The practical lesson of chicken sitting
I have been away from home this week. Not just away from home, but away from people too. I needed to not be with people. It’s been me and animals. And though I was attacked by a rooster, and bitten by a spider, it has been pretty fantastic otherwise. I’ve seen deer outside the window in the morning as well as when I went walking in the woods. There have been wild turkeys outside the fence. I have been surrounded by butterflies and humming birds. Watched chipmunks chase each other. Seen a frog perched on a flotation toy in the pool as if it were a lily pad on a pond. Hawks in the sky (not to mention sitting on the chicken pen – scary!) And of course the chickens I am here to look after. Yes. I’m chicken sitting. Frankly I do not like the chickens. As I said above, the biggest rooster keeps attacking me. But…The eggs. Fresh eggs! As a girl who eats a lot of eggs packed in styrofoam cartons purchased from grocery stores in Manhattan and Brooklyn, let me tell you that fresh eggs are special. Almost worth being pecked. (Can you tell I love food?)
I expected to come here to this (very modern) house in the woods and do a lot of writing and reading. I half expected to spend my time staving off boredom with no city to up and head into at a moment’s notice. Instead I have been wondering at the end of each day where the hours could possibly have gone and wishing for an extra four or five.
I’ve been spending my time here in a lot of quiet reflection. I have begun to unravel some jumbled up ideas and beliefs and caught glimpses of half-formed epiphanies. But there is one thing in particular that I want to share with you. And it is not the result of sitting quietly for hours every day. It’s the result of being willing to leave my house and my kitchen. It is the result of being willing to step out of my comfort zone. Sure, a baby step. But a step none the less.
When it comes to food and keeping my food boundaries, I find a lot of comfort in sameness. In many ways it’s just because I already know same works. I know what to expect. And I know the procedures and the pitfalls. And if something is the same, I have to do minimal preparation, both practical and emotional. When I go to my favorite restaurant, I don’t have to call ahead, to find out if they add something like honey or wine to their vegetables, or if they marinade their meat in something I don’t eat. If I have a reason to go to a new restaurant, I usually do call ahead. I like to be as prepared as possible. But even then, I have to psyche myself up. I have to reassure myself that nothing can go wrong that can’t be fixed. And still I’ll be nervous. Because I am a nervous person. I could of course just go and ask when I get there. And figure it all out then. But I don’t do that. Because that’s way out of my comfort zone.
And this isn’t just about restaurants. I do this at home too. Even in my kitchen, I often eat the same things. Because I know how it fits into my boundaries. And I know that I like it. And I know about prep time and cook time and quantity. If I get tired of something, or want to try something new, it can take me days or even weeks to get around to making a change. To overcome the anxiety of change.
Part of it is that I take my food boundaries that seriously. There is room for honest mistakes, of course. And I don’t worry about making honest mistakes. But I do worry that some day, if I let my guard down, I’m going to decide to say “eff it” if I make a mistake. Because there is a fat girl who lives inside me who wants her cake back. And the best I can do is keep her on a short leash.
Plus I’m compulsive. When I do something new with my food, I often second guess myself. Is this within my boundaries? Yes. Ok. Wait, are you sure? Yes. Ok. But did you consider (blank)? Yes. And it’s me talking to me. So there is nobody to tell me that it’s all fine and to shut the hell up already.
But then if I’m in my own kitchen making the thing I make, or in my favorite restaurant where I go all the time, and something goes wrong (as it does sometimes, because it’s life and sometimes shit happens) I panic. Or at least get really really upset. I’m so used to the routine, the cadence and the rhythm and the sameness, that a glitch can totally catch me off guard. It’s not that I let myself slip out of my boundaries when this happens. I have never said “eff it”. But I suffer! I torture and punish myself. Maybe for 10 minutes. Maybe 5. Or 2. But I panic and I suffer.
But this week I have been in someone else’s kitchen. I came in with no preconceived notions about how it was going to go. There was no routine in place. There was no way it was supposed to be. There was no sameness. And it was kind of freeing…
It turns out that they have an electric stove, not gas. This was no big deal. But I guarantee you that if my landlord decided to change my stove from gas to electric, I would panic!
I’m almost done with their roll of paper towels and don’t know if there are more. Or where they are if there are. And I can’t get to the store to buy more. I’m ok with this. I’ll figure it out. I’m not worried. If I ran out of paper towels at home and couldn’t get more, I would panic! (By the way, I don’t run out of paper towels at home, because I keep a backup roll. Because I know I will panic…)
When I first stopped eating sugar, I tried plain yogurt and I didn’t like it at all. I didn’t like the sourness. I didn’t like the sharpness. I was used to yogurt being super sweet. I was used to everything being sweet. But if I don’t like something, I don’t eat it. (Even if it’s “good for you”.) So I didn’t eat yogurt anymore. But as the years have gone by, my palate has changed. And a few weeks ago, I had the thought that I would really like to try yogurt again. That I might really like it now. So I bought some from the new-to-me grocery store, on my way to stay in a different house. In my regular Brooklyn grocery store, I have been picking up the yogurt container and putting it back for weeks. Standing in front of it. Leaving the yogurt section and coming back. I would be about to put it in my basket, and I would panic! What if I didn’t like it? Where would it go in the refrigerator? What if all hell broke loose!?!? (By the way, I am totally digging the yogurt. I think I may need to buy a blender to make smoothies. And I’m having fantastic homemade frozen yogurt for dessert!)
I said to the friend whose house I’m staying in that I don’t like to leave my own kitchen. That the thought of traveling makes me worry about my food boundaries. She looked me in the eye and told me that I needed to get over that because I can keep my boundaries anywhere. And keeping myself from seeing the world was going to affect my happiness.
And what I noticed this week was that, like so many other aspects of my thinking, when it comes to sameness vs novelty, like begets like. The more I stay in my comfort zone, the more afraid I am to leave my comfort zone. The more I stay in my own kitchen and eat at my go-to restaurants, the less I want to leave my kitchen or try new restaurants. But then the more I branch out and try new things, the more I trust that things will work out. The more I trust, the more willing I am to step out of my comfort zone.
Look, don’t expect me to post next week that I suddenly booked a trip to Japan. I’m a huge fan of baby steps. But I would like to feel empowered to leave my own kitchen. To try a new restaurant. To just show up and figure it out on the spot. To travel. To see the world in between my meals. To trust that as long as I am willing, I will always be able to keep my food boundaries. Even in Japan (some day).