Posts Tagged ‘living in the moment’

Hey good lookin, what ya got cookin?

Hey, thanks for coming back. How’re you doing today? Good, good.

If you read my last post, you’ll know that I’m going to try to quit the whining and focus on the dining.

A healthy idea, non?

~#~

Today then, I want to talk about food.

Rather, I want to talk about making food. Scratch that, I want to talk about enjoying making food.  The gusto, the passion, the joy and sheer unbridled love of making yummy food.

Whether you’re:

  • cooking up a big bowl of gnocchi and pesto to eat in your pyjamas while watching America’s Next Model (don’t judge me!), or;
  • making a three course menu for a dozen people(*),or;
  • rashly inviting 10 people back to yours after the pub, pausing only to pick-up 3 whole chickens to roast on the way home(**)

– there are few things in life more enjoyable than sharing love, fun and good company through food.

But the sad truth is, so many people are still terrified of cooking. They’re scared of getting things wrong, scared of not living up to the unrealistic ideals of Nigella, Jamie, Gordon and Hugh. Not many of us have a small-holding to raise our pigs on organic apples and feed our sheep rosemary to give them extra flavour.

Most of us are lucky if we can keep a pot of coriander on the kitchen windowsill for a week before it bolts, flowers and hangs listlessly to one side. No amount of running it under the cold-tap will save that meagre “herb garden”.

And please, don’t get me started on Heston – anyone who refers to their kitchen as a ‘lab’ is not a chef and can thus be safely put to one side.

Forget the ideals, forget the aspirations. To start enjoying cooking and being pleased with the dishes you make, you’ve got to first find the fun.

There really are so many ways to enjoy making food, which suits different people in different ways.

I’d like to share with you some of the valuable lessons that I’ve learnt along the way, which may make cooking more fun for you.

Lesson 1: Make mistakes

Broad beans with dill and yogurt taste so much better if you:

  1. Shell the beans
  2. Cook the beans(***)

I’ve baked so many cakes that didn’t rise, or muffins that oozed out of the side, each one resembling a baked effigy of John Merrick. There’s the scones that came out so heavy they had their own gravity and actually bent light.

What this has taught me is that mistakes will always happen, there are many trips to the bin (and then trips to the supermarket) when trying new things. Embrace it.

My top tips with mistakes:

  • Acknowledge that recipes in books are sometimes (often) incorrect.
  • Know that you will mis-read a recipe, more than once.
  • As long as you’re not serving under-cooked chicken or ill-prepared blowfish, most mistakes will be edible, even if not exactly what you were hoping for.
  • When a mistake improves a dish (all recipes are invention and accident) – write it down so you can repeat the same mistake later. This is really handy to do!
  • Laugh at the accidents. It’s just one meal and in the grand scheme of life, is only one of the 89680 meals (if you’re a woman, men will only get to eat 85081 – make ’em count boys!) you’ll eat in the course of a lifetime.

Summary: It’s okay to make mistakes while cooking, it’s part of learning. It’s even better to share your mistakes with friends, and a lot of laughter.

Lesson 2: Make it up

There’s not a soul on earth who is interested in experiencing my coq-au-vodka ever again.

Plaice with cinnamon? No thanks, I’ll pass.

Plum crumble with ground almond topping? Went down very well, thank you. As did baked eggs in ham. Oh, and beans in toast(****).

There’s a lot of fun to be had going off-piste and forging your own culinary path. don’t be afraid to try different flavours and combinations.

Start small though, and build up. Come home from work and look in the fridge. If you’ve got eggs, you can put almost anything in a pan, with some whisked up eggs and make a none-too-shabby go at a Tortilla.

My top tips for seat-of-your-pants cooking:

  • Keep the set of ingredients small. Start with the ‘main’ component of the dish (normally meat, or eggs, or pasta etc.), and only add a few extra flavours or ingredients – see what works.
  • Make notes of ‘new’ things that work. That way you can try them again, and refine them.
  • Make notes of ‘new’ things that don’t work. A warning list!
  • Don’t be afraid. Experimenting starts with knowing that you won’t always succeed. But when you do, and you present a lovely dish that has your friends coo-ing, they’ll be so impressed when you say that you just “made it up”!

Summary: Start small, and have courage.

Lesson 3: Make it interesting

You need to feel a part of what you create (this applies to all crafts, hobbies and interests).

If you are impatient and prone to hysteria, then perfecting delicate French pastries probably isn’t for you. Neither is Sushi for that matter…

Try to find what interests and excites you in a culinary sense, and explore it.

For me, it’s sharing food. I love having friends over for an evening of food and wine. When I was younger, I used to be very pretentious about it – 3 courses, all the place settings, everything ‘just so’. As I’ve got older – while I still have flashes of that pretension – I’m a lot more relaxed. These days my interest is around big plates of well-seasoned and simply cooked dishes. Big oven-to-table dishes that can be placed on the table for everyone to tuck into.

I love cooking dishes like Lamb Tagine, Chilli, Sausages and Parsnips, Roast Chicken, a big leg of Lamb. Dishes that can be prepped in advance, and sit happily in the oven so that I can be a part of the evening, rather than “cook” in the kitchen.

My friend Joe on the other hand, loves making exquisite desserts. He is exceptionally talented at it, and possesses the right blend of precision and patience. We all have our own interests and passions.

Summary: Find what excites you, and explore ways to make it more exciting, to really ignite your passion.

Lesson 4: Make it with love

You can taste a half-hearted dish. The lack of care and effort permeates every morsel. A dish made without love tastes far more bitter than the most burnt offering made by someone who tried really hard.

Passion, care and a desire to try are at the heart of any great home cook (regardless of competence), and it’s this that your family and friends will taste when you share your food with them.

Summary: Give it heart.

~#~

Those are some of the lessons I’ve learnt as I’ve developed and grown as a cook, and I hope that if nothing else, they can supply you with some re-assurance to get into the kitchen and just have fun!

~#~

(*) I have done this and it was one of the funnest evenings of recent years.

(**) I have done this too and it was a whole heap of giggles.

(***) With massive apologies to Kate for making her eat that vile meal, and that the second attempt (which she did not sample) was so much better!

(****) You need a breville Toastie maker, and tenacity.

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Putting all the vegetables away

Hello dear reader, and welcome to the (re)turning of a well-turned leaf.

It struck me that I have recently come perilously close to taking this little corner of the Interwebz back to it’s dark, dank hole of misery and introspection.

Let’s just accept that I’m an awful, anxiety-riddled neurotic with low self-esteem and an almost comical desperation to be liked (if it wasn’t so hideously needy). Let’s just take it as read that I’m working on it, and move on.

Shall we? (proffering his arm like a young, camply glam Mr Darcy)

~#~

When I sit and think about it honestly, I realise I have loads 0f things I’m actually really good at. There. I said it. There’s no going back from that now.

I can turn my hand to many, many different things and make a reasonably good stab at it.

So, while I don’t get crochet (yet), I can still take comfort from the things I can do. Pardon? Yes crochet is hard. Yes, grannies do it, but they’ve had years to learn and they are bona-fide Witches!*

Still asking about crochet? Okay, I’ll try and explain how it is for me right now.

Let me put it this way, imagine tying your shoe-laces. Yep, not a great leap of the imagination, I grant you.

Now, imagine tying your shoe-laces without being allowed to touch your shoes. Oh, a little harder you say?

Now, imagine tying the laces on shoes you can’t touch… with a tent peg. Scared? You should be.

Finally, suppose I tell you that the shoes you’re tying the laces for don’t exist, because you haven’t woven them yet.

See? Witchcraft! 😉 Kate knows I’m just kidding here as I’m really looking forward to learning! And making a whole Crocheted blanket, gulp!

~#~

Moving onwards and upwards then, for the next few posts, I’m going to talk about something that I really am good at: Cooking. Or more precisely, the enjoyment of cooking, playing with flavours and making my own small mark on the culinary world.

Travel with me dear reader, over the next few posts, and I’ll show you my tasty world…

~#~

*Except my grannies, who are/were both lovely.

On… forgiveness

Scared to be alone
Frightened of the dark
Everything’s too much
For a boy out of touch with his feelings

I must be to blame
I must be at fault
I believe I’m never good enough
To shine a light that lingers

~James,  Pleased to Meet You

A very wise, caring soul once told me that in order to be happy (in order to stand a chance at happiness) I first need to be able to forgive myself. They still tell me that now.

Repeatedly.

To be truthful, I’ve never really understood what that means. Forgiving yourself? What a self-serving idea!

Forgiveness is something merited to you by others as part of atoning for your wrongs, isn’t it? Forgiveness is a giving act and utterly unselfish, it cannot be expected and cannot be demanded. It can only be given, freely and unconditionally.

“When I was a kid, I used to pray every night for a new bicycle. Then I realised the Lord doesn’t work that way, so I stole one and asked him to forgive me.”

~ Emo Phillips

At least that’s what I always thought. That’s why I always struggled with the idea of forgiving myself (where to start anyway – it’s such a long list!).

But I realise, if I am to stand a chance at being me again (the me I know I really am), I have to let go of some of this baggage I carry with me, I have to move on from things that haven’t worked. I can’t keep letting my past control my future.

How then does one go about forgiving themselves for their failings, their flaws, their transgressions?

1. Acknowledge your mistakes

I am very good at this. I have ‘acknowledgement of my mistakes’ down to a fine art. I’m all over this one!

Or am I?

Just because I assume fault and take on blame does not mean I’m acknowledging my mistakes. No, rather it means I’m taking on mistakes I have no legitimate ownership of. I martyr myself when I have no need to.

It also means that while I am so busy berating myself for assumed failings, I’m losing sight of the mistakes I’m actually making – such as behaving erratically, pushing people away and being hard work to be around when there is no reason to be so.

  • You will make mistakes.
  • You will get things wrong.
  • You will upset people.
  • You will fail.

Take it, and move on.

2. Accept your flaws

Like a tall building, I’ve got too many flaws…

The hardest thing about having the mind of a highly-emotional, self-doubting perfectionist trapped in the body of a slightly camp, balding thirty-something is getting used to the imperfection that I am forced to endure 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

It’s exhausting!

I am not perfect. In physicality, there are many better specimens out there. In intelligence, I’m bright but I struggle to understand many things:

  • central heating (is the thermostat the temperature I want or the temperature it needs to be to start working? why does the boiler have it’s own separate timer and temperature – arrrrghhhh!!);
  • how anyone invented the first ruler without, well, a ruler to check they had a straight edge;
  • why ‘toast’ is a food in it’s own right, but burning any other cooked food just gives you ‘burnt’;
  • and so on and so forth…

In my abilities, I possess many qualities, but I know that whatever I turn my hand to, there will always be someone who is slightly better than me, and others who will be exponentially better than me.

I am flawed. But then I guess, so are you. Which leads me neatly on to:

3. Know that you are ‘only’ human

I am flesh and blood. A brain. A heart. A soul.

I am the product of my parents, my upbringing. I am the end result; although still a work-in-progress; of every single experience (joyous and painful) that has got me to my 34 years.

If I were an omnipotent being, I would have achieved so much more. Equally, I would have caused damage on a much grander scale.

The modesty and smallness of being human, of being frail, of being time-bound and otherwise constrained should allow me to let go of the guilt that I carry around what I should have done by now, how I should have done things differently

4. Celebrate your gifts

Forgive (see what I did there?) the repetition. I wrote this back in July as a snapshot of what I viewed as being intrinsically ‘me’. I think it still holds true:

  • Quick-wit and sense of humour
  • Great cook
  • Generous host
  • Caring friend
  • Gifted artist
  • Fab personal stylist
  • Lover of fashion and glamour ;o)
  • Open mind
  • Contentment in the little things
  • Sensitive (too sensitive!!) soul

Listing positive qualities about yourself feels so arrogant, so vain. Listing failings and weaknesses feels so much more natural and obvious.

But what sort of a way to live is that? Pretty fucking miserable, let me tell you!

Celebrate your gifts, share them with your loved ones and allow your abilities and skills to be enjoyed by others.

5. Live in the moment

This is really important. I know it’s really important because everyone from my best friend Richard to the Dalai Lama tell me so, in their own ways.

It’s also the core tenet of what “forgiveness” really means, as I’ll let Oliver Burkeman explain:

Strip away the moralising, and all the most reputable psychologists seem to mean by “forgiveness” is to stop demanding that the past should be different from how it was. “Forgiveness means giving up all hope of a better past,” runs one well-phrased motto, usually attributed to the actor/writer Lily Tomlin. That’s not just eminently reasonable; it’s the only rational way to live. It implies no moral stance, one way or the other, towards the future: it doesn’t mean staying in an abusive relationship, or not prosecuting a murderer. It just means abandoning a particularly perverse form of misplaced optimism: the notion that things that have already happened might one day change for the better. They won’t. The laws of physics don’t work that way.

If I allow myself to stop fretting about the things I can’t change (because they’re in the past), and stop projecting worst-case scenarios on those things that I can only influence (because they haven’t happened yet), then the moment – the now, the right now is the only place that makes any sense to be.

6. Shine the light that lingers

I am not always to blame. I am not always at fault. I believe I’m good enough to shine a light that lingers.

There is room in the world for me. Putting my energies into making my corner of the world that bit brighter has to be worth the effort. To do otherwise would be to perpetuate the darkness.

this is the end, this is not the end

“How come I end up where I started?
How come I end up where I went wrong?
Won’t take my eyes off the ball again,
First you reel me out and then you cut the string.”
– 15 Step, Radiohead

My previous post ‘on…becoming whole‘ is the last entry I’m going to write for a while.

When I moved my website hosting onto WordPress, I had visions that adding artwork, designs and painted models would be easier. I wanted my blog to be a place of joy and creativity, to showcase my (considerable) talents and share my art and hobbies with the world.

Instead, I quickly started diarising my thoughts, anxieties and worries on this platform. For a while, I was able to delude myself that the process was somehow cathartic. That by getting the thoughts out of my head and written down, I would be able to let go of them and in so doing, lighten my outlook.

That clearly hasn’t worked. No, rather I have used this platform to perpetuate my own negative internal thoughts. I have created a place that oscillates wildly from art and attempts at humour, to mawkish and hard-to-follow outpourings of blackness.

So, a break then.

I’ve given the site a new theme, fresh and summery (hope you approve!) ready for when I move back in.

I want to go off for a bit, and do some fun things rather than feel beholden to this electronic joy-sucker.

I’m gonna go and do fun things with my endlessly forgiving wife Verity. My best, most fun friends – Kate and Alan, Emma, Rich and Roberta, Colin and Mel, Joe and Katie.

I’m gonna re-find my creative muses and stretch my artistic boundaries.

I’m gonna do the things I enjoy – cooking and entertaining for friends, going shopping, taking walks.

In short, I’m gonna be the real me. Me, on a good day.

on…becoming whole

I started writing this post just over a week ago, when I felt like I was finally getting myself into a good place. I felt I was finally feeling happy with myself, and understanding not only who I am, but how I fit into and work in this world.

Over the last week or so, a few things have happened which have rather knocked the wind out of my sails. I’ve had some set-backs at work which have left me bruised and anxious. I’ve also allowed self-doubt, worry and self-loathing build to levels which have left me questioning my purpose and paranoid to the point of panic attacks.

It’s interesting then to re-visit this and share it with you. What was going to be my recipe for how I finally figured out how to fix myself, has become a reflection on another set of disappointments.

It is still a recipe, but one that I must now try to follow.

Again.


Stretching and fragmenting yourself never happens in one definable moment. It is a slow, insidious creeping effect, the result of every failed choice, every ill-considered action.

You don’t start out trying to become undone. You don’t actively seek to damage yourself and those around you. You don’t deliberately give voice to all your inner doubts, allowing them to grow in strength, creating a cacophony of conflicting personas, suffocating your mind.

When you stretch too far, you fragment too many times and break yourself into pieces.

When you lay there broken (shattered), wondering how on earth you’re ever going to put yourself back together, just look to two things:

  • the pieces;
  • the glue.

the pieces

We over-stretch ourselves trying to:

  • do too much:
    Success at work, being creative, taking on hobbies, varied interests, seeing the “must-see” movies, reading the “must-read” novels , being the cook, host and entertainer.
  • be all things to ourselves:
    Being kind, being thoughtful, being wiser, being calmer, being happier, being in control.
  • be all things to everyone:
    A better son/brother/partner/lover/friend/confidante/mentor.
  • keep all our options open, all the time:
    The constant feeling that we must be adaptable, that we must be able to always be all 950,000 different versions of ourselves, and call on that version at moment’s notice.
  • cling onto a past that no longer influences or guides our future.

“All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another.”
– Anatole France

It’s easy to see how quickly we splinter ourselves into too many parts.

Instead, from this fractured state, we can pick up the pieces of ourselves that we require. The core pieces that make us, well… us. We are able to discard and leave behind the accumulated baggage of our past, the unrealistic expectations of our present and the anxieties of our future. We can strip ourselves to our essential components and identify the key elements of us as healthy, rounded balanced people.

My essential components (July 4th 2010):

  • Quick-wit and sense of humour
  • Great cook
  • Generous host
  • Caring friend
  • Gifted artist
  • Fab personal stylist
  • Lover of fashion and glamour ;o)
  • Open mind
  • Contentment in the little things
  • Sensitive (too sensitive!!) soul

Some of these things you’ll recognise in me. Some have been buried for so long, I forgot I had them myself!

the glue

The glue binds these pieces together. It may not be as hard and unyielding as a glue, it may be more fluid, more organic – weaving the pieces of ourself (our self) back into a cohesive, functioning whole.

I think of my glue as being:

  • My relationships, my loved ones, friends and families:
    My relationships are the most important thing to me, in ways and meanings that I can never adequately articulate, or convey in any action or gesture.
  • My role and the joy or value I bring to others:
    I’ve written before about the value I bring to others, questioning why the people in my life want anything to do with me.
    But deep down, I think I know that I offer something (perhaps more than one thing!) to each and every one of my relationships.
  • My own sense of being, the pride and joy I can take from what I bring to myself:
    I am of many parts, and for years I have allowed those parts to compete internally, to become points of self-doubt, to generate feelings of worthlessness, failure – even disgust and shame. I realise increasingly, that is the very unique combination of these aspects of myself, that make me special. I have a blend of characteristics, experiences and values that is not only unique, it is me. I cannot remove or close parts of myself, without changing what it is to be me. Sure, on a given day of the week I’ll be more one aspect of me than another, but that is good. That is how I choose to live.

the whole

The whole then, is greater than the sum of its parts. So long as the parts are not too many or fragmented, then simply being whole is an exceptional gift, and requires no greater effort than accepting yourself for who you are.

“Because he believes in himself,
he doesn’t try to convince others.
Because he is content with himself,
he doesn’t need others’ approval.
Because he accepts himself,
the whole world accepts him.”
~ Tao Te Ching – Lao Tzu

do you realize?

the sun don’t go down. It’s just an illusion caused by the world spinning round.
~ Do You Realize?, The Flaming Lips

Do you realise? (back to British spelling, sorry!) That we live in an amazing country, at an amazing time of year?

So as a nation we’re broke. We’ve been broke before (individually  and collectively), we’ll sort it out, one way or another.

So religious fundamentalism (from many religions) is growing at an exponential and alarming rate. It’s often cyclical, and will be followed by a period of rationalism, as long as we keep our collective cool.

Forget these things, and all the other big stuff that would terrify you to incapacity if you sat and mulled for long enough.

summertime

Instead, why not try this?

Find a friend, family member or a loved one.

Make yourselves a drink (squash, tea, Pimm’s – whatever you fancy).

Step into your back garden (or stroll to your nearest park/woods/nature trail).

Sit awhile on the grass or in comfy chairs.

In shared silence, just listen to the sounds of a summer’s day as it unfolds around you. The buzz and thrum of insect life, a plane heading to foreign parts. Kids in the next road playing and giggling, the ice cubes popping and melting in your glass.

Let the summer wash over you, permeating your soul and refreshing your mind. The shared experience of just being, is a captivating and magical gift.

Now, do you realise?