Between Everything and Nothing

There is a space between feeling that we can accomplish everything and that we can accomplish nothing. I have been to both extremes and am currently trying to figure out how exactly to settle in that middle space. It is the space where we accomplish something. I am actually finding this more and more difficult to figure out.

Generally, it happens like this: I watch some documentary or hear about some cause or get some random and brilliant idea. Then, I get excited. It is a motivation that springs up from somewhere in the depths of my being and I never knew it was there. Due to this excitement, this spring from which I had never realized I could drink and feel alive, I set myself on a path towards a new kind of excellence. I go gangbusters. Then, I stop. A dead stop. Because it is too much that I have tried to take on and accomplish. I am simply overwhelmed by my zeal.

This is what I mean. This is the space where I try to accomplish everything. I try to take on what seems like everything in the whole world. Every good cause, every fight against injustice, every measure to save the earth, every plight of sorrow, every move towards better health, a better tomorrow, a better me, etc. You see that this is clearly too much, right?

In the dead stop that my overwhelming zeal causes, I meet the space where nothing is accomplished. This space has its own set of problems, as well. Most of which are obvious. The ultimate issue of doing nothing, however, is actually the deadening of my own spirit. It is not that I instantly become a bad person. Not at all. It is that in this failure that has come from my overwhelmed zeal, that is exactly what I end up feeling like: a failure.

When we feel like failures, we do fail. Unfortunately, it is a law of nature. Productive people usually feel more productive and have more energy (within reason), thus creating for themselves a cyclical productivity. People who feel like a failure, feed their failure. Thus creating a similar negative cycle.

The key is recognizing what you are able to accomplish and what matters enough to you to actually move toward it, and then balancing the two. There are many things that my eyes are now opened to that they never have been before. Some of these things excite me to the very core. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be a part of whatever movement is happening. The struggle for me, however, is that I tend to lose sight of the fact that I can’t win every battle or I approach every issue as if my life depended on it. Do not do this (unless, of course, your life really does depend on it).

Please do not misunderstand me; there are many things worth diving head first into and giving your all to. What I really mean is that it is more important to take a step in the right direction and keep walking than to run straight into it, only to be flung back to your starting place. There is no shame in not giving your all to everything. However, it is worth considering if you are giving nothing of yourself to anything worthy and good, whether for yourself or others.

Progress and balance are key words. Keep moving forward, keep finding good things to give yourself to, but maintain your balance along the way.

The space between everything and nothing is something. You may not be saving the world, but doing something is still something. It is still a step in the right direction. Maybe there will come a day when you realize that your balanced progress has come so far that you are actually accomplishing the everything you once dreamed of.

Christmas in July Salad

Who doesn’t like the thought of gifts? Pretty much no one. Especially at Christmas. But there is a whole different kind of gift we are given in the summer. That gift is produce. Fruits and veggies burst forth from the earth like a descriptor I feel a little uncomfortable describing… Anyway. This is the best gift I could be given. Those who know me are pretty well acquainted with the fact that I don’t really like giving or receiving gifts. I feel a little awkward about the exchange. It’s never really even at Christmas, and unexpected gifts just make me feel confused and awkward, albeit thankful and loved. The only gifts I enjoy without stigma is the birthday gift. Except that people remember what they got for you and then you are expected to reciprocate…. Oy, all of this is giving me a headache.

Let’s leave it to the simple fact that produce is my favorite gift. Without exception. So, every summer, every farmer’s market, every trip to the fresh section of the grocery store feels like a holiday to me. I’m not really exaggerating, either.

Today, in my quest for food, I stumbled upon making this. It is what I will call Christmas in July Salad. Partially for its beautiful color, partially for the joy that comes from finally digging into this gift of produce.

Christmas in July Salad

1/2 head Romaine lettuce, torn

1/3 C. Long Grain Rice + 2/3 C. Water to prepare

1 Roma Tomato, diced

2 Strawberries, hulled and diced

1 Lemon, zest and juice

1 T. Chives, minced

1 T. Rosemary, minced

2 T. Olive Oil

1 t. Sesame Oil

Salt and Pepper

1. Heat a saucepan with a little olive oil and the sesame oil. Pour in the rice and stir until all the grains are coated. Add water, boil, reduce heat, cover, cook until fluffy. When rice is finished, salt and pepper to taste and put in refrigerator to take the steam off. Cool until whatever temperature you desire. I like my rice still a touch warm. It wilts the lettuce just enough to be silky.

2. Prepare a bed of lettuce by tearing the lettuce into manageable pieces. Toss with some olive oil, a squeeze of lemon juice and some salt and pepper.

3. Toss together tomato, strawberries, lemon zest, rosemary, and chives in a bowl.

4. Put it all together by layering the rice atop the lettuce. Make a well in the center of the rice for the red fruits to rest in. Slice a lemon to garnish. Enjoy.

Happy eating!

Potato Corn Salad

We have briefly spoken about my love for all things pasta salad. Potato salad is a different story for me, though. I love a simple food. For some reason, I have this idea that potato salad looks simple in form, but is indeed very difficult in compilation. Too many moving parts and pieces. BUT. That’s not really true. It’s just a cop-out.

Truth is, I only partially like it. Potatoes are fine, but not usually my starch of choice. The problem for me lies in the dressing.

Yes, I know. Most potato salad lovers could bathe in the dressing. It’s what they love most. I just can’t get behind it, however. I generally find it to be too bland or too tangy or too thick or…. you get the idea.

Earlier today I planted my herb garden and did some trimming back to ensure greater success. So, I had some lovely herbs to use right away. And one potato. And an ear of corn that needed to find a dish before it found the trash. I sucked up my slight potato salad diversion and did something so completely different that I may never feel wishy-washy about potato salad again. Here are the goods from the garden:

I began by formulating a dressing I would love. I enjoy a mustard-based dressing. I’m not so wild about a mayonnaise-based one. I find it to have a strange mouth feel and generally boring flavor. However, I know that mustard dressing can have its own flaws. It can be too sharp and tangy and kill the salad. The beauty of any salad is that it is many flavors layered atop each other. These layered flavors should complement each other with ease and grace and leave you wanting more. And you can eat more. Because it is salad. And usually good for you.

Potato Corn Salad

1-2 Potatoes depending upon size and how many you want to feed

1 Ear of Corn

2-3 T. Chives, chopped

2-3 T. Basil, torn

2-3 T. Cilantro, torn

Handful of lettuce, use something light. I used butter lettuce.

Dressing:

3 T. Yellow mustard

1 T. Honey

1 T. Deli/brown mustard

3 T-1/4 C. Olive Oil

1 Small clove of garlic, minced into paste

Pinch of salt, pepper, cumin

1. Cut potatoes into even sized pieces, whatever you desire. Cook them until soft, with a bite. This is not as far as you want to cook them for mashed potatoes. Or that is what you will have. Drain potatoes and put in freezer or fridge to cool.

2. Boil ear of corn just until color starts to brighten. Raw corn is perfectly fine to eat and you want a bit of bite and a bit of sweetness simultaneously. This is achieved by not cooking corn to doneness. Cut the corn off the ear and toss with the cooled potatoes.

3. The dressing is easy. Mostly. If you have ever tried to make hollandaise, mayonnaise or vinaigrette, you have come to compete with the laws of nature. These kinds of dressings are known as Emulsions. There are a few different types. They are easy to “break”. Some do not come back from the broken state, like hollandaise. The key is to whisk quickly while pouring slowly. In this case, start with the yellow mustard and pour the olive oil into it while whisking. This mixture will be your base. Once it has come together and added a bit of volume, you are free to add any other ingredients and begin to season. Any ratio of mustard to oil works, as long as you like the flavor and follow the rules of emulsifying.

The left is obviously broken. But the one on the right is lovely. I saved some because it will be a lovely honey mustard dipping sauce in the future.

4. Toss the potato and corn with the dressing. Taste and season for salt. Add the herbs and toss. Taste once more for a balanced palate. Serve atop the lovely bed of greens you prepared earlier.

Happy creating!

The Herb Garden

Okay, so it’s not a garden. It’s a window box with options.

3 days ago I watched a documentary that I cannot stop talking about. No. I mean, really. My friends and family are probably ready for me to shut up about it. But, tough luck.

The film Ingredients inspired me to a level that I haven’t been inspired in a while. There are things I have been interested in and have even been a natural part of my growing up process, but I have never considered them to be a “life path”. These things I would be speaking of are in the general “gardening, eating local, farmer’s market” genre. If you can’t tell that I’m that sort by the way this blog is shaping up, well…I don’t know what to tell you.

ANYWAY, Ingredients was all about farming and the local community. It was about teaching kids to garden and eat the vegetables they’ve grown. It was about our health and well-being as individuals and as a society. It was about a new way of living that is, in fact, a very old way of living. It was about the way things SHOULD be done and what some very fantastic (albeit few and far between) people are doing about it.

There are so many things I could say about the particulars of how it inspired me, but I think the post would go on far too long to keep your attention. Let’s say the inspiration went from a very large, hopeful, thought-provoked pile of long-term ideas all the way down to right now, today, this minute. And what I could do with today.

What I did with “today” was plant an herb garden. I have grown a few herbs in the past, but I didn’t really know what I should be growing and what I would actually use. I didn’t know the best way to take care of them. Then I moved. I started over with Basil and Cilantro but my Cilantro didn’t do so well. Now that my Basil has turned into a lovely and hearty plant, I thought it an appropriate time to start afresh.

Here’s my picture book:

After a little hesitation, I decided to add my Basil in with the bunch. I was afraid of crowding them. However, it worked out well because I had barely enough soil, even with the Basil. I will also be moving again soon, so having them all in one container makes for easier transportation.

Herbs are so inexpensive and great for adding a little bit of organic flavor to anything you are whipping up in the kitchen. Go buy some and let that green thumb of yours have a little fun!

Happy planting!

Green & White Pasta Salad

I am a bit of an odd duck. I’m okay with this. I know this. It does not surprise me when I do something others find to be…different. To this end, it is also why I am brilliant. (I’m not that brilliant, but for the sake of blogging and the fact that you don’t know me, let’s pretend I am.) So, I constantly find myself in the kitchen saying “what can I do with…?” and naming off anywhere between 3-17 random ingredients, which is how this all began…

Today I was the recipient of some very fresh, wonderfully delightful mint. I also grow basil at home. I was trying to think of how to use my herbs to the best of their ability when I remembered I had an untouched cucumber in the fridge. 10 minutes later, I was thinking, whisking, concocting, seasoning, and in the end, enjoying a lovely new summer salad.

I imagine this would be great with dill instead of mint, or fennel instead of onion, or lemon instead of lime juice, etc. That is THE THING I love most about pasta salad. It’s simplicity and versatility keeps me coming back.

Green & White Pasta Salad

2 C. Pasta – my preference was a basic egg noodle

1 Cucumber

1/4 C. Onion

For the dressing:

3 T. Lime Juice

1/4 C. Olive Oil

2-3 T. Mint, minced

2-3 T. Basil, minced

1 t. Honey

Pinch of salt and pepper

Optional: a few drops/dollops of… (I added all 3)

  • Green Tabasco
  • Sesame Oil
  • Horseradish

1. Cook your pasta properly. That means bringing your water all the way up to a boil before you drop in your pasta and using a healthy amount of salt (about  1 T per cup of pasta…yes, that much).

2. Peel, de-seed, and halve the cucumber. Slice both cucumber and onion paper-thin. Toss with the pasta and refrigerate.

3. For the dressing, combine everything in a mortar and pestle. My measurements are guesstimates since I just made it up. Season to taste, toss with pasta mixture and refrigerate.

Remember, if it’s “missing something”, chances are, you need to up the salt content. There’s no need to go overboard with salt, but it is also easy to forego, thinking that it’s not important. However, salt balances the palate and brings flavors to life.

Happy eating!

Listen

No matter where and what you choose to create with your energy, I notice there are two kinds of people. There are Music Listeners and Music Forgetters. Music Listeners don’t do anything without a steady stream of tunes within earshot. Music Forgetters, however, get moving in a direction and then suddenly it dawns on them that they are without any kind of listening stimulation. This is where I fall. I would guess that you would be hard pressed to find anyone who does not at least remotely like music. So, it is not that we, the Music Forgetters of the world, dislike music. It is usually much more complicated. Usually we have so much information or so many thoughts going on that, truthfully, we don’t notice the lack of music until we have slowed down a bit. This is not a bad thing.

No matter where you find yourself, I would encourage you to switch it up while you are creating. If you listen to music instinctively, take time to be quiet and let whatever comes to the surface guide you. And if you tend to forget the music, turn it up intentionally. Maybe you’ll find it frees your mind a little bit to get lost in the music instead of your thoughts.

I just stumbled upon this song today thanks to She Blogs About Music:

Happy listening!