Ever have a moment where you can see yourself from outside of yourself, for just a split-second of time? And after it happens, the image is super tricky to process, so you’re not sure if you’re making it up or if you really saw what you think you just saw, because it’s disconcerting as hell, but then you get a glimpse of a little nugget of clarity: an insight, a revelation, and the truth of it hits you squarely and you know that you are right about what you saw.
That happened to me yesterday. Fitting that such insight should come on New Year’s Day: auspicious even. Of course, seeing oneself clearly is not always a particularly pleasant experience; over the years, I have devised a million ways to avoid, deflect, and grow defensive whenever I see something about myself that I don’t like.
My thoughts were born out of a winter-break experiment that I planned and took on with a dear friend; she is also a mama who works in the field of education, and together we pledged to take on a kind of social media “fast” for the days that we were off of school. Neither one of us faults the media itself, of course, but wished instead to examine how we were engaging with things like Faceboook, Twitter, and Instagram, and to recalibrate and re-set our relationships with our computers and phones.
The hard truth that we had each come to realize is that we were letting our devices take attention away from our families; instead of being present, we would, as a default, rush to “capture the moment,” often so that we could share it with others via social media. In its purest essence, the impulse to share pieces of our lives is a healthy one, but if I’m honest, for me that impulse often becomes something more performative and affirmation seeking, showing off and/or comparing my life to others. It’s shockingly easy to forget that we all select and filter (in the case of Instagram, literally) what we do and don’t share online—other people’s lives can look deceptively and perfectly styled. And then there are the hours I’ve spent scrolling aimlessly on social media, not really seeking or finding anything of value or substance, but rather, letting myself be thoughtlessly sucked in, the net result of which is wasted time, with annoyance as a by-product.
Cue yesterday’s revelation. As said above, social media/my phone/my computer are but tools, and I choose how to use them. So by taking them out of the equation, I simply forced my psyche to show its hand, so to speak, by inevitably finding another thing to be distracted with or consumed by. I had said, at the outset, that I wanted my winter break to be largely plan-less, filled with time to nest and organize at home, play with my kid, spend time with family and friends, and do some much needed reading and writing—and I did a fair amount of that. I have spent wonderful time with family and friends, hung out a lot with my awesome kid, read one amazing book, and cleaned out parts of the house, taking big bags to Goodwill and upgrading my pantry from a disaster area to a functional space.
But I have also managed to be quite busy: cooking, planning, visiting, hosting, coordinating. I have taken on things—things I enjoy, things that are not bad—but things that directly contradict what I said I wanted out of this break. In the immortal words of the Beastie Boys, Listen all of y’all, it’s a sabotage.
There is nothing wrong, of course, with the things I spent my time doing over the last few days; I had a wonderful time and I don’t regret any of it. But I didn’t get a lick of writing done. I gave up that time by filling it with all kinds of other things; I made myself busy and I set myself up to fail. It’s time, I realized, to interrupt the identity I’ve structured for myself, an identity that’s become so fixed that it occurs for me as simply who I am. “But that’s just what I do!” I protested, when Jill, at my request for coaching, gently pointed these things out to me. “Right,” she said. “But you choose all that, and you can choose something else.”
After Jill’s cancer, and again after I got my sanity back, almost exactly a year ago this month, I swore that I wouldn’t revert to my old ways, that I would work hard to remain focused on what truly mattered, instead of letting myself be distracted by all the various bits of chatter in the atmosphere…and it seems I need a reminder again, a spot of discipline and some new tricks to interrupt the old ones.
Which brings me to this: I’m going to take a break from the blog for a few months. I haven’t been pleased with the quality of my posts of late, and rather than keep producing more of the same, I want to see if I can’t break out of the hitherto established Blue Jean Gourmet identity and re-engage with food and writing on their own terms. April is when I plan to be back, hopefully with some new tricks and energy up my sleeve.
I hope you will understand and not be too inconvenienced by my absence; sometimes I forget that there are actually real people out there actually reading my blog. Whenever you post a comment or send me a note to let me know that you tried one of my recipes, it means more than you might think.
Leaving you with one new recipe—a pasta perfect for colder temperatures—along with a list of winter favorites that you might like. See y’all in the spring! xoxo–Nishta
BRUSSELS SPROUTS CARBONARA
barely adapted from Philip Krajeck, chef at Nashville’s Rolf and Daughters, via Bon Appetit
We’re quite the carbonara lovers in my house, so I knew we had to try this the minute I saw it. The original recipe also provides instructions for making your own oriecchiette from scratch, which I have not yet attempted; I have also taken to zesting a Meyer lemon on top of each bowl of pasta, and love what the flavor does to help cut the fattiness of the dish.
1 lb. oriecchiette (fresh or dried; you can also use another small pasta shape)
12 oz. Brussels sprouts, trimmed, leaves separated
4 oz. guanciale or pancetta, finely chopped
½ cup grated Pecornio Romano
6 T unsalted butter, cut into pieces
3 egg yolks, beaten to blend
Kosher salt & coarsely ground black pepper
Get a pot of salted water going; when it boils, cook your pasta until al dente (~5 minutes for fresh pasta, almost twice as long for dried). Drain the pasta but reserve 1 cup of cooking liquid.
Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over high heat. Working in batches, cook the Brussels sprouts leaves until they are partially charred, about 5 minutes. Transfer the leaves to a plate and set aside. If there are any pieces of Brussels sprouts left in the skillet, wipe it out before the next step.
Heat another tablespoon or so of olive oil in the same skillet over medium heat and cook the guiancale or pancetta, stirring regularly until it’s crisp. Add ½ tsp. black pepper to the pan and cook briefly, until fragrant, before adding half of the pasta cooking liquid. Reduce the heat to low and add the butter gradually, swirling the skillet as you go, then add as much of the remaining pasta liquid as you need to create a thick, glossy sauce.
Add the cooked pasta and the Pecorino to the skillet, tossing to combine. Remove the skillet from the heat and mix in the egg yolks. Add the reserved Brussels sprout leaves and toss, thinning with any remaining pasta liquid or hot water, if needed.
Top with more Pecorino, if desired.