Every so often, I find myself having a conversation about our family dinners or Pablo’s lunchboxes, and I notice that look in the other person's eyes that says: “Wow I should really be doing that but I just could never pull it off, wouldn’t know where to start or make it a priority.”
I can relate.
I feel or have felt that exact same way about a good number of things in my life, most notably meditation, yoga, working out, and writing. Those are things I feel are important, improve my quality of life, they are things I feel a need to do. And yet, they are always a challenge to do regularly. Thinking about it feels daunting and exhausting, it makes me want to run the other way. And a lot of very busy families, understandably, feel that same way about every day real food cooking.
As I have recently been grappling with this in regards to writing (including for this blog), something dawned on me. Sometimes if we look at something from a different angle, something clicks. For me, it was looking at it as a practice.
This term has come to make more sense to me in regards to meditation and mindfulness, establishing a meditation or mindfulness practice. It’s not something you do to an end, it’s a moment of presence. A practice has nothing to do with proving anything to ourselves or others, with comparing ourselves or measuring results. It is an end in itself.
Since becoming a mother, it has been a recurrent theme for me to learn to apply what I want to teach my son, to myself. Things like self-acceptance, self-compassion, patience, perseverance. So it’s not surprising, though it’s taken it this long to finally dawn on me, that I should apply this piece advice I was given when he was still toddler, this secret to any new habit we want our children to have: regularity. Keep doing it, over and over. And it'll come. Like a ritual in the rhythm of life. Like a practice.
There are many ways to describe that same approach: to be process-oriented. To be present. To do something for its own sake. The journey matters more than the destination. Once we can, from deep within ourselves, look at something in this way, as a worthwhile practice in its own right that is enriching without any goals or comparisons, we are more easily compelled to do it regularly, to make it a part of our lives. (In my experience, for example, considering working out as a practice that I enjoy and makes me feel good, has been much more sustainable than when I looked at it as a means to an end, like weight loss).
In our modern accomplishment-centric lives, these practices of presence are our saving grace, and the catalyst to every day joys. We need to seek them out.
It is so hard for me to get back to writing when I haven’t done it in a while. The longer it’s been, the more I dread it and lose my confidence. And the harder it is. So if I give myself a goal of one post a week, or even one a month, it just doesn't work. I won’t have 3 free straight hours very often any time soon (ever?) So what if I started thinking about writing the same way I think about meditation or yoga? Where even just a few minutes a day is better than 1 hr a week ? Would it help me integrate it into my routine, my every day?
If we look at writing, or cooking, in a goal oriented way, it becomes a test of our inadequacies, our motivation, our skills. We do it to be able to say we did it. We set some sort of bar, usually not based on our own needs but on others, on society. “I should be cooking a big fancy 4 course meal every night.” “I should be able to dedicate 3 hours to writing this week.” “I should finish a post a week”. We compare ourselves to people we admire, and when it doesn’t happen, we beat ourselves up, we feel like s(/&**, not good enough, discouraged and it’s even harder to get back to it.
If we look at it like a practice, there is no measurement or judgment. Even a little bit becomes enough. Perhaps we can even shift our focus to the enjoyment of that little bit, and trust it will get easier. Or have compassion for ourselves when we miss a day, accept life is full of twists and turns, school events, moving friends, sick parents, headaches, unexpected deadlines. This is the stuff of life. All we can do is get back to it as soon as we can. And when we do do it a bit more regularly, it gives us confidence, fulfillment. At least, we are doing it.
Let us take smaller steps. Maybe write a few minutes a day. Cook or prepare something very simple. And see what happens. Maybe having a “cooking practice” means cooking small easy things as often as possible.
How many of you reading this, feel this way about cooking? Do you feel like finding the time and confidence to cook real foods is daunting? Do you find it difficult to do on a regular basis?
Do you find yourself thinking it’s either a big fancy meal or nothing?
If you do, be kind to yourself. And when you’re ready, think of it as a practice. A cooking practice. Take it one simple dish at a time. Maybe it’s French style radishes with butter and salt. Or some cucumber tossed in crème fraîche and a splash vinegar. Maybe it’s getting a vegetable you haven’t cooked with in a long time (celeriac, anyone?), maybe it’s spotting a recipe and planning to make it this week (see below, hint, hint).
Something small. And let go of the rest. You are good. You are enough.
Now, speaking of simplicity, let me share this very simple lentil salad which is not only delicious, original, but can be made ahead for the week's lunchboxes or dinners.
Celeriac Lentil Salad with hazelnut and mint
From Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi
Prep time: 20-25 min total
Cook time: 20 min
Age: Avoid the hazelnuts for young children, but this is otherwise a good finger food / self-feeding dish from 8-10 months old.
2/3 cup hazelnuts (skin on)
2 cups lentils (green or brown)
4 bay leaves
8 thyme sprigs
1 large celeriac
1/2 cup olive oil
6 tbsp hazelnut oil
6 tbsp red wine vinegar
salt and pepper
1/2 bunch of mint
Preheat oven at 275°F. Place hazelnuts on a baking sheet or dish, and roast for about 15 min. Let cool and chop roughly.
Put some salted water to boil in a medium saucepan. Peel the celeriac and cut into bite-size strips or cubes. Place in boiling water and cook for about 10 minutes, until just tender.
Place lentils in a medium size saucepan and cover with water so the water is about 1 to 2 inches above the lentils. Add the bay leaves and thyme (you could even tie them together so they can easily be removed after). Bring to a boil and simmer for 20 minutes, until al dente.
Drain the lentils and remove the herbs. In a large bowl, combine the hot lentils with olive oil, 4 tbsp of hazelnut oil, vinegar, about 1 tsp of salt and pepper to taste. Add the celeriac and gently stir. Taste to adjust seasoning to your liking.
Let it cool down, taste again, and add a splash of vinegar if needed. Drizzle the last 2 tbsp of hazelnut oil and stir in chopped mint and hazelnuts.
Will keep in the fridge for 3-4 days. Keep some chopped mint and hazelnut in separate containers to add upon serving.