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Elana's Food Journal - Taking a Break. Or Two.

What does it mean to take a break or even a step back? Both phrases have a negative connotation for me, as they suggest that whatever I'm doing might be in excess or require re-evaluation.

Historically, I'm not a break-taker. I like to keep the huskies mushing, believing (or being trained to believe, perhaps?) that all motion—regardless of direction—is progress.

But now, I believe this is not the case. By the above model, I (or you) would turn into the Looney Tunes Tasmanian Devil version of productivity—limbs (mental and physical) flailing in all directions at once, making it impossible to discern a left big toe from a right ear.

At a design studio I used to work at, we had a phrase for this: PANTS ON FUEGO. The intentional mis-combination of English and Spanish was meant to convey with even greater urgency how really ON FIRE your pantaloons were in that moment. 


Or mucho.

Readers of this blog (all 5 of you!) know that I've been a bit reflective lately. Years of operating "on fuego", some unfortunate athletic mishaps, and a complete career regeneration seem to have spurred this. Or else there is something in my water.

To encourage my reflective phase, I recently had two "breaks" which yielded some unexpected results, both artistically and gastronomically.

I spent a week at Iach HQ babysitting my dog while my parents were on vacation.

I thought I would be lonely. I was not.

I thought I would hate getting snowed in with no escape. I did not.

I thought conversations with the dog would get old. They did not.

The literal space this break created allowed me to asses my life from afar, like reading a recipe and deciding what subtractions, substitutions or additions I would make to make it taste better.

What's my new life recipe? I'll be constantly rewriting that. And it will never be perfect, but most likely lumpy, like an heirloom tomato. Those tomatoes always taste better...I think those might be flavor lumps.

Here is an excerpt from my Food Journal for Lumpy Life Heirloom Tomato Salad:

My next "break" was in Puerto Rico - a real vacation! No computer. I brought a set of travel watercolors (pictured at the top of this post), a few Sharpies and a sketchbook. I meant to draw and paint on my own but what happened instead was a series of painting sessions with the children (ages 3-10) that were in our group's number.

Every day we found time for painting together.

Sometimes we painted food.

Sometimes the three year old commandeered my sketchbook for excessive rainbow application.

And sometimes we painted animals.

By Max Philips, Age 10We made sure to keep everything drippy and unprofessional.

I didn't think I would enjoy this. I was wrong.

I didn't think I'd be running to the local school supply store for more art supplies two days into the trip. I was.

I didn't think the kids would be giving ME ideas. They were.

Here is the remaining pages of the notebook I kept, complete with a few loosely constructed recipes. This notebook is a combination of my works, rainbows by the youngest student and additions by the twins (aged 10).

I didn't think the book would be better with their help. It is.


Sensible Squash Soup

I've been painting and cooking. Cooking and writing. Sometimes painting with what I'm cooking. But never cooking with what I'm painting....or am I?

I emerge out of this in a cloud of smoke, just as confused as you are. Oh yes. Confusion sets in. And disappointment too.

Disappointment? Yes. The other day, I painted squashes. Then I painted orange things. And more squashes. And I looked at it all and I said, "OK, great, Elana, but what are you going to do with it?"

So I made some butternut and acorn squash soup to make it all make sense. Because if anything makes sense, it's soup. Especially of the orange variety.

But it still didn't quite. Make sense, that is. Even after eating most of the soup, which was quite good with a little quinoa for protein, crispy baked mushrooms and fried sage.

So I sat down, belly full of soup, and thought. 

"Huh. What now?" I said to myself. "I know! How about I pour the rest of this soup onto this tiny white table and paint with it? And then work it into these here watercolors to see if I can match it up?"

ASIDE: This was happening while there was a snow storm a-brewing outside. John and I were staying at Iach HQ while Marmo and the Box were enjoying a vacation. It was about this time that John walked in to inquire the whereabouts of our snow plow man when he saw me, manic gleam in my eye, painting with my food. If there was ever a doubt as to who is the "odd duck" of the family, rest assured, it is obviously John who did not see the merit in such activities.

But, you, fair reader, certainly do! I can smell it. Just like I can smell the maple syrup saturating the squash as it roasts in the oven at 400°F. 

As before, I am leaving you specific instructions. Just these images from which you can certainly, if enterprising, cobble together a similar sensible soup. You can even paint with it, should you like.


Elana's Food Journal - Braided (and Painted) Bread

I've been putting off posting this, waiting until it was perfect. Perfect for whom? Me? You? I've posted about imperfect food before, but this is something different. This is ME waiting for me to be ready to show you my work. I'm waiting for it to be good enough. For the timer to *DING* and say, "Ah-HA! Perfect soufflé."

Sigh. I hate it when I do this.

The whole dang POINT of this food journal is sharing and spontaneity. It's about process...knowing that my work — whatever you want to call this odd blended smoothie of art and food — is always progressing and moving toward something. Without the process of showing what I'm working on, testing the "recipes" if you will, it's pretty pointless.

With this piece, recipe, whatever, I was waiting to do MORE with it. More sketches, more painting, more more more more more.


You know how pasta tastes really awesome with just olive oil and parmesan cheese? Simple is better.

I was going to wait until I had worked out the whole layout, recipe and all. But this is about playing with my food. And doing all that would be WORK. And I have a job (or three). So I'm putting it up here in its current state: unfinished.

Well, sort of. It's finished for now. Tomorrow I might decide to change it, rebake it, throw it out the window (watch out, pigeons on my AC unit!), but today it's finished.

If you would really, really like to make this multi-colored bread, you can figure it out from what I've posted in these images, and this recipe. And if you can't figure it out, you can post in the comments, and I'll try and help you out. K? 

And here is a fancy flip-through version:





Elana's Food Journal - Transition Time

Transitions. These are the little places in between where life really happens. For example...what you do while waiting for a pot of water to boil; those quick moments of hurried conversation when you meet a friend on the street; brushing your teeth; walking to the coffee shop...the moments that set up the next event.

My transition Thursday (which happened to be yesterday from where I am writing this post) happened at a Baked Cafe on Church Street in TriBeCa. I had just come from a yoga class and needed a place to take a conference call, so I ducked into Baked and bought a juice. I had ten minutes before my call and immediately I wished I had brought my food (drawing) journal. But I sat at the bar table and drew on the notebook that I had, a lined composition variety.

It's often in these in-between moments that I recharge. These transitions really matter. They're not about filling time. They're an action area in which you prepare yourself for the next stage in life and take the steps necessary to set that up. How you use this time is hugely important.

This, of course, reminds of triathlon, which has two transition times — one after the swim that sets up the bike, and one after the bike to set up the run.

This year I've made a conscious decision to dial down the triathlon training and racing. But I've learned so much from it, that I feel like the analogy is relevant, at least in my life. When I was training, I never practiced transitions. I thought this was throw-away time and not significant enough to waste my energy on when I needed to run, bike and swim swim swim!!

But now, I find myself in a very transitional place (in life) and I realize that there is no throw away time, and these transitions are exactly where I should be putting my energy. If only, in life, like in triathlon, we had actual designated areas and moments to step into "transition" and have that be ok, part of the game. But in life, we just have to do it while we go about the rest of the race, seamlessly trying to integrate it into our daily routine, rush to work, push to the next adventure.

So I'm trying to enjoy my transition time. As in triathlon racing, I often find this time frustrating. I've just done something HUGE - I swam a mile! - and now I have to rip off this stupid wetsuit that feels like it's painted on, fumble with my helmet, and somehow get my feet in my bike shoes? Can't it all just HAPPEN for me? Where are my minions? Oh yeah....I don't have any. I would rush. Drop things. Once I think I lost 30 seconds (lots of time in tri speak) trying to buckle my helmet because my fingers weren't cooperating.

And this is how it is in life, too. You just did something big! Did you get a promotion? Perhaps a divorce? Or perhaps you've realized that your life calling is to drive a mobile pizza kitchen cross country teaching people about healthy, seasonal pizza cookery, throwing art and storytelling in there? 

Whoa. We just went over the edge a bit. Sorry. More on that later. 

But whatever it is. It's different than what came before. And then time you spend in between the two matters, so make it count. How have I been spending my transition time? Journaling. My "food journal" is a way for me to combine my love of art, cooking and writing. And it helps me see my thoughts, too.

Lately, I've felt like it's really going somewhere, creatively speaking. Where it's going, I do not know. But I've made a commitment to take the process slowly (or try to) and not get too caught up in the end game. It's about where I am at this moment (in my apartment at 6am); what I'm eating or drinking right now (really dark coffee with some coconut oil in it); what's happening around me (the radiator is hissing); and even how I'm translating that visually.

And slow can be ok. Even in racing. In my last race, when I fell spectacularly off my bike, I didn't know if I was going to run and finish the race. When I got to transition, I did everything so much more slowly. I put each shoe on one at a time, thoughtfully. I took a long drink of water and a deep breath. And then walked out of transition. When I got my times at the end of the race, I realized my transition wasn't any slower than they had been when I was steam-rolling through. 

So there.



Elana's Food Journal - The First Flip Through

So what is this food journal anyway? I addressed this briefly last time, I'll reiterate now: it's a grand experiment. For me, that I'm inflicting on you. But I feel like I'm onto something here. It's the beginning...of what, I'm not sure. I've been writing, drawing and photographing what I eat. Not to count calories but to keep track of something else - memories. Events, thoughts, dreams, smells, and yes, even recipes, that surround my daily encounters with food.

So I compiled the most recent pages (as I haven't been good about posting them one at a time) into a flip book, so you can see the progress, read my thoughts (literally) and experience the last few weeks through my eyes (and stomach).

Here are a few snippets, followed by a link to the full book.

I've been messing around a lot with bread. Over Christmas I made my own spelt flour bread and then made a brief, ridiculous movie about it. Here's the film:

I've been busting out the Instax camera with some regularity as well. The above photos were taken at a Taralucci & Vino on the Upper West Side with my friend Steve. We were trying to get a hold of the light. Quite literally. Steve was trying to get a hold of a cinnamon bun.

There's also been more pizza. So much pizza, I'm almost embarrassed to say. Wait. Scratch that. I'm PROUD to say there has been SO MUCH DANG PIZZA that it would horrify you. The above is one I created for a New Year's Eve Party.

And then there are the thoughts. Thoughts brough on by spending too much time in the kayak (my tiny apartment), reading too many articles about finding your "calling" in life, and easy access to Sharpie markers.

And then there are actual recipes. If you can follow this one, I'll make you more pesto.

This one I can't give you the recipe. I promised not to. And I keep my promises.

If you'd like to see the full, scroll down. I'd like for this to go somewhere... Where I don't know. But I'd like to add in more thoughts, actual recipes, and etc. I'm even starting to take this agenda out on my clients. I created a food journal for Colavita which I'll also post. 

Now how many girls let you ready their diary??