Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Be careful what you resolve

Pumpkin caramel tart from Bon Appetit -- I was going to write about this, but something fascinating happened in world news, can't remember what, and I got distracted. It was tasty, but I would stick with regular pumpkin pie.
About two months ago, I started listening to a time management book called Getting Things Done that the writer Atul Gawande had once mentioned liking. It's an earnest, sort of dorky organization manual intended for harried business executives, which I’m most definitely not. But I absolutely loved the book. If you’ve spent time with me recently, you’ve heard my infomercial. The book has changed my life. I really did just type that. I have more to say about Getting Things Done, but of relevance today is the fact that it got me to start reading the newspaper. 

To be clear, the book itself isn’t pro-newspaper. The book simply encourages you to take inventory of everything that you want, must, or should be doing and “capture” it all in writing. Everything. This can take several days and my list was unbelievable. But the author was correct -- once my 10,000 item to-do list was captured on paper and things properly filed, I felt unburdened. And somehow, without even really trying, I started getting things done. 

Like reading the newspaper. It always bothered me that I didn’t read the newspaper very carefully. I could not have told you with full confidence what ISIS was a few months ago and I felt bad about that. I felt ill informed because I was ill informed. But one day not long after I finished listening to Getting Things Done, I started reading the New York Times, pretty much cover to cover.
Delicious marionberry pie milkshake from Shari's, a chain restaurant, that I was going to write about until I got distracted by something in the news. They put a whole slice of pie into the blender with the vanilla ice cream. Highly recommend. 
Soon I could tell you not just about ISIS, but about the election in Myanmar and Bernie Sanders and Paul Ryan and the unflattering things George H. W. Bush said about Donald Rumsfeld. Oh, I was so proud. Full of newfound self-respect. It was exciting, too. I started having opinions. For a few days I was livid about the overuse of arbitration clauses. Then I was loathing Donald Trump. Feeling sorry for Jeb Bush. Pondering the campus protests. I began looking for more information on my favorite topics online. I start reading tweets and political websites and -- best of all -- comment threads. I love comment threads.
The grossest looking dinner I've ever served. I was going to write about it, but . . . 
I didn’t feel bad about not reading the newspaper anymore. 

Instead, I felt bad about neglecting my blog. 

And how are the two connected? 

I don’t know about you, but there’s always some narrative running in my head. I’m always thinking something through. Earlier this fall, when I wasn’t otherwise mentally engaged, I was thinking a lot about Gabrielle Hamilton, composing blog posts as I drove around or washed dishes or did the rowing machine at the gym. This all changed when I started reading the newspaper. It was hard to focus on Gabrielle Hamilton because I was too busy thinking about riveting topics like the Christakis Halloween email
Oddly, you don't season the lamb before you wrap it in the won ton skins.
This could not go on. I love this blog. I do not want it to die. I decided I could will myself back into caring about food. Monday night I made the manti -- tasty little Turkish dumplings -- from Prune and a strange Pennsylvania Dutch cracker pudding dessert that I’d been wanting to try for eons. It was an interesting dinner. Monday night I thought: I’m back! Tomorrow I’ll do a blog post.

Yesterday morning, I sat down to write, but somehow an hour passed and I was still reading about whether it was bigoted to be more engaged with the carnage in Paris than the carnage in Beirut. Then I had to drive down to help my aunt clean out my grandmother’s house. Ordinarily I would have been writing the blog post in my head as I drove, but all I really wanted to do was find some provocative political radio show where they were talking about Syria, maybe, or Ben Carson, or the resignation of the Claremont McKenna dean.

I am sorry to say this, but there's no way around it: Once you start paying attention, current events are more interesting than cracker pudding. 
I was sure I took a picture of the finished dumplings, but I can't find it. 
But I'm going to try to find my way back. Here goes: The toasted manti from Prune involve cutting wonton skins into quarters and filling each with a lamb meatball smaller than a marble. You toast these in the oven then cook them in canned beef broth and serve with garlicky yogurt and some spiced butter. Owen said they were “too spicy.” Mark said they were “flavorless.” I liked them a lot, but for obvious reasons I'm not making them again.

To make cracker pudding, you cook some milk, egg yolks, sugar, Saltine cracker crumbs, and flaked coconut into a thick custard and then fold in beaten egg whites. Eat warm. Like coconutty tapioca pudding. Good, but not great, and it looked like curdled vomit. (Sorry.) I would not make this again.

As you can see, my heart was not in that account of Monday's dinner. I can't fake it. But I just made a bargain with Owen and holding up my end involves cooking two appalling dishes he found on BuzzFeed. This is one of them. If I can't think of something to say about waffle cupcakes, I really do need to pack it in.

68 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. Try not to let this blog die, it would be a crying shame! I really enjoy your writing and the comments feed.
    That fish looks like it has an iguana's head btw. Maybe I'll run into you next week. Coming up there.

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    1. Come by! And see our ridiculously fancy new front yard.

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  3. Great post, Tipsybaker. Your energy and enthusiasm are innervating. Keep on writin'.

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  4. I feel as if you have begun living my life. I am glued, with super-Velcro, to a number of politics blogs, with the food blogs as a frivolous sideline. This just means that I too know about the horrible injustice of arbitration clauses and those poor Yazidi women and so forth. And I assume the gruesome dinner is one I have also served, the trout from Prune? I learned how to butterfly a trout, and if I make them again, which is likely, because they tasted quite good, I am going to just take the damn heads off from the get-go. They fell off anyway, at the table, which is . . . how you say? . . . unappetitlich. I liked the manti, too, but they were a lot of work, I felt. Fiddly work. I agree with your pal Two BTS, I like this blog, and wish I had discovered it earlier.

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    1. Did the world get more interesting or something????

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  5. Okay, but I REALLY want to know how Owen and Mark reacted to the whole fish adorning their plates.

    I understand if your heart is no longer in writing this blog, but I would miss you and your cooking and your stories very, very much.

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    1. Owen and mark liked and ate the trout. I was the one who was sickened by the sight. Which goes to show ... Something.

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  6. This is one of my favorites of your posts ever. And I've read, like, most of your posts ever. I rarely say anything but I am a superfan. :) And what I love about your blog is that it is about both food and other stuff, cooking as it fits into the context of a larger life, and you are honest and funny about both. So, if you have a new passion, go ahead-- this is what it means to not be boring, one develops new passions. You won't stop cooking. Cooking is life.

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  7. Let me just start by saying I was afraid that you were getting tired of the blog. That's understandable, but it would be a minor tragedy for a lot of us. Having said that, you must follow your own road, and we all know that. It seems at times that you don't realize that your followers love your writing as well as your kitchen adventures and are interested no matter the subject. Food talk is good, but so is other talk. I have never found any of your posts boring! I am a big admirer of Gawande(as well as you), so I will have to get this book! I am so overwhelmed by my to do list these days that I feel that it is the boss of me rather than the other way around. Not at good feeling!

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    1. Yes to everything beckster says.

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    2. Oh, that book is going to help with the to-do list. It's oddly powerful. I can't really explain how. Let me know what you think.

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  8. I will definitely check out that book. I have also been following the news and am probably the most well-informed I've ever been. The knowledge IS addictive. Sometimes I have to step away for a few days for a mental health break, though, so possibly consider that if you start feeling wound up from all the bad news. I also enjoy your writing no matter what you're writing about (and, in fact, am not so much of a cook...).

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    1. I get in these obsessions with one particular news story. A week later it's another. Roller coaster!

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  9. I was fearing a family crisis or worse since you haven't written often, so I am relieved that that is not the case but fearful that this blog's days are numbered. SO many of us are addicted to your writing. Oh, please, re-write your list of stuff you want to do and put this blog at the top!

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  10. I am feeling awfully selfish, as I sit here with my copy of Prune, ready to dive in and re-read your comments thus far. I feel that your writing is so important, to me and to the world, and I don't want to stop reading what you have to say. I agree that I really don't care what you write about....I just love your writing style and can't really get enough. So, I would miss reading about your adventures in cooking, but of course you must follow your heart.

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    1. Thank you. I'm not stopping, I just sometimes run out of things to say and I can't imagine why anyone wants to read about what I cooked for dinner, year after year -- and I'm NOT fishing for compliments!! I think you can understand.

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  11. Also, waffle cupcakes? With yellow cake mix? Really? You poor dear.

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  12. I've already ordered this book on your recommendation. I take your reviews seriously, and thoroughly benefitted from the Tidying book you also recommended. Can't wait to be more productive! LOVE Atul Gawande too.

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    1. I hope you are not disappointed. I did mention that it's a little dorky/nerdy. You'll have to tell me what you think.

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  13. Your comments about newspapers reminded me of these articles in the Guardian a while back ...

    http://www.theguardian.com/media/2013/apr/12/news-is-bad-rolf-dobelli
    http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/apr/18/rolf-dobelli-ideas-news-dangerous

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    1. Those are such interesting stories. I have to say, the anti-news story made a lot of sense to me and seems stronger in its particulars than the rebuttal. I think the solution (for me) is probably to dedicate a certain amount of time to reading a fairly sober newspaper every day and that's it. There is definitely something junkie-like about my behavior when I latch onto a story and follow it obsessively online. Thank you so much for these links.
      Fascinating, also, the bit about the professor who says he can tell the point in student essays when they lose a train of thought to check their phones. Not sure how he can be sure that's what's happening, but I have no doubt that distractions have changed the way kids write.

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  14. A really important insight on how creative work needs empty time for musing. These days it's hard not to use that time thinking about Paris and the elections (ugh), but please leave a corner of it for musings on this blog, no matter what you decide to write about.

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    1. You are right about all of this.

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  15. Was his assignment to illustrate a protracted marathon? Had a delicious drink out a few weeks ago and thought it might be up your alley: http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/bees-knees-cocktails-2012. I've had many since. I hope you continue to share your thoughts here because I love your insight and have been inspired by you countless times. But I understand...

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    1. I've had one bees knees -- after my surprise 40th birthday party. Memorable.
      The guy from the tutoring group Owen goes to sent us that picture. It was very heartening to see how seriously he is taking his geometry homework.

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  16. Your blog is my escape from the news. I gave up reading the NYTimes cover to cover after 9/11. I now only read the Wednesday food section, online. Call me shallow. But sane.

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    1. That's how I've been most of my life, with periodic episodes of "conscientiousness." Movie reviews, book reviews, TV reviews, and food.

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  17. Oh, thank you, thank you! Not just for coming back, but also for the assurance that others out there are on the same plane, news-wise. But I confess that this is my one-and-only regular blog. You're a delightful writer with an adventurous, always interesting life. Add to that genuine sentiment and humor plus good recommendations and always intriguing and reliable recipes. Merci again, and for the sake of this blog, please beware adding the Economist to your diet! ;)

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    1. The Economist! It's been years. But now that you've mentioned it. . .
      I also tried making myself read the New Yorker, which I'd been neglecting. I think that might be the straw that breaks my back.

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  18. Congrats on having the patience to make that recipe. And you are far from alone in guilt over national events vs blogging. But without people like you, we'll go mad from the horrors of the world. We need both. But maybe not this manti.

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  19. I love your writing. I am fascinated by your food choices and recipes. Without this blog I fear I'd be a boring eater.

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  20. I echo your experience of having limited mental energy for things. I too have a blog and find that if I am occupied with other things, not even the news but a good novel or my French classes, I use up my "ideas" energy and the blog suffers. I find it heartening that your posts come and go in their frequency -- your blog posts happen in real time, amidst all the other goings-on in the world and life. I will happily read whatever you find the time/energy/inspiration to write!

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    1. I have 3 weeks to read this new novel City On Fire which is 900+ pages long before I have to take it back to the library. I'm wondering how I'm go manage that, plus newspaper, plus blog, plus New Yorker, plus podcasts, plus life. . . I wish I did not like to sleep so much.

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  21. I think it's safe to say you could write about anything here and we readers would be eagerly waiting and avidly devouring your words. This is a great post, by the way. So much smarter and more honest than the usual food blog chorus of "in these troubled times, we can find comfort in simple things."

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    1. That's funny. I know what you mean about the "comfort in simple things" storyline. I'm trying to think if I've ever used it.

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  22. I love your blog mostly for your writing. Food just happens to be the subject but you could write about anything and I would read it! Your blog is such a breath of fresh air in a world of highly styled food blogs, perfect food photography, writers gushing about how much they LOVE every single recipe and it's the best thing ever, etc. You are such a great writer and I will come here to read anything you have to say!

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    1. Thank you so much. That's a very sweet comment.

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  23. The comment threads? I can't. Nothing sends me into a tizzy more than the comment threads. But if I'm already there reading the article, I can't not read them. Maybe that's why I'm ultimately so uninformed. My solution is to not even start the reading.
    Except here. I legit love these comments.

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