“Once we believe in ourselves, we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight, or any experience that reveals the human spirit.”

– e.e. cummings

I’m pretty good at sticking to a “budget.” And by that I mean I spend less than I make and I’m building a decent pile of savings. But do I have any idea how I am actually allotting my funds? Nope. I know I spend around $40 a week on groceries…or $70. And about $30 at the drugstore a month…or $100. Household expenses? Well, including utilities that’s maybe $150 a month…but quite possibly more or less.

I’m thinking of putting myself on some sort of a mint.com plan (or — eek — keeping a pen-and-paper list), but for the moment I’m not too concerned. Like I said, I spend significantly less than I make, but there is always room for improvement.

But one thing I KNOW I spend a lot  on is going out to eat. Delicious, succulent three course meals with a bottle of wine, or a couple pizzas and salad at the neighborhood’s best sit-down place, or the newest trattoria that just put up its signage (which happens a lot in my neck of Brooklyn) or just some fresh toasty bagels and coffees in the morning.

It is my biggest spending vice…but I have no plans on curtailing it anytime soon. I’ve fallen in love with good food — cooking it myself, but also being treated to wonderful new dishes I never would have thought of.  The meals become conversation fodder, even inspiration to recreate them or riff on them in our own kitchens.

I don’t spend much money on clothes (except for last weekend when I had to fill some very gaping holes in my wardrobe…), my apartment is the best deal I could find while still being safe and warm (we negotiated the price down a full $50/month this year!) and I brown-bag my lunch to work everyday. I choose instead to spend on experiential activities and taking advantage of the vibrant, varied cuisine hotbed that is Brooklyn. I won’t always live here, and I’m expecting that in the not-so-distant future I won’t have as much disposable income.

But while I’m young, single, passionate about food and cooking, living in a culinary epicenter and more excited by the prospect of a fancy dinner than a night out drinking, I choose to avail myself of some of the country’s best meals and freshest ingredients, right in my own neighborhood.

 

I just got back from a ski weekend away with my family. We stayed at my nana’s house, a straight-from-the-70s, wood paneled and green and orange colored schemed type of abode. A mix of old and new with a heavy emphasis on the old. And so familiar that I love it that way.

I said goodbye to the family and boarded a bus back to NYC this afternoon, as always a little wistful that I couldn’t instead hop in the car and drive back to Connecticut. My family house there is big and spacious, light and comfy. I’d love nothing more than to wake up in the morning and pad downstairs in sweatpants and slippers and pour a cup of coffee and sit on the couch and talk for hours with whoever else happened to be awake.

But today I went back to Brooklyn, to unpack and grocery shop and get ready for work. Maintain my “household,” do things that signify I’m an adult but really just mask the fact that I’m at a very transient stage of life. I don’t always know where I want to be, I just have to adapt to wherever I am. For tonight, it’s Brooklyn, and I’m actually surprised by how good it feels to be back.

Brooklyn looked beautiful tonight when I walked home from the subway. It was sunset and the sky lit up pink over a darkening park, reminding me how much I love runs at twilight. The air smelled slightly of spring, fresh and clear, and I got excited for spring in the city. I thought about the times when I decide I want ice cream at 10:30 at night and can just walk outside and down the block to get some (and then sit on the stoop to eat it and people watch).

And the times when I wake up in the morning and realize we’re out of coffee (or milk or eggs or oatmeal) and it’s not a disaster, we just head next door and are back in 10 min, food supplies in hand. Or maybe we do have the coffee grounds, but decide we want someone else to make it, so we head across the street for a tall iced drink, or take a stroll to our favorite orange food truck, parked outside a bustling farmer’s market, and get a coffee with the perfect amount of “just a little cream.”

Sometimes it’s hot and sticky, or mouse-y and buggy. Sometimes Often I’m frustrated by the lack of closet space and counter space and bathroom sink space and just about every kind of living space you can think of. And not having a car when you want to get away for a weekend (or even just go to Target!) is a big. huge. pain. But it’s okay, because Brooklyn’s a home. I love it here.

I don’t even care that we’re in the midst of our fifth blizzard in a month, I am glad it is February.

January was nothing but good to me (and 2011 is shaping up to be the big year I predicted!). For several reasons, I stuck very closely to the moment, barely allowing myself to think ahead and focusing on each day. It was productive, with great professional and personal growth (and a lot of socializing) but it was long. And I am excited for the new opportunities of February.

“Winter, a lingering season, is a time to gather golden moments, embark upon a sentimental journey, and enjoy every idle hour.”

– John Boswell

And for entertainment:

“The most serious charge which can be brought against New England is not Puritanism but February.”

– Joseph Wood Krutch

1. A puffy down coat in the winter
2. The feeling of exhaustion that follows a day of fun
3. Ordering the plain old spaghetti and meatballs at a nice restaurant
4. The beginning of a new week
5. Fun Size Twix candy bars

Still holding strong to the resolution. The past week was full of stresses, of excitement, of reconnecting, of panic, of wine, of concerns, of pushing through, of relaxing. As long as there’s a nice mix of feelings, that’s good, right?

My home internet has been on the fritz (or perhaps it’s my 7-year-old computer? hmmm) so my online time was way cut down this past week. But I liked it. I did some reading before bed and was able to fall asleep fast. I also tried going to bed a little earlier than normal…which I was planning on repeating tonight, but then BC football had to be on TV until 12:30 a.m. Let’s just say I’m living in the moment?

I smiled on Monday when I bought my new MetroCard for the month and checked out the quote on the back — you can find inspiration (and validation) in the strangest places:

“Nothing is miserable but what is thought so, and contrariwise, every estate is happy if he that bears it be content.”

This blog spent a lot of last year trying to decide what it wanted to be, going in haphazard directions and trying to put on a happy face when really it was just confused.

And the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. After reflecting for a while, I realized that I also spent much of 2010 struggling with who I want to be, where I want to be, and how in the world I was going to get there. I was a little caught up with the future, with trying to discern a murky path. I missed out on a lot, I think; a lot of feeling and doing and a whole lot of peace.

So now with the new year, both this blog and I are going to settle down a little. Just be how we feel like being, talk about what we feel like talking about, taking in the splendor of each day…because really, I have a lot to appreciate. I want to recognize all the marvels in my life at this moment – I live in New York City!!! How many people can say that?

I plan to live with more joy in the day-to-day. I strive to be more grateful for all that I have and for all the opportunity that will someday open to me, without my having to stress or obsess over it now.

Perhaps more precisely: I want to live with the courage that someday I’ll look down and find myself all of a sudden on a path. A path that I never could have predicted or chosen for myself.

Already I feel calmer, more at ease and more able to take a breath and smile. Let’s hope this is a resolution that sees its way through the whole year, and beyond.

Some realizations of late:

1. When it comes to Greek yogurt, I may be a fatty. Chobani with 2% milk just tastes sooo much creamier and less bitter than fat-free.

2. Thyme is a very underutilized spice in my kitchen. But it really livens up chicken, fish, soups…pretty much anything I make. I’ll have to unearth it from the back of the spice shelf so I remember to use it more.

3. Uncooked frozen shrimp taste so much better than cooked frozen shrimp. The difference is unbelievable and worth the 2 minutes it takes to sauté them up til they’re pleasantly pink.

I learn new things from my kitchen every day 8)

I learned an important lesson this week.

Drano is not your friend.

Very bad!

I’m not sure what led chemical-averse me to pick up a bottle of Drano and pour it down my bathroom tub…but it seemed like the easy solution to a minor clog problem.

Turns out, the next morning the tub was backed up even more and I was standing in a mid-calf deep puddle by the end of my shower. Said puddle took until evening to drain.

Then we took out the tools (er, screwdrivers). We removed the little grate over the drain and tried to plunge (by this time someone had taken another shower and we had a fresh puddle to work with). Half an hour of intermittent plunging did nothing other than stir up debris and turn the water brown.

Oh, and FURTHER clog the tub. Because by the next morning, the dingy puddle was still there. Trying not to freak out because I needed a shower, I bailed out the tub with a bucket and poured the water down the kitchen sink. Then proceeded to make a new puddle.

I’m not sure what happened since this morning (prayers?), but when I got home tonight the tub was drained and a test of running water showed the clog was…gone. Crossing my fingers this will hold up.

And never, ever, ever buying Drano again.

According to my Google research, here are some greener ways to deal with clogs:

– Pour very hot water down the pipe
– Mix 1 part vinegar with 1 part baking soda and pour that down the drain
– Enlist the help of a plunger
– Use a wire hanger or “snake” to fish out the clog

There’s a high fructose corn syrup battle raging, with one side claiming the sweetener is worse than ‘natural’ cane or beet sugar and the other (namely the corn industry, but also many medical experts) saying it is fine in moderation and no worse than sugar.

I’ve been mulling over this controversy — how can there be studies and experts and common sense arguments supporting both sides? This isn’t an ideological argument, it’s one that is (hopefully) rooted in science. But then again, what do we really know about food anyway? Butter/margarine debacle, anyone?

Now we have the Corn Refiners Association proposing the new name “corn sugar.” It’s an attempt to reshape a debate that is filled with he said-she saids and loaded arguments attached to the very phrase “high fructose corn syrup.”

My thoughts? I try to stay away from HFCS as much as possible.  BUT this is not because I think it’s a dangerous substance far inferior to white table sugar. Rather, I view its presence as a signal that whatever ingredient list I’m reading is for overly processed garbage.

I do think it’s unhealthy, just like I think all sugar is unhealthy (though believe me, I indulge). But by consequence of corn industry subsidies and cheap corn sweeteners, this product has become ubiquitous in soda, prepackaged snacks, fast food, and more harbingers of obesity and heart disease.

HFCS, corn sugar, whatever you call it — it’s my alarm that the rest of the ingredient list probably doesn’t look so hot, either.

Books I’m Reading

Wuthering Heights

Mrs. Kimble

Little Bee

Tinkers

My Life with the Saints

Brave Companions

The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

The Help

Lunch in Paris

Committed

Reading Lolita in Tehran

Pride and Prejudice

Rethinking Thin

The Omnivore's Dilemma

The Friday Night Knitting Club

Best Food Writing 2009

Let the Great World Spin

The Middle Place

Northern Borders

In Defense of Food

Emma

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