February 27, 2013

This fall, I had kind of a breakdown.

fried rice | Blue Jean Gourmet

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 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!

fried rice | Blue Jean Gourmet

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
canola oil

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.


  1. The rice looks delicious, and what a great idea to make meatballs as you did! Nice twist.

    More importantly, huge hugs to you. I have been through what you have been through, and I agree: never want to have to be back in that place again. I am still picking up a lot of pieces from my breakdown, but thankfully, they have been and still are reassembling into really sound and excellent ways of being.

    Best as you figure things out further. If there is one thing I have learned in almost 45 years, life is a process, and we often revisit things again and again, just different facets and angles of the same issues. Each time we circle around those issues, however, we become more familiar with how we are becoming stronger and wiser because of them.

    I would like to say, “Welcome to the Mother portion of Maiden/Mother/Crone!” and best as you adapt and grow into this new birthing of self (which is often, IMO, what a “breakdown” is really about).


    Comment by Karin P — February 28, 2013 @ 12:31 am

  2. wow what an awesome discovery for you though i am so sorry that you had to go through all that pain. i’m glad you had supportive and loving people with you through that journey. do you have any suggestions for someone that is going through something similar? i would welcome hearing them if you do and espeically any that would be good for someone with no support system. That is if you feel oking with sharing more details. if not i understant as it is an extremely personal and difficult journey to have to undertake.

    keep growing and discovering yourself. take care.

    Comment by jacquie — February 28, 2013 @ 1:38 pm

  3. Wow. You are inspiring as always. Mine started in September and I’m still trying to get out of it. Something to do with the big 30 perhaps? (Sounds pretty cliche though, maybe just coincidence.) Hopefully I’ll be where you’re at soon.

    Also, I want to make this!! Sounds really good.

    Comment by Tricia S. — February 28, 2013 @ 4:22 pm

  4. Hugs, Nishta. I once found myself in that awful place, and it’s not fun. While I’m sorry you had to go through that sadness, it helps me to know that people I admire (and not just for their hummus!) have been there and back again, too.

    Comment by Tamara — February 28, 2013 @ 6:10 pm

  5. Becoming a mother – whether this was the impetus for you or not – is a heart wrenching experience. I maintain that it wasn’t until I was a mother that I was able to be really true to myself. And that self was someone I didn’t know was there. Now, of course, I’m still trying to realize it all, and reconcile it with the overachiever I always felt the need to be.
    You are brave and smart for seeking help and being honest with yourself and others.

    Comment by Cheryl Arkison — February 28, 2013 @ 10:48 pm

  6. Recipe looks delicious. So sorry you went through that darkness. I, too, had a similar experience around 40 when I realized the life I had planned for myself wasn’t going to happen. All said, I made it through in a manner like you did. I’m so glad to have had that experience because it made me a more confident and sane woman.

    Comment by Deborah Melanson — March 1, 2013 @ 4:39 pm

  7. I am new to your blog but this entry really hit close to home..your words really resonated with me. Thank you for sharing your story and well wishes to you.

    Comment by Mini — March 13, 2013 @ 10:26 am

  8. Karin–you always know what to say. yes, the birth of a new self definitely came out of this breakdown! I’m learning…thanks.

    jacquie–I thought I had posted a response to you long ago, but it looks like it never went through. be on the lookout for an email from me, but my short answer re: advice is–don’t be afraid to tell the truth about where you are, no matter how abashed you feel. for me, at least, that was the key.

    Tricia–yes, something about 30! and I felt cliche, too, but what can you do? we have to take things as they come. I also hope that you find yourself in a better place soon. xx

    Tamara–it helps me to know the same! you are an amazing woman, so any parallels we might share are dazzling to me.

    Cheryl–you said it so well. I didn’t have any idea how much the experience of becoming Shiv’s mother could open me up to a self that I didn’t even know was there. it’s an incredible thing. we have to keep each other honest so we can manage the overachiever sides of ourselves! love you.

    Deborah–thank you for your kind words. though I wouldn’t have wished for the experience, I am glad for what I have learned. and glad to know that others can relate!

    Mini–welcome, and thank you for letting me know that you felt resonance with what I wrote. that means a great deal to me, and I am very glad to have you here reading!

    Comment by Blue Jean Gourmet — April 6, 2013 @ 12:36 pm

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