More Lessons From the Countertop

The past week, I’ve been learning more lessons from the countertop. As I’ve mentioned before, my kitchen cabinets are topped with teak planks hand-rubbed with tung oil. Keeping them in top shape requires a light sanding and a couple of coats of oil every year-and-a-half or so.

For the first 8 years, I was meticulous in maintaining this routine. An occasional stain would require a sanding and blending in between. I would do this relatively soon. And so it continued until 2016. At that point, a series of events in my family changed my priorities.

Since then, a significant amount of my time has been devoted to caregiving and administering affairs. Oiling the countertops fell close to the bottom of my priority list. The surface of the teak suffered.

Last week, I decided now is the time to sand, oil, and even out the surface. I allotted two days of disruption and moved the dish drainer, cutting boards, knives, coffee setup, and spice rack. The microwave, mug tree, mugs, and snack bowl had to go as well. The dining table was covered.

I began the project. Two days turned into four and the difference in condition proved slight.

Each coat of tung oil has to dry for 24 hours before another sanding can be done or oil can be added. After 5 days, there were still lighter and darker spots. And I discovered the rim around the sink needed special care.

After another day of adding oil only to lighter spots, I thought I’d lightly scrub with steel wool, add a coat of oil, and be done.

Nope. While that coat went on smoothly, once it dried there were areas that continued to show wear.

Today is day nine. The surfaces I use most must still be kept empty. Cooking is more difficult. Dish washing is more difficult. (Oh yeah, I have no working dishwasher because I managed to melt the handle of the knife against the heating element. But that’s a whole other saga to be dealt with.) My table still has no free surface and I need to clean out the refrigerator. It would be an understatement to say, I am ready for this project to be done! I am more than ready!

I was tempted to treat today as the last day no matter what. Truthfully, I’ve had that thought for days. But after wiping off the excess oil from carefully chosen areas of wear this morning, something happened…I could suddenly see that the spot treating was making an improvement.

NINE days of sandpaper, steel wool, oil-oil-oil, steel wool, oil-oil-oil, steel wool, oil-oil-oil until I can finally see the process will work…eventually. We’re still a few days away.

Yesterday, I was frustrated by the mess, tired of the work-arounds, annoyed by trying cook with the spice rack in a different room and a small wooden tray to hold bowls and pans for prep. Today, I feel less frustrated. Why?

Because today I can see the value in what I’ve been doing.

So what are the lessons from the countertop?

1)If something does damage over a long period of time, the time it takes to repair may be lengthy as well (although short in comparison – years vs days).

2)Repair of deep-seated scars must be done in layers that must be given time to dry, jell, set, or cure. Glossing over too much too fast will not create a resilient surface.

3)It is difficult to keep going when you can’t see progress. It takes faith, commitment, and perseverance.

4)Allowing frustration to rule leaves no room to practice patience.

5)Seeing the value in a process makes related tasks less frustrating.

And while I’ve been learning these lessons specifically in relation to wood repair, they apply to pretty much everything I can think of.

Try them on and see if they fit your current frustration.

Grown-Up Nutrition

Bok choy packs grown-up nutrition into a few tiny calories. I’ve been eating a lot of baby bok choy the past few weeks. It’s the one thing in my garden that hasn’t been stressed by the heat.

Before this summer, I may have eaten bok choy a few times in stir fry, but I was generally unfamiliar with this green. Thanks to my sister providing seeds, I’m having the opportunity to discover how much I enjoy it.

I’m harvesting leaves rather than waiting for larger stemmed groupings. The leaves are tender and sweet – not exactly what you expect from a cabbage. As the plants grow larger, the aroma becomes more cabbage-like and the stems become tougher.

Whether you eat them raw or cooked, a one cup serving has a mere 9 calories. Of course, the cooked version will gain calories if you add meat or fat to the pan. And a salad may have added calories from other vegetables and dressing. Even so, with a little attention to ingredients you can get a remarkable amount of nutrition packed into a minimal number of calories.

Bok choy is high in antioxidants as well as cancer-fighting compounds like vitamins C and E, beta-carotene, folate, and selenium. It’s also a good source of the inflammation reducing flavonoid quercetin. And the good stuff doesn’t stop there. Bok choy contains many of the essentials for maintaining strong healthy bones – calcium, phosphorous, iron, magnesium, and vitamin K.

Including greens high in folate (like bok choy) in your diet during pregnancy can help prevent complications like spina bifida and anencephaly, a severe congenital condition in which a large part of the skull is absent along with the cerebral hemispheres of the brain.

I love a food that promotes good health without a load of calories, but the best thing about bok choy is it’s delicious! I read something recently that called it a gateway green. I can see how that’s an apt description. The mild sweetness makes it appealing for the consumer who isn’t yet accustomed to the bitterness found in many greens.

The mild, pleasant flavor makes a great background for prominent flavors like arugula and dried bing cherries, but it also blends well with more subtle flavors like red bell pepper, celery, cucumber, and carrots. Because I’m harvesting early, the stems are delicious chopped into a salad.

If you enjoy cooked greens, bok choy is great stir fried or sautéed. You can also cook it like more traditional mustard, collard, or turnip greens.

The other day, I filled a pot with chopped bok choy and a cup or so of chopped Swiss chard. I filled the pot with water to the top of the greens. Then I added about a cup of chicken broth, a chunk of onion, a jalapeño pepper with stem and seeds removed, a spoonful of chili garlic sauce, a dash of tamari, and some salt & pepper.

I brought the pot to a boil, then simmered the greens for about 20 minutes. You can vary the cooking time to fit your preferences. I’m from the south where we overcook things.

The result is flavorful, but mellow and just what I was looking for. I’ve eaten it as a side with both chicken and steak and have not been disappointed. Not to mention, I feel as happy as a child when I enjoy grown-up nutrition from baby bok choy!

When Sirens Stop

When sirens stop, I worry. I hear a lot of sirens where I live. You get used to the noise and learn to tune it out. But when sirens are blaring, getting louder, and then suddenly stop, that’s the time for concern. A sudden stop means the emergency is nearby.

A similar thing happens with kids. If they make noise in the average range while playing, everything’s probably okay. If the pitch and volume suddenly rise, or things go silent, it may signal an emergency.

Life experiences create background noise within us. We’re used to it. We don’t hear it. As long as we’re engaged enough to feel startled when the background changes, we can usually avoid disaster. But what about those things that creep up on us and slowly blend into the background? Can we fine tune our senses to notice those changes?

Some will find a way to do this naturally, but for those of us who struggle, here are a few things that can help:

STOP. Be still. Listen. If you can remove a few activities or tasks for a week or two, you may notice things that get lost in the normal hustle and bustle.

REMEMBER. Think back to a week ago, a month ago, a year ago. What has changed? What feels the same? What is that thing in the back of your head that keeps nagging at you? Move it into conscious thought as you move and breathe.

MOVE. Stretch. Tense. Relax. Feel the difference. Moving your body in different ways than you normally do can give you a lot of information.

BREATHE. Inhale. Exhale. Try fast. Try slow. Add movement to coincide with each breath. Notice any changes. Does pain become tightness or dissipate? Does leaning forward remove tension from your shoulders? Does finding balance in a posture replace feeling anxious?

CONNECT. With your body. With support. Connecting with your body can help you feel more grounded. In turn, as the lower brain calms, you may gain insight. Connecting with safe, supportive people through healthy attachment may help your body optimize for maximum health. And feeling supported will help cushion you so that you can acknowledge symptoms you may be trying to overlook.

None of us want to be forced to face scary things. We all hope this pain or that rash are minor and fleeting. And many things will go away if we just wait. Other times, they will persist because they are symptoms of something serious. Stop, remember, move, breathe, and connect knowing it’s easier to recognize when to seek help if you don’t wait until the point where the sirens are stopping at your house.

Antidote for the Heat

We’re looking at another week of excessive heat warnings; we must find an antidote for the heat! I live in an early 20th century house. It has 12-foot ceilings and a variable speed dehumidifying heat & air system. I added vents in the kitchen/sunroom area. It should be relatively cool where I’m sitting. It is not. And it will get hotter as the sun sinks directly into the west windows.

When it feels like (checks phone so as not to exaggerate) 110˚ outside, there’s only so much you can do to cool the house. Of course there are things you can do to cool your body – sit in front of a fan, put a wet towel on the back of your neck, sit in a bathtub of cool water, and eat and drink cold foods.

The past week, I’ve been turning almost everything into a salad topping. Pork tenderloin – shred some and throw it on a salad. Baked beets – serve those puppies cold on top of a salad. Blackened Brussels sprouts – you guessed it; chop them up for a salad. In fact, I combined those three atop shredded bok choy, arugula, and Swiss chard yesterday for lunch.

The thing I like about salads is the variety of tastes you can achieve by using the same ingredients paired and dressed differently. This works especially well for families who have different tastes. You can pre-make salad to each person’s preference or get out some colorful serving bowls and let everyone mix their own. This is especially advantageous for families with multiple differing allergies or intolerances.

When I purchase greens, I like to have a lighter lettuce option – butter, romaine, or iceberg – to pair with bitter or peppery greens. My favorite mild salad green is mȃche, also known as corn salad, but it’s not easy to find. Baby book choy and baby Swiss chard are also delicious mild salad greens. I may also offer spinach as an option.

Many like to include greens with bigger flavor. Popular bitter greens include frisée, radicchio, and dandelion greens. Watercress is great in salads. It may be bitter or peppery. Arugula is also bitter and peppery and grows like crazy in my garden.

I recently made a quick happy hour appetizer by topping crostini with cheese, salami, shredded arugula and balsamic drizzle. Arugula, prosciutto, and cantaloupe also play well together. Tomorrow I may make a salad with those flavors. I could also add a little fresh mozzarella, basil, and the same balsamic drizzle. Yum! The perfect salad for a hot afternoon.

The sweetness of fruit helps balance salads that begin with bitter greens. Apples, pears, and blueberries are some of my favorites. Oranges, strawberries, pineapple, mango, and cantaloupe are also great fresh choices.

Fruit doesn’t have to be fresh to top a salad. Dried cranberries, raisins, figs, or apricots add delicious layers of flavor and texture.

And fruit salads don’t have to include greens. They can just be fruit. I like to make dressing for fruit salad by mixing orange juice and mayonnaise or orange juice and plain yogurt. I also like to top fruit salads with a dollop of plain yogurt sprinkled with cinnamon. Fruit is so flavorful it doesn’t need much.

My grandmother loved to mix vegetables and fruit in carrot, raisin salad. Some home cooking restaurants serve this. They often try to fancy it up by adding pineapple. I prefer the simpler version.

When you’re choosing vegetables for salad, you may automatically think of all the things that can be served raw – celery, radish, carrot, squash, cucumber, tomato, cauliflower, broccoli, bell pepper, or onion. But blanched and lightly cooked vegetables can be delicious as well.

A local Mediterranean restaurant serves a salad that’s shredded lettuce topped with sautéed yellow squash, red bell pepper, and onion as well as beef/lamb gyro. I like to add English peas and apple to salads topped with chicken. And sugar snap peas are a great salad addition raw or steamed.

The vegetables can even be canned. Kidney beans, green beans, black beans, and corn from cans can all be used in salads. Bean salads and pasta salads are refreshing cold foods during the summer heat.

Even if you feel like you’re just throwing things together, there’s no harm in topping a salad off with a little extra crunch or yum. Nuts, seeds, cheese, croutons, parmesan crisps, tortilla strips, potato sticks, and bacon all serve this purpose well.

The final element can be light, medium, heavy, or not needed. Some like their dressing creamy. Some like it acidic, citrusy, or sweet. The hotter the weather, the lighter I like it.

Not weighing myself down with hot, heavy food helps counteract the heat, but finishing with a bite or two of sorbetto or granita leaves me feeling cool as a cucumber. And that’s a great antidote for the heat.