New year, new kitchen

Generally, when the new year rolls around I like to clean the whole apartment.  But with a still-painful back and a lot of work-related things to do, I doubt that will happen this year.  What I can manage, however, is the kitchen.  With a lot of health-related goals for the new year, plus a few more focused on doing things I enjoy like cooking and baking, the kitchen seems to be a central point that could use an overhaul to help facilitate these plans.

There’s a long list of food-related tasks that I’d like to work on this coming year.  I’m planning to increase the from-scratch cooking that I already do, experiment with some new recipes, and teach J. how to cook some of our favourite things.  I’d like to bake more of our bread on a regular basis, and possibly get some good desserts under my belt as well.  I’d like to have grains sprouting regularly, and keep working on fermenting kombucha, kefir, pickles, and other veggies.  I didn’t get much canning done last year, so I’d like to work on doing more this year, especially when I have some time off in the summer.  And if there’s time, I wouldn’t mind trying out some yogurt and cheese making.

Given that time will likely be at least somewhat tight this coming semester, the cleaner, simpler, and more organized the kitchen is, the easier it will be to keep up with these tasks and to clean up afterwards.  Ideally, if I spend a bit of time on this now, I’ll have a space that will better meet our needs in the long-term.  Yesterday, I cleaned out the fridge, washed the walls, and sorted through or got rid of some food and some projects that were never completed (the failed sauerkraut was especially disappointing). Today, I did some dishes, cleared the counter, and started getting together donations, which I suspect will be the single most important thing I do in the quite over-crowded space.  Tomorrow I’m hoping to take stock of what we have both food- and tool-wise, figure out how we can better arrange and use what we have, and decide if there’s anything we need to do to make things work better.  I have a few projects in mind already – a proper spice rack and magnetic knife strip, for starters – that I’m hoping will help to streamline things a bit more.

I doubt this will all be done before the new year actually rolls over, but having a good head start and a plan will certainly help.  We don’t have the greatest kitchen in the world – small, no windows, poor layout, and very little counter or storage space – but I’m hoping that some tweaks will improve it.  Given that I need to focus on eating healthier and spending time doing things that I enjoy (like cooking), this is a really important thing to get in order.

I realised the other day that there are a lot of things I’d like to do in the kitchen that I’ve never gotten around to.  Install a real spice rack.  Hang some pictures.  Set up spots for fermenting and sprouting.  I’ve always assumed that it wouldn’t be worth it to put in the time and effort (and, in some cases, a small amount of money), especially since we were hoping to move.  But the truth is that even though I hope we will be getting out of here at some point, there’s no reason not to have a clean, organized, well-functioning space in the meantime, even if it requires a bit of thought and effort at the outset.

Towards the light

With the passing of the winter solstice, I’ve found myself thinking more about moving towards the new year, and thinking even more about moving towards a time when things are lighter, both in actual fact and somewhat more metaphorically.  Practically speaking, the new year is just another day, just like any other.  But somehow, it still manages to feel different, like a new, fresh start. And believe you me, I feel very much like I could use a new, fresh start, complete with some changes and new habits to work on.

It’s been mentioned here, I think, and is somewhat implicit in my frequent absences from posting, but it’s been a challenging semester.  There doesn’t seem to be a particularly good reason for this, and it’s highly likely that at least some of my troubles are those I create or at exacerbate for myself.  I think, dwell, and just plain worry too much.  I get distracted, lose focus, and am really not that good at prioritizing the things that matter the most.  The things that I want and possibly even need the most are those that tend to get relegated to “later”, while the things that aren’t as important, or that don’t bring as much pleasure, are those that I focus on extensively.  This has all left me feeling quite tired, out-of-sorts, and generally dissatisfied.

I in this coming year more than anything else I want to feel calmer and happier.  I don’t know what the new year will bring, but I’m hoping and, more importantly, planning for change.  I think there’s a lot that I can do to feel more content, and although I don’t want to jump in too quickly, I do want to start making alterations that could help me to feel better.  So for these few days after the holiday and before the new year rolls over, I’ll be curled up on the couch, drinking a lot of tea, and giving a lot of thought to things like priorities, goals, needs, and desires.

Food first

I’ve gotten into a bad habit this semester of not putting myself first.  It seems to be work, then me, then everything else, and often at least some elements of the everything else group come before me too.  This has been most noticeable in the mornings.  I’ve been waking up earlier than I’d like a lot of the time, and have generally popped awake worried about some element of my day.  This usually meant that the first thing I’d do would be whatever was on my mind in the hopes that it would tone down the worry a bit.  This usually mean things like dealing with student emails, grading, lecture prep, or paying bills.

As you can probably guess, this is not a great start to the day.  Launching immediately into work set the tone for the day, and the tone wasn’t a good one.  It was anxious, busy, and got be started far too early in the morning for someone who is also inclined to work all day and then some.  The icing on top of this cake of unpleasantness?  By starting work right off, I didn’t usually get around to a proper breakfast, which often left me gnawing on store-bought white bread by 11 am.  Not healthy.  Not healthy at all.

This morning I tried something new.  I know there are emails to deal with and grading to do, but the first thing I did today was put myself (and my food) first.  I made a real breakfast.  It was simple – steel cut oats with grated apple, cinnamon, ground flax seed, and a bit of brown sugar – but I spent the first half hour a dark, grey day stirring a delicious-smelling bubbling pot while perched on a stool reading The Cider House Rules.  It was really rather lovely.

Now, I’m sitting at the computer feeling a good bit calmer than I usually do by this point in the day.  I haven’t checked my email. Instead, I’ve read a few blogs that I like and that put out thoughtful, uplifting, and motivating content.  When I’m done here, I’m going to meditate.  Only then will I start thinking about and actually dealing with setting out a list of tasks for today, and dealing with what needs to be done.  There may be things that are tricky or somewhat unpleasant to deal with, but hopefully with a bit of downtime and a good meal behind me, they’ll feel easier to deal with.

December reading list

Recently, I started reading again.  Technically, I never really stopped, but for a few years (yes, years), all I really read was theory and research.  Now don’t get me wrong – I like theory and research, but I cannot live by Derrida and Baudrillard alone.  I just didn’t have the time or often the brainpower for much of anything beyond what was required for teaching and the dissertation.

Happily, I’ve recently rediscovered the pleasure of reading, whether it be a long afternoon to polish off a whole novel or a chapter or two read on an afternoon break.  It took me awhile to get to this point, and it took some real, determined effort to make time for it at first, but now that I’m back at it, I’m as completely hooked as I was in undergrad when I stayed up late on weekends, settled cozily into bed with Jane Eyre, A Prayer for Owen Meany, or Look Homeward, Angel.

Now that I’m back at it, I’m polishing off books at a fairly rapid clip.  Sure, I started out with some wonderful young adult fantasy books that I could get through quickly at the start – The Gates and Un Lun Dun were great – but I’ve also started expanding my horizons again to include classics, modern literature, humour, cookbooks, and non-fiction.  Given how much I want to read, and how excited I am about it, I’ve also started to take real pleasure in thinking about and planning what I want to read next, so I thought that every month I’d keep track of what I’d read the previous month and set out a few books to read for the upcoming one.

In November, I made my way through:

  • John Steinbeck – Travels with Charley in Search of America
  • China Miéville – Un Lun Dun
  • Michael Chabon – The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
  • John Connelly – The Gates
  • Guy Gavriel Kay – Tigana

For December, I’m planning to read through:

  • Annie Dillard – Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
  • John Irving – The Cider House Rules
  • Charles Dickens – A Christmas Carol
  • Sandor Ellix Katz – The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved
  • Heston Blumenthal – In Search of Perfection

Personally, I like having a few books on the go at once, especially when some are fiction and some are non-fiction.  I’ve especially been loving the opportunity to read more about food related topics, which I really enjoy on its own, but also presents some interesting research opportunities for future academic work.  But for now, I’m going to grab a blanket, settle myself in on the couch with The Cider House Rules, and slip away to Maine and John Irving’s well-wrought world for a little while.