I Quit and Now I Breathe

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I was a smoker for nearly 12 years. That's insane to me. I never thought I would become addicted.  I warn kids I see smoking that it will eventually control their lives. They don't believe me.

Hunched over, hugging myself, when I smoked, I was a little a ball; a smoking nervous wreck. I used it as a means of escape: Escape from work. Escape from a party. Escape from family. When I smoked, I was in my own bubble where actions had no consequence and instant gratification was a treat I always deserved. It was "me time". I told myself I needed it and that it was good for my health because it calmed me down. I have low blood pressure and I joked that smoking brought it up to normal. 

Quitting took a full year of re-training my brain. I decided I wanted to quit. This is key. You have to want to quit. So many people told me to read "the book" but I didn't. Instead, I gave myself rules. I told myself: No smoking until after breakfast. This was an eye opener: I often smoked in lieu of eating and I felt better eating breakfast first. I felt better realizing that I could find the time to decide what to eat, to make it and then to eat it. Truthfully, many times after I established this rule, I would go downstairs and smoke immediately after. Once I got better at following this rule, I tried to adhere to it for all meals of the day. It was strange to force feed myself just to be allowed to smoke a cigarette after. Realizing my brain prioritized smoking over food was helpful to the cause. 

I stopped smoking while walking. I would tell myself that once I got to my destination I was allowed a cigarette. Man, did I hustle to get places after that rule was enforced. 

Mindlessly smoking was a tough one. Sometimes I would look down and be smoking but not able to remember lighting up or making the decision to smoke. Sometimes, I would start smoking then realize I had tossed my cigarette mindlessly somewhere not remembering when or where. If someone else was smoking, I would smoke. A rule I established was: Unless I was planning on smoking, I didn't smoke just because it was an option or offered. I broke this rule many times.

The more focused on quitting and stopping, the more I recognized the idiosyncrasies of an addict. This helped me too. I began to cut down. I would tally my cigarettes day by day and week by week. I went down from 15 a day to 10 to 5 over four months. Then, I was stuck on 5 a day for a long time. One before work, one after work, one when I got home and inevitably there would be more that I needed. I did need them: I was still addicted. 

Finally, a little over 3 months ago, I got firm with myself. I told people I had quit so that I was forced to adhere lest I be found out. By this time, I could smell it on other people and knew that I had smelled bad for 12 years. It clung to the air in my house. I opened the windows. I washed everything. I hid the beautiful vintage ashtrays. I threw out all the lighters. Before bed, I would sneak outside and in the dark. I would smoke half a cigarette, overwhelmed with guilt and pleasure. 

Finally, a big change in my life happened and it was the turning point. I smoked half a cigarette a day for 2 weeks and that was that. I have been smoke free since an unknown date. I'm not counting. It's been a little over 3 months. 

Now, my "me time" is spent cooking and then eating. I am off-duty to the world. I don't answer my phone, I turn up my music, I listen to the food and I breathe. 

No, not by any other name, Rose.

On Instagram, the followers of a vegan chef couldn't understand why I was upset. I had tapped on the thumbnail image because it looked good. It seemed to be a creamy pasta with fresh peas with a steak fanned on on the side.

When I looked at the larger image, the steak looked rancid - it had a nice char, but the exposed flesh was a strange texture and a slimy brown colour. From my experience as a chef, I knew something was amiss. I saw "flank steak" in the description and knew that too was incorrect because of the muscle structure that this "steak" lacked. 

Then I realized I was on a vegan's account and that the description went on to say that this was a "flank steak of portobello mushroom"

 

(pause for effect and adequate gasping time) 

 

I was a vegetarian for 15 years. I believe in the mantra, " Do what you will and harm none". Calling a mushroom a steak can be forgiven because the term steak is now colloquial for 'a hunk, a meaty piece'. But calling it a flank steak goes too far. Here's why:

Butchery is a craft. It is a respected tradition and it honors the animal. A human takes the time to cut the meat from the bone with little waste. It brings us closer to nature. It helps us respect the whole animal. Taking a term for a specific cut of beef to describe a vegetable is not only an insult to the effort of all butchers ( and also farmers who raised that animal with love and care) but also to the mushroom. It is not respecting the mushroom for what it is. It is not honoring the mushroom's unique characteristics. 

Which brings me to my next big problem with calling things what they are not: That chef bent to the whines of the public. He wouldn't have called it a flank steak mushroom if he didn't sell more because of it. He was answering the whines of the public. This is a world where people want everything and want it now. It's the same reason we have tofu chicken fingers and bean chips. Our desire to eat whatever we want, whenever we want, is actually pulling us further away from food. We are eating substitutes and imitations. In doing so, we lose a bond with food that should be innate. 

I get upset because food tradition is incredibly important to me. We share stories through food. I can understand populations around the world better based on the food they eat. Food is a way of life everywhere in the world (it seems), except for in North America. In North America, food is just something else we consume.  

Food is special because it helps us hold onto our roots and respect our ancestors. We don't have to imitate them, but to look back and understand why they did things the way they did helps us live life better now. Let me explain with yoghurt. Yoghurt is more than one thousand years old. It has no single origin. It was made (probably by accident at first) by people who kept livestock. They wasted nothing. It was a time when dissemination of knowledge was through story, passed down from guardian to child, from mentor to mentee. It was important to listen carefully lest you lose that yoghurt recipe and disrespect the animal by wasting something it gives freely.

It probably only took 5 years for it all to change. Yoghurt was in demand as a low calorie snack. People wanted something creamy and had the luxury of wanting to buy calorie free food. Soon, 'Yoghurt' was being made with skim milk, carrageenan, gelatin, guar gum, splenda (which is so processed that I am appalled it can and still is labelled 'yoghurt').

It wasn't the companies, it was the people, the demand that changed things. It was the " but I want it"  attitude. Where did this attitude come from? Was it globalization? By sharing our food and ideas, we actually diluted them into a big grab bag of 'pick and choose'.

This is something I have talked about before. I get pretty aggravated because I do love food with such a passion. When you eat food that is imitating something else, you are taking the story away. By buying something that imitates what you actually want, you are separating yourself further from the source. The more processed . packaged food is, the less involved a human is. You are voting at the cash register. Companies will respond to what you buy. They care about profit. If you don't respect real yoghurt, it will eventually disappear. Thousands of years will disappear.  

If you want to be a vegan, go for it. Love the vegetables and legumes for their history; for the decades they have been nourishing people. Don't make a mushroom seem special because it can look like a steak, know that it is special for the qualities it already has. 

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but we're not talking about roses. 

Mex I Can

I feel like for my entire childhood, my mother was in the kitchen.

When we got home at four, we dropped our knapsacks at the door and plopped down on the couch, brain dead from a long day at school.  This was before remote controls, so one of us would squat with our face two inches from the screen and turn the dial while the other would whine, " No, go back! That one". Mom didn't interfere or take sides. She let us sort it out, but we both knew she was she was there, in the kitchen, listening.

Most days, Mom would bring us an after school snack. It was usually 'soldiers' (a peanut butter and jam sandwich cut into four long rectangles) or cheese and crackers. She probably put cucumber and carrot sticks on the plate too...but I don't remember. 

When we spread out our books and paper on the dining room table, Mom was cooking dinner in the next room. We would holler our questions and she would holler back answers. If we called her ("mmmaaaaaaaam"), she would leave her cooking and come help. 

Dinner was difficult for Mom. My sister liked cheese and hot dogs and was pretty fussy. I was a self-declared vegetarian from the age of seven, and my dad was the pickiest. I don't remember watching him eat. I remember my mom having small portions. I remember sitting across from my sister and making faces. The big square table where we sat down to dinner was too big to kick my sister under the table (though I'm sure we tried). 

If we had food left on our pates, Mom would divide the plate and tell us to choose a side and eat it. If we still couldn't, Dad would tell us we were not allowed any cereal or snacks later and that if we were hungry, we would have to finish our plate. 

When we had finished, it was custom (and required of us) to say, " Thank you for the lovely meal. May I please be excused?". We said it every night for my entire childhood and into my teens. 

In high school, Mom worked, so we got home before her. We'd drop our knapsacks with a thud and plop in front of the TV. She would get home, take off her coat and march on ahead to the kitchen. I remember being upset that she didn't take off her shoes when she got home. It never occurred to me she was in a hurry because she was racing against the clock of hungry growing hormonal teens.  It never occurred to me to get dinner started. I would look in the fridge and there would be "nothing to eat" and she'd open it up, spend an hour cooking/pulling rabbits out of hats and would always offer us a (healthy and satisfying) feast. 

Towards the end of high school, I would sit on the barstool at the end of the kitchen counter and watch her cook. 

When we had eaten everything on our plates and were ready to leave the table, we would thank our mom for dinner - often in unison. 

Now, in my 30s, I live alone. I work during the day and when I get home I'm exhausted. But what do I do? I march on ahead to the kitchen with my shoes still on and dive into making dinner.  

Cooking for one is hard. It's hard to tell yourself you are special enough to fuss over. But you are. I am.

I have been craving Mexican. I can't eat onions, garlic, wheat tortillas, beans or dairy, so you can imagine making Mexican seem authentic and satisfying is a challenge. But I did it. 

Because of Mama.

She taught me that it is possible to whip something up from nothing if you're got the right momentum, vision and chutzpah. 

 

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P.S.

I did go to cooking school. Cooking school taught me the rules and techniques. Mama taught me how to love to cook, how to show others you care by cooking for them, how feeding people creates a deep bond, and that sharing food can be the greatest gift given or received. 

 

 

Bad Brain Club

It seems I am drawn to friends who struggle with mental health. We "get" each other and know what to say when the other is having a "bad brain day".  

But to all of you who don't understand, here are the things to do and not do: 

1. You can say something like, "It will pass" but that doesn't make it hurt any less, so maybe follow up that statement with "but I know that doesn't make you feel any better now. I'm sorry you're having a hard time. I love you" 

2. Don't expect me to know why I feel depressed/wonky/weird/anxious/like a piece of garbage. So do not ask "Why?" or "What's wrong?". Just say "How are you doing?" and then listen. 

3. Don't ask if there is anything you can do: I probably don't know what I need. Don't ask if I want to eat or have eating anything. Put food in my hands. Just bring over soup or chips and leave them by the door.  I might not want to talk to you, but I'll take delivery. I might take all day to open that door, but when I do, I will feel loved and taken care of.  

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4. Don't say "I'm here for you" and leave it at that. Be persistent. Actually be there. Call. Call again and leave a message when I don't pick up. Leave a note under the door. Text that you're outside and I can decide if I want company or not. 

5. Please be patient. I lash out. I am critical. I am negative. When I'm not feeling good, I pull everything down with me. Notice when I behave like that, and ask me how I'm doing. I'll probably be honest and say "I am depressed". It feels good to acknowledge it out loud. When I feel better later, I'll be thankful you let me stew without making me feel guilty about my poor behaviour. I am sorry for this bad behaviour.

6. Do NOT suggest ways I can make myself feel better. Trust me, people with depression know more than you about what they are "supposed to do" and what is "supposed to work". Assume your suggestions are ignorant and assume we will feel insulted if you offer a solution to our bad brains. 

 

Lately, I have been incredibly depressed. I have been drinking too much. I "faked it" on social media by posting old photos when really I barely ate a thing in the last three days. I drank all day. Last night, I wallowed in a bath for hours with a bottle of wine. I got hammered and blackout out. 

One person caught on. She was persistent. She said the right things. She said "I'm sorry" and "Are you talking to anyone else about this?" and "Have they been helpful?" . She kept the conversation going until I stopped and she didn't push further. She checked in on me the next morning too. 

I woke up this morning feeling like the darkness had lifted, but I was skeptical and tread lightly as if I was going to wake the beast. At lunch, working at the cafe, I got anxious and frustrated, but it was just normal "feels" and not the crushing hopelessness that would have destroyed me the day before. 

I feel ok now. I made a nice dinner (after I ate a bag of chips). I'm having a beer, but that's all I'll have. I'm caring for myself in the ways I can. 

Thank you to the few people who gave me those knowing sideways glances and hugged me extra tight this week. 

Also a side note: I tried yoga. I had baths. I turned down the lights. I turned on my Himalayan salt rock lamp. I slept a lot. I listened to calming music. I drew. I wrote. I used an essential oil diffuser.

Only time heals and only feeling like I'd be missed helps. 

 

 

Honest about Goddess

I need to re-train my brain. You do too, probably.

Today I was painting a room. It was the third time this week that I have been contracted to paint a tongue in groove wall. It requires the use of a paint brush. It's not an easy roller job. It takes time and diligence.

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When I had completed half the room in good time, I thought to myself: I am a painting Goddess! I looked at myself. I was standing on a ladder with clunky boots, an oversized t-shirt over a nasty old sweatshirt and I had paint on my hands and face.

I realized then, that the image 'goddess' evokes for me is a perky breasted woman, arched back, standing tall and fierce with a small waist and thick thighs. She has her hands on her hips in defiance (probably against a man).

The problem is that her aesthetic is more dominate than her power, her character or her beliefs. She is usually fighting men...or worse : seducing them. 

In media, the goddess plays a role as man-eater

And what do we think of when we think of a God? What do you think of? 

 

 

Powerful? That's the word I think of.  Why do I think of a word for God but an image for Goddess?

Don't be mistaken: When I call my friend a goddess, it is for her abilities, her accomplishments or her persistence leading to the goals she set for herself. Disappointing myself, I realized today that even though my heart is in the right place, I still imagine a strange Sailor-Moon type scene of that woman when she embodies Goddess: ribbons of light surround her body and she's glowing. Her head is tilted back, her arms open as if she's awaiting embrace. She spins. She is on tippy-toes.

What I've written above is embarrassing for me to admit, but I'm glad I am; This is an honest blog, after all. 

A Goddess is not a precious, fragile thing; She is a fierce woman of her own volition and will conquer her aspirations - with or without grace.  

I need to re-train my brain to think of: Woman As Goddess: Powerful and Able.

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Two Sheds, Bread and Chocolate Truffle Pie

I painted two small sheds yesterday. I had been hired to do this project a month back but I am a novice and went too slow. The weather changed before I could finish painting all the grooves. Yesterday was warm, possibly 15 degrees Celsius, and I finished painting after 4 hours. 

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It was windy when I walked home. It seems my days usually end around 3pm; That's when the sun starts going down. That's when the weather changes. I realized I hadn't been thinking about anything all day. I was focused on painting and my mind was blank. It felt like my brain was calm water lapping inside my head. 

I slept at 9 and woke at midnight to start the arduous but incredibly pleasurable task of making a mass batch of bread. It doesn't take too much effort, but it does take time and attention. I talk to the dough. It helps. I'm sure of it. 

By 7 in the morning, the bread was out and cooling and I crept back upstairs to bed for a few hours.

Just after 11, I flew out the door, late for work, holding the earrings I intended on wearing. As I descended the stairs, I prodded my ear lobe with the hook and hit something. I was already wearing earrings.  

This evening, I made a chocolate pie from scratch and with no recipe. I am mourning the closure of Bar Italia. It was a restaurant - until a few months ago - on College Street in Toronto. My parents took us there before they divorced. It was simply where our family went if we were going out for supper.  Everyone always got the same thing except Mom, who always had a hard time deciding.  

There was a chocolate truffle cake on the menu. It could hardly be called a cake. I don't think it was baked and I don't think it had flour or leavening agents. It was always the same: perfect and insanely rich. The slice was only an inch thick and maybe 5 inches long. It sat on a plate alone or there may have been a raspberry coulis underneath. Our family shared that one dessert every time. 

I went on my first date there, with a guy who would eventually propose to me when I was 16. We both used fake i.d. I don't remember what I ate, but I know where we sat and the view I had of that room. That room is etched in my memory forever. 

Later, I got a job as a cook there. It was my third job ever. I never saw anyone make the chocolate truffle cake. Someone did it upstairs but I never saw who or when they made it. 

Tonight, I channelled Bar Italia and what I have learned about cooking since and I prepared two mini chocolate truffle pies. They are in a pie shells only because I had left over pie pastry. 

I cannot eat this pie, but I will savour the memories it holds. Tomorrow, I will give it to my mom and her partner, my stepdad, Trevor. 

Sleepover at Mom's

I was invited to my mom's house up the road for supper last night.

I eagerly accepted the invitation as I had planned on eating tuna with rice for dinner. I mean, I probably would have mixed the tuna with mayo and added some hot peppers and made some sort of slacker's spicy tuna hand roll - but nonetheless: nothing beats mom's cooking. 

She made a cottage pie. She called it, "Shepherd's pie" but I'm a snob like that and like I told her, " shepherds don't heard cows" . It was good. It had peas in it and I'm not allowed peas so I got heartburn after. 

I had brought dessert: a lemon lime custard pie. I'm not supposed to eat sugar. I asked Mom if she knew what "yolo" meant. She did. 

I'm not supposed to drink alcohol but I had some Glenfiddich with Mom while we played scrabble. She won by 20 points (a score of 282 for your nerds out there).  

I've been up since 5:30. There was no sunrise; it just got greyer then bright. 

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Because it is going above 5 degrees today, I have been commissioned to paint a shed I started painting a month ago but had to put on pause because of weather.

Mom is outside talking to the dogs. I have seen some birds - mostly black capped chickadees and slate juncos-  and I read that they need water in the winter so I'm waiting to see if they use the bath I just filled for them. 

I tried to instagram the birds but they fly away too fast. C'est la vie. 

Oh - and I put shaved truffles on my eggs this morning. I know you jelly.

Maybe I'll Start a Blog

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I started the day with yoga. I then did some squats and that turned into a Missy Elliot one woman dance party. I made oeufs en cocotte for breakfast. I can't eat so many things so I try hard to make my meals as special as they can be with my limited options. 

While the eggs cooked, I arranged some flowers I had dried. I took the flowers from a party without asking a month ago and they've been hanging in my kitchen since. 

Downstairs, the cafe is lively. I spent the last two hours deleting and sorting old photographs.

I have too much pride. I am also honest and humble about my failings. My temper is short, I like to stir the pot and I tend to keep to myself. 

I just snacked on some slingzega but there was a chewy bit I spat out. It's resting on my cellphone until I get up to put it in the garbage. 

 

Welcome to my blog! I'm Jennifer.