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 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: