Month: November 2016

Mindfulness and Cooking

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Braised rabbit with leeks and saffron tagliatelle.

I recently came across this NPR article on using what the author describes as “mindful muffins,” to relieve post-election stress. I think that we can expand this idea beyond just mindfulness, but as a means to find a way to incorporate cooking into our increasingly busy lives.

As I enter into my prep for a Thanksgiving dinner that I am putting on for fellow expats and MA students, as well as prep for my thesis proposal on Monday, I have been thinking a lot about mindfulness and cooking. I have always used the practice of cooking to deal with stress and center my thoughts, but even so, I sometimes find myself feeling too exhausted to think about entering the kitchen.

Unfortunately, this means that I then succumb to either eating instant noodles (my love for them will never die) or delivery, which is inevitably disappointing and expensive, not to mention, unhealthy. Convincing myself that I am too tired or too stressed to make my own food does nothing but perpetuate an unhealthy cycle. When my diet is bad, my brain doesn’t work, when my brain doesn’t work, my stress levels increase, when I’m stressed out, I feel exhausted, when I’m exhausted I don’t want to cook, when I decide not to cook, my diet gets worse. This is something I have to remember to tell myself every time I open up Deliveroo on my phone.

I know that you may not like to cook, or even think that you don’t have time, but you are making the same mistake I am. You do have time, and you may not like it, but you can learn how to. You have to change the way you think about cooking.

In fact, this is what I am focusing my research on for the next year, more specifically, the evolution of culinary discourse in the United States throughout the last half of the nineteenth century, in relation to how the Industrial Revolution drastically changed the ways Americans worked and lived. At some point, Americans began to see food only as a means of sustenance, we stripped the practice of cooking and dining of all of its cultural importance and only looked at it in terms of its practicality.

This is how we got hooked on processed foods, they are ready to eat, they give us time to work more, they have the base level of nutrients we need. This is how we convinced ourselves we don’t have time to cook, it takes away from our earning potential. But, what does that mean for us? What does it mean that we look at the practice of cooking in terms of our economic presence in the world? This may not be a completely conscious association, but it is most likely that you feel like you don’t have time to spend fifteen minutes in the kitchen because you get home too late from work. The long hours you work probably make you stressed, the food you don’t cook is probably not great for your diet, this diet makes you exhausted, your exhaustion makes your job more stressful. Do you see? You are also perpetuating an unhealthy cycle.

So, how do we change this? Look at feeding yourself as a meditative practice. Start changing the way you perceive cooking. Consider cooking as a moment that you can stop thinking about your responsibilities, take it as a moment to reflect. Consider cooking as an excuse to take care of yourself. Find a recipe you want to try, or sign up for services like Blue Apron (though, I would only use them as a means to avoid going to the market, I am not a big fan of their recipes). It doesn’t matter if you decide to make yourself oatmeal for dinner, what does matter is that you allow yourself to take the time to do it. Each time you do, you might find that you enjoy it more.

I’ll leave you with this, I got some pie crusts to make!

I volunteered to make Thanksgiving dinner, now what?

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Dessert Spread from last Thanksgiving. I really like making pie.

Did you accidentally tell your friends and/or family that you wanted to make Thanksgiving dinner? Do you now realize that you’ve made a horrible time-consuming mistake? Don’t fear, I did the same thing, we’ll get through this together.

When I started my own custom-order baking business, I decided to take on the task of pie orders a few years in a row. This involved two weeks of ingredient gathering, pumpkin puree making, spending hours elbow deep in pie crust and pie filling, bribing my sister and best friend to help me, all in a tiny kitchen. I would show up at thanksgiving dinner, haggard, my arms fresh with new exhaustion-related carelessness burns, and a feeling of accomplishment. Despite the fact that I would have compromised my immune system by exhausting myself and ended up in Urgent Care on Christmas Morning each year, I still get the urge around November first to do it again. In recent years, I have successfully talked myself out of this desire, but the season just feels ripe for cooking, and so I have taken on the task of Thanksgiving dinner.

The trick is to treat your kitchen like a professional kitchen for the next week. If you are prepared you can pull that dinner together, with time to shower and change, and still get dinner on the table on time. How, don’t worry, I’ll tell you.

  1. Make a detailed menu.

If you haven’t made your menu yet. Make it today. I cannot emphasize this enough, if you do not do this, you will be going to the store blind. Write out each dish, what you will need to buy for each one, and whether or not it needs to be made the day of. Remember that Thanksgiving is probably not the time to try a recipe you are not familiar with, make things that you know you can make or at least make sure you aren’t overloading your menu with complicated recipes.

  1. Delegate, delegate, delegate.

I’ll admit, I am not good at asking for help in the kitchen. This is partially because I’m a little bit of a control freak when it comes to watching the way other people cook, but it is also because I can generally do it faster. This being said, I have to remember that I am just one person, and it is nice to have help with the dishes, prep work like slicing and dicing, setting the table, and running to the store. Ask your guests to bring beverages, or things like bread, hors d’oeuvres, and desserts (I always make my own desserts, but that’s just because they’re my favorite thing to make).

  1. Start your pies now.

So, you didn’t delegate the pies, don’t fret, you have time to get ahead. As soon as you are done reading this, make your pie crusts. You can freeze them, thaw them Sunday night, roll them out and put them in the tins on Monday. I freeze my crust like this until I am ready to bake off the pies on Wednesday. On Tuesday, make all of your pie fillings (if you are doing your own pumpkin puree, make it today, and freeze it until you’re ready to use it). This way you avoid spending all of Wednesday focused on making the pies, and you can just put them in the oven. I always think that pies should be made the day before, the filling benefits from sitting for a day, and you’ll need that oven space on Thursday. Cream pies should go in the fridge, but I leave my pumpkin, pecan and fruit pies out at room temp overnight, the refrigerator ruins the crust.

  1. Plan your schedule for the week, and the oven.

Do your last minute shopping this weekend. Yes, this weekend is last minute. Gather up all of the ingredients you need, this gives you plenty of time to look for harder to find ingredients, or change your menu. Consider how long everything needs to be in the oven and how long it needs to rest before being served. Write out a schedule for when you plan to bake off each item, consider which items can be baked off in the morning and then warmed over right before you serve.

Monday: Finalize your menu, that specialty item that you wanted to use on your sweet potatoes is a lost cause, save that dream for next year. If you are making stuffing from scratch, dry out your bread.

Tuesday: Brine the Turkey if you are planning on doing so. Cut any veggies that need to be diced, like onions, carrots and celery, trim the ends of your green beans, do all the little prep things that should be ready before you begin cooking

Wednesday: Make your salads, but do not dress them. This can also be done on Thursday morning if you find yourself short on fridge space. I also would get any casseroles prepped so that you can just pop them in the oven at their allotted time. Boil your potatoes so they are ready to be mashed on Thursday. Set your table and do any cosmetic things you need to do around the house.

Thursday: Get that turkey out of the fridge ASAP. You want your turkey to be room temperature before you put it in the oven, so get it out an hour before you intend to roast it. Keep to your schedule, and don’t fret if things don’t turn out perfectly.

  1. Take a spa day on Friday.

Seriously, do it. You’ll need it. At the very least, don’t get out of your PJ’s and watch a bunch of Netflix.

Hope this helps with the holiday madness! Feel free to comment below with any further questions, or tips I may have forgotten.

Why are the millennials grieving?

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Image via ABC News

For starters, I am not one to readily call myself a millennial. I think that it is an overly generic term that does not apply to the majority of my generation. So, let’s throw that term out the window. We are more than a term ascribed to us by the generation that has upended the economy, ruined the climate, and then called us whiny for expecting them to have some accountability. We are not a generation whose interests are fleeting and easily forgotten as soon as the next set of hashtags start trending on Twitter. We are just trying our hardest to speak to a world that has consistently shut us down.

I know what it is to experience this, even more so as a woman. In the wake of the election, I made a Facebook post about my disappointment with the election results, only to be warned that this was a “new beginning” and that “anything else is anarchy.” Thank you for the lesson on government systems, it’s something that I have devoted quite a bit of time to studying, but I’ll just throw that BA in United States history in the trash, because that’s how employers see it anyway. I have been told time and time again that I am far too young to possibly understand what I am talking about, and when I get older, I will understand the necessity for xenophobia. I have been scoffed at for trying to learn about women’s health issues. I have been told that I look white, so I should rewrite my ancestry. I have been objectified and demeaned by men on the street. When I cut my hair, customers at the café I worked at told me that I “ruined” my beauty.

These are just my experiences as a privileged straight woman. These are minuscule compared to the affronts experienced by friends and family that come from a multitude of different backgrounds.

This is what your votes for Trump advocated for. Your votes for Trump told us once again that our experiences don’t matter. They told us that there is no room for public discourse, no room for acceptance, no room for healing. Your votes told us that there is only one American experience and that we’d all better get in line. Your votes advocated oppression.

To those of you that want to write me off as a bleeding heart liberal, you need to take the blindfold off of your eyes. This is not matter of liberals being poor losers. I can lick my political wounds and concede to the win of a Republican president, what I cannot stand for is the death of communication. The purpose of democracy is to encourage conversation across party lines, to bring everyone together.

I know not all Trump supporters are racists, or bigots. I know that some of you are my friends and family members, and that as people you are wonderful. I know that your intentions were not to hurt this country, but you should have known better. You should
have looked up from your ideology, and listened. Where were you when the debates were on? Where were you when Trump interjected, called his opponent a “nasty woman” and didn’t even have the courtesy to address questions? Were you distracted by the apocalyptic
picture he was painting of America? Were you distracted by his Twitter feed? Did you realize that when you went to the polls on November 8th, that you weren’t voting for a presidential candidate and that you were voting for hostility?

This is the real problem that we face. Trump as president is secondary, the long term repercussions of this election have to do with the dialogue the nation has developed. When women cried out against Trump’s sexist comments, we saw his female supporters wear signs saying, “Trump can grab my pussy!” instead of confronting the very real problem of sexual violence. In the first day since his election we have heard countless stories of Muslim women getting their hijabs ripped off, Hispanic citizens being told to go back to their own country, and a gay man was called a faggot and beaten in California. Supporters have decided that they have free license to go out into the streets and spew the hate that has been bubbling beneath the surface until now. Trump let that hate out, he made it ok to discriminate.

If you have children and you supported Trump, shame on you especially. You have taught a new generation this hatred. You have allowed for yet another generation to turn a blind eye to the experiences of their peers. You have made it ok for your children to use hate-speech, and act without concern or compassion for those who have different experiences than they do. I am not saying that this is definitely who they will grow up to be, but this will be the climate they grow up in.

This is why my generation is grieving. This is why many took to the streets, and why I wish I was there to join them. This is why we will not call that man our president. It is not that we want to overthrow the government, we want to overturn systematic discrimination. We want to live in a country where our experiences matter, not where we are told that we are cry-babies that ruin everything. We want our government to be a representation of more than a tyrannous majority; we want actual inclusive representation of the American people.