Happy Herbivore Blog

Confession: I used to be a bad cook

Posted by: Lindsay S. Nixon |

Category: Advice

I'm speaking at Google next week.

Ever since they invited me to come give a talk as part of their Authors@Google series, I've been trying to figure out what I'd talk about. I knew I wanted to share my story of how I went from being a lawyer to the happy herbivore, but I kept feeling like something was missing. That a part of my story was left unsaid.

I fell into my culinary career and believe me when I say no one was more surprised than me. 

When I left home to go to college, I didn't know how to make anything beyond a sandwich. I didn't even know how to boil water to make pasta. A few days before I was leaving for school, my mom tried to show me how to make scrambled eggs and it went badly. I could tell she was worried about me, how would I eat? But I assured her I'd make good use of the dining hall.

For the first two years, the extent of my "cooking" in college was making a bowl of cereal or heating up a poptart. (I could also make some awesome jell-o shots, but I'm not quite sure I can call that cooking.)

My third year roommate, however, was all domestic-like and loved cooking. On the weekends, all of our guys friends would flock to our apartment to eat whatever she made. I was a bit jealous of the attention, so one weekend I asked if I could help out; I wanted to get in on the action! My roommate went easy on me and gave me a recipe for crostini. I thought Great! How hard is it to toast bread and top it with stuff?

I failed. Miserably. The bread was so hard we almost broke our teeth trying to bite it. My roommate and all our friends, including my then-boyfriend, made fun of me for weeks. Anytime they ate something my roommate made when I was around, they'd say "You didn't make this right Lindsay?" 

I was mortified and promised myself I'd never step back in the kitchen. (I did eventually learn how to make a simple pasta dish that I used anytime I needed to entertain and I've included it in Everyday Happy Herbivore).

I met Scott my senior year and finding such a great boyfriend that also liked to cook seemed to be the best solution I could have hoped for. For the first three years we were together, Scott did all the cooking. I could make pasta, tacos (seasoning packet), sloppy joes (seasoning packet), mac n' cheese (from a box) and canned soup, but that was pretty much it. Even then I still hated cooking and cringed anytime Scott would ask me to make dinner since he was running late. 

Then when Scott & I were married, my family and friends started to tease me non-stop about my lack of cooking skills, insisting that I needed to learn how to make at least one really good meal. It had been a few years since the crostini debacle and while the scars were still there, the wounds weren't fresh, so I decided to give cooking another try. 

I went to the bookstore and bought one of Jaime Oliver's books (he was the Naked Chef back then) and spent hours -- literally hours -- preparing this one dish. Thankfully, it was edible, but it wasn't that great. It certainly wasn't worth the effort and time I had put in or the amount of money I spent on ingredients. Scott was really proud of my effort but I continued to think I was a lousy cook and it just wasn't for me.

I became a vegetarian not long after that and Scott (bless him!) was pretty good about making meals that we could both eat. When I went vegan, however, Scott was all "you are on your own." He was supportive of my decision, but had no idea what he'd make me if he had to take cheese and eggs out of the equation. 

I tried to get buy on stir-frys, pasta and veggie burgers, but it didn't take long for me to realize if I was going to be vegan, I needed to get in the kitchen and learn to cook. Back then there weren't many substitutes or convenience foods for vegans. I was also living in an not-so-veg-friendly city so my hand was really forced in the kitchen.

I started slow and easy, making things like soups and stews. I then ventured into muffins. The first 3 vegan baking attempts came out wrong but I was determined to make it work (I was hungry for muffins!) and when the fourth batch rose perfectly (and tasted good too!) I was a new person. Every bad experience was gone. I had a new excitement. I can still remember those muffins vividly -- I can still remember how good it felt to get something right. 

One "success" gave me the courage to keep trying, to keep cooking and keep baking. It all started out of necessity and along the way it turned out to be something I loved. As I got more comfortable and confident in the kitchen, I started trying to make my own recipes. I started experimenting with new flavors. New ideas kept coming and coming and coming and I was fearless about trying them out. I was a foodie. I was a cook. and somewhere in all of that, I became a chef. 

but I still don't make crostini. 

Minimalist Monday: Minimalist Schedule for Maximum Productivity

Posted by: Lindsay S. Nixon |

Category: Minimalist

I always feel like I have 50 things going on. Granted, a lot of it is self-inflicted because I'm always coming up with projects or tasks that I need to do, should do and less often, want to do. I've also been freelancing a little here and there so random projects crop up on a moments notice and as my publisher finishes putting my new cookbook together, I'll get an email asking for another picture, a clarification or some other little task randomly in the middle of the day. 

Me & my todo lists (yes that is a puzzle, I do them for stress-relief)

My point is, my "schedule" always feels all-consuming and chaotic. The todo list continues to become longer rather than shorter and just as I start to push through some of it, more piles on. Eventually, when the mound gets really high, and the todo list very, very long, I start feeling panicky and anxious and my solution is to run away and go watch TV or something. This obviously does not help the situation. 

I tried to "leave it all up to the universe," throw away my to do list and just live, figuring if it was important, if it mattered, I would get it done. It seemed like a very minimalist-oriented approach to things: only doing what was necessary, as necessary, but I found living this way only made me more stressed and more frazzled. 

I was often doing things at the last minute and I found this also meant I wasn't doing as good a job as I would have liked to do. And I just felt stressed the entire time. Plain and simple. There is no zen in chasing after the bus. The worse part to this approach, though, was that I also could never really get ahead. 

While I recognize I can't be completely proactive with everything, I can be and should be with some things, so that when the unpredictable curve ball comes my way, it doesn't cause so much chaos and turbulence. 

So I started creating a pseudo schedule. I like to say I developed "habits." For example, instead of waiting for the laundry to pile up (universe way) I created a system where I washed sheets, towels and workout clothes on Monday and everything else on Wednesday. Come hell or high water, I do my laundry on these days. The same goes for washing dishes at night. Whether I have 1 dish or 20, I wash them before bed and let me tell you how zen it makes me feel when I wake up to a clean kitchen.

I've more or less broken up my house chores so that they're always taken care of and in small amounts rather than having to schedule in a big cleaning on a weekend. Having this system in place keeps me from falling behind or worrying about when I'm going to do my laundry, or wash dishes, or sweep the floors. Plus, I like a clean and neat house. It really helps reduce my stress. 

But even with my house chores taken care of systematically, my work schedule still felt hectic and wild. For as long as I can remember, I've been a multi-tasker. I never do just one thing. Sometimes this is good. For example, I practice my French lessons while I run. But what I've realized this week is that my knack for multi-tasking is very bad, most of the time. 

Constantly shifting between tasks is exhausting. When I started to write last week's minimalist post, "Going Minimalist with Social Media," I would periodically stop because my email pinged, or someone would tweet at me, or I'd check to see if the file I was uploading to a client had finished uploading, and so on and so forth. Before I knew it, 2 hrs had gone by. It didn't seem so bad, in those 2 hrs I'd replied to 4 emails, 3 tweets, uploaded two files to my client, looked over a new assignment and wrote a blog post. Productivity at it's finest... right? Wrong.

Switching back and forth between tasks isn't productive. The utility of multitasking is a very fine line. I decided to do an experiment with myself. I would go minimalist with my schedule -- but in a different way: Instead of leaving it up to the universe, I would plow through my to do list BUT one task at a time. I would completely dive into something and only do that, until it was done. No distractions, no noise just me, my attention span and that task.

Now, I'm not embarrassed to admit I needed help with this. I downloaded a program that turned off everything else while I was working (It literally blocks other programs, the Internet, and social media -- if you tell it to). It cost me $10 and when I saw how much I accomplished in the first hour I used it, I decided it was well worth the value. 

Comparing 2 hours of productivity:

See how much is open?

Multitasking: I answered 4 emails, replied to 3 tweets, uploaded two files and wrote a blog post in 2 hrs.

Nothing is open but what I'm working on, plus the prompt for Freedom (my noise-canceler). What a zen desk top!

Single-tasking: I wrote 4 blog posts, answered 12 emails, replied to 8 tweets, read a 25-page ebook, edited 20 pictures and worked on my novel (I'm writing a novel)... all in the same 2 hrs.

Now, I still love multi-tasking for some things -- there is no reason why I can't work while my laundry is going, or why I can't practice French while working up a sweat, but tasks that involve serious brain power, no more multi-tasking between them. 

It has been shocking....SHOCKING to see how much more work I can accomplish in the same time if I just focus.I finally feel like I have control of my todo list rather than my todo list controlling me. 

I'm also leaving on Wednesday for a 2wk business trip/vacation (It's a vacation with a business trip slipped in the middle) and although I couldn't completely get ahead on everything (i.e. I can't predict if my clients will send me work or my publisher will want something from me) anything that I could do in advance, I've already done. Last week alone I accomplished almost three weeks worth of work. 

For me, being a minimalist is about being efficient and feeling zen --- and getting things done gives me that. Getting my work done faster also means more time for play and doing things I really want to do. 

Has anyone else tried single-tasking? Did it improve your productivity? 

Foodie Friday - June 24th

Posted by: Lindsay S. Nixon |

Here are some of the foods coming out of my kitchen this week:

Tofu Ricotta Pizzas (using whole wheat pitas and pasta sauce). This was a quick & filling lunch on a very busy day. 

"Italian" Salad -- lettuce, tomatoes and leftover tofu ricotta. 

I used canned pumpkin instead of applesauce in my Cinnamon-Raisin Biscuit recipe to make fat-free, whole-wheat pumpkin-raisin biscuits!!

These burgers are from my new cookbook, Everyday Happy Herbivore -- just 4 ingredients! They're based off of my hotel room burgers.

Cornbread Casserole, from EHH as well. If you like the Tamale Casserole in The Happy Herbivore Cookbook, you'll love this new one. It's spicy!

Baked tofu smothered in Mole Sauce. The mole sauce is also from EHH and it takes 3 minutes to make! 

The yellow rice is also from EHH. Sorry for all the teasing pictures, I had to reshoot a lot of photos this week so the "props" became our meals!

What delicious foods did you have this week?