Friday, August 22, 2014

#100happydays


Not so long ago, I had a friend turn to me admiringly and say, "You're so good at doing all the self-care stuff. The gratitude practice, getting regular exercise, going to therapy, doing stuff like the 100 Happy Days challenge." It took me by surprise, because I do "the self-care stuff" because if I don't devote large amount of time to actively trying to feel good, I often devolve into feeling, well, terrible.

In an effort to continue carving out these moments of feeling good, I recently did the #100happydays challenge on Instagram. The premise is pretty straightforward: using whatever social media platform you feel happiest on, take a photo/craft a tweet devoted to a moment of joy. Do that every day for 100 straight days. Don't let excuses like "I don't have time" whinge their way into your protective #100happydays cocoon. Feel your life become more joyful. Blah blah blah: transform!

I did mine on Instagram, where there are currently nearly nineteen million photos tagged with the #100happydays hashtag. (Tellingly, there are about 44,000 photos tagged #day97, which might tell you something about the average Happy Days-er's ability to follow through.) I took pictures of acorns, of friends, of kombucha projects, of family members, of my fiance, of food, of flowers, of a rainbow, of cats, of graffiti, of a baseball game, and plenty of other things. Each picture is a moment in time, and many of them make me smile as I scroll back through them. I had forgotten about some of them: honey balls with a friend, for example, or a lovely, lounge-y park afternoon with M devoted solely to reading magazines and talking about our honeymoon.

Some are clear gimmes: the picture of a fig in front of a Beastie Boys poster, for example, is nothing more than just two things I like. I'm not capturing a moment of joy; I'm getting in my daily shot. The shot of me cuddling with a friend's baby isn't quite happy, per se; it's a bit bittersweet and guards my complicated feelings about babies and motherhood. I probably posted more shots of my emerging kombucha project than anyone cared about, and there's a conspicuously lack of photos taken at my office.

About halfway through the hundred days, I realized that usually, I wasn't exactly capturing a moment of happiness. I paying attention to these moments solely so I could take a picture of them. They were still happy, sure (I mean, who doesn't like sitting in a park with a can of Coke Zero and a fresh issue of Entertainment Weekly?), but I was seeking them not for their joyfulness, but for their posterity. And that's sort of...not the point. The pictures became the point, not the feeling they were trying to capture.

Here's the thing: I'm a person with flaws. I'm quick to anger and I'm slow to forgive. I insist on being right, even to the detriment of being kind. I live with many kinds of fear and anxiety, and it damages my ability to get out of my own head. I can be, and have always been (my mother can attest to this) willful.

But I'm also a person who tries to be better. I'm trying getting to know myself, and what makes me feel great. When I feel great, more pieces of the puzzle seem to fit. Unlike a lot of people, I've worked hard at knowing, naming, and working with my emotions. I am honest without being cruel. I live for creativity: writing, cooking, making. I try to make space in my life for things that sustain me: smart work, physical exercise, friends and family. And while the idea of #100happydays was intriguing, the actual practice left me a little cold. A friend of mine, who often bucks convention and grins doing it, started tagging her photos #happyeveryday. When I asked her why, she shrugged. "Why stop at a hundred days?" she replied.

I guess this is why the #100happydays challenge was a little disappointing. I like gratitude logs  - for a while, I had a practice of writing down the five best things that had happened to me that day, and M and I like to play an out-loud version of this game in bed before we go to sleep. But those are sweet memories that I can bring up at the end of the day: they're sparks of love and life that become brighter when we look at them. They're not Christmas lights I hang just to liven up the room.

Image via Instagram, duh.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Feelings

I am tired.

I'm tired of reading the news.

I'm tired of feeling broke.

I'm tired of advocating for myself in a workplace that doesn't seem to give a shit.

I'm tired of grinding my teeth when I sleep, of worrying that buying a fancy magazine will break the bank, of reading Tumblrs that make me cry. I'm tired of beige walls. I'm tired of dressing in office-appropriate outfits to go into work alone. I'm tired of FOMO. I'm tired of being tired when I get to work because I bike, because I can't afford transit.

I'm tired of people telling me that this is "the real world" and that I just need to get used to it. Why the fuck would anyone's life advice be "get used to people stepping on you, don't fight it, just do your best not to notice it until you can take all those valuable skills your learned under someone else's boot to your next job"? HOW. IS. THAT. HELPFUL? How does that mitigate the day-to-day? Seriously, I'm asking. I want to know.

I am thisclose to buying a tiny house (with what money though LOLOLOL), picking my twelve favourite things, and just going to live in the woods somewhere. I am so fucking tired. Of everything.

I want to write a righteous and empowering post about how I overcame all this garbage and figured out my life in 92 Easy Steps, but right now I am not overcoming shit. I'm mired in it. When I get to the other side, maybe I can write some pithy, salty post about how I flipped my hair and won the day. Right now, though, I am too broke for my usual self-pity cheesecake, and besides, I have a wedding dress to fit into in a month, so who wants to eat cheesecake when she can obsessively look at her upper arms in the mirror and fret that they're getting jiggly?

Sorry. I got a little carried away there.

Wishlist, stardate today:
  1. A proper date with M. We have been so busy with all the wedding planning and various other extracurriculars, not to mention the $$ situation, that it's been ages since we had some fun couple time. I miss fun couple time!
  2. Peace in Missouri. Good lord, it is crazy that I even have to wish for that, but here we are.
  3. A job where I feel in control and proud of the work I do.I am paralyzed by the idea of going back to school, because my student debt is real and looming, and I am loathe to add to it. On the other hand, I've qualified myself only for jobs I hate. I feel totally stuck, and stupid for being stuck.
  4. Metaphorically, I feel like the ground is moving beneath my feet. For real, I would like that feeling to stop.
I'm going back to bed. 

Friday, August 8, 2014

The Kombucha-fication of Kaiko


There is a science experiment happening in my kitchen right now. It's pretty low key - just a couple of glass jugs with some paper towels banded around them, no big deal, nothing is fucked here, dude - but inside those glass jars, I am growing magic.

Disgusting magic, yes; but magic nonetheless.

I first discovered kombucha years ago, when I was going through an expensive and not-entirely-reasonable phase of buying my groceries at Whole Foods despite having an annual income of $22,000. (I was dating a dude who was this sort of proto-foodie: he did zero cooking, but still had Major Opinions on food. It was complicated.) (And by complicated, I mean dumb.) I grabbed a bottle of something called Wonder Drink, because I'm a sucker for packaging, and when I cracked it open, I was pleasantly surprised. It was vinegary, yeah. Most kombuchas are. But it was also effervescent and sweet, with a creamy foam that wasn't overpowering the way soda pop can be.

It was also three dollars a bottle.

I come from a family of DIYers. My mom's hands are constantly in motion: knitting, sewing, reupholstering, gardening, painting, sanding, chopping, stirring, making. My dad, before he became a project manager, was a carpenter, and he still owns and uses a truly mind-boggling collection of saws. My dad, like all dads, went through a phase of home-brewing his own beer and wine. I grew up with the sound of drill as my Saturday-morning alarm clock. We are a family of home-cooked meals, of crayons ground into the carpet, of "want to build a deck this weekend?" When M and I decided to get married, we undertook the project of cleaning out the barn on their farm property, a project that has easily cost 100 man-hours so far and helped coin the phrase "poo-dust."

My own DIY streak is a bit lazy, but it's there. I find my truest self is when I'm making something - dinner, usually - that combines the opportunity to use my hands and my brain in equal parts. (Plus, the joy of solo kitchen dance parties can't be understated.) I spend the past winter compulsive knitting. I'm not afraid to plan something out  and devote a few hours or days to its completion (see: the cardboard Viking ship I built, then set on fire, for my 30th birthday). The very idea of making something beautiful can be a powerful drug: I spend too much time on Pinterest and Ravelry, looking up recipes for citrus curds and patterns for legwarmers.

Which brings me back to kombucha. When I went on my six-month no-Coke Zero/no-booze "cleanse," I was hard-pressed to find an alternate drink that was still interesting. Since water is for chumps, I dove into the deep end of high-end and esoteric beverages. I tried kefir and about 60 different kinds of ginger beer. I drank Fresca and San Pellegrino with abandon. I brewed enormous jugs of Moroccan mint ice tea.

And I bought lots and lots of kombucha. All flavours. All brands. I can tell you with authority that the Tonica Vibrant Blueberry flavour tastes like cough syrup; that Rise's Mint Chlorophyll looks horrible but tastes good; that GT's regularly has snot-like clumps of the SCOBY (more on that in a minute) floating around it, which is fucking disgusting; and that Wonder Drink is good but its flavours could stand to be more intense across the board. I know my kombucha shit, is what I'm trying to say.

But when an opportunity presented itself for me to start brewing my own kombucha, I hesitated for a moment. Like any homebrewing project, making your own kombucha could be a recipe for disaster. Who wants self-inflicted diarrhea? Not this girl! I made a promise to myself (and to M, who thinks kombucha is disgusting) that this operation would be clean, sanitary, and use only top-quality ingredients.

Then I started brewing. The main question mark in this process is the SCOBY, which is a "symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast" (and before you throw shade on bacteriological food, think about yogurt and kimchi, please). The SCOBY is terrifying. Kombucha brewers are always optimistically saying things like, "It's like a pancake!" but if you were served a pancake like this, you would throw it over the patio fence and into a bush. It looks like uncooked alien placenta. It looks bad. Like, ideologically bad, as if it is plotting things in the night.

But when you combine this horrible "pancake" with tea and sugar, the yeast and bacteria in the SCOBY start converting the sugar into bubbles and a wee amount of alcohol. Left alone too long, it will turn bitter (but won't we all?), but after 7-20 days, the tea will be in the perfect zone of bubbly, sweet, and acidic. Take out the SCOBY, resist the urge to perform an exorcism, start a new batch, throw some herbs or fruit into your newly brewed kombucha, let that sit for a day or two to flavour it, strain the everliving hell out of it, and then keep it in the fridge. If you're feeling sassy, add some gin. If you're feeling unsassy, keep it plain.

Boom. The whole operation will run you the cost of bottles (2.49 per at your local Asian import store), a couple big glass jars (ten bucks each at IKEA), and ingredients. And guys? Sugar and tea aren't exactly an bank-breaker.

Plus! IT IS SO FUN. Handling the SCOBY, making sure everything is all clean and set up in its place before the bottling process, daydreaming about flavour combos - it's all the hallmarks of a good DIY project. I'm saving money on one of my favourite drinks, I have this little bright spot of a project, and I'm making something fun. Plus, it feels like my countertop glass jars are the spiritual daughters of my dad's beer-making garbage pail: I'm carrying on a family legacy of making stuff, and making stuff happen. And that's truly delicious.

Image (of my own kombucha!) via Instagram

Thursday, July 31, 2014

See The Work



I entered my first writing contest this week, and to celebrate, I spend this morning pretending I was on a talk show and interviewed myself while I was in the shower. This is one of my favourite self-rewards after a bunch of tough work: I picture myself in Jon Stewart's hot-spot chair, being totally charming and wearing something really flattering and expensive. I am super well-spoken and he is just delighted by me, and then my book/article/blog post goes on to sell one million copies. Somehow, in these fantasies, my forehead isn't the size of a billboard and I make Stewart laugh so hard that, sputtering, he has to go to commercial, which is very gratifying.

Obviously, this isn't likely to happen any time soon, but this is incredibly useful for motivating my easily distracted brain and my lazy fingers to actually get the band back together and make something good. Creativity is its own reward sometimes; other times, I want to see my name in lights.

I've read that feeling engaged with meaningful work - in other words, feeling like the time we spend doing something actually matters - is one of the most overlooked motivators when we're at work. And likewise, having a framework that supports that engagement is one of the best things an organization can do for their workers. It's not enough to tell people that if they work hard and make the company more money, they'll get a raise or a bonus or an extra vacation day; what people need is buy-in (believing their own work matters) day-to-day encouragement (knowing that someone sees their hard work) and the time to figure sticky problems out on their own schedule (knowing that their supervisors trust them). Leaving appreciation out of the equation is a recipe for disgruntlement. (It's also only one of the reasons that bad HR and management practices make me so incredibly crazy, but that's a blog post for another time.)

Creativity often happens in a vacuum, and without the benefit of any framework of support at all. The Twitter hashtag #amwriting exists for a reason, y'all: it's the voice in the wilderness, the "can anybody hear me?" of the person behind the desk, working on a deadline or a passion project or an underpaid blog post, just looking for some validation. Everybody loves seeing the finished product, but the process of getting there is hard work. It can be lonely. Joining writing circles, craft fairs, and stitch 'n' bitches works sometimes, but you still have to actually do the work, and for a writer, that's not something you can do by committee.

I spent the second half of last year writing out a first draft of my very first novel: a murder mystery set on a post-apocalyptic farm. I set word count goals. I tracked my own progress. I made a spreadsheet of each chapter and would often reward myself with a Nia class or a slice of really good cheesecake at the end of the day. In short, I managed myself, and recognized my progress, and I gave myself time to figure the whole sprawling project out. It was one of the first times in my life where I felt like the work I was dong mattered - not like I was making a different, exactly, but that my brain activity and my hand activity synchronized. The first draft turned out to be only so-so, but that's okay: I can edit like the wind and find the gold inside.

And yes, I also interviewed myself in the shower then, too. Not only does it help me keep going, but when I forced myself to explain what I was writing about, it helped see where things had stopped making sense. That's a good thing to know.

I look forward to the day when I can have a job where I feel encouraged and recognized: where my work feels seen. Today is not that day, but that's okay. Maybe one day I'll be an HR guru with a little side business as an internationally beloved science fiction author. Maybe one day I'll end up in Jon Stewarts hot-spot chair after all...and if I don't, I can keep the dream alive, one shower at a time. 

Image via Warby Parker Class Trip

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Burner Phone


Having a smartphone is a little like having a dog. In the beginning, when it's new, it can be so much fun figuring out all the little tricks you can make it do (play fetch! Download Instagram!), and you want to show it off to your friends. You get a custom case, or buy a collar at the upscale doggy boutique on the trendy strip. It's there when you wake up and when you go to sleep. You start to make plans around the dog ("Can't go out of town for the weekend, I've got to watch Mr. Mustache") and around the phone ("We need to turn around, I left my phone back at the house"). And over time, you forget what it's like not to have a dog, or a smartphone.

Except here's the thing: dogs are living beings capable of love and affection. Smartphones, on the other hand?

When I was a kid, my parents sometimes left us with babysitters to do whatever they did on parent-dates; I always envisioned totally fancy restaurants with, like, harpists in the corner, but it was probably closer to cute bistros and driving around without their three insane children. This was an era when parents would routinely leave their children with semi-vetted high school students for hours at a time. A more trusting time, maybe. (I remember watching the Miss America pageant with one babysitter, who microwaved marshmallows and chocolate chips together for a dessert that even I, in my sweet-crazed youth, knew was a bridge too far.) This is a time before cell-phones. Leaving the kids alone with a teenager who would give them diabetes did not necessitate the use of a telephonic tether.

After my first year of undergraduate studies, I was torn about whether or not I should continue at U of T or just fling myself off a bridge, so I split the difference and moved home for a year. I acquired my very first cell phone, a silver plastic Motorola flip phone. It had three basic functions: calling, texting, and invoking a frantic attempt to disconnect whenever I accidentally "connected to the World Wide Web," an event marked by four minutes of a pixellated spinning globe and an error message. Most of my calls still came into my parent's house: the reception was better, and I liked being able to cradle the phone under my ear as I baked cookies. I suspended the cell phone after a few months, and paid out my contract in eight-dollar increments (because even when you're actively avoiding the phone, Bell Canada will somehow find a way to charge you for it).

After I moved back to the city, I split a land line with a few housemates, and engaged in a Byzantine scheme of shared bill payments and message-taking. When I moved out on my own, I kept the landline and got an answering machine, and took delight in creating stupid outgoing message (the halcyon days of youth, before every caller was a prospective employer!). It was only in 2012 that I finally buckled and got a cell phone, so that my boyfriend and I could text. Not just a cell phone: a smart phone.

Man, those first few days were a rush. It was a flurry of downloading apps and inputting contacts, and texting for the first time in years. I sent photos to my parents and played Tetris in bed. I took delight in the fact that I could watch YouTube videos in the tub and screw around on Pinterest all hours of the day and night.

Now it's two years later, and I've got a problem.

Anytime I could be on my phone, I am on my phone. Mike puts on a movie, I pull out my phone. I'm glued to the handset deep in the underground tunnels of the TTC, and I'm reading 45-page New Yorker articles on a 2 1/2" by 4" screen. I can feel my brain changing with phone ownership: I'm disappointed when I don't have any texts to reply to, or when no-one has validated me by liking a recent Facebook post. I'm easily distracted. I refresh over and over, looking for that perfect news item that will release me--ahhh, is that it?

When I'm away from my phone, I feel a sense of lightness. It sounds like hyperbole, but when I'm at the farm or the beach or traveling internationally, I know that my phone is basically a glorified camera, and it's stowed out of sight. But the second--the second--I think I might be able to connected to a signal and get online, I am there. Mid-conversation? Sure. Right after sexy times? Yep! I'm a monster. I take a stack of cookbooks into the tub with me to unwind and then I hunch over my phone like a gargoyle.

And I hate it! I hate feeling tethered all the time, and I hate feeling like I'm waiting for something to show up on my social-media doorstep that will somehow fill my life with sparkles and glee, and I hate how my brain itches for a fix if I put my phone down for more than a few minutes. And I have no idea how to fix this, because I'm clearly longing for some connection, some sparkles and glee in my life right now. And while those things can't come from my phone, the seduction--the idea that they might, if I spend enough time there--is ruinous.

When this phone finally breaks, I'm going to do myself a favour and seriously consider a return to the land line. If I can't do that, at least trading the smart phone, with all its bells and whistles and Instagram filters, for something a little simpler. I want simpler. I want the kind of real connections phones used to bring: the human voice, and time spent together even when we're far apart.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

F1 Racer

I have a whole jumble of things in my head right now - wedding planning; the best flavour of Ritter Sport (I think it's coconut, but I can't be sure until I try them all!); how exactly we're going to get access to Community in the fall if Yahoo geolocks it for some reason; Rob Ford's relatively level of dickishness these days; all the things I would like to do with these amazing fabrics; if the kombucha I'm brewing on my kitchen counter is normal, or if it's plotting to take over my apartment in the most disgusting way imaginable.
My brain is so busy. It's nauseating. I had coffee with a friend last night, and as we were sitting outside, watching couples make out by the fountain by the park (at least I was watching, but I'm a terrible perv and also that couple was right there), I found myself concentrating very hard on what she was saying. If I didn't tunnel my listening skills down with a mighty effort, I found I would drift off on some brain-tangent ("I wonder if the shoes I bought for my wedding are too tawdry, or just the right amount of tawdry?") and lose the plot of what she was saying entirely. I feel like I spent that entire coffee date squinting at her, listening as closely as I could. I'm sure it was a little disconcerting, but she was nice about it.

At that same coffee date, we talked about the concept of going F1 - that is, being financially independent. Oh my god, just read those words again: financially independent. Are you drooling? I'm totally drooling. I'll admit that this was prompted by a recent faux-bio of, ahem, the now-adult members of The Baby-Sitters Club, specifically Mary Anne (of course it was Mary Anne), who achieved her own financial independence at the age of 29.

My brain plays that back to me like a record that has warped in the hot sun. Even though I know these are fictional biographies, it's delicious. (Once, at a party, I asked the standard cocktail party question, "What do you do?" and was flummoxed when the girl I was talking to replied breezily, "Oh, I'm independently wealthy," as if that's a thing people put on their business cards. I later found out that her family owns a national newspaper.)

Anyway, I think my brain has been going a zillion miles a minute because I'm trapped in an over-air-conditioned office all day, usually alone. I do not get paid well to work in this office. It is lonely. It is boring. It is stressful. Of course I daydream about financial independence, and having the time to make quilts, and the kombucha I'm making. Those are the ideas that keep me sane. My brain feels fried because I keep snapping back to reality (faxes, emails, files that are somewhere in the office and need to be found right away) There's tension between the lovely dream that keeps me whole, and the reality of my day-to-day life.

I am trying very hard to find a way to live in this job while I have to. I do yoga in the meeting room. I read The Toast. I find it hard to focus for very long on any given task - this might be because I would much rather be doing pretty much anything else. But because I am not F1, I am required to work and pay bills. And until I can find a job where all my hyperactive brain nodes work together, I am stuck at this one.

My mom keeps telling me to leave. And she's right. But I spent a lot of my 20s unemployed, and it can be scary without a safety net. I'm trying to get as much out this job as I can; not just the spreadsheets and the faxes and the committee meetings and the email laws, but also the muscle memory of sitting on my butt all day as my bank account screams for mercy. I can figure out how to step away and move towards the stuff that really matters: having a head that's clear enough to listen to other people talk.

Image via poetryqn via Spoonflower

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Thumbprint In The Dough



Earlier this month, on a weekend trip to the Beaver Valley where we ate grilled meats and drank a lemon/honey/ginger drink called a Bee Sting and had a bonfire and lay on the grass reading future-imperfect science fiction novels, I picked up a half-pound of thick cut bacon, which was a metaphor for the future.

I was not expecting to buy bacon. I bought this on a whim. We were in the general store, which sounds like it should sell saddles but instead offers GTA escapees expensive local honeys and artisan sauerkraut. In my hand, the bacon had a pleasing heft to it. I earmarked it for quiche, paid for it, and left.

The bacon never made it into quiche. Instead, we used it in a sweet potato/poached egg hash, added a couple slices to egg salad to make it amazing, and ate it as god intended, on the side of a plate loaded with fruit and cheesy scrambled eggs. We burned some, accidentally; not to worry, there was still more. By the time we reached the end of the half-pound and mournfully threw the pinkish waxed paper it had been wrapped in into the garbage, I was a little sad. The bacon, much like the future, had not followed its intended path, but it had been delicious all the same.

I love food. I've always had a bit of a complicated relationship with eating food, because eating disorders and body dismorphia and blah blah blah yawn, but for the most part, food itself it a straight-forward pleasure. Those people who bark "food is fuel!" while the suck down a sachet of Soylent have no idea what they're missing.

Let me illustrate this point more fully: let's talk about pickles.

Slice a cucumber thinly—you're not aiming for something through which you could read a newspaper; go for something the thickness of your average New Yorker magazine. Boil a cup of vinegar with a half-cup of sugar, stir until the sugar disappears, then add a few hot pepper flakes and a vigorous amount of salt and pepper. Pour the vinegar over the cukes, and then dump the whole thing in a glass jar and stick it in the fridge. It'll be something you eat while you're deciding what to cook, but the spicy/sweet/tang flavour profile, along with the crunch of the cucumber, is pretty much the perfect thing. Have it as a side dish with thick-cut smoked salmon and a few slices of hard white cheese and dark rye, or use it to cut the richness of a meat stew. Or you can just take the jar out of the fridge and smell it when you're feeling sleepy; the vinegar will wake you right up.

And yes, I know that you can buy pickles from a store, but until I started making my own, I didn't know how freaking fun it would be. Canning and pickling always seems like sweaty work, considering what you have at the end of it—a few measly jars of goopy raspberries, or a container of pesto you have to freeze so you don't accidentally give yourself botulism. Until I started doing it, I didn't realize that it was fun.

Food should be fun. I have no patience for those dudes who banish their girlfriends from the kitchen because they're too busy using their goddamn sous-vides to understand that sometimes, really, the best thing you might put in your mouth would be a ballpark frank on a soft white bun with French's yellow mustard. That's not to say that cooking shouldn't be an experiment, and an experience; I just think that things like molecular gastronomy and avant-garde presentation ("This evening's lemon meringue pie will be served as a Meyer lemon mist trapped under a glass cloche, which I will lift and you may waft towards your face; a trio of Thai-inspired shortbread cookies; and this picture of the Swiss Alps, which represents the national heritage of the meringue") are sort of bullshit.

I love off-the-beaten-path ingredients: bring me tripe and chicken hearts and purple garlic and pickled fishes. I want authenticity, like Iceland's dense, chewy breads that have been cooked (and slowly caramelized) by being buried in the hot ground near their thermal springs. I like food that seems as if humans made it, where you can see the thumbprint in the dough. Bring me your funkiest tubes of cured meats, your gooiest custard tarts, your most random kimchees. Right now, as I type this, there is a jar of kombucha slowly fermenting on my kitchen counter. I have plans to track down the blueberry-maple sausages my food-dork friend Emmett brought over a few weeks back, because they've haunted my dreams. The only thing I really won't eat are bugs (HELL NO) and broccoli soup.

Now, for the most part, I am a decent home cook. I assemble terrific salads, and I can stuff a pepper and a grape leaf with equal aplomb, and while I am intimidated by making a turkey (it's the giblets...what are they?), I'm actually pretty sure I could assemble an army's worth of side dishes for a turkey dinner without much fuss. I grew up in a family that cooked at home, and then I lived in a co-op with people who prioritized good food. Under my foodie bud friend Liz's direction, I helped make wild rice pilafs and salmon at the dining hall. Moving to the city exposed me to so many new cuisines—Korean, Ethiopian, Japanese other than maki rolls, dim sum and more—and I've taken culinary cues from most of them. Then I use all this background to make it about more than just food.

The power of good food could be summed up like this: last week, I had an exceptionally stupid day at work. Emails! Phone calls! Insensitive comments from bosses! I was stressed and I was tired, and as I was biking home, the only thing I could think about was coleslaw.

I could picture it in my head: the crunchy red cabbage and the thin slices of green onion (cut on the diagonal the way my mom always does it), mixed with some shredded carrot and sliced radishes. I thought about the dressing—not a mayo base for this one, but rather something with sesame oil, lemon juice, and a shot of sriracha—and if I should include sesame seeds or just let the sesame oil speak for itself. When I got home, I shrugged off my backpack and made a beeline for the kitchen. Just chopping the cabbage started to release my shoulders. By the time I sprinkled on a little sugar to cut the tang of the vinegar—well, I was still annoyed by my workday, but now it was distant. The fun of the food had taken over, and I felt soothed.

The coleslaw was just as good the next day, back at the office.

Cooking is a hobby. I don't want to be a caterer or a prep cook or, worst of all, a chef in a high-stakes kitchen. That would ruin the fun of it, the grubby pleasure of a sightly overripe fig or an amazing bit of cheese. But learning the rhythm and the release of cooking for pleasure? That is, for lack of a better word, delicious.

Image via Martha Stewart