Food for Thought

IMG_1260I’m rich! The frig is full. A stockpot is bubbling on the stove. Muffins are in the oven. Not only do I have enough food for the five dinners I’ve planned, I’m sure we’d be fine if we were snowed in for a month. While not a survivalist with a bunker, I am the poster child for what to keep in your pantry for fast, last-minute meals. And yet, I don’t leave meals to chance. I’m a planner. I like getting out my cookbooks and binders of recipes. It’s fun to build a menu around some of my favorites (Sarah Fritschner’s zucchini with lima beans over rice; Pleasant Hill’s baked eggplant; catfish gumbo), or a recipe that will help me use ingredients I have on hand (chilaquiles casserole; ricotta, arugula and egg sandwiches).

I grew up with wonderful meals and parents who liked to cook, so it’s no surprise that cooking is something I enjoy. It can be communal and fun, or a solitary, quiet way to spend the day. Like my mom, I want to make a pot of soup or a lasagna when the kids will be home. I’ll assemble a casserole in advance to speed a week-night dinner. And after traveling, it’s great to come home to a grilled cheese sandwich.

I think I’m the only person I know who makes something for almost every meal, every day. Many people skip breakfast, buy a lunch, and either eat out or get take-out for dinner. They seem surprised to learn that I like to cook and make time to do it. But I’m neither an aspiring chef nor a budget-driven home cook. I like the process, and the control over what I’m eating. I like transforming humble ingredients into something that’s healthy, tasty and satisfying.

Our kids have a similar love of cooking. They pride themselves on making interesting and affordable meals, and add their own improvisational touches. Occasionally, they make special requests for a family recipe. I’m thrilled to share them, memories distilled to a taste. The most precious recipes are family heirlooms that I return to often. My mom’s black bean salad, my dad’s linguine and clam sauce – both written out by them in long hand. My Great Aunt Marie’s pound cake with black walnuts – tied for favorite with my most frequent birthday cake: carrot with boiled buttermilk frosting (forget cream cheese frosting – this is the way to go!)

So Sundays are cooking days, chopping, sautéing, mixing. Filling the frig with lunches and dinners I’ll look forward to all week, and tapping into family history. I’m hungry.




Before I die I want to…

beforeidieBefore I die I want to…how would you finish that sentence? Go to Hawaii? Climb a mountain? Reconnect with an estranged loved one? At first, I find this a chilling question, as if someone has told me exactly how much time I have left, and now it’s a race to do everything. Sometimes at work we underscore the value of keeping notes, and written procedures, “in case I’m hit by a bus,” or the more positive, “when I win the lottery” – detailed instructions we’d leave behind so others could carry on. For some reason, this is the first thing I think of when I contemplate death. Can my passwords be found? Will the bills get paid?

This soul searching was brought on by a TED talk. In New Orleans, artist Candy Chang painted an abandoned house with chalkboard paint and encouraged passers-by to complete the statement “Before I die I want to …” Neighbors quickly engaged with this public art project by covering the house with their answers. The project has spread to other cities around the world, showing that people have an answer to this question when prompted, at least some idea of an act important enough to possibly be their last.

So what would I put in the blank? Maybe I’m afraid to articulate the things I wish I made time for, but don’t. Things that are surely more cosmically important than my day-to-day. Maybe I don’t really know what matters to me? Or I haven’t allowed myself to think there’s something missing in my life. Or just having the time to do something fun and frivolous. Picking one thing is hard, but a bucket list of multiple things, in no particular order seems a little easier.

Before I die I want to…
– sing karaoke
– visit the lower 48 states by car
– create a detailed family tree
– take my nephews on a trip
– wear a fancy gown to a black-tie event

That wasn’t so hard. What we want to do before we die shouldn’t be a last ditch, end-of-life question. It should be the question we ask everyday. Make each day worth living, do things that make you happy, proud, satisfied. Be able to look back and say, I treated people well, I tried my best, I had some fun. Then when the end comes, no regrets.



What’s Your Superpower?

superIf you could have one superpower, what would it be? Of course, I’d want to fly. Duh! But then I think about having my wish granted only to learn that it comes with strings attached, unforeseen consequences that make the super power less appealing. Like, it’s probably cold up there, and it would mess up my hair. There are wires, and flag poles, planes, and birds. Powerful updrafts to slam me into the nearest building. OK, no flying.

How about super strength? Yeah, it would be fun to load up the barbell with the biggest weights, and do 100 reps while the gym regulars gawked. And to stop cars that are running red lights. But maybe I’d break things accidentally, grip fresh fruit too tightly, or hurt people by mistake.

X-ray vision? Ew. No. I don’t want to know what’s under your skin.

Invisibility? Sounds cool. Could be nice to slip past the guy on the corner who wants me to take a survey, or the salesperson who doesn’t understand I’m just looking. But, no. There are plenty of times when I have to go out of my way to be seriously considered, so literally being invisible can’t be good.

Super speed? What if typing took half the time, or grocery shopping, or cooking, or cleaning? Appealing, but I think I enjoy those things. If I started speeding up anything that seemed tedious, maybe I’d fast forward through things that would have been interesting, or given me a chance to think. Tempting, but no.

Super hearing? No. I do not want to know what you’re saying behind closed doors, or on the other side of the street. I include mind reading in this category. No.

What I really want is the power to resist dessert. The power to get up early enough to go to the gym, the power to approach each work day with energy and excitement. The power to sit down and enjoy a TV show without the niggling thought that there’s surely a chore I could be doing instead.

Hidden under our everyday clothes are the real super powers of persistence, restraint, and self-worth. Innate powers waiting to be tapped. And they don’t come with a cape.

Winter Dreams

Screen Shot 2016-02-07 at 11.17.17 AMOnce during a cold February in Chicago, I was peeping out of my hood to find a path through the snow – wondering why those women were wearing bikinis on a day like this. Everyone around me on the sidewalk was wrapped head to toe, hunched against the biting wind, and transfixed by the beach tableau rolling down Clark Street. On the back of a truck was a glassed-in room filled with sand, a volleyball net, and two beach babes. Our heads swiveled, following the glowing, reverse snow globe down the block, and then it was gone.

This time of year, Chicagoans are teased by travel ads for warmer places. The entrance to the L station is wrapped in pictures of a sunny waterfront, the interior of train cars promote green getaways in Texas. Even Montana boasts more beauty than the frozen streetscape. I’m sure many Chicagoans opt to get away to Disney World or a tropical island, but we earn our badge of honor by managing through the winter. I was once told, there’s no bad weather in Chicago, only poor clothing choices. And it’s true. Have a good coat and boots. Wear a hat. Protect your ears and fingers. But a critical part of surviving being outdoors in the winter is to plan your path to minimize the number of minutes outside. And if you have to stop for a traffic light, step back into the nearest building’s shelter to avoid the wind.

I commute into the Loop for work and have recently been introduced to the underground Pedway – a maze of walkways and shops under the street that connects a surprising number of buildings. It is possible for me to go between the train and my office building and never be outside. On cold mornings and wet afternoons, the Pedway is a welcome option – bright and bustling with the smell of fresh coffee. But some days I’ll stay above ground to see the sun coming up over the lake, or the new window displays at Macy’s. Proudly bracing against the cold, waiting for the green light, I know winter will pass. On a bus somewhere in 110 degree Arizona, there’s a picture of Lake Michigan – promising 75 and breezy – luring visitors to our beautiful July weather.