From Easy Bake Oven to eternity

From Easy Bake Oven to eternity collage

Julia Child sums up what I’ve learned over the years about cooking, that “The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.”  I can relate to that, especially now.

Fanny Farmer and Kitchen Aid
22 years of Fanny Farmer advice. Two years of Kitchen Aid pleasure.

Where did I originally learn the basics of cooking? Perhaps in home economics class to a degree, and certainly from my mother. My ancient Fanny Farmer cookbook certainly also helped. I remember always being interested in cooking, so I was an enthusiastic student. I was also willing to experiment. Like Julia Child said, it is necessary to just try it and not be intimidated.

When I was only about 6 years old my grandmother asked me what I wanted from the Montgomery Ward catalog. I picked the Easy Bake Oven, one of the more expensive “toys” in the catalog. I could tell she noticed that, but she bought it for me anyway, probably thinking it was educational.  At that time, I already cooked my own scrambled eggs and made toast (thanks to mom), and felt pretty good about it. In the Easy Bake Oven you mix a batter (or cookie dough) and put it inside the oven on a miniature cookie sheet or cake pan. I did this by myself, just randomly concocting a batter that seemed the same as what I saw my mother concoct.  At the other end of the oven was my older brother John. I might have been a “Sinister sister Cindy”, but I was good enough to make him cakes and cookies.  Honestly, it tasted so-so sometimes, but he and I ate it anyway. I didn’t worry so much about the taste at that time. I only wanted to have fun. I also felt quite proud that I created something that was edible.

One year at college I lived in an apartment with my friends. We decided to chip in on all of the food and eat family style. The problem with that idea is that you come up with a list deleting this food and that food that one roommate won’t eat. In the end, it seemed like we were eating tacos and Hamburger Helper every night. I had never eaten Hamburger Helper before, and I found out why. So, that didn’t last that long and we went on our own. One roommate, Liz, ordered delivery most days. Susan seemed to eat boiled cauliflower every single night. She was the slimmist of the crew. Sonya made El Salvadorian food, and I ate things like baked salmon with potato and veggies, pot roast, and pork chops with apple sauce. In the end, I feel I ended up with the most nutritious foods. I started to really like my food. Old fashioned, like my mom’s, but good.

After I got married in my late 20s, and throughout my 30s, I found myself cooking fancier dishes for my husband, occasional guests, and the holiday dinners for my larger family. I wanted to impress. But unlike cooking just for my husband, cooking for the large groups somehow made me seriously anxious. I loved cooking so much, and developed a bit of perfectionism about it. There would be so much to do to prepare. Not only properly timing the completion of gourmet dishes so all dishes were hot, but making the house nice (hubby did help), setting the table, attending to the entertainment, and not sweating or yelling or drinking too much during the course of the activities. I always succeeded in the end with a momentary sigh of relief, but that fear and the mid-cooking tirades continued for years. Luckily for me, my sweet husband usually did the dishes in the end.

Lentils herbs ham egg hat
Lentils, Herbs & Ham with an Egg “Hat”

In my late 30s, a serious illness placed everything on the back burner, including cooking. Suddenly, I could care less what I was eating and how much of it. I’m not sure, but I think I even ate a Hamburger Helper once. Honestly! But I got better little by little, and I again began to cook. Not just cook, but cook because I liked to cook again and because it even became somewhat therapeutic for me. During this time you might have even found me baking muffins (see my Radiant Banana Nut Muffins from My Utility Baking Research Kitchen post) or cakes at 3 am. My dishes got more adventurous, and I became an expert at diet and other healthy cuisine. Some of my favorite Weight Watcher’s Core Plan cuisine focused on low fat proteins, whole grains, fruits and veggies. A favorite quick meal included my Lentils, Herbs & Ham with an Egg “Hat”. When I went low carbohydrate, I made recipes like Asparagus Wrapped with Ham with Horseradish Cream as an hors d’oevre.   It all tasted great!

I’m quicker at cooking nowadays, and am again having fun cooking gourmet meals. I’ve discovered ingredients that I never cooked with when I was younger, like celery root, kohlrabi, and fresh figs. Oh my, Pan Roasted Lamb Chops with Honey Balsamic Goat Cheese and Figs is my husband’s and my favorite entrée of all time! Not a diet dish, but one to savor on a special occasion. It’s easy and quick to make, too.

Jpeg
Czech Easter Bread (Mazanec)

My anxiety when entertaining has seemed to fade a bit. I suppose part of the reason is because of experience over the years. I’m also mastering dishes that were previously difficult for me to make. When I was younger I had a hell of a time making anything that called for yeast. I’m just not good at kneading dough. But alas, that problem was solved. Hubby gave me my favorite kitchen toy of all time, a Kitchen Aid mixer with numerous attachments. I didn’t give up! Now I kick butt making brioche, cinnamon buns, and a Czech Easter bread you might want to try next month called Mazanec. It’s a large round loaf bread with rum soaked raisins, lemon zest, and slivered almonds baked covered with blanched whole almonds. It tastes great with butter and/or your jam of choice.

It’s amazing how far I’ve come with my cooking over the years, and how much enjoyment it gives me. If you want to go that one step further in your cooking, just have that what-the-hell attitude Julia talks about, and have fun. Make a deal with your family, you surprise them with something new, and they clean up afterwards.

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Hating is not fair

jail behind barbed wire

“I’ve come to understand and to believe that each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done. I believe that for every person on the planet. I think if somebody tells a lie, they’re not just a liar. I think if somebody takes something that doesn’t belong to them, they’re not just a thief. I think even if you kill someone, you’re not just a killer. And because of that, there’s this basic human dignity that must be respected by law.” – Bryan Stevenson

For those few who’ve never heard of him, Bryan Stevenson is a Harvard trained lawyer, social justice activist, founder and director of the Equal Justice Initiative, and a clinical professor of law at New York University School of Law.  And in my opinion, an absolutely wonderful man! Someone I regard as being a true Humanitarian and Christian in the purest sense. I hope to someday write a full tribute to him, but today, I only want to reflect on his words captured above.

Anyone who has read my blog posts already knows that I am a woman with a mental illness. I have bipolar disorder. Though not all people afflicted with this awful illness face the same set of drawbacks, some of its symptoms tend to be prevalent in many sufferers. Among the more emblematic ones are irritability (which can range from just foul mood, to outbursts or tirades), hypersexuality (ranging from a mild promiscuity to serial adultery), hyperspending, grandiosity, impulsivity, and to a lesser degree aggression (towards things, oneself or others). Bipolar disorder is not just depression or high energy elation. There are these negative symptoms, as well as absence of drive, social withdrawal, lack of concentration, and others which often affect the lives around them, in addition to those of the patients. As a consequence, discrimination, prejudice and stigma against people with bipolar disorder are as strong as against people with other serious mental health problems.

So, which other diagnosable mental illnesses carry the strongest stigma?

  • Schizophrenia
  • Antisocial Personality Disorder
  • Substance-Related and Addictive Disorders
  • Disruptive, Impulse-Control, and Conduct Disorders (i.e. Pyromania, Kleptomania, and others)

These disorders may not exhibit many (or any) of the negative symptoms I listed above, but all have some (or even many) negative symptoms of psychopathology.

Regrettably, medieval attitudes prevail to this day and scores of men and women with the aforementioned disorders are shunned, divorced, hated, punished, abused, jailed, or even killed in the electric chair. Yes, some people with mental illness commit crimes, but neither the judiciary nor society at large are eager to show mercy to them. It is no coincidence Mr. Stevenson’s memoir (beautifully written I might add) is simply titled “Just Mercy.” Some people, who call themselves religious, will never forgive; while others, who avow justice for all, willingly pervert it when it comes to the mentally ill who break the law. Even though the vast majority of the mentally ill are peaceful, law-abiding citizens, the minority who act in immoral or criminal ways usually do so as a direct result of their psychopathological symptoms.

In the past, particularly before 1955 when the psychiatric deinstitutionalization started in the United States, people with grave mental illness who committed crimes were held in psychiatric institutions. These establishments were definitely far from being desirable places, but they weren’t literally jails or prisons. As the deinstitutionalization progressed over several decades, many of the circa half a million critically ill patients ended up on the street or in prison. Between the woefully underfunded Community Mental Health Act signed by President Kennedy, and the Mental Health Systems Act signed by President Carter, but later repealed under President Reagan, the deinstitutionalization has been a social experiment disaster.

To this day, the crisis continues with far too many people with mental illness incarcerated, one too many in solitary confinement, and some even on death row. Seriously ill patients in need of an in-patient care have to wait months for available space. According to the World Health Organization’s data, there are about 23.5 mental health hospital beds per 100,000 population in the US, which is roughly the same number as in Guyana. For comparison, the numbers are 52.1 in Germany and 82.4 in Czech Republic. As a person with a mental illness, I find this to be extraordinarily sad and unjust. As an American, I find it inexcusable.

Let’s not just give forgiveness to the mentally ill…

Bryan Stevenson certainly thought of the mentally ill when he spoke the words I quoted above, but he also counted in those who’ve been abused, hungry, homeless, sick, or horribly misguided. He said “everyone on the planet”! To me, I interpret that as EVERYONE! I can’t speak for Bryan, but I’d think he even embraces the most heinous criminals that the mind can conjure up. Mass murderers, rapists, devious Wall Street bankers, and other felons. When the criminal code calls for imprisonment, the punishment is meant to be the restraint on a person’s liberty to keep society and their possessions safe. Nothing else. No need to take away all rights, dignity, love, life. I believe even the worst crooks deserve compassion and hope, not lethal injection, solitary confinement, or other inhumane acts of savagery. Don’t civilized people believe in compassion anymore?

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Not everything is a symptom (speaking to myself and others)

via Daily Prompt: Symptom

magnifying-glass-1607160__340

This is about misjudging symptoms of many sorts.

I think it is common with some illnesses to often think everything you feel is a symptom of the illness. I can see that with people who have heart disease, perhaps thinking that innocent heart burn is a symptom of their heart disease. In the case of bipolar disorder, many people with bipolar disorder having a burst of energy or even an especially good day wonder “Am I getting manic?” Perhaps sometimes it is an early warning sign, but other times it’s just within the normal range of experience. Continue reading

It’s OK to minimize your work or other responsibility load

via Daily Prompt: Minimal

Work load

Are you stressed out on the job? Stressed out with family or relationship issues? Stressed out because of illness? Maybe you’re stressed because of one of many other things in life. I’ve been stressed out because of all of the above at certain times in my life and yet didn’t cut myself any slack. Only after all hell broke loose and I had my mental breakdown, I knew I had to give myself a break. It was time to be happy just doing the minimal. Shame on me I needed a health crisis to learn this. Continue reading

Minimal amount of writing for me

via Daily Prompt: Minimal

minimal smile

At six years old, I was told I was “gabby.” I asked my mom what that meant. I scratched my head.

At college, a professor wrote that I was “too wordy.” What possibly could I cut out?

At 26, my husband said I talked too much. Why in the world?

At 32, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. A bipolar manic symptom is “talking too much, too fast.” Who, me?

At a certain online forum I was accused to suffer from “hypergraphia.” I laughed.

At the present time, I feel proud of myself, sending a writing sample required not to exceed 700 words. I cut it down from 1,200 words to 690.

This is my first attempt at minimal writing.

Labeling yourself (or others) “I am [insert illness]”

via Daily Prompt: Label

labeler

Are you an illness (label)?

A topic that sometimes comes up in my circles is the use of the “be” verb with medical or mental illnesses. Have you ever noticed that for some illnesses people say “I am [insert illness]” or “He is [insert illness]”? Some specific examples of this labeling include “I am bipolar”, “I am schizophrenic”, “I am an addict”, “I am diabetic”, and “I am epileptic”. I find that strange, especially because you would never say “I am a headache”, or “I am cancer”.

Stigma and Continue reading

Beethoven’s musical flight of ideas

Beethoven collage

Several months ago my husband and I received the annual music program from the local university in my town. We are very lucky that we live in a town with a university that attracts some of the best classical musicians and other artists in the world. This year the main focus was on Beethoven String Quartets, played by the Takács Quartet. The last of the performances focused on his later string quartets including the well-known Grosse Fuge Op. 133. Just imagine Beethoven at this time in 1825, already deaf, but music playing on and on in his genius head. Imagine him walking down the streets of Vienna talking to himself and humming the music, even conducting as he went along. Continue reading

Radiant Banana Nut Muffins from My Utility Muffin Baking Research Kitchen

Utility Muffin KitchenFinal Final-002
In the kitchen

I don’t have no boss, feeling lonely at home by myself. I have things I could do, I could call my favorite vegetable, but my belly is growling. The kitchen is too clean. Time to mess it up with some cosmik debris. I’m a baking tycoon. Gotta bake my radiant banana nut muffins, good enough for downtown Hollywood.

Put on the music. I think I’m itchin’ for some classic Frank Zappa right now. Joining him in song in the utility muffin baking research kitchen. I put on the oven and dance like a dancing fool around the room, beating and mashing the wet stuff, then adding the flour, scraping it down, whipping it up. Oh, god I am the American dream, I do not think I’m too extreme. Continue reading

Too many physician specialists! Cutting down the list.

Doctors appointment on calendarI had a good conversation with my general practitioner today. He confirmed my suspicion that seeing a slew of specialists will not necessarily make me a healthier person. For instance, when I complained that my nephrologist wants to see me every six months, my GP said my kidney function will almost certainly remain stable for the rest of my life (unless something significant happens), so why not just let him monitor it? Every year he orders a series of blood tests, which includes one that shows my kidney function. If he saw anything go amok, he’d certainly recommend I get the specialized care again. Continue reading

Depersonalization and derealization – Grounding techniques I’ve found effective

Stay connected to yourself in the present…

out-of-body-experience

For all of you lucky enough not to be in the know, both depersonalization and derealization are states falling under the category of dissociation, which the Mayo Clinic defines as “a disconnection and lack of continuity between thoughts, memories, surroundings, actions and/or identity.” Continue reading