Tuesday, September 19, 2023

The secret message in my kitchen

There are things that people do that, if we pay really close attention, or are just lucky, will show us a lot about what’s going on with someone. There are big and obvious things (like self-destructive behaviours, or massive home renovations, or whatever), but what I’m talking about are the far more subtle things, the stuff that may remain entirely unnoticed, and so, their messages are missed. Like kitchen adventures, for example.

I’ve shared a lot of photos and stories about my own kitchen adventures, including tales of new recipes I’ve tried, old ones I’ve resurrected, or maybe some new kitchen gadget or a product I’ve tried out. This evening, I realised how those kitchen adventures are evidence of a much bigger tale.

The photo up top is the dinner I made myself this evening. At first, it may seem that it’s nothing particularly remarkable, because it isn’t: Just some frozen crumbed fish fillets (New Zealand fish, of course…), some small “boiling potatoes” (that I steamed), and some frozen vegetables. However, it’s an example of what I’m talking about because it shows how much has changed for me since I moved into this house.

I bought the potatoes because they were on special (they also had similarly small “baking potatoes”), and when I saw that this meal was what popped into my head (I had the fillets in the freezer already), and that’s something that seldom happened in the before times. Moreover, I made extra potatoes so I could slice them up and fry them tomorrow to have with—well, that doesn’t matter right now, the point is, I made extra with a plan to make something else tomorrow. I don’t remember this happening before.

A few months ago, I realised that when I make my modified Red Lentil Dahl recipe, I could make extra that I make into a different kind of curry the next night (sometimes I add chicken, other times vegetables—whatever I’m in the mood for). A couple times I’ve made my pasta sauce with brown lentils, and then the next night I added fajita spices and kidney beans to make a meatless chili to serve on corn ships as a variation on the sort of nachos that Nigel and I used to have quite often.

Until I moved into this house, I never did that sort of planning and re-purposing—I made something new every time. The reason I didn’t do this back then is simple: It never occurred to me. I also know that it’s almost like I’m now living my mother’s teaching: When I was younger I used to say something about us having leftovers, and she’d say with mock indignation, “they’re not leftovers, they’re planned overs!” I was teasing then, which she knew, but many decades later, I’m now doing what she did.

My kitchen adventures began out of a bit of boredom, especially during the times of Covid lockdowns and near-lockdowns when I couldn’t get together with anyone. Then they expanded into a bit of a challenge, not merely modifying the recipes over time (something I’ve always done), but also seeing what else I can do to cook once and get two dinners out of it. To me, that was more interesting that merely having leftovers the next day.

All of this is an indication of my personal evolution over the past few years. While some of it was born of boredom, the majority of it came about because I started to think differently, even a bit creatively, about what had always been a very basic task for me: Making dinner.

I’ve sometimes wished that this “awakening”, for lack of a better word, had happened a long time ago so that Nigel could’ve benefitted from it, too. In his last few years, though, I felt miserable too often to feel very creative about much of anything. I wouldn’t say that I feel all that much better physically now, just different, but that’s given me enough space to start thinking in new directions.

There have been other areas where this happened, even one that’s a bit weird (to me): I often realise I’m designing furniture in my head—nothing elaborate, but made to be exactly what I want, without having to compromise by accepting what’s available (I could make it for less than retail, too…). None of that has come to anything yet because the garage is still a rubbish tip, and there’s no hope of setting up any sort of work space—yet. I suppose the bright side is that there ought to eventually be other creative things I can share besides my latest meal.

Tonight, though, it was making a meal that made me realise how much that particular area of my life has changed over the past few years, and how it’s related to thinking more creatively, and all of that is evidence of my personal evolution over that time.

I know that to some people, this may not seem like a very big deal, but it’s actually pretty huge. Sometimes it’s easy for someone in my position to feel that nothing is getting any better, that the best is already over, and then we suddenly see the evidence of progress that was hiding in plain sight all along. So, yeah, some frozen fish fillets, some steamed potatoes, and some frozen vegetables aren’t a very big deal at all—but they’re actually SO much more than that.

The photo up top has a weird bluish crescent-like patch along the lower left edge of the plate. That’s a reflection of the skylight I had installed in the kitchen, and it's there because it’s already staying lighter significantly later than only a few weeks ago. In fact, at 7pm tonight, when I let Leo outside, I noticed there was still noticeable light in the sky. Also, the daytime temperatures in Hamilton for the rest of this week should be in the low 20s (around 70F). Absolutely nothing stays the same forever, even me.


Roger Owen Green said...

"On special." That's a term my maternal grandmother would use. We'd say "on sale." You're older than you are!

Arthur Schenck said...

Well! That's actually one of my many linguistic adaptations. Where I came from, people also said "on sale", but when I arrived in New Zealand, no one really did (due to the influence of American pop culture, though, more probably use it now). Back then, if I was to ask, "is it on sale?" someone who might be called Nigel might've responded, "Yes it is. It's also on special this week."

Some years ago I realised that all my adaptations would make it too hard for me to ever live in the USA again—although, having adapted to national healthcare in New Zealand was probably the biggest deal deal breaker…