Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Getting Okay with PB&J

I am a high-energy, high-achievement person.  I like having data and numbers and success stories to put on my mental resume.  Not necessarily because I want to talk about them or brag about them.  But because that's how I tally my contribution to society.  When I was practicing law, I judged by the number of cases I won or how good my brief was or how much I could settle a case for.  When I developed programs for my church, I could count the number of people who showed up for a class or meeting.  When teaching school, I had the near-constant feedback of graded papers, test scores, light bulbs and blank looks.

But I left all that this year.  The stress of having two kids and a husband who travelled was a lot, but when my mom was diagnosed with cancer, I had to decide what was really important.  Plus, I was killing myself.  And my hair was falling out.  And I was self-medicating with chocolate.  So, here I am a domestic engineer with no discernible benchmarks or parameters for success.

So, to make myself feel like I could be successful, I spent the last six months setting completely unattainable goals for myself and walking around feeling like a complete loser.  I felt like I was incredibly busy throughout the day, yet NOTHING GOT DONE.  Which made me want to sit in front of the TV and watch Hoarders and NCIS all day long.  In the same clothes I had on the day before.  Which were, more likely than not, my pajamas.  Aside from the obvious hygiene issues, this presented a completely unworkable solution.  My therapist asked what's it going to take for you to value what you're doing?  My friends asked what are you doing with all your "time off"?  But the reality was that my days felt incredibly full.  I had NO IDEA what it took to run a house well, and take care that your kids had a hot breakfast every day, and to actually be there to make sure the homework got done.  And to promise yourself that you're not going to eat out at all.

Because if I really, really get down to it, the way I most like to show love is through food.  And since I'm not contributing financially (yes, I know I'm contributing in many other ways.  And sometimes, I actually believe it), I can contribute by reducing our discretionary spending and increasing our healthy eating.  Which presents its own challenges.  Being the chronic overachiever that I am, once I decided to set out on this culinary journey, I decided that I would grow all our food, bake all our bread, make sausage, can all our seasonal produce, and apparently, if you're going to follow that insane logic, butcher my own cow and sew my own clothes.  Crazy?  Yes.  But it's what I do.

So, what am I going to do to quiet the inner critics and still feel pretty good about what I'm giving to the world?  I'm going to have to get okay with PB&J.  Because the reality is that I'm going to have days when I am watching tournaments and meeting with teachers, running a small business, cleaning the house, cleaning the garage, cleaning the car, cleaning the dogs, doing some laundry, doing more laundry, or doing any number of tiny, immeasurable tasks that may not look like much in my head but add up to a family.

And I'm going to have to be okay with having a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for dinner sometimes.

I'm not there yet.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Free Cat

Driving out of my neighborhood Tuesday of last week, the girls and I were saddened to see a beautiful gray cat, dead by the side of the road.  That happens a lot out where we live -- it's dark, it's in the country, cars vs. small animals, there are coyotes . . .feel free to start humming Circle of Life at any point.  Anyway, being animal lovers, we commented on how sad it was that this kitty was dead and we said a little prayer, in kitty, for our dear, departed friend.  And then we went on our way.

Now, I'm embarrassed to even tell you how long it took me to get it, but by Wednesday at midday, someone had posted a large cardboard sign on that very corner that said, simply and elegantly, FREE CAT.

Wait for it.

For two days, I drove by that sign and wondered who was moving and giving their cat away.  I wondered why they didn't give an address or phone number for the FREE CAT.  Until it hit me.  I laughed until I cried.  Then, I called both of my parents, my husband, my best friend, and then ran down the street to tell the neighbors who laughed until they cried.  I felt so grateful, so honored to live in a neighborhood surrounded by such inspired, if sadistic, genius.  Until one of my neighbors said, "Hey, someone sent me this picture like five years ago."  Yup.  Dead cat with sign.  From the Internet.  I thought about that for about ten seconds and decided I didn't even care that it was stolen inspired, if sadistic, genius.

Now, don't get me wrong.  We have two dogs, two cats, and two of our former dogs still reside in their sterile boxes of final rest.  We love animals.  But when the Great Beggin' Strip in the Sky calls your number, it's time to go.  

Might as well get some joy out of it.

P.S. (One week later) We had a humongous, insane rainstorm here about two days ago.  And I mean five inches in one night kind of storm.  One like we haven't seen in Central Texas for a loooooong time.  So, of course, the kids first thought was "hey, what do you think happened to the cat?"  In a gullywasher like that, that cat should have floated all the way down to our house, turned right and ended up in my neighbor S's backyard.  

But as soon as I began my CSI detective work, the mystery was solved.  By my chihuahua.  Who found it.  On the road.  In a form not even remotely resembling catlike.  The circle of liiiiiife.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Unintended Consequences and Quality Control

It's amazing how much your dishwasher says about the quality of the food you're eating.  If you're eating out all the time, your dishwasher contains only coffee cups and water glasses.  And wine glasses.  Not even water glasses if you're drinking soda or boxed drinks all the time.  And wine glasses.  If you're eating take out all the time, your dishwasher sports only cups and silverware.  Did I mention wine glasses?  If you are cooking every meal for a family of four, you're are doing dishes constantly.  I HAD NO IDEA.  One of the unintended consequences of this project is the beating the dishwasher is taking.  Which got me thinking:  how much styrofoam, plastic, foil, and paper are we wasting every time we "run by the Sonic real quick?"  (Ummmm.  Sonic).  So, as soon as I can get my Master-of-the-Blog-Universe friend over here for a tutorial, I'm going to get a counter for  each dishload.

As of today:  1

So, how's this all going to work?  How do we really KNOW you're not eating out?  I've decided to post under the QC tab exactly what we had for dinner the previous night.  If it turned out okay, and I didn't steal it from anyone, I'll post a recipe.  If I used someone else's recipe, I'll post the link.  If I'm putting the love out there, I might as well share it.

Pantry Tortilla Soup

Pantry Tortilla Soup

1 yellow onion
2 qts low sodium chicken broth
1-2 cans RoTel tomatoes (depending on how hot you like it)
Salt to taste.
2 cans chicken breast (or a rotisserie chicken, which I'm not buying on grounds that it counts as a pre-prepared food, or some leftover chicken)
1 can black beans
1 small bag frozen mixed vegetables (I use the corn, pea, carrot, green bean blend because I really, really, really hate lima beans)
Shredded cheese (I had cheddar in the fridge, so that's what we had)
Tortilla chips (I save the broken dregs of old bags for this - wait, does that make me sound like a hoarder?  Love that show)

Cilantro, if you have it, which I didn't
Avocado slices, if you have them,  which I didn't

Saute the onion in a little tiny bit of olive oil over medium heat until transparent but not browned.  Turn up the heat and pour in stock and RoTel.  Bring them up to the boil.  In the meantime, open chicken breast and black beans.  Rinse all the chicken under cold water in a fine mesh strainer until water runs clear.  This will wash off the icky, salty water that it's packed in.  Skip this step if you're using leftover or rotisserie chicken.  Repeat process with the black beans.  Rinse until all the water turns clear.  You don't want any of that creepy purple goo in your soup.  Plus, it really cuts down the salt.

Once your stock is up to the boil, add salt  to taste.  Remember as it cooks, it will get saltier as water boils out, so do a little taste test.  Blow on it first.  Add chicken, beans and mixed vegetables and return to a simmer.  Simmer 5 minutes or so or until veggies are heated through.

Ladle into bowls and top with cheese and chips (and cilantro and avocado, if you have them, which I didn't).

And so it begins.

And so it begins.  Actually, it began yesterday.  Well, actually it began last August, but who’s counting?  Last August, I decided not to eat out.  Anymore.  At all.  Why?  Lots of reasons – financial, health, a commitment to keeping my kids off the street because we all know that if you don’t eat dinner every night with every member of your family they will end up pregnant and on drugs and worst of all, living at home with you when they’re 30.  Who the hell am I kidding?  Mostly I just wanted to save some money and lose some weight.  Not necessarily in that order.

I was initially inspired by the wise and brilliant and funny Elizabeth Jayne Liu and her blog  Flourish in Progress.  In it, Ms. Liu details her year-long “project” in which she swears off any non-essential shopping, something that had become a fixture in her life.  Toward the end of her project, she challenged her readers to try a project of their own.  Great idea, I thought!  Easy!

Now, if you’ve ever met me, or seen me more than two days in a row, you’ll know that shopping is not an issue for me.  So, I decided to take on food.

I managed in my test run to keep from eating out at all from August 1 through November 17 (my birthday).  What happened after that?  Well, let’s just suffice it to say that recovery doesn’t always happen all at once.  The holidays happened.  The kids off for almost three weeks happened. Not that it’s an excuse.  So, instead of just giving up and moving on to learning to knit socks, we’re starting over.

Well, that’s great, dear, but it’s January.  Why are we just now hearing about this project?  Excellent question.  My best friend keeps asking me how much longer I am going to blog in my head.  Turns out that the cooking and eating business wasn’t all that hard for me – I love to cook and don’t work full time.   What was hard for me was writing about it.  Which really makes no sense because I love to write.  Turns out that the real challenge, the real project for me may be a lot more about fear than food.

Wish me luck.