Playing Housewife (or, I’d Rather Be Camping)

If “zen” is used (casually) to refer to a state of mind where you experience life as it is vs through the thoughts you have about your experiences, I have to wonder if being a housewife/husband is the fastest path to achieving a state of zen.

After all, I’ve heard stories of how zen masters teach achieving enlightenment by doing repetitive, unappreciated tasks that will only be undone and need to be done again.

One of the things I have been working on intensely is learning to leave behind my Type-A habits, be fully present, and really experience my life instead of missing what’s happening because I’m busy worrying about an imagined past or future.

I have run head-on into the most stubborn part of my Type-A traits recently. Having extended my leave of absence from my day job for another 6 months, there are some new developments in our lives:
We must re-learn how to carefully evaluate our spending decisions if we’re going to stick to the financial plan we made when I started my leave (personal leave comes with no pay).
This means one or both of us must cook more.
My husband is working long hours on his feet all day, so the cooking is falling to me.

Any of you who have read my blog for any length of time or who know me personally are probably aware of just how much I like to cook.

This is the crux of what I dislike about cooking (or any household chore): it’s a lot of effort for something that gets completely undone in only moments and then must be done all over again only to be undone once more. You are never done. You can never check it off your to-do list.

The incredible inefficiency of going in a continual circle makes me batty–it’s going backwards. I have an obsession with efficient, forward progression. It is my most Type-A tendency. Almost paradoxically, I would rather sit on the couch doing nothing than invest time and energy in a task that will have to be repeated–I become a Type-B when contemplating such a task!

There is nothing I struggle with more than going backwards.

So far, I have tried to counter this feeling by cooking in bulk. By making large quantities of soup, I have the satisfaction of seeing neat containers in the freezer and fridge waiting for us for days.

But as the supply dwindles, I find my old resentment bubbling up again. I question whether we would be better off just going back to eating out–couldn’t that time cooking be better spent growing the business than saving a few dollars?

I would love to hear from someone who genuinely enjoys cooking for their loved ones and how they get satisfaction from such a task. I’ve heard there are such people in the world, but I suspect it’s one of those legends like Big Foot.

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Why I Don’t Cook

When I returned from my recent adventure in Vermont, I was feeling motivated to eat as healthy as possible.  I also triggered an addiction to lobster, having stopped in Boston on both the way there and the way back, indulging in lobster rolls in both directions.

As such, I got out my favorite cookbook, “The Ultra-Metabolism Cookbook” and found myself drooling over the Lobster Fra Diavalo recipe.

By luck, my noon meeting cancelled and I managed to spend lunch at the grocery store.  I bought the provisions necessary for a 3-course meal–salad, entree, and dessert.

When my day had mostly wrapped up (I did have one evening conference call with some folks in Australia, but it didn’t last long), I started cooking.

Now, this is a rather rare phenomenon.  Finding me in the kitchen usually means I’m making coffee, eating yogurt straight out of the carton, or perhaps doing something as creative as making a smoothie.  But on this night, I was undertaking making 3 courses all for the same meal.

I started thawing the lobster tails for the Lobster Fra Diavalo.  I made pomegranate salad dressing and prepped the salad.  I put on wild rice to cook without fully reading the instructions (quite the risk taker).  I served the salad around 8PM, right after my conference call was over.  Not bad if you ignore the fact I’d started prepping around 5:30PM.

I thought I’d started the rice too late, but then I realized the sauce for the lobster had to cook down, so then my rice was going to be done too early.  I turned up the heat on the diavalo sauce in the hope of reducing it faster.  While it cooked, I made up some chocolate sauce from a New Life Hiking Spa recipe available on their website.  I was going to serve banana “ice cream” and chocolate sauce for dessert.

Note the time in the photo of the lobster cooking on the stove.  At 9:17, I was still trying to reduce the sauce.  We ate our lobster at 9:30.  It was actually quite good, if I do say so myself.  But, can lobster ever really taste bad?

Next, I took frozen bananas out of the freezer only to discover they weren’t really frozen all the way.  I decided to try to make the dessert anyway.  I put them in the blender and tried to puree them into an ice cream consistency.  Between their unfrozen state and my crappy blender, they came out more of a pudding consistency.  I enjoyed it anyway.  My husband wasn’t so keen on the dessert.  The chocolate sauce was tasty, but sweetened with maple syrup (not from Vermont), it was a little too mapley for him.

All in all, I invested about 5 hours of my time between planning, shopping, cooking, eating, and cleaning up for this one healthy meal.  I texted my friend that I now understand why I have time to workout–I don’t cook.

Yes, I Can Cook

After many days, weeks, or maybe even months of pleasantly letting trivial little disagreements slide by, suddenly some little nothing seems so important that we go to great lengths to prove we’re right.
Pat and I recently had a conversation that started when a new acquaintance offered to give me a recipe even though Pat was standing right next to me.

Later, when we chuckled about how often people erroneously assume I would be more interested in a recipe than Pat, I felt the need to remind my husband that I used to feed myself quite well. The conversation went like this:

“I can cook!” said I.
“Since when?” said he.
“I used to cook all the time.”
“Honey, what you did is called warming ingredients. You can’t really cook.”

I, who take great pride in my grilled cheese masterpieces as well as my incredibly fluffy scrambled eggs, decided I was going to have to dig deep to find photographic evidence that U have more than basic warming skills.

Thankfully, the first Thanksgiving after I got my trusty old PowerShot G3 was also the first (and last) Thanksgiving we invited Pat’s family to our house and I did the cooking.

Some may argue that having to go back 9 years might seem more like evidence that you can’t cook (especially since no one came back). However, I contend that everything in that meal was delicious, from the assorted cheeses and crudités for starters to the perfectly roasted turkey, to the freshly baked pumpkin pie. Oh, wait, Pat’s mom made the pie. And probably the stuffing. Pat made the mashed potatoes. But I, and I alone, made the turkey, the gravy, the green bean casserole, the vegetables, and the sweet potatoes.

Huh.

Funny thing . . . I just realized I really did just heat all the ingredients. Don’t tell Pat.

As I was looking at the photos, I recall seeing a show on photographing food. I believe it was actually a show on careers and the career was “food make up artist.”

The food make up artist demonstrated making a fast food burger look good. It was quite clever. She was required to use the same portion of food as is actually used to make the product we buy. However,she kept the burger looking huge by simply searing it just long enough to turn it brown, but not cooking away the fat, keeping it from shrinking. Then, she split it in the back so she could spread the burger out to fill out the front. By shooting at a low angle from the front, the burger not only looked bigger, but all the stuff she’d dome to make it look that way was completely out of sight.

Explains a lot about those fast food burgers.

I think my turkey might not look so appealing because it tasted good. To make it really beautiful, it would have had to have been raw inside.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Grocery Shopping

At the end of another long work day made more frantic by the holiday on Monday and our upcoming 2-week vacation, I log off and put my laptop to sleep wishing I could go to sleep as well.  We have no food in the house and are at a loss as to what to do for dinner.  We decide to head over to the local Greenlife Grocery store, the Whole Foods of Chattanooga.  I get out two large, reusable shopping bags and we head out the door.

The walk to the grocery store is only a block and a half through the pleasant, recently developed neighborhood.  We pass a riverfront mid-rise condominium building that advertises its “sustainable” construction.  I’m not sure what about it is sustainable–maybe they have solar panels on the roof?  But it’s a nice building with a large, beautifully landscaped courtyard in the middle, visible from the sidewalk as we walk by.  When we first came down to Chattanooga looking for a place to live, we had considered this building, but we didn’t want to buy property and they didn’t have anything for rent.

We arrive at the grocery store in less than 5 minutes and walk in the door expecting to see our favorite cashier standing at the checkout just inside–she’s been there every time we’ve come to the store.  She likes to tease Pat, who comes to the grocery store more often than I do and often at times that most people are at work.  When Pat recently had his hair cut from shoulder length to something under an inch, she said, “Someone must have gotten a job!”  He laughed and explained that he’s always had a job.  When I asked her, “Don’t you think he looks good with his hair short?  He looks so much younger!”  She replied with, “I don’t know, long, short . . . ” her voice trailing away as she ducked her head and blushed.  I realized then that she has a crush on my husband.  This happens frequently.  I’ve grown accustomed to other women envying me for my husband.  Women who have never met him fall in love with him when I talk about how he does laundry, cooking, and grocery shopping as well as more traditionally male tasks like building things and maintaining cars.  But women who meet him usually find themselves blushing and flirting.  He brushes this off when I tease him about it, commenting on the fact that most of the women who gush over him are over fifty and that he doesn’t have similar power on “hotties” under thirty.  I think this is a great compliment–after all, we women gain wisdom about men as we age and gaining the affections of these wise women speaks to the underlying compassion that comes through in every interaction with Pat.

But today, a different cashier stands at the checkout line and greets us only automatically.  We smile and say hello and move on to do our shopping.  We have an addiction to Naan.  This store carries a particularly good brand that is displayed in the freezer case.  It toasts up fresh and hot like bread straight out of the oven.  However, I think someone at the store has realized our addiction and is playing a game with us; every time we look for it, it’s moved.  Today I check the first three places we found it to no avail.  Then, I spot it in a new place in the center of the freezer aisle.  With the relief only an addict can feel, I seize a package and throw it into our cart.  It’s a funny thing how attached I can get to simple pleasures.

We pick out eggs from a free-range, local farm where the chickens are free to roam outdoors.  They cost twice as much as the “cage free” eggs, but having learned that “cage free” just means they hens are kept in an over-crowded barn, I spend the extra money gladly.  I don’t want to eat eggs from overcrowded hens.  Regardless of my sympathy for the hens, there is just too much disease associated with overcrowded animals and I would rather eat animal products that come from more natural conditions that keep all of us healthier.  Moving on, we pick out organic Greek yogurt from grass-fed cows, another recent addiction.  After finding wild caught smoked salmon, organic almonds, and selecting a couple of day’s worth of fruit and vegetables from mostly local farmers, we realize we haven’t solved our dilemma over dinner.  We go to the prepared foods section and find some stuffed shells that will bake up nicely in the toaster oven.

We make our way to the cash register, hoping our favorite cashier has returned, but it’s still the same woman who greeted us when we arrived.  Instead of exchanging banter, we go through the paying process exchanging only minimal small talk.  It’s funny how developing rapport with a cashier makes us feel like we belong–today we feel like anonymous strangers passing through, just as we did the first time we came to this store.  Perhaps the fact that we still have made no friends in this town makes us cherish these small connections more, but I feel more disappointment over not seeing our regular cashier than I think is normal.

We distribute the groceries equally between the two grocery bags even though they would all fit into one.  This allows Pat to carry the bags balanced on both sides.  He slings each bag over his shoulders and we head on down the road.  Arriving home, I volunteer to make dinner.  This is a private joke between Pat and me–he took over preparing our meals early in our relationship, having decided I don’t know how to cook.  I’m actually quite competent in the kitchen as long as I have a recipe, but Pat is one of those artistic chefs who can whip up a meal from nothing.  He is insulted by the prospect of using a recipe and was convinced of my lack of ability the first time I made chili and didn’t sauté the onions before putting them in the pot.  The recipe didn’t call for it, so I didn’t do it.  Pat is religious about starting virtually every meal by sauteing onions in butter with salt.  He claims he can taste the difference when the salt isn’t properly incorporated into a recipe and just added later.  I like sauteed onions better, I admit, but I think he’s fooling himself on being able to taste the difference when salt is added later.  Personally, I’d rather add salt if a dish needs more flavor than eat it bland because of some rule about when to add salt, but not Pat.  Fortunately, he usually gets just the right amount the first time.

Tonight, I am allowed to make dinner because it requires only reheating the stuffed shells.  In the 15 years we’ve been together, when Pat needs a break from cooking, I’ve prepared only 3 things from scratch:  scrambled eggs with toast (which I take great pride in making so that the eggs are extra fluffy and still moist), grilled cheese with tomato soup (I only make the grilled cheese part, but I make it well), and Nabeyaki Udon (a Japanese soup that Pat loves but has so many steps that I only venture to make this on rare occasions).  Otherwise, Pat is not interested in my cooking.  Since cooking is not a great pleasure to me, I’m relieved that I don’t have to be the one to come up with interesting things to eat night after night, so this works well for both of us.

We sit down with our plates of hot food and discover that it’s not really all that hot.  I’m disappointed that I can’t even re-heat well, but we decide we are too hungry now to put it back in the oven.  I use the excuse that I don’t cook often enough to know how long things take.  Pat smiles and rolls his eyes, but he thanks me anyway, enjoying the break from kitchen duty.