Back when I was part of a group beach house we’d plop down on the couches after dinner and play various games—Celebrity, Pictionary etc. One night someone suggested we go around the room and each person name a physical quality about themselves that they wanted to change. The only good thing about the game was it was sure to bring a lot of reassurance since this group was a particularly supportive one. To say the responses were rapid-fire would be an understatement. “My weight!” “My male patterned baldness!” “My crooked nose!” one after the other everyone spoke up immediately. That was until it was one woman’s turn. The game came to a screeching halt as she cocked her head to one side, then slowly to the other, presumably searching through her physical attributes until she came to one she was unhappy with. After a good two minutes she finally opened her mouth and said thoughtfully, “You know, I don’t really like my knees.”
What?! Was she kidding? You mean she started at the top of her head, worked her way down and didn’t find anything objectionable until she got to her freaking knees?! I wanted to punch her. Truth be told I wanted to punch her even before the game because she had a last name as a first name and perfectly squared off eyebrows. The combination of which gave her an otherworldly and superior aura that I did not appreciate. (Isn’t it funny that someone with a last name as a first name sounds like the villain in a 1940’s movie or a soap opera titan of industry whereas someone with a first name as a last name sounds like a porn-star or a redneck? Think about it.)
I don’t necessarily think it is a bad thing to take stock of what you might like to adjust about your outer and, especially, inner self. Isn’t it good to keep changing and growing? If you’re just satisfied with the status quo, what’s the point? Now, I’m not saying you shouldn’t love yourself and be comfortable in your own skin, as flabby as that skin might be. Acceptance is a key component of happiness. But there is a fine line between acceptance and resignation.
Last week I was doing a jigsaw puzzle with Niece 1. At age two she was putting the pieces together faster than me and now at six, she doesn’t need my help at all. “Uh, I’m so bad at this,” I moaned. She put her piece down and gave me a hard stare, “Don’t say that! You are a great puzzle-doer! Just keep practicing!” She was so right and I love that she’s being raised in a way that doesn’t allow for self-flagellation, just self-improvement. Shutting up negative voices, or not giving them room to begin with, is a major goal for me.
But still, there are plenty of things I’d like to change about myself, most falling under the banner of slightly compulsive. I remember an episode of Friends where neat-freak Monica can’t fall asleep knowing there is a pair of errant shoes in her living room. If memory serves, the other five Friends have challenged her to live with it and ignore what is out of place. But she feels strongly that shoes are supposed to be in the closet of the bedroom. She’s tossing and turning and finally gives up and gives in, goes out to the living room and takes the shoes back with her to the bedroom. The "live studio audience" roared with laughter. I did not. I didn’t get the joke at all. I would have done exactly the same thing.
There are certain triggers that totally set me off. The sight of an empty tube of paper towels for example. I find it overwhelmingly depressing. Unmade bed? Same thing. Dirty dishes in the sink? Oh my god. That’s actually a big one. My kitchen is too small to allow for a full size dishwasher so I have one of those skinny, 18-inch ones which I have to run all the time. It’s also incredibly noisy so I have to time this daily running for when I don’t plan on being in ear shot, often later in the evening. The other night I had miscalculated and there was no room in the machine for my dinner dishes. Meaning my newly dirty dishes would have to wait till the full dishwasher had run. I got into bed to read and was about to drift off when I realized the cycle was probably done. So I got out of bed, went into the kitchen, put on rubber gloves to protect myself from the scorching heat of the just cleaned dishes, unloaded the dishwasher, then loaded it again with the dinner dishes and finally went to sleep. It was after 12:30am. On the one hand, I never have roaches and my kitchen would probably earn an “A” from the Department of Health. On the other hand, come on! What did I possibly think was going to happen while my dishes potentially sat in the sink between 12 and 8 AM?
The paper towel issue is really more about feeling unprepared. I hate the idea of running out of anything essential or finding myself Bounty-free should I spill a carton of milk. My Be Prepared motto (okay, I share it with the Boy Scouts) also propels me towards always having a treat at the ready in the freezer. You just never know when an unwanted guest will show up or a last minute pot-luck invite will arrive. When I thawed a pound cake for a condolence call just after I had used up some frozen cookie dough for a recent spur-of-the-moment dinner plan, I realized my freezer was bare. This wouldn’t do at all. I was still over-run with the various frozen doughs inherited after my parents’ move. What better way to use up the soon-to-succumb to freezer burn puff pastry than to bake palmiers, or elephant ears? They couldn’t be easier to make and they look so impressive and taste even better than they look. The key is that after you roll them up you can wrap the flattened log in plastic, pop it into the freezer and slice and bake whenever you need them. Or double the recipe and bake half of them off right away to enjoy immediately and save the rest for the unexpected. In the meantime I had been thinking of trying a little cognitive therapy, practicing living with dirty dishes in the sink overnight, just to see if I could sleep. But I’m not sure I’m ready for that. Maybe I’ll practice my jigsaw puzzle skills first. After I make my bed.
Be Prepared Palmiers
Adapted from Barefoot Contessa, The Food Network
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1 cup granulated sugar
pinch of kosher salt
1 sheet puff pastry, defrosted (I used Pepperidge Farm)
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees and line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper. Set aside.
Combine the sugar and kosher salt. Pour 1/2 cup of the sugar/salt mixture on a flat surface such as wooden board or marble. Unfold sheet of puff pastry onto the sugar and pour 1/2 cup of the sugar mixture on top, spreading it evenly over the puff pastry. Don't be shy. Really use up the whole 1/2 cup. With a rolling pin, roll the dough until it's 13 by 13-inches square and the sugar is pressed into the puff pastry on top and bottom. Fold the sides of the square towards the center so they go halfway to the middle. Fold them again so the two folds meet exactly at the middle of the dough.
Then fold 1 half over the other half as though closing a book. You will have 6 layers.
At this point either wrap in plastic and freeze for future use
Slice the dough into 3/8-inch slices and place the slices, cut side up, on baking sheets lined with parchment paper.Bake the cookies for 6 minutes until caramelized and brown on the bottom, then turn with a spatula and bake another 3 to 5 minutes, until caramelized on the other side. Transfer to a baking rack to cool.
Yield: 20 cookies