In all fairness to myself, I was beyond burnt out and had been working non-stop since I’d gotten out of college. I’d turned into someone I didn’t much like, which wasn’t an opinion held only by me. Just ask my father and brother who enjoy imitating the way I used to take their calls; not “Hello!” but rather, “What!” Pleasant, no? When my last gig crashed and burned around me I took it as a sign that it was time to move on, reinvent, rediscover and reconnect with myself. And here’s the thing. The adjustment to not working couldn’t have been easier. I have friends whose lines of work involve hiatuses (hiatae?) and they don’t know what to do with themselves during breaks that come with the promise of going back to the job in just a few weeks. To me, having a nice chunk of time to reclaim oneself without the anxiety of starting something new, but with the knowledge that you’ll be making a living again in familiar surroundings, would be ideal.
When I was working full-time I wondered what people who didn’t did all day. Now I wonder how I ever got anything done when I was employed. You see, like all good things, my stretch of working from home and convincing myself that really, I could live without a regular income and write all day while looking out the window as the leaves changed over the months, er, years, had to come to an end. The tax man waits for no one to finish writing a book she isn’t writing.
So, back into the job market I went. And when I was offered a job that seemed to fit my bill in that 1) it wouldn’t cause me to scream “What?!” anytime my phone rang and 2) it was in line with my interest in food and writing, I was thrilled. Until I realized I would be confronting the above mentioned anxieties. When you work for yourself from home the only jitters you have are the few times when the wool you’ve pulled over your eyes slips and you remember that unless you start to make some money you will be homeless and how did you let this much time go by without a job and what’s going to happen to you and you used to have a corner office and now you wear exercise clothes all day and the only people you see at the gym at 10AM are retirees.
Obviously, I wasn’t living a completely stress-free existence. But I was quite well-skilled in the art of denial and managed not to let little things like not being financially rewarded for a job well done get in my way of pretending everything was all good. And the fact is I was redirecting my life. I didn’t set out to change things up but found myself wanting to do things I hadn’t tried. Thinking about it now, it never occurred to me that I was being brave, but maybe I was. Reality television has debased the use of the word “journey,” taking it from meaning a voyage or trip to implying a personal growth spurt. But I think that’s kind of what happened to me.
If only old habits were easier to break. Just as I had played it safe by staying in my last job for so long that I never had Sunday night feeling and was far from the “new girl,” I got very comfortable in my routinized, unemployed life. Probably in an attempt to place order on my unacknowledged psychic chaos, I developed a schedule and planned out every day. It worked very well in making me feel like I was busy and in fact, I was. Writing, baking, keeping my household ducks in a row, trying to be a good daughter, sister, aunt and friend, I never had so much as a minute of boredom. Unlike my friends who freak out when they are on hiatus, I didn’t think twice. Until I had to.
Last Sunday, before the Monday on which my current state of life was going to change, I was preparing to face the anxiety trifecta of Sunday night/new girl/first day of school jitters. I kept myself busy with my nieces during the day, making sure to get home in the late afternoon because I knew I’d want something comforting—“nursery food” as my father calls it—as my cozy sweet that night. So I decided to make a healthier riff on a rice pudding, using quinoa and skim milk. The constant stirring put me in a zen state and the warm scent of cinnamon was totally soothing. But here’s the crazy thing. I didn’t need to be calmed down. I was really okay. I got a good night sleep, didn’t have a pit in my stomach, made it to work on time and maintained my sense of self all day. And then I thought, maybe the last too many years really were about a journey that helped unfurl my knotted head and gave me more strength than I’d given myself credit for. Now I have a ton of quinoa pudding without needing to be tranquilized. But luckily you don’t have to be a neurotic mess to appreciate a delicious, creamy treat, brought to life with spice and dried fruit. I’ll be eating it every night this week, except Sunday. I won’t need it.
New Job Quinoa Pudding
Adapted from Body & Soul, 2008
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3/4 cup quinoa, rinsed
4 cups skim milk
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup honey
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup chopped dried apricots
In a large saucepan, bring quinoa and 3 cups milk to a boil.
Reduce to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, 12 to 14 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk together sugar, honey, eggs, cinnamon, and remaining cup of milk.
Reduce heat to medium-low. Stirring constantly, slowly pour egg mixture into quinoa; add raisins and apricots.
Cook, stirring constantly, until mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, 3 to 5 minutes.
Pour pudding into a 2-quart dish and let cool slightly. Cover surface directly with plastic and refrigerate until cool, at least 2 hours and up to 2 days.