Thursday, November 14 2019

bad days, burnt rice, and the culinary gods

Dear Journal,

Good morning, everyone. Today feels like a brand new day, and I definitely needed one. Yesterday sucked. Yesterday blows. If yesterday were an employee of mine, I'd have fired him yesterday, and yelled "don't let the doorknob hit you on the ass" on his way out. But you would have never known it from my cheery journal entry about french cooking, and mildly griping about our stove's missing burner. I did a pretty nice job getting in a good headspace for writing, but things started to roll downhill when it came time to publish it. My script failed, and it took a few minutes and some manual tweaking to fix it. Meanwhile, as I was sitting there at the breakfast table completely ignoring Rodney, my phone buzzed, reminding me I had a meeting. It threw me off because our morning stand-up usually isn't until 9:30, but today it was moved, so I scrambled to set Rodney up by the TV and join the remote meeting.

The rest of the work day was kind of a progression of self-inflicted disruptions. I had the usual ticket duty workload of fielding questions and jumping on things that broke, but this week I may have over-committed myself. At some point, while I was working upstairs Marissa brought me a plate of hot pizza and a beer. "I don't even remember eating it," I recounted with her later. "It just kind of slid down my throat while I was working."

At 3:30, I wrapped up my last meeting for the day, and took about twenty minutes to just sit there and stare out the window. Marissa, Rodney, and the dogs joined me on the bed before they left to run errands. I chipped away at some more work, then called it a day at 4:30.

As Marissa napped, I clicked around YouTube looking for a dinner recipe. Marissa advised, "no preferences tonight, just cook something that makes you happy." Chef John had a recipe for kimchi fried rice, and that looked pretty simple and quick, so I added the ingredients to the grocery list and trotted upstairs to get Rodney. He was already awake and staring out the window.

We had a wonderful time at Hy-Vee. We looked at the Christmas toys, then chatted with the butcher about these giant tiger prawns they were selling. "I mean, if you're going to spend that much money on shellfish, why aren't you just buying lobster," he laughed. "So I take it your not making commission on these things?" I added. The butcher bagged up our regular shrimp and sent us on our way.

We got home, and Rodney wanted to help in the kitchen. So I started to make a batch of white rice and peel the shrimp. As I cooked, I started to realize that shopping at Hy-Vee was just a temporary mood lifter and that I was still kind of burnt out from work. I even snarled at Rodney a few times. As I scolded, "Rodney dude, if you're going to be in the kitchen, I expect you to help, not just screw around." Rodney looked up from confusion, holding his "hammer" (which is really just a corkscrew opener) and a fist full of butcher's twine. I wanted to take the words back as soon as they left my mouth. What does that even mean? When does a three your old do anything but screw around? I felt sick to my stomach.

And the culinary gods evidently were not pleased with my attitude either. My fried rice immediately adhered to my cast iron pan, and the rice left over got stickier, starchier, and the garlic, kimchi, and hot pepper paste was just not working. The meal smelled and tasted a lot like I felt inside - thrown together and 'burnt out'. I guess there's no hiding in cooking. My food always seems to reflect how I'm feeling.

As we picked at the bowl of rice I made, Marissa set down her fork. I suggested she make a salad, and she kindly offered to make Rodney a peanut butter and jelly. "Do you think it's too spicy? I haven't heard him complain." I asked.

"Oh Rodney doesn't complain about spicy foods anymore," she replied. "He just drinks his milk faster." Rodney nodded, trying to keep up with the conversation. His milk was already empty. I got up and dumped my rice in the garbage, then grabbed a bag of paw patrol fruit snacks. "I'm sorry," I said at the dinner table, "today sucks, and this didn't work the way I wanted it to." Marissa smiled empathetically. "Ticket duty pass!" she said.

It's been a really long time since I completely bricked dinner, and that hurts. Marissa offered to put Rodney to bed, and I went upstairs to take a nap. "You need a nap," Marissa said. "You didn't relax at all yesterday." That was true. I suddenly realized my chore time rolled right into trying to build that computer case, and that wasn't a very pleasant experience.

I fell asleep immediately and woke up 45 minutes later to my alarm. Despite feeling some acid reflux from my kimchi rice, I felt refreshed, and slowly emerged from our bedroom to begin cleaning the kitchen. I let myself get swept away in Kanye's new album while I scrubbed my cast iron. As I chipped and flaked each shard of burnt rice from the bottom, I could feel my mood slowly turning. I finished my kitchen chores by wiping out my cast iron pans with mineral oil and torching them over the stove. The clean, burning mineral oil felt like it was cleansing the kitchen of all the mistakes I made today. The culinary gods are fair, but they can forgive too.

For 'power hour', I just sat in the dining room with a La Croix and responded to emails, then tidied things up on my computer. It was probably the most generous version of "nesting power hour" I've done, but taking Marissa's advice, I needed to relax. Once I was finished, I curled up with Ziggy on the couch and listened to some music.

This morning I'm feeling good. I'm going to try to do a better job of guarding my mood. It will be another busy day, but I'm going to take a solid, quiet lunch, and go for a cold walk around the square.

Hope you all have a good day. Take some time for yourself. Go for a walk, cuddle with your dog, and send emails to people. And take care of your cast iron, too.