“I am a better person when I have less on my plate.”
~Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love
The first day of school starts tomorrow, so I have a lot on my mind. I still need to print handouts and hall passes. I’ve made posters on my computer and now I need to print them on brightly colored paper and hang them above the blackboard. Also, I need to think about what to take for lunch.
A question like “What’s for lunch?” requires a lot of brainpower to answer, as I’ve discovered while reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. He talks about how herbivores have it easy. When a koala bear is hungry, if the food looks and smells like a eucalyptus leaf, he knows it’s dinner. Omnivores, on the other hand, especially human beings, have many more decisions to make. With the abundance of food in America, Pollan, says, we not only have to worry about what tastes good, but also what is good for us:
“And so we find ourselves where we do, confronting in the supermarket or at the dinner table the dilemmas of omnivorousness, some of them ancient and some of them never before imagined. The organic apple or the conventional? And if the organic, the local one or the imported?”
Last year, I’ll admit, I was in such a rush on some days that I would grab a jar of Jif peanut butter and a loaf of Sara Lee bread and make my lunch from that. I finally just left the peanut butter at school so all I needed to bring was the bread. On days that I forgot the bread, I would reach for my stash of canned tuna and, yes, I would eat the tuna straight out of the can with a fork. I’d wash out the can before throwing it away, so my fourth hour students wouldn’t complain about the fish odor.
Here’s why my lunch menu didn’t work: Amy. She loves to cook. Amy shops on Saturdays at the Marquette Food Co-op, makes heavenly dishes on Sundays, and freezes them for Mike and herself to eat during the week. While I’m eating my plain old peanut butter bread, smells waft out of Amy’s room from across the hall and under my nose that tell me her food is much more satisfying.
I mean, all you have to do is add Amy as a Facebook friend to find out how wonderful her cooking is. She often writes about the meals she prepares:
“Amy Armstrong Laitinen’s second batch of pesto this season is in the freezer…this time with a touch of fresh mint blended in. Over a long and snowy winter it will be a delicious addition to pizza, pasta dishes, roasted vegetables, chicken and garlic bread.”
“Amy Armstrong Laitinen is roasting acorn squash for dinner. Once roasted will combine with venison sausage, raisins, cinnamon, nutmeg, bulgar, garlic, parsley, olive oil and pine nuts. What a perfect August meal.”
See what I mean? My lunch never compares with that. I can cook. I’d even dare say I’m a good cook. However, I seem to have too much on my plate on the weekends to provide sustenance for my weekday lunch plate. Ironic, huh? I need to cut back on weekend activities, and spend more time on meal preparation. That way, my noontime fare won’t be overshadowed by Amy’s cooking, which fills our hall with an undeniable don’t-you-wish-you-could-eat-this-instead-of-your-lunch aroma.
Outside of school, Amy and I dine on amazing food when we get together to write. For example, here’s what we ate on the day we started this blog, as documented on Amy’s Facebook wall:
“Amy Armstrong Laitinen is excited that Heather is coming over for a UPWP work-day! We are hopefully going to get our blog up-and-running and invest some time into our digital story! Of course we have great food planned. Heather’s making gazpacho and I made guacamole and picked up hummus from the Rubaiyat. A pitcher of iced green tea and lots of healthy fruits and vegetables will spark our creativity!”
That was just the start of our eating journey on that long workday. For dinner, Amy made salmon alfredo pasta with garden vegetables. Plus, she had beef barley soup simmering in the crockpot for Mike’s lunches later in the week. Needless to say, I couldn’t resist sampling the delicious and hearty soup for a late-night snack!
Amy and I eat well when we travel, too. Amy’s known for taking pictures of her food wherever we go, so now I have proof of the tasty meals we’ve devoured. For example, I ordered a pot pie from City Tavern in Philadelphia last winter. Not just any pot pie, but Chef Walter Staib’s Martha Washington Colonial Turkey Pot Pie, described on the menu as “tender chunks of turkey, mushrooms, early peas, red potatoes, sherry cream sauce & flaky pastry crust baked in a pewter casserole.” Let’s just say it was the ultimate comfort food for a November night.
In July, Amy and I stayed at The Crossings, an eco-friendly resort spa in Austin. We were there for a National Writing Project Resource Development Retreat, but all summer we had looked forward to eating the fresh, flavorful, organic food that we had read about on the resort’s website. For each meal, we were presented with an extensive and appealing buffet. Between meals, we would see the chef outside snipping fragrant herbs from giant plants that supplemented the natural beauty of the landscape. Seriously, this was some of the best food I had ever tasted in my life.
I think I have become obsessed with food. Lately, I even love reading about it. I recently read Elizabeth Gilbert’s travelogue Eat, Pray, Love. Gilbert should travel with Amy and me because not only does she write with a voice where you feel like she could be your best friend, she also loves to pack away the buttered potatoes for a midnight munchie. Here’s how Gilbert describes the pizza she ate in Naples at Pizzeria de Michele:
“I always thought we only had two choices in our lives when it came to pizza crust — thin and crispy, or thick and doughy. How was I to have known there could be a crust in this world that was thin and doughy? Holy of holies! Thin, doughy, strong, gummy, yummy, chewy, salty pizza paradise. On top, there is a sweet tomato sauce that foams up all bubbly and creamy when it melts the fresh buffalo mozzarella, and the one sprig of basil in the middle of the whole deal somehow infuses the entire pizza with herbal radiance, much the same way one shimmering movie star in the middle of a party brings a contact of high glamour to everyone around her.”
Mmmm….Can I have a slice of that?
Well, after all this contemplating, I’ve figured out what to take for lunch. The answer goes back to one of Amy’s summer Facebook posts:
“Amy Armstrong Laitinen found open-faced-sandwich-bliss. One piece Ezekiel Cinnamon Raisin bread lightly toasted, a tad of raw honey, freshly ground almond butter and 1/2 small sliced banana arranged on top. Add one glass of iced green tea with fresh mint from the garden = fuel in the form of JOY!”
A sandwich? I can do that, even on the busiest of days! This one sounds better than my Jiffed bread. Plus, in my fridge at school, I now have jars of homemade dilly beans and bread-and-butter pickles from my mom, homemade blueberry jam from my husband, and a jar of homemade dill pickles from Amy’s mom. To round out the meal, on any given day if Amy would like to wander across the hall during lunch, she might just bring over an extra bowl of her homemade soup.
You never know. It could happen.