Three Resources to Get You Excited About Food Again

breadCan you see the exhaustion in my eyes? You know what, don’t answer that

Note: I am not being compensated for any of these reviews. LOLOLOL, as if someone would pay me for something. I just wanted to share a few things I enjoyed. Amazon links are affiliate links, though.

I’ve been passionate about food production my whole adult life. I love growing it, shopping for it, and preparing it. (Obviously I love eating it, too; but honestly I derive just as much pleasure from squatting in the soil and filling a bowl with fragrant home-grown strawberries as I do the actual eating.)

But like any passion, it ebbs and flows with the passing of time. The last four years have not been very conducive to nurturing my love for food production (or anything else, for that matter) as I’ve had to pour all my energy into parenting a disabled child. It’s been hard. Getting food onto the table for my family these days often feels like an insurmountable burden on my already-bowed back. I’ve found myself reaching more and more for convenience foods and takeout just to keep everyone alive.

I recently decided I needed to nurture my lost enthusiasm for food production by revisiting some of the resources that got me excited about it in the first place. After all, seed-starting season is just around the corner, and last summer we built some raised beds in our sunny front yard with the hope that maybe this year we’ll be able to reap a harvest. (All past attempts to grow anything in our shady back yard have been deeply disappointing.) And along the way I happened to stumble upon a few new ones.

If you could use a boost of energy when it comes to feeding your loved ones, consider checking out of one these resources.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver.

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I first read this book when Lydia was a baby and it was a life-changer. Kingsolver, who is a brilliant novelist, writes about her family’s experience devoting one year to eating locally. For twelve months, they dedicate themselves to eating only what they can grow themselves or what they can buy from local farmers within their community. While she’s telling the story she teaches us the basic principles of gardening and poultry farming (They raise chickens and turkeys for eggs and meat). The book is filled with gorgeous descriptions of her garden produce that will make you want to run outside and till up the earth. It also contains reflections on the current (completely unsustainable) state of food production and consumption in the United States. It is both personal and informative, and will get you thinking about where your food comes from.

(I originally read the library’s copy of this book many years ago; this time around I listened to it as an audiobook. I then decided it was important enough to own, so I also bought a hard copy to foist upon friends.)

Cooked with Michael Pollan (Netflix).

This Netflix documentary series is based on the book of the same name (which I haven’t read, because that would require two hands that aren’t filled with a screaming child twenty hours a day). It’s divided into four parts, each focusing on one of the four elements — fire, water, air, and earth. As we learn about these four elements we also travel through human history: how we learned to roast meat over fire; how we learned to cook vegetation in pots; how we learned to infuse air into milled grains to create bread; and how we learned to ferment food (especially milk) with microbes before we even knew what they were. So it’s a lesson in anthropology as well as food science, history, geography, and more. Pollan also explores how the mechanization and commercialization of food production by corporations has influenced the ways we eat all around the globe today.

And along the way, you might find yourself developing a deep desire to reconnect with your food. (My husband stayed up and watched the Air episode with me one night and now he wants to learn to master sourdough). And did I mention it’s gorgeously produced? The visuals are absolutely stunning.

This quote from his book really stood out to me: “Is there any practice less selfish, any labor less alienating, any time less wasted, than preparing something delicious and nourishing for the people you love?” WOW. I love how affirming that is to the home cook.

(Caveat: the first episode on fire has a large emphasis on meat, and therefore on animal killing. If that kind of thing upsets you, you might want to enter with care. There are some pretty graphic scenes right in the beginning of some Indigenous Australian women bashing iguanas to death to roast whole in a bed of hot coals. You also see halved pigs get barbecued over a huge fire.)

Salt Fat Acid Heat with Samin Nosrat (Netflix).

This is another book-turned-Netflix-documentary, a format which is perfect for the parent of never-sleeping children. I watched all four episodes in the dead of night with a kid on my lap. It will make you want to get into the kitchen just for the joy and deliciousness of it.

Like Cooked, it’s divided into four parts, which Nosrat claims are the four building-blocks of flavour. She’s less cerebral than Pollan, and dives into cookery head-first (she’s a chef by trade). She exudes energy and delight for food.

The episode on fat takes her to Italy, where she looks at olive oil, pork fat, and Parmesan cheese. The episode on salt takes her to Japan where she explores sea salt and soy sauce. The episode on acid takes her to Mexico where citrus fruits are a staple in making delicious food. And the episode on heat has her in her home city of Berkeley where she cooks with her mom. The whole series is fun and exuberant, but the trip to Italy was my favourite.

PS I love her casual approach to cooking, her willingness to try new and strange things, and the way she gets her hands right into everything she cooks. She’s a delightful guide.

That’s it for now! Do you have any hands-free resources to recommend to continue fuelling my passion for food?

In Defense of Minimalism: Some Responses to Criticism

felted crocheted hearts

Author’s note: I wrote this post about a year ago, but never published it because I couldn’t wrap it up tidily with a neat conclusion. Buuuut considering the sudden and recent renewed interest in decluttering thanks to Netflix’s new Tidying Up series, I thought I’d go ahead and publish it as it is. Let me know what you think!

I’ve been coming across a bit of criticism of minimalism lately.

I’ve written a fair amount on the subject in the past, so I always perk up when I hear it mentioned.

And almost every time I hear it criticized, one of the first thoughts I have is, “That’s not my understanding of minimalism.”

So I thought I’d take a look at some of these critiques and offer some counterpoints.

But first off, a definition and some clarifications.

“Minimalism” can be used to define a certain kind of aesthetic as well as a lifestyle. They do not necessarily overlap.

Minimalism as an aesthetic is generally recognized by pared down design elements. Most people conjure up mental images of monochromatic colour schemes, clean lines, bare walls, and a perfectly-matching “capsule wardrobe.” Lots of neutral colours, white paint, and sparse decor. Simplicity.

Minimalism as a lifestyle (at least as far I understand it) means intentionally choosing to own fewer possessions. It means paring down to what is essential in life, and getting rid of excess. It’s about letting go of whatever isn’t serving you. This can look different ways for different people.

Like I said, I don’t think these two forms of minimalism necessarily go hand-in-hand. I think you can practice minimalism while still adorning your house and body with lots of colour and flourish.

I don’t have much to say about minimalism as an aesthetic. Some people find it boring. Some people find it calming and refreshing. My response is, That’s totally subjective, and You do you. I like certain things about it, but you definitely wouldn’t walk into my house and immediately say, “Ahhh — you guys are minimalists!”

I’ve written before about what I think are the merits of a minimalist lifestyle, so I won’t go much into it here. In short, I think minimalism can bring freedom, and is generally good for our (mental, physical, and spiritual) health, as well as the planet.

Below are a couple of critiques I’ve recently heard regarding minimalism, and some of my thoughts on them.

October leaves

“Minimalists think they’re better than everyone else.”

I found this complaint in an article entitled, “Minimalism: another boring product wealthy people can buy.” The author writes,

There are a million variations [of minimalism] – fitting all your belongings into a single box, small-house or van living, radical de-cluttering, extreme purges of technology or social activity, etc – but they all hold the same vague, usually unspoken level of superiority.

She later elaborates,

They all imply that they are in some way a moral upgrade from the life of ‘mindless consumerism’… This spiritual minimalism has essentially become yet another competition for who can be the best at whatever you’ve chosen, even if that ‘whatever’ is literally ‘having less shit.’

Okay. So: do minimalists think they’re morally superior? Well, sure, some of them probably do. Maybe even lots of them. But isn’t every subculture susceptible to this kind of snobbery? Even ones that are supposedly based in humility, like Christianity? I’ve heard people complain about the same kind of thing from vegans, democrats, globetrotters, health/fitness fanatics, academics, and artists.

And they’re probably right — to a degree. It’s a problem you’ll find within just about any group, whether it’s centered around a certain philosophy, career path, political affiliation, lifestyle, or religion. We choose these paths because we think they have merit. We think they’re good. And within any subculture, some people are going to be snobs about it.

You can be pretentious about your lifestyle choices or you can be humble about them, whatever they may be.

I’ve heard people be smug and moralistic about their literary tastes. I’ve heard people humblebrag about where they choose to live (i.e. rural vs urban setting). I’ve heard them speak paternalistically about how they spend their money (“Ahem… We value experiences over things”). I’ve even heard people argue haughtily about whose income is further below the poverty line.

I’ve also known some truly humble minimalists, who just don’t want to be caught up in materialism, and are using minimalist principles to make ends meet.

There’s nothing inherently pompous about choosing minimalism — no more than anything else.

And have I ever been douchey about minimalism? Yeah… probably. Sorry about that. I’m a human, and was born desperate for love and validation. I’m trying to do better.

felted wool bowl

“Minimalism is just for rich people.”

I’ve been hearing this one a lot lately. In the article I quoted above, the author argues that “the only people who can ‘practice’ minimalism in any meaningful way are people upon whom it isn’t forced by financial or logistical circumstances.” In other words, poor people don’t have the freedom to choose minimalism. They already don’t have enough. Therefore minimalism is only for the privileged.

She further points out that

Being minimalist in this way […] really just means having enough upfront disposable money to “invest” in your wardrobe and surroundings. Reducing a wardrobe down to a few painfully elegant cashmere-cotton blend tops is only really possible if you can put down at least $1,000 in one go for the creation of your “capsule wardrobe.”

She concludes that “Minimalism is just another form of conspicuous consumption, a way of saying to the world: ‘Look at me! Look at all of the things I have refused to buy!’”

There is definitely some merit to this argument.

Yes, minimalism requires a certain amount of privilege. Truly impoverished and marginalized people don’t have to resources or social capital to “konmari” their homes.

As this article, entitled “The Problem with Minimalism,” explains: “Minimalism is largely something only well-off people can afford to pursue, because their wealth provides a cushion of safety. If they get rid of something, and then need it later, they’ll just buy it again. They don’t need to carry much else besides a wallet when they’re out and about; if they need something, they’ll just buy it on the fly. No sweat. If you’re not so well-off, however, having duplicates of your possessions can be necessary, even if such back-ups ruin the aesthetics of owning just 100 possessions. “

These are great points.

But you don’t have to be wealthy to choose to pare down your possessions or to choose to live with less than your neighbours.

You don’t have to buy one pair of $200 jeans so you can turn up your nose at the rest.

You can totally be a minimalist who shops at thrift stores.

In fact, I’ve found that minimalism has made it easier to live on a budget.

And part of the reason I know this is because I’ve heard so many lower-middle-income people say that minimalism has actually helped them live on a budget. Striving to own fewer possessions makes it easier to get by on less.

My own family lives on an income below the poverty line, and minimalism helps make that possible.

It’s partly because I don’t have a huge wardrobe, or buy the kids a ton of toys, or own a lot of electronic devices, that we can afford to survive on one small income.

tulips

“Minimalism isn’t Christian because it’s focused on the self.”

I heard this criticism come up on a podcast that I actually really love, called The Upside Down Podcast. The hosts attempt to differentiate between minimalism and “downward mobility.” “Downward mobility,” they argue, is a lifestyle choice focused on the well-being of others. Minimalism, by contrast, is just about improving your own life and your own well-being, so it’s not inherently Christian.

However, I think this contrast is based on a false dichotomy between helping yourself and helping others. I don’t think these two things are necessarily mutually exclusive. Sometimes, helping yourself is also good for the people around you.

Choosing minimalism for your own benefit is not like greed, wherein your help yourself at the expense of someone else.

I think practicing minimalism can be mutually beneficial, to you and the people around you. Of course, minimalism is not automatically or inherently helpful to the people around you; but I think if done well and with the right spirit, it can benefit others beyond yourself.

If you pare down your possessions to the things you actually need and use, you can give the excess to people who could make use of those things. Instead of hanging onto things that will just gather dust in your basement, you can share them with people who might actually use and appreciate them.

Less clutter in your own life can also bring you more peace, time and energy, that you can then share with others.

So do I think minimalism inherently Christian? Well, no, of course not. You can be a minimalist and a totally self-centered douchecanoe. And you can totally be a Christian without practicing minimalism.

But greed, by contrast, definitely is NOT Christian, and I think minimalism can be a very useful tool to fight against greed.

Some of the central tenets of Jesus’ message include generosity, sacrifice, sharing, and equity. His gospel is about lowering yourself and lifting others up.

I personally think minimalism aligns with that message, if it is done with a spirit of generosity and love.

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So these are just a few of my thoughts when it comes to criticism of minimalism.

What do you think?

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What’s Saving My Life Right Now

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Hi, friends! I thought I’d pop in today to share some positivity: here are six things that are making life better for me these days.

1. Antidepressants for my preschooler.

This past October we hit a wall with Felix’s sleep. He was nearing four years old and still not sleeping through the night — in fact, it was just getting worse. he was up 3-5 hours every night and it was taking its toll on the whole family. We were all miserable and barely functioning. So I finally took him to his pediatrician and said, “HELP.”

She looked into my bloodshot eyes and decided to prescribe him an antidepressant that causes drowsiness as a side effect. I’m about as anti-drug as you can get but I was desperate and willing to try anything. We started giving it to him every night before bed.

His sleep has improved immensely since then. He almost always sleeps until at least 4:30 am; and when he does wake up at night, he usually falls back asleep within an hour.

Everyone is happier, including Felix.

2. Respite care for my preschooler.

felix and me

In my mid-October desperation I also reached out to our family coordinator who had helped us apply for funding for respite care for Felix earlier in the year. The application had been accepted months earlier, but we’d been informed that there was an unusually long waiting period for the funding to actually kick in. Like, up to a year’s wait.

The coordinator sensed the desperation in my voice and applied for some temporary, private funding to hold us over until the government funding could take over.

So now we have funding for six hours of respite care a week. His worker picks him up to go to her house, and for six hours a week I can spend time focusing on Lydia’s homeschooling, or housecleaning, or even on myself. When he comes home I am refreshed and happy to see him. It’s been pretty glorious.

3. Crafting.

You guys have seen me take up crocheting and then knitting and then watercolour painting. And over the last year I’ve also become obsessed with calligraphy.

A week or two ago my mom asked me if I would do some hand-lettering on some wood discs she’d cut up in my dad’s shop and I happily obliged. And I was so pleased with the results I started making some for friends and then I started to offer them for sale on social media to local friends.

Before I knew it, I was getting Ben to slice up branch after branch and drill and spray my little creations as I pumped out more hand-lettered ornaments. It was kind of taking over my life. And I LOVED every minute.

I really don’t have time for this nonsense. And I only made enough money to cover costs plus a little extra so I could buy even more to my craft supplies, but it was so satisfying to be creative. Crafting just makes my life better.

I feel most like myself when I’m making beautiful things.

4. Walter Geoffrey the Frenchie.

walter

Guys, I’m not really into pet Instagram accounts. But a few months ago I stumbled upon WalterGeoffreytheFrenchie and . . . just . . . WOW. Have you seen this guy?? Oh my goodness. He gives me life. He’s an adorable but opinionated French bulldog with an incredibly unique . . . I’m gonna say, voice? Nothing perks me up like Walter’s bizarre, one-of-a-kind screaming.

Watch this video to get a taste of his personality if you haven’t already met Walter. And then follow his Instagram. If you’re feeling down in the dumps, I promise he will cheer you up.

5. Pentatonix Christmas music.

To add to the list of things I’m not really into: Christmas music. I’m generally just not a fan.

But I love Pentatonix Christmas music. I love a cappella in general, and I specifically love the way they infuse new energy into old Christmas songs. And they have like seven Christmas albums. I will happily listen to Pentatonix all December. (I just listen to them on Spotify.) Give them a listen if you haven’t already!

6. The new local shawarma place.

shawarma

Our small, rural, mostly-white town isn’t known for its cuisine. Nobody drives to our town to get dinner (although our Vietnamese restaurant has the best pho in the county). We’ve had a hard time finding a place to get takeout when we want to get dinner on a short notice, and have basically only patronized the local Vietnamese restaurant for the last decade.

But our town recently got a new shawarma place and it is the best. Since we discovered it a month ago we have been getting takeout from there on almost a weekly basis. For $15 we can get a huge shawarma plate containing enough food for both me and Ben — we each get one wrap, plus three delicious sides. It is making me so happy.

That’s about it for now! What’s been saving your life these days?

PS follow me on Instagram to see what I’m up to on a day-to-day basis!