Tamp Down the Change Monster

posted in: Experience, Seattle-ing | 34
white truffle, hen egg, robiola pizza with Bolognese sauce

I did not intend for 2012 to start somberly, but I can’t seem to lighten my loafers. All I can think about is change. Once I start to lose my personal struggle with change, it shrouds everything I see, taste and touch like a thick, mocking apparition.

Let me back up. Ever since I was small, I have had a heel-dragging reaction to stagnancy. At the merest whisper of stillness, my tiny self leapt on to the next dragon, slaying it with the unbridled passion of a wild-minded child. When I was six I attacked the art of spelling fiercely, until I won the Idaho State Spelling Bee. Granted, the state’s population was only a million at the time, but still. I drank in words and letters like a parched vulture, eventually conquering every volume of an encyclopedia.

When I was seven I snuck a book about Sid Vicious and his ill-fated lover Nancy off my parent’s bookshelf and consumed it like a lion gorging on a zebra. I learned that there are a lot of ways to go through life and I decided I’d like to experience many of them. I bought an Ouija board and hosted séances so that my friends could speak with their dead pets and grandparents at the tender age of eight. I covered the walls of by bedroom with black garbage bags and wouldn’t allow anyone to enter unless they were clad in all black. They could cloak their Guess jeans and Esprit tops in a garbage bag robe I had on hand, but I lavished praise on those who arrived black-drenched, despite their parents’ dismay.

the art of forming gnocchi

And then came the time that I decided brainy and bizarre should take a backseat to blond and bitchy. I had my requisite crush on a New Kid on the Block- Joey, for the record- and I did my best to hide the fact that Fishbone was actually my favorite band. Midway through junior high, I learned I could quench my thirst for change by flitting from one boy to the next. There was Russell, the Mormon whose mother nearly keeled over and went to her husband’s planet years too soon when she found out we had HELD HANDS under the bleachers at a football game (You know Mormon men get their own planet when they die? Apparently they can invite whomever they choose to come with them).

Next was Mario, twin brother to Reuben. They were delinquents of the most appealing sort, and because they were twins, every time they got into legal trouble they’d put it all in Reuben’s name so they’d have at least one clean record between the two of them.

I kept up the pattern of switching boyfriends every time the change monster reared her conniving head all through college. Sometimes discarding the boy wasn’t quite enough so I’d throw a geographical move in to really tamp down the rearing demon.

osso buco with bone marrow risotto Milanese

And then I met my husband and I knew right away I wasn’t going to be able to flee this one. I worried about my festering tendency, but it was all for naught. He is as much of an artist of reinvention as I, and so we set about the task of creating lives together. First we built a bubble in Italy. We collected shoes, wine and enough expat stories to fill a pinkie-sized thumb drive in the year 3012. Then, almost before the change horns could emerge from my forehead, we found ourselves in Seattle.

shortrib pierogi

I switched careers, we bought a house, and then we bought another house. In the process of selling the first and moving into the second, we undertook a large-scale remodel which we completed primarily with our own four hands. We also planned and executed our overseas three-day 60-person wedding in the midst of the remodel. All this kept the change monster at bay.

And then came Bentley Danger, a little more than a year after our wedding. I quit my “real” job to hang out with the tiniest, coolest person I’ll ever know, and in the process I picked up the pen. And now it’s been over three years. I spend my adorable days in an adorable house that I appointed “just so” with my adorable child waiting for my adorable husband to walk through the adorable door. My biggest concern is “what’s for dinner?” and aside from several freelance but regular writing commitments, I am fortunate (?) enough to determine my own responsibilities.

garden salad

I have gotten to the point where I feel a conscionable responsibility to create the very best dinner possible nearly every night. I decline social invitations based on my cooking-at-home schedule. Those shortribs aren’t going to take themselves out of the water bath, now are they? A gander at my instagram feed reveals that in the last few weeks I’ve finally created the “perfect” pizza- it’s a sourdough crust that has been brushed in lye to encourage the maillard reaction, then it’s topped with Bolognese sauce, robiola cheese, hen eggs and thin shavings of a white truffle my husband brought back from Alba, Italy on his latest trip. I’ve also made a “garden salad” (courtesy of Heston Blumenthal) wherein a sauce gribiche anchors vegetables made to look as though they are growing from a raised bed of “dirt” that is really crumbled olives and Grape Nuts. I have rolled umpteen variations on filled pasta, from a hen egg and homemade goat ricotta raviolo to beet-filled pelmeni to Kobe beef shortrib and sharp cheddar pierogi, among the others you see scattered throughout this post.

There was a time when I entertained deluded visions of saving the world with my food and words. I still think I can make it a better place, but, at least for the time being, I’ve moved past the point of being able to write an essay about beet pasta and feel like I’m making a difference. Without me being fully in control of it, the change monster has gotten her clutches into my blog, and she’s turned it into a self-revelatory stomping ground that is more like a cemetery where all of this pretty food goes to die.

beet ravioli on verjus-braised beet greens with pear

Maybe it’s the change monster who is making me say this, but I’m having a hard time molding my mind around what exactly is so confounded important about documenting every aspect of every dish that hits every matte-finish-chosen-for-its-ability-to-be-photographed plate in my kitchen every night. I’m not cooking less; in fact I’m probably cooking more. And a part of me is lamenting the fact that these creations are not getting wholly recorded since they’re mostly made from off-the-cuff passion rather than categorized precision. I’m just having a hard time sticking to the basic premise that this is a food blog, as some ascending force within me that I call the change monster for lack of anything better has decided that this is life blog space, at least for the time being.

Change is brewing. My little urban house is not a little rural farm, where surely the grass is greener because right now I have no grass, only concrete. There is no way my neighbors will let me put a water buffalo on my back patio and I’m compelled to think I really NEED one if I’m ever truly going to master the art of cheese-making. And then there is the matter of the chickens. I’m tiring quickly of paying $8.00 a dozen for farmer’s market eggs, not that they’re not worth it, just that I go through four dozen a week and it gets expensive. If that sounds like a lot, you try making fresh pasta every other day and count YOUR eggs. But not your chickens before they’re hatched- don’t count them. I’m trying not to count mine either, even though I know exactly the kind of chicken I want to hatch and it’s not inside the city limits of Seattle. In my heart gut (that’s the gut inside your heart, so you know you can trust it) I sense the right move to quell the change monster is to go semi-rural. I don’t know how long it will take to actualize this transition, but it’s what I need. So I’m going to work on that in an effort to keep the demon at bay.

butter-poached Kobe beef burger

And now a question. What is your pattern? Is there something you’ve struggled with your entire life that you’ve been able to identify and manage either in a healthy or unhealthy way? Sometimes I feel like I put duct tape on a rusty piece of metal that needs a welding job, and other times I solder it together seamlessly. How do you cope? I’m learning as time goes by that it’s far harder than simply acknowledging the issue. There is a fine line between being content and propelling innovation. I’m learning to walk it, but not without a few falls along the way.

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34 Responses

  1. Pretty! This has been a really wonderful post. Thank you for supplying this information.

  2. Hi there, just wanted to tell you, I enjoyed this article. It was funny. Keep on posting!

  3. Very interesting! Thanks for post.

  4. wooooo!
    i would love to see that process live!

  5. selena

    buonasera Signora Nicholson,mi permetto di scriverti per dirti che sono davvero inorridita dalla tua ricetta della pizza con tartufo.
    So che hai vissuto in piemonte e quindi dovresti conoscere MOLTO bene la nostra cultura culinaria. mi permetto quindi di ripeterti alcune regole fondamentali:
    1 la pizza con il ragù è assolutamente un’assurdità.
    2 il tartufo e l’uovo sono un connubio eccezionale ma da soli, al massimo con un cucchiaio di fonduta.
    3 non ho parole da aggiungere alla robiola.

    quindi in conclusione mi permetto di consigliarti di lasciare perdere i tuoi esperimenti con ingredienti italiani a meno che non hai intenzione di uccidere ulteriori palati, perchè con questa pizza fidati hai ucciso davvero ogni palato piemontese.

    Linda Reply:

    @selena, Your comment is hilarious to me because it so reminds me of living in Piedmont. I have great respect for the culinary cultural traditions of the area, however I was often struck by how sad it was to have all these amazing ingredients and yet to only combine them in familiar, old-school ways. Sometimes a little experimentation is a good thing. That pizza was unbelievably delicious, despite it not being up to your narrow code of pizza ethics. Last time I checked, by the way, pizza originated in Napoli, not Torino, so technically you really shouldn’t be getting so up in arms. Oh, and you might consider actually reading the post next time, it actually had nothing to do with pizza, nor did I publish the recipe. It was more about looking inside your soul, an activity I would encourage others to do more often. Yours truly, a robiola-loving, ragu-saucing, egg and truffle slut.

  6. I am constantly reminded(yet continually shocked) by how much we are cut from the same cloth. XOGREG

  7. I totally understand where you are coming from. Both Andy and I crave change and start to get antsy when things become too stagnant. I’d say in a year we are going to be antsy but Andy thinks a travel trailer is going to keep our change monster at bay (I’m not at all convinced.)

    The direction you are pointing your compass for the future seems to make a lot of sense based on what you love. I have spent a lot of time lately contemplating happiness and what makes people happy and the only conclusion I can come to is that we just need to do what we love and follow our heart-gut, as you put it. I look forward to learning what you decide is next. It’s not clear to me, are you planning to take time off of blogging?

    BTW, Joey was my favorite too. Those dreamy blue eyes…

  8. Oh yeah, this reminds me that I OWE you some eggs…

  9. I’ve spent a good deal of my life consumed with succeeding in the professional world. Job was #1, Family & Friends #2, Health #3, Relationship #4.

    I remember thinking to myself, “Gosh, my life consists of working, working out and partying (a common routine amongst gay men). How unfulfilling!” At that point I purchased my first DSLR and started taking pictures of everything. In between bouts of photography, the “work monster” pulled me back leaving my camera to gather dust on a shelf.

    Three years ago I brought home the most gorgeous collection of winter citrus. I dusted off my camera, set up the citrus in various white bowls and started snapping away in my back yard. The pictures just made me smile. I loved it! I’ve been taking pictures of food ever since. Started Kitchen Konfidence over a year and a half ago and I couldn’t be happier.

    By concentrating on a passion of mine, I am able to keep the “work monster” at bay. My job is still very important to me, but I have realized that it’s not the most important thing in my life. I even have a great man in my life now :)

    Well that was quite the long comment! You’re writing inspires me to write more :)

  10. I’ve moved 15 times in the last 18 years so I guess I’m someone who is constantly battling the change monster as well. The strange thing is that most of those moves and self-imposed life changes were an effort to distance myself from the place, people, and life I knew as a child. But I’ve recently come to realize that the biggest change I’ve made to date was one that dropped me right smack in the middle of all the things I thought I wanted to escape. Although I struggle daily with visions of loading up the car to explore new places and new faces, I mostly feel at peace, which is new and strange and wonderful. Since we met in Portland, my relationship with food blogging has slowly disintegrated and I’m honestly not sure whether I want to salvage it or not. I do, however, want to keep reading what you write, whether it’s a description of your latest pizza success or an essay on change. You challenge and inspire and push. Find what it is that will do the same to you. (I’m pulling for the move to the country as I’m hoping to do the same this year or next and will certainly need some advice.)

  11. Without people like you this world would be full of drones and pointless ruts. You are not just passionate about your life, you are aggressive about it. In a good way. You refuse to settle or just leave well enough alone and that is inspiring.

    Most of my life I struggled with being called “different”. Instead of mercilessly ridiculing the misfits at school along with everyone else, I stood by them and taught them to embrace their talents giving them something to focus on instead of idiots and their taunts.

    I quietly watched my efforts and ideas succeed while the other people around me who were “friends” gave up and failed.

    Now I realize the last thing I want to do is fit in. I want to stand out as me and not have my life, my writing, my art or photographs be limp and passionless.

    This year will kick ass for you in due time, if it’s not already.

    Linda Reply:

    @Dionne Baldwin, So happy to hear you’ve taken such a strong, empowered stance. Keep on keepin on, sister.

  12. Oh, Lynda. You really should consider it. Tanja and I have lived in a rental house, a McMansion, an urban apartment, and now we live in the sticks. We are very happy with the quiet, the room, and the the natural beauty of the place. Tanja loves the peace. I love my man cave. The mastiff loves to roam and the bulldogs love the leather couch. Well I suppose you could have a couch anywhere. But think of the room you would have for snail experimentation, cheese production, meat curing, and genetic manipulation of livestock. Master Danger could build a tree house just high enough to ensure the occasional concussion without serious long bone injuries. The commute is a pain but nothing is perfect. We must have you and Jonas come out some time. John and Tanja. P.S. Did you hear that Costello is married?

    Linda Reply:

    @John, Great to hear so many positive exemplars of the rural life. Promising!

  13. My own ship has been safe in the harbor for far too long. There are times when I feel so resistant to change it’s maddening, which is why it’s good to have friends who like to shake things up.

    Tell me, when you finally get your water buffalo, will you be adorning it with a golden nose ring? Or is that decoration reserved for bulls? I’m assuming you’d be getting a female water buffalo for cheese making purposes. However, the thought of you milking a bull is rather intriguing.

    Happy New(ish) Year.

    Linda Reply:

    @Michael Procopio, How about platinum for the nose ring? That way it won’t get all scuffed up on the copper fence the way gold would.

  14. my wife definitely loves your internet site and she wanted me to come and let you know just how much she enjoys it.

  15. a) Hen egg? You have a source for cock eggs?

    b) I really love the way you cook: Even though most of what you cook strikes me as either horrifyingly affected or outright ridiculous, I love how *examined* your approach to food is. I like the almost urgent attitude you display, the reverence for ingredient, and the understanding you have of just how powerful the sympathetic magic of cuisine can be.

    c) Don’t move out into the country. Start a hobby farm and you will spend all your time growing food, and not enough time cooking it and eating it. For most people that would be a step forward, for you, it is a step backwards. “From each according to their ability, to each according to their needs” Your ability is cooking, and we need you to cook, and blog about it. Not weed the damned radish patch for 2 hours a day.

    Linda Reply:

    @rhino,
    a. In recent culinary parlance people have been using hen egg to distinguish it from a duck egg or a quail egg. I agree, it’s hokey, but I use other eggs so much I now call it out.
    b. I try my best to prepare food that people can easily eat and enjoy. Even if someone doesn’t know all of what’s in something, at the end of the day they’ll remark- this is really good pasta- and I’ve done my job. I hope it doesn’t seem precious.
    c. You may very well be right, but I have this overwhelming urge to try it anyway for the sheer reason that if I don’t I might regret it, whereas we rarely regret the things we DO do.

    Loved the thought in your comment, appreciate it so much.

    Choudoufu Reply:

    @Linda,
    a. Now that’s just silly. A female duck can be called a hen, as can female quail and ostrich. What’s wrong with “chicken egg”? Those culinary officials sure aren’t very precise when it comes to parlance.

    b. Love your blog, as always.

    c. Move to the country. My parents did when I was 7, and we never regretted it. Nor did growing up a mile from the nearest neighbor stunt my ability to acclimate to huge Asian cities when I was 20. You will never be the same so you’ll never be able to really “go back,” but cities will always be around when you’re ready to change in that direction again.

  16. Tim Riggens

    There is good change powered by desire for growth and there is restless change that can be destructive. I try and determine which of those I’m feeling before I make any rash decisions.

  17. My whole new years resolution is about embracing change – seeking it out and putting myself out there. I’ve spent the last year losing 200# and embracing a healthy lifestyle now I am trying to undo the personal damage I have done by trying new things, and meeting new people. Being a hermit isn’t what it’s cracked up to be bitches!! If anyone is in the market – there is a single guy in the PDX area code that loves to cook, and clean!

  18. I’ve always been a change agent…rarely fearful, always excited and eager to see what laid ahead. Embracing change and challenges. I must admit though as the years pass, I’m less aggressive about making big lifestyle changes…but fearless, nonetheless, to make a choice if one presents itself.

    While I don’t share your vision of chickens and a rural lifestyle, I encourage you to live without regrets (not that I think you need encouragement!) You can always move back and buy eggs at the market. :)

    Just don’t stop writing. You have a real gift!

  19. I love change….things staying stagnant can be depressing. When I separated from the Air Force, got married, and pregnant, I tried to take on the domestic role. It worked more than it didn’t. After my second baby, I was tired of being, well, bored. So I pushed up my huge breastfeeding boobies and partied…well more than I did after I married. Then, I settled down, and started focusing more on positive things, and what makes it great to be at home. Very challenging with young children to be very honest. I couldn’t stay on top of one thing…always moving on to another without completing what I started. This year and for the rest of my life, I vowed not to get discouraged, spend more time doing new things with my children, work on blog whether it’s recipes, photos, or random things. If people like fine, if they don’t they don’t. I want to please myself more than anyone else..

    And you saving the world with your blog? My word, woman. You’ve inspired more than you’ll ever know. Well, you will know I’ve taken on homemade pasta- was making it at least twice a week this summer and I had the thighs to prove it! I also asked my husband to purchase Thomas Keller’s ‘French Laundry’, I read your blog like a book and share your genius with anyone whether care or not. I see your influence with others and you have done a lot whether you know it or not! I wish you the best and still hoping for you get that gorgeous home in the country!!!

    Linda Reply:

    @Sommer J, Awww, now you’re making me all weepy. Thank you for your kind words.

  20. I don’t mind feeling content but I never want to feel complacent.

    And I need to bring you some eggs from Finnriver next time I’m back in Seattle. Help subsidize your pasta-making. Look forward to hearing what comes next with your desire to go semi-rural.

  21. I’m still figuring out my pattern. I’ll think about that and get back to you.

    In recent years, I’ve learned to embrace change; even seek it out. Maybe it’s the ADD in me, but I can’t sit still long enough to be happy with what I’ve got. But I like it – it keeps me going, keeps me fresh. Conquer a hobby? Start another one! It’s what keeps us active and alive.

    Embrace the change; go after it. You never know where it will lead you.

    [K]

    P.S. Thank you for reviving my creativity with your recent food projects! If you were closer to me, I’d offer you a basket of hen eggs. Free. You could come by and get them anytime… because the 14 hens in my yard would quickly give me more.

    P.S.S. Whatever changes are ahead, make sure they include a flock of chickens.

  22. To answer your questions, yes I’ve felt an underlying force pushing me to do things throughout life. This has mainly been my mother, either at the table with me, over the phone, or in my head, pushing me to do better, achieve more, try harder. It’s both comforting and exacerbating to have her shoving me along. Usually I listen and go for it, it’s usually the right thing to do and makes me live my life more fully. Sometimes I ignore it until my bones vibrate from the resistance. I usually give in, again because I know it’s the right thing to do. Have you ever regretted following the whims of your change monster, or has it always been an awesome new adventure that you look back on with fond memories?

    Just as an aside, I treasure your posts. I love your narrative, like LOVE. You make me laugh so often and your posts are incredibly inspirational. Even if the whole recipe isn’t written out, the ideas are planted in my head so I can make quail ravioli one night then chicken yolk ravioli the next with the leftovers. I’m emboldened by your posts and tips (I used goat butter over the tops of my yolks and the were AWESOME). You’ve certainly changed my world for the better and I think my fiance, friends, and coworkers would all agree (the mooching bastards). ;)

    Linda Reply:

    @Xochi, It’s a very good question you bring up, basically do we regret the things we do or the things we don’t? The adventure of life is what it’s all about and I guess I’m ready for a new one.

    Oh, and isn’t that butter trick great? Really helps hold the texture of the pasta on top of the yolk.

  23. Was it “And I Don’t Want To Live This Life”? I was in high school when it came out and I think I read it 3 or 4 times junior year. I personally hate change and it freaks me out every time. This year, as we know, I had more change than in the past decade and I am Be Here Now-ing it every damn day.
    A lady once told me “ships are safest in the harbor, but that’s not what they’re built for” I love that.

    Linda Reply:

    @marisa, I love that line too. I’ll try and remember it. And yes, that was the book. So salacious at the time, as I recall.

    marisa Reply:

    How weird is it that Nancy’s sister ended up as Martha’s right-hand? And I loved Nancy. Even if everyone else hated her. I understood her pathos.

  24. I have reinvented myself so many times. After 50 years I have moved from the city to a more rural life on the other coast. I have worked as a rug maker and a typesetter and I have owned a Yarn shop. I have raised two kids and now I am a Grammy. I think you get to the point where excitement means nothing. Learning new things just for the sake of learning is what matters. Also I have learned that city or country or where ever you are doesn’t matter because you are you no matter where you are. Peace comes from inside out and not the other way around.

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