Category Archives: Cooking

Depression and Engagement

One of the major issues I have dealt with so far in my short career is lack of engagement on many of my projects. My managers, for whatever reason, are not around to see what I am doing. They are on business trips. They are swamped with entirely too many other responsibilities. The product owner is ambivalent about what they want to do so we’re waiting around for them to make a decision about something. Not poking at anyone in particular, this has been an issue I have seen a lot of places.

As programmers we’re supposed to be self motivated. We’re supposed to be given a problem and we’re supposed to run with it and get it done. We complain about micromanaging and how it’s hampering our ability to get anything done.

When you get left alone on a project, initially it can feel freeing. You can work without being disturbed. But then at a certain point you realize that you have been given no guidance on what is wanted. It’s like creating an app with no auto layout. You kind of know that there are some components that someone wants, but you don’t know how they want them arranged.

This is the point where things start to affect my mental health.

I start to encounter mental friction where I can’t make any decisions because I don’t know what people want. I know that there is one way they want something but they’re not around to tell me what that is or they don’t know to begin with.

This triggers feelings of depression and despair. I start to feel that success is impossible. I try for a while to do my best, but at a certain point I shut down. I am overwhelmed by choice because I don’t know which one is right. I can’t function. Nothing I do is going to result in success, so why bother?

I feel tremendous amounts of failure and self loathing. I think that I can’t hack it. I should give up on programming. I should go back to working at a call center where there is a script and no decisions to be made. There is no pressure from coworkers trying to sabotage you or pretending like they know more than you do because no one gives a shit and they’re just there to collect a paycheck. You don’t have to pretend like you care about anything other than not getting fired. It’s soothing and restful.

I have had this happen often enough that I can see it coming. I try to engage but so far that has never been successful.

What I need to pull me out of this state is to have something I can solve or get engaged in. I have noticed I will be on the verge of a complete shut down when something will catch my attention. A small light will appear in the darkness and my deprived attention will fixate on trying to solve it. Then my brain comes alive again and I wake up and everything is okay again if only for a little while.

I want to talk about mental self defense here.

I have learned to find things I can do that will pull me out of this state. Usually it’s working on a tutorial. It’s a set of directions with an end goal. You feel like you’re getting something done. It will engage my tired and exhausted brain and lead it like a trail of breadcrumbs back home. It’s not open ended so I don’t get overwhelmed trying to get something working from scratch. I know other people can do that and I can too sometimes, but not when I am engulfed in mental darkness.

Managers don’t want you doing stuff like this. I have tried to talk to them about what I can do to pull me out of this state. I can’t work on the current project. It is causing me to shut down. Is there anything else I can work on so I can mentally recover?

They will purse their lips and say they really need me to keep working on the current project. It doesn’t matter that I am unable to make any real progress on it or that anything I write is going to be buggy as fuck, they want the illusion that I am working on their project.

If you’re working with a manager who isn’t giving you enough constraints to figure out what a successful end condition is, don’t mentally collapse. Try to recognize when you’re starting to shut down. Find things that can pull you out of it.

I know it’s hard to do. You feel yourself getting further and further behind. You’re in a mental terror that you’re going to be fired for not finishing your project. You need to calm down. You need to prevent yourself from going under at all costs. If you break yourself your project is not going to get done. You’re no good to anyone if you can’t function.

If you do break, it will take a while to recover. I see a Reiki therapist who helps me recover from my breaks, but she always tells me to take it easy after she helps me.

I have gotten better at going back to my “analog” hobbies to get away from a computer screen when I feel myself going under. Cooking and doing cross stitch are tactile and engaging and give me a project that I can see progress on so that I don’t go completely insane. It can feel like doing projects is a dodge or a waste of time, but it’s vital time that I need to help my brain recover so I can keep working.

I never think that I am going to feel better. I think that there is no point in trying to do a tutorial because I should just give up and accept that I am a failure. Sometimes I am too broken to work on it, but when I have had a chance to rest, I come back and I feel my brain slowly wake back up and I feel better.

The biggest reason I wrote this is to try and give hope to anyone who feels consumed by mental darkness. I have felt that a lot over the last few years. When you’re in the middle of it you feel there is no hope. You feel you can never do anything great ever again. You feel broken, like everything has been stripped from you and it can be hard to try and engage in something because you’re convinced you will fail.

Please know there is hope. Rest mentally and take baby steps. If you can’t engage in anything, then you’re burned out. Sleep, rest, hike, whatever. Then come back and pick up something structured and engaging.

Engagement is so important to what we do. We mentally need to feel a sense of accomplishment. We need to have tasks that we can complete and see progress in the work we are doing. Creating those meaningful milestones and discrete tasks takes time and mental energy, but it’s necessary to maintain mental health and stability.

A developer career is a marathon and not a sprint. If you injure yourself you need to rest and work your way back up to training again. You don’t want to force yourself over the finish line and wind up in a wheel chair.

Know that you’re not alone. There is a way out of the darkness. It’s not just you.

Non-Alcoholic Experiments: Iced Tea

I recently wrote a blog post about giving up alcohol. I had an incredibly frustrating conversation with another developer on Twitter:

I love the smell of bullshit in the morning.

I love the smell of bullshit in the morning.

There is a great deal here that is wrong with our conversation here. This person clearly didn’t read my blog post because I mentioned not being able to drink without becoming violently ill. The issue also isn’t about telling people how to drink in moderation, it’s about the fact that alcohol is incredibly pervasive in the programming community. Would love to see this person telling an ethical vegetarian to just eat meat in moderation or avoid places that refuse to accommodate them and see how well that goes.

I have had multiple official conference events and activities that take place at breweries. It isn’t just deciding you’re not going to go hang out at the hotel bar. There are mixers and parties that are officially parts of the conference. I have worked in places where there is an office liquor cabinet.

At conference parties there will be a clear sign explaining all the wine and beer selections and nothing mentioning anything non-alcoholic. Sometimes you get lucky and they will have Coke, but lots of times there is just water.

Later this developer basically told me that you can’t please everyone. I am not talking about “pleasing everyone.” The fact that it’s assumed that everyone drinks and things are geared around that is quite troubling. There are people who have religious objections, health issues, or are, god forbid, pregnant, that don’t allow them to drink and casually talking about it like it’s a choice, like deciding you won’t eat mushrooms, is incredibly insulting. Also suggesting that if you don’t drink that you should just avoid conferences altogether is yet another example of how we as a community are phasing people out and excluding them. Yay diversity.

Twitter2

Another specious argument was that all non-alcoholic options are more unhealthy than “good” alcoholic options. In spite this person’s claim to the contrary, scotch is not healthy. I agree that juice and soda are full of sugar and no one would claim that they are health food, but neither is scotch. What do you think alcohol is? It’s sugar! Making a claim that having a soda or a glass of cranberry juice at a conference is a less healthy choice than having scotch is bullshit. They’re both unhealthy, but I can drink the juice and I can’t drink the scotch. A glass of juice is not metabolized through my liver. I can drive after drinking a glass of juice. I can take an ibuprofen the next day without jeopardizing my liver. Also, no one is healthy 24/7. We occasionally indulge in something and it would be great to be able to work with people to have less damaging indulgences rather than just saying to go drink water. Telling me what I can and can’t have because you have personally deemed it to be unhealthy is arrogant and presumptuous.

We are programmers. We brag about how great we are at solving problems. We talk big about being disruptive and trying to change the world. I call bullshit on this community that we somehow are helpless in the face of trying to figure out ways to be inclusive to people who do not drink alcohol. There are a lot of ways this problem can be dealt with and just shrugging and saying you can’t please everyone, stay home is not the right response.

Trying to Figure out Replacements

One of the big things that I miss about drinking is not the actual drinking part, but the stuff around it. I miss picking out wine and different flavors of vodka and mixing drinks. I miss using my cocktail glasses. I miss having a process of making things.

IMG_4523This last part has somewhat been replaced by learning how to cook, but I still miss being able to make stuff for myself.

A number of people suggested I replace my wine with tea. I was resistant to this switch because I already have tea keyed in my brain to work. When I get up in the morning, I go through a ritual where I brew my tea in my cast iron tea pot and pick out my mug and sit down to start work for the day. I don’t want to drink more tea at night when I have been drinking tea all day because it will not let my brain relax and realize that work is over.

I did, however, forget about iced tea. My dad was from Tennessee and the only tea he ever drank was iced tea. He did unsweetened Lipton iced tea, but I have realized this is a possible solution to some of the issues I have had with finding a replacement for alcohol:

  • There are a lot of different teas on the market
  • I can mix and match teas to make different flavor combinations
  • I can add in different flavorings like lemon juice
  • I can use a special glass

IMG_4522In order to avoid polluting my mind by confusing it about the teapot, I use a different cast iron teapot for iced tea. When I used to work out of the house I bought a second tea pot for work and kept one at home. I stopped using the work teapot because it’s capacity was a little too large and the tea would go cold before I could drink all of it. It brews about four cups of tea.

A while ago I invested in a tea water machine. One of my bosses had one at a previous job and it was always great to be able to just get up and brew tea any time I feel like it. My house’s electric system is wired badly and I can’t heat water for tea if I am using the toaster oven or running the dishwasher. This heater resolves that issue and has resulted in me drinking more tea because it removes a step and makes it easier to do it.

Since I am watering down the tea with ice, I want it to be strong. I have been using three tablespoons of tea. I want to have my tea be fruity, but I also want it to have some of the health benefits of tea. I brew this for at least seven minutes to try and extract as much flavor from the tea as possible before throwing it out. I usually reuse tea that I drink hot, but when I am making iced tea or chai I use the tea once because the second brewing is too weak.

I know it’s terrible, but I have a number of herbal teas from Teavana. They are very strong and if you blend them with a green tea, they add a lot of flavor. I have been using one part herbal tea to two parts green tea. This gives a distinct fruit flavor while retaining the health benefits of the green tea.

I want this to be something of an indulgence without being too unhealthy. I added an ounce of lemon juice and a quarter of a cup of sugar. I check and that is about 190 calories of sugar, which is about fifty calories per cup of iced tea, which gets watered down significantly. For comparison, an ounce of scotch is 64 calories and a glass of red wine is 125 calories.

Trying to do Better

I consider this experiment a success, but I know this doesn’t translate as a solution to the larger problem of having better non-alcoholic options in the programming community.

Cheers!

Cheers!

One of the reasons I am trying to do these experiments is to eventually figure out bette solutions that can be implemented within the confines of the system. I know that if I go to a bar with people I can order non-alcoholic beverages, but I would like to figure out a solution for catered events where there is generally wine and beer but not any other creative non-alcoholic options.

Most people don’t do something unless it’s easy. Right now it’s easy to drink alcohol because it’s the default. It easier to just drink wine and beer because they’re the most prominent options and everyone else is doing it. I think if it were easier to make non-alcoholic choices more people would do them and it would make more people feel welcome at these events.

Stir Fry My Way

This is a giant, pointless, first world problems rant about food. If you’re looking for insight into tech, this isn’t a post for that.

My dad has a lot of weird control issues, especially about food.

My dad does all the grocery shopping and cooks all the food in the house. He keeps insisting my mom can’t cook and has taken it upon himself to do all the cooking in the house. He has told me that he sees it as a source of pride that he provides for his family and makes sure we have food.

I can only imagine this is why he controls things the way he does.

One thing that he does that drives me completely insane is that he won’t let anyone serve themselves.

When it’s dinner time, everyone lines up at the counter and he serves you. He cuts giant chunks of overcooked salmon and steamed brussels sprouts and deposits them on the plate and unceremoniously hands it to you.

Prepping stir fry ingredients.

Prepping stir fry ingredients.

Being handed a large plate full of food you know you’re not going to finish is really upsetting, especially when you get yelled at for not cleaning your plate. My dad will make enough food for ten people and tell my mother to eat heartily but that he doesn’t want to eat too much because he’s watching his weight. Then he yells at her for wasting the food he made too much of that he didn’t want to eat himself.

I don’t eat a lot. I never have. I also hated both salmon and brussels sprouts until I got out on my own and found out that if they were prepared properly they could be delicious.

One of the things that drove me absolutely crazy (besides being handed the wrong fork and having to fish the right fork out from the silverware drawer) was how he would dish out stir fry.

I like to put the rice on the plate first and then ladle the stir fry over the rice. That way the rice can absorb all the sauce. Dry white rice is miserable and soulless and the only way it’s tolerable is as a sponge for sauce.

My dad would never let me plate my own stir fry. He would dump the stir fry on first then place it next to the rice. The sauce would flow all over the plate and be lost forever, leaving three quarters of the rice naked and unsauced.

I know this sounds really fucking stupid to complain about how food is presented to me. I didn’t have to pay for it. I didn’t have to cook it. I should just be grateful and shut up and eat my food without complaint.

It just bothers me to see people not paying attention to details and aesthetics. Salmon does not have to be disgusting. If you cook it properly and put some garlic and salt and pepper and some butter or sesame oil it can be awesome. Cooking it for an hour with no seasoning takes almost as much work but it completely destroys the fish.

This stir fry tastes of freedom. And ginger.

This stir fry tastes of freedom. And ginger.

It doesn’t take that much thought to think that maybe if you put the stir fry on the rice it will absorb the sauce. I have known my dad for 34 years and every single time he has plated my stir fry I have had to fix and and go grab the right fork out of the drawer.

I feel like it’s almost a battle of wills. I feel like he purposely doesn’t remember that I don’t use a large fork and that I don’t like salmon and I like my rice under my stir fry. I wouldn’t need him to remember if he would just treat me like a god damned adult and let me serve my own food.

So tonight I made stir fry. I was trying to figure out how to get the rice and stir fry ratio proper when I realized that it’s my food and I can control it and do it however I want.

So I mixed the rice and the stir fry together so that none of the sauce would go to waste and I wouldn’t have to deal with the last parts of the rice being unsauced. And I ate it with the right fork and served myself as much as I knew I could eat.

I know this is a really stupid thing to complain about, but being able to mix my rice and stir fry together is one of those things I get to do that makes me feel like an adult and makes me feel awesome because I have control over something in my life and I can do whatever I want. Whenever being an adult seems too overwhelming and I worry about paying my bills or losing my job, I try to remember stuff like this to remind myself that it’s all worth it.

Weight is a Number

I am entering my second year of living alone as an independent adult human. I am trying to sort out taxes and get my house cleaned to the point where I can have a party.

One thing I have been passively struggling with is my weight.

The last few years have been very difficult. I have commented on this blog before about the unstable food situation I have had. I have also dealt with a lot of stress and not knowing how to cook my own food. I thought that when all of those issues went away the situation would take care of itself. I didn’t want to try doing a diet and exercise plan because, honestly, I was having trouble just keeping my head above water so it wasn’t a priority.

I don’t think I have lost any weight since I started living alone. I think I had an unhealthy bloated look that has gone away and I feel like I look healthier, but I recently started buying all of my clothes a size larger to be comfortable while I am working.

I was very skinny as a child. The other kids would not go on the seesaw with me because I was so light that I would just hang up in the air. I was consistently ten pounds lighter than everyone else in my class up until puberty hit. Then I developed an eating disorder and I was mad that I didn’t lose any weight. I was freezing all the time and used to pass out, but I didn’t lose weight, so I was demoralized.

I feel a little like a failure because I feel like I had a natural body type that was not very heavy and I am now technically overweight. I don’t feel like doing all the stuff I would need to do to lose the 20 pounds I feel like I should lose to go back to being normal.

I remember being skinny.

You know what? Being skinny really sucked.

I do not remember a time in my childhood where I could tolerate any amount of physical activity.

The worst day of the school year for me was when we would have to run the mile. I would start out thinking I would try to run just this one time. Within a hundred feet I would be gasping for air clutching my side because I felt like I was being stabbed. I got used to my time just being over fifteen minutes because trying to do any better than that was just too hard. I had one year where I didn’t feel well and it was over twenty minutes and they had me do it again.

I hated athletics and sports because I totally sucked at anything physical.

I have noticed since moving out of my parent’s house that my eating habits have changed. My dad makes inedible food. The food he makes is somewhat nutritionally vacuous. He does a lot of bread and rice. One reason he and my ex would get into fights was because my dad wanted his meals to be mainly bread and cereals and my ex wanted his meals to be mainly of meat. Supposedly there should have been common ground between them to eat a lot of vegetables, but shockingly for some reason neither of them actually did that.

He has struggled with his weight most of his adult life. He likes to gorge himself and feel full, which means he tries to make a lot of watery soups that take up a lot of volume, but don’t provide calories or nutrients.

I think back to being a kid and eating turkey sandwiches on whole wheat bread with nothing else on them, not because I was picky, but because we didn’t have anything else to put on them. We had a lot of rice and steamed brussels sprouts and skim milk and iceberg lettuce salads with non-fat dressing washed down with cold glasses of Crystal Light Strawberry Kiwi Lemonade.

My dad had an aversion to fat and he replaced it with carbohydrates. We didn’t do a lot of vegetables and we didn’t have a lot of protein. Most of our food was nutritionally vacant. I am pretty sure my brother, who still lives with my parents, is suffering from scurvy.

I will cop to the fact that when I was starving myself I was making my body weak. I was working against myself by not taking care of myself properly. But as I have been angry with myself for abusing myself, I keep thinking back to the times when I wasn’t abusing myself. I think about how when I was seven I had to ask my friend’s mom for a ride less than a block because I would be winded trying to walk that far.

I might have been skinny, but I sure as hell wasn’t healthy.

I know I should do more than I am doing now. When it’s warmer outside I go for hour long walks and I find them enjoyable. I started running on and off the last few years and I find more joy in it that I ever thought I would because I associated it with feeling like I was going to die and being made fun of for being weak.

Recently I helped my 64-year-old mother move a mattress to the basement. She has arthritis and couldn’t grip the mattress, so I helped my dad do it. She didn’t want me to because she thought if she couldn’t handle the mattress there was no way that I could. Do you know how pathetic it feels to have your retired mother be shocked that you can do normal tasks because it’s something she doesn’t think she can do??

My dad keeps making passive aggressive comments about my “unhealthy” food that has “flesh” in it. He keeps trying to pawn watery lentil and squash soup on me. When I turn him down he keeps telling me that I picked up some bad habits from my ex and comments how skinny I was when I ate his food.

Yeah, starving people tend to be skinny. But being skinny isn’t the best tool that we have to gauge health. If I have to be overweight to be able to actually go hiking and running and not constantly feeling like I am going to die, then cool. I would rather deal with the ten or twenty vanity pounds I would like to lose than go back to how I felt when I was skinny but thought I was fat.

Adventures in Bread Making: Sandwich Bread

Note: I do not have Amazon affiliate links set up on my blog. I am too lazy and apathetic to figure out how they work. There are a lot of links to products on Amazon. I set up the links to thinks I have personally purchased just to make it easy for people to find if they are interested in doing so. I don’t want this to come across like me trying to sell a bunch of crap. I just hate leaving the house and I buy most stuff from there and wanted to give people suggestions for things.

When my dormant interest in cooking started emerging this past year, one thing that interested me was baking my own bread.

My dad is really into bread, but not the kind of bread I want. When I was a kid we always had whole wheat bread. It’s supposed to be healthier, but it’s like twice as caloric as crappy white bread, which I always thought was bullshit.

Around the time I turned twelve my dad got a bread maker. The only bread he could coax out of this monstrosity was some variety of supposedly French bread. This gummy mass could not be sliced thinner than an inch. He compounded this by microwaving cheese on it. He is of the opinion that anything he makes at home has to be better than anything you buy from somewhere else. I am not of this opinion.

My nightmares of my father’s bread making were one reason I was willing to try the Paleo diet with my ex. I never liked bread and didn’t think it would be a big deal giving it up. I realized that there are lots of different breads in the world and that many of them are heavenly.

I was really intimidated by the thought of making bread. I have never worked with yeast before. The idea of working with it and kneading it were a little scary to me. I figured it would be really complicated.

That was one reason I wanted to make it. It bothered me that it was this mysterious process that everyone I know seemed to muck up very badly. I know that baking anything takes practice and I was hoping that I would do well enough not to get discouraged.

There are a lot of kinds of bread, so I had to pick what I wanted to do first. I was going to try brioche, but I figured I should try something a little more basic before I tackled something fancy.

I knew I wanted to make sandwich bread. I didn’t want to make any of the rustic hearth loaves that my dad foists on us that he buys from the artisanal bread section of the grocery store. I wanted to try making bread with a fine crumb that I could slice finely enough to make grilled cheese sandwiches with. I knew making tearing bread was doable, but I never saw anyone make homemade sandwich bread that could actually be sliced properly.

Recipe and Process

One of the books I bought for my bread making endeavors was The Bread Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum. I own a number of her books and I was slightly worried about the recipe being too complicated.

Bread Sponge

Bread Sponge

If you’re going to do any kind of baking, I strongly suggest investing in a kitchen scale. Baking is very touchy. A cup of flour can be many different amounts depending on if you sift the flour, how humid it is, if you pack it in, etc… It’s nice to just place a bowl on the scale and pour out the amount necessary. All decent baking books have an option of either cups or weighted measurements. It also dirties fewer utensils to not have to measure out flour. Just dump it out of the bag until you have the right weight.

I also recommend using King Arthur All Purpose Flour. All purpose flours have a certain percentage of hard and soft wheat in them. Some specialty flours like White Lily Flour have far more soft wheat with less gluten in them and are good for softer breads. I know Rose suggests using only White Lily flour for biscuits and America’s Test Kitchen radio gets at least one call a month from someone complaining that their biscuit’s aren’t like Grandma’s where the answer to the question is “Use White Lily Flour.” King Arthur flour should be readily available in most grocery stores or on Amazon. White Lily Flour is also available on Amazon. The flour makes a difference. Don’t save a buck buying generic flour on something like this.

I had one bit of trouble with the recipe. The first step of the recipe is to create a sponge. A sponge is similar to a starter. You take all the liquid ingredients and sugar and yeast along with some of the dry ingredients. You use these to give a head start to the yeast. It cultivates it and lets it get established.

Bread Sponge with Flour Blanket on Top.

Bread Sponge with Flour Blanket on Top.

The directions for the sponge were a little confusing. It said to let the sponge sit for one to four hours. It wasn’t clear if you were supposed to let the sponge sit and then add the remaining dry ingredients or if you dumped them on top immediately. After I stopped being stupid and read the beginning of the book, I saw that you’re supposed to dump them on top immediately.

The recipe says you can put the sponge in the fridge from eight to twenty four hours before being used. You do need to let the sponge sit out at room temperature for at least an hour before putting it in the fridge.

"Zombie" bread that came back from the dead after warming up a bit.

“Zombie” bread that came back from the dead after warming up a bit.

I have done this recipe twice. The first time I did not refrigerate the sponge, the second time I did. The directions said if you are taking the sponge out of the fridge and hand mixing it, to let it warm for an hour. It wasn’t clear if you should let it warm up if you were using a KitchenAid mixer like I was, so I didn’t let it warm up. It was difficult to get the butter incorporated and everything took an hour longer to happen. The bread took three hours to rise instead of two. So if you’re going to put the sponge in the fridge, I would suggest letting it come up to temperature before mixing the dough.

You mix the dough twice. The first time is only for a minute to bring it together. Then you need to let it rest for twenty minutes to give the gluten time to form. Then you do a more intensive kneading.

I have a “newer” KitchenAid mixer I got in 2009. I am pretty sure they are not as robust as they used to be. The action of kneading the dough shakes the mixer to the point that the locking lever shakes loose and the top of the mixer starts bucking like a mechanical bull. I have to hold it down for the kneading process. It’s only ten minutes, but it is still a pain.

After this, most of your labor is done. Now you just have to wait for things. After the kneading is done, you place the dough in a large oiled mixing bowl. It takes an hour and a half to two hours for the first rising. This part of the process took three hours when I didn’t let the sponge warm properly. I keep my house relatively cool, so I put the bowl in the oven with the light on.

Divided dough on its second rise.

Divided dough on its second rise.

If you are going to make bread, I suggest investing in a scraper. My recipe makes two loaves of bread. It’s important when you divide your dough to do as little tearing as possible. I tore my dough the first time. It felt really funny, like it was bubble wrap. You have spent a bunch of time building up bubbles and gluten and connective tissue within your bread that you want to traumatize it as little as possible. An oiled scraper is great for dividing the dough as efficiently as possible. You can also use it to scrape off the dough fairly easily.

Note: Make sure you oil all of your materials well. If you are cutting the dough, oil the tool you use to cut it. Oil the bowl you rise the dough in. Oil the pan you cook the bread in.

My ex used to buy those refillable oil misters, but they always get gummed up and break and never work super well, so I bought Pam spray oil and have been praising God ever since. I don’t care if the hydrogenated oil kills me five years early, I want something that fucking works.

At this point you’re supposed to form the loaves. The directions say to pull it and fold it on a floured surface and roll it up and seal it and a lot of other junk. I have no idea how to do this. I saw diagrams at the beginning of the book, but I just didn’t get it to work. The bread turned out okay. I will be interested to see if learning to do this properly actually makes that much of a difference or not, but for now if you mess up this up it won’t make the bread inedible.

You divide the dough into two loaves and place them in oiled pans to rise. I use these pans from Nordic Ware. Nordic Ware has really nice bakeware. They have a lot of creative cake pans. These loaf pans are pretty robust and seem built to last.

Bread after its second rise ready to be baked.

Bread after its second rise ready to be baked.

I put the dough back in the oven with the light on for an hour and a half. It needs to rise further than that, but at this point you need to preheat the oven forty-five minutes before you bake the bread.

If you have a sheet pan of some kind, you should put it in there as well. I have this one. You are going to throw some ice cubes in the oven along with your bread and this makes it easier to do that.

If you have a pizza stone, I recommend leaving the pizza stone in the oven all the time. Even if you preheat the oven, when you open the oven most of the hot air escapes. Pizza stones retain heat really well, so heating one for a long period of time in the oven before you bake anything will help keep your oven warm.

While the oven preheats I leave the bread near the oven so it can use the heat to rise. When it gets to the point that it’s ready to bake, I put it on the sheet pan and fill a glass with some ice cubes. I place the loaf pans as far away from one another as possible. I dump the ice between the loaf pans and shut the oven.

This is one of the few recipes I have used that has the time right on the button. It says to bake for fifty minutes and that works perfect.

Baked bread cooling before being consumed.

Baked bread cooling before being consumed.

As tempting as it is to dig into your warm, fresh bread, don’t do it! The bread needs time to cool and solidify. Make sure when you cut the bread that you use a good bread knife. I really like the Victorinox line of knives. I have a paring knife and a chef’s knife from them. America’s Test Kitchen highly recommends them and they are cheaper than a lot of other “good” knives.

Since homemade bread doesn’t have preservatives in it, it won’t last as long as grocery store bread. I have bought loaves of sandwich bread from the store that have been in my house for three weeks without spoiling. That is rather frightening to me.

I live alone and I can’t eat two loaves of bread before they go bad. I got around this the first time by giving one loaf to my mail man for Christmas. The second time I froze the second loaf. You can buy bread bags from Amazon to freeze your second loaf. Amazon also has Chinese take out containers and a lot of other industrial food service stuff, which I think is fantastic. Don’t get bored and look at this stuff or else you will wind up with a hundred plastic Egg Drop Soup containers and a hundred disposable sets of chopsticks.

Conclusion

Bread can be cut quite thinly.

Bread can be cut quite thinly.

The bread turned out perfect. I could cut very thin slices of bread after it had cooled. It makes really good toast. The crumb is fine. The flavor is good.

The recipe that Rose gave was pretty fool proof. You just do everything that it says to the letter. It doesn’t necessarily explain why you let the dough rest for twenty minutes. If you’re like my friend Nicki, you might just skip any step you think is superfluous. I think it would still be edible, but you won’t get optimal results.

A lot of success in cooking is just following directions. Letting things rest after they’re done, oiling things properly, etc… I know we all have trouble following directions sometimes, but when you get a good set and follow them properly it really demystifies the process of doing something complicated.

One of the simple joys in life: Toast made with fresh bread.

One of the simple joys in life: Toast made with fresh bread.

My Resolutions for 2016

I woke up on the last day of this year completely non-functional. I am used to having a day or two of non functionality, but I can usually target it for weekends so that I don’t have to tell anyone I don’t feel well or miss work. Wasn’t able to do that a few days ago.

I really tried to make it to the long weekend, but my body gave out on me before then. The wonderful people at my work told me to take off early and get some rest and not to do any work this weekend. It’s a good place and I am happy that I work for people who want me to take care of myself.

Since I am not supposed to code or do any work right now, I have been thinking about what my goals are this year. I know most people are resolving to work out more often or lose weight or whatever. My goals are going to be a little different.

  • I am not working on another book
  • I am going to release an app or an open source project
  • I am going to clean and organize my house
  • I am going to make more of an effort to entertain at my house
  • I am going to cook a complicated special meal once a month
  • I am going to make complicated special dessert once a month
  • I will go on a real vacation this year

I am not working on another book

I can’t do this any more right now. When I worked on my first programming book, I was between jobs and I was able to dedicate all of my time to working on it. There was a period of overlap, which was incredibly difficult. I wasn’t planning to work on one this year, but a series of events lead me to work on the Swift Apprentice.

Working on that broke me.

I would sit down to work on it and feel my head filling with white noise. Even thinking about going to work on my computer made me want to curl up in a ball and cry. I missed a lot of my deadlines and I felt horrible for not doing what I promised to do. I was supposed to do two chapters but I could only pull myself together enough to do one.

I don’t know why this project was the one that broke me. I had worked on other books and wrote articles for Objc-io, but this was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I have been trying to recover from it ever since.

Everyone on the Swift Apprentice was incredibly supportive and understanding. I do not want this to come off in any way like I am blaming anyone there. I had no idea what my limits were until I went over them. I actually wrote a long pitch to Ray about a Metal book on the way home from 360iDev. I had only gotten about three hours of sleep a night for a week and a few hours after I wrote him that pitch my body gave out and I nearly passed out several times on my trip home. I slept for two days after that.

I think when I am about to crash I go into denial and try to add even more work to myself because I don’t want to admit that I am spent. It’s taking me longer and longer to recover from a crash and they are happening more and more often.

So I am not going to work on anything extra this year. I just can’t. I will keep blogging and doing other writing for myself, but I am not taking on anything with a deadline for someone else this year. I just can’t do it right now.

I am going to release an app or an open source project

Going along with the previous resolution, I need to do some work for myself this year.

Most job postings require you to have published an app to be hired. I have gotten around that by working on books and talks and working for very intelligent people.

So far in my career I have never done anything for myself or on my own.

I found it hard to justify working on my own things when I had so many opportunities presented to me. It astonishes me that I have written a book with Chris Adamson and worked for Brad Larson and have had the incredible privilege of joining the Ray Wenderlich team. I keep waiting for someone to tap me on the shoulder and tell me that I am living someone else’s life and it’s time to go back to my actual one.

It bothers me that I have not finished something of my own. I pushed it off to the side while I tried to establish my career. I know that doing something of my own would establish it further, but stuff kept coming up. I kept thinking I would work on it when this current thing was over, but then another thing would come along and another.

I know this is totally a first world problem that I have too many good opportunities. I took a lot of them because I found it hard to say no. I need to do that this year because I need to focus on what I want to do and be known for.

I did the writing and the speaking because I wasn’t super comfortable with my programming skills. I was a beginner and I needed to find a job to support myself. Doing things I already had experience with helped me jumpstart my career. It was the right move to make at the time.

Now I want to focus on showing that I can code. I want to find something that hasn’t been done before and I want to figure it out. I want to do this for me. I don’t care if an app I write makes a penny, I want to make it because I want to know I am capable of doing so.

I am not putting this off any longer. I am doing something for me this year.

I am going to clean and organize my house

I have written in the past about my house. I started organizing and cleaning it a month or two ago. I noticed over the last week or two that it’s been sliding back into chaos. That should have been a warning to me that I was heading for a crash.

One problem I have is that I don’t have an organizational structure. I can’t put anything away because there is nowhere to put anything away to. I have been boxing things up and storing them in the basement.

2015 was the first year where I had to actually pay bills and budget stuff. I was terrified of running out of money, so I didn’t really invest in things for my house for a while. I was also gone most of the time and it was easier to just not think about it. I had two rooms in my house I never went into because I was never home.

Now that I work from home, it bothers me to see how messy everything is. I have never gotten to decorate my home before. I didn’t think of this as my home until recently and I have started to become mentally unfrozen about it.

I am hoping to budge out an amount for shelves for my books and my geeky toys. I want to pain the rooms of the house in colors I like. I want to organize the kitchen and finally figure out what stuff my ex left for me.

I don’t want to sleep walk through my life anymore. I want to be actively engaged in world around me, including the place I call my home.

I am going to make more of an effort to entertain at my house

I live in the middle of nowhere. I also like to plan things and cook. I always wanted to have parties, but neither my father nor my husband would let me do that. It also wasn’t like I had anyone to invite over anyway.

I don’t want to get too isolate out here on my own. I would like to be able to have people come over here and enjoy themselves. The idea of being able to actually plan out a menu and feed people and have people come over here makes me really happy.

I don’t want to be ashamed of the place that I live. I would like to have people come here and enjoy themselves. I would like to have an excuse to dress nicely and have a good time with people. This also gives me an incentive to make sure I clean my house properly periodically and not let it slide into chaos.

I am going to cook a complicated special meal once a month

I wrote recently about having a subscription food service. I like to cook, but I find grocery shopping to be overwhelming.

My weekly subscription is really awesome for feeding myself every day, but the meals are by its nature simplified for busy people who don’t have a day to prepare a meal.

There are a bunch of things I want to figure out how to make that are complicated.

I want to actually organize myself by choosing one complicated thing a month that I will make. I will have a targeted list of ingredients so I don’t just randomly start buying things with the idea that I could make a lot of different things.

I think by planning a day, like the second Saturday of every month, to do something special and to have a targeted list of things I want to do, that I can organize myself enough to do something special.

I could try to coordinate this with the entertaining resolution. I would love to have a dinner party. I know no one does that anymore, but I want to do it and I think it would be fun.

I am going to make complicated special dessert once a month

One thing that has disappointed me as an adult is not being able to bake things. My ex took up the Paleo diet, which doesn’t allow for any kind of baking at all.

This sounds totally stupid, but I grew up thinking that I would be able to bring cookies and stuff to work for my co-workers. I haven’t had a job like that since I worked in the call center. Right now I work from home so I don’t have an office to bring things to. At my last office I was discouraged from bringing food in. I brought in doughnuts once and no one would eat them.

I am bothered by how touchy everyone is about food. Everyone is on a perpetual diet. Everyone thinks that if you eat a brownie you are a bad person with no willpower. It really fucking sucks.

So I am going to make something every month. Hopefully I can find people to pawn it off to. If not, I just want to make it for myself. Hopefully I can freeze it. Hopefully I can serve it at something.

It sucks investing time in making something to have people turn their noses up at it and feel virtuous because somehow they are better than you are because they don’t indulge in things that are bad for them. I made stuffed mushrooms for my parents for Christmas Eve and my dad would not keep the leftovers because I put bacon in them. He talked down to me about how I was going to die before I turned forty because I eat bacon a few times a year.

Life is short. Eat cake. Not every day, but sometimes.

I will go on a real vacation this year

The last vacation I went on was in 2013. I went on a cruise during my winter break between semesters at school. My ex and I spent most of the cruise drinking. He discovered that he loved scuba diving. I discovered that the idea of putting my head underwater threw me into a panic attack.

I wanted to spend the whole time laying around the adults-only pool area relaxing and reading programming books. I was forced off the boat at each port. I didn’t get to do anything that I wanted. I got screamed at at least three times. It would have been a wonderful vacation if I had been alone.

I want a real vacation.

I have gone on trips to conferences. I sing for my supper and they’re all working trips. I have gotten to see a lot of amazing places and met a lot of amazing people. It’s been great, but it’s also been exhausting. The last trip I went on I was awake for 24 hours straight.

I wanted to speak at conferences so I could afford to attend a lot of them, but most of the conferences I went to in 2015 were so overwhelming that the only session I attended was my own. I would spend long periods of time hiding out in my room because I was too spent to leave and see others speak.

I have thought about doing vacations before, but the effort for planning one and the cost have been overwhelming to me. I don’t know how people do cheap vacations. If anyone has advice I would be happy to hear it. The cheapest flights I have been able to book are $350. Then it’s hard to find a hotel for less than a hundred bucks a night. If you are gone a week, it’s at least a grand to just get there and be there. I am sure there are cheaper alternatives, but I have been too mentally exhausted to deal with it, so I haven’t looked into alternatives. I have just written off the idea that this is something I can do.

I would like to either do a cruise or an all-inclusive resort. I want to step off the plane someplace warm and not have to think about anything for a week. I want to not worry about feeding myself. I don’t want to worry about finding alcohol. I just want to be able to set somewhere I can relax and do whatever I want when I feel like it. I want no friction. I don’t want to feel bad that I am not going out and visiting historical places or going to museums. I don’t want to have to figure out where I am getting food. I just want to relax and do whatever I feel like.

If anyone has any suggestions for resorts or cruises they liked, I would appreciate it, especially if it’s targeted at singles. A cruise would be twice as expensive for me to travel as a single person. It might still be the best option, but I am open to suggestions that are different.

Rest and Renewal

I am figuring out the hard way that I can’t work all the time. I have been running myself into the ground for the last three years. I needed to do that for the first couple, but I can’t keep doing it anymore.

I have been afraid of backing off at all. I saw people who have been doing the same thing for fifteen years and have gotten complacent that things will never change. They think their jobs will always be there. They don’t try to push to move up or evolve their jobs.

I picked the handle Red Queen Coder because the Red Queen had to run as fast as she could just to stay in one place. If she wanted to get anywhere, she would have to run twice as fast as she was. I have been running twice as fast for the last three years. It’s time to step back to just running and staying in one place. I need to rebuild my energy for the next sprint.

Learning To Cook: Is A Food Subscription Worth the Cost?

About two months ago I got sick of going grocery shopping, so I decided to try out a subscription food service. I noticed that when I went grocery shopping I would be spent for the rest of the day. I kept meaning to go after work, but by the time I finished work I was so drained I could not deal with getting dressed and organizing myself enough for a shopping excursion, so I would wind up going on a Saturday and then spend the rest of the day staring at a wall because I could not deal with anything.

Nice braised chicken with carrots, dates, and sweet potato.

Nice braised chicken with carrots, dates, and sweet potato.

I also noticed I would get overstimulated when I would go shopping. I would see a bunch of pork chops and butternut squash and fresh mozzarella and other stuff and I would wind up impulsively buying a bunch of stuff that would languish in my fridge. One bad impulse purchase was a bag of pears. Those sat in my fridge for two months because the stuff I would buy to cook with them would go bad and be thrown away.

I also really like having projects to work on. I figured out when I did cross stitch that it was worth the additional cost to buy preassembled kits. If I had to buy all the components and organize them on my own I was less likely to finish a project. Getting a project with all the component and all the thread colors cut to the same size and in the qualities I needed was the small push I needed to actually finish a project. It is stupid how easy it is to give up on something where there are too many small hurdles to get over.

I noticed with my food that I was doing the same thing over and over again because it was hard for me to get organized. I would go to the grocery store planning to buy stew meat to make beef stew, but then I would see the meat was as expensive as six meals worth of chicken thighs and I would not buy it even though I was tired of what I was working with. It was hard to push myself to try new things, even though I really wanted to do them and was excited about them.

Why I chose Plated

I looked at several subscription food services, and I chose to go with Plated. I read reviews of their boxes for a few months and it looked the most promising. Their meals were generally a little more complicated than some of the other boxes I saw. They seemed to have a lot of things I am excited about, namely Asian dishes and some more homey dishes like meatloaf.

Sophisticated recipe with good flavors and well composed.

Sophisticated recipe with good flavors and well composed.

Each week they have seven options for meals. Each meal is targeted for two people, so I would have a set leftover that I can eat the next day for lunch but not so many leftovers that I would have them for a week and get tired of them. You choose between one and seven meals each week, but it generally assumes you are going to order three. One thing I don’t like about this service is that if you want to change what you get for a week, you change your whole plan rather than picking and choosing how many you do each week.

They also have a few premium options where you can get more expensive ingredients like scallops and duck or add a dessert.

I get three sets of ingredients for three meals delivered each week. This costs $72 a week. This breaks down to $12 a meal with each recipe composing two meals.

Cons of Plated

So far there are a couple of things I really don’t like about my service.

Expensive

I will be up front that this is moderately expensive. I pay $24 for each recipe I make. When I go to Costco and buy chicken, I can get six meals worth of chicken for less than twenty bucks.

$24 for mushrooms and chicken? Not quite...

$24 for mushrooms and chicken? Not quite…

Some of their options for meals really don’t seem to be worth the cost. One option was grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup. Those ingredients are like five bucks.

I know that you are not just talking about the food cost when you are dealing with something like this. My cost includes shipping and packaging the ingredients. It also includes the cost of research and development by the people running Plated.

Generally speaking, getting this service is more expensive than eating out. It is also more work than eating out or buying some kind of prepared food. I am mentioning this because one thing people talk about with cooking for yourself is that it is supposed to be cheaper than eating out. It really isn’t. You can cook at home much cheaper than eating out if you do thinks like macaroni and cheese, but if you want to make adult food it is more expensive. There is also the cost of peripherals like pots and pans and other equipment.

I could feed myself more cheaply.

Repetitive

Plated’s menu is somewhat repetitive. Last week one meal was chicken meatballs with broccoli and peanut sauce. Next week one meal is the same thing with beef instead of chicken.

Being repetitive isn’t necessarily a con, per se. I have certain things I always like to make, like meatloaf. I missed the last meatloaf they sent out because it was the week before I began. I got a meatloaf this week and was happy to get to try it.

I am just at a point where I realize that I am going to get tired of things after a while because they are going to be somewhat repetitive.

Oversimplification and Missing Components

I don’t mean missing components like they forgot to send a vital ingredient in the box. They have been very good about that. I mean missing components in that they have oversimplified the dish.

The first week I had a ginger salmon in miso broth. Miso broth is supposed to have a base of dashi, which is a fish and seaweed based Japanese broth. It adds a depth of flavor and a richness that is necessary for a miso broth. The ingredients that were sent to make this dish were just miso paste and soy sauce.

These look beautiful, but the meat was rubbery. Buying a thermopen was the best thing I have ever done.

These look beautiful, but the meat was rubbery. Buying a thermopen was the best thing I have ever done.

I had dashi bullion crystals in my pantry that I used to doctor the dish. I find myself doctoring all of these dishes. They don’t include enough spices for most of the dishes and I wind up having to add things I have in my pantry to season the dishes properly.

They consistently tell you to make the oven too hot. I think they are targeting this at busy people who want a recipe that can be done in half an hour. They sent me a set of turkey thighs that should have been roasted for an hour on a lower temperature, but they were trying to get things done faster and they wound up being rubbery.

I have started to almost throw the recipes out and modify them to be more complicated. One thing they send a lot of are meals that are meant to be cooked on a sheet pan. I am searing my meat, then braising everything in the oven longer and slower than they say to. After I started doing that and I invested in a meat thermometer, I stopped having so many misses.

I have read some people complain that the meals are too complicated. It concerns me that this trend will continue with fewer components and more simplified directions that lead to not optimal results.

Food and Other Waste

One reason I wanted to do this service was because of food waste. I would make a large portion of food that I could not finish before it went bad. I wanted to make sure I had a limited amount of food that would be cooked so I would not throw half of it out.

This was a beautiful dish that I wound up throwing all the leftovers away on because I waited too long and the steak turned grey.

This was a beautiful dish that I wound up throwing all the leftovers away on because I waited too long and the steak turned grey.

I don’t throw half out, but I still throw a decent portion out.

Some of these meals give you way more food than I thought they would. Some of these provide enough food for four or more meals. I had a stuffed acorn squash meal that provided five large meals for me.

In addition to the food waste, there is the packaging waste. It’s nice having a lot of packaged ingredients, but it does contribute a bit of waste, specifically the ice packs. I can compost the insulation and I am reusing the boxes to pack up my books, but I will acknowledge I am not being environmentally minded here.

I have noticed that the food is starting to pile up. I had to throw one meal out because I left it in the fridge for too long before I even got a chance to cook it.

I am going to give this some more time. I had Thanksgiving, Christmas, and now New Year’s interfering with my ability to move food out of my fridge. I am giving it some time before cutting back or cancelling the service. I want to try and see how this works when winter finally hits and I don’t want to drive in the snow to feed myself.

Pros of Plated

I wanted to get the cons out of the way to try and put the pros in a better perspective.

Quality is Good

Even though I complained about the cost, the quality of food is good. The meats are antibiotic free. The produce is nice.

The meals are sophisticated. Even though I complained that they didn’t include dashi with the miso broth, they are one of the few services that would actually have a miso based dish.

I have not gotten a piece of meat or produce that I thought was just garbage. I have a few that I let get a little too old, but generally speaking the food quality is top notch.

The recipes have a lot of vegetables, which I appreciate. The nutritional content is well balanced. I could get take out cheaper, but it would be less healthy. It’s nice to have a well balanced meal with lean protein, veggies, and some starch that I don’t have to plan out that is good quality.

Stuff I Would Not Normally Try

I was excited to do the stuffed squash. It was one of those things that I always wanted to try but I was afraid to do on my own. I was afraid of cutting my finger off, so I was kind of happy to get some in my box so that I had a reason to figure out how to do that.

My first stir fry!

My first stir fry!

I have a wok in the basement that I have never used. Both my ex and my dad did stir fry but I was not trusted to use one because they thought I would hurt myself. Having a chance to pull it out and try it out was a good experience. I knew I might ruin my food, but this is a learning experience.

These dishes include weird mushrooms and other spice blends I might not try on my own. It’s cool to get a chance to work with things I would not be able to find on my own or I would not know what to do with if I did.

I Don’t Have to Leave My House

Mentioned earlier that I find going grocery shopping to be very draining. I have two jobs along with working on books and tech talks. Losing a day of productivity so that I can go out and buy milk and eggs vexes me to no end.

All the squash...

All the squash…

I feel helpless. I will be laying on my chair with my pugs staring at the wall cursing myself for being worthless because I can’t function after doing something that everyone in the world seems able to do. It fucking sucks.

I am trying to figure out the actual cost of this service. I look at the base cost of $72 a week, which I totally know I can do cheaper and causes me some feelings of discomfort. I feel like it’s wasteful to spend this much money on food for myself when I am one person.

One thing that causes a lot of ill will in my marriage was that I was angry at my ex-husband for doing stuff like this. He had a meat CSA where he would spend hundreds of dollars on organic special meat. He would go to the farmer’s market every week and buy a dozen eggs for five bucks. I felt like we were spending money we didn’t have on specialize food just to be snobby and feel like we were better than everyone else.

When he moved out I was planning to live off of beans and potatoes and live a lot cheaper. I feel like by doing this service I am a hypocrite because I am doing a thing that I judged him for when we were married.

I finally got to a point where I realized I have to do a lot of things for my own mental health. Losing a day of productivity to leave my house and buy food is not worth it.

I am looking at the cost as not just paying for the food, but paying to avoid having to do something I don’t enjoy doing. If I am too depressed to leave the house I don’t have to worry about not being able to feed myself. Having all of the ingredients and having a nice set of directions calms me down and lets me do something that makes me feel better.

I tend to get overwhelmed by choices. If I have a “babysitter” to tell me that I have one choice for what I have to cook and it’s something I picked out that I know I like, it’s easier for me to function.

It’s been a little bit of a running joke this year at my conferences that I need people to remind me to feed myself. I get hangry and overwhelmed by choices and then I can’t make any because I am too hungry to process what I want, so I wind up curling up in a ball losing my ability to function. Having meals automatically sent to me each week removes a lot of the anxiety I have about things and gives me an activity I can throughout the week that doesn’t require me to do things that cause me mental health issues.

So Is It Worth The Cost?

Overall, I am finding this experiment to be a success. I don’t know how long I will continue to do this. I am hoping to get comfortable enough with my cooking skills to be able to try things without a safety net.

I have had to do a lot of things for my own mental health recently. I went to my parent’s place for Christmas and even just going back home for a few days really threw me into a depression. I came home last night and was so happy to be able to have access to the things I need to take care of myself.

As god as my witness, I'll never be hangry again!

As god as my witness, I’ll never be hangry again!

I didn’t have my tea. I didn’t have a space that was mine where I could just focus and chill and be on my own. I didn’t control when I ate and what food I had.

I don’t like how necessary it is for me to control my environment right now. I know I used to be able to function without these things in the past. I hate how tenuous my grasp is on my ability to be functional. I am hoping this is just a rough patch in my life where I have to control everything.

If I can get some mental health from paying $72 a week for someone to box up a bunch of ingredients and send them to my house so that I don’t have to deal with a world that currently overwhelms me, then that’s worth it to me right now.

I don’t like admitting I need help. I don’t like admitting that doing every day thinks like grocery shopping or visiting my parents overnight throws me into chaos. It really sucks. I am deciding instead of being annoyed that I am paying too much money for ingredients to keep myself alive and functioning, I am going to be grateful that these services exist and I earn enough money to be able to afford to do this so I can keep my job and be productive. Saving twenty bucks a week by going and buying them myself but losing a whole day to the endeavor is penny wise and pound foolish.

Dutch Ovens and the Inevitable Heat Death of the Universe

Le Creuset

I have written about cooking on the blog before. I have also talked about my complicated relationship with food and my efforts to try and destigmatize food for the people I interact with.

Trying not to be super repetitive here, but I feel like some of the previously mentioned things bear reiterating.

I started teaching myself to cook back in the spring. I went out to Costco and looked for what packaged food I wanted to eat that week to find I had no appetite and nothing looked appealing. Everything in my life felt grey and dead. On a whim I picked up boneless, skinless chicken thighs. I felt like an idiot going back to my car because I figured they would languish in my freezer because I would never have the energy to cook them.

Not only did I cook them, but I cooked them enough that I got tired of them.

No more curry!! I can't do it anymore!!

No more curry!! I can’t do it anymore!!

For a few months, I basically made the same dish over and over again with a few slight modifications. I made a base chicken stew, then I would add Japanese curry roux to have curry. Or I would add Berbere to have Ethiopian Doro Wat. Or I would add peanut butter and tomatoes to have Sweet Potato Stew.

This last time I made Japanese curry, I was thoroughly tired of it. I wound up freezing half of my last batch because I just don’t want to eat the same thing anymore.

The last few months I have been craving braised meats. Roast beef, pork chops, skin-on, bone-in chicken with skin cooked crispy and then slowly cooked in wine and broth.

I used to have this a few times when my husband cooked, but he always made these things in our Le Creuset Dutch oven and braiser. When we were divvying up the kitchen stuff, he took most of the good stuff with him. He was the one who did most of the cooking and he had specially picked out everything that we had in the kitchen. I let him take most of the good stuff because I didn’t think I would be cooking anyway. I also didn’t get to pick out the color of the Le Creuset stuff and I didn’t want our ugly black ones.

My new little Le Creuset family.

My new little Le Creuset family.

The last month or so I have been seriously tempted to go out and buy replacement Le Creuset stuff. I hadn’t because that stuff is expensive! I just couldn’t justify the cost to myself of buying even one of those things because it seemed like a waste of money just so that I could make braised pork chops perfectly.

Finally, a few weeks ago, it occurred to me that I don’t have to buy any of these things new. They’re designed to last forever. I could buy used ones that people were selling. I went on eBay and went a little crazy. I was hoping to get one Le Creuset thing, but I wound up with four. One was even brand new in the package and I paid less than half the retail price for it.

These are the reason I am writing this post. They are lovely, beautiful things, but I hate them.

Marriage

I went through a divorce this year. The last few years of our marriage were this terrifying time of extreme dieting and extreme falling off the wagon.

On one of our first dates, my ex-husband made dinner. He had taught himself a bunch of French techniques and actually cooked things in butter, which was something my carb-nut father would never do, and still doesn’t.

No, this is mine that I bought yesterday. Why am I this person?

No, this is mine that I bought yesterday. Why am I this person?

He knew how to break down a chicken. He could make steaks that tasted like the ones you get at the steakhouse. He could make anything (except for baking, he was terrible at that).

My ex-husband has always been interested in cooking. We used to go to each other’s houses when we were kids and make cookies and sponge cake. It was a thing we did when we were friends. Instead of playing video games, we would cook. When we reconnected as adults, I was looking forward to doing that.

I only got to cook for a few months of our marriage. My ex-husband made it clear to me that he didn’t want to eat the food I prepared. I got busy with things and since he already knew how to cook, I just kind of let him take control of the cooking duties.

He did all the grocery shopping, so I never really knew what we had in the house. If he left, I couldn’t just cook something for myself because I never knew what we had around. I used to marvel that he could just open the fridge and make something out of what we had. I didn’t realize that he also knew everything else we had in the house and had a catalog of meals and techniques he knew how to do.

Then, around the time he turned 30, things got rather nightmarish.

This is "unhealthy." It has sweet potatoes. :p

This is “unhealthy.” It has sweet potatoes. :p

All of a sudden, everything in the house had to be organic. It had to be fancy. Above all, it had to be low carb. He went from making smoothies in the morning to eating a pound of bacon because it was “healthier.”

He wanted to lose a hundred pounds, but he wanted an easy answer. He thought if he just ate bacon cheeseburgers without the bun that the pounds would melt off and he wouldn’t feel deprived. Except it doesn’t work that way.

Eating low-carb takes a lot of time. You basically have to make a new meal every night. We both would get busy and tired and more often than not, the thought was fuck it, let’s cheat tonight. Since we’re cheating, let’s get lots of fried and greasy Chinese food. But we’ll definitely behave when this is gone. Totally. Not.

We rarely had chicken or steak anymore. Pasta and potatoes were banished from the house. Suddenly we belonged to a meat CSA and our freezer was full of lamb chops. He ordered organ meat online and had packages of sheep testicles in the freezer. For about two years we had an whole pig head in the freezer. It was wrapped in paper so you couldn’t see it’s lifeless eyes staring out at you, but I knew it was there, lurking under the paper.

Why I Didn’t Want to Cook

Baby peppers are a bitch to process. So why do I do it?

Baby peppers are a bitch to process. So why do I do it?

When he moved out, I told myself that I would not cook. I did not want to be consumed with collecting $400 counter top sous vides so that I could make rare, gelatinous pork. I did not want to spend hundreds of dollars on weird organ meats and doing weird French cooking.

I didn’t want to have a meat CSA for the sole purpose of telling strangers I met on the street that I had one to make it sound like I was more posh than I was.

I feel like the cooking thing reached back into another personality trait my ex-husband had even when we were kids: The need to feel better than other people.

We went to the prom together when we were sixteen. He and his friends rented a limo for the prom. In the back they brought along bottles of non-alcoholic white zinfandel. I asked them why they had the bottles. My ex’s best friend said that they were training their palettes. They said they were all planning to be rich and that one requirement of being rich was that you knew how to appreciate fine wine. I didn’t ingratiate myself to them at all by pointing out that no oenophile would consider any vintage of White Zinfandel to be fine wine.

New knives and bread book

New knives and bread book

I feel like my ex’s life was a giant performance art piece to try and convince everyone that he was better than they were. We had to buy art every year at the Art Fair on the Square so that he could casually drop in conversation that we had extra money to spend on art. He was angry when I had a prolonged period of unemployment when I went back to school because he couldn’t tell people that we went cruising every winter anymore.

I associate my Le Creuset cookware with all of the things we bought not because we liked them, but because we were showing off to people about how much better we were than them, even though we weren’t.

I noticed the longer our marriage went, the worse my ex’s food became. He started out cooking it because he wanted to make food he enjoyed. Towards the end, it became something he did to show off how much better he was than everyone else. Cooking is an expression of the soul. If your soul isn’t in it, then it shows.

The Best Laid Plans

I didn’t want to cook. I spent years trying to carve out time to work on programming or any of my other hobbies. I gave up on cooking. I didn’t want to do it anymore. I wanted to learn electronics and build robots in the basement. I wanted to join the local maker space and hang out with guys who built rockets and soap box derby racers. I had plans. These plans have not happened.

I am angry.

I am angry that I want to cook. I am angry that I just spent hundreds of dollars on cookware so that I could cook my chicken perfectly. I am angry that I bought new knives so that I don’t cut my finger off while processing a sweet potato.

Books I rescued from the basement. Still need to find the other Ruth Reichl one.

Books I rescued from the basement. Still need to find the other Ruth Reichl one.

I am angry that I wasted a bunch of time this morning looking through all of the books that my ex boxed up because he didn’t want my things in his house to see if he had gotten rid of my Ruth Reichl books. I found one, the other one is still MIA.

I am angry that I feel myself turning into this weird shut-in lady who doesn’t want to leave the house. I am afraid the neighbor kids will start saying I am a witch and that all the stray cats are going to show up at my house because I am going to be the weird crazy cat lady who lives alone. I am hoping the pugs help keep the cats away, but that opens up an entirely new possibility of accumulating a grumble of pugs.

I am pissed off that I have no one to cook for. I felt like there was an implicit agreement when I got married that my ex would agree to eat my food and not banish my cookbooks to the basement. I am angry that I have not gotten to bake a cake in years because I know no one who will eat it except me. I am angry at our society for telling people not to eat cake because I like making them and I would desperately love to share it with people who do not judge me for eating cake. I am angry that I want those things and I can’t have them.

When did I become a grown-up who eats salmon and brussels sprouts without being forced?

When did I become a grown-up who eats salmon and brussels sprouts without being forced?

I am angry that my brain and my body wants to do this right now. I wanted to want to go to the gym before going to the maker space and soldering circuit boards, but I don’t want that right now. I am tired. I am sick. Leaving my house drains all of my energy. I think the mailman hates me because I order canned tomatoes and flour from Amazon because I don’t want to put on a bra to go drive an hour to the grocery store to get those things.

I am angry that I haven’t lost any weight since my divorce. I am angry that even though I am going back to eating a normal diet with food I prepare myself, I am still heavier than I want to be. I am angry that it doesn’t bother me and I actually like how I look right now even though I know I should probably want to lose weight.

I am afraid. I am afraid this will never get any better. I am afraid I am pathetic. I am afraid to say I want this stuff because I am afraid it will make people think I am not the cool girl who builds robots and drinks scotch. I am afraid to stop going to conferences because it is the only time I am forced to interact with people and put on make-up and make sure I don’t just devolve into an animal. I am afraid that I go to too many of them and that it will affect my job. I don’t know how to explain to people that I need this in order to not just allow myself to be trapped in my own little world with my pugs.

I hate my new cookware. I hate everything it represents about me. I hate feeling this way and being this person, but I know it’s who I am right now. I know that eventually I will snap out of it and want to do other things, but that time is not now. Now I need to wallow in my own self pity and braise chicken thighs. I hate the fact that this is who I am right now, but it is.