A long conversation with myself

I’m about to round the halfway mark. I know, because in January I bought the perfect month-to-month calendar for this project. At the top of each day, there are two numbers. Today looks like this: 179/186. It’s the 179th day of the year; there are 186 days left. I just turned the page to glance into July, and saw Monday: 183/182. I’ve written a recipe each day for almost 6 months.

But why, I ask? Why am I doing this? It’s certainly not because I have two extra hours in every day. And it’s not because I get some twisted kick out of making my husband wait for his dinner while I snap photos of it, or because I feel a dirty notebook should be a permanent fixture in every kitchen. These are things I could live without. What am I trying to prove?

I started this project because I needed a goal; I was new to town and unsure I’d ever push my way into Seattle’s food-writing world. I needed a good assignment. I was least certain about finding an outlet for recipe writing (I’d done plenty of it on Cape Cod, testing and developing recipes for cookbooks and supermarket magazines and such, and I loved it), and was curious to find the answer to the question everyone asks me: What do you eat at home? I’d often said I never cooked the same thing twice in a year’s time.

I was right about that: I haven’t made many things twice in 2007. People write me and say oh, I’ve been making recipe X a lot, and I sort of wonder what it would be like to make the same thing over and over again. Like wondering what it would be like to have red hair, or be taller.

And now we’ve lived here nine months, and I have plenty to do. I’ve just submitted what I think is my first piece about something other than food. I’m getting paid to write recipes that actually get printed, for publications I don’t consider to be stepping stones. And as the page turns to July, I wonder whether this project is worth my time. You know, the every day part. I think I’ll always write recipes here, no matter what year it is, no matter how busy I get. But do I want to keep doing it every day? Can you think of something you’ve done for an hour or two every day for the last six months that you really didn’t need to do? Television doesn’t count (but it’s probably a pretty solid metric).

Looking back, I realize I also wanted to see if I had it, the je ne sais quoi it takes to write a cookbook. But who was I kidding? I’ve known exactly what quoi is all along: time and money. And a little talent, I suppose. And, most importantly, the guts to try. It’s this last issue that hogwash helps me skirt so gracefully. This is my project. This is my priority.

But see, this is not a cookbook. It’s like a cookbook, and it’s certainly proven I have the creativity and drive to write a cookbook, but it’s not a cookbook. So why am I spending the two hours a day I need to work on a cookbook proposal writing recipes that will most likely only be seen by you? No offense. Really, I like that you’re reading. But let’s be honest, here: no one is going to knock down my door with a book contract, which means at some point, either I have to muster up the guts to try or give up. Someday, I always promise myself.

I may have started the project, which may seem big in terms of something to do with one’s spare time, as a way of avoiding writing something bigger. The project is easier than thinking what would happen if I poured energy into a proposal and couldn’t find a taker, if I got a contract and had some nasty lupus flare and couldn’t finish it, if I finished it and it didn’t sell. If it sold and I hated it. So much easier. Here, no one can tell me no.

But I don’t really want to talk about that anymore. To you, or anyone. It’s a secret, remember? Like the year before I applied to culinary school. I knew it was coming.

I might have to cut down on the honesty around here.

There are definite advantages to finishing off the year. I’m a list person, you know that. Hogwash has become a year-long list; my brain is permanently preoccupied with recipe ideas, which is a good thing. I am rarely bored with the food I cook. And, luckily, I don’t run out of ideas too often. Right now my “to try” list is about ten items long. It’s also sort of fun to have a goal, in the same way wind sprints can be fun, I suppose, if you like that sort of thing. I do. Part of me quite enjoys having a goal every day.

But the disadvantages are starting to get heavier, like a child falling asleep in my arms. Suddenly I have this weight, this mass of self-created responsibility that I can’t find a babysitter for. And she’s expensive.

See, before I started, I had this utopian vision: I’d show people how easy it is to make great food, and perhaps inspire them to cook, to bring food home from the farmers’ market and actually cook with their families, maybe sit down and talk to each other, or, God Forbid, a neighbor. I’d help people bring food back into their lives.

That’s all peachy-keen, but cooking for “people” is a lot more pricey than cooking for two. My husband loves food, but he’d be perfectly happy with rice and beans twice a week, provided ample Cholula and a massive tangle of sharp cheddar cheese. When we lived in Vail, we spent $50 a week on food. Now we – meaning I – spend more like $150, sometimes $200.

Now, don’t get me wrong; I’m the one who says there’s nothing better to spend money on than food. It’s your body. It’s your health. Right? We ate lots of Uncle Ben‘s rice in Vail, and we’re not doing that now.

But my commitment to hogwash makes it a little difficult to fold any financial goals into the picture, because I’m simply too stubborn write 365 recipes for $3 meals. I mean, who needs more than one or two recipes for rice and beans? (And, uh, I still haven’t put any advertising on my site.)

I have cheated, I’ll admit – I’d say a third of the recipes I write here for four people are actually recipes for two that I’ve doubled, to avoid expense and unwanted leftovers. (Have I told you? I’m not a big fan of leftovers. Luckily, my husband is.)

Hey, that’s another thing: the waste. Is it right of me to spend gobs of money on food when I could be perfectly healthy (for sure) and happy (probably) consuming a much simpler list of ingredients? Do my neighbors really need my twice-a-week dessert rations? Or is all this talk about living on $20 per week going to my head? So many questions.

Also, I think I’m starting to react against my own creativity. I’m craving really simple, borderline boring food. I want to eat the same thing four evenings in a row, just for the shock of it. For goodness’ sake, there are times when I’d just like to make grilled cheese sandwiches and go to bed. I’d love to sit down with a magazine after dinner, instead of rushing to the computer to download recipe images and type out notes while my husband does the dishes. He’s done so many dishes.

Last night was one of those nights. Tito’s building chairs for the deck, and has been stepping directly from the office into a sawdust-filled flurry of activity each night this week. We needed something fast, healthy, satisfying. And I haven’t been to the grocery store since last Wednesday (except to get those strawberries I still haven’t used).

This, dear reader, is what we would eat tonight, without the project. It’s also a good example of how we love to eat: out of giant multi-purpose bowls (they’re plastic, if you must know), lounging on the porch in the old nappy white chairs someone was giving away last fall, watching our pets crash into each other as they chase the same bug.

So yes, a decision must be made. Do I continue? I’m not the type to quit, but today, I seem to have lost my purpose.

I also don’t feel brave enough to stop. That might take some guts, too; I’m already halfway, almost, and besides, you’re reading this. And really, in the long run, what difference would another six months make?

Quinoa-Black Bean Bowl

Quinoa-Black Bean Bowls (for two)
Recipe 179 of 365

Simmer 1/2 cup quinoa with 1 cup chicken stock until all the liquid is absorbed, about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, chop a quarter of a red onion and saute it in a swirl of olive oil with a finely chopped jalapeno pepper until soft. Add a can of black beans, rinsed and drained, season with salt, pepper, and cumin, and cook over low heat for a few minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in a handful of chopped fresh cilantro. Pile the quinoa into two bowls, and top with the black bean mixture, a sliced avocado, plenty of shredded sharp cheddar cheese, a glug of salsa, and a dollop of sour cream.

It tastes much better this way:

Quinoa-Black Bean Bowl, the way we eat it

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16 Comments

Filed under commentary, recipe

16 responses to “A long conversation with myself

  1. J

    Sounds like you know the answer…and if you are *truly* conflicted on the answer, flip a coin. If you don’t like the side of the coin you get, that will also give you your answer.

  2. Julia S

    Hey cuz! Loved this piece, and I read you everyday. You put your keypad on one of my own issues with food obsessions: what do I will all the leftovers? Seriously, I wish the cats would start eating fruit crumbles or mexican food! Anyhow keep on keepin’ on!

  3. Jaimi

    oh please don’t stop! i read you every day. sometimes even two or three times a day when i’m trying to teach myself how flavors go together. my boyfriend and i, who are both struggling to lead the lives we dream of on a grad student’s budget, spend more money a week on a food than we do in a month on any other single thing (except rent). we love to eat and cook, and we’re both self-taught. i’ve tried cooking light and everyday food as sources of foodie inspiration, but when we ate the meals we tried from those recipes, we always ended up saying, “we’re not making this again.” i recently came upon your blog, and i’ve tried so many of your recipes. each one has taught us a lot about food, flavors, and simpler ways of putting them together. like you, i’m not one to make the same thing more than once (there’s so much to try…a person couldn’t ever get close if she ate the same meal even once a week!), and your blog has really made this goal of mine possible and real. so please, i implore you, don’t stop. and when you do finally write a cookbook, i’ll be your biggest champion, telling everyone i know to check it out.

  4. Cathy

    Maybe just shift gears and work on cocktails for awhile? Sit on the porch in the big comfy chairs, eat something simple out of the bowls, watch the bug chase derby and sip the creation of the day. Ahhhhhhhh.

  5. Sami

    Oh, I do hope you’ll continue: I enjoy your site so. Perhaps you could think of this blog as practice for the cookbook. You see, the stuff you write about here can easily be worked into something that you publish out in the “real” world – some of my fave bloggers have been using their blogs as springboards in that very way. Also, think of all of us lurkers as a built-in market for your book (also something other recently published bloggers could confirm).

    Need more convincing? Does the praise of others help replenish your supply of “spoons”? Won’t the almost-daily posting keep you honest about writing? Are you getting to know your neighbors better because of the surfeit of desserts? (Hey, if you were my neighbor I certainly WOULD want you to continue with this blog!) Oh – slightly personal, but if you are self-employed and are doing research for a book, perhaps the money you spend on materials (e.g., food) is tax-deductible…

    Then again, you don’t want to wear yourself out, now do you? As Cathy said above, why not shift gears and give us some simple stuff? I liked today’s recipe, and wouldn’t mind others like it. My husband and I really don’t cook meals during the week – we get home so late, you see. I would appreciate a few quick-and-dirty recipes from you kitchen because, like Jaimi, I find your blog a source of foodie inspiration.

    (And, as she said, I’ll spread the word ’bout the book when it comes out – how’s that for an incentive? Two books sold already, and it’s not written yet!)

  6. Jess, I’d hate to see you daily scrumptions go away, but I’d hate to see burn-out, too!! I agree with the other responders – switch gears and get psyched up about something different and give your self a break. Everyone needs a vacation, especially the self-employed!!

  7. Sheesh, if I had known my inner tennis match would get you going, I’d have shared it a lot sooner. Thanks, guys. Unfortunately, Sami, it doesn’t work that way – praise of others tends to make me work more, which isn’t usually a good thing in spoon terms. And the cocktail idea would be genius, if I liked cocktails more . . .so quick and dirty it will be. Actually, my husband is threatening to write a few . . .sigh. Will keep you updated, of course.

    But, uh, thanks for your advance support. I hope I have the privilege to need it someday!

    And BBB: SCRUMPTIONS is the best new noun evah.

  8. Pingback: I saw the sign « hogwash

  9. Sheryl Lajoie

    Jess,
    Just wanted you to know how much I enjoy your recipes and blog. I rave about the site to my friends and try many of the recipes. And even make them more than once. I take the cashew shortbread whenever I visit a friend.
    I hate to encourage you to do more than you can handle. Take some breaks. I’ll be there when you’re ready to come back.
    Sheryl ( Scott’s Mom and Cape reader)

  10. Okay, I had to close the window halfway through reading this yesterday. The part about being brave enough to try something and fail? About sort of hoping (but maybe never saying out loud that you’re hoping) that someone will walk over to you or call you or email you or whatever and say, “Hey, ready to write that book? Here’s your giant cash advance so you can safely quit your job and do it”? Oh so very much true for me as well, only my words are just words, with no recipes attached.

    And also, this is a recipe I can and will make and eat. Yum. Thanks for your posts.

  11. Hey, I’ll be happy as long as you keep posting your yummy recipes every once in a while…even if it’s not every day! I love knowing that I’m trying a recipe from a gal that’s been transplanted into Seattle just like me (although I’ve been here since 2003), and your quinoa black bean bowl recipe was TO DIE FOR! I subbed brown rice for the quinoa, added in some garlic and used a bunch of mango-peach salsa. DELISH!! Thanks for sharing with us, no matter what you decide to do!

  12. Glad you liked it, Laura! Mango-peach salsa was a great idea!

  13. just found your blog, and really am enjoying myself poking around here. i do love dinner from a bowl – there’s nothing better, i think – and i intend to make my own version this coming week. thanks!

  14. Lisa

    Found your blog just recently when surfing for recipes for chicken stock and love the way you write about food and photograph them. You do an amazing job at making the exotic sound familiar and accessible (so many food blogs just put me off with advanced recipes for gourmet and eclectic dishes). In your writing, there is something that seems so pure, simple and wholesome about food- that there is truth to be found in food.

    Food is philosophy, and your philosophy is full of goodness. :)

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