Scarlette Letter – September 3, 2015

Students of happiness agree that certain habits foster feelings of contentment, peace, and joy. These habits include:

Gratitude – I am grateful for the very special people in my life and for the cherished time I get to spend with them

Affirmation – I am kind

Attitude – My life sparkles

Activity – Window shopping

Nurture – Steam pedicure

Enrichment – “Friendship is gained by listening instead of talking”

Nourishment –

Scarlette Begonia Scarlette Begonia Scarlette Begonia

Scarlette Begonia

And a lovely dinner with my man, his family and their family friend; a treat so delicious and rare, I did not think it appropriate to snap a picture; use your imagination!

Giving – I let several cars in front of me in traffic and pitched in on a lovely steam pedicure for a friend who is having surgery tomorrow

Connection – A great day with my love, his friends, and his family

Simplifying – I didn’t buy anything while window shopping, knowing my wallet is emptier than my closet

Sunday Sauce

We wait all week for the weekend, whether our days off are the traditional Saturday and Sunday, or other days during the week. Sometimes the only thing that gets us through the week is the promise of those days off.

As our weekend arrives, there is great anticipation, a celebratory feeling as the final day of work draws to a close. Our weekend begins, sometimes, about half way through the final day of our week; productivity decreases, distraction increases, and we count down the hours, then the minutes until we are free.

By Sunday, we begin to gear up for another week of work ahead. Sometimes, a sense of finality, of, dare I say, dread, develops, no matter how much we love our jobs. The fun and frolicking and freedom give way to task and chore and preparation. The joy of the day off is, sometimes, seemingly mitigated by the fact that an alarm must be set for morning, adequate amounts of sleep planned for, and, often, chores completed for the week ahead; laundry, ironing, meals planned, shopping done, meals prepared ahead. Such as Sunday Sauce, a traditional Italian family custom (no, I’m not Italian, but I love the idea). The week’s meat scraps and leftovers are combined into a sauce pot with tomatoes and other sumptuous ingredients, and are simmered together to make a sauce that is used throughout the busy week ahead. Sunday Sauce is spooned over pasta, meat, and vegetables and makes meal preparation throughout the week faster and easier, but no less homemade or delicious. But, the making of Sunday Sauce is one of those tasks we do with the foreboding of the long week ahead drawing nearer and nearer.

Recently, I seem to be experiencing this phenomenon twice per week. I work a traditional work week, with Saturday and Sunday off. I often have some flexibility during the week and can shuffle some of my projects around to allow me some time to spend off with my guy, who works a non-traditional work week and usually has a couple of weekdays off. So, Sunday is my Sunday and, well, today is his Sunday, and feels a lot like my Sunday, too.

As our day elapsed into evening, the pallor of solemnity seemed to increase. As shirts were ironed and the NetFlix movie drew to a close, as morning alarms were set, I was sent home with a quick goodbye kiss. My weekend, and a long, holiday weekend, at that, technically, begins tomorrow afternoon as soon as I conclude with my client. But, my weekend is sort of “on my own”, as my sweetie works. Oh, I’ll fill every minute and I will enjoy it. But come time for his next, and only day off next week, I’m scheduled to work with a number clients, all day long.

Do you see what is happening here? I am living in the future. I’m thinking about tomorrow, I’m thinking about two and three days from now, I’m thinking about the middle of next week, and all rather negatively. This is our tendency, and really, our doom. The daily doom and gloom that we let seep into our lives revolves around living in the past, dwelling on the past, living in the future, focusing on the future.

It is now. It is a beautiful evening and I’m with one of my favorite people. Life is meant to be enjoyed, like a present. In the present.

Let’s Get Cookin’

It’s that time of year, my favorite time of year. “I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.” L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables. I agree. Presently, on a cool October morning, overcast, damp and chilly, I sit in a coffee shop in Downtown Napa, writing, sipping and getting things organized for the rest of the day and for the upcoming weekend. It is warm and cozy and smells divine in here. There is enough activity to be interesting, but not so noisy to be overwhelming.

Where I am enjoying my morning.
Where I am enjoying my morning.

On my list of things to do today is to dig up the pumpkin soup recipe I made, traditionally, for many years, before the kids went out trick or treating on Halloween. I always believed in family dinners and pulled them off on a regular basis, until both kids were in high school and we had multiple activities in multiple directions, every night of the week. So, even on Halloween, for many, many years, there was a family meal. We’d have my pumpkin soup and the kids would be off to trick or treat. I usually stayed home, dressed as Morticia from the Addams Family, answered the door and doled out candy. It was our tradition. My soup recipe comes from my favorite cookbook. I have many, many cookbooks. I love cookbooks, really good, quality cookbooks by esteemed chefs. I like to browse through them, given the time, especially when preparing to entertain. I read them like novels and sometimes I will find myself amidst a pile of cookbooks and half an afternoon has vanished.

My collection, and this is my pared down, minimalist lifestyle, essential collection.
My collection, and this is my pared down, minimalist lifestyle, essential collection.

My pumpkin soup recipe comes from my favorite cookbook, the one cookbook I always reach for first, my “go to” guide to all things kitchen. Fannie Farmer, revised by Marion Cunningham. There may be a newer version out there, mine is pretty faded, splotched and tattered from many years of use, but it is this book I love, no matter its antiquity.

My all-time favorite, go-to cookbook.
My all-time favorite, go-to cookbook.

My mom has her favorite cookbook, the Better Homes and Gardens one. She gave me a copy, too, when I went off to college, I think, but I no longer have it. My man has his favorite cookbook, always on the windowsill, at the ready, “The Joy of Cooking”, his “go-to “guide, that, and anything that Jacques Pepin said, ever.  No complaints, no complaints, he is a master in the kitchen and never have I been disappointed.

An old standard.
An old standard.
My man's favorite go-to cookbook.
My man’s favorite go-to cookbook.

There is a “neighborhood” wine tasting party in his neighborhood in a couple of weeks. Sadly, I won’t be there to attend, but he’d mentioned maybe making pumpkin soup, so, I thought I’d send him my recipe, I mean Fannie’s recipe, or Marion’s. The recipe I’ve used many, many times. We’ll leave it at that. The recipe I use calls for canned pumpkin puree, which is fine and, even by my standards, can be obtained in a suitably organic, sustainable variety. Otherwise, I’m not much of one for canned food. I buy organic canned tomato sauce and fire roasted tomatoes from Whole Foods for a fast, weeknight spaghetti sauce, but, generally, I prefer fresh. I thought I’d look up pumpkin soup recipes on my favorite “go-to” online recipe resource, AllRecipes.com, and I found pages and pages and pages of pumpkin soup recipe. I only wanted one, one that used fresh pumpkin, as an alternative to my recipe and the canned pumpkin puree. Pages and pages and pages, and many of them with many reviews and many stars, which would be my obvious selection criteria. I mean, really, who would choose to use a recipe that had only a few stars, or none, and only a few reviews, or none? My point, exactly.

Too many pumpkin soup recipes!
Too many pumpkin soup recipes!

So, today, at some point, I am going to gather up two recipes for pumpkin soup, the one I’ve used with fantastic results for many, many years and another that I decide on from AllRecipes.com, I’m going to tuck them into a sweet, romantic card I’ll find, no doubt, at Target, fill it with mushy musings, and address it to my Sweetie, far, far away.

Recipes. It occurs to me that recipes are much like life. Think about it.

We are all trying to piece together a life for ourselves that ends up like a beautiful cake, the perfect crumb, texture, moistness, flavor, the loveliest icing, decoration, and garnish. There are as many lovely cake recipes as there are people on the planet, I’m nearly certain, if, ever, you could gather together every known cake recipe of all time. I mean, I have “The Cake Bible” and in my entire life I don’t think I could ever bake every recipe in that one book alone, though the idea intrigues me in a “Julie and Julia” kind of way. Food for thought, no pun intended, and you know, I am the Queen of Puns.

If I were to find the perfect recipe for the cake of my dreams and you were to find the perfect recipe for the cake of your dreams, I’m 99.9% certain we’d have different recipes and that our idea of the cake of our dreams would differ considerably as well. So it is with finding the recipe for our perfect life. We all have unique, individual ideas of what “our perfect life” would be, and even over time, our ideas are certain to change. Just like I may decide carrot cake with cream cheese frosting is my favorite, I may change my mind, at some point, and declare red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting my favorite. That’s okay, our goals, purpose and passions in life change like our preference for dessert, but, generally speaking, we have a few favorites we are always happy to see on the dessert menu!

If I were to make a carrot cake or a red velvet cake, again, there’d be countless recipes from which to choose, and each would be a different combination of different quantities of ingredients. Almost certainly, for carrot cake and for red velvet cake, there’d be common ingredients across a majority of the recipes; flour and sugar, for example. Again, so it is with building our perfect life, there are likely to be key ingredients we are going to want to include for best results.

So, if I wanted to piece together a perfect life, what would my recipe look like? That’s the first question, always, what kind of cake do I want? There are several ways to approach selecting a recipe, one is to consider the ingredients you already have on hand, the number of people you intend to feed, the cost, the nutritional value, another is to see a picture or read a recipe, and no matter the contents or cost, that’s what you want to bake!

With choosing the recipe for our perfect life, then, do we consider the ingredients we already have on hand? Or do we start from scratch using the pretty picture and yummy sounding recipe as inspiration? That, you must decide. Do the ingredients in your life, now, include things you want in your final recipe? Your home, your family, your career? Likely so. Or, are you in a place where you are gathering those ingredients up and don’t have them on hand, just yet? You see what I say?

There are going to be those secret ingredients, too, that all good cooks have, that ensure their success. A dear friend of mine, one I’ve known since kindergarten, is a well-known, successful pastry chef. She has always loved to cook and to bake, even as kids, she’d come over to my house after school, now and then, and we’d get out my Betty Crocker Cook Book for children and we’d whip up a batch of cookie dough. We’d practice our fractions and halve the recipe, or quarter it, and, once in a while, we’d even bake the cookie dough. Usually not. Anyway, she went on to enter the Napa Town and Country Fair cake decorating category every year beginning in high school, and she’d win. She decorated cakes for all us girls for birthdays and other occasions. She graduated to baking cakes, having attended a culinary program at a nearby community college, and, year after year, her cakes won at the local fair. She’d be asked to produce a recipe, which she had, in her mind and would have to transcribe it in written form to be published in The Napa Register. Every year she won, and every year, it was, essentially, the same cake recipe. Chocolate with a rich, chocolate filling and frosting. Her success was in the quality of her recipe, and she applied it consistently, and won. Consistently. She has since gone on to accomplish great things, I’ve seen her name listed in Gourmet Magazine a time or two, which considering the number of pastry chefs in Napa alone, is quite an accomplishment.

How it all started.
How it all started.

So, what’s your recipe? Mine includes the following ingredients:

Purpose

Passion

Values

Guiding principles

Roles

Goals

I decorate my cake with carefully selected ingredients, including:

Self esteem

Self-confidence

Self discipline

Inspiration

Motivation

Enthusiasm

Action

Every now and then, I have to adjust the ingredients a little, add a little more self-confidence and a little less action, or I may re-evaluate my roles and goals, but, in the end, the same key ingredients are always in my recipe. And that is my recipe for personal success, that’s how I piece together my perfect cake.

When you look at the ingredients list, though, each and every one of those ingredients are rare and somewhat elusive. Like making an exquisite cake, some of the ingredients may be very hard to find, very hard to come by. We often struggle with identifying our passion, but we must in order to find our purpose. We have to know our roles in order to be able to identify our goals. All of this takes time, a lot of discernment, constant consideration and occasional adjustment. Other ingredients will need to be continually replaced, refreshed. You’d never use old eggs or outdated cream in your cake recipe, would you? Likewise, my self-esteem, self-confidence, inspiration and enthusiasm need to be refreshed daily, for best results.

And your recipe may differ from mine in the source of your ingredients, though, in all likelihood, the same key ingredients will be there. You must have passion and purpose, you absolutely require values and guiding principles, and I can’t imagine a recipe not including roles and goals. None of these key ingredients are going to mix well and rise properly without self-esteem, self-confidence, self-discipline, and inspiration. And it all requires action, like baking the ingredients, otherwise, you’ve just got batter!

As we become comfortable in the kitchen, the recipes we use regularly are rarely written down. I’m fairly certain that most of the meals we cook, nightly, week in and week out are not carefully measured and read out of a cook book. We know how much salt, pepper, and smoked paprika we like on our pork chops, we aren’t measuring an eighth of a teaspoon of each, precisely, based on the written recipe. And I’m sure we all use slightly different amounts of slightly different ingredients. The results are all good, I bet I’d like your pork chops nearly as much as mine. My point here, is that our daily recipes, our most successful and relied upon recipes, are from memory, are so familiar and reliable that they are comfortable to us, and we don’t have to labor over specific instruction to prepare them. And, our daily recipes that we are so comfortable with, that we rely on for sustenance, regularly, are completely individual and unique, as each of us are as humans. We are all masters in our own kitchens, we all have our unique masterpieces. My Sweetie and I both love to cook, when he cooks he does things his way and the result is fantastic. When I cook, I do things as I’ve always done, and the results are wonderful, if I do say so myself. We do things differently for different reasons, based on different resources and preferences, neither of us is more or less right, just unique, just individual preference, just habit.

So, whatever you come up with, ultimately, as your recipe for your perfect life may contain many of the same ingredients as mine, but as master of your own kitchen, you may use a whisk where I’d use a wooden spoon, you may use Canola oil where I’d use EVOO. The results of both will be extraordinary, guaranteed, but unique, I promise. Put your apron on, read a few cookbooks for inspiration, and get cooking. Life was never meant to be just batter, but better. You can have your cake and eat it, too!

Scarlett’s Letter June 10, 2013

Monday. Started off like such a Monday.

I worked on the phone with a client, a firm, who wanted a “customized” question and answer session. I’d traded emails with the person in charge about topics, order, etc. They were to have two consecutive days, four hours each. I sent out my draft agenda for the day one and day two on Friday, as promised, and heard nothing in response. About ten minutes into my presentation, I get an “urgent” email from the client saying it was “all wrong” and we needed to change the whole thing immediately. I called for a break, called the client, and he was looking at my draft agenda, for the first time. I reworked the whole plan, while delivering the information, no problem. Except I have to do the “exact” same thing tomorrow for another whole set of folks. I sure hope I remember! Because I was shooting from the hip! Typical.

I had problems on the home front, too. I recently signed up for and paid for iTunes Match. My poor MacBook is chronically clogged with data, mostly music and photos, and to make a short video requires about two days of deleting and shuffling stuff to external hard drives to free up enough disk space. I finally decided to put all my music in “the cloud” and free up my devices for photos, videos and articles. Having done this, I haven’t been able to access anything from the cloud and I’ve been afraid to delete the music files from my computer. Emboldened by beer last night, I backed all my music files up to an external hard drive and deleted them from my computer. When I go to play a song, now, from iTunes, it gives me some “I don’t know where that is” message. In a panic, preparing to reload all my music, I clicked on some setting, and volia! The cloud! Everything is there, all 8,000 songs! Hooray! I was in a cold panic there for a moment. Now I can access any of my music on any of my devices and I don’t have to store it all any my MacBook! So worth the $25 a year! Right?

I ran a couple of errands after work today, and I just felt rather sluggish. I’m not sure why, I think I slept well last night, maybe my harrowing morning took it out of me. But, I knew, if I didn’t make myself do something active, again, today, I’d be super disappointed in myself. I loathe and despise that feeling. So, I put my running clothes on and ran five, fast miles in the cool, late afternoon. It had been overcast all day, perhaps lending to my lethargy, but at soon as I set my running shoe clad foot on the pavement, the sun broke through and it was a perfectly warm, not hot, sunny, not scorching run. It. Felt. So. Good.

After running, with that whole “push up” challenge thing, I did my four minutes of planks. I’m pretty sore from my first attempt the other day and was only able to pull off two push ups before dropping to my knees. Then three more. 355 days to go.

I made a monstrous meal. I should never be allowed to cook for myself after running. Of course, I should probably not be left with a menu and a credit card in a restaurant after running. I made about fourteen pounds of braised greens, peppers, and zucchini. I had an avocado for a salad, and about four ounces of beef sautéed in my greens. For dessert, my favorite, an artichoke. With organic mayonnaise. Organic, not orgasmic! About the only time I ever eat mayonnaise is if it’s organic and only ever on artichokes. Or with a spoon, a childhood habit I’ve long since broken, except to clean the spoon off before putting it in the dishwasher.

I had a lovely chat with my love tonight. Tomorrow is his birthday, wish I could be there to spoil him. Oh well, soon enough.

Let's talk about serving size! I had yogurt for breakfast and an apple (and peanut butter) for lunch. I ran five miles. I was HUNGRY!
Let’s talk about serving size! I had yogurt for breakfast and an apple (and peanut butter) for lunch. I ran five miles. I was HUNGRY!

Scarlett’s Letter June 8, 2013

Saturday! Saturday! Saturday!

A light breakfast and some goofing off in the morning. I decided not to run with the local running club, as it was quite warm out and they planned a very fast ten miles. I set out on my own to run and ran a kinda fast six miles. It felt great! For two reasons; first, running just feels good (afterwards), your endorphins are all elevated and nothing can bring you down, second, I’d never just gone out and run all by myself. I always say I’m going to, pack my running gear in my suitcase and haul it all over the country, and never do. I’ve only ever run with organized running clubs on sanctioned workouts. This was a departure and set a new precedent. I was super proud of myself. And hot. And sweaty. After a shower and lunch, I was ready to tackle the world!

And tackle the world, I did. I’ve recently challenged myself to overcome another of those self-imposed limitations I have; push-ups. I seem convinced “I can’t do them”. I intend to prove myself wrong and be able to do 100 push ups, without stopping, by June 1, 2014. It’s the eighth day of the month, I only have 357 days left to accomplish this daunting feat. So, I did push ups. Ten of them. Without stopping. Then, for good measure, and because I have an event coming up with a rocking dress to be worn, I did some planks, four poses, holding each for a full minute. I used a timer. A full minute, each.

The highlight of my day was getting ready and feeling like a million dollars and heading to Oxbow Public Market to read, write and study for a multi-part professional exam I’m planning to take later this year.

Have you ever had one of those days where you just felt like you looked amazing? This was definitely one of those days, and that feeling just elevates one’s mood like no other! I enjoyed my time at the public market and focused mostly on writing. I intended to read and to study, but I got engrossed writing. That happens a lot to me. I found a table for two in the community dining area, where you can enjoy food you’ve purchased from any of the vendors in the market. Being Saturday in early summer in the Napa Valley, the place was packed full of tourists, so I enjoyed one of my favorite pastimes, people watching. It was a very hot day out and the market was cool and bright. It was somewhat cool at home, but only because all the blinds and curtains were clamped shut and two dozen oscillating fans were causing the house to nearly levitate. The market place was a very enjoyable option to the darkness and the din.

After writing and posting an article, I moved to one of the wine bars, a new one I’d not been to before, part of “Ca’ Momi Enoteca”. They have a winery and they have a food venue in the Oxbow Public Market. I love their food and their Italian pastries. How could I not love their wine and their wine bar? So not disappointed. I had a flight of three wines, my choice, for $7. I sat at the wine bar, noodled around on my iPad and chatted with a couple of Napa locals home from college at CSU, Long Beach.

I came home and cooked myself the most amazing meal I’ve had in a long time. After so many meals in restaurants, there is nothing like taking some time and preparing something really nice for yourself from carefully chosen ingredients. While dining at “The Cooper Onion” in Salt Lake City, lusting after one man’s pork chops while enjoying the halibut I’d ordered instead, I was only a little jealous that he had polenta and I did not. So, with my dinner, I prepared, for the first time ever, polenta, to accompany my salmon and braised greens. It was phenomenal! So pleased! The perfect ending to a perfect day!

Most amazing dinner at home ever. Polenta rocks!
Most amazing dinner at home ever. Polenta rocks!