Waiting to Be Found

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“Will I face the fear of today or the regret of forever?”

Jon Acuff, the first keynote speaker at the World Domination Summit, was sharing his story of how he overcame his fear of becoming a writer and eventually became a bestselling author of five books. One of them was fittingly titled Start: Punch Fear in the Face, Escape Average. The audience, who were gathered in Portland’s beautiful Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, murmured and nodded their heads in agreement. I was soaking it all in, scribbling notes in my workbook. As a writer, everything Acuff said resonated with me. It’s like he was speaking directly to me and not to the thousands of other aspiring writers, bloggers, authors, and creatives in the room.

“Your voice is never lost; it’s always waiting to be found.”

The theater erupted in applause.  Acuff grinned as our host Chris Guillebeau came out to shake his hand. It was clear that this was not the first time he had delivered this talk. He had a boyish humor and sincere way of telling stories, whether joking about his children or throwing in some self-deprecating anecdotes about his struggle to find peace with his writing and insecurities. As inspiring as a TED talk, he had done his job with opening up the World Domination Summit that July 2015. He encouraged us all to dream bigger and believe that our creative selves just needed to surpass our fears before it could really soar. In that moment, surrounded by the positive energy of the cheering crowd, it all felt true.

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It was my husband who encouraged me to finally attend that summer’s World Domination Summit. Ever since I began blogging and writing years ago, I had heard of this annual gathering of creatives, writers, and lifestyle entrepreneurs. I aspired to be like them, but I never saw myself at the level where I could join their community. Late December of 2014, we both decided to go for it.

Another important thing happened to me before we flew to Portland and began our nearly one-month excursion to the Pacific Northwest. While working on a creative video project for work, I serendipitously discovered a graduate program – the online Masters in Instructional Science & Technology program at CSU Monterey Bay. I had been searching for the next step in my career, especially one that let me combine my creativity and educational skills. It seemed perfect. My full-time job would cover the tuition, my boss was supportive of the program, and it was fully online. That spring, I applied, and I was accepted into the program.

With both WDS and MIST on the horizon for me that summer, I felt like I was on the cusp of a creative and professional breakthrough. I was bursting with optimism for what would come next in my career and life.

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While I was in Portland, Oregon for WDS, a tiny seed was planted. It was so small that I didn’t notice it at first. I couldn’t yet know that it would blossom and spread like dandelions in the next several weeks and months to come. But it happened sometime during Day 3 of WDS with another full day of listening to a line up of talented, inspiring speakers. Everyone who spoke had an amazing story to tell of how they lived an unconventional life and career – able to turn the loss of loved ones and moments of trauma into a calling to create and to serve others. We laughed, cried, and cheered alongside the speakers.   Their stories resonated with vulnerability.  They were daring greatly in the arena of the stage and of their lives.  These people were our role models, our champions who proved it could be true. A true passion, a calling, a vocation existed for us if we were willing to take risks to discover it. We could do anything we wanted. We could leave the safety net of our 9 – 5 jobs and travel the world and find ourselves again. We could put everything on the line for the sake of pursuing our art. Our art could change the world. The energy in the room pulsated with this hope.

And then I noticed something odd. Beyond the hungry eyes of the attendees, the ones who could cite passages from Tim Ferriss’s The Four Hour Work Week, the couple who was traveling the world for one year, the ones who were writing a memoir, the gentleman who proclaimed that he had attended WDS every year in search of his passion. Beyond the impassioned calls from the speakers – whether on stage, or in their books, their programs, or in their podcasts – for us to pursue our calling, whether it be in art, writing, or business. Beyond all of that passion lurked a layer of discontentment. One that could never be satiated, no matter how many countries they visited, how many books they wrote, how many businesses they ran, how many fans they impacted.  This approach seemed like the unconventional version of climbing the success ladder.  Instead of money as the fuel, it was the need for constant fulfillment and achievements.  The tiny seed came with a cautious message.  Is that life really what I wanted?

I tried to shake it away. I took more notes and let the words of the speakers seep in. I tried to be in the moment of WDS – this long awaited event I’d envisioned years ago. I was crazy to stop this momentum now. Not when I was in a conference surrounded by my tribe of creatives. Not when I was about to hit a breakthrough in my work and professional life. And yet, it stayed. My intuition knew – the ball of truth that rested in my gut knew – this path would not make me happy.

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For the next several weeks after my trip, I felt like I was waking up from a foggy, hypnotic dream. Except I was now part of a world I no longer recognized. A mirror was held up to me, and I felt betrayed by its reflection.

I had always been driven by the pursuit of a meaningful career. A calling. It was that drive that led me to write, go through graduate school, take up freelance writing, start a blog, dabble in a side business, teach a course at a community college, and be involved in conferences and volunteer organizations. I was always adding another layer to the never-ending resume of my life’s work. I read business and productivity books and blogs, I listened to creative and professional podcasts, and I was always brainstorming ideas for new businesses and projects to start. But that summer, when I came home, I stopped completely. I stopped reading, I stopped writing, I stopped creating, and I stopped pursuing. And while it was a long, complicated decision involving other personal factors, I also dropped out of my MIST graduate program. I no longer had the heart to pursue any of it.

That summer, I had indeed reached a breakthrough in my career and creative work, and it was one that changed the trajectory of my life that year.

Now a gaping hole lingered where these projects and pursuits once lived comfortably in my daily existence. I actually had free time to reclaim! And instead of seeking productive ways to use this time, I could now refocus on what was fun. Freeing. Fulfilling.

For the next several months, I used this energy to restore my body and my spirit. I went for hikes and joined a running group, attended group fitness classes on a regular basis, and attempted intimidating new activities like bouldering and pole-dancing. It felt good to be out of my head. To stop building my resume for some unknown future career.  To stop hustling.

I spent quality time with loved ones, who for too long, were seen as “affectionate distractions” to my writing and career endeavors. I spent more time with my husband and hanging out with our friends, whether it was spontaneous day trips to Santa Cruz beach grilling mussels or a weekend exploring San Francisco. I spent time with my younger sister as she prepared for her October wedding, visiting her in LA for a sisters’ weekend, getting our nails done together, and helping her prepare for an intense night of cake pop making. I helped my best friend shop for her daughter’s first-year birthday party and got to be the photographer on that special day. For my friend’s baby shower, I coordinated baby shower games and helped set-up the party with her sister. Clearly, a lot of life milestones happened that fall and winter for many of the people I loved. Milestones that, in the past, I would have been too busy to fully participate in. This break allowed me to be present for all of it. It gave me the space to appreciate my life just as it was.

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The break lasted for nearly half a year.  I like to think of that period as a forced creative sabbatical.  Sometime in April, I felt the urge to write again. The once-familiar sense to write and create slowly returned, like tired joints coming back to life after they had fallen asleep. It can be a little painful in the beginning. Time had granted me a safe distance from the emotional turbulence of last summer. When I was caught up in the the thick of my day-to-day life, it was hard to see the bigger picture. To find the lesson in the experience. But time and a bit of insight had given me something to say. It feels full-circle that my first piece is sharing this story of how I left and found writing again.

I’m welcoming my creativity back like an old friend. Happy to catch up and see how much has changed since the last time we were in each other’s lives.

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We ran in every city

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“Go out and walk.  That is the glory of life.” – Maria Kalman via Brainpickings

It was the first time on vacation that I packed my sneakers for the purpose of running.  It was summer in the Pacific Northwest, and I was excited to be outside. Alongside my list of restaurants and cafes, I also noted down places to enjoy the scenery of each city.  Traveling each of the cities by foot, whether walking, running, or taking public transportation, allowed J and I to get lost and immerse ourselves in the local scene.  We wanted to run in every city.


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Portland has several different bridges that cross the Willamette River.  Across the Burnside Bridge, we stayed in an Airbnb loft in Southeast Portland.  We discovered Laurelhurst Park, a lovely, woodsy green gem in our quiet neighborhood. The park had paved paths for running, walking, or biking, and tall trees that kept us cool during the city’s heatwave.  We ran there twice during our stay.

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We also took a peaceful riverboat cruise on the Portland Spirit.  The boat glided us along the Willamette River where we got to see rows of picturesque Portland homes along the water’s edge.  Can you imagine a river and paddle boat in your backyard?  So fun!  By 9pm, we watched the sun set over the city and water.


IMG_7042Our place in Seattle rested on a high hill in Queen Anne, and boasted a postcard view of the city and Space Needle. During one afternoon, J & I ran up and down the steep hills to Kerry Park, merely blocks from our stay.  Our legs burned from running the incline, but we were able to soak in the city view while we rested. IMG_7067

From the top of the hill, we ran to Lake Union Park and circled around the edge of Westlake. We were already out, so we just continued running into downtown.   Among the tech company commuters donned in their business wear and backpacks, we joined them on the bus to take us into Pike Place Market for dinner.


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Downtown Vancouver is surrounded by water.  From the Waterfront station, we took the sea bus out to Lonsdale Quay.  It was a fun way to admire the Vancouver skyline while riding among the commuters between the shores.  It’s incredible to see all of the different modes of transportation that this city provides – bikes, sea bus and ferries, local bus, train, and sea planes. IMG_7355

J and I were staying in Vancouver for 9 days, a lengthy amount of time to soak in the sun, water, and trees. I fell in love with Stanley Park.  We ran and biked along the seawall, a 6 mile perimeter around the park and water.  The park also has two designated pathways – one for walkers and joggers and a second one for bikers.   IMG_7326

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One of the top excursions of Vancouver is the Capilano Suspension Bridge, even though I have an incredible fear of heights.  At about 250 feet up in the air, the height of the Statue of Liberty’s shoulder, it’s pretty damn high.  The wooden bridge, originally built in the 1880s, is thankfully sturdy.  But it sways.  A lot.  I fought against every irrational fear and trekked across the bridge.  It was worth the scare because on the other side was a magical nestle of forest and treetop bridges.  We could reach out our hands and touch the top of rainforest trees – 250 year old Douglas-firs.   IMG_7291

We saved the Grouse Grind for the end of our stay.  By that point of our trip, our legs had worked up the muscles from all of the daily activities.  We mostly used the car to travel between the major cities, so we walked and took the bus for the duration of our 2 1/2 week trip.  We easily walked between 2 – 4 miles each day.  Our waitress at the sushi restaurant had recommended the Grouse Grind, a popular workout trail among the locals.  The hike is also affectionately called “Mother Nature’s Stair Master” so that tells you something.  When we read about the intense, steep, rocky climb – 1.8 miles and 2380 steps up the peak of Grouse Mountain – we decided to go for it. IMG_7423

The scenery was beautiful, but I was too fixated on finding my footing on the tree roots or rocks to linger on the view.  The path was fairly narrow, so you have to pull over to the side to let others pass.  Many of the athletic climbers regularly hiked the Grind and timed themselves.  After two hours of grinding up the mountain, my legs were about to collapse. I grabbed onto anything – the rope, a tree trunk, a big rock – to pull myself up. IMG_7427

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Once we reached the top, it was incredible to see how far up we had climbed.  The Gondola ride down was a beautiful pause, even though it was crammed with sweaty hikers and resort visitors. IMG_7384

Out in the Pacific Northwest trip, I discovered how far I could go, how brave I could be, and how freeing it is to turn off my mind and just move.  Now that we’re home, I want to continue feeding my spirit of adventure and pushing myself physically.  The Bay Area thrives with possibilities to be outside and to be active.  There are beautiful trails to hike and run, cities along the Peninsula and coast to explore, gym and studio classes to try.  Among the many experiences of my trip, I especially love my renewed appreciation for my body and my health.  Sometimes it takes traveling somewhere new to fully realize what I’ve always had.

 

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It started with a question

Cafe Series

Last July, my husband and I spent over 2 weeks traveling throughout the Pacific Northwest.  We hopped from Portland to Seattle to Vancouver and back to Seattle again.  One of my favorite spots was a cafe called Small Victory in Vancouver, Canada.

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It was just two blocks away from the Airbnb apartment in the Yaletown neighborhood.  I spent three mornings there – writing and people-watching.  The latte and London Fog latte were crafted well, the croissant and blueberry almond brioche pastries were delicious and delicately flaky, and the decor was minimally trendy with modern gold details and ash wood panels.  It was my kind of scene and the perfect space to marvel at how I found myself on this trip.  

It started with a question.  

Earlier in the year, J & I were waiting in line for dinner at the ever-popular Ramen Dojo restaurant.  I had asked What would it take for us to ever move out of the Bay Area?  It was meant to be a fun, blue-sky type of discussion.  The questions then led to Where else would we want to live?  New York?  Canada?  Japan?  What kind of jobs could we have over there?  

At one point in the conversation, I wondered if there was a way we could have the best of both worlds.  How could we experience living away without uprooting our lives at home?  The question lingered for the rest of the evening, and then tangible ideas began to form into a solid plan.  

We had a trip already booked for Portland in July to attend the World Domination Summit for a few days.  We then calculated whether time, expenses, and work-schedules could make it feasible to extend our trip.  It grew from a few days to 2.5 weeks, from a visit to Portland to a tour of the Pacific Northwest.  While there were definitely some obstacles to figure out, we found a way to make it work.

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We’re already looking forward to our next adventure, eventually working our way to a month off or even a summer dedicated to living abroad.  A year ago, this kind of trip did not exist for us and our lifestyles.  We couldn’t even conceive of it.  And now it feels entirely possible.

Sometimes it takes a good question to allow for possibilities to form.  To consider a new way of living.

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My Healthy Habit Backslide: Not a Good Move

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It’s been a struggle for me to find my way back to a healthy diet and gym routine.  S-T-R-U-G-G-L-E.

Here’s the problem with some habits. Once you STOP a habit, it’s HARDER to get back into it. In Gretchen Rubin’s book Better Than Before, she believes that we overestimate how easy it will be to start a habit again. When it comes to starting over with a former habit, she writes, “the novelty has worn off, I’ve remembered all the reasons I struggle with that habit, and it’s discouraging to feel myself backsliding.”

I read that paragraph and realized it was describing me. I had let my ego get the better of me. I believed that since I knew how to eat well, maintain a healthy weight, and challenge myself at the gym, it wouldn’t be a big deal to veer off the healthy path. Just for a little bit.  We all know how that goes.  It took a just this once mentality to fool myself and fall off the path completely.

I used to have only Saturdays reserved for my cheat days, when my husband and I would go to town on carbs and sweets a la Tim Ferriss’s Slow-Carb Diet.  It then morphed into Friday nights AND Saturday (because Friday night is part of the weekend, right?). Then indulging for Friday lunches and Thursday evenings crept into the mix.  Worse than the increase of my cheat days was that I also began emotionally eating. I would snack or crave carbs when I was stressed and depleted of willpower and discipline, but I would also eat unhealthily when I was happy and wanted to celebrate the weekend or a special occasion.

Tony Robbins calls this process Anchoring, which is tying a behavior or stimulus to an intense emotional state.  Anchoring is something you can train yourself to do, and it can be used for better or worse. A good example would be like assuming a powerful stance in order to associate it with the feeling of confidence. If you train yourself effectively, you can call up this emotion every time you act out the behavior (hands on your hips) or see a stimulus (the podium and microphone for your presentation). But Anchoring can also be tied to bad behaviors, such as the case of my unhealthy eating habits. In the few months I let myself veer off course, I had unintentionally ANCHORED myself to associate the behavior of eating junk food and the stimulus of NetFlix with two powerful emotional states: stress and joy.  Nice move, P.

The weight that I had lost last year and had proudly maintained for nearly 6 months crept back. The glimmer of toned muscle on my arms, legs, and abs disappeared.  My pants were getting snug, and I was deliberately choosing shirts with more room.  AND YET.  I couldn’t stop. My husband couldn’t stop either. We were both turning into a regularly snack and pizza-obsessed, Netflix-watching couple, and it was a slow-moving train wreck that neither of us had the willpower to stop.

After several weeks of unsuccessfully trying to stop myself from snacking, I gave up. Kind of.  It was time to switch approaches.  So, I decided to stop stopping. Instead of fighting against my primal, emotional side with my limited willpower, I had to find a way to work with it. To acknowledge its existence.  I needed to use emotions with emotions.

I’ve experienced how ineffective it is to deprive myself.  It doesn’t work for very long. Ever get the urge to do something EVEN MORE when you tell yourself you can’t do it?  Often times people who go on a restricted low-calorie diet usually binge afterwards and gain everything back.  I had to find other ways to reward myself when I was happy and to soothe myself when I was stressed.  After some trial and error, I discovered a few tricks that started to work for me.

When I’m happy and want to go out, I am usually satisfied with treating myself with frozen yogurt.  Or when I’m stressed, I bypass the urge to watch NetFlix by not staying home.  Instead, I immediately head to the gym for Zumba or do some window-shopping at the mall.  It’s a re-direction tactic, and it works because my stress melts away when I get to mindlessly dance it off or browse pretty stuff at the boutiques.  I have also begun to ANCHOR myself with a new healthy habit and routine.  After a good workout, I drive over to Whole Foods and reward myself with a refreshing drink at the juice bar and happily wander the aisles for tasty and healthy snacks.  It actually feels like an indulgence when I go to the juice bar.  Yes, it’s $7 for cold-pressed juice, but it’s damned GOOD.  It also feels like a treat when I buy a local, organic brand of almond butter because the label looks pretty or a container of Strauss yogurt because it’s delicious swirled with honey and berries.  My taste buds appreciate food that is good, even if it’s healthy.

Okay, it’s not the same thing as splurging on a shiny pair of shoes or ordering a cocktail at a restaurant.  But surprisingly, those small indulgences are enough to make me happy.  And maybe that’s enough for my body and spirit to get back on track.

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Kitchen Stories

Prologue: Delancey 
Last December, I read Delancey by Molly Wizenberg, a sweet and funny memoir about opening a pizza place with her husband Brandon. Molly, who writes the blog Orangette, portrays the unglamorous side and stress of owning a restaurant. It’s easy to romanticize the idea of being a restauranteur, especially with the onslaught of reality shows like Top Chef or profiles in Food & Wine magazine. I occasionally have fantasies of opening up a cafe, where artists and community members gather over good coffee and events. However,  Delancey shows what happens before the doors officially open –from the fights between the married couple, the scraping together of money and second-hard parts to build the kitchen, and the exhaustive cleaning and prep work involved during the hours long after doors shut at 10 p.m. Owning a restaurant is not the same as the dream of hosting a dinner party with friends, Molly confides. It is more like hosting a huge Thanksgiving dinner for family, friends, and strangers. Every single night.

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Reading Delancey did not make me want to open a restaurant or progress in the dreams of my cafe, but It piqued my interest in cooking again.  It also renewed my craving for a good slice of wood-fired pizza.  And surprisingly, a good salad.

Act 1: Starting with salad
As Molly created the first menu for opening night, she prepared a simple salad using local produce, sharp cheese, and a homemade vinaigrette. I’m not typically impressed by salads, but J & I learned to appreciate a really good salad.  One of our favorite Italian restaurants serves a serious seasonal salad– sweet golden beets, Beemster cheese shavings, toasted nuts, and a citrus vinaigrette.  We silently hoped the other person was done so that we could finish off the plate.

I never had a salad that made me care about it before.  I had found the inspiring dish that would draw me back to the kitchen again.

Recipes

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Pasta Salad with Tomatoes, Zucchini, and Feta via The Pioneer Woman
My aunts like to task me with bringing the salad to bring for parties and holidays. Maybe they think salad is easier to delegate and is a failure-proof potluck dish. I made this salad for my grandma’s 86th birthday last October at a beach house family event. I found this simple, refreshing salad from The Pioneer Woman, and I loved that it required less than 5 ingredients.  It’s great to make in advance and keeps well during long drives.

Radiccio and Radish Salad with Pear and Parmesan via Orangette

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I returned Delancey to the library, ready to make a REAL salad, and realized that I did not copy down any of the recipes from the book. I assumed Molly would post some of her newer salad recipes on Orangette, but I couldn’t find them. Instead, I found an older salad recipe on her blog that seemed just as refreshing and simple as the ones featured in her book. It was my first time experimenting with creating my own dressing, and it was fun.  I usually grab a bottle of dressing from the store, but it goes to waste because I never make enough salad at home to use it up. I liked everything about this salad except for the radiccio itself.  I had forgotten that leaves like radiccio and endives tasted bitter, so I would personally substitute the radiccio for shredded red cabbage.  When I made this, I also used an apple instead of a pear.

Beet Salad with Oregano, Pecans, and Goat Cheese via Fine Cooking

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It was my first time buying beets at Whole Foods and roasting them!  It was odd to finally see what these vegetables look like in their raw form.  I didn’t know they came with huge stalks of green.  It was an easy process to cook and slice, but a bit messy due to the red beet stains.  Also, listen to the recipe order and sprinkle the goat cheese on last before serving.  My cheese bits were stained by the time I mixed everything together.  Even though it looked red and pinkish, the salad was refreshing and delicious.  I also used walnut pieces instead of pecans.  The next time I make this, I’ll add golden beets and the actual beet leaves for an extra pop of color.

Lazy Salad:  Literally, I throw together grape tomatoes with sliced Persian cucumbers from Trader Joe’s.  If I have cheese or basil leaves, I use those, too.

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Act 2: French Classics Made Easy
I decided to take my next cooking step and open up my kitchen and home.  Making salad and dressing was a good start, but it’s more fun to share food with others and loved ones. Plus it adds the right amount of pressure to make something good.

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I’m surprised at how much I’ve enjoyed the recipes that I’ve made from French Classics Made Easy by Richard Crausman.  We received it as part of my husband’s Quarterly package from Timothy Ferriss, author of The Four Hour Chef (more about Ferriss later in this post).  The Made Easy part of the title speaks to my preferences of easy, simple techniques and minimal ingredients.  I started off by making a simple side of green beans in a garlic, cream sauce.  Then, I tested the poached salmon recipe in a different cream sauce.  How fantastically simple and versatile are cream sauces?  You don’t have to worry about anything else except tossing the fish or meat in the oven, and it piggybacks on the flavors of the sauce.  The sauce itself only has a couple of steps and ingredients – my favorite kind of recipe.

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After making a few dishes from the book, I was ready to test some of the recipes on others.  Every Christmas morning for the last five years, I host brunch for my family.

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I decided to serve a simple menu from French Classics Made Easy:  French omelettes with Gruyère cheese and a mushroom cream sauce, bacon, and a side of tomatoes and mozzarella with truffle salt.  J and I have an Aeropress and a French Press coffee maker, so we also whipped up a few rounds of Bulletproof Coffee blended in butter (our breakfast staple).  My mom said she felt like she was at a bed-and-breakfast joint, and I beamed.  Cooking for others in my home is probably the closest thing I’ll have to running my own cafe anyway.  And it feels even better.

Recipes
Recipes from French Classics Made Easy:
Omelette au Fromage (Gruyère Omelet). Similar recipe via Food.com
Champignons à la Crème (Mushrooms in Cream Sauce).  Online recipe via SavorSA
Basil Beurre Blanc (Basil Butter Sauce).  Similar recipe via allrecipes.com

Gouda Béchamel Sauce via Food and Wine

Bulletproof Coffee via Bulletproofexec.com

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Act 3:  Sous Vide and Sunday afternoons 
For Christmas, my husband excitedly received his gift at our front door — two enormous crate-sized boxes lugged upstairs by the poor FedEx delivery guy.  It wasn’t from me.  It had been a hefty investment in Tim Ferriss’s Secrete Santa Megabox – the ultimate mystery package.  Among the random assortment of tech goodies, including bluetooth Sonos speakers, an electric Boosted board, and a humidifier, there were two items that especially resonated with me.  An Andrew Zimmern enameled cast-iron wok and a Sous Vide Supreme!  Vacuum sealer included!  I tore open the Sous Vide Supreme box in excitement.  It was understood between us that I could claim any culinary items that came in the Megabox.

“What is that?” J asked.  We’d never seen one before.  I just knew it was a fancy gadget for cooking food in water, and it was as large as a microwave.

I spent the next few days poring over the recipe books, researching articles about sous vide cooking, and watching the Sous Vide Supreme starter dvd.  As summarized by many sites, sous vide cooking originated in France and is a method of cooking food in vacuum-sealed pouches using a water oven.  The vaccuum seal also intensifies the flavor within the pouch, so only minimal ingredients are needed.  The water oven is set to maintain a precise temperature, which allows for food to cook evenly and to keep warm until ready to serve.

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There is less margin for error in overcooking food, such as steak.  I can toss my steak into the Sous Vide at 140F, and leave it in there for 1 hour, even for 4 hours, and it will still come out perfectly cooked at medium.  The method of cooking is used in many restaurants, even in Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry.  Keller had written a book dedicated to sous vide cooking called Under Pressure.  The thought of learning a cooking technique that Keller advocates for was thrilling.  And intimidating.

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My world of cooking had expanded exponentially.  I made it a goal for 2015 (and on) to learn how to use the sous vide, along with other cooking tools that have been sitting around my kitchen.  My first test was cooking our New Year’s Eve dinner using the Sous Vide Supreme and the new wok.  It took nearly 5 hours total, including fiddling with the water oven and the sealer, but I triumphantly pulled together a delicious meal:  ribeye steak in brown butter and stir-fried green beans.

The possibilities seemed endless.  I could use the Sous Vide to cook large amounts of food in advance, and thanks to the magic of the vaccuum sealer, the food could freeze for up to 6 months.  There are a few downsides of sous vide cooking, such as the large amounts of water used in each session and that it takes a long time for the water temperature to reach 140 degrees.  For busy weekdays, I don’t have 30 minutes to wait for the oven to warm up before I can cook dinner.  It’s not a quick cooking method, but more suited for batch cooking on a Sunday or for a large group dinner.  After a few trial runs, I devised a few sous vide cooking hacks.

One idea is to only use the Sous Vide roughly once per month, which would allow me to batch cook and freeze several packets of food during one or two sessions.  If I need to use it for a second session, I save the water in a jug so I can re-use it a few days later.  That way, my conscious is at ease given the California drought.  Instead of using the sous vide to re-warm the food, I thaw the pouch in the refridgerator overnight, and re-heat the food in the oven.  Because I can control the temperature and cooking times of the food using the sous vide, I cook the food to medium rare.  By the time I reheat the food in the oven, it should be at medium or nearly well-done without overcooking too much.  I researched lots of ways to reheat frozen or thawed food without sacrificing the quality and taste.  Here, here, and here.

My secret weapon is not really a hack, but a disciplined habit.  I spend Sunday afternoon cooking a lot.  And listening to Pandora and podcasts.  Lately, these have been on heavy rotation: StartUp, Pop Culture Happy Hour, The Tim Ferriss Show.  Here’s the latest episode of StartUp:

I still spend 3 or 4 hours cooking on Sundays, but I’m more intentional about using different cooking tools and methods.  One time, when I was really organized and focused, I had different meals cooking in the sous vide, the oven, and the stove top at roughly the same time.  It doesn’t happen often because it takes so much damned advanced planning –finding recipes suited for each type of cooking method, finishing grocery shopping, and preparing all of the ingredients.  Most of the time, I’m lucky if I can crank out a few extra meals that will last me from Sunday through Tuesday.  I have to continuously remind myself that those 4 hours are worth it because I get a cooking break for a few days, and I save money by bringing lunch to work.

One of these days, I might be as organized as this blogger.  Until then, I’m just happy that I found my way back to the kitchen.

Recipes 
Recipes from the Sous Vide Supreme website.
Ribeye Steaks in Browned Butter
Basic Sous Vide Salmon
Pork Tenderloin Sous Vide
Sous Vide Poached Eggs

Stir Fried Green Beans from The Slanted Door cookbook (a wonderful holiday gift from my sister-in-law!).  Actual recipe via KCRW.

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P.S.
I’ve compiled the links and resources from this post, in addition to a few others, into an online flipboard magazine: CONTEXT | Kitchen Stories.

View my Flipboard Magazine.

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