Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Healthy philosophy

I don't know why my brain has been sifting the aphorisms that serve as linchpins of my personal philosophy, but it has. These little gems may or may not form anything coherent when assembled, but they add up to a bit of my own operating manual. And hey, after reading a handful of them, you may understand why I'm incoherent myself.

A lot of these seem to be about anger management. Weird! I didn't know I thought about it so much.

If you quit something you've committed to, be sure you leave on a high note. You'll be likelier to feel as if you're really finished, and you won't be making a mistake. If you quit on a bad day, you might cheat yourself out of some good ones. I got this one from a pumping/breastfeeding forum the other day and thought it was brilliant.

My darling Grandma Red told me this when I was a kid, and it has stuck with me. If a spat can be settled before you sleep on it, it doesn't simmer in your consciousness all night and leave resentment in its wake. This piece of advice has led to a lot of late-night letter-writing and exhausting postmortem conversations, but I believe it has also saved me from some long-lasting anger issues. And it allows you to wake up fresh and happy in the morning.

Another Grandma Red-ism. Punching down the dough, shaping the warm elastic mixture, watching it rise, breathing the heavenly smell of homemade bread... it's therapy. It's a plus that you end up with a lovingly produced, special, homey gift to offer your loved ones; you can literally turn your negative feelings into positive ones as you work through them in productive, contemplative labor. Just be sure that this isn't the only time you make bread!

I think I lifted the phrase "cuddle a grudge" from a science fiction writer -- Robert Heinlein or David Gerrold, maybe. The thing is, a grudge doesn't do you any good. Cherish the best in your life, not the worst -- feel free to dismiss grudges before they taint your outlook.

When I told Grandma Red that I was getting married, she was the only person who was unabashedly delighted. Our parents thought we were too young and it showed. She sat down with me and held my hand, and gave me a good talking-to including lots of advice. I told her how delightful it was that she was happy about the upcoming nuptials rather than shocked because of our age, and she said, "Honey, it is true that you are young. You probably have some growing up to do, both of you. But if you grow together and not apart, your marriage will only be the stronger." So we share hobbies, run errands together instead of separately when possible, share social activism and volunteer together, and hang out together a lot. Guess what? It works. We're incredibly codependent and some friends treat us as if we're indistinguishable -- we're not, but we do have a lot in common (just as the Emperor had foreseen.)

EXERCISE IF YOU ARE FEELING DOWN (e.g. "Go outside!" or "Let the sun in!")
It works. If you're having a blue day, get out into the sunshine. Our brains are wired such that natural colors center us and make us feel better. It's convenient... guess where there are lots of natural colors? Outside! Go outside, take a walk, do some exercise or chores, and your body will feel better... and so will your brain, and mood. At the very least, you smelled some fresh air and got yourself a little endorphin high.

Another Grandma Red-ism, which she annoyed me by uttering every time she babysat me when I was sick. She's shoo me out of bed, make me wash my face and do my hair and put on lipstick under the pretext that I'd feel better if I did. It always irritated me that it really did work. Now, I rarely wear cosmetics other than lotion and colorless lip balm, but even those help. Something about the physical activity of getting ready, or about knowing that you are presentable, makes you feel nice. When my doula brought me lotion and lip balm, and my mom brought me new nighties, when I was in labor and hooked up to IVs and stuff -- boy, did I feel better. Even better when the nurses finally let me up to shower after 3 days.

I used to be very into meditation and believed I was nourishing my spirit and body by inhaling "prana," which I visualize as little spirit krill that live in air. Now I believe in deep breathing for other reasons as well: oxygenation, stress relief, a way to buy a few moments of thinking time before making a decision or undertaking something risky. It also significantly affects my blood pressure -- for the better.

I go round and round with this one. On the one hand, I detest the neutering of expression in order to speak no evil; an otherwise excellent former boss was incapable of saying things plainly. She couldn't say anything negative, even when the situation was very clear cut -- and wouldn't tolerate it in her employees. We weren't permitted to say something was a mistake when it could be termed a "teachable moment" and so on. But... if you pep-talk yourself, think positively, and husband your energies, you will be happier and more effective. So there's something to this -- just try not to extend it so far that you sound like a cultist.

This, I am NOT conflicted about. I have a guilty pleasure: reading an online advice column twice a week (and the ensuing wrangle in the comments section). Facebook is to etiquette as wedding photography is to small claims court... people fight about it all the time. It all boils down to the Golden Rule; don't be a jerk. This is more important than ever in the era of social media and remotely stored persistence of commentary.

When you go out, feel like you look good. Wear colors you like, bright ones if you dare. People always compliment me when I'm dressed in my loudest colors and I am just learning that I should listen to them. (Also, having a baby means I've turned up in lots and lots of pictures... and I've discovered which clothes make me look like a feature on People of Wal-Mart. I am trying to get rid of those outfits.)

I found this on a cooking blog and promptly forgot where I got it, but it's marvelous. I wish I could say who had said it first, but it's too good not to share because I can't reference it. Are you ready? Don't save the good wine for later. Don't save the fancy olives. Eat them, drink them, don't try to have your cake and eat it too (but later.) Eat your freakin' cake already! Miserly behavior (other than saving money) is crazy, hoarding activity. Take joy in the little pleasures that present themselves to you in life. Likewise, wear your expensive perfume, and your fancy clothes, and eat off of the good dishes.

A Zen cooking show taught me this. Take a break from multitasking and just do one thing. Meditative, mindful activity is well-spent activity. It is restorative to the mind and fills the soul.

Another nudge toward mindful living, hailing from the first years of our birding hobby. For reasons I won't go into here, we call goslings "geeshes." They are the epitome of tranquility -- eager, bright-eyed, never stressed or worried. If you're looking at them, put yourself in the same frame of mind. If you're not looking at them, why not? Google makes birdwatching easy. :) But it doesn't have to be geeshes, it can be baby ocelots, anteaters, or humans. The women's magazines often run blurbs saying that to look at cute images helps increase workers' productivity -- and I think it's because we dismiss all the drama and fuss that makes us ineffective when we reorient toward that innocent, loving, unworried state we see in young animals and humans.

And, as always, let me nudge you toward the Parable of the Bitter Tea in the Principia Discordia. Diluting something bad leaves you with something weaker -- and still bad. Start afresh when you need to; you'll be glad you did. Just, you know, don't quit on a bad day. :)

Sunday, April 24, 2011


There really are a couple blog entries between these recipes, but they're invisible. You see, I never finished them or hit "publish." So I'll get them out in the next few days.

In the meantime, Happy Easter, or whatever spring holiday woke you up with a smile on your face. :)

But make this within the next few days or you'll be sad that you took so long to do so once you finally get around to it. Seriously. Do you have eggs, milk, honey, and flour? Make this.

Don't be scared to pull out the fancy honey for this either. You can really taste it.

This delicious dish is like a baked custard mated with a Yorkshire Pudding, right on the nexus of milk & honey. It IS milk and honey held together with eggs and just enough flour to allow it to puff and brown on the edges.

Finnish Pancake

3 eggs
2 1/8 cups milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
scant 1/4 cup honey
3/4 cup flour
3 tablespoons butter
(You could optionally flavor this with vanilla extract or beans, or with nutmeg, but why? The honey is soooo good in this.)

Heat oven to 425 and put your 10' iron skillet in it to heat up. In the meantime, beat the eggs until homogeneous, then mix the eggs, milk, salt, and honey until well amalgamated. Beat in the flour until no lumps remain.

Remove the skillet from the oven and drop the butter into it. It will melt and foam. Swirl pan so that the sides are buttered too and the whole bottom of the pan has been slicked with foamy butter. Pour in the custard mixture and put it all back into the oven.

Leave it alone until it is puffed, browned on the curled edges, and set in the middle (a knife inserted in the center will come out "clean.") There will be a little lake of butter on top, so be careful.

Serve immediately, because it looks most impressive that way, with additional honey and fresh fruit piled atop it. But you won't be able to eat it until it cools just slightly, because it has the immediate aspect of lava.

Should serve 3 or 4, but the two of us ate it all by ourselves (again.)

Oh. My.

Emily, so far as I know, honey is all right for an expectant mama. But remember that baby can't have any until he or she is a year old for fear of botulism toxin. This will be an issue. Fletcher wanted to remind me today that this should properly serve 3 or 4 people, and one of them is HIM.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Recipe contest over at Food 52!

I saw a contest on Food 52, one of my favorite recipe sites and food communities, for "your best dumplings," and could not resist getting involved. Chochoyotes! Oh yes, chochoyotes!

So I entered: Cheesy chochoyotes with chicken and enchilada sauce is the recipe, and my name there is Literary Equivalent. Please don't be shy about stopping in to vote for me, if you tried the recipe a couple weeks ago when I posted it on this blog and liked it.

I changed the default cheese to cotija. Why? Because I am obsessed with cotija cheese now. Here's another quick recipe for you, if you're not skurred of carbs...


1 largish or 2 small Yukon gold potato for each diner
2 teaspoons salted butter for each diner
coarse salt and coarsely ground black pepper to taste
1/2 to 1 ounce cotija cheese for each diner

1. Get up early and decide that you don't want to cook anything complicated. Wash and pierce potatoes and microwave on "potato" setting until done. (You could oven-bake these for even more omnomnom, I think.)
2. Discover that what you thought was plain yogurt is actually a pink-and-black science experiment, and that you don't have hummus right now. Split potatoes and put butter and salt and pepper on them to taste. Don't forget to grumble about not having hummus.
3. Remember that you have cotija cheese in the fridge that you meant to use in more esquites. Wonder why you haven't made more esquites, as they were so delicious when you did. When cheese turns out to be fresh, add to potatoes.
4. Eat. OH MY GOD. How is cotija cheese so good on potatoes?
5. End up buying more cotija cheese just to eat on potatoes.