February 27, 2013
This fall, I had kind of a breakdown.
That sounds melodramatic, I know, but I’m pretty sure it’s the correct word for what I experienced: breakdown as in things no longer working, as in a sudden onset of intense, uncontrollable, and never-before-experienced anxiety and sadness. Mid-October to mid-January was a very tough period of time for me, scary and exhausting and surreal. With the help of Jill, my friends, my counselor, and a psychiatrist, I am relieved and grateful to say that I made it to the other side.
Surviving a breakdown is like getting the world’s loudest existential wake-up call. The absence of pain is a tremendous feeling, and I came out of it knowing one thing for certain; I never want to do this ever, ever again. So then came the task of figuring out how to keep that promise to myself.
The more I looked, the more it became clear to me that my old identity was no longer working; thirty years of goal-oriented living and it was time to reevaluate who I was, what I cared about, and how I approached my daily life. Everything was up for grabs, which totally terrified me. What if I was something other than a constant parade of comparisons and achievements? Who was I underneath all of that?
Figuring out these things doesn’t happen all at once. I’ve learned that I don’t have to have to make all of my decisions right this minute; I am planning less and less these days, in fact. At the most, I think a few days ahead, finding meaning, worth, and value in each day instead of anticipating some future point where everything will magically come together and I’ll have my life figured out and lined up neat and pretty.
As I spend more and more time on this side of my breakdown, I find there is, in fact, something quite freeing about doing things very, very differently than I did before. Freeing to let go of old models and expectations, freeing to give myself permission to relate to myself and my life in a new way.
It turns out that the pieces I thought made me who I am, the things I was holding onto so tightly, the pieces I was so attached to and so convinced I would fall apart without—none of those are really me. And they aren’t the things that everyone else in my life saw as being me all along. Turns out what they love is something else altogether, an essential part that can’t be screwed up, even when I am kind of a mess.
It turns out that I can take a container of hummus that I did not make myself to book club and it won’t upset the balance of the universe. It turns out that who I really am is enough.
It’s a brave new world, my friends, and I’m glad to be in it.
FRIED RICE WITH BANH-MI STYLE MEATBALLS
Fried rice is one of my favorite weeknight dishes; like a frittata, it’s a great way to use up leftovers without feeling like you’re, well, eating leftovers. A few months ago, I tried this method for making good fried rice great, and I’ve been following its instructions ever since. The directions may seem extensive, but it’s really just a matter of being prepared ahead of time—having everything chopped and ready to go so that you don’t have to pause once you get your pan (or wok) hot.
This time, instead of cooking meat as part of the rice, I made banh-mi style pork meatballs separately and then incorporated them into the rice. You could also use these meatballs to make homemade banh mi (mmm!) or serve them over noodles instead of rice. They are very flavorful and freeze well, too!
for the meatballs:
1 lb. ground pork
½ of a small or ¼ of a large onion, diced
¼ cup cilantro, finely chopped
½ jalapeno, minced
1 ½ T minced ginger
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 T corn or potato starch
1 T fish sauce
1 tsp. soy sauce
a few squirts of sriracha (optional)
Combine the above ingredients, preferably with your hands. Form meatballs of whatever size you choose (I went for 1 ½ inches in diameter). You can complete this step in advance and refrigerate the meatballs, covered, until ready to cook.
When you’re ready to cook the meatballs, heat your oven to 350°. Cover a deep, heavy-bottomed pan with a layer of oil—I use canola, with a small amount of sesame oil for flavor—and heat the oil until shimmering. Pan-fry the meatballs in batches, turning them to brown on all sides. Place the browned meatballs on foil-lined baking sheets and cook in the oven for an addition 10-12 minutes, until cooked through.
for the fried rice:
I used what we had on hand around the house—feel free to substitute any vegetables hanging out in your fridge.
3 cups cold, leftover rice
2 leeks, washed and cut into thin half-moons
~1 cup sugar snap peas, trimmed and diced
1 red bell pepper. diced
handful of crimini mushrooms, diced
2 eggs, beaten
3 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 inches ginger, minced
1-2 tsp. rice wine vinegar
1 tsp. soy sauce
fish sauce (to taste)
handful fresh basil leaves, chopped
Cook the egg first. Heat about a tablespoon of oil over medium-high heat until hot. When it’s ready, pour in the beaten egg and stir it constantly until fluffy and cooked. Turn out into a large bowl and wipe out your pan.
Add another tablespoon of oil and let it get shimmery before adding the raw, non-aromatic vegetables (bell pepper, peas, mushrooms). Toss them around until they are tender but still crisp—I like to err on the side of undercooked, because they’ll ultimately be added back to the pan at the end and receive a bit more heat. Turn the cooked veggies out into the bowl with the egg.
Add another splash of oil to the pan and get it hot again. If using meatballs or another fully-cooked meat, just toss it around in the pan to get it nice and hot (and to render some of the flavor out into the pan). If you are using raw meat, fully cook it before adding it to bowl with the already-cooked egg.
Pour in a few more tablespoons of oil to the pan and wait until it shimmers. Add the leeks and sauté until they begin to soften; then toss in the ginger and garlic and cook, stirring regularly, until very aromatic and just beginning to brown.
Next, add the rice all at once, breaking up any large clumps and tossing it around in the hot oil. Stir fry until the rice starts to look dry and the individual grains separate. Season with a pinch or two of salt.
Now, turn the contents of the egg-vegetable-meat bowl into the hot pan. Stir gently to combine, then make a well in the center of the pan and add the liquid seasonings—rice wine vinegar, soy, and a few shakes of fish sauce. Incorporate the bubbling liquid into the rice, stirring and tossing everything until the rice looks dry again.
Remove your pan from the hot burner and top with chopped basil. Serve hot.