Cook More: Brussels Sprouts

I never know what Mike will come back with when I send him to the store with a grocery list that includes “vegetables.” Last week, he bought a bag of brussels sprouts, and they sat in our crisper ignored and uncooked for many days. I looked up the veg in Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian and left the page open with the hopes that Mike would be inspired. But I finally decided to take things into my own hands this past Sunday.

This recipe is awesome, and braising the brussels in butter and vegetable stock adds a rich, sweet flavor that is even better than my previous experiences with roasted ones. They’re addictive and bite-size, and somehow this cooking method nearly eliminates the bitter undertones that other attempts may leave behind. I’d post a picture, but they taste so much better than they look in my photos, that I’d rather you just try them yourselves!

Braised and Glazed Brussels Sprouts
(from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian)
4 servings // 30 minutes

  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 1 pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed
  • 1/2 + cup of vegetable stock
  • salt and pepper
  1. Combine butter, brussels, and stock in large skillet with tight-fitting lid. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, cover, and lower heat to simmer until just tender, about 5-10 minutes. Check a couple times, adding liquid as needed.
  2. Uncover and raise heat to boil off all the liquid so that vegetables become glazed and browned. Don’t stir; let them sizzle and get golden/crisp. Shake the pan to loosen. Serve hot or at room temp.

Mini signs

In addition to struggling with what I should do jobwise once I’m in Pasadena, I am now also struggling with how to fill up or not fill up my time left in Austin (freelance and rates and schedules and workshops and classes)(oh my). I saw these in my Google Reader today. As if a sign. Or rather a series of uncannily well-timed mini signs. If only I would/could pay heed. And do what is right for me…

Sigh. I am feeling tired tonight from overthinking all day. (e.g. stressing out about things which are not yet here.) (And reading the sad chapters in Molly Wizenberg’s A Homemade Life about her dad’s death.)

[Via To Do: Post-it notes left to their fate in public places]

Living well

The past couple weeks, I have been learning how to live well. I am trying to remember that it is okay to slow down. It is okay to be still. It is okay to enjoy today, right now, this moment. I strive for a calm positive energy, and the yogic conception of happiness called shanti which is an even state that is less affected by constantly fluctuating external factors. I am trying to practice living well, so that it becomes habit, so I will not fall back into my old, unexamined ways, so I can improve the baseline of my “normal life.” It’s startling and worrisome that the following choices can become optional and fall by the wayside when they are some of the main things that make life worth living.

  • Break bread with friends. Cook together, eat together, share meals together. It doesn’t have to be elaborate; it can just be inviting a friend over for sandwiches during lunch. It can just mean taking the time to step out of our cubicles and enjoy a meal together in the office kitchen. It doesn’t even have to be planned that far ahead — unless planning helps to make it happen. Because magic happens when you have weekly dinner dates with loved ones. I grew up having mixed feelings about our family friend Sunday night dinner gatherings, but now I see how important they were — and how little we appreciated the comforting routine.
  • Schedule date nights. Sitting down to dinner together in front of a Netflixed television show doesn’t quite cut it for me. It’s easy to forget to plan outings as a couple once we’re living together because we “see each other all the time.” But we spend all of our workdays apart, and then if we’re not careful, the evenings can pass us by in a blur of tiredness, grumpiness, or separateness. Weekends likewise fly by in fits of separate commitments or planned/unplanned group activities. Date night means taking the time to be alone with each other, to be present in each other’s company, to talk and to reconnect, to truly see one another, to hold each other and to remember how lucky we are.
  • Be physically active in daily life. For the longest time, I had myself fooled into believing exercise was optional. Wrong! Consistent physical activity is vital for basic health. Since our suburban commuter lives don’t automatically provide physical activity, I must make it a planned part of my days as surely as I make time to eat, sleep, and drink water. Bonus: regular exercise also tempers my hormonal mood swings and burns off the accumulated adrenaline from stressing out and over-worrying. I’m trying to find activities that are the most fun and that make the most sense in my life: yoga, running, biking…for starters.
  • Do one thing at a time. I’m a serial multitasker, so this is a hard one. I’m starting with my meals and trying to eat and only eat during my meals. This means not working at the same time. Not checking email at the same time. Not reading something at the same time. When it works, it’s calming, it slows me down, and it allows me time to  rejuvenate.
  • Eliminate stress. I took a stress management workshop. It’s sort of absurd that I have to pay someone to tell me to do the things I should naturally be doing. I couldn’t help thinking that if I lived during another time period or in another culture, my community would not have let me get to that point. But here I am. Stress is a choice. Worry is a choice. I don’t have to feel that way if I choose not to. Remembering to take care of myself and making the time to take care of myself are important.
  • Cook more. Eat well. This one shouldn’t be hard, since I love food so much. But it’s during the times we need to nurture ourselves the most that we slip the furthest away from healthy habits. Chopping, stirring, cooking, preparing can be very relaxing for me. My major roadblock lately has been my dislike of grocery shopping…I need to somehow turn that into an enjoyable weekly routine/adventure.
  • Be outside more. I walked to Quack’s Bakery the other day on a drizzly gray Sunday afternoon. It was actually quite lovely. I patted myself on the back because a few months ago, I would have fully justified myself the two-minute car ride. But since I have started trying to work out regularly, my body actually wanted the walk. And I’ve always been a little uncomfortable with long stretches of conditioned air. I even prefer the windows open on humid muggy days sometimes…let alone the long string of perfect spring days that we’re currently experience.
  • Sleep! Get enough sleep. It really does make a huge difference. Why is it such an easy necessity to sacrifice?

Even during this time when I am only working part-time, I still find it hard to do all of the above. But I am taking the steps and holding myself accountable to living well. (For instance, I have set goals and am doing weekly assessments of my physical activity time, so I can’t just bugger off a yoga class or a run due to a random excuse or stress or feeling.)

It’s been good to remember how it feels to have a clear head, energized body, and nurtured relationships. It’s not been easy, but it’s certainly worthwhile. I just need to keep it up and continue the practice of living well — until living well becomes normal again.

Commitment

Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative and creation, there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.

~ W.H. Murray (though the last bit usually gets attributed to a couplet which may or may not actually be written by Goethe)

Of late, I have been super wishy-washy about my plans for the summer. Whether in denial about actually having to leave Austin or fear of not knowing my next step in life — or perhaps both — my plans for the summer keep changing by the week. I can’t even commit to a move-out day from Austin. This is both frustrating Mike and stressing me out. Not knowing my next steps only adds weight to the already looming specter of moving to a new city halfway across the country.

Deciding what’s next is as much about letting go of old selves as much as it is about claiming a new identity. It takes courage to let go of my hard-earned design experience and to refrain from looking for an entry-level design job that I might be tempted to take just for the sake of having a job. It takes humility to let go of the idolized image of public educator that I was so gung ho about creating when I left design in the first place. And it takes a lot of faith to stop myself from compromising with jobs that sort of combine education + arts, jobs that I have to convince myself are worth pursuing (because I can be very self-persuasive and self-justifying — sometimes to my own detriment).

Because if I am honest with myself, there is an author inside of here who needs some time to write. But I can’t even write that sentence, let alone let you read it, without all sorts of alarm bells going off in my head. Yet the idea of that commitment—to myself as writer—lifts some weight. The idea dispels some fog in the back of my head. The idea allows my brain to breathe a small sigh of relief. I don’t know what it means in practical terms* yet, but it feels like the decisions will be easier to make once considered in the light of a true commitment.

*Jane Collins for Drunken Boat: If you were to write something like Rilke’s “Letters to a Young Poet,” what advice would you give to someone beginning a career in poetry?

Kay Ryan, current Poet Laureate: A few years ago, I read in San Francisco: it was an evening with Garrison Keillor and Billy Collins. At the end, they opened it up for questions, and a young woman addressed a question to Billy and me. She said that she was a cook and that she wanted to quit her job cooking and enter a creative writing program full time and really concentrate on her writing in that way. She wanted to know if we had any advice for her. I said to Billy, “I’ll take this one.” I said, “Stay a cook.” I really meant that. The genuine thing in us is much too fragile to tolerate the kind of peer pressure or superior pressure of most writing programs or workshops. What we have to take care of, really protect, is something very unshaped, that we hardly even know. A lot of the job that one has to do as a writer is to protect the thing that doesn’t match the world. I know how that sounds, but I do see great danger in people copying others and listening too much to opinions of other people when they’re too impressionable.