A Case for Reducing Your Meat Consumption

First of all, I am not a vegetarian or a vegan. But I am interested in my health, the environment, the treatment of animals, and saving money. If you aren’t into any of those things, you might find the following information boring.

It’s funny how people panic when they see the word vegan. They’re perfectly interested in a menu item and its list of tempting ingredients until they spot some indication that it’s suitable for vegan consumption. Suddenly their brow contorts, they look horrified, and they immediately move on to something more appetizing.

I wrote a post a couple days ago concerning the stigma surrounding vegetarian options, but I thought I might expound a little bit on the benefits of eating a little less meat each week – for Earth, animals, you, and your budget. (If you want to skip my pontificating and get to the point, you’re welcome to skip to the fabulous TED talk at the end of the post.)

Here are some statistics to get you disgusted— I-I mean get you started:

A waste lagoon

A waste lagoon

Factory Farming creates more pollution than all transportation in the USA combined. Not only does the mass amounts of untreated animal waste generate an estimated 37 percent of methane emissions, but the runoff from waste lagoon spills can contaminate water sources and damage local ecosystems. And be sure to add to that the water and fuel used to produce and transport the inordinate amount of animal feed required to raise 10 billion animals per year.

There is a direct correlation between over-consumption of animal products and disease. As outlined in The China Study and made popular by the documentary Forks Over Knives, animal products consumed in moderation are fine, but the excess in which most people in the world indulge is causing heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. On the other hand, fruits, vegetables, and other plant foods are full of nutrients that combat disease and keep the human body functioning at a healthy weight. And let’s not even get into the antibiotics issue.

Animals are confined in unacceptable, inhumane conditions for the duration of their lives before they’re slaughtered. Animal warehouses are overcrowded, covered in waste, and windowless. The animals are confined in battery cages, gestation crates, and other devices that limit mobility — sometimes animals spend their entire lives – years – unable to even turn around. And most never see sunlight until they’re sent out to be slaughtered.

But what can be done? Surely one individual can’t make a difference, right? The solution is actually satisfyingly simple. Buy less meat, and if you do choose to buy meat, buy organic! But buying organic meat is really expensive, right? Well that’s the funny thing about buying less meat…

How long does a package of chicken weighing one pound last in your house? I would guesstimate that the answer is one night. One package of chicken makes one meal, right? That’s the thinking anyway. But let’s say it didn’t work out that way. How long could you stretch out that meat for? Can you use one-third of the package of meat in your meal, supplementing good starches, vegetables, beans, and other proteins to make it bigger?

Not only is eating less meat per meal healthier, it makes your purchase last a lot longer. A pound of chicken at Trader Joe’s runs me 5 or 6 dollars. And that package will last me three dinners. The other four dinners at my house are usually vegan, vegetarian, or seafood dishes. Even if you choose to have meat with every meal, how much meat must you use? How much do you spend on meat per week at your house? Think about it; the answer may surprise you.

I propose that less meat at a slightly higher price will actually save you money in the long run. I do the grocery shopping for my family of two and my grocery bill is usually about 25-35 dollars per week. That means if I really splurge I still only spend about 150 dollars a month on groceries. Not bad for shopping organic, huh?

Finally, here is the fantastic TED Talk by Mark Bittman on eating better: filling our plates with more plants and a little less meat.

Less meat, less junk, more plants. It’s a simple formula: eat food.”

Hospitality is Amazing

Before I even get started, I promise not to mention table settings or flower arrangements. I’m not Martha Stewart, for cryin’ out loud.

Hospitality isn’t about impressing people, or elaborate garden parties – unless that’s your cup of tea, and if so more power to you. Hospitality is about generosity. It’s about being prepared at a moment’s notice to extend your home and your family to a friend. And like I’m discovering about so many other things, it’s all about attitude.

I’ve heard people say that entertaining “isn’t worth the effort.” And to that I say, Who are these people hanging out with? Who could be miserable enough company that inviting them over so you can spend time with them isn’t worth the effort? But I suspect the issue has little to do with unsatisfactory friends and more to do with a distorted view of hospitality. And it’s sad, because opening your home can be so rewarding.

Raya's Mask bw 01

Yesterday is a perfect example. I had a ladies night for some friends and wanted to keep it fresh, simple, and fun. I made an upbeat playlist on my MP3 player, served finger food and had everyone contribute, brought out the Wii and the board games, and ordered masks, decorations, and glue to give it some flair. We had a blast, there was minimal cleanup, and no stress.

If you’re struggling with party details, here are some entertaining ideas guaranteed to make hosting easier:

  • Try skipping the plated dinner. I personally love inviting a couple over for a nice dinner, but especially if there are planned activities you want to give precedence to or a large number of people, it can just get in the way. Try setting up an all-night finger food buffet and ask all your guests to contribute something. I like anything from the frozen section of Trader Joe’s or homemade meat, cheese, and cracker platters. Using paper plates and cups also cuts cleanup. Providing the dough and toppings for do-it-yourself pizzas is a crowd-pleaser too.
  • Focus on the atmosphere. Usually the fun happens on its own as along as a conducive atmosphere is provided. Making an appropriate playlist, having food and beverage easily accessible, and providing activities should be enough. Don’t worry too much about ambiance, food, name cards, and seating arrangements. It’s really not that important.
  • Add some flair. Do something to make the party memorable, for you and your guests! Having everyone design their own masks was a great icebreaker and created fun photo opportunities. Don’t worry if your ideas feel silly or immature; what matters is that everyone can do it, it’s fun, and it’s unique! A walk through your local party/costume shop might provide some inspiration.

Whatever is holding us back from entertaining or reaching out for better relationships, we shouldn’t let it! Be powerful! Be amazing! Throw a party! 😀

Real Vegans Don’t Eat Tofurky!

Disclaimer: I’m not a real vegan, nor am I even a strict weekday vegetarian. But there is this stigma surrounding lessening your meat intake that really irks me. I feel like I’m surrounded by ignorant people who refuse to look into what they eat, and it’s always for selfish reasons. When is the last time you heard, “Oh, no, I’m not interested in being Vegetarian; it’s bad for the environment”? So let’s stop thinking with our guts for just two seconds and consider the following myths surrounding Veganism and Vegetarianism:

  • Vegetarians spend all their time searching for a decent meat substitute.

This one kills me. In what backwards society do people stop eating meat by eating fake meat? That’s like ex-smokers going around with fake, nicotine-infused cigarettes for the rest of their lives.  I am not a full-time vegan or vegetarian, but I love a well-prepared, delicious vegan meal, and I make several. Favorites of mine include Ginger-Peanut Soup and Summertime Curry.

  • Vegan diets lack necessary proteins/You never feel full after a vegan meal.

This one is almost as bad! Vegan diets do not consist entirely of salads and rice and beans! Are you still starving after a peanut butter and jelly sandwich? Brace yourself; that’s a vegetarian sandwich! Great plant proteins, including peanuts, soy products, beans, chickpeas, grains, nuts, and seeds are extremely filling and can be prepared in a wide variety of ways.

  • Tofu is a flavorless meat substitute that is almost unpalatable.

There are a couple billion in people in China who would disagree with you. In fact, tofu is eaten throughout east Asia, not as a meat substitute, but as an important staple beside meat and vegetables. Because tofu has an absorbent, sponge-like quality, it adopts the stronger flavors around it and is, I think, one of the most versatile ingredients I’ve ever had the pleasure of preparing. It can be marinated or dressed for a salad, deep fried, pan fried, tossed in coconut milk curries, stir-fried with rice or rice noodles, or put in dark or clear broth soups.

Check the Vegan and Vegetarian sections of this blog for recipe ideas, and watch this four-minute TED Talk by Graham Hill on being a Weekday Vegetarian to get you started.

“About a year ago, I asked myself a question: ‘Knowing what I know, why am I not a vegetarian?'”

Another Reason to Hold Your Head High

The Teapot

As the expression goes, Do your best and you can hold your head high. The principle is that confidence, pride in our efforts, and lack of shame allow us to carry ourselves a certain way. Apparently, the reverse is also true.

Research conducted and publicized by Amy Cuddy, a researcher and professor at Harvard Business School, indicates that not only does our body language communicate information about us to others, our body language also influences us on the chemical level. The surprising result is that we can artificially change our body language, specifically by using “power poses,” in order to affect our hormones, which in turn affect our behavior.

The reason this is so fascinating to me is that it’s yet another example of our own inward power to affect ourselves – to affect our happiness, our success, our behavior, and our lives. It proves that positive thinking and action, even if we have to force ourselves to think and act positively, result in positive outcomes.

I find that totally empowering, and that’s a beautiful, inspiring thing in a world where so many people feel powerless. People are disconnected, closed off, afraid, and negative. And we’re accustomed to handing the power over our lives and our feelings to others. When we’re upset, we indict our circumstances, our jobs, our relationships, our finances, and everything else around us that’s out of our control for our unhappiness. The implication is that until all these things change, until our surroundings become ideal and stop creating problems for us, we cannot be happy.

And that’s miserable. That means that my happiness is entirely dependent on the actions of others and that I am powerless. Fortunately, it isn’t true. Happiness is not a circumstance, it’s an attitude. Doing small, positive things on a regular basis and spending ample time embracing our own identities  retrains our brains to reject negativity and empowers us and emboldens us to take control of our lives and our feelings.

And that’s wonderful.

“Our bodies change our minds, and our minds can change our behavior, and our behavior can change our outcomes.”

How to Fry an Egg

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My mom always used to tell me that when she got married at 19 she “couldn’t fry an egg.” She meant that she was ill-prepared for the rigors of cooking that usually fall to the woman, but in my experience most people don’t fry an egg the way I would like. And I’m a pretty picky egg-eater, so that’s too bad for me. So in an effort to make the world a better place for myself, I’m going to educate everyone about the correct way to fry an egg! (Incidentally, I learned it from my dad, who also insists on eating only over-easy eggs. Go figure. 😛 )

So first, get yourself an iron skillet. If you don’t have one, you can check tag sales or your local second hand store for one that’s worn in. If you’ve gotten to this line and you still don’t have one, I guess you can use a nonstick skillet or whatever else you like. But I can’t be held responsible for the results! 😛 So without further ado:

Eggs 001Perfect Egg /ˈpərfikt/ /eg/
noun

1. An egg fried without rupturing or overcooking the yolk, but which fries the whites on top and bottom so as to remove any uncomfortable sliminess; an egg fried over-easy.

Directions:

  1. Eggs fried in butter taste delicious, but using olive oil is less fattening. Either works well. Add a little to your skillet and let it warm up over medium-high heat.
  2. When the skillet is just warm enough to turn the egg whites opaque as they hit the pan, add your eggs and let them sit. Don’t add too many at once. If the whites bleed together, use a flat spatula to separate them and hold the eggs at bay until they solidify a bit. The entire egg should fit onto your spatula, so if the edges are too wide, push them back in with the spatula and shape it as you like.
  3. Gently test the readiness of the eggs by sliding the spatula under the edges. If the egg is ready to be turned, the entire egg should slide easily around the pan without sticking, breaking, or spilling. If it isn’t ready, the bottom will rip and stick when you try to move it.
  4. When you turn the egg, put the entire egg on your spatula. Angle the spatula and let the egg slide off the front and naturally turn as it returns to the pan. After about 10 seconds the other side should seal and is ready to be served!

How’s that for (over-) easy?

The Daddy Issues You Didn’t Know You Had (and the Power of Vulnerability)

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My husband helped me realize something important about anger. It was during a rant in which I exposed how horribly he had been treating me, how humiliated I was by his action, how thoughtless he was being and how he had utterly failed to show me respect as his wife. He listened patiently, and during an unsuspecting lull he said quietly, “I wonder where this anger is coming from.”

Hadn’t he been listening?! I’d just listed all the reasons! So my tirade continued for a while longer. Anyway, later on, as I ruminated, I was struck by that question. Where is this anger coming from? Now that I was calm, it was clear as day to me that no matter what missteps he may have taken, it simply could not have been enough of an insult to my person to warrant that kind of anger.

So I decided to google this and discovered that the majority of articles I ran across concerning anger towards husbands were primarily concerned with dealing with symptoms. Are you upset that your husband doesn’t take out the trash, or doesn’t help with the kids, or has more free time than you, or what have you? The sites often offered solutions like better communication, which is certainly necessary. But none of them ever asked why. Why are these things so upsetting? We could argue that our problem of choice is unfair, that it shows a lack of respect, that it shows that he puts other things before his wife. But my question is deeper than that.

If a stranger on the street treated you that way, would you become so angry? If a friend committed the same offence, would you? How about a distant cousin? What is it about the people that are close to us – but especially our husbands – that make us so angry with their minor infractions?

There are probably many explanations. But here is what I discovered about myself: When I entered this intimate relationship, years of emotional conditioning came to the forefront.

And what’s that supposed to mean? Well here’s how I see it: for years, we create special relationships with our mothers, fathers, siblings, or other family figures who are closest to us. Any time we’re disappointed by one of those relationships in a significant or recurring way, it leaves an impression – especially in our childhood when we’re so impressionable and our perception and understanding of the world is still developing. We may not even think those disappointments bother us anymore because we’ve become so accustomed to them. But when we enter a new relationship, an intimate one, like marriage, all these issues – from Mom, Dad, or whoever – come to the fore, as we forge this new bond.

The other day is a great example. I was expressing my frustration to my husband about, basically, a lack of order in my surroundings. I thought things weren’t being done efficiently, and I  felt I wasn’t in a position to change it, even though I would have liked to have been able to step up and fix things. As I’m expressing myself, and my husband is sitting there listening to me, I start to get angry. The more I tell him, the more irritated I got. Suddenly I blurted, “But I know you think I’m just being a control freak, because I always have to control everything!”

He had actually said nothing of the sort. In fact, he countered that he thought my having leadership qualities is a good thing, because a good leader can empower and inspire people. So where had that accusation come from? Why was I so angry with him?

The answer came quite suddenly and unexpectedly. I said, surprised, “Maybe I said that because my Mom used to tell me that my need to control everything was a bad thing.”

Light bulbs were going off everywhere. As I express my frustration about the disorderly conditions I cannot fix, I’m revealing what my mother – who is very free-spirited and contrary to me in that I feel secure when there is a measure of control and she feels secure when she isn’t tied down – had taught me was a flaw.

My closest relationship for most of my life had taught me that my need for control was a flaw that was embarrassing and that others looked down upon, not with words and certainly not intentionally, but by how she felt about it. Because I was a child, I internalized and interpreted my mother’s feeling as a universal truth. This was literally the first time in my life that I realized not everyone thinks that wanting a measure of control is a negative thing. I used to be embarrassed to tell people that I was a Red according to the Color Code, or tell them while laughing at myself, because I thought everyone thought this was a flaw of mine. I was unknowingly redirecting feelings I associated with other important relationships toward my husband.

Orchids 003What’s fascinating about this is that if I had expressed the same thing toward my mother I wouldn’t have gotten upset. I’m already “used” to that facet of our relationship and if you’d asked me if that aspect bothered me, not only would I say no, I would insist that there was no problem to begin with, that it was just a difference of opinion.

Here’s another one. My husband was late and couldn’t let me know. By the time we met up again I was furious. He posed that question again, Why does this make you so upset? Of course I fired back immediately that not all my anger towards him stemmed from childhood emotional scars! 😀 But he did some research and found something very eye-opening.

He found an article on Emotional Abandonment, which I thought sounded harsh and not applicable. But as I read it I saw clear evidence of my relationship with my dad. For example: “It is not okay to make a mistake.” At my house, not getting perfect grades in school wasn’t cool. Coming home with a B invited ridicule. Or: “It is not okay to have successes. Accomplishments are not acknowledged, are many times discounted.” If I did manage to come home with straight A’s, there was no praise, because that was what I ought to have done. If I wrote a story I was proud of, he would critique it for me instead of telling me it was great. (Another one was “Children are treated as peers with no parent/child distinction,” which was, at times, a perfect description of me and my mother.)

(Insert disclaimer, I love my parents and we have a great relationship! 😛 )

Orchids 002The result in my case was constant need for reassurance. Minor infractions on his part became signs that I wasn’t important to him anymore. Which was nonsense, he does more for me and works harder for me than I ever imagined anyone could.

So why the inordinate anger and overreactions? I propose that all our intimate relationships have their flaws, and they have shaped us in ways most of us don’t understand and never address. When we enter a new intimate relationship, these issues surface in new ways. I also propose that trying to research and understand all our issues is an overwhelming project – though I found what research I did accomplish enlightening – and that taking positive, all-encompassing action to combat anger within ourselves in a more realistic first step. Here are some things I’m trying to promote in myself:

  • Learn to be vulnerableThe problem with being vulnerable is we’re afraid of the outcome. If I’m completely vulnerable, will I be rejected, will I be unworthy? And when I doubt, I bite. I need to understand that I don’t need walls and guards, especially when I’m with the people I love. Which ties in with the second point:
  • Believe that I am worthy. If I believe that I am worthy of love, being vulnerable and showing love to others will become easy. It takes deliberate positive thinking and ingesting positive association, but it will be so worth it.
  • Acknowledge and understand that my anger is not someone else’s fault. The next time I want to yell at my husband I need to stop. I need to stop and realize that whatever he’s done does not warrant being yelled at. For whatever reason, what he’s done has triggered an emotional reaction from me, but it’s the emotional conditioning he triggered that made me angry, not him. I need to step back from my anger and realize that my emotions are not because of someone else. I was just reminded of those emotions by someone, and I need to ask the question: Why? Where is my anger truly coming from?

This fantastic and wonderfully vulnerable TED Talk by Brené Brown cuts to the heart of vulnerability and reveals its intrinsic connection to attaining joy and satisfying relationships.

“I know that vulnerability is the core of shame and fear and our struggle for worthiness, but it appears that it’s also the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, of love. And I think I have a problem.”

My Ugly Quiche Was Fine (and the Science of Happiness)

Basil and Heart 009

In my post Embracing Your Identity, I mentioned a hideous quiche – it was later described by a friend as “rustic” – and my feelings of inadequacy concerning it. I was bringing it to a party, you see, where I knew there would be a horde of preening critics of another culture who didn’t seem to understand who I was or anything I did and who would rip my flawed pie crust to shreds with their malice.

You know what? The quiche was fine. Everyone enjoyed it, it was devoured immediately, and they said it looked great.

And what’s amazing about this entire happening was that no one had changed. Everyone I thought would be there was there. Our cultural differences were still there. Only one element had changed, and that was me and my attitude.

In that same blog I wrote about ways I planned on embracing my identity and displaying it to the world. So I tried it. I was very much myself, I focused on the people I enjoyed, I forced myself to assume positive things instead of negative. And it was wonderful. It was liberating. It was illuminating.

There had never been any evil cultural bias. There was no malicious patronizing. There was no one looking at me and thinking I was inadequate. It was me. It had always been me. Which brings me to this fantastic, uplifting, empowering, beautiful point:

The people around us do not hate or disapprove of us. We attribute and implant those feelings within ourselves, and that’s the only place they exist.

Basil and Heart 010Negative thinking creates the majority of the problems in our relationships, our self-image, our abilities, and our personal achievements. But we all do it. Why? I think that’s like asking, “Why do we gain weight unless we take action to prevent it?” Because we live in a society with fatty foods, not enough exercise, and too many sedentary activities, and our bodies are predisposed to put on weight after we retain a certain number of calories. Similarly, we live in a society full of competition, distrust, and lack of communication, and unless we take proactive measures, we are predisposed to become negative.

To avoid weight gain, we need diet and exercise. To avoid negativity, we need to ingest positive association and exercise our positive thinking ability. “Oh,” you might say, “That sounds easy enough.” Perhaps you weren’t paying attention. Do you enjoy dieting? Do you like going to the gym on Saturday morning for spin class? Maybe after you’re accustomed to it and you begin to enjoy the effects, sure. But definitely not at first.

When we try to force ourselves to think positively – and I use the word “force” very deliberately, because that’s what it takes – our negative minds fight back. Just when we think, “Hey, maybe this quiche is ok,” our minds jump into action. “Ok? Have you seen this quiche? It looks like you left it in the oven for four hours! Look at the flaws! Look at the cracks! Look at how shriveled this spinach leaf is compared to the rest!”

Fortunately, there is a cure. Like we train our bodies, we need to train our brains. And here’s the reason this is fantastic: All our foes, all the people that hate us, all the reasons we fail, will change. Foes will become friends, the people who hate us will begin to like us, and the reasons we fail will disappear. When we take charge of our lives and responsibility for our feelings, we become happy.

This fantastic TED Talk by Shawn Achor is extremely revealing. And hilarious. I guarantee it will make you smile and make you feel inspired. Enjoy:

“What we’re finding is that it’s not necessarily the reality that shapes us, but the lens through which your brain views the world that shapes your reality.”

Embracing Your Identity

Plates 004

When I married my husband I didn’t just enter a wedlock. I entered a new culture, a new family, a new social circle, a new neighborhood, and a new house. I even had a new grocery store. I started eating different foods, wearing different clothes, engaging in different pastimes, and speaking a different language. Somewhere in the midst of all the changes I felt I had lost the sense of who I was.

I hadn’t intentionally suppressed myself or tried to change. I still knew what I liked and didn’t like, I still had my friends and talked to my family. But when it came to my daily routine and the people I interacted with most, I realized they didn’t really know who I was and it was because I wasn’t communicating it to them. And I wasn’t communicating it to them because, according to the standards of the culture, as I interpreted them, if I was myself, I wouldn’t be acceptable. So I acted like someone else. I tried to act like one of them.

Plates 006I began to dread these unconscious performances. It’s the sort of thing you think you’ve gotten over once you get out of grade school; trying to “fit in” and being afraid to “just be yourself” went against a lot of my core beliefs as I entered adulthood. And so I began to see the people I was performing for as the Bully, or the Popular Crowd you never quite fit in with. I became bitter, resentful, and negative. But there was one flaw in my logic:

Why can’t they just accept me for who I am? Why do they treat me this way? Can’t they see that I’m worth knowing as I am on the inside?

I was attributing blame to them.

 They refused to accept me; they were treating me badly. Now, it was true that, culturally speaking, I didn’t fit in with the social norms. They were ultra-polite, genteel, soft-spoken, preferred conversation to games, never played music at parties or danced, and always seemed perfect. But I was the one who had stopped acting like myself in an effort to be what they expected; I was the one who was sure that I wouldn’t be liked if I acted like myself.

Plates 008And it’s tough. It’s hard to be true to yourself when everyone around you is moving in a very different direction. I love being loud, playing games, singing hard rock in the car, and dancing at parties. These are shocking traits to them. But not so shocking that they wouldn’t love me in spite of them, not so shocking that they couldn’t enjoy these things with me if I gave them a chance.

So, I’m struggling with it. I’m a bit of an enigma to them, still. I can’t remember having to work hard to be myself before! And I never feel adequate. I just pulled a quiche out of the oven which probably tastes fine but has a crumbled, cracked crust and doesn’t look pretty at all. I’m afraid to bring it to a party we’re attending tonight. I’m anticipating the reaction already: Oh, how cute, she tried to make something. Actually, it’s rather daring, isn’t it? She’s a young, American newlywed, and doesn’t actually know how to cook or take care of her own husband.

Well, ok, now that I have it written down, I know it looks ridiculous. But this is how I feel, these are the negative thoughts I’ve conditioned myself with. But the point is I can’t keep blaming other people. I can’t keep assuming I don’t measure up to their standards. Ultimately, I’m in control of how I act, and if I want things to change, only I can do that. Besides, I’m giving them way to much power over me by thinking this way (and since I’m bright Red, you understand how distasteful this is). If I want to be accepted, I have to be myself first. If I want to be respected, I have to act responsible first.

The question is how. How do I embrace myself and communicate who I am to a group of adults that don’t seem to appreciate or understand my uniqueness? Here’s some of the advice I’ve received and conclusions I’ve made:

  • Focus on the people who do appreciate me. There are plenty. I’ve just chosen to focus on those that don’t. Who is this “they” I keep talking about anyway? Are all people in this culture the way I’ve described? Certainly not. Stop thinking like that.
  • Cultivate my uniqueness. Embrace my hobbies, pastimes, music – anything that makes me happy and makes me who I am. I love to write, so I started a blog. I love to play games, so I sit down in front of my Wii more often.
  • Display my uniqueness. I love to sing, so I’m going to break out into song more often, just because. I love to cook fancy foods, so I’m going to invite people over to try my creations. I’m going to bring games I like to parties and enlist players. I like taking the lead, so I’m not going to wait for someone else to start something and then complain that I’m bored.

Perhaps most importantly of all, the people who love you and have taken the time to cultivate truly deep and intimate relationships with you are the people who love who you are inside. For me, that’s primarily my husband. He happens to be of this unwelcoming culture I’ve been ranting about. And he loves me, unconditionally, because of who I am, because of my unique identity. What more reason do I need to cultivate and embrace that person within me? And the more I embrace and encourage my inner-self, the more the person that my husband loves will come to the forefront, and the more he’ll love… me. 🙂

The Power of Presentation

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I find that there’s something very dissatisfying about spending hours on an elaborate meal but having no way to translate that effort visually. For a long time most of my dinners were an inelegant pile of slop by the time they reached the table. It wasn’t until I went to Japan that I discovered that the way a meal looks can actually change the way it tastes.

In Japan, the presentation of a meal is an art form that is still alive and well. They like to use plates and bowls in a variety of shapes and sizes – a concept that was completely foreign to me. We always had one large unsegregated plate with starch in one corner, meat in another, and a salad at my house. There was usually an unsightly pool of salad dressing, gravy, and cranberry sauce in the middle somewhere. And I still believe that there are certain things that should only be eaten that way, like a turkey dinner. What’s the point of a turkey dinner if you can mix the mashed potatoes, gravy, and turkey in one mouthful?

But the Japanese-style presentation lent a certain delicacy, a sense of anticipation, to the dining experience. Each tiny bowl was beautifully crafted and each morsel was separated so that flavors didn’t bleed together. Each bite, each new taste, had to be enjoyed separately, and after a necessary pause while you switched plates. It made me appreciate every mouthful more. And it was stunning! So I cleared out some space in my cupboards and went shopping.

Plates 007

I gathered my collection of dishes from Asian stores (the Japanese dollar store, Daiso, is one of my favorites), generous friends, and Target. Immediately I felt like my meals were more amazing. It was such a tiny bit of effort – how long did it take me to present the food in multiple dishes instead of one? Maybe an extra 30 seconds? – but it made such a huge difference. Dinner suddenly felt culinary. What naturally followed was garnishes. An extra ten seconds of chopping chives or fresh basil to sprinkle over the center of the bowl communicated the care I had taken to make the meal tasty, well-balanced, and appetizing.

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Instead of feeling like a young woman struggling to make a decent meal, I felt competent. I felt capable. I felt amazing.

All the effort that I had put into cooking was suddenly, beautifully, satisfyingly visible.

All that having been said, the Japanese style isn’t for everyone. Maybe an extra large soup bowl with gold filigree and matching plates is more appealing to you. The point is when you make a meal – whether its for your husband, for entertaining your friends, or you’re just cooking for yourself – take the time to make your effort visible. Starting with dishware and table settings that appeal to you is an effortless first step that makes a world of difference. Place and combine foods with care (if something spatters, wipe it off with a napkin!). Use a garnish. Enjoy spoiling yourself and others with food that looks like art! Because who doesn’t like being able to step back from their work and think, ‘Wow, that looks fantastic’?

What’s with the Teapot?

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As you may have noticed, I’ve smothered this blog with images of a little teapot. Initially this was completely impulsive, but I think I’ve decided to keep it. Mostly because it’s cute. But also because the teapot is what made me decide to start this little project and will, I hope, keep me motivated.

The other day my husband ventured out into the world to be productive while I retreated into the recesses of the bed and pulled the covers back over my head. And I didn’t like it. I didn’t like how much more disciplined and responsible he was being, and how much it was showing. We’re almost twelve years apart, and I often find myself feeling like I’m having trouble keeping up. Sometimes I think that I don’t have much to contribute to our partnership – he’s more experienced, more adventurous, well-read, well-traveled, successfully self-employed, socially well-connected, and multilingual.

So as I crawled out from under my pillow I made a decision. ‘If I’m going to stay home today,’ I thought, ‘I’m going to accomplish a lot. When my husband comes home today, I want him to think, “Wow, I have an amazing wife.”‘

So I got up, made myself presentable, and attacked the house. I shopped for groceries. I cleaned. I exercised. I gardened. I did laundry even though it wasn’t laundry day. I swept out the garage, the kitchen, the front walk, and the foyer. I whipped up a batch of fresh homemade pesto just because I had the time. I resisted the television. And right before he came home I made fresh bruschetta so he’d have a warm snack waiting in the oven.

I felt fantastic. What had started as a dreary, unmotivated morning had become a personal triumph – not just because my husband was happy, not just because my husband was proud, but because I was proud of myself. And don’t worry, I’m getting to the teapot.

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And so as he munched happily on the bruschetta, I turned on the kettle and went to fix his usual green tea. But before I submerged the teabag, I stopped. I wanted to be amazing. I didn’t want to deliver an expected, bland teabag I’d bought from Costco to the beautiful Japanese man sitting at the table, who I knew would’ve really appreciated a decent cup of green tea with delicate presentation; who I knew would’ve thought that this tiny act of thoughtfulness was amazing.

So I put away the teabag and reached into the back of the cupboard to get the sweet little teapot and the loose-leaf green tea from Satsuma, Japan. It made him so happy. And I felt amazing! That’s when I realized I didn’t want to be amazing sometimes, or only for special occasions; I wanted to be amazing all the time. I always wanted to bring him steeped loose-leaf tea in the tiny teapot. I always wanted to have homemade snacks ready, made from fresh ingredients. I wanted us both to be happy, healthy, and satisfied whenever we were at home, and I wanted to provide that.

The teapot helped me realize that through small acts of thoughtfulness and just a little bit of effort, I could be an amazing wife all the time. And I’m excited.

So that’s my goal. To understand myself, my relationships, and my world, and contribute something in return. What’s yours?