Couples Counseling: My habits & Me

It’s totally possible that I’ve damaged two of the relationships most central to my life.

I’m talking, of course, about books and food.

I didn’t think there was anything wrong. Then I was lying in bed at 3pm on a Sunday afternoon, thinking wistfully of the Girl Scout cookies I had eaten half a sleeve of not an hour before and skimming the final few pages of The Cassoulet Saved Our Marriage under a comforter on the nicest weekend New York City has seen in months.

It wasn’t the fact that I had made a “brunch” of sliced soppressata and Thin Mints. It wasn’t the fact that I was skimming the last essay of a 250+ page collection that I had started reading less than 24 hours before. It wasn’t even the fact that I was choosing to stay inside, in bed, on a day that had half my twitter feed posting borderline manic 140 character missives about the return of the sun and the cursed Daylight Savings Time hangover everyone seemed to be experiencing well before noon. It was the sudden realization that I’d become a gorger – a binger and metaphorical purger if you will.

Don’t worry. I’m not actually throwing anything up.

The problem is that I seem to have lost the ability to consume my two favorite things in moderation. Not every meal is a feast, but my behavior around the act of eating is that of a gorger.

I’ve become so detached from the act of feeding myself that I’ve spent most meals since Christmas in bars and restaurants. I stopped cooking almost completely with the exception of the occasional elaborate stew or roasted meat dish. Until Saturday, I hadn’t even been to my local farmers market in more than six weeks. Going to the farmer’s market used to be my thing, my Saturday morning ritual with a stop at my bank for cash and the cafe next door for a coffee from my favorite neighborhood baristas. Even in the winter I loved it. And then this winter it just stopped. I just stopped. It was too cold. I didn’t have the expendable cash. I didn’t want to leave the house. Oh and I got really, really sick for almost a solid month.

Likewise, for months, I have been struggling to read. That’s right: struggling to read. It hurts my heart to even put the words in writing.

Nothing has held my interest.

I have been trudging, with all the dogged determination of a hobbit, through the Lord of the Rings novels. Don’t get me wrong. They’re great. But it’s not like I don’t know what happens. It’s not like the Orcs and bad guys lurking around every corner aren’t absolutely terrifying, but there’s nothing surprising about them. It took me three weeks to read Two Towers. THREE WEEKS. It hasn’t taken me that long to read a book in years. (Shut up, I’m not talking about 1Q84.) And I’ve been listening to podcasts on the subway instead of cracking a book. This feels like confession, and I am not Catholic.

I only realized how utterly twisted these relationships had become this weekend when I strolled through my farmers market, picking and choosing from the piles of root vegetables that are pretty much the only produce available this late in winter, and smiling at the happy weather. It became more clear when I sat down that afternoon and proceeded to read more than half of The Cassoulet Saved Our Marriage before 10pm. By Sunday afternoon, as I tucked into an advance copy of The Haven, previous book finished and reshelved, I had to stop myself and try to really remember what I’d read.

And I couldn’t do it. I’d read so quickly that all I was left with was vague recollections of characters and story lines. The meals I had eaten while sitting devouring my books were equally grey and thoughtless. I’d sat at a local bar, munching on fries and drinking a beer in the sunshine, and I couldn’t tell you what the beer was or anything about the fries except that they were exceptionally salty. But nothing substantial. I had jumped straight from the starvation stage to the gluttony stage, and I couldn’t control it.

Realizing that something was wrong was disconcerting and confusing, and I still kind of feel like I’m on shaky ground and just figuring it all out.

Sure I’m reading again, and I cooked twice this weekend, but I can’t shake the feeling that these relationships have become tainted and dark. I’m going to have to put in some real effort to get them back on track. To read a book and really let it into my heart and soul. To not get 50% of my sustenance from someone else’s kitchen. I CAN DO IT.

Maybe once I work on these issues, I can get back to unblocking my writer’s block? I think a troll is squatting on my brain.

Is it too late for New Year’s resolutions?


Ingredients: Family, Sand, Stress-free Meals

MusselDinnerVacation with my family:

Lots of food
Meal planning
More food
Coffee every morning
Ice cream every night
More food

We’re a family of eaters. I don’t really remember us being a family of cooks when we were kids. Sure, Mom and Dad had us help them in the kitchen occasionally, and we were the team of official corn shuckers every summer, but food was just food. It’s not like there were cookbooks all over the place or plastic stands with magazines propped open to recipe pages.

Cooking was just what happened before the whole “Sit down RIGHT NOW or so help me!” and “STOP KICKING YOUR SISTER” thing.

It’s different now. My siblings and I have all spent our time working in restaurant kitchens, making your food and serving it up after one last careful swipe of a towel to make sure the white plate is pristine. We can judge the doneness of meat with a poke of the tongs. There is much boisterous mockery in the kitchen, and we set the smoke detector off regularly.

But was the child of rather talented hobby chef, and the sister of both a classically-trained professional chef and a father of two, I’m not someone who really has to cook for others with that nail-biting pressure of the customer being happy with the meal. I just cook.

I’m happy to report: I’ve had very few complaints. I’ve read too many food narrative books and watched too much food-preparation on TV to not pick up a few tricks of the trade in the years since I stopped standing opposite a line chef, reading out orders as they came in, and expediting plates out the door. I chop vegetables, whirl around a kitchen and season liberally much like a pro but the audience is singular most nights.

Surrounded on the Cape by three other cooks always makes me stop and observe the differences though. Some are slaves to the recipe they’ve printed out. Others have the tested, tried and true mainstays we all crave. Few just cook.

And while I enjoy the elaborate, the simple, the delicious food that is turned out morning, noon and night from our rented kitchen to feed a family that has swelled to 10 hungry and sometimes picky stomachs, I can’t help but wonder if they all get bored.

Cooking for me is much more of a mediation than an act of need or performance. I think about what I want to eat – on this vacation? Surrounded by ocean and with access to fresh seafood all the time? I pretty much just want to put fire to fish and grill fresh vegetables as accompaniment with every meal. So far, I’ve skewered things and steamed things and generally said, “more olive oil!” a lot.

Only a few more days of our blissful week of sun and sand before we all return to our busy lives. Maybe I should be paying more attention to the recipes people make? I don’t know. Recipes feel stressful. Stress is the one thing vacationers should avoid, right?