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Photographs by Meadow Linn

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Giving up the Struggle, Looking for Joy


I avoid conflict whenever possible. I avoid hardship and struggle. And when faced with two options, I aim for the path of least resistance. Though, I am not lazy or a wimp. I enjoy hard work. I have, however, learned that when life gives you lemons, sometimes you need to make lemonade, but sometimes you need to get rid of the lemons and find something else.

The boarding school was on the beautiful Maine Coast
Many of the big decisions in my life have been made by doing what feels comfortable and easy. Ignoring the "wants" and "shoulds" doesn't mean that the path I choose is less difficult, it just means that it feels manageable because it's the right direction for me. When I was searching for a job after graduate school, I started by looking at jobs in the business world because that's what I thought I should do. With a masters degree in French Cultural Studies, I considered working in international business, which seemed like the right thing to do. I didn't realize it at the time, but there was a heaviness that hung over me every time I perused
My classroom when I taught French to young kids in Los Angeles
websites of potential employers. On a whim I decided to look at job openings at boarding schools. I was certain that I didn't want to be a teacher, but I thought I would take a quick look anyway. As soon as I started looking at teaching jobs, the weight that I didn't know I'd been carrying lifted. Suddenly, leaving graduate school and getting a job didn't seem so scary and overwhelming. It was actually exciting. Within a day or two, I had an interview with a school that was a perfect match for me and within a week I was offered a job. 

Teaching French by singing
I ended up teaching French for eight years. Midway through; however, I started to think that maybe it was time for a change. I'd been passionate about food and cooking my entire life and wanted to pursue a culinary career. If I were told I could only cook one thing for the rest of my life, it would be salsa. Finding the right combination of salty, sweet, sour, and spicy makes me feel like an alchemist. So, I started making plans to leave teaching and start bottling my favorite Mexican sauces. I did market research, attended a natural food trade show, and played mad scientist in the kitchen with piles of tomatoes and chiles. But nothing came together. Everything seemed hard, every step laborious. What should have been exciting and invigorating was instead overwhelming and
Salsa verde with thick-cut corn tortilla chips
daunting. What could have felt like the beginning of an exciting new chapter in my life, instead felt like standing at the edge of a massive abyss whose deep and dark cavern I would fall into at any moment. I loved cooking and I loved making salsa, and though I was willing to work hard and make the necessary sacrifices, I just couldn't seem to make it happen. 

Fresh tomatillo
The moment I decided to continue teaching, I felt infinitely more serene and excited about the future ahead, which was surprising since I'd always thought food was my passion, not teaching. It wasn't until a few years later that I discovered what my gut had been telling me. I love the creative process of cooking, and I'm passionate about fresh food. Running a company that sells sauces in a jar was not the right choice for me. By taking the path of least resistance and avoiding the struggle that this endeavor was presenting, I wasn't being lazy or complacent, I was actually listening to my intuition.

Salsa verde made from roasted tomatillos
I have since left teaching, but I took steps slowly and followed the whispers of my heart. By attempting many different things and taste-testing a number of different paths, I eventually found the one that felt "right" and fed my soul.

When something feels difficult, sometimes you need to push through the challenge, but sometimes it's because it's not right for you. In those times, it's best to walk away and do something else. What in your life feels like a struggle? Is there another option? What other path could you choose that would feed your soul and nurture you? 

The butterfly transforms out of the chrysalis and takes flight


 Salsa Verde
makes about 3 cups

I still love to make salsa, and this is one of my favorites. Tomatillos look like small green tomatoes and are covered in a paper-like pouch that looks like a Chinese lantern, much like a gooseberry. They have a sweet citrusy flavor and are a staple in Mexican cooking. Traditionally, to make salsa verde, tomatillos are roasted one by one over an open flame; however, in my search to find the easy route, I've discovered that charring them all at once in the broiler works just as well. With warm weather just around the corner and barbecues abounding, salsa verde is a great dish to add to your summer repertoire. Serve with corn chips for a tasty snack or if you prefer, slow cook it with pork to make a delicious chile verde, use it to make enchiladas verde, or it's also scrumptious on tacos. This recipe makes a medium (spiciness) salsa, adjust the amount of jalapeño to suit your taste.

2 pounds tomatillos, husks removed and washed
1/2 of a medium white or yellow onion, cut into two chunks
1 jalapeño
2 cloves of garlic
1 handful of fresh cilantro
1 1/2 tsp. sea salt


Place the tomatillos, onion, and jalapeño on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Roast in the broiler until the tomatillos are soft and the outside is charred (about 20 minutes), turning halfway through. The tomatillos should look burned. Remove from the broiler and allow to cool slightly. Using tongs, place the tomatillos and the onions in a blender. Remove the seeds and ribs from the jalapeño and place only the flesh in the blender (the seeds contain most of the spiciness). If any juices have accumulated on the baking sheet, pour them into the blender as well. Add the garlic, cilantro, and salt, and blend on medium-high until the salsa is smooth. Allow to cool completely before serving. Buon provecho! 

Tacos with salsa verde
Grilled pork chop with salsa verde and black beans