August 26, 2011

The Power of Flowers . . . Wild Ones, That Is.

I'll be the first to admit it.  I'm not the kind of gal who likes receiving flowers.  I actually usually get kind of annoyed when I do.  I know -- that's a real bitch of a thing to admit to . . . but it's true.  There's something so planned and contrived and orchestrated about the whole flower thing that I just can't get excited about it.  To me, it's one of those generically romantic things that rubs me the wrong way, kind of like weddings, which I also am not fond of.  (I actually really think weddings are a real waste of energy and money, but that's for another day and time.)

Besides, flowers from a florist are way too expensive to last only a week.  What really charms me is something special and original, like, I don't know, a big cylinder of Cheese Balls or something.  But that being said, I actually do love flowers, particularly the kind that spring from the wild and brush against your legs when you're taking a walk on a summer morning or that catch your eye at the farmstand, such as these beauties that I picked up for less than four bucks earlier this week.

They might've been the prettiest bouquet I've ever seen, probably because they were so natural resting in water, held together with a rubber band just waiting for me to pluck them from the wooden crate.  They didn't try to be prettier than they were; there was no pretense in their packaging; there was nothing planned or contrived about them -- they just were.  These are the kinds of flowers I love -- the ones that symbolize the unexpected pleasures of life, rather than the planned ones.  Kind of like life.  Because some things are better unplanned.

August 18, 2011

Gaga For Grilled Cheese

I don’t know what it is, but lately I can’t get enough grilled cheese sandwiches.  I had it for dinner Monday night; I had it for breakfast yesterday morning.  I wanted it for lunch today, but I didn’t have access to a stove.  The best grilled cheeses are made with the humblest of ingredients.  It’s not about being fancy, organic, or gourmet here; it’s about recreating the iconic childhood favorite, the way my mom (and sometimes my dad) made it on rainy days, flattened with a spatula and blackened on a cast-iron griddle.  While it’s great paired with Campbell’s Tomato Soup, in my mind there is nothing more satisfying than grilled cheese and a tall glass of ice-cold milk. 

Now that I’m an adult, I’ve revised the version my parents made for me ever so slightly.  I’ve determined that my favorite bread for grilled cheese is J.J. Nissen Canadian White.  It’s doughy, slightly sweet, moistness provides ample heft for grilling and complements nicely with the tanginess of the cheese.  As for the cheese, the star of the show, I prefer Kraft 2% American Cheese.  I am no snob when it comes to American food given that one of my favorite American dishes is a burger and fries, but my only preference here is that the cheese must be white and not orange. 

I line two pieces of cheese on one side of the bread making sure that it’s evenly distributed.  Oftentimes, I peel a piece off of one of the slices to make sure all portions of the bread are covered evenly.  On special occasions I smear on a dollop of mayonnaise to the other slice of bread before I combine the pieces.  Or, on even more special occasions I will add a little bit of peanut butter.  Call me crazy, but these condiments (never combined, mind you), take the grilled cheese to another level.  The peanut butter idea was all mine, but the mayonnaise suggestion was one I learned from an article I read in Bon Appetit.  After reading that, I bet you’ll try it. 

While my mom always used a cast-iron griddle, I only sometimes do now.  It does a great job of forming a nice crust, but in my mind the beauty of making a grilled cheese is that it’s the ultimate lazy [wo]man’s comfort food, and that should not require me to reach on top of my fridge to pull down a heavy griddle.  So, on a stainless steel 10” pan I add a tablespoon of butter and turn on the stove to let it melt.  Once the butter is a small pool I swirl it around in the pan and add the bread and cheese.  I cover the plan and let the sandwich grill on medium for 2-3 minutes and then flip it for the same amount of time. 

As soon as it’s tawny and crisp looking (a little less charcoaled than how my mom made it), I slide the grilled cheese onto a plate.  I break the ultimate food etiquette rule by not cutting it in half so the cheese remains preserved in the sandwich rather than oozing over into the plate.  That is key.  Finally, I pour myself a glass of milk, pull out a magazine (a phonebook will do too), and munch away at my grilled cheese.  So simple, so basic, and it still just doesn't get much better than this. 

August 13, 2011

Simply Satisfying

As I write this, it is 7:55 a.m. on a Saturday morning, and I am feeling especially relaxed because it’s already my second day of the weekend – of a long weekend.  Yesterday, I spent my day off doing random things like washing my floors, going to Buen Apetito for lunch, calling Garnet Hill to exchange a pair of French blue ballet flats for leopard print, running errands at a leisurely pace, catching up on my favorite blogs, watching my husband install a curved shower rod in our newly renovated bathroom, and buying local produce at my favorite farm stand. 

It was the kind of day filled with simple, seemingly mundane things that become enjoyable when there are no other distractions in the world.  When the task at hand is suddenly the most important thing, such as analyzing different trashcans at the store, for instance.  Or, at the farmer’s stand there is the possibility of making a spontaneous decision to buy a bouquet of flowers, in addition to your usual collection of tomatoes and cukes (I didn’t, but I thought about it).   And, perhaps most importantly, about what style shoe to purchase.

My Friday off was perfect in that unplanned, summertime, simple-life kind of way, right down to the perfectly breezy 74-degree air and cumulus clouds in the sky.  While I don’t need to be reminded about the beauty of a day off here and there, it’s appreciation in the simple things that make life something special, such as Mexican food and leopard print. 

August 3, 2011

In Defense of The Sandwich

Something I’ve learned about adulthood is that life gets crazy sometimes.  Not in that voluntary add-everything-you-can-think-of-to-your to-do list, such as cleaning the closets or sweeping the garage, mind you, but crazy with things that actually need to get done.  Things with deadlines.  Or, really, multiple things with multiple deadlines.  You know, important work stuff. Things that get your head spinning in multiple different directions, when you feel like you don’t even have enough time to take a sip of tea or eat your lunch, or remember to eat lunch, for that matter.  I am not the only one with a crazy busy life.  Those with careers and kids and houses – it’s all the spice of life that not only makes us crazy, but brings us a certain amount of contentment, too.  Being busy makes us feel necessary, validated, and purposeful, in a sense. 

But, when things get so busy it’s easy to to take care of ourselves a little less, such as not eating enough vegetables, exercising, or flossing.  There are certain things that I make sure to keep up with even when I’m stressed out and overworked, such as working out everyday, eating healthy, and taking my vitamins. There are other things that I tend to let slide when I've got too much going on, such as sleep.  I do my best to get enough of it, I really do, but sometimes my Type A mentality  just doesn’t let that happen, and I’m left lying wide awake in my bed worrying if I sent the correct version of a document to a client.  While maintaining a sense of normalcy in a state of chaos takes a lot of work and conscious effort, I’m learning that life is always going to be chaotic and busy.  The days of half-days at kindergarten are long since gone.  Because of that, life is too short to save the simple things for tomorrow. 

Lately I’ve been scarfing down my lunch while staring at a computer screen because I’ve just been too busy to take a lunch break.  You know the feeling, right?  But today, after countless days of working straight through, I shut my door and forced myself to take 20 minutes step away my computer while I ate my lunch and stared into space.  What a vacation that was.  I felt like such a rebel to myself!  Amazingly, the yawns that I had had all morning were cured, and I was able to get through the day with clarity and efficiency.  More importantly, the day did not wiz by in that all-work no-play blur, because I took a few minutes for Sarah.  This reminded me that taking time to step away and relax even just for a few minutes is necessary for productivity.   While rituals are important, especially in attaining a higher level of creativity and spiritual attainment, the essence of taking time to recharge is perhaps a more fundamentally base need to the functioning of the human mind, because it serves the purpose of allowing us to maintain efficiency and productivity.  To be the best versions of ourselves, sometimes we have to take a little quiet time.  Kind of like nap time for adults.   

I am fortunate for a lot of things, one of them being my job.  That is clear, as I would not take it so seriously if it didn’t fulfill me or stimulate me the way that it does.  Just the same, though, it is not my end-all be-all.  There are a lot of things I value in life; however, when things are crazy, it’s easy to forget that there is life beyond that chaos or that it is necessary to take time in the midst of  that chaos for the sheer pursuit of efficiency.   Equally as important, if not more important, though, is taking time to take care of yourself.  This takes effort and time when we feel we don't have enough of it, but which transcends into more time because life feels fuller, more complete, less rushed.  I will say, that sandwich never tasted so good.  I might try it more often.