i recently wrote about realizing that my pando-fueled efficiency kick isn’t as rosy as i’d reckoned. my best efforts to streamline everything cropped up in my cooking: i’ve shied away from serendipity and sought out simplicity and the same old. i off-roaded my livelihood straight into a lackluster rut.
so it goes! creative ruts happen. while i’m loath to just stand by as the tendrils of self-optimization suffocate one of my favorite forms of self-expression, i recognize that this rut is no different from others in which i’ve languished: i can’t force my way out.
i’m living in a particularly liminal moment, resisting productivity in between jobs and fumbling to define my post-vaxx self. one of the nexuses at which these liminalities intersect is food, and therein have i stumbled into some serendipities that have started to shove me out of my rut.
buckle in because i’m about to seance with some food ghosts.
although i’ve hit up almost every neighborhood in san francisco, i’m now revisiting the ones that i’ve missed most after moving across the city. starr king open space beckoned, and so i biked across the battle line between the perpetually warring fog and sunshine to bask anew in the latter. i decided to text some nearby friends to see if they were around for quick hello, expecting to be rebuffed given weekdays mean work for members of the nine-to-five society from which i briefly stood apart. i was wrong; they were down!
others may chronicle the emotional rush of seeing lovely humans IRL for the first time in a year-plus, so i’ll cut to the culinary chase: i was welcomed with a slice of so-called “greek diner” toast. despite spending my childhood steeped in chicago greek-americanness, i’d never before tried this inspired immigrant hybrid of sesame-studded horiatiko psomi and a pullman loaf. my friend’s version shook me speechless, reminding me that i too like to whip up (and consume!) surprises as well as standbys.
a few days later, i went to pick up some staples — bananas, fresh herbs — from a local produce market and saw melons peddled for cheap. inexpensive fruit foretold summer, sf gloom notwithstanding. my brain short-circuited in a fit of fruit season fanfare, mentally incanting “watermelon, feta, and mint salad” as i fought to continue to project normie vibes to the outside world. i wanted to express my upsurge of late-spring-early-summer energy on the plate as soon as possible. but what to serve alongside karpouzi salata? i hemmed and hawed before committing to heaving a hefty melon home.
i harbor a lot of pantry carbs, and, eyeing the bucatini that i bought upon hearing the hype, i zeroed in on a one-pan lemon, leek, and bucatini recipe. the next day, i snapped up an imperfect-and-sold-for-pennies produce bag full of summer squash and jalapeños. my traditional watermelon salad vision expanded to include these chance ingredients.
though i did reap the rewards of a few mid-cooking brain glimmers — what’d happen if i threw a parmesan rind in with the bucatini? why not sprinkle ground clove on the watermelon? — the meal i created would only move a food critic measuring how fully it satisfied my ephemeral desires. i loved allowing myself to follow my watermelon whims before they withered, efficiency/monotony be damned.
i know myself as someone who drags her feet to (fore)stall transitions, but letting myself flow between seasons of the year and my life (tacky but true!!!) trounced my rutted cooking. while i’m still in the midst of supplanting an “optimized” existence with something better — balance? — i hope that these alimentary wins serve as baby steps towards facing bigger changes head on.