Many years ago, the artist Tim Hawkinson occupied the entire gallery space at Pasadena’s Armory Center for the Arts, including the little used storage closet in the rear of the gallery. He brushed latex onto its lozenge-shaped black interior and inflated a giant balloon in the main gallery space, where it wheezed to its fullness via a homely, visible pump and then deflated slightly. Hawkinson’s work has always been the apex of transparency, as it illuminates the actual gears and levers of how something works. And yet his work remains magical, maybe because we are privy to something never seen or thought of before.
He even tried his hand at visualizing time through a series of wheels, the first turning maniacally on a tiny gear train at 1400 rpm, the last on a gear train so large that its rotation would not be completed within our lifetimes – 100 years or so. The wheels turning at different speeds, fast to imperceptibly slow, reminded me that a great deal of activity or progress is not visible. There is a form of hidden momentum in slow moving change that hovers somewhere in the background. The thought often calmed me when I felt overwhelmed by the relentless demands of running a non-profit.
As we enter the holiday season, I have noticed two schools of coping as the wheel of requirements begin to spin merrily and madly. The first is to soldier on, the most competent of us having organized our gift purchases, e-cards, food ideas and party planning well before we are safely out of the extended heat spell called Summer/Early Fall. The other school withdraws, going out of town, eating take out Chinese, ignoring the whole thing altogether. I find this latter group quite self-disciplined, as the reminders of our next big seasonal milestone are everywhere.
Today’s post is an attempt to moderate between a seasonal speed that cannot be sustained (or at least enjoyed) and complete stasis. The recipes are all ones that require very little “active time.” Rather, they simmer, roast, pickle or separate into curds and whey while you are otherwise occupied and sometimes happily tucked in, dreaming.
But First--What We Know About How We Spend Our Time, with Thanks to the Bureau of Labor Statistics
What an amazing site this is for data geeks like me! It identifies how we as Americans spend our time. From what I can see of the 2016 data, we spend a good deal of time on sleeping/personal care and working. Coming up a distant third is recreation, with screen time our most consistent recreational pal.
Household Activities in 2016
"Watching TV was the leisure activity that occupied the most time (2.7 hours per day), accounting for just over half of leisure time, on average, for those ages 15 and over. The amount of time people spent watching TV varied by age. Those ages 15 to 44 spent the least amount of time watching TV, averaging around 2.0 hours per day, and those ages 65 and over spent the most time watching TV, averaging over 4.0 hours per day." Bureau of Labor Statistics
While I admire precision in classifications, I disagree with the notion that housekeeping (which includes cooking) should remain a separate category from those of self-care or recreation. I make my case below:
A “Two-Fer” is so Much More Fulfilling than Multi-Tasking
“The true secret of happiness lies in taking a genuine interest in all the details of daily life.”
Going regularly to your local Farmers Market expands the idea of required task into recreation and self-care. If in a slo-mo frame of mind, I allow all manner of conversations and connection. There is a sense of a commons engendered by consistency of relationships between buyer and seller, neighbors and friends, and even the vaguely familiar faces of the regulars.
For Alex, the four-year old grandson and cook in training, there is an emerging respect for food. He is learning to handle more fragile produce carefully, and asks before he touches.
There is the sense that despite slightly higher costs, you are actively supporting local farmers and ethical farming practices, and sustaining a variety of food types and sources. (And as the food is fresher, it lasts longer and less is wasted.)
As the grower is often there, you can find out what an unknown product is for. They are happy to teach.
And did I mention quality and taste?
Something must be working, as farmer’s markets now number more than 8,000 nationally, up from 2,000 in 1994.
Anna Thomas and Meanwhile Cooking
In her twenties, Anna Thomas had the hubris to write a cookbook, The Vegetarian Epicure, while in film school at UCLA. Her dual life, one of screenwriter and faculty member at the American Film Institute, the other as prolific cookbook writer is proof of her prodigious energy and, for the rest of us mortals, the human necessity to move with some regularity from head to hand work.
“…a friend of mine calls this ’meanwhile cooking.’ Get up and go to your kitchen, and cut a few vegetables to put into the pot and do whatever, to start it cooking. Meanwhile, as it is simmering, you can answer a few emails — and you feel refreshed. You are only doing one thing at a time, but you vary your routine. You are not looking at a screen. You are doing something tactile and pleasant and it brings you back to yourself. It is a great kind of experience to work into your life.”
Try Fail Succeed
“If you grow up with cooking, it is like a language. It is immersion. It is part of the texture of your life.”
Surprisingly, using “convenience” foods saves only a negligible amount of time when compared to a meal cooked from scratch. The barrier to home cooking, it seems, has more to do with a lack of confidence leading to a rigid adherence to a recipe rather than a fluency that comes from understanding interchangeable flavors and basic techniques.
Instead of thinking of recipes as open ended guides, we shackle ourselves to lists of ingredients requiring yet another dash to the store. Try looking in your refrigerator or pantry for a flavor cousin for inspiration: chard for spinach, shallot for onion, carrots for parsnips, Parmesan for Manchego.
You will waste less food and begin your own recipes, made from a bit of confidence and what you have on hand. At times, the food will be less than sterling. So be it. As we all know, meals are ephemeral at their best or worst.