Category Archives: Creating

How to Write

I have often wondered how to write. Ever since I was a little girl, ever since I knew how to read and could consume stories, I wanted to be a writer, an author. But how to do that? There were no instruction manuals, were there? No steps to follow like how to become a vet or an accountant or a gym teacher. Or was there? Authors knew how to write. Why not ask them? They’ve written books about how to write! So I’ve been reading them ever since.

I actually probably haven’t read that many, compared to some aspiring authors. Mostly, I read stories. I couldn’t stay away from stories. Adventuresome stories, funny stories, educational stories. I wanted to be taken to worlds away. I wanted to go there myself. I wanted to bring others with me.

Right now I’m reading Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury because it has found its way into my life from several different angles lately. I was so excited to be inspired by this thin little volume, for it to give me what I needed to be the writer I wanted to be.

So far, I’m disappointed. I haven’t finished it yet, but it is, so far, not what I expected. It seems to be more memoir than writing manual. But! Alas! Maybe that’s what writing IS! It isn’t a skill to be learned through the study of a manual, but a lifestyle to be discovered through living! Zen in the Art of Writing can be a bit repetitive, as it is a collection of essays from over decades, but something that Bradbury mentioned again and again is how he wrote 1,000 words every day.

Monday, he wrote. Tuesday, he wrote. Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, he wrote. He mailed off his stories every Saturday to be published in magazines. Sunday he let all of the ideas bubble up and excite him before the next week of writing.

And look at me. Here I am, sitting at my computer (using a typewriter app because no distractions), writing. This is what I need to do. My stories will never be like his. My process won’t be the same as his, either. But the pure passion he writes with… That is inspiring. It doesn’t really matter what he’s saying, I guess, but just the fact that he is saying it with gusto.

My whole life I have wondered how to be a writer, but I’ve done it. I’ve been writing my whole life. Not perfectly consistently, not exactly what I wish I had been writing, but I’ve written. I have this hang-up that to be considered a writer, I have to publish something. Like, professionally, officially publish something. I’ve tried to convince myself that no, that is authorship, not being a writer, but really my head refuses to separate the two.

I am a writer because I write. Have I not “published” things on my own website? Have I not won prizes and recognition with my poetry and short stories? Have I not kept a diary or journal for over 18 years of my life? Have I not entertained and enthralled my mother, husband, and children with my stories? I write so I am a writer.

So, how to write, then? It is akin to asking one how to live. No one answer is the correct answer for everyone. Contrarily, no two answers will probably ever be the same for any two people. We must live each day to live our lives, even if we’re not sure what we are doing as we do it. The same with writing. Write every day. Share it if we want. (Do we find it beneficial to share our lives with friends and family, for example?) As we write, as we live, we discover, we experience, and we figure out how. A new adventure, every day.

Edited later to add:

“Self-consciousness is the enemy of all art, be it acting, writing, painting, or living itself, which is the greatest art of all.” – Ray Bradbury, 1965

Sun Tea in 4 Easy Breezy Steps

In the sunny days of summer, I like to make sun tea. It’s very easy to make and super refreshing to enjoy as iced tea when finished. Here’s how I do it.

  1. Prepare. I use 3 tea bags in a wide-mouth half-gallon Ball jar. There are plenty of sun tea jars you can buy, but I don’t like them because their specificity limits their use and most of them are made of plastic. Mason jars are extremely versatile and classic. I use 3 tea bags — usually 2 black tea and 1 fruity herbal tea — because I don’t need my tea to be very strong. I fill the jar to about 1500 ml or 6 cups and cinch the tea bag strings in the lid when I screw it on, leaving just the tags out.
  2. Brew. I place the jar in a sunny spot in my backyard for about half a day, or until it looks like the tea is a nice, tasty shade of brown. Then I bring it in and discard the tea bags.
  3. Embellish. Sometimes I add some honey to the jar and it is best to do this when the tea is still warm from the sun so the honey melts in evenly — stir well or give it a vigorous shake (if you’re using a sealed mason jar). Alternatively, you can add sweetener per glass as you drink it (works well if people in your family prefer varying sweetness) or leave the sweetener out all together.
  4. Serve. If I want to drink it right away, I’ll add a bunch of ice cubes right to the jar and shake it again before pouring myself a glass. Otherwise, I’ll store it in the refrigerator and pour it over a glass of ice when I’m ready for a drink. It’s best to drink the tea within a week. If you add sweetener, use within 4 days.

Alternatives:

  • Add crushed fresh mint to brew with 2 black tea bags.
  • Add lemon or other fruit slices (strawberries, raspberries, watermelon, peach) while storing in the refrigerator.
  • Instead of using black tea, mix and match any combinations of black, green, white, cinnamon, or flavored tea.
  • After the tea is cooled, freeze in Popsicle molds for a frozen treat.

Enjoy!

Making Every Day a Good Day with My 5 “Daily Do’s”

I first heard of a strategy like this used by someone who deals with anxiety as part of their daily self-care routine. I don’t struggle with anxiety in any clinical sense, but I do sometimes struggle with the demands of my everyday life, causing the care of myself to get pushed aside.

I spend a lot of time taking care of other people. I love those people very much, but I also love myself, and it can put me in a very bad mood when I’m unable to take care of myself. Furthermore, when I am unable to give myself the proper self-care I need, I am less able to take good care of the ones I love and am responsible for by providing for them all they need. Self-care is not selfish because making it a priority makes me better able to serve those around me. And I’m just more pleasant to be around.

There are a few things that I do everyday or not, depending on the day and what I actually need. For example, I am not the type of person who needs to shower everyday. I can be perfectly happy showering every 2 or 3 days. Another example is that I like to read, but don’t need to do it everyday to feel properly relaxed or that I’ve had my sufficient “me” time.

There are also other things that I’ve already ingrained so deep into my daily routine that it’s not an issue. These things are non-negotiable now, and my family knows it, so it’s easy for me to do. Some examples of this are my 11 o’clock bedtime (unless there is a special reason for which I choose to stay up) and eating 3 meals (and possibly 1 snack) per day at consistent times.

But there were other things that I wanted to do that I either wasn’t doing or wasn’t doing consistently, even though I really thought that fitting them into my day would… maybe not make me happier, per say, but would lift my mood up no matter what else was happening in my life. Like, if I could do those things, I could consider it a good, productive day even if everything else went to shit.

I put a lot of thought into what I wanted my “Daily Do’s” (i.e. things to be done daily) to be. I didn’t want them to be too difficult, too time-consuming, or to have too many. I wanted to make it easy for myself to have a good day. I wanted to make it enjoyable, not a chore. I wanted to set myself up for success. So I came up with this list of just 5 Daily Do’s:

  1. outside
  2. move
  3. write
  4. gratitude
  5. zen

Go outside. This is pretty self-explanatory. I want to go outside and get fresh air every day. Even if it’s raining. Even if it’s really hot. Even if it’s really cold. Even if I have tons of stuff to get done inside. There is no time requirement, but I don’t really count walking from the house to the car, from the car to another building. Ideally, I like to include my children in this time outside as well.

Move my body. Exercise, but not so formal. Just get up and move. Do something. Standing still and washing the dishes doesn’t count, but something like vacuuming the house would. Do some yoga, walk around the block. Just make sure I’m not sedentary all day, even if I’m exhausted or my pregnancy is making me all stiff and uncomfortable.

Write. I don’t want to be an “aspiring” writer. I want to be a writer. And to do that, I need to write. Every. Day. It can be part of a novel, a short story, a blog post, a letter, or some journaling. A grocery list or an overly simple diary entry don’t count. Ideally, I want it to be creative writing to exercise my imagination, but anything to keep the words flowing and my voice fresh will do.

Be grateful. I’ve been pretty good at doing this consistently for about a year again now, but I want to make sure I do it every day. I make a simple list at the end of the day of whatever I was grateful for that day. I need at least one, but I usually end up with no less than 3. Repeats are totally acceptable. No long explanations needed. Writing them down just makes me conscious of them — thinking about them, noting them — and recognizing that gratitude makes me appreciate my life a lot more than if I only let what went wrong buzz around my head.

Practice some zen spiritualism. I am not a religious person, but I have found that I need to tend to some of my spirituality to feel like I am an important part of this world and universe. It’s a big place and it can be easy for me to feel small and insignificant. I’ve done some soul-searching, as it were, in the past, but lately I’ve felt I’ve wanted some guidance without strict rules or obligations. A stroke of serendipity brought me to the book The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down by Haemin Sunim, a Zen Buddhist monk. It’s generally about how to stay calm in a busy world. I’ve already read it through once and am now continuing with it by re-reading 2-3 pages per night as a part of my Daily Do’s.

I’ve also created an easy way to track that I am keeping up with my Do’s on the Daily. I intentionally designed my simple list with one-word descriptions, each with unique first letters, to be easy to remember. (I didn’t make an acronym because I didn’t feel like being corny or trying too hard.) So every day, as I do these things, I write the corresponding letter along the bottom of the day’s block in my Bullet Journal calendar. Quick, simple, effective.

It doesn’t take up too much time or space to track, and if I see that I’m missing something near the end of the day, my requirements are so undemanding it’s still pretty easy for me to accomplish all five.

O M W G Z — that means a good day for me.

Changing the Way I Track My Spending

I first started really keeping track of my daily spending in December 2015. Since then, I’ve tried a few different ways to track, and honestly I’m still not sure if I found the way that’s right for me. But I am learning all along the way, so that’s something. And I’ve decided to share some of my experiences here so maybe you can avoid some of the things that didn’t work for me.

First, I created a budget listing expenses by category. Then, throughout the month, I would list every purchase amount made and also color-code them by category. I would input those amounts into a formula to be balanced within the budget. It looked something like this:

Note: all amounts are made-up.

It was very colorful and the color-codes allowed me to see where my money went, but it was also very labor-intensive and didn’t really help me at all when I was at the check-out counter. I would spend first, think later. So it was a lot of work and didn’t help me stick to my budget. I needed to try something else.

Next, I tried to simplify things a bit. Instead of keeping a running list of every purchase I made, I just added the amount spent into the “spent” section of a slightly different budget set-up I created.

The design was a lot simpler and thus easier to use. I did need to make sure I was keeping track of purchases as they happened because they weren’t detailed in the spreadsheet so it was harder to figure out what amount corresponded to what purchase receipt. It helped a little bit more with deterring spending — I’m not sure why. Maybe because I had to keep track more often? Maybe because after a year I was just naturally being a bit more mindful? Still, keeping track of what purchase was affecting which category was hard to do at the check-out counter.

In the past few weeks, I’ve decided to try yet another strategy. This one incorporates the budget spreadsheet with the calendar in my bullet journal. I use yet another reincarnation of my budget to determine a weekly spending amount (ideally in cash), then write that amount on the Sunday block of a new week. Then, throughout the week, I subtract the dollar amount I spend each day, hopefully not straying past $0 by the end of the week. If I do stray past $0 during the week, I subtract that deficit from the next week on Sunday.

The new budget:

And the calendar… it’s quite messy, but it looks like this:

Maybe you can tell that I am already really far beyond this month. I did buy a new computer, though. My hope, however, is that I will be able to amass many more highlighter-green days, a.k.a. no-spend days, to make up the deficit by the end of the month. Seeing that negative number everyday is a motivator, but I’ve still yet to find out if it is motivating enough. The highlighter-green days are inspiring — they are my goal.

So if you are looking for ways to track your spending, maybe some of this will help. I’m sure there are tons of options to look at online. And don’t be afraid to play around with different strategies to find out what works best for you. And remember, what worked best for you last year, might not be the best anymore — don’t be afraid to change it up and keep it fresh. As long as you’re trying to keep track of spending (i.e. keeping what’s going out less than what’s coming in), I believe you are on the right path to some financial comfort.

The Fear of Downsizing… My Computer

What if it’s not enough? What if I can’t do what I need to do? What if I can’t do what I want to do? Is it even worth the investment? Should I wait for something bigger or better to present itself? What if it’s not what I expect? What if it’s not enough?

I am in need of a new computer and I have made the choice to downsize. And I’m a little scared.

I have owned 2 personal computers in my life. My first experience with a computer was a Gateway desktop, with dial-up internet. Man, I loved playing in that cow-colored box. Next, when I was in high school, my parents bought me my own black Dell desktop that I kept in my room. We got better internet in that era and it was awesome. And finally in January 2006, after a semester of excellent attendance and grades in college, my parents bought me a sleek white MacBook.

I love this MacBook. It has served me very well in the past 11 years and 5 months. And it’s still going! I debate getting rid of it at all, but, truth be told, it’s just getting too outdated. Can I use it for what I need to do? Yes, most of the time.

Here’s the deal.

  • I don’t have much storage space. I store all of my music on an external hard drive because there is no room on my actual computer. Same for photos. So then I just started storing all documents on the external hard drive, too. All of the storage space on this computer is basically used in a way so the computer itself will function — it’s not storing any of my personal files anymore.
  • The battery is pretty much dead. I need to keep this computer plugged in all the time when I am using it. It will stay on for a few minutes between outlets if I need to move it, but that’s it. This has essentially made my laptop into a desktop for the last 5 years. I just never got around to replacing the battery and now it seems too late.
  • I always need to keep this laptop open. I mean, physically keep the screen up. There is some sort of loose wire in the hinge and whenever I close the laptop, it is very, very, difficult to open it again and still see the screen. I can see an extremely faint outline of items on the screen, but it is essentially black. It can take anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes to finagle the screen back up with a back-lit picture showing. So I just leave it open all the time to avoid that hassle. But that creates other hassles, like dust collecting in the keyboard and cats stepping on it and opening unexpected windows and menus.
  • It just can’t handle another update. I needed to update my operating system about 2 years ago to be able to connect to our wireless printer. This took up even more storage space and was not compatible with a lot of my software, such as Microsoft Office. I’ve been able to get along just fine without the software, thanks to things like Google Docs and online photo editors. But even though I just updated the operating system, this system is not supported for many other updates, including, most importantly for me, Google Chrome. Sadly, the hardware of this system just can’t support another operating system update and it doesn’t seem worth the money to essentially rebuild it with components that will.

I would love to replace this MacBook with the current equivalent, but now that the money is coming out of my pocket, I think, that starting at around $1,200, it’s too expensive. We have student loan debt and a mortgage and home repair debt. We could take some of our income and put it towards a new MacBook, but it just doesn’t make sense to me if it’s going to slow down our debt repayments. Even if we had no debt… well, maybe I would buy a MacBook then… but really I would want to do even more home improvements — like finish our attic and basement to better utilize the space we already have.

So I decided not to buy another MacBook. Thus began my quest to find a suitable replacement. One that didn’t run Windows (I really dislike the Windows operating system). Eventually, for $214, I decided on getting a Chromebook… And that’s where the major downsizing came in.

I am losing some functionality, but I think I can make it work. (I hope it works!) It satisfies 3 out of the 4 problems listed above with my current MacBook — it’ll have a new battery with a long life, it will be mobile, and it will technologically up-to-date. The thing is, it still doesn’t have much storage space.

Chromebooks are designed to have most, if not all, digital matter stored in the Cloud. I’m a little weary of storing everything on the internet, but I do still have my external hard drive to store back-ups and super personal files. My husband has a Toshiba laptop running Windows to which I will transfer my iTunes account, since one cannot run iTunes on an Chromebook at all. I fear that not having my very own iTunes will be the thing I miss the most — after all, I’ve already been dealing with no storage space and loss of software for a few years now — but it will definitely be manageable.

There’s probably a lot more that even my current obsolete MacBook can do that a Chromebook cannot, but when I really thought about it, I decided I didn’t really need it. I asked myself “What do I use my computer for on a day-today basis?” and “What do I want to use it for in the future?”

Right now, I basically use my computer for the internet — things like online banking, email, domestic shopping, connecting to the library, searching for information, reading blogs, etc. — and a Chromebook should be ace at allowing me to do all that.

In the future, I want to do more writing. It certainly does not take a powerful computer to do word processing, so a Chromebook should manage fine. I will have to give up Scrivener, but as much as I like Scrivener, I am looking forward to the simplicity of writing without all the bells and whistles. Like, a typewriter has been seeming very appealing to me lately — no distractions. A Chromebook will be full of internet distractions, but I can also just physically disconnect from that for a while.

There are lots of other things that I’ve used a computer for in the past, like editing videos and photos, but I’ve grown away from them and have no desire to go back to it. I have a family now and want to spend more time with them and less time in front of a screen. And since I’ll be sharing iTunes with my husband, maybe that’ll bring us closer, too, ha. I’m diving in — the Chromebook should arrive in the mail sometime next week — and I’ll just see how it goes.

Hopefully it’s enough.

Capsule Wardrobe – Maternity Edition

I am currently pregnant with my third child. I’m due in less than 3 months. The following list of clothing has gotten (/is getting) me through all 3 pregnancies. I was due at a different time of the year for each pregnancy (March, December, and July) and this group of clothing got me comfortably through all weather.

Maternity clothes can be hella expensive so it can be comforting to know we can get by with few pieces, supplemented with a few strategic non-maternity pieces. Note that these pieces worked for my casual job/lifestyle and the temperate New Jersey weather; always be mindful of your own lifestyle, location, and climate.

Without further ado, the list of my maternity wardrobe, keeping me warm and covered for 3 pregnancies and postpartum.

Maternity Pieces

  • 2 pairs jeans or trousers
  • 1 maxi-skirt
  • 1 knee-length skirt
  • 2 pairs shorts — I didn’t need/want shorts until my July due date pregnancy
  • 2 t-shirts — I only needed 2 at a time, but since t-shirts are generally made of thinner material for warmer weather, just 2 didn’t last for all 3 pregnancies and I needed to replace them when they wore out. So for 3 pregnancies, I’ve had a total of 4 t-shirts
  • 2 long-sleeve shirts
  • 2 long sweaters or short sweater dresses — I like them long enough to feel comfortable wearing with leggings, but short enough that they’ll still look good with jeans or trousers
  • 1 pair leggings — these can be maternity or not depending on your body, comfort level, and style of legging
  • 1 pair yoga pants — for sleeping, yoga, and lounging
  • winter coat — again, this depends on your due date. I needed one for my March and December due dates, but not this one. And I was actually able to wear a loose-ish flared non-maternity coat that I already had.
  • 2-3 nursing bras — during my first pregnancy, a saleswoman convinced me I would need 4. Now I know that I could easily get by with 2 or 3
  • 2 nursing sleep bras

Supplemental/Non-Maternity Pieces

  • 1 or 2 maxi-dresses — I found the type with a loose cross-over bodice to be quite convenient for breast-feeding, but racerbacks to be the most comfortable
  • 1 cardigan or light jacket — I didn’t need maternity because I just didn’t button them up
  • 2-3 loose shirts — long sleeve or short sleeve; for sleeping, yoga, and lounging
  • 2-3 more sweaters or t-shirts — I used these because I already had these looser items in my closet and they still fit during my pregnancy
  • wrap dress — will at least fit during most of a pregnancy
  • 10 pairs underwear — I find non-bikini briefs to be the most comfortable, but you be you

So that’s 25 pieces (not counting bras or underwear) to get you started for a capsule maternity wardrobe for any time of year. As always, quality pieces will last longer and thus through more pregnancies, but since pregnancy is such a short period of time, it’s pretty easy to make due with whatever quality you can find/afford.

Also, as with any capsule wardrobe, try to keep a simple color scheme in mind — such as 2-3 neutrals with 2-3 colors. You can also create a personal uniform with maternity pieces to make things super simple. Pick your favorite colors and fabrics and at least your clothing will be comfortable and pleasant, even if you don’t feel that way yourself. 🙂

Making Religious Holidays My Own

Over the holiday weekend, my family and I went camping. Being Easter, it was a holiday for only some. I grew up celebrating Easter. Andrew grew up celebrating Easter. But neither of us would call ourselves religious now and don’t believe in Jesus as the one and only messiah. So why continue to celebrate it? Partly because our families still do, but we’ve come to see it a little differently.

For Easter, Andrew and I have decided to celebrate the arrival of spring, specifically with the first camping trip of the year. We share meals and traditional foods (pufek [spelling??? which is a German bread], liverwurst, and strammer max for me) with family. We don’t dress up or go to church. We spend time together outside, enjoying the freshness of spring, and send the children out on a little egg hunt just because it’s a fun game to play outside. And of course we eat chocolate. Easter, for us, is not about Jesus, but about family and nature and getting out to enjoy the warmer weather.

It’s similar with Christmas. I don’t celebrate the coming of our lord and savior or whatever. But I do like a lot about the holiday, such as the sharing, coziness, warmth, and love. So when I celebrate Christmas, I celebrate the coming of cuddly winter with the closeness and coziness of my family and friends. Since it’s also so close to the end of the year, I reflect back on that year and celebrate it for what it was. Then I celebrate the coming of the New Year with new beginnings.

It didn’t take a lot to get here — just a little shift in thinking. It helps that Andrew and I are on the same page with these religious holidays, too. Celebrating in this way, I am able to comfortably share traditions with my family and friends without feeling like I’m sacrificing my own beliefs or pretending to follow others. I’ve come to enjoy these times again instead of constantly questioning the history and purpose, as I did a few years ago. I am now at a good place with them and feel content.

Perhaps a shift in thinking is all it would take for you to have a more enjoyable holiday?

The Outfit On Which I Consistently Get The Most Compliments

I’m mentioning this outfit because it is so simple. And simplicity is a pretty big theme on this blog, yeah?

For the outfit, the ratio of effort to compliments is crazy skewed. Like, minimal effort for maximum compliments. And I don’t know if someone else wearing this outfit will get as many compliments as I’ve been getting, but it’s so simple there’s no harm in trying, right? I mean, if you want an easy outfit and the confidence boost of acquaintances’ compliments?

Okay, okay, I’m going to shut up now. I think I’m hyping it up way too much already. Especially since it’s nothing new. (Just do an internet search for it — everyone’s wearing it already.)

It’s jeans and a white t-shirt.

My outfit:

  • jeans – right now I have 2 pairs of maternity jeans — both “jegging” skinny jeans, 1 black and 1 dark wash
  • t-shirt – also maternity right now. I prefer v-necks and usually don’t tuck it in.

Here’s how the outfit is specific to me:

And that’s it. Simple simple. Unoriginal, sure, but also so classic. Timeless. Comfortable and even chic.

Bruce Springsteen, with a red or blue bandana, famously wore this simple outfit. I also think it would work really well with a black t-shirt — and then there is less worry about stains! I think my husband looks so, so good in medium-wash jeans and a fitted black crew-neck t-shirt. I mean, of course all clothes looks best when they fit well.

I love this outfit. It is my current uniform. As the weather gets hotter, I will opt for some cuffed jean shorts. Maybe a floppy hat instead of the scarves.

I love the simplicity. I feel good. And I look good, too. A lovely trifecta. A fabulous new uniform for me!

Cooking

I don’t think cooking more in itself will simplify my life. Buying prepared food is easy and fast, but it’s expensive (and spending more money than I have complicates my life). It would be even more expensive to have a personal chef to prepare all of my meals for me, so that’s not happening any time soon. Therefore, knowing how to cook is a very useful skill.

Cooking simplifies food in the way that we know everything that went into our meals. Our diet is simplified. Cooking from scratch reduces the ingredients so we’re eating basic elements of life grown from the earth, not “edible food-like substances” concocted in labs or extra ingredients to lengthen shelf time. (Michael Pollan’s books and documentaries are great resources for getting back to the roots of our food and how humans eat.)

I did not learn how to cook growing up. I could prepare myself some food — like boil pasta, make myself an English muffin pizza, pour cereal, chop up a salad, etc. I could survive, but my repertoire was not very balanced or interesting. I didn’t know what a roux was, how to reduce a sauce, how to make pancakes from scratch, what causes food to rise or be sticky or caramelize, or what happens when you whip in some air. I’ve learned a lot and I continue to learn new things all the time. (I still don’t really know the difference between boiling and braising.)

I’m not taking a kitchen 101 class or a cooking course or anything. I’m just going in the kitchen and trying my hand at cooking different recipes. Sometimes they work — most of the time they work — but sometimes they flop. I learn from both outcomes. And I’m having a lot of fun doing it.

I put “cook new recipe” on my weekly to-do list for a month before I finally got around to doing it, but now I’m on a roll. I don’t even have to put it on my list anymore. Every Saturday morning before work, I drink my coffee and flip through a cookbook (usually The French Women Don’t Get Fat Cookbook) and pick out 2 or 3 recipes to try to that week. Then I go to the grocery store after my shift and get everything I need to cook those recipes. This has been the best form of meal planning for me so far.

Cooking is more than a hobby for me. I wouldn’t really call it a passion either. It’s a way of life, I guess? It’s a way to life? We cannot survive without eating and being able to provide for ourselves will make ourselves better — more independent and more sustainable. And, above all, I enjoy cooking. I think it’s fun and interesting and sexy and delicious.

Cooking, I believe, is love — that we give to ourselves and share with others.

My Minimal Cookbook Collection

French Women Don’t Get Fat

If I could only have 1 cookbook to use for the rest of my life, I would choose this one. The recipes contained therein are simple, made with real ingredients, diverse, and overall very healthy (because they are made from scratch with real food). It is the first cookbook I go to when I’m in need of a recipe or ideas. I shop from this book. I find the stories and text entertaining and helpful. I also think it’s beautiful.

There are no photos in this book. At first, it kind of threw me off and I didn’t really like it. How was I supposed to know what I was trying to make? How would I know if I did it right? What’s it supposed to look like? But the more I’ve cooked from this book, the less it has bothered me. Now I quite prefer not having any photos to judge my creations against. I use my own imagination in presenting the meal and never feel bad if it isn’t as gorgeous as some staged photo would be. I make real food for my table, not set up for a photo-op. And the real judgement comes from how the food tastes. And I am always satisfied with how the food cooked from this book tastes.

Fresh from the Vegan Slow Cooker

I like this book for its set-it-and-forget-it-ness. I also value that it’s animal-free. However, it sometimes calls for some strange ingredients that I don’t like to cook with, or just haven’t tried because it is so foreign to me. I haven’t tried tempeh or seitan and don’t really use tofu. I know these foods are pretty ancient, but I didn’t grow up with them so they feel weird to me. I also don’t like things like textured vegetable protein (TVP) because it is not a real food — it’s an edible food-like substance concocted in a lab and produced in a factory.

There are still a lot of simple (and natural) recipes to cook from this book that are quite delicious. Most recipes call for a lot of ingredients, but it makes a lot and is usually a balanced meal on its own. I don’t really think ahead enough to use our slow cooker as much as I could. And yet I actually enjoy the act of cooking and the slow cooker takes a lot of that away. On heavily-scheduled days, though, it can really come in handy.

The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook

I don’t usually use this book to cook regular meals at home, but it has some gems in it — especially things I use for sides. (The Brussel sprouts with bechamel sauce is so good.) Most recipes are just a little more complicated than I prefer, but it is quite a fun book, especially for a huge Harry Potter fan like me.

We make the sweet treats (of which there is a lot) whenever we want to bake together with the children or want a dessert for a special occasion. And we make the more complicated recipes when we want to spend some quality time cooking together. For example, the meat pies. I don’t have the time or patience to make them entirely from scratch by myself on a weekday, but if Andrew and I want to spend the day together and have a nice meal after, it’s perfect.

Crazy Sexy Kitchen

Another vegan cookbook that contains some ingredients too weird to be found in my pantry. A beautifully designed book with a lot of photos and information for those who might be new to veganism. As a whole, the book is more strict with food than I care to be (I just don’t care all that much about making sure all of my meals are pH-balanced), but then I know every option is super-healthy. Even the desserts only use naturally-derived, complex sugars.

Again, I don’t use this book very much in my day-to-day cooking, but it’s got a lot of interesting recipes for when I’m feeling adventurous. I also have a good amount of friends and family that are stricter vegans than my family at home, so this book is great when I’m preparing food for parties or get-togethers with them.