Throughout this pandemic, I’ve ridden the ever-changing rules and restrictions and mood swings while maintaining some semblance of motivation, inspiration. My ideas have ebbed and flowed, to be sure. Cooking and working out and taking walks have helped and then felt lame and repetitive and then helped again. But I find this moment to be a newly rudderless phase. (Dare I compare myself to the container ship newly freed from being stuck in the Suez Canal?)
When I have felt this pull inward before—the sense of being trapped in my head, overworking every last thought—I donate to causes I care about. Whether it’s my time or money, the first places I turn to are Unicef, World Central Kitchen, Water.org, or the ACLU. It serves as a reminder that I am part of the world’s community, a much larger thing than whatever is swirling in my head. (I feel compelled to say that this is not about comparing my problems to others’. I find that to be a futile exercise. This is about pulling myself up and out of my own swirl and helping another.)
Then, I go to market. Not Whole Foods, where I’ve memorized every inch of the pasta aisle and wine shop. Somewhere different, where I can be surprised by what I find on each shelf. Somewhere I have to pay attention or risk a delicious discovery. Like Magellan, but with frozen international foods. In LA, that’s Guidi Marcello’s and Nijiya Market most often. Roma and Northgate and India Spices & Grocery, too. I also order fish from Mayday, which I pretend is my own secret fish dealer. Just a thing I do for fun. Don’t you worry about me.
I play music. A wide variety: yesterday I listened to Maria Callas followed by Amadou & Miriam followed by Megan Thee Stallion. As my moods shift, so does my Spotify. You can’t box me in, don’t even try.
What do you do to pull yourself up and out? I do cook, of course, but more accurately I eat. One night this week, I made a velvety tomato soup with squash blossom quesadillas on the side and I highly recommend the combination. (I use canned San Marzano tomatoes instead of fresh, unless it’s the height of summer.) This moment is for eating more than cooking, meaning short and simple recipes. I don’t have the patience for projects right now.
This granola also has a catharsis that’s hard to explain. Maybe it’s the versatility, the quickness, or that I snack on it for days with fruit, with yogurt, or by the handful. I bake simply, too: banana bread 4ever, chocolate olive oil cake, biscotti, blueberry cobbler. And I make variations on chicken: with miso-garlic sauce and rice, in a coconut curry, roasted Zuni-cafe style. Chicken for dinner isn’t lazy if you switch up the sauces. #Lifehack
Recently, my grocery delivery service made the executive decision that the one bulb of garlic I’d ordered just would not do. So they gave me five. They were right, of course. I roasted two and made a compound butter, which I’ll slather over the NY strip steak chilling in my fridge right now. I’ll serve it with a full-bodied red, a massive green salad, miso chocolate chip cookies, and a screening of Minari.
Which brings me to watching things. If you haven’t yet seen Promising Young Woman, it is a must-watch. Riveting, infuriating, empowering (in an I-wish-it-didn’t-have-to-be way). And, fellow single women, good luck dating after watching that. Check out Nate Bargatze’s new Netflix special, The Greatest Average American. HBO Max has been plugging Death Becomes Her lately and I’m pretty open to it. The other night, I treated myself to a double feature of both Dirty Dancing movies and it was so effective I think doctors should prescribe it. (The original and Havana Nights, for the uninitiated.)
Blah blah, it’s all going to be okay, this too shall pass, it’s darkest before the dawn, keep calm and carry on, dance like no one’s watching? …There’s more fish in the sea? Whatever you need to do, do it. I am, too.
Talk to me
I’d normally give you a pack o’ links but that’s kind of what I just did above. Instead, I’d like something from you, please.
Usually this secondary section has one of a few series: Ask Nicole, a pack o’ links, a Cooking Party. Do you like those? Do you want a new one? Do you like only one and wish the rest would perish in a fire? Do you like those three and want nothing to change ever again?
I’m all ears!
Most importantly, I sign off with love and some kind of buoying message I haven’t though of yet.