Mise en place (MEEZ ahn plahs) is a French culinary phrase which means “putting in place” or “everything in its place.” Pans are prepared. Mixing bowls, tools and equipment set out. It is a technique chefs use to assemble meals so quickly and effortlessly.
I first came across this term and its execution when my daughter, Nell, was in culinary school some years back. After seeing it in action, I realized this is what I do organically in my life. For me, it comes naturally, but I would suggest incorporating it into your flow, if possible. Not just in the kitchen for food preparation, which truly makes the whole task easier, but in other areas of your life as well.
The evening before our farm harvest morning, I take time to go out to our shed and wipe down all the surfaces, sweep the floor, assemble the crates in the garden cart for the field, put twist ties in a bucket, knives with them, get my orders and the bags for filling them organized. In the next morning’s pre-dawn light, when we are ready to harvest, all I have to do is get my coffee and go out and start.
When our co-op order delivery is on the way, I have the bed of the truck cleaned out, the order paperwork set, the shed clean and ready to receive it. The truck arrives, at whatever Hawaiian-style time they see fit to deliver, and we are set.
A turnover day in our rental cottage is a check out at 11AM and a check in at 3PM, so little time for chaos. So, the evening before or early on turnover day, I have the fresh linens and cleaning supplies ready to go in baskets, so as soon as I have said aloha to the guests leaving, I can hustle right in to clean and set up for the guests arriving.
There are other small ways I find mise en place to be helpful in reducing bedlam on a daily basis. When I pick up the mail and bring it home from the post office, I resist just putting it into a pile to deal with later. Rather I put into a basket all the recycling (an insane amount of paper, I might add – despite my attempts to reduce it!), open up the rest and put the few bills I still get in paper into their cubby on my desk, the magazines on the table for reading whenever I get to them, the deposit checks by my computer to send confirmations to the guests and then into my bank envelope.
I so vividly remember my father uttering the platitude of “A place for everything and everything in its place.” This is its own kind of mise in place and I find my life simplified a hundred fold by practicing it. This has saved me countless hours of needless searching and also made my home feel spacious and somewhat zen-like.
I am often teased about these habits of mine. Some chalk it up to me being a Virgo. However, I find it makes my life smoother and makes my tasks flow more effortlessly, leaving me more time for my own simple pleasures.
As the old advertising slogan says, “Try it, you’ll like it!”
Hard to express anything but gratitude for my situation in a world seemingly spinning out of control. Natural disasters right and left, north and south. Millions of political refugees. Malnourished children in countries experiencing famine. Wars happening or threatening to happen.
And here I am —– with a cozy home, more food than I could possibly need, and surrounded by loved ones near and far. And, while I remain thankful, I also remain frustrated as to what I can do to alleviate the suffering of so many. Every morning I awaken with a heavy heart, imagining the hellish days of so many. People just like me, who just want simple things—safety, food and shelter. Every evening I light a candle for those enduring lives that I can barely envision.
What more can I do? Treasure my fortune. I suppose. Do as much kindness as i can each and every day. This I can do. But, it seems piddling. Sigh.
Just when it shifted, I’m not certain. But, I can tell you that years ago I never thought it would. I have always prided myself on being a strong and capable woman. I still am both of those things. But, now I ask for help when I need it.
Yesterday in CostCo, facing the 50 pound bag of organic chicken feed that was on the bottom shelf, I thought to myself, “I can manage to get this into the bottom of my cart.” Then I spied a young fella a few feet away and found myself saying, “Hey, would you mind putting this into my cart for me?” Then in the parking lot, same scenario getting it into the car. There is always someone willing to help a silver-haired gal with a smile. Usually a guy happy to show his strength! And I am always just as happy to show my gratitude.
The screen that came out in the dormer window and needed climbing on the roof to put it back? No thanks. “Son, can you get the ladder and replace that screen, please?” The twelve trays of starts that need planting? “All family farm members, meet me at the start house at 4PM, we have work to do.” Even perhaps the simple things I am able to do, but just don’t want to—like replacing that door knob that has bugged me with its stickiness for months which I asked my son to do just yesterday. Almost every day now, I shamelessly ask for help.
I look back at the 38-year-old woman who came to Kauai with dreams and all the energy in the world. That gal with two little children and then a third born on the farm in the midst of the two-year project, who co-created a four-acre piece of paradise and two businesses from a four acre open field. I marvel at her spunk, her grit and her energy. Well, 30 years later, I still have the spunk and the grit, but I pace my energy now. I figure there is no reason to argue with reality. I don’t have the stamina I once did. And that 20 minute recharging nap early afternoon I relish a few times a week—I surely have earned it. That long beach walk, the hours reading—yup, earned it.
Sometimes the spunk meets stubborn and I muscle through something I should have waited for help with. But, this is a process, isn’t it?! And, it’s happening.
I just revisited an important and compelling book—Hope’s Edge: The Next Diet for a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappe and her daughter, Anna Lappe. Frances Moore Lappe in the early 1970s wrote the classic Diet for a Small Planet, which opened a huge dialogue on world hunger, dietary choices and democracy. That book is still widely read and hotly debated. Now, 40 years later, mother and daughter traveled five continents to interview people who have taken control of their own food, environment, and communities. This book presents real people who have the courage to and reap the rewards of working on global problems with local solutions.
When Organic Style Magazine interviewed the Lappes the interviewer asked them “What makes food such a compelling entry point for dealing with larger political issues?” The eloquent answer was, “. . .the act of eating, throughout the history of our species, has been what has linked us in ritual to one another and directly with the earth more than once a day. Of all the concerns about our planet, it seemed to me that food is both the most personal and planetary at once—it’s both the singular and the universal, the personal and the public. Choosing consciously to eat in a way that nourishes my body and is good for the earth is a constant reminder.”
A later question posed was: “Buying organic and eating locally makes me feel great personally, but sometimes I despair of its larger significance. Is my small economic gesture really doing anything, or is it just a drop in the bucket?” The response was brilliantly stated—“If there is no bucket and your drop is going into the sand, nothing accumulates. If there is a bucket, a drop is very significant because it doesn’t take long for drops to fill the bucket. So, it’s not really the size of the drop that’s the problem; it’s not having a bucket. How do we create the bucket? I think that is what the book is trying to show.”
This so resonates with how I try to live my life—-one little drop in the bucket in a world which often seems so senseless. It is the only way I can stay sane.
This week I was both humbled and amazed.
Sunday afternoon I rolled my foot while out walking the dog. It hurt then, but I shook it off and finished the walk.
I came home and did some chores around the farm. After an hour and a half or so, I came inside for lunch and lay down with my latest novel for a while. Gradually, the foot began to ache, then swell, then throb, then just hurt like hell. I could put no weight on it whatsoever. So, feeling ever so sorry for myself, I was contemplating the likely scenario and weeping.
I realized I could do nothing without crutches and it was Sunday, so I did what anyone in 2017 with an active Face Book life would do – I put out a plea for a pair suitable for a 5’2″ little old lady in pain. Within half an hour I had a pair of crutches and two friends at my door, adding to the presence of my son and daughter-in-law who had responded immediately, with ice packs, ace bandages, Advil and, most importantly, Newman O’s. One friend in particular did not like the look of my foot, nor my blubbering, and she insisted we go to ER for an X-ray. I only resisted for a very short amount of time before seeing the wisdom of her suggestion. Hobbled to the car with her and headed to the closest hospital.
After stunning the staff there with the fact that I was 67 and had never been to an ER, two hours later I had the news that there was no break, perhaps a hairline fracture, but most likely a bad sprain. Back home I ate the dinner another friend had put in my refrigerator, downed two more Advil, some Arnica orally and topically and slept really well.
Two more days of doing just what I would have insisted anyone I love do—-rest, ice, elevation, comfrey packs, Arnica all ways and compression.
Just three days later I ditched the crutches and, with only a slight limp, was able to resume my life. This is surely what I needed, as I had had just about enough of the prescription of care I put myself under. There is only so many crossword puzzles one can do, only so many books to read or movies to watch before my normal active lifestyle was calling me in earnest.
I am humbled by the love poured onto me when I needed it most. I am also amazed at my fast healing. And, of course, grateful for both. So, thank you to my dear friends who rallied so quickly, to all the others who sent sweet notes of love and to my own healthy body for working so hard to heal.
Sometimes I sit down to write and after a few lines I erase, shut down the computer and walk away somewhat puzzled. I wonder who would want to read what I have to say. Then last night after an exceptional yoga class something dawned on me.
I am 67 years old. I have had many varied life experiences. I have acquired wisdom. Sometimes the school of hard knocks taught me well. The wrinkles I have are well-earned in both the laugh lines and the worry ones. Somehow I have raised three children who all have much to offer this world. Much to my own surprise, I have managed for 16 single years to maintain this farm and businesses. In my orbit are a wonderful group of intelligent and fine friends. Love and abundance surround me. I must have something deserving of sharing through my writing. Just what shape that may take the next time I sit down to compose I am not certain. But, I no longer feel inadequate expressing it. At least that’s the clarity I got last evening. We’ll see if it sustains.
For weeks and weeks I eagerly anticipated my time away. Alone. Traveling to see family and loved ones on the mainland. The farm in capable and caring hands. Seattle – Santa Fe – New York City. Three weeks. It was epic. My heart was full of joy seeing and spending time with people I cherish and whom I do not get to see often enough. The weather was brisk and gray mostly in Seattle, which I found to be a marvelous contrast to home. That city has a certain allure for me. Santa Fe’s glorious high desert landscapes thrilled me and spring was strutting her stuff. New York City was cold and windy, just the right climate for long city walks in my old haunts. And the tulips were everywhere and their colors psychedelic. I got to wear my favorite jeans, boots and even fleece! I ate amazing food. Drank some fabulous wines. Explored bookstores and boutiques. Laughed and even cried with the dearest of my dear ones.
When it was time to come home, I was truly ready. Pulling up in the driveway at the farm and seeing all the care that was taken while I was away was a true validation. My sons and their partners are nothing short of awesome. The sheer volume of the different shades of green was soothing to my eyes after the grey skies of Seattle, the monochromatic colors of Santa Fe and the duller hues of Manhattan. And to sleep in my own bed! That alone is worth a trip away just to experience it upon returning! And pick a salad for dinner from our gardens. Nirvana.
The first morning waking up here, I tried to not see all the work that was ahead of me. I walked the farm and attempted to just see the beauty and bounty. My mind kept wandering to making mental lists of the projects (there are always projects!) I had an internal tug of war making myself keep coming back to just how very lovely it is here. On this island. On our farm. In my home.
I have lived here for almost thirty years, just less than half my life. Raised a family here. Became single again here. Worked long and hard to continue to ground myself and my children in the intention that first created this place. That is a lot of living and loving. I thoroughly intend to travel more and see the familiar places and people I adore. And explore new ones also. But, for now, I will always come home to North Country Farms. And always be glad to.
There is no place like home.
The human touch. Vital.
Just now I had a fine and fabulous hour and half of body work. It was exquisite. There were knots I knew I had and some she found that were surprising. Time was taken with tender deep work to unravel and relax me.
What I realized at the very end of this time, as my head was being massaged and her sweet intuition realized the nirvana that I had reached, was that just being touched in such a sensitive and caring way was, in itself, healing. Not just the untying of the chunks of overworked and tense muscles, but the touch.
Having not been in a romantic relationship for years, I miss touch. Not sex, necessarily, although that might be just fine also. But, touch. Cuddling. Thankfully I have a community that treasures hugs, as does my family. We all need that loving touch.
Forgive me from quoting a commercial a ways back from some communication company —
“Reach out and touch someone.” Trust me, they will feel better.
Recently a friend sent me a beautiful and bountiful book called “Vegetable Literacy” by Deborah Madison. Aside from being a visually stunning book, it is full of wonderful recipes. The friend thought it was somewhat cheeky of him to be giving me a book about growing and serving vegetables, about which he assumed I knew more than enough. But, wrong he was and I have spent hours reading this book and even trying a recipe or two. Here is one I liked. With worlds of Swiss Chard currently in our garden, as well as cilantro, this was a natural choice!
Chard Soup with Cumin, Cilantro and Lime
8 cups trimmed chard leaves (about a pound or 20 leaves)
3 tbsp olive oil
1 onion sliced
1 potato sliced
1 carrot sliced
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
cup of finely cut cilantro leaves
1 tsp sea salt
1/2 cup sour cream or yogurt
freshly ground pepper
grated zest and juice of one lime
Chop the chard coarsely. Heat oil in soup pot. Add onion, potato and carrot and cook, stirring occasionally about 5 minutes to soften. Stir in the tomato paste, smashing it into the veggies and then add the cumin, coriander, cilantro and chard leaves. Sprinkle salt, cover the pot and allow the leaves to cook down lots before adding 5 cups of water. Bring to a boil, lower the heat to simmer, cover partially, and simmer until potato has softened. Cool slightly and then add sour cream and puree in blender until smooth. Return it all to pot over gentle heat. Taste for salt, season with pepper, and stir in the lime zest and juice. Should serve four.
While I still hold onto my own little piece of the planet and the goodness we grow here, both in the gardens and in our hearts, I find each and every day a part of my spirit wilts knowing what an abysmal man we have at the helm of our mother ship, America.
And just this morning, while I read aghast once more, the expeditious and evil things he is implementing just days after taking office, I realized that my disgust for him as a person might even exceed my distaste for his ill-guided and insidious policies.
Trump is a buffoon. But, he is also a vile man, whose continued lack of respect for women is nothing short of shocking. Selfish and seriously disturbed, the very sight of him makes me cringe.
There, I have said it. And now I can get back to the work of doing whatever I can, in my own small way, to counter the repugnant actions this repulsive man is enacting.
Today’s winter solstice — darkest day or return of the light? I truly feel that right now we so strongly need the metaphor of the return of the light. If we dwell, emotionally and spiritually, in the dark, we can become both bitter and hopeless. Acknowledging that the light exists in each of us may just assist us in bringing that forward. I cannot tell what that might mean to you, but I do know that just simple kindness can be potent. Opening up our hearts when shutting down is a normal response to the state of both our country and the world can be a powerful antidote to this darkness. Let that little light of yours shine. Let it shine. Let it shine.
I fell today. Without attempting to explain the physics of the event, suffice it to say it involved a wet tile floor, soap, scrubbing and me. I came down hard and fast onto my hip. Hard enough to see stars and utter several unladylike profanities. As I lay there for a bit gathering myself and assessing to see if any real damage had been done, I contemplated that falls like that are dangerous at any age, but no joke at 67.
I don’t know where my mind was when this occurred, but I do know it wasn’t on the task at hand. After recovering I got to thinking that I was obviously not totally present when it happened. It was a shocking and painful reminder to move more slowly and consciously. To be walking down the stairs when I am walking down the stairs, not thinking where I’m off to at the bottom. To be aware that I am getting up on a slippery tile floor when doing so, not thinking about what I have to clean next. To be lifting that hot boiling pot of pasta to the sink when I’m lifting that pot, not pondering the sauce that will be going onto the pasta once drained.
Cultivating mindfulness has so many facets and so many benefits. It can improve our lives in a myriad of ways. And in this case, could have saved me the giant lump on my hip which shall be turning so many neon colors soon enough.
Be here now.