Creative Cooking or what happens when you live alone and love food. by Megan Orcholski
I’ve been into cooking for a few years now.
I like to look up recipes and have several really awesome cookbooks.
But my favorite thing to do is to get hungry and dream up things to make. I’ve always been incredibly creative and in my adult life; this has extended to food. I will become inspired by a specific taste or food and then just create. Sometimes, things turn out awful (like the time I tried to add egg yolks into a white sauce. Scrambled egg soup. Yuck). But sometimes, I come up with something wonderful.
I’ve had two really great dishes this week. The first one was inspired by wanting a goat cheese mixture on top of grilled chicken. It was arguably the best thing I have ever made. When I realized I didn’t have any angel hair pasta, I used Japanese noodles. THEY WERE AMAZING! I’m in love. These newfound noodles then inspired a soup-like chicken dish that has a lot of green vegetables in it. There are lots of ways to vary it–I basically used what I thought sounded good (and what I had in my fridge!)
I’ve been really excited about these dishes and wanted to share them!
I hope you enjoy these or that they inspire you to makes something delicious for yourself!
This dish has four layers. All the parts are pretty simple. The trick is to time everything, so that the dish is hot.
Bottom Layer: Cooked Japanese noodles (they only take about 3 minutes). I like to swirl them in the bottom of a large bowl or a plate with high edges.
Second Layer: Buttered Spinach with green onion and garlic. Heat olive oil in a pan and then add the garlic and green onion on medium-high. When the garlic starts to get golden, add the spinach. Cook for just a few seconds stirring until it cooks down, then add a lump of butter. Cook for one minute, stirring. Lay on top of the noodles.
Third Layer: Grilled Chicken Breast. I use a George Foreman Grill.
Top Layer: This is a goat cheese spread I made up. Basically, it’s goat cheese, cherry tomatoes diced incredibly finely and alfalfa sprouts. I stir them all together. Then I paint it on top of the chicken so it melts in.
Chicken & Green Stuff
Olive oil to cover the pans
2 green onions
Handful of sugar snap peas
Heaping spoonful of minced garlic
2 Cans of Chicken Broth
2 chicken breasts
Small bundle of Japanese noodles (the kind I buy come in bundles)
Optional Ingredients I add to taste:
Dash of soy sauce
Cut up the chicken breasts into bite sized pieces and sauté them in olive oil. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Cut the green onions (both the white and green parts) and sugar peas into small pieces. Add them and the garlic to another pan with high sides. Sautee on med-high heat, stirring often to make sure the garlic doesn’t burn.
Once the greens are softened, add the two cans of Chicken Broth and turn on high. At this point in time I add alfalfa sprouts to taste cause I like them. I also add some cilantro cause I think it brings a nice flavor to the broth.
Once it boils, add the Japanese noodles. After a minute or two, turn it to low and add the chicken and any other spices you prefer. I also add salt, pepper, Bavarian spices and the soy sauce at this point. Let simmer until the flavors start to blend together. You can usually tell by smell, taste and consistency.
New Year’s is a fascinating time for me. Like any good overachiever (Heather is also high on this list!), I love the idea of setting New Year’s Resolutions. It seems smart and productive to make a whole list of good ideas you have every intention of achieving:
“I’m going to cut back on soda!”
“I’m going to be more organized!!”
“I’m going to change the world!!!”
But there are a few problems with this.
The first obvious one is that the statistics on those who successfully achieve their resolutions are incredibly low. A Journal of Clinical Psychology from the University of Scranton reported on December 13th, 2012 that of about half of the country who reports usually making resolutions, only 8% report successfully achieving their resolution. I’m much more of a qualitative researcher, but even I know…those aren’t good odds.
Secondly, I have been on an academic year schedule my entire adult life. The New Year does not greet me peacefully relaxing in my house with a few days off ready to start over. It finds me in someone else’s home (usually my mother’s. Great for feeling loved. Bad for personal organization,) hours away from my current life, with most of my closet messily packed into my car, inhabiting a pain-filled body made worse by couch sleeping and lack of exercise, in some sort of food & wine induced depressive coma. It is about this time that I realize I haven’t been NEARLY as productive so far on break and wonder how I could possibly resolve to do anything for a whole year if I couldn’t even do a few things these last few weeks off. Don’t get me wrong, I love being an academic! I can’t imagine not having my 3 week vacation reset at the holidays. But I am always traveling when the year shifts which is a hard place to start anything solid.
Finally, January is when my anxiety is at it’s absolute worst. My first year of grad school (4 years ago) I cried the entire month. Amongst these more-than-usual-tears, I cleaned everything. I thought if I could just organize everything enough, my life would have control. Yeah. Right [Insert uncontrollable laughing here]. When I felt ridiculous the second year, I was like, “Oh, I remember this….it’s a pattern?!?” Even last year, when I KNEW it was coming, I cried the entire way back to Fargo, thinking “Why do I live in Fargo, ND?! And why did I think I could coach a speech team?!? I don’t even like speech! I’m not even a good coach.” Within two days of being back, I was like, “Ooooh, yeah. I love speech That’s why I coach. And I’ve worked really hard to become a good coach. That’s right.” So basically, January is the time I have to possibly defend myself from my crazy….self.
This time around, I feel better about heading into this next year than I have in a long time.
And it’s because of this past year of my life.
I’ve had an amazing year.
I’ve done a lot of great things.
I’ve conquered a lot of things.
I turned 30, for heaven’s sake!
Thus, in order to move forward into 2013, I first want to reflect on the things that happened this past year that were successful achievements and then use those to make smart, necessary resolutions.
For me, 2012 was:
1. The year of pain management. I’ve had chronic pain and tension for 12 years. I have been to numerous doctors, 4 chiropractors, had MRI’s, “cat”scans, x-rays and tried every solution under the sun. I usually go to the doctor, have them tell me it’s all in my head, then go cry in my house for 3ish years until I get brave enough to try again.
This time, I cried to my doctor and begged her to help me on a healing journey. The universe worked crazy magic and got me into a specialist that day. Then this past January, I started physical therapy. It was life changing. I learned how to properly bend over. I learned how to get into my car in a way that would hurt my SI joints. I learned that many of the things I would do to relieve my pain were actually making it worse.
I started stretching, doing exercises and yoga regularly (I even brought my exercise ball on vacations!) By summer, I showed major improvement. I was feeling better than I had since high school! But I was afraid that when school started I would get too busy and go back to my routine of not sleeping and not taking care of myself.
But I didn’t. I set aside a Monday night yoga class and made almost every one. I went to the YMCA. I sat in the hot tub. I breathed in the sauna. This current holiday break has been a true testament to how much better I truly am. I am less crabby and am finally to a place where I know I can get myself back to functional if the pain gets bad. I also recently signed up for a massage club at Massage Envy that gives discounts if you go every month. This seems frivolous, but when I realized it was for my physical health, the price seems small.
Resolved in 2013: Get a massage every month
2. The year of deeper spirituality. When a person (me) grows up Christian, then has all of her beliefs challenged in college, then learns a lot of things about power, realizes she has trouble traditionally praying and THEN discovers other things that she is faithful to that don’t fit into mainstream religion, spiritual life can be hard. It has been for me for over 10 years.
I am an incredibly faithful person, but have struggled to find away to express or manifest that faith. This year, I have found my spiritual self again….on my yoga mat. My mom (an incredibly inspiring faithful Christian) often quips about hard decisions, “Go pray about it.” That hasn’t always felt useful.
But this year, I realized how I could pray. My breathing could be prayer. Go yoga it. Go breathe about it. I started sending actual breath energy to people and not being ashamed to talk about it. My physical therapist taught me how to fill my chakras. I started to feel whole and connected to the universe. And peaceful. It was an incredible personal achievement.
Resolved in 2013: deepen my yoga practice
3. The year of emotional processing. I had some major things happen to me during 2012, one of which changed my whole life. In June, I had a person who I was incredibly close to tell me they didn’t want to communicate with me anymore. I had always thought I was good at emotional processing, I’ve handled a father dying, two huge break-ups and many life changes. But this really tested me. And several months later, I can report I am doing far better than expected. I still have a lot of “work” to do, but am in a good place. I’m me. I’m recognizing my blessings and trying to move through hurt and anger. I’m getting closer to peace.
Resolved in 2013: Write about this to yourself. For yourself. You know you need to
4. The year of relationships. After being single longer than the average life span of many small mammals (think hamster. Or hedgehog. I looked it up), I started seeing someone this year. And not like, “oh this is casual you seem nice”. No, this was more like, “I like you so much I’m going to go out of my way to see you even though my life is crazy and you live 3+ hours away from me.”
I have wanted to be in a relationship. But I honestly had gotten to the point where I wondered if there was anyone I could be in a relationship with (This may have crossed my mother’s mind as well). I was happy in my singularity. I was proud to be independent and by myself. When people asked me who I lived with, I would reply, “Oh, there’s three of us. Me, myself and I. It’s great! We all like the same foods, watch the same TV shows and we rarely fight…”
I have become quite opinionated about romantic intimate relationships and have developed standards (some would say high. I’d say these are basic things we should all expect). I have always claimed that while I didn’t think it would happen, I would try to be open for if it did. And this year showed me I was open to it.
I am now in a long distance relationship with a white, straight, morning person who cares about germs and safety. Not what I’d planned. Not what I wanted. And everything I need. It’s awesome. It’s interesting being in a couple after so long, but I’m proud of how well I’m adjusting.
Resolved in 2013: Don’t get caught up in relationship details. Enjoy every moment
5. The year of getting much better at my job. When I started teaching and coaching at Concordia in 2010, I smiled a lot and worked constantly. I threw myself into my job and did pretty well, but it took almost everything I had.
This past year I made significant steps to do my job better while making my life easier. I kept better paperwork. I made training videos. I got my schedules up earlier. Most importantly, I’m less frazzled. Less behind. I even turned my grades in HOURS early this past semester. That’s a big deal. I know there will be set backs, but I feel really happy with where I am and how far I’ve come.
Resolved in 2013: Do significant work on training booklet and send out at least 3 things for publication
6. The year of a clean house. When the person I’m currently seeing came to my house for the first time, he got a cute look on his face and then said, “I thought your place would be…messier.” I smiled. And metaphorically patted myself on the back.
I have worked incredibly hard to become more organized. I get rid of things more easily now and have a manageable order to the things I do want to keep. I have a split personality of an existential hippy that wants to give up all her possessions and live in a foreign country combined with a Midwestern packrat theater director. I have the average amount of dishes, towels, blankets and food for a family of four. And I like living this way. But I also like that my life is less cluttered than it used to be. That my clothes are put away. That things have a spot and I’m not living in a tiny room of stuff any more.
Resolved in 2013: Clean and organize the spare bedroom
7. The year of 30. As you may know, I turned 30. And though I was very proud of this accomplishment, I was more proud that I finished and did justice to celebrating my birthday in writing for 30 days.
When I approached Heather about the idea, she rightfully questioned whether I would write them all. I told her I was worried about it, but that it was something I really wanted to complete. It didn’t go quite as I had planned (you know, with me relaxed and sipping wine in my abundant free time while I peacefully wrote things worthy of being published and read by everyone in the world) but it happened. And it was beautiful.
Resolved in 2013: Write more. You are worth it.
8. The year of deciding to stop social smoking. I’m not a smoker. I don’t buy cigarettes. I don’t wake up in the morning and crave a drag. Smoking was something I learned to do for a role on stage in college and became an activity that was fun to do around friends who smoked.
I love the social aspect of it, the routine. I like being with friends who are smokers and joining them in their cultural practices. If that doesn’t make sense to you, that’s ok. The argumentation behind it is terrible; it’s just emotionally true.
When I think back how long I’ve been social smoking, it’s sickening. But I haven’t really had a good reason to stop. It’s hard to “quit” something you aren’t addicted to, an activity that you just do for fun. But along with trying to get my body to a healthier place, I’ve found some pretty good reasons to stop having cigarettes. I had my last one in mid-November and have successfully made it through several holiday gatherings that I would usually partake. The time needs to be now. I just need to keep it that way.
Resolved in 2013: No cigarettes all year. Not even one.
9. The year of relaxing about the future. This is the time of my life that I’m stereotypically supposed to be worrying by my future. Will I ever have a lifelong partner? Will I ever have kids? When will I get my PhD? And where?!?! What am I doing with my life?
But I think I did so much worrying as a young person, that I’ve kinda zenned out. I have small concerns, but I just don’t freak out like I used to. I’m not oblivious; I know that the future may take some kind of planning. But I’m not trying to micromanage. I’m enjoying my moments. I’m loving the life I have. I am excited about the future and what it’s going to bring to me.
Resolved in 2013: Do more research on potential PhD programs and apply when the time feels right.
10. The best year I’ve had so far. I keep joking that I’m like a fine wine or cheese; I just keep getting better and better with age.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had some amazing years in my life. There was the year I fell madly in love and thought I was going to get married. There was my first year of graduate school. There was even my first year in Fargo where I helped do amazing things both in the classroom and on my speech team.
But this past year, I have been a better person than I have ever been. I feel like I just keep sinking into life. Breathing deeper. Becoming more joyful about everything. Happier with who I am. I am sure there is roughness coming someday. I am sure that some years will feel like being pulled backward. But I am so proud of how I have found myself this year. The things I have done, said and felt this year. It makes me incredibly excited for the next year.
Resolved in 2013: make this next year even better than the last.
Earlier this year, I turned 30. Unlike most people in the world who dread getting older or hush their day of birth, I LOVE MY BIRTHDAY!!!! I love celebrating, I love cake, I love gifts, and I love being able to jump for joy that I am still alive! I always have a wonderful birthday, but this year, I didn’t want to only celebrate for a day. I didn’t even want to celebrate for a week- I wanted a whole month! I was planning to do fun things each day, but I thought….wouldn’t it be great if other people could do them with me if they wanted!?!?!? So much birthday happiness for EVERYONE!
I posted on my Facebook each day what I was doing to celebrate that day with a link to a blog post that explains why and how it fits in the context of my life. I encouraged others to either just read and enjoy or to also do the joyful activity in their own lives.
I teach oral interpretation and love theater. Thus, I’ve planned the 30-day celebration with the same dramatic pattern of a good story. We started on October 1st, built rising action toward my birthday, climax on the 25th (My actual birthday!) and then had 4 days of dénouement. Halloween had its own day, so we pretty much celebrated my birthday for 30 days, then wore costumes. Perfection.
This started as something fun I wanted to do to celebrate my 30th birthday. I love an excuse to do happy, wonderful things and turning 30 seemed like a perfectly legitimate reason to openly celebrate for an entire month. But I wanted people to be able to celebrate with me, so I planned to post my happenings on Facebook. As I started telling people my plan and getting excited, I realized it might be fun to do one thing on day 1, two things on day 2, etc. Then someone said, “you should match the activities with your years.” Excellent idea!
When I began thinking about what I would do each day, I realized I was thinking of very specific events in my life that had a story or lesson. I really wanted to be able to share these things, write them down and use these to reflect on my life and who I am. Because even though a good percentage of the motivation to do this is the pure bliss of doing fun and happy things, there is a bittersweet chunk. I’m happy to still be alive. There are a lot of people in my life who were once alive and aren’t anymore. I sometimes ponder why they are not still alive but I am. I have also been through many things. 30 Days of Megan gave me the opportunity to explore how these events have shaped me and made me who I am. Then, as I shared with others, they were also getting to celebrate life and themselves.