The Chinese zodiac calendar says that, in addition to being the fifth anniversary of the death of my first husband, February 16, 2018 marks the beginning of the Year of the Dog.
I believe the Chinese, as they have been doing this for a long time, but for me, I say January 1, 2018 marks the first day of the Year Of Why The Hell Not?.
Apparently, this is what’s happening, almost without any effort.
Next week I am going back to (yoga) school with a yin yoga training immersion, and eight weeks after that my particular friend and I are going to Amsterdam for a week.
Because why the hell not?
I used to institute “yes” days for my kid when she was little; these were days when I would say yes to everything she asked, no matter what. I never told her what I was doing, but those days were some of the most relaxed I have ever experienced as a parent. It’s nice to not be the Bad Cop, the Responsible One, the Sayer of Nos.
In the past couple days, I have felt a similar impulse rising, only this time it is pointed directly at me.
I am terrible at saying “yes” to things for myself. It feels selfish, and I can’t enjoy whatever it is, even if it’s as small as buying coffee out. Part of it is my pathological inability to spend money in a manner I deem “frivolous.” Part of it is believing that I am somehow not worth spending the time, money, and effort on. Part of it is just that stupid habit of saying no to myself.
This year is going to be different.
On January 1st I started tossing around the idea of a trip to Hawaii with Cousin Jennifer in Washington State. She was planning on going by herself, but when she mentioned her trip on The Facebook, I thought to myself, “Why the hell not?”
And a couple of days later when the deadline for an immersive yin yoga teacher training popped up RIGHT DOWN THE STREET FROM MY HOUSE, I could not think of one compelling reason to say no. So I signed up.
And this morning, because I saved a couple hundred bucks on each plane ticket, and tickets were available the week of my birthday, and my particular friend’s spring break also falls on that week, I snatched up two tickets to Amsterdam.
Because WHY THE HELL NOT?
I am 46. I will be 47 on March 14th (also known as the Best Day Of The Year). I don’t give a rat’s ass about getting older, but the clock is ticking for me as it is for us all. Although I have been on a fair amount of road trips, visiting nearly all of the lower 48, plus Alaska, my overseas travel consists of one disastrous trip to Paris with my mother. I lived in Seattle for five years and never even went to Canada (and this was before passports were required), and although I have always wanted to see more of the world, I have always had (made?) a reason (an excuse?) to stay home.
It’s time to go.
My job is portable, my kid is old enough to watch herself and is craving some independence, and I am solvent enough to make some budget travel happen.
I don’t think we should save for our entire lives to go on one dream vacation (although I am starting to put money away for Fiji in 2021, the year my kid turns 21 and I turn 50. Get ready for extra gratuitous shots of our over-the-water bungalow). What happens if, like Dane five years ago, I find myself unceremoniously meeting a tree on a dark night? Or finding a lump? Or at the wrong end of a blocked artery…nuclear warhead…etc?
I think I have been waiting for something to shift so that I could magically do the things I want to do, or to spontaneously become some different person for whom these things come easily.
But guess what? That’s total bullshit.
It’s really time to stop thinking about the person I want to be and just be that person.
Like, way overdue.
It’s always a process and a work in progress and a painful realization that some of the shit I have talked for years actually needs to be finally backed up. I can write about it all I want.
Not good enough.
So yin yoga immersion, Amsterdam, and Hawaii, here I come. Plus a possible road trip with one of my best friends in all of the world to Arthur Bryant’s in Missouri, just to have some barbeque. We’ll meet in Wheeling, West Virginia and make our way to Missourah.
Because, and say it with me, WHY THE HELL NOT?
If I am faced with the choice to do something that interests me, and I can’t think of a compelling reason not to, I am going to do it.
While The Year Of Why The Hell Not? was prompted by personal growth and travel, I think this also applies to relationships. My particular friend and I have been together for two+ years now, and we have been sharing the same house for three+ months.
This has not been easy.
This has been crazy-making, what with the kid combining and the routine combining and the deeper getting to know each other in, let’s face it, boring and annoying ways.
He said it’s like starting in the middle of a relationship, entering into something serious like this in our decrepitude (my word). In our previous relationships, it was like a slow coming together, but in this one we have plopped down smack in the domestic wasteland, mid-stride, where everyone is tired by nine, and it’s easier to just fall asleep in front of a movie than to engage or unravel things that have gotten tied up in knots of miscommunication and hurt feelings.
Seems like a good a time as any to re-engage. To make an effort. To try something new.
Because more than Why The Hell Not?, this is the person I have chosen. Not because I am so lonely I can’t take it or because I need a man to provide stability or I need a little lovin’. Pretty much all of those can be ameliorated by friends or Tinder.
Khristian is kind, funny, smart, and intelligent. He is an artist. He is a devoted father. He thinks I am swell, which is saying something because I know for a fact that is not always the case.
Doubleplus bonus: he smells really good to me, which may be TMI for a food blog, but hey. That’s how these things work. #YouLoveWhoYouLove #PheremonesAreAThing
In the accidental spirit of The Year Of Why The Hell not?, we have decided to cook our way through Madhur Jaffrey’s book Vegetarian India.
We don’t generally cook together – one of us cooks while the other one sits on the orange metal stool in the kitchen and provides moral support. I have a hard time talking to someone while I cook, so that’s no fun, and I have a hard time not bossing him when he cooks, so that’s not fun either. Getting Jaffrey’s cookbook is the equivalent of hiring a tutor to tell your kid what to do. This way, we just follow the directions and no one is in charge. We can relax and explore and learn things together.
I think relationships aren’t meant to be easy, both those we have with ourselves and those we have with others. As an unrecalcitrant introvert, they are especially hard for me at times. I continuously have to balance my desire for deep connection and my built-in instinct for solitude.
Cooking seems as good a guide as any to navigate this path, especially if my particular friend is walking with me.
We started cooking with three recipes: Stir-Fried Spinach, Andhara-Style; Spicy Paneer Slices; and Fresh Cilantro and Yogurt Chutney (plus jasmine rice).
We bought everything we needed at H-Mart on a brutally cold day, then stopped off to get frozen yogurt afterwards (as one does). While making our list of supplies, we decided to make our own cheese.
Paneer is very similar to fresh ricotta or queso fresco; it is simple with a mild, creamy taste that goes well with strong flavors. We initially planned to make saag paneer but had to table that when we could not find fenugreek leaves and decided to press it into squares and fry it in spices (well, Madhur Jaffrey told us to). From start to finish we had slices to fry in 30 minutes.
8 cups whole milk (not UHT or skim milk)
1/4 cup lemon juice or apple cider vinegar
salt to taste
Special tools: cheesecloth or clean cotton towel, fine mesh strainer
Method of Production
Warm milk to just under 200 degrees in a large pot over medium heat, stirring occasionally. If you don’t happen to have a thermometer, look for milk that looks frothy but not boiling.
Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice. Cover and let sit for at least ten minutes. The milk will separate into curds (the cheese part) and whey (the yellow-ish leftover liquid).
Place cheesecloth or cotton towel over the strainer and scoop or pour curds into the cheesecloth. Working carefully (the mixture is still hot), wring out most but not all of the whey (or else you will get dusty crumbles). Open the cheesecloth and sprinkle cheese with salt to taste, stirring all the way through.
If, like us, you want to spice both sides of your paneer and fry it, rewrap the paneer in the cheesecloth and shape into a rectangle (or a circle, or any shape, really). You are aiming for a thickness of about 1/2″. Place paneer on a plate and put some weight on top (another plate on top with a book on it works well, but get creative with what you have). Press the cheese for up to an hour, then cut into slices and coat both sides with the spice of your choice before lightly coating with flour of your choice and frying in 1/4″ of hot oil for one minute on each side (or until lovely and golden).
- We used a combination of chili, turmeric, and salt, but the options are unlimited.
- Instead of frying, slather fresh paneer on toast and top with roasted kumquats like I did (note: there is a slightly more complicated ricotta recipe in this link. Choose your own adventure.).
- If curds do not form, it’s an excellent chance that you have either used UHT pasteurized milk, or you have ignored my admonitions and attempted this with skim milk. Just say no.
- Don’t throw out that whey. Give it to your chickens, make rice with it, use it to make bread (instead of using water), or put it in your smoothie. If you don’t want to do any of those things right now, freeze it for later.
On this day last year: Five Food Trends To Watch (spoiler alert: I was right!)