Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

A few more meal thoughts to add to the endless list

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And a recipe, to boot. Except that it’s not really a recipe that I put together according to my meal template. As I sat down and let it start cooking, I had a few thoughts.

First, I feel much more secure in my meal prep—in terms of content, not technique: that I knew, and it was good to know because I had a lot of other stuff to learn. Technique is technique, whether used to prepare healthful meals or not.

But, back to feeling secure: knowing the parameters of the meal (2 tsp fat, about 75-80% of a starch serving, 3-4 oz protein, veg must include leafy green—other than that, you’re on your own) means that I know exactly what to cover, and I feel perfectly free to cover it with whatever pops into mind or I have on hand.

And that’s the payoff: the template is a restriction of choices, but somehow having the structure gives one more freedom of choice: you can pick whatever you like (within the template) and know that the result will be at the least a balanced meal. And, oddly, they generally taste quite good, and the variety of condiments I have around and can add, the different spices, herbs, curries,…  The sky’s the limit.

And this is not a recipe, it’s a structure. I think I used to cling to recipes previously—well, cling is an exaggeration—stay in sight of, is more like it—because I felt some insecurity in my footing. I didn’t know where the rocks were (joke referent). I didn’t know what bases had to be covered. The recipe, I may have felt, provided that guidance.

But now, though I do cook recipes regularly—indeed, the mushroom-nori soup I just had (and I’ve added to the post the additions I made to the recipe: the starch and the protein to make it fit the template, and some sherry just because I like that), I adapt the recipes (as you see) to make them fit the template. Because that’s the way I enjoy eating now.

Interesting: I wrote the last sentence to explain that I don’t do this balancing because it’s nutritionally sound (though it is, and the reason I moved in this direction) or because I must (in the sense of doctor’s orders, or AHA guidelines, or any external guideline). It’s because now I actually enjoy making my meals this way: as I noted above, it gives me confidence and freedom and the meals taste great. And they’re nutritious and balanced. What’s not to like?

But the instant I realized that I was adapting the recipe last night or making this meal tonight because I really enjoyed having that sort of meal, I also realized, “Holy moly, this is the exact same thing I did with shaving: facing a a required activity that has become a tedious chore, exercise yourself to change things so that the requisite activity becomes enjoyable, and you are drawn to do it.” And that seems right, in hindsight, though I don’t think I realized that I was doing it—hmm. I sort of knew and I sort of didn’t—it’s like I was picking up leakage from the unconscious, who’s really the party that makes these sorts of decisions: like the rider in howdah, the conscious self is just along for the ride—and to create a narrative that makes sense to the self of what is happening. – I see I’m wandering off into what I’m learning in reading Timothy Wilson’s Redirect, which I heartily recommend (again).

The original post point was that having a template both restrains you—but that can be seen as providing a secure platform for your creativity just as, say, the structure of a sonnet can stimulate great (and beautiful) creativity when a good poet gets a sonnet-shaped idea (for Italian sonnets, generally, a big idea with a smaller idea conjoined), which is much more help than provided by the free verse, no-form form. Or so it seems to me.

But I hadn’t considered before how the template contributed to enjoyability, nor that I had pulled the same trick again. Maybe this trick is a maneuver the unconscious has learned, and obviously the trick does result in a miraculous attitude adjustment to adhere to a prescribed procedures. Maybe I did learn some things in the corporate world, after all: how to find enjoyment in restrictions.

I just laughed out loud, remembering. Maybe I did. I worked at one company some decades back—it shall go unnamed—at which any new idea or suggestion for change was always met by higher management with, “That’s interesting. We’ll need a formal proposal, with costing, though, before we can really think about it.”

Well, this particular organization often submitted responses to RFPs—so often, in fact, that I wrote a little guidebook (“Proposal Writing Made Slightly Less Difficult”) and (of course) developed a template and procedure. And it did indeed make the process slightly less difficult. It was sort of an open template—like the meal template, it provided a basic structure so that all bases would be covered, but the content could vary tremendously—and did, given the way the RFPs varied.

So I knew the exact process, and of course Accounting had specialists in costing proposals who knew exactly what they were doing—they had their own templates, doubtless—so whipping out a formal proposal, with costing, was child’s play. I could write one in an afternoon, get it costed the next day, and have it on higher management’s desk the next morning.

So I brought up ideas with abandon, because I now sort of enjoyed writing the proposals. And, just as with shaving, the more you practice an activity, the easier it becomes…

I did eventually leave the company, so it was a happy ending for all. Things often do work out.

Now, the recipe, which in this case is better termed “the what I did”:

2 tsp fiery chili olive oil
1/2 large yellow onion, finely diced

And I did cut up everything before starting because I was implementing something I learned from The Wife: take a fresh bunch of celery and clean and chop the entire bunch. Then use towels—fabric or paper, you choose—to dry the chopped celery as best you can. It will then keep a fair amount of time in the fridge—and, since it’s already chopped, it’s easier to use.

So once I had chopped that, I was a chopping demon and chopped everything for dinner before I turned on the heat under the 3-qt saucepan (I’m using the larger size because uncooked greens are so voluminous until they cook down.)

I let the onion sauté, stirring fairly often (I didn’t have to be chopping) and watching it. Just as it began to caramelize, I added

3 oz cubed extra-firm tofu
5 large cloves garlic, minced
1 serrano pepper, minced
1/2 c chopped celery (well, it was right there)

I stirred that in and let it sauté, stirring frequently. When I saw things just starting to brown, I added

1 diced yellow crookneck squash
1/2 diced Chinese eggplant

I let that sauté a couple of minutes, then poured in

1 pint canned dry-farmed tomatoes from happy girl kitchen co (could use canned, but I bet these are better) — and BTW “dry-farmed” doesn’t mean what I thought. I thought it meant “grown in dirt” rather than hydroponically, but no: dry-land farming is a whole thing.

I ground a fair amount of black pepper, and then added

1.7 oz Barilli Plus pasta (bow-ties)

A serving is 2 oz and I was going for 1.5, but when I stopped shaking, it was 1.7, and I thought, “Live large, what the heck,” and anyway this will make so much that it will probably be two meals.

Here’s the interesting thing: when I stopped shaking out the pasta and looked in the box, only a little was left—maybe half what I had just poured out. My immediate thought was, “Hmm. I’ll have to augment that with another pasta.” I did NOT think, as I always have previously, “Hmm. Well, might as well eat it. It’s not that much.”

Before, I realize, I was always looking for an excuse to augment. Now, I tend to look for an excuse to cut back. Well, some. I do like adding lots of veggies, but they’re lo-cal. And on the leftovers I might add black olives and/or pine nuts to make it more exciting. But, basically, I enjoy finding ways to cut corners and leave the corner parts behind.

It’s done now. Time to see what the template has produced.

UPDATE: I’m sitting here thinking about it, and I realize that my unconscious must have tumbled to the trick of finding a way to make the necessary enjoyable pretty early. And the benefit, I’m realizing, is not so much that a formerly tedious/boring/whatever task is now enjoyable, it’s rather than you have created a new source of joy in your life: do enough of these, and you have enjoyment from dawn to dusk.

That’s optimistic, most likely, but certainly some significant number of tasks are amenable to this treatment. Just be careful about showing that you enjoy tasks that you are supposed to hate (i.e., tasks imposed as punishment).

I also used to enjoy doing my Travel & Entertainment Expense Report when I was working. I tried to get the report completed before 9:00 a.m. on the first of each month—pretty easy if you not actually on the road. Hyper-timeliness was the game, which—come to think of it—led to a variety of templates: T&E, Weekly status, Monthly objectives, etc. Lots of corporations are report-mad (perhaps not so much today), so my having templates for the reports sped things up considerably. And my hyper-timeliness elicited interesting reactions, not always reactions of pleasure: some bosses, it seems, do not like to receive reports on time because they’d rather be peeved.

At any rate, it’s a useful tack to take and skill to have.

UPDATE2: This really does seem to be a rich vein to mine. I think I may have the original source of this trick my unconscious picked up: When TYD was a very young girl—toddler, really—she told her mother, “Let’s play a game. Let’s play that you’re the mommy, and I’m your little girl, and we’re at home [which they were] and you’re making lunch [which she was]” and so on. Let’s play a game in which everything is as it is—only it’s a game.

I think that impressed me deeply. I do recall offering a toast at a senior graduation function or party. Background required: this was when I was director of admissions at St. John’s College, Annapolis campus. The core of that program—all students follow the same program (a template again, to unleash creativity)—was the seminar discussion, two evenings a week, of a reading in one or another of the Great Books (though sometimes a musical work or opera, etc.): 18-20 students, 2 tutors, 2 hours. One tutor asks the Opening Question to get the ball rolling, and then the students more or less take over, the job of the tutor being to listen and make sure that diffident students get to speak and that ebullient students are held in check, and to intervene at the right moment. For example, a student may blurt out a great insight. Wonderful. S/he’s pleased, the tutors are pleased, everyone is happy with what the insight reveals. It is the tutor’s job to say to that student, in the pause at the end of the insight, “Go on.”

The insight was involuntary: an inspiration, an involuntary glimpse of something new. What follows “Go on” is voluntary—and often somewhat laborious. The insight was easy, but now the student starts to learn how to think on purpose. And indeed all the students in the seminar, having enjoyed the insight, now find themselves struggling to go on. I suppose, in a way, “Go on” has the effect of “So?”, but strikes me as much more collegial and inviting—the “So?” invites recoil by its barely concealed—well, not even that—hostility. Seminars are not (generally) hostile places: we’re all working together to ascend higher than any could alone, and the best tutors know to ask the questions they cannot answer themselves but whose answers they would dearly like to have.

Okay, with that background: My toast, influenced by the “life as game” idea, was along the lines of “For four years you’ve read the greatest works of our culture and pondered and analyzed them, and those skills will serve you well. But now you’re moving into life, and what you need to know is that all these great books you’ve studied are simplifications of what you’ll encounter in life. These books are the distillation of what their writers have understood, stripped of all irrelevancies, honed to the best of their craft to convey what they have seen when they looked at life, what they have taken from their life experience to the time they wrote—and it is your life experience you’re now entering with the benefit of your four years of study. So don’t look for simplicity and and don’t expect to be bored. If you’re bored, it’s you. Life is the mother lode from which all those program books were extracted, and it’s more complex than any of the books, though it was the basis for all, and all must be measured against it, for it is the standard. So as you go out into life, think of it as a great seminar. Here, you have had the luxury of the tutor asking the Opening Question. Now you will have to ask yourself the Opening Question for each novel situation and circumstance you encounter. Give it thought—and then Go On.”

Words to that effect.

And on the recipe front: at the end there was liquid left, so I added 2 Tbsp chia seed and, having talked about them, a few Kalamata olives and 2 Tbsp pine nuts. Damn good.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 September 2011 at 6:55 pm

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