Monday, February 15, 2010

So Much Soup, Not So Much Song

Tonight I made the most delicious soup, so delicious it thrilled me a little bit. Said soup was the Tom Yum (hot and sour lemongrass) soup from the cookbook Bhudda's Table by Chat Mingkwan, whose subtitle is "Thai Feasting Vegetarian Style". This soup will cure what ails you. It's nicely spicy thanks to the wickedly hot thai chiles, but more than that, it's just perfectly balanced thanks to the combination of fresh lemongrass, shallots, galangal, lime juice and chili paste. I dare say it tasted *almost* as good as a soup you'd get in a real Thai restaurant. I've been feeling pretty good these days but if I should succumb to the winter cold or flu, I know exactly what soup I'll be eating to warm the bones and clear out the sinuses!

I can't even count the number of pots of soup I've made recently. A favorite one that I've made again and again is this Japanese Hot Pot recipe by Tadashi Ono and Harris Salat, featuring the completely addictive combination of kabocha squash, taro root, and both dried and fresh mushrooms, just for starters.

Yes, soup has been coming out of my ears. Soup has been constantly flowing in my kitchen. But what about the song??? I just wish that I could write songs the way I can make soup. I mean, yes, I can follow a recipe, oh boy can I. And much of the time, I can improvise a pot of soup based upon whatever I happen to have sitting around in the fridge. Like last week, I had some cooked blackeyed peas, which I combined with sweet potatoes and yams, coconut milk and spinach and kelp noodles, and it was a bona fide hit. The idea for that soup was inspired by a friend who is recovering from surgery, whom I had signed up to make soup for during her recovery. I was pretty sure that this combination of flavors would appeal to her, and it turns out she loved it. And so did I!

But where songwriting is concerned, it seems that I have found myself in a bona fide SLUMP! I used to write a lot. A lot of it was crap but it turned out that some of it was good. But in the past year especially, I've hardly written any music at all. And it has left me seriously questioning my life as a songwriter and also, feeling pretty out of sorts about it all. And so last weekend I finally pulled my head out of my ass and decided to do something about it. Last weekend I participated, once again, in my lodge's version of the Immersion Composition Society. The short description is that we pick a day, and on that day, we each write AND record as many songs as possible in that given day. And then we meet up that night to play for our cohorts the fruits of our labors from the day. And each time I've done it, even though it has been frustrating and scary and maddening, it's never failed to help me find inspiration I never even dreamed of previously. And more often than not, I've usually ended up with a song or two that was a keeper.

Well last weekend, I had a crisis. I spent a good 8 hours writing and strumming and doing my best to create songs out of thin air. But about halfway through the day, I was seriously distraught. I wasn't coming up with anything that wasn't completely ridiculous or self-indulgent. Or whiny. Or Just.Plain.Lame. I thought to myself that perhaps my life as a songwriter has come to an end. And I wrote page after page of blather. I tried to be kind to myself and tell myself that I just needed to get unstuck and that maybe after being stuck for so long, that it might take awhile to get unstuck. And I alternated those kinds of sentiments with other kinds of sentiments, sentiments that aren't nearly so kind or forgiving. You know... the kinds of sentiments that say forget it, you suck, you'll never utter another interesting word again, and you should maybe just give it up and spend the rest of your days in the kitchen making soup. Because you KNOW how to do that. And honestly, if I spent the rest of my days making soup and not song, life wouldn't be so bad. But the truth is, I'm just not ready to give up the SONG part of me yet. So I'm trying to listen to the kinder parts of myself and making some effort to ignore the not so kind parts, for now anyway.

I am not yet unstuck, but maybe I'm not still completely stuck. Maybe it's a fine, fine line. And so I'm just going to keep chipping away and see where it leads me. It might just lead me straight back into the kitchen, soothing myself with soup or copious amounts of alcohol, who knows? But that thrill that I had when I slurped the first spoonful of tonight's soup... I'd love to have that kind of thrill again after having finished a song, a song that feels good. A song that might make other people feel good, too. Wish me luck, cause I feel like I really need it.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Hello, February!

Drum roll please. I made it through January, and it wasn't nearly as hard as I thought it would be. In fact, I came out on the other side of it feeling pretty dang good!

In addition to abstaining from alcohol, I decided to go on a diet. And in order to help with that effort, I managed to engage in some form of exercise for 30 out of 31 days. I did a lot of walking and a lot of yoga. At first I thought the yoga was going to be something I'd have to push myself to do, but it turns out that I'm loving it. I'm loving it so much that now I can't imagine letting a week go by without practicing it at least several days out of the week. Same with the walking, which I've always enjoyed. And since I'm once again walking in the Arizona Breast Cancer 3-Day this year, there's no time like the present to get started with the training, and it feels good!

Of course, it hasn't been all sunshine and rainbows. Some days I couldn't stop dreaming of chocolate cake, even though I've never been a huge fan of such things previously. And even with all of this walking and breathing and stretching, I still have a ton of aches and pains in my back and neck and legs, although it's a lot less than than my usual amount, so for that, I'm happy.

As the month passed, I found that most of the time, I wasn't missing alcohol very much. There were moments when I REALLY wanted a glass of red wine, but those moments passed. Of course, I didn't go out a whole lot last month. I did a lot of staying home and hunkering down, and it felt good.

I learned SO much about calories! Probably more than I'd ever care to know, because now that I know what I know, I can't help but change the way I eat. I'm kind of mourning the former me that had a good run, for something like 38 years or so, of being able to eat and drink any old thing that she wanted in any kind of quantity, and never gain a pound. Yeah, those were some good days! It kind of blew my mind to discover last night, for instance, after making a huge batch of my homemade granola and then analyzing the calories, that one mere cup contains somewhere near 570 calories!!! I guess I won't be inhaling it like I used to.

I also spent a lot of time thinking about my eating habits in general, and came to the conclusion that if I had to choose between eating certain foods and drinking alcohol, as much as I LOVE wine, I'd have to choose the food over the drink. But rather than being restrictive, what I'm hoping I'll take away from all this is the ability to just be moderate and make healthy choices, because in the end, it's all about feeling good. Ok I can't deny that sometimes, stuffing myself like a pig and knocking back half a bottle of wine feels GREAT - in the moment, that is. But this is a different kind of feeling good that I'm experiencing now - sleeping better, more strength in my body, clearer skin, and oh - being able to fit into my pants! I do rather like that benefit.

Of course, moderation has NEVER been my strong point. I've usually tended towards being an all or nothing kinda gal. But I'm going to give this my best shot. And in order to help myself along, my plan for February is that I won't drink alcohol at home (unless I'm having a dinner party). I'll happily have a drink if I'm out to dinner or at a bar (and I hardly ever go to bars unless I'm playing in them so there shouldn't be overwhelming temptation there!). But for today, it turns out I AM going to a bar! And it's a bar that serves pizza so not only do I get to enjoy my first glass of wine of the year, but my first slice of pizza too! It will all happen in about another thirty minutes or so, but who's counting??