Cooking for Real Life

Oh FarmHouse. I have been remiss. I have not posted for eons and this always happens to me – leaving things unfinished or forgetting about them or just not feeling like posting. Or, more frequently, not caring about posting pictures. And y’know what? I’ve always hated magazines (and blogs) that were little more than pictures, so this post defiantly doesn’t have one.

Why have I been remiss? Well, for one, I finally got a job (back in January) that has been keeping me busy, I’ve been to more weddings so far this year than I have in the past 5 years (with two more to come!), and I got engaged (more on that later). Plus, with a 45 minute commute bookending my workday, a pup to take on walks and hikes, a house to clean, and insane heat, I’ve been cooking only occasionally lately (sometimes to the detriment of my diet), and I’ve felt like writing about cooking (or anything else for that matter) even less. It’s difficult to balance work with all the things we care about.

The blogosphere has been abuzz lately with tales of how to balance work and life. There’s this post on The Yellow House (a favorite blog of mine). And this one. There’s this article in The Atlantic. And this one on They are all worth reading, but I’d like to expound a little more on something’s David Roberts calls “the medium chill.” (see articles here and here).

For me, “the medium chill,” which Roberts essentially defines as doing just enough work to make just enough money to do the things you want to do and spend time on in the here and now (as opposed to “the big chill” in which you work your tail off, earning as much money as humanly possible in as short amount of time, so you can retire early), is the ultimate goal. I love my job and what I do and while I dream about being retired, I really think I need a job to get me up in the morning and out of the house at minimum a few days a week, if not every day. As much as I love my house and having time to cook and clean and knit and read and write and, god forbid, paint, I need to get out and do something every once in a while. And I don’t mean grocery shopping or hiking.

That being said, I’ve worked stressful, 50-hour-per-week jobs that make decent money (okay, decent for the non-profit field, which is sort of miserable everywhere else). They are not fun. You come home exhausted, emotionally drained (sometimes weepy), you’re always thinking/stressing about your job (ALWAYS), and you don’t even want to think about eating, much less cooking, unless it’s bad-for-you takeout. You sleep like crap, you eat like crap, and you feel like crap. You have no time for exercise or to do laundry or to eat something that did not come from a fryer. Worst of all, you’re absolutely NO FUN to be around and you make the people around you depressed and miserable, too. It’s an awful existence and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, no matter how much money they make. And I only did it for 6 months!

In my opinion, it is not only acceptable to make just enough money to live within your means and spend your evenings and weekends NOT thinking about work but in fact doing other things you enjoy, but that this is a philosophy that should be embraced by more people. We none of us have just one interest in life – at least, I hope not. We do not care ONLY about our jobs or ONLY about our families or ONLY about cooking or crafting or whatever. We can care about many different things at the same time. And it is okay to make time for the things you need to make time for. Like cooking.

If you’ve gotten the impression from reading this blog that I cook elaborate meals from scratch every night, I hate to break it to you, but I don’t. I cook maybe four times per week, and some of those meals don’t really count as “cooking,” unless cooking means cutting up raw vegetables. In fact, as much as I hate microwave cooking, I microwave leftovers for dinner often enough that I couldn’t live without the stupid machine, if only because I’d hate all the extra dishes heating up leftovers on the stovetop would make.

In fact, sometimes dinner is storebought french bread with real butter and some sliced up radishes and salt. Or it’s fried eggs and cheese on toasted English muffins. Or scrambled eggs with deli ham, an odd scallion from the crisper, and some cheese. Or pureed pinto beans (from a can) with cheese and tortillas (I could live off of that). Or a panfried boneless porkchop with mashed frozen peas (better than you’d think). Sometimes it’s leftover pancakes toasted with peanut butter and honey to make a “sandwich” because we’re out of bread. Sometimes it’s oatmeal with maple syrup and lots of milk. Sometimes it’s a hash of leftover meat, potatoes, and onions. More often than not, it’s whatever was leftover from the night before. In fact, the vast majority of my lunches are made up of leftovers (but because I like my own cooking, this generally isn’t much of a hardship).

What I’m saying is this – Eating home-cooked food every night does not require elaborate plans of every meal for the whole month three months in advance. Most humans don’t operate like that. There are two options: eat what someone else has made for you and be happy, or make what you want to eat. I never plan meals more than a few days in advance, and even then, I don’t always stick to my plans. And I don’t make meal plans and lists and plot everything out. I plan when I’m at the grocery store. I ask myself – What looks good? What is cheap/on sale? What is in season? and go from there. And I stock up on pantry staples like pasta, canned beans, canned tomatoes, oils and vinegars, and frozen vegetables for those nights when hunger strikes, but your fridge is empty.

I think the key is in embracing simplicity. It’s okay to have salad for dinner and nothing else. Or just pasta and vegetables. Or just pulled pork sandwiches (like I did last night). So long as you eat some vegetables at some point during the day. Food doesn’t have to be complex. And cooking it doesn’t have to be complex either.

Sometimes, you have to forgo something besides work and money to do the things you love. In my house, laundry and dishes pile up, our white kitchen floor goes unswept (our back entrance is shaded by a large pine tree and surrounded by gravel – you walk in the back door and the floor is instantly dirty – it’s an uphill battle I sometimes don’t feel like fighting), and the living room stays cluttered until I just can’t stand it and I make time to clean. Sometimes I forgo cooking to clean. Or read novels. Or sleep in. Sometimes I forgo cleaning until Chad can’t stand it either and then we both clean (although usually, we only do deep cleaning when we’re having guests over).

The point is – we all have to make our own balance. And we shouldn’t be vilified for wanting to forgo working 10 extra hours per week to impress our bosses or make that extra cash (which you’ll spend on takeout anyway). Regardless of what gender we are. Or whether or not we have children.

Of course, this is predicated on your ability to provide for yourself and your family without working crazy-long hours, which isn’t possible for everyone. But if you think it’s impossible for you, I encourage you to just take a look at your finances. What does your salary go toward? If it’s something other than feeding, clothing, housing, and educating your children, ask yourself if spending $50 twice a week on taking your family out to eat is worth working 5-10 more hours per week. Or buying your son that $150 pair of shoes instead of the $50 pair? Just think – what if you got home from work an hour early each day? What would you do with that hour?

I myself am rather guilty of spending way too much time on the internet (see also this great article on No Media Mondays), but although the TV is often on in our house, I almost never watch it. Unless it’s a movie. Even then, I’m often knitting, especially in winter. But the internets. They are seductive. They make me stay up later than I should. Goof off longer on my days off than I wanted to. I already stare at a computer for most of the day – why do I do it at home? Chad is guilty of this, too. Maybe we should start instituting all kinds of days: No Media Mondays, From-Scratch Fridays, Time-Outside Tuesdays, Sleep-In-Sundays, Go For a Walk Wednesdays – what do you think? Any readers out there have tips for slowing down, making time, and balancing work and home life?

3 Responses to “Cooking for Real Life”
  1. britalberson says:

    I friend of mine once dated a fellow whose nuclear family observed the annual tradition of taking a long walk every Christmas morning after they opened gifts. The chaos of family time, cooking, wrapping, decorating, partying, and just plain stuff-accumulation faded into the background as they traversed the snowy, deserted streets, just the three of them. This tradition need not be limited to Christmas mornings. Taking even a brief stroll around the block or down the lane at least once a week with another person can be a splendid way to shed some stress.

    • vintagejenta says:

      Heaven! Long wintry walks are a favorite in our house. Either on snowshoes or creaky dry snowy sidewalks. So long as we are bundled appropriately, of course. 🙂

      Makes me miss winter in all this summer heat and humidity!

  2. Great post, Sarah. I’ve neglected FarmHouse too, but in the spirit of your essay, I won’t beat myself up about it. 🙂 Lots of good things going on in life, and work is but a small part. It’s the happiest I’ve ever been!

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