Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Four Hour Stew

It has come to my attention that we (as a culture) are too busy to do anything. That sounds, at first, to be rather ironic, but I assure you it is not. Modern convenience, while a blessing in some ways like dishwashers and ballpoint pens, has spoiled us, freed us up, and caused us to want everything NOW! And, heaven forbid we say no! We simply must join every committee, social club, agree to every potluck. Even family gatherings have become obligatory, hurried through, survived. Our kids have to play soccer, take Tai Chi, ballet, and join 4-H. We have to accept the nomination for treasurer of our bridge club, have our hair done every Thursday, go to the gym precisely at noon and hurry up with that order, I have to pick up the kids, the laundry, the dog from boot camp! I have even heard myself complain that I simply cannot be expected to check my email everyday. I don’t have time! Dear Lord, even instant messaging and DSL are too slow!

This revelation is nothing new. Countless articles and books have been written about it, proclaiming the dangers of doing too much and the side effects of stress. How to slow down has become a catch phrase for pop culture and yet no one seems to have time.

“I’ll slow down when my kids are grown, the dog dies, the boss gets abducted back to his home planet.”

Right.

Just like you’d really love to learn to knit but you just don’t have time. To both I say this -and I do apologize for the harshness of it: if you really wanted to slow down (or knit, or raise Latvian goats), you’d do it. You’d find a way, make it priority, make the necessary sacrifices.

This, however, requires the cultivation of two very (very) unpopular but very (very) important characteristics: discipline and patience..

Wait! Don’t stop reading. I know. I understand. You want to slow down NOW. You want ten easy (and quick) steps to relax, knit some socks and make Latvian goat cheese all in a Saturday afternoon. Well, if that’s what you’re looking for, you probably should stop reading. You’ve got a lot of work to do. That’s a book you’re going to have to write yourself!

As for me, I would like to write a book as an answer, or attempt to answer, a very pressing issue which was made quite clear to me while researching one of my favorite subjects: food! It started while perusing recipes. I love to cook and I’m always on the look out for some new gastronomic delights to concoct in the test kitchen of my own home. As I scrolled and clicked and scrolled and clicked, I began to notice a trend. The most popular recipes were usually labeled “quick”, “easy”, and “fast”. Do I want to spend twelve continuous hours making one dish which will be inhaled within ten minutes? Of course not. I’m all for reviving the old ways and traditions, but I’m also thankful for the attachment on my mixer that will beat egg whites to peak-perfect perfection.

What saddened me, and really had a hand in spawning this post, was a comment made by a well known food personality about how no one (NO ONE) has the time to prepare a certain delicious dish at home anymore and therefore it should be present in restaurants. The odd feeling of sadness (the same kind that permeates your heart when a beloved pet dies or you discover your favorite coffee shop just got shoved off the cliff by the big boys) crept in and was further fueled when I came across a recipe for stew which took no less than four hours to make.

Believe it or not, I was elated. A four hour stew! Wow! That’s got to taste amazing. That’s the difference between chili started at 6:30 and eaten at 7 and chili started at 4 and savored at 8. Trust me; four hour chili tastes way better than thirty minute chili (and even better after it’s sat for 24 hours in the fridge!). Can you cook great meals in under ½ and hour? Absolutely, and usually, that’s all we have time for or, more importantly, all we want to spend in the kitchen so we can concentrate on other things like family, friends, and Latvian goat raising. However, and this is a big however, should every meal be rushed, quick, pre-packaged? Absolutely not!

Spices were meant to infuse, to marinate, to permeate a dish. Food is meant to be savored not sucked down with too much salt and not enough conviction. Kind of reminds me of life. When was the last time you smelled a rose because it was there, heard a bird sing, felt the beating of your own heart, paused long enough to watch the sunset turn the sky into a dazzling array of colors?
I have made it my mission (goal, resolution, quest) for this new year to really slow down, take a good, honest look at life and all I desire. Put my priorities straight and do what it takes to get them in order. And along the way, I hope to finally, really, truly, once and for all, take a crack at all those “if only’s” (and cook some really slow meals to boot!

Life is full of obligations, have to’s, want to’s. Sometimes we really can’t say no. I understand and I’m certainly not advocating irresponsibility, passivity, laziness, nonchalance, or disinterest in the lives and well-being of others. I am suggestion, however, we take our lives back. Enjoy the things we normally take for granted and re-discover that which we have either forgotten or over-looked because we were too pressed for time to see it.

Maybe, just maybe, if we make up our minds, garner some support (even if it’s just that herd of Latvian goats), pull back our shoulders, and stand firm, we can slowly but surely wean ourselves off of instant gratification, bursting schedules, exploding engagement calendars and drive thru induced hypnosis. And maybe, just maybe, with a little patience, some discipline, and a bit of good old fashioned persistence and sacrifice, we’ll be able to create time for what really matters to us.

Life was meant to be savored.

Every.

Blessed.

Breath.

Four hour stew anyone?

Monday, January 12, 2009

Mornings with the Earl

I am not a morning person. I have tried very hard to be. Every January 1st, my new year’s resolution list begins with the phrase: get up early! Nature, however, will have her way. I am a night owl. I love the solitude of the night, the tranquility that enfolds the land as mortals prepare to sleep; the sky erupting in pin-points of poetry! The stars, the moon, are all there, parading about in all their majesty for the few eyes that may pause and partake of their wondrous feast. I get giddy at twilight. The sun sinks below the tree line and mist creeps over the grass. Suddenly, just as the lamps are switched on in every home up and down the street, so too my creativity begins to crackle and hum with an electric energy I cannot explain nor control. I am alive at night! No interruptions means my creative juices are free to flow without constraint, without pause. I enjoy the sun; but there’s something deeply comforting about the night.

Alas, however, duty calls. Duty and convention. The world runs by modern time-clocks, not natural body rhythms. Up with the sun, lunch at noon, bedtime soon after dark. I, at least at this time, am no exception. I’ve had to adapt as we all have, to find my own little ways to make life work. I’ve had to discover the little tricks and quirks that my particular dilemma requires. And no greater assistant to getting me going in the morning have I found than a steaming cup of Earl Grey.

What is it about this regally named, oddly flavored tea that captures my imagination and stimulates my brain cells in a way that not even a cup of espresso can compete? To be honest, I’m not sure. Perhaps it’s the romance of the name and the feeling I am dining with royalty that peeks my interest and allows me to open up to the day at hand. Maybe it’s the smell, a rich, deep fragrance of black tea and bergamot, a mysterious fragrance, almost overpowering, but intriguing. It draws me in, begs me to sip, and words it’s magic on my sense. I have discovered that it is not as well loved as the more sweet and fruity teas. In fact, it is quite bitter and not at all mild. It shakes you awake, calling you to attention. It is never rough. If am early morning wake up call with a good bit of British grit is what you need, pick up the Earl. If not, try the more meditative Zen of a green.

Black tea is meant to be steeped about three to five minutes long. After that, it can take on a bitter flavor. But I have found that to fully enjoy the flavor of the Earl, to fully grasp all his nuances, all his peculiarities, to fully wake up and get rolling, I put no timer on my bag in hot water. I leave it there, let it infuse the water until it’s hard to tell where the bag ends and the water begins.

It is a dark tea, amber colored in the daylight, but black as coffee at night. The smell is pungent but, given the chance, will draw you in until you can say no. It goes well with milk or cream and, surprisingly, with a dash of lavender. I’ve had it with sugar and without, with honey and without, with lemon and without. Every additive adds a little more depth to it’s richness, rounding out it’s subtleties, never overpowering, always twisting the flavor just out of the reach of description, confounding and frustration but always, always delighting.

There is almost nothing a day can throw at me that I cannot face with a hot cup of Earl Grey at my side. If a day proves to be exceptionally long, I brew two cups. And I have found the fragrance alone to be a wonderful agent of relaxation at the end of a long, arduous day. Though I turn to the Earl for morning encouragement, I’ve also discovered he is well suited to those late nights spent writing, when all the world is asleep and it is just me and the computer, blue screen humming, fingers clacking across letters, across worlds. Even then, in the silence, I turn to the Earl, savoring the flavor, and thankful knowing he will get me through another night, and still be there come the first rays of dawn to command my sense to attention for another day.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Happy New Year

Welcome!

How many times have you found yourself at the start of a brand new year thinking, "This year, I'm going to get it right! This year I'm going to make time for what is important, for what really matters", only to find yourself, on December 31, berating yourself for falling short and making the same resolutions?

I know I have spent many a year trying to do things "right", trying to "make" things happen. This fight or flight existence has made for many a frustrating year until I finally discovered something: life was never meant to be a drudgery, was never meant to be filled with boredom, with worry and woe. Why compete with others? If what you want out of life isn't "par" with what the neighbors want, why work yourself sick just to achieve it? Trust me, working just to impress others isn't worth it. I've done it myself for far too long.

This blog is just a branch of the tree I've planted for this new year. Among my goals -to finally finish a trilogy I've been working on, to actually establish an exercise routine I'll enjoy enough to continue, and to FINALLY move into our own home- I plan to slow down. Take in the sights of this journey called life. Smell the snow in the rolling, winter clouds (even if never a snow flake doth fall). Cultivate herbs and take the time to build that table I've been wanting to build since last year.

Learning to slow down is not a simple task in this day of "more is better" and "hurry, hurry, hurry". In fact, I'd be willing to say that slowing down is an art, learned throughout life and cultivated through practice. Hence the title of this blog.

I hope to update at least once a week. What will it contain? Anything really. Ideas, notes, reflections, anything pertaining to cultivating this "art of slow" that has wrapped it's quiet fingers around my heart and gently urged me towards a more fulfilling life.

I hope you enjoy stopping by often and, above all, I hope the lessons I learn in this life long journey will somehow help you along in yours.

Cheers!
Jen