipe.  This is aimed at reducing waste AND just makes life so easy for someone like me.

I was pretty happy.  Since I had Strand over for wine and snacks on Thursday night, I decided to undertake “Cod with Israeli Couscous and Yuzu Butter” for Friday night.

The hitch was that I had a big day of meetings on Friday; I woke up in a horrible mood and with a cold that morning.  I was in no mood to cook by the time I returned home at the end of the day.  After walking the dog, I started watching Magnolia (a film I absolutely adore, and had forgotten I owned).  I was about to put in a Seamlessweb order when I remembered I was supposed to cook cod.  Ugh.

But, true to my own words, I cooked.  I checked the recipe card.  The whole thing was supposed to take approx 35 minutes, which is what a Seamless order would take to arrive.

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I put on some semi-maudlin music, since the movie had already taken me to that weepy place, but I didn’t feel like connecting to my laptop and downloading my Aimee Mann playlist.

And I started the cooking.

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Chopped veg; israeli couscous boiling.

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Roasting for a few mins…

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In this photo, you see that I have chiffonaded the mint, and now you want me to what? Zest a yuzu?  Seriously, you guys.  I could have ordered pad thai for the millionth time (somehow, two weeks in Thailand did not dampen my passion for Thai food in the least).  Instead, I was weeping over chick music and zesting a yuzu.

At least I knew then that Andrew didn’t take my zester in the divorce.  And Bill didn’t steal it when he robbed me blind after he cheated on me and left under cover of night.

(I digress.)

I chopped and zested and dredged the fish in flour and then cooked it in the pan with some oil.

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Et voila!  The finished product!

This is the “leftover” version.  The other half of the fish — the one I ate for dinner — sort-of fell apart as I plated it, so I didn’t use that snapshot.

Total time from start to finish: 45 mins;

Total cost per plate: $9.99 ($59.94/week of food);

Total cost of replacing all of my cookware that Bill ruined by putting it in the dishwasher: $172.50 at Sur la Table sale;

Taste of my own cooking: Needed salt, but otherwise, not bad!

Ease of recipe/equipment required: Recipe was Medium-Easy; required one small pot; one small frying pan; cutting board; zester; one knife;

Fear factor of experience: That I took a valium to get me through cooking my own dinner likely indicates that I am a work in progress, but I’m doing this; I did it; I just might make it after all.

Kat, Sarah, and I have collaborated to post a prompt-a-day in December.  Check the #Reverb12 page for prompts and and take a look at the main page for the basic instructions on the project.

December 9th: The Plank: It has been said that you must learn to take care of yourself before you can be effective at taking care of others.  How did you take care of yourself in 2012?  How will you take care of yourself in 2013?

I am so good at negative self-talk.  I am so good at listening to the horrible, evil, monstrous voice in my head that tells me what shit I am.

You are bad.

You suck.

You are doing this wrong.  Everything you do is wrong.

You should quit while you’re ahead.  But you’re not ahead. 

Everything you’ve said is wrong.

Nobody likes you.

Give up now.

Maybe everyone has this nagging voice, I don’t know.  I don’t hear other people talk about their Self-Doubt Trolls very often — I suppose because it’s an embarrassing thing to have one in the first place.  And they’ve all got unique looks, and voices.

I, for one, am an extremely visual person — and so I visualise things and bring them to life and it makes it much easier to deal with things.  This, of course, also means that I have vivid dreams and nightmares.  For instance, when I had just left my husband, and was living alone for the very first time in my entire life, I had horrific nightmares every time I closed my eyes.  But they were embarrassingly childish nightmares about ogres and monsters — all of the self-doubt churning in my head, except with a face — and so I couldn’t tell anyone.

Because what grown woman admits to monsters under the bed?

It wasn’t until I dreamt myself a baseball bat to literally go all whack-a-mole that I managed to get myself out of that funk.

I remembered the monsters, recently, because I was flipping through some old notebooks — I’d been looking for a very specific thing and had instead stumbled across the notes on that time in my life.  But then I went even farther back — six or seven years ago, when I was still a sorority advisor.

In the back pockets of my moleskines, I keep relevant items from the time periods the notebooks span.  Ticket stubs; boarding passes; printed-out emails; letters never sent.  In the pocket of the notebook containing the information for which I’d been searching was a small envelope stuffed with tiny strips of paper from a sorority icebreaker.  On each strip was printed some lovely thing that one of the girls in the collegiate chapter I used to supervise had to say about me.

slipsofpaperIt seems foreign now that the envelope was addressed to “Mrs” me.  It seems almost ludicrous that I once had a life in which I wore left-hand rings, and owned a car, and woke up in bed next to my spouse.  Sometimes, now, it seems that I have to remind myself and others that I do, in fact, have nearly twenty years of coupled-up experience; that when others talk about relationships or marriages, I am not a stranger to that space.

Sometimes, the voice of self-doubt screams in my ear: You are worthless on your own.

The slips of paper struck a chord for me; reminded me that I spend time trying to encourage others, but am constantly indulging the troll within.  How can I be sincere and authentic and strong as a role model or even as a professional when I am constantly cutting myself down?

So I took an empty jar that I had sitting around in my “Cleaning Supplies/Floral Supplies/Party Supplies” bin and decided to put it to good use.  Because obviously one has large jars sitting around in the event the urge to arrange flowers strikes, and, where else would one put such a thing but the Cleaning Supplies/Floral Supplies/Party Supplies bin?

cleaning (I actually exist in real life.)

It was painfully weird, but I decided that I was going to say nice things to myself.  I was going to be obvious about it.  Tangible.  Visual.  I was going to dream myself a whack-a-mole, and write down kind words, and put them in my big glass jar on my desk.

And I did.

What I am trying to say is that I am not great at taking care of myself.  I’d like to think I’m pretty good at showing up for others, but my inability to show up for myself is dangerous.  And why don’t I?

Am I afraid of coming off as selfish? 

Am I scared someone is going to judge me?

Has the troll of self-doubt become so familiar that I’m afraid of leaving my comfort zone?

All of the above?

What it boils down to is that I am visual, and peculiar, and obvious.  Now I have a container on my desk for scraps of paper to capture moments that the troll can’t steal.  And because slips of paper are small, they can’t be used to overanalyse, or doubt, or second guess.

They simply…are.

You can make fun of me if you like, but you might be better served by going out and buying yourself your own big glass jar.

This is my last morning in Asia, and over breakfast, I texted Strand (paraphrased): Have I mentioned that I don’t feel nearly as crap as I thought I would after this kind of travel, plus having been in Europe the week before last?  This massive reduction in eating wheat has worked!

A few years ago, I stopped eating most wheat products and tried a “low inflammation diet,” but that was partly (mostly; actually) a cover for the fact that I had stopped eating…period.  This time around, one of my doctors had suggested that I might have a (very trendy) gluten sensitivity, and wheat is highly inflammatory anyway, so maybe I should try cutting way back on bread.

As everyone knows, I am not very good at moderation.  So…there was obviously a massive risk involved in anyone suggesting I try any kind of restrictive eating .  And no one was minding me, so there was that, too.  In other words, this was a combination for complete disaster.  Like, for reals.

But I was desperate for anything that would reduce inflammation in my body, and I was getting sick constantly from the medication I was taking to achieve the same end, so disaster had struck anyway.  There was really not much else to go wrong.

I searched “gluten-free” on Fresh Direct.  I bought brown rice bread (which I loved); I bought gluten-free sauces, and pastas, and salad dressings.  I already eat a lot of Asian foods, so that rice-based stuff made life easy — it was the checking labels and asking questions that was trickier, and that mattered more.

I didn’t cut out bread or wheat or gluten entirely.  I just cut back — a lot.   And shockingly, I began to feel much better.  Of course, I imagine that the medication I was taking was also helping (which I have since stopped taking because the side effects I was having were so atypical that I was literally losing the will to live).  But the way I have been eating was probably helping quite a bit too — since there’s absolutely no way I could have been on the drugs I have been on and have been functioning at the level on which I’ve been operating if some part of my body hadn’t been working.

Interesting, wrote Strand, We’ll have to get a gluten-free cookbook.

The upshot here is that my inflammatory response is now under control.  I have travelled 15 of 30 days of April; run 3 races; been in 6 countries and taken an astronomical number of meetings…and have suffered little more than a touch of a head-cold.  (And a root canal, but that’s neither here nor there).

In other words, I strongly recommend cutting back on the wheat products.  And I’d really like a high-five for managing to do something in moderation, for once.

That said, here are some things I like:

1) Brown Rice Bread:

2) A gluten-free eggplant parmesan-type dish that I made:

– rice pasta (I used spirals, since that was all I could find)
-gluten-free pasta sauce (I used “Classico” brand, since they made clear they were gluten-free)
-fresh mozzarella, sliced
-roasted eggplant slices (purchased fresh, pre-roasted from Fresh Direct because I was running out of time)
-fresh parmesan, grated

Cooked the pasta; combined ingredients in a baking dish layers; topped with fresh parmesan cheese; baked at 375F for about 1/2 hour.  This is awesome.  You’re welcome.

3) Aki Sushi avocado rolls.  Period.

4) Continuing my theme of yuppie-asshole-juice-cleansing-expensive-eating-nonsense, Blueprint Bars.  The reality is, no human being should eat these.  When I hear myself say things about my grotesque taste in spa food, or read myself write about the same, I literally cringe.  But I wouldn’t be myself if I didn’t like yuppie cold pressed veggie juice, and I didn’t gab with my colleague about which cleanse we are going to do next.  You guys…I actually like the taste of this shit.  I think it is good.

The joke’s on me.  I spend my hard-earned money on $10 bottles of vegetable juice and associated $30 boxes of fruit bars and think I am getting a “bargain.”

Anyway, they’re gluten-free; wheat-free and really tasty.

5) Sweet Potato Fries.  Sometimes I order these in; sometimes I buy them.  You never see these in my freezer because if I buy them, I eat the whole damned bag.

So that is the tale of how I spent the last 6+ weeks vomiting, having my tooth operated on, ceasing my love affair with bread, travelling like a madwoman, running shitty races, not relapsing, and generally embracing change in the form of love, acceptance, going back to the places that hurt, surviving, and eating brown rice.

The End.