There is such thing as too much of a good thing and for me, that good thing is unstructured free time. It’s not that I don’t love (and need) some down-time, it’s just that too much of it makes me antsy and uncomfortable. This is such a privileged problem to have but friends, the struggle is real. This last year was so jam-packed with classes and studying and career things that I barely had time to do laundry let alone read a book. But here I am now with all this time and I find it…unnerving.
I’ve never fantasized about fame or fortune. I didn’t want to be Britney Spears or Bill Gates. I think being rich and famous is pretty overrated, frankly. What really rings my bell is a purpose. A mission. A vision. A cause. No surprise, then, that I’ve built a career in the social sector. But graduate school has felt unsettling for several reasons, one of which being that it feels terribly selfish. I wake up every day, go learn new things, and then do homework, take tests, and write papers. Then I’m given a grade which rarely reflects what I actually learned or how proficient I am in the subject. Then I wake up and do it all over again. I don’t feel like I’m actually doing anything useful. I know this is all in service of having greater impact in the future and blah, blah, blah. For the last year it’s felt like I just showed up and pushed paper around. Maybe it’s the program I’m in, or maybe it’s because I was out of school for so long. Maybe graduate school was a wild and reckless choice.
Yet here I am. Summer break. With what feels like an endless expanse of luxury and angst: time. I am 100% certain that I will look back at this in a few months or a few years and roll my eyes and click my tongue and wonder what I was thinking. But for now, I’m resisting the urge to fill the time with whatever I can grab. And heaven knows there’s plenty to grab. For now, I’m going to play a bit. If I even remember how.
My hands-down, all-time, forever-and-always favorite television show is most definitely The West Wing. If you haven’t seen the show, I urge you to stop reading this immediately and go watch the pilot (all seven seasons are now streaming on Netflix!). I have been a bit of a political junkie since the age of 12 (although 5 was when I first declared that I would be the first woman president) and started watching The West Wing as soon as it premiered. I came across my day-planners from high school recently and there’s a big “WW” every Wednesday at 9pm. After the show ended my mom (who is also a die-hard WW fan) bought the complete series on DVD and I re-watch the series every year. I think I’ve seen the entire series 7 or 8 times at this point which I realize may seem obsessive but it just never gets old. Seriously, though. Go watch it if you haven’t yet (or even if you have).
But this post wasn’t really supposed to be about The West Wing, it’s about my new second favorite television show: Chef’s Table.
If you haven’t seen Chef’s Table then I urge you to finish reading this blog post and then go watch it. David Gelb (who directed Jiro Dreams of Sushi) directs this Netflix-exclusive series featuring different chefs from around the world. The cinematography is in the style of Planet Earth and the storytelling is incredible. When my partner and I watch it together we regularly turn to each other and say “this is just so good” because it is just so good. Each episode features a different chef and their story – how they came to do what they do, what inspires them, what challenges them. The food is a visual treat, for sure, but it’s mostly about their lives. I am especially inspired by the women (although there aren’t nearly enough featured) because they had to work that much harder to get where they are and fight that much harder for recognition in the field.
I’m inspired by the chefs’ reflections on creativity and empathize with their complicated feelings about ambition and achievement. They all (men and women alike) talk about how (or how not) to navigate both their professional and personal lives. For some the two are so entangled they just exist in both simultaneously and for others there’s a struggle to feed both with the same energy and attention.
I’ve always been curious about human behavior, what inspires people to do what they do. These small snapshots are thoughtful and thought-provoking glimpses into the lives of some remarkable (and in many ways still relatable) chefs. They express themselves through the food they prepare but it could just as easily have been art, writing, dance…or even jello molding. Food for thought, to be sure.
Perhaps the most delightful byproduct of a blog about gelatin is when people tell you they made a recipe you posted. It’s happened a few times and I get a kick out of it whenever someone tells me about it. Sometimes they’re seasoned cooks who feel comfortable in the kitchen (and with following directions – jello is chemistry after all) and sometimes they’re…less so. Amateurs, if you will. But as fickle as jello can be, certain recipes are a lot more forgiving than you might imagine.
A few months ago my partner told me he was going to make the infamous jello pretzel salad for a competition with a few friends at school (he’s also in graduate school, but we’re not in the same program because we like to do things the hard way). There’s a group of about six friends who get together every month or so for dinner at someone’s house and they call it “Come Dine With Me” after a UK television show, apparently. So each dinner they choose a dish for two challengers to prepare for the next dinner and he chose jello as the theme. When he first told me this I was delighted and then a little leery that he could pull it off without my help. I should point out that my partner is not a total moron and is quite a good cook but a jello amateur is a jello amateur.
But he picked the recipe and we talked through it on the phone and off he went to the grocery store.
He’s British, so we had several conversations about what exactly Cool-Whip is and where to find the cream cheese but he made it home with the proper ingredients and got to work.
There were a few check-in phone calls (particularly pertaining to the “done-ness” of the jello) but the final product looked pretty good (at least in person, next time we’ll work on the food photography).
The competition ended in a draw (which I still find hard to believe, jello pretzel salad is a blue ribbon choice) but I was super impressed. Always a good reminder to have a little more faith in your own and others’ abilities when trying something new.
Pip pip, gov’na.
No matter your political persuasion, today was an historic day in the United States of America.
240 years in the making.
I started this blog six (!) years ago for fun and for my friends. How often I’ve posted has largely depended on what I’ve had going on in my life and how creative I was feeling. But I look back at some of the posts down and cringe a bit because they just don’t really sound like me. I’ve never really identified as a “blogger” because I’ve never posted with sincere regularity and consider this blog more of a quirky thing that I do sometimes. But I’ve always come back to it – the jello and the writing. The struggle has been figuring out not only what I want to say and how I want to sound but also how to translate that into the writing.
I’ve always enjoyed writing and this past year I wrote less than at any point in my school or professional career. When the spreadsheets gave way to reflective papers, I realized how hard I found it to get my “voice” on the page. This isn’t a new or novel struggle, to be sure, but I’m pushing myself a bit more this summer to just put words on the page and out in the world more. It helps give a bit more structure to my days, frankly, and forces me to use a different part of my brain than I have been for many months. It’s also nice to have to the freedom to write whatever comes to mind. The general theme of this blog when I started it was gelatin (pretty strange, I know, but I just love it) and I’m going to start pushing the boundaries of that more and more, if you’ll allow me. Although I suppose that’s the luxury of a casual, hobby blog, I can pivot into whatever I want. So if you’re curious or interested, I’ll be here for the rest of the summer.
I’ve always loved Molly Wizenberg‘s writing – on Orangette, in her books (Delancy and A Homemade Life), and on the podcast she co-hosts. I appreciate her honesty, the beauty of her prose, and her wry humor – also the grace with which she confesses her own insecurities and aspirations. All things I will strive for while I work to find my own voice here on the blog.