Follow by Email

Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Secrets of Baking


If this looks familiar, this post is for you.
There are few things as truly satisfying as a cook, classic cookbook. A few cookbooks have emerged over the past 50 years that have established themselves as golden standards. Most homes probably have at least one of these volumes: “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” by Julia Child, James Beard’s “American Cookery,” and/or “Betty Crocker’s Picture Cookbook.” 

These volumes are passed down generation to generation and there is something comforting about making a recipe and seeing your grandmother’s (or, in my case, grandfather's) or mother’s handwriting in the margins, telling you to add more wine or cook it a few minutes longer than the recipe calls for.

Once I learn a recipe, I like to play with it (as in last month's pot roast posting). Being a creative cook is pretty easy, all things considered. But the scientific exactitude that underlies baking means that baking experiments do not always go well.

We've all been here at some point
Case in point, I make a delicious dark chocolate cupcake with a raspberry cheesecake center (my own recipe). One time I decided to change it up by using a lavender buttermilk cupcake and lemon curd cheesecake. Complete disaster! After 40 minutes in the oven they still hadn't set. Something about the curd and buttermilk substitutions threw off the chemical makeup of the cupcake. I made a mental note not to try that combination again and moved on.
For my birthday this year, my friend sent me a new baking book that promises to become a family staple. The book is “The Secrets of Baking,” a James Beard book award winner by pastry chef Sherry Yard. Unlike most baking books, the chapters are organized into master recipes followed by variations. For example, the first chapter is all about ganache. Yard shows you how to make perfect ganache, then shows you what you can do with it: truffles, parfaits, souffles, tortes, mousse, frosting, etc. Chapter five is  all about mastering pâte à choux, then moving on to cream puffs, cannoli, dumplings, beignets, gougères, etc. 


Along the way, Yard explains why recipes are written the way they are: HOW butter, eggs, sugar and flour work together on a chemical level, WHY some cookies are crunchy and some are chewy and HOW to fix a curdled or otherwise unsuccessful batter/sauce/dough. Once the reader can understand the science behind baking recipes, they have the tools to create their own recipes, rather than just copying someone else’s (for a cooking version of this concept, I recommend "What's a Cook to Do" by James Peterson...it's a lifesaver at my house).

This book has me realizing that experiments like my cupcake one do not have to remain mysterious failures. With a few tweaks, I may be able to create a perfectly delicious lavender buttermilk cupcake with lemon curd cheesecake center. A whole new world of baking has been opened up (my brother jokes that the mad scientist can return to her laboratory and my Mum sighs that we'll have to start buying butter and flour at Costco again...such comedians).

Frankly, the book is genius. If you are looking for a book of dessert recipes, this is not the one for you. However, if you want to learn, really learn and not just mimic, how to make the basics that almost all dessert recipes are based on, this is the perfect book. I look forward to cracking it open this weekend and making my own notes in the margins. I guarantee that this is a book I will want to pass on to my kids and grandkids.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Best Smoothie Recipe!


Last night, my friend Shannon texted me to say she had discovered the ultimate smoothie recipe. I was intrigued for several reasons. First, Shannon (known affectionately as Shorty) is a competitive athlete with a picky palate, so I knew her creation would be both healthy and genuinely delicious. Second, this is the girl who failed apically at making EZ Mac in college, so any cooking achievement is to be lauded. And third, she is also an avid crafter (particularly with fabric and yarn projects) so she was a shoe-in as guest writer for this blog. She also has her own blog which I encourage you to check out at ironmanshan.blogspot.com. Here is what Shannon has to say about exercise, food, craft ideas and life in general:

So I have diagnosed myself as ADHD because I have an incredibly short attention span and I can't seem to sit still for an extended period of time.  I do triathlons of varying lengths, marathons, and love to craft.  After being able to meet literally hundreds of people at various competitions I have determined that being ADD/ADHD is a very common trait in triathletes, that or it's a side effect of all the training we do and high energy level we all have from our training.  

All of the runners have technical gear, their own superstitions/rituals, and nutrition that they follow before and during every race.  I've had nearly the same nutrition routine for the past couple of years and have been looking for something new in order to add some variety to my diet.  Running miles, biking miles, swimming hundreds of laps, and weight lifting takes a toll on your body so in order to recover properly and be ready for the next day you need to give your body the fuel it needs.  My post workout routine typically includes stretching, shower, and chocolate milk of form.  I prefer Silk Soy milk with milk chocolate Carnation Instant Breakfast.  That combination gives you a drink that is about 16 fl oz with 12g of protein. I could get more protein in my drink by using a different powder but after some of my experiences those other higher protein powders leave a weird taste in my mouth, have a strange texture, and I just simply don't like having to chew something I'm trying to drink.  

I have been on the look out for new smoothie ideas and finally decided to make my own.  I have a new obsession with smoothies and decided that it would be a lot easier on my budget if I simply learned how to make my own, also I get to experiment with different flavors and supplements without spending $5 or more per drink.  My experiment yesterday was a huge success!  What you'll need for my experimental smoothie:

1 cup Mango (I used Dole Fresh Frozen mango chunks because I am too impatient to peel and cut up my own)
5 or 6 large Strawberries (those I actually cut up myself)
1 packet chocolate Carnation instant breakfast
4-8 oz Tropical V8 Splash (depending on how thick you want your drink)
Blender


I blended the mango, strawberries, and V8 until fairly smooth before adding the Carnation because I didn't want the powder to stick to the bottom of the blender.  The end result has enough chocolate flavor to satisfy any chocolate lover while still enough fruit to make it a great fruit smoothie.  This drink is about 250-300 calories which is high for a drink, but considering a 20 oz smoothie at Smoothie King has between 300-750 calories this isn't too bad.  The Smoothie King Peanut Power Plus Grape is 749 calories for 20 oz and only has 6g of protein.  Mine has 5g of protein for a 12 oz glass and about 300 calories.  All of my smoothie didn't quite fit in my glass but it was so good that I didn't mind topping it off to finish the rest.  The entire blender had 5g of protein and slightly over 300 calories, loads of Vitamin C.  I have a strong feeling that as my training progresses this summer that a nice cold smoothie with lots of protein and vitamins will be just what my body needs after long hot runs and rides!


About that crafting bit earlier.  Who doesn't love home made gifts or just making treats out of bright colored fabric, yarn, and paint?  Recently my fiance and I bought a house which means that my crafting area has exploded.  It originally only took up a bookshelf and a couple boxes along a wall in our little apartment, now it takes over an entire bedroom.  

My summer crafting is kind of lean because being buried under yarn and fabric is just too warm, not to mention I love being outside in the sun!  I am far more crafty during the winter when I don't want to go outside to train because I  would much rather stay curled up under a blanket and knit, sew, or read. Fortunately for the crafting part of my brain there are quite a few weddings this summer, and a couple of my friends are having babies which means lots of crafting opportunities!  

My new baby tradition includes a baby quilt and a diaper bag/purse for mom.  I don't have a wedding tradition yet but after this summer I'm certain I'll come up with something.  Last winter I was quite busy and was able to knit 8 scarves, 3 hats, 10 pairs of wrist warmers, sew 4 quilts, 2 aprons, 3 purses, a set of 6 place mats, knit 2 sets of 4 dish cloths all between October and Christmas!  

Well the sun is shining and I've been sitting for about half an hour, I think that I am now feeling a 9 mile run!  Happy training!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Re-thinking Pot Roast


Let’s talk about something you probably didn’t think you’d be thinking about this spring/summer: pot roast.
Pot roast is traditionally served as a winter wood. Hearty and tender, smothered in gravy and served with potatoes and carrots, pot roast is the perfect food for cold, snowy evenings by the fire. 

Traditional pot roast preparation
I, like most people, eat seasonally. As soon as warm weather crops up I crave cool, juicy crunchy things. Salads, fruit, vegetables and lean protein are coupled with slow gin fizzes, sangria and gin and tonics. The last thing I want to eat is a heavy meal of meat and potatoes (my boyfriend, the meat and potato king, cringes even as I write this). 
However, I really love pot roast and miss making it during the warmer months. So, I decided to revamp pot roast’s image and turn it into a more spring/summer-friendly food. I purchased two large roasts at Costco and set out to experiment. 
Some people are afraid of pot roast. They assume that, because they are time consuming, they are difficult to make. This is not true. In fact, there are few things simpler to make than a good roast, and few things that will impress your family as much.
The best way to cook a roast is in a large pot or pan that can be used both on the stovetop and in the oven. To start, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Season the roast, being sure to really rub the spices into the meat rather than just sprinkling it on top. you can use an Italian seasoning blend and bay leaves for a more traditional flavor, or try something new:
Think outside the spice and herb box.
- Herbs de provence and black pepper 
- Chili powder, powdered unsweetened chocolate, cloves and a dash of cinnamon 
- Black cherry balsamic vinegar, garlic powder and black pepper
- Au Poive paste and orange zest
- Rosemary, lavender and black pepper
- Spanish paprika, garlic powder and tajine spice
Now comes the first stage of cooking: browning. This is essential, as it will help keep the roasts juices locked inside and also creates some good browned bits in the bottom of the pan that will provide essential flavor for your gravy. 
Add a little oil to the pan, just enough to prevent the roast from sticking. Add garlic and roughly chopped onion to the pan and allow to saute until translucent. Add the roast and sear 5-7 minutes on each side, or until well browned. 
Once the meat is browned, add some beef broth and red wine. The liquid should cover the sides of the roast but not the top. Cover the pan and pop the roast in the oven. A 3 lb roast should take about 4 hours to cook, although this will vary. Set the oven timer for 3 1/2 hours. Unlike some foods, pot roast does not need to be baby-sat, so you can ignore it for the next 3 1/2 hours. 
When the timer goes off, add whatever vegetables you want: carrots, bell peppers, potatoes (if you must), etc. Then re-cover and pop the roast back in the oven for another 30 minutes. Other additions, depending on the seasonings you used, could be:
- Sun dried tomatoes
- Dried fruit (cherries, apricots or plums)
- Grilled sweet piquillo peppers
- Mushrooms
- Brussels sprouts
- Parsnips or other root vegetables (this will give it a more “fall” taste)
When the roast is finished, remove the meat from the pan. The meat will be fall apart tender, so a spoon or spatula will be more effective than tongs. Use the leftover liquid to make gravy by adding a little extra wine and whisking in a simple flour and water or flour and butter rue to thicken it up.
During warm weather, I prefer to balance the richness of the pot roast with something fresh and crunchy, such as green salad, cole slaw or cucumber salad. If you want a starch I suggest serving the roast with seasoned rice (Spanish, cilantro lime, cardamom, cucumber ginger, etc.) This will make for a hearty but ultimately lighter meal than the winter pot roast we are used to. Plus, it leaves more tummy room for all those spring/summer seasonal beers.
As always, play and have fun. What else is food for if not to encourage our creativity?

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Guatemala

I am proud to say that I have been active in human rights work for eight years now. I have worked for causes in Mexico, Egypt, Peru, Guatemala and the United States on issues ranging from women’s rights to the cessation of torture. I blogged this past August about a human rights delegation I served on in Guatemala, and I recently received an update on what is happening now in one of the villages we visited. Although I have kept the community of Lote Ocho in my thoughts, it was a reminder that their struggle has continued even after I was able to leave and return to the safety of my home.

Lote Ocho meets with our delgation (Photo by Chris Morales)
 In 2007, the nearly 100 families of the Q'eqchi Mayan village Lote Ocho were violently displaced at the behest of the Canadian mining company HudBay Minerals (now known as CGN Fenix). When the community first refused to relocate, company guards stripped them of their possessions and burnt down their homes. Two weeks later, while the men of Lote Ocho were working in the fields, the guards returned and gang raped eleven women. For a year, the community tried to negotiate with HudBay for their right to a place to live. In 2008, HudBay alloted Lote Ocho eight hectares of land, reserving the right to evict the community at any time. To date, this community of subsistence farmers has yet to be given the land deeds they were promised. They live in constant fear of violent eviction, and struggle to survive on such a small parcel of land. To read more, go to http://www.lawg.org/action-center/lawg-blog/69-general/953-rape-and-displacement-in-guatemala-.

The women talk about their experience (Photo by Chris Morales)
Now, the community of Lote Ocho has filed a lawsuit against HudBay Minerals. Thanks to the work of the Washington, DC based groups Guatemalan Human Rights Commission and Latin American Working Group, it was announced on March 21st that the activist organization Avaaz has agreed to help raise money for the community’s legal costs.
Our delegation visits the old site of Lote Ocho, abandoned after security forces burnt it down (Photo by Chris Morales)
This case has the potential to change the way multinational businesses like HudBay Minerals operate. Sadly, rape, torture, intimidation and murder are not uncommon ways for multinational companies to further their business ventures in developing nations. With expensive legal teams at their disposal, these companies are rarely held accountable for their actions.

Without our help, the community of Lote Ocho cannot stand up to the legal power of HudBay Minerals. If you can, please donate through Avaaz and tell anyone who may be interested in helping about what is happening in Guatemala today. To donate, go to:
https://secure.avaaz.org/en/stop_murder_and_rape_for_profit/?cl=1659939895&v=13261).


Monday, February 27, 2012

SoCo Coconut Cake


To paraphrase Mark Twain, the rumors of my blogging death have been greatly exaggerated. I am rousing myself out of the deep funk created by the loss of Pilar and have begun, slowly, to do some nesting. 
Of course, the first logical project was to bake something. Something calorie laden. Something with booze in it. Something I could use my kitchen torch on. As if by divine intervention, I received the February issue of Bon Appétit. There, on page 81, was the answer to my nesting prayers: Coconut Southern Comfort Layer cake. 


To begin with, I nixed the idea of making 8 thin layers. I’m taking baby steps here, not launching into a sprint. Besides, I like my cake-to-frosting ratio to favor cake. As such, I cut the recipe in half and made 2, thicker layers. 

However, for the benefit of my readers I will provide the original recipe as seen in the magazine. Also, for those of you who do not keep Southern Comfort on hand in your liquor cabinet (me included) and don’t want to splurge on a whole bottle of the stuff, 1 mini-bottle of the brand was sufficient for the recipe. 
Please note that this is one of those cakes that seems to get better with age. I highly recommend making it the day before you intend to serve it, though it will be delicious regardless. In fact, it was so good I honestly can't wait to make it again.
For the cake: 
Ingredients
Nonstick vegetable oil spray
2 3/4 cups cake flour plus more for pans
2 1/2 cups unsweetened shredded coconut (not reduced-fat)
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 3/4 cups sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
5 large eggs
1/2 cup coconut oil, warmed to melt
1 cup buttermilk    
* NOTE: I also added a splash of Southern Comfort and about 1/3-1/2 a cup of   unsweetened coconut to the cake batter for extra flavor and texture* 
Preparation
-Arrange racks in top and bottom thirds of oven; preheat to 350°. Coat cake pans with nonstick spray; dust  with flour.
-Whisk 2 3/4 cups flour and next 3 ingredients in a medium bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat sugar and butter at medium speed, occasionally scraping down sides of bowl, until smooth, 3–4 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating to blend between additions. Beat until light and fluffy, 2–3 minutes. Gradually beat in oil. Beat in dry ingredients at low speed in 3 additions, alternating with buttermilk in 2 additions, beginning and ending with dry ingredients. 
-Divide among four 9" cake pans (about 2 generous cups batter per pan); smooth tops with a spatula. Bake until a tester inserted into center of cakes comes out clean, 22–27 minutes. Transfer pans to wire racks; let cool in pans for 5 minutes. Invert cakes onto racks, remove pans, and let cakes cool completely.

The original recipe suggested a cream cheese based frosting. However, I substituted this for a butter cream frosting I’m fond of from the 1972 classic cookbook James Beard’s American Cookery (for the original cream cheese frosting, go to http://www.bonappetit.com/recipes/2012/02/coconut-southern-comfort-layer-cake#ixzz1ncP2xrOW).

Not for the faint of heart, this butter cream frosting is particularly rich: one I have reserved for special “comfort food” emergencies. The key to this frosting is creating a boiled custard first, then whipping in lots of creamed butter and powdered sugar. As a warning, I had to fiddle a bit with this recipe due to my adding most of a mini-bottle of Southern Comfort to it. As such, the measurements here are my best approximation.
Frosting
3 egg yolks
2/3 c. sugar
1/8 tsp. salt
1/3 c. cream
1 1/2 c. unsalted butter
2/3-1 c. powdered sugar (according to taste)
Rest of the SoCo mini-bottle
-Heat the cream in a saucepan until it just begins to steam. In a double boiler, combine the egg yolks, granulated sugar and salt, then add the cream and the Southern Comfort. Stir constantly until the mixture is thick enough to coat a metal spoon (this will take a while due to the alcohol addition). Remove the  mixture from the double boiler and allow custard to cool.
-In a mixer, cream the butter until frothy. Gradually add the cooled custard, alternating with the powdered sugar. Chill for 15 minutes before using (if the mixtures separates while in the fridge, simply re-whip it).
Frost the middle layer and top of the cake. As you can tell from the pictures, I tried to frost the sides as well but ran out of frosting halfway around. In retrospect, I also think frosting the sides is unnecessary for this particular cake. 

Lastly, spread the rest of the bag of unsweetened coconut on a baking sheet and toast until golden brown, either in the oven or with a kitchen torch. Cover the cake in the toasted coconut and serve!

So it didn't look like the picture in Bon Appétit, but it sure tasted great!



Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Pilar


Just a few days before Christmas I noticed that my cat, Pilar, was breathing heavily. With no other symptoms of illness and a history of occasional snuffles during allergy season, I figured it was maybe a bit of asthma. I called the vet to make an appointment for her after Christmas. After hearing about the problem, the vet tech told us to come in ASAP.


Pilar was diagnosed with congestive heart failure (CHF), a condition very rare for a such a young cat. We spent the next few weeks trying to balance her medications: too little and her heart would fail and her lungs fill with fluid, too much and her kidneys would fail. For a week she steadily improved and seemed fine. Then she began to go rapidly downhill. 
On January 14th, the event I had been dreading happened. Her condition, referred to as “smoke" on the heart because of the effect seen on x-rays, meant that her blood was thickening faster than we could thin it. She suddenly suffered a blood clot and lost the use the use of her back legs. She was in a great deal of pain and we rushed her to the hospital, where we had to have her put to sleep. 
Pilar, 7 weeks old
I had adopted Pilar in Knoxville, TN when she was about 6 weeks old. After I brought her home I saw that her estimated date of birth was June 20th, 2008. My father died on June 20th, 2005. It felt like a good omen at the time (now I’m toying with the idea that the day is cursed). 

First day together!
For the 3 1/2 years we had together, we were inseparable. I have been a cat person my whole life, but I never knew a cat and their human could be as closely bonded as Pilar and I were. She was like my child, my other half. 
I deal with personal tragedy in the incredibly healthy way of becoming a temporary alcoholic (yet another dirty martini? why yes please) and receding into what my mother calls “Eliza Land.” I have recently returned, for the most part, to the real world and am now faced with the task of finding some sort of jar in which to put Pilar’s ashes. 
My mother and I went on three “urn” ventures. There were several lovely options at places like Pottery Barn and Nell Hills. However, the idea of putting my little girl in a mass produced resting place, even a beautiful one, seems wrong for some reason. 

1 1/2 years old
I have turned to a local artist, Deborah Wald, who makes ceramic pieces. My parents bought several of her bowls years ago and I really like her work. She has a few jars coming out of the kiln in the next week or so and I’m hoping to find one that speaks to me in some way and seems Pilar-ish. 

Eventually I will put some of Pilar’s ashes with my father’s in the beautiful rose garden in the park near my Mom’s house. I also have close friends in Knoxville who had three cats and used to cat-sit Pilar. They lost their eldest cat, Undine, last year and buried her under the persimmon tree in their back yard. I will put some of Pilar’s ashes with Undine, as it seems right for part of her to be back in her home town with people/cats she loved. 

Showing off her black smoke fur
For now, though, I’m not ready to let go of her ashes. I look forward to seeing Debbie’s work and picking the perfect piece for my beautiful girl. 


We love every pet dearly, but, if we are lucky, there will be a particularly special one to us. Pilar was mine and I miss her more than I can say.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Southern Living Indeed


When I lived in Knoxville, my good friend/pretend big sister always had issues of Southern Living lying around her home. As a New Englander/Midwesterner, I tend to stick to geographically vague periodicals and was a bit suspicious of a magazine produced below the Mason-Dixon line. However, I always enjoyed leafing through the issues at her house.
Recently, this same friend treated me to a gift subscription of Southern Living. For the sake of good recipes and decorating tips, I was willing to set aside my New England allegiance. Only two issues in and I am not only hooked, I have learned a lot. 
First, to be a truly classy professional decorator in the South, you have to give your children pretentious and/or ridiculous names. The designers interviewed usually have kids named Tinsley, Sterling, Cashmere and so forth. I tend to like more simple, classic names, although I do like the name Finn for a boy and Evan for a girl. Those may qualify. I may fit in yet.
Second, good Southern decorating means covering every inch of your home in...stuff. Thus far, there are no modern, minimalist designers featured. The rooms the magazine features are beautiful, but there is furniture, knicknacks and wall art covering every inch of every space. I find that claustrophobic personally, but it makes for a beautiful photo spread. Most importantly, it gives you a plethora of examples on how to mix and match textures, shapes and styles.
Third, it is good style form to pick three colors, generally one neutral and two bolder hues, and decorate your entire home in them. I feel like this must not include your kids rooms, though. Your daughter wants to paint their room orange? Too bad...it doesn’t go with your Old World Caribbean theme. Your son is into Cars and Batman? Too bad...his room is getting aqua wallpaper with a coral motif. I think exceptions are probably made here.
Fourth, Southern Living is published for busy people, probably mostly homemakers with kids. It was a bit of a scandal, after years of subscribing to Bon Appetit, to see recipes that include cans of cream of mushroom soup and canned green beans, but most of the recipes are actually really delicious. I’ll probably still make my own cream of mushroom base and will always be faithful to fresh (in a pinch frozen) produce, but the end result will be the same: good, hearty food. And anyone, Southern or otherwise, can appreciate that. 
I may not want to exactly copy everything I see in the pages of Southern Living (moose antlers above my bed? No way.), but it is full of inspiring craft, decorating and cooking ideas. If you haven't checked out this magazine before and are sitting in an airport or hanging out at a bookstore coffee shop, I highly recommend picking up an issue. It just may surprise you.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Beauty and the Bathroom


I’ve decided that much of my love for accessories revolves around my love of ritual. 

For example, I have long wanted a dressing table/vanity. I enjoy my morning ritual of putting on makeup, choosing jewelry and applying perfume, and a vanity is the perfect way to streamline these acts. Instead of bouncing back and forth from the bathroom to my bedroom, a vanity provides a single, designated space in which to primp.


I'm pretty sure I'd look more like these ladies if I had a dressing table.


Since entering my mid-twenties I have also developed a pre-sleep skin care ritual (I love  Botanics products) that I find incredibly enjoyable. It's almost therapeutic to wash away the day's grime. Removing my makeup, washing my face and applying lotion are as important to my nighttime routine now as brushing my teeth. And, of course, accessories make this process all the more enjoyable. How, you ask? Let me explain...

Last month I found a lovely soap dish and shower curtain that have the clean, simple look I like in my bathroom. I like soap dishes. They are both practical and aesthetically pleasing. And a nice shower curtain can really set the tone of a bathroom (in my old apartment I opted for a fun fish print...now I’ve gone with white). 

Now I am now looking for a decorative container for the little cotton pads I use to remove my makeup. Popping the lid off a pretty jar is much more appealing then the nightly rustling of plastic packaging.




 Bed Bath and Beyond offers a variety of simple bathroom accessories, but for 
a more unique look I prefer using repurposed or found objects.
This mercury glass jar from Anthropologie is filled with a candle,
but once the candle is used would make a great storage jar for the bathroom. For a fun project you can also learn how to 
make your own mercury glass objects.

At $91.99 this onyx jar by Selamat is out of my price range, but antique shops and estate sales often have similar items at much lower prices.




Never mind that I don’t like clutter and will therefore keep the jar out of view in the cabinet. In fact, my boyfriend thinks I’m crazy. If it’s hidden why bother shelling out the extra money? But I don’t care. It’s kind of like wearing your favorite underwear...no one else can see it but it just makes you feel good. 

Maybe I’m just overcompensating for having little personal space, finding power in having control over my daily rituals and their attending accoutrements. Or maybe I just like pretty things. Whatever the reason, when it comes to my rituals, I'll opt for beauty every time.

Monday, January 2, 2012

New Years Resolutions


I don’t make New Years resolutions, at least not in the traditional sense. 
Towards the end of the year I often make a list of things I want to accomplish (as I did in September’s post “The Land of Misfit Projects”). But I do not pledge changes to my lifestyle. I will not pledge to eat healthier or take up yoga, join a book club or take the extra 30 minutes to walk to work instead of drive. These are all worthy causes, but if we are really serious about improving ourselves we wouldn’t procrastinate until December 31st to take action. 
For example, a few years ago I vowed not to use any “voluntary” products (aka makeup, household cleaning agents, hair and body care, etc.) that test on animals. I really don’t think cats and dogs need to be poked and prodded and hurt just so my mascara is less clumpy or my hair can be shinier. It’s something I really cared about, so I didn’t wait until December 31st of that year to make the change. I just did it. 
I’m sure we all have such examples. If something really grabs us as important, we make the change ASAP. As such, the vows we make as New Years resolutions are probably things that thus far haven’t been important enough for us to bother with. So why do we feel that a new calendar year will suddenly imbue them with new value?
Let’s be honest: the reason we make New Years resolutions is because the holidays make us feel guilty. We spent too much money. We ate too many cookies and mashed potatoes. We killed too many forests to make our presents look beautiful. However, these excesses are a fundamental part of what make the holidays special. It is our indulgence that sets the holidays apart from the rest of the year. If we are generally healthy and financially prudent the rest of the year, why not give in to a little temptation?
Guilt-driven resolutions are hard to stick to. Once we hit February and our holiday guilt has been swallowed up by the more pressing concerns of everyday life, our resolutions suddenly don’t seem as important anymore. And we shouldn’t feel bad about this! January doesn’t have magical powers, so let’s not start the year off by lying to ourselves about who we are. When it becomes truly important to us, we will make the resolution and stick to it no matter what date the calendar boasts.
So if you are thinking about making New Years resolutions, make sure they are being made for the right reasons. Guilt: bad. Genuine caring: good. 
Happy New Year!