On an exhausted late evening, I browse through Pinterest, and look at streamlined, minimalistic interiors, unencumbered kitchens. I pin. I look around me at the piles of things to deal with on my desk. Piles of things to deal with in my head.
I fantasize about life on a farm. Going back to nature. Back to a simpler life.
Simpler, meaning what? More real. More beautiful and joyful. Less busy, more focused. All that and more. A tall, but worthy order.
And I wonder.
Why is it so difficult to achieve simplicity?
It occurs to me that there’s nothing easy about it. It’s a different kind of hard. Rather, it is our convoluted lives that seem very easy to slip into. But they create so much waste, don’t they? Details, fears, attempts to control, to predict, to please.
So what does the desire for simplicity mean to me, exactly? I know I have been attracted to the idea of going back to the basics. Back to real & simple things, foods, emotions, relationships. We want to go back. So did we start out this way? Have our convoluted lives led us astray from what really matters?
What isit that I want, when I tell myself I want simplicity? Here's what I came up with so far.
I want clarity. About what matters in life, what life is really about, about my needs, wants, how to fulfill them. My regrets, sorrows, how to process them.
I wantessential things to be in the forefront of my life. It is very frustrating to feel like we know what is essential in our life, and yet not be able to devote it enough time, while other menial, unessential things take up most of our time.
I want to favor the experiential over the material. I would rather tour the world than own a house. I would rather do than have. I’ll take a great meal over a pair of shoes any day.
I want to be grounded. Or rather find balance, of mind and body. Of self and the world. Of head and ground. I breathe, therefore I think.
I want to let go of a lot of things I can’t control, of unanswered questions. Lay them to rest. For now. The power to unburden myself.
It takes some qualities I sometimes lack.
Patience and trust. With and in ourselves, our processes.
Courage. To go outside of our comfort zone, to let go of easy for the sake of beauty, to face Pandora’s Box which sorting through and simplifying may unleash.
Inner strength. To keep standing free.
I’m getting better at all that, mostly. I guess these qualities need to be practiced, honed.
It’s a great conundrum. The simultaneous realization of the equally crucial need to achieve simplicity and to grasp human complexity, as two sides of one coin. The key to living a life that I may look back on with a warm heart, when I’m an old woman. To living a day that I may look back on with a warm heart, the following day.
Maybe that's it.
To live each day so I may look back on it with a warm heart the following day.
So I wanted to tell you about that day with the crème d’artichaud.
The artichoke custard. A simple dish, of artichoke and eggs. Yet so delightful.
The artichoke is actually a nice metaphor for that day. It’s beautiful. Simple and complex. You boil it. You peel all its leaves, some of them prickly, some of them soft. You get to the bottom, and its furry cocoon. You get past that, and you have it. The essence of artichoke that makes it all worth it.
This was a morning where I could forget my office and enjoy the kitchen. Our friend D was coming for the day; she’s my favorite recipe guinea pig. She quite enjoys the job too. Our days with her are sun-kissed, full of play, laughter, silliness, dance, dog play and mud play, cooking and eating, expensive cheese and cheap wine.
There was beauty in that day, of souls, of carefree joy, of meaningful connection between generations and beings. Later, I got weighed down by worries, a bit impatient, a bit irritated. I acknowledged it, it helped a little. I took some comfort in the help and support of loved ones, in feeling sad when I needed to. Sadness is grounding. It’s experiencing loss in the moment.
In the end, simple togetherness was the bottom of that artichoke of a day.
So food metaphors aside, simplicity is hard. It’s a work in progress. My desk and counters are still cluttered. It often feels like my life is too. And I’m not too fond of sorting through. But no matter. Because that day, I look back on with a warm heart.
And I wish you many of those days, with or sans artichoke custard. But preferably with.
Artichoke custardsAdapted from Petit Larousse des Recettes aux Légumes du Potager, by Valérie Lhomme
Makes 4-5 individual ramekins
Prep time: 20 mn
Cook time: 50 mn
Age for babies: 10-12 months because of whole milk and whole egg.
*Vegetable custards are a GREAT way to introduce new vegetable and herb flavors to children, they're easy to eat and creamy. Check out my savory herb custard here.
4 large artichokes
1 3/4 cup whole milk
2 egg yolks
1 whole egg
Pinch of salt
Pinch of piment d'Espelette (optional)
Pinch of nutmeg
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Wash the artichokes under cool running water, cut the stem at the edge of the leaves. Put them in boiling water and let simmer over medium-low heat for 30 minutes.
Drain the artichokes and let them cool enough to be able to take out all the leaves and the fur, and be left with the 4 bottoms.
(Keep the leaves as a great appetizer, dipped in a shallot vinaigrette, as described here.)
Preheat the oven at 350°F. Place a deep baking pan (large enough to contain the ramekins, use two if needed) filled with hot water (this is the water bath).
Over medium heat, bring the milk to a near boil. Place the artichoke bottoms and hot milk in a blender and puree until smooth (it will be very liquidy). Pour in a large bowl (with a spout if you have one).
In a small bowl, whisk the egg yolks with the whole egg, adding a pinch of salt, of piment d'Espelette and nutmeg.
Add the egg mixture to the artichoke/milk mixture and whisk together. Taste and add salt to taste.
Pour the custard into each ramekin, and place the ramekins in the water bath in the oven. (The water level should be halfway up the ramekin or a bit more).
Cook for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool. Great served at room temperature or slightly warm.
We served with a pea shoot & mâche salad with an orange juice dressing (1 tbsp OJ, 1 tbsp white wine vinegar, 1 tsp mustard, 5 tbsp olive oil, 1 tbsp walnut oil, salt and pepper).