15 July 2012

Spirit Walking

I've always felt most at peace in the comfort of the Great Outdoors. I spent hours as a girl, digging up toads, hunting snakes and chasing wild barn cats. I got grounded for playing in the tall prairie grasses behind our house, because Mom didn't particularly appreciate the job of removing ticks that had found their way onto my skin as I made "snow angels" in the weeds.

So why my longing for the city? Well, with my addiction for adventure, I also wanted to explore what else was out there. There were only so many trees to climb and animals to admire, so after I turned 18, I moved to the city. And though I love my lifestyle and am constantly bemused by all that surrounds me in this beach city, the great outdoors is where I still seek comfort, inspiration, and most importantly, some much-needed OCD therapy. Here are some of the ways that I continue to keep the earth's natural abundance in my life while I'm far away from my farmland upbringing.

I try to spend several minutes in every day, connecting to the air outside even if I don't have time to indulge in an outdoor activity; even if that means just stepping onto my outdoor patio to breath in the scent of the blossoms from my citrus trees.

I also take bi-weekly 5-mile walks with my friend and neighbor (Joni Oldfield - who founded the county's leading personal pet care business: http://www.animalamour.com/.) Our form of walking meditation is great exercise, but more than that, it has become trading-stories soul therapy. We both adore animals, so when I interrupt our walking conversations to point out a cotton tail or a cute dog or a plant I want in my yard, she understands. Our morning strolls create that sense of calm from the outside in as I imagine the natives might have felt when journeying through a spirit walk. I try to imagine myself in that space even though I'm still surrounded by so much white noise.

A giant bird landing in the Back Bay where we walk.
One dewy morning we witnessed a female coyote and her pup playing amidst the grasses of the Back Bay. We stopped at the fence and just stared ... taking in the beauty of that moment in nature we happened to come across. You can't plan or control an occurrence like that, and I think that's what is so soothing to my OCDite mind. It instantly curbs the madness.

Another morning we decided to change our route and explore an area I'd always wanted to see, but stayed away because it was marked "PRIVATE." Braver with the support of each other, we ventured down the hill and discovered a serenely private lake! A tropical paradise in its sounds and smells - it was almost eerie - as if we'd stepped through a magical curtain to another world. We both looked at each other, like, "where are we?" And then we heard the cries of some very large birds - almost prehistoric looking. They were perched in a nest high up in the tallest trees, resting in the sky with their babies. It was breathtaking, majestic. It was one of those moments where you imagine hearing orchestral music in the background, because it couldn't be real. 

I've also recently taken up paddle boarding. It really isn't as hard as it looks, and is another fantastic reason to be outdoors. I highly recommend it even to those of my readers who aren't near the ocean - a lake location is perfecting for paddling. Gliding across the bay with only a board separating you from the jumping fish in the water and the flocks of birds landing beside you ... these are the kinds of experiences that ground me and bring me out of my daily OCD mind.

The view from my paddle board ...

So, my OCDites, I advise you to take a few moments everyday - especially now that summer has officially arrived - to step outside and breathe. Walk. Jog. Swim. Boat. Paddle Board. Kayak. Camp. Garden. Ride your Bike. Whatever you choose, try to notice the difference in your demeanor (or don't and just enjoy), but try to carry that feeling with you throughout the rest of your day and the rest of your week. We are meant to connect rather than separate ourselves from nature. We become so wrapped up in making homes for ourselves that we forget that the clarity we seek might just be outside. So get outside, my OCDite friends, and enjoy the beauty of Summer!

***Back Bay photos courtesy of my paddle buddy Jay Ryu

13 April 2012

Coupons, Consignment Stores and Items I Adore ... Oh My!

I got the idea from my Mom. Always helpful, my Mom is my rock, but Dad is usually my go-to for financial advice and/or lectures. He is often much more logical than Mom and I when it comes to spending. (I inherited my shopping habit from her after all.)

But on our daily check-in as Mom was walking the dog and I was immersed in systematizing my spice rack, she offered, "Why don't you apply your OCD to saving money? Make it a challenge to see how much you can save!"

At first, I appreciatively responded with, "that's not how it works, Mom." But considering the fact that I'm living on a starving artist's salary these days, I paused to give her Momism moment a second thought. I've spent the past two years doing what I love, dispensing my creativity with everything that relates to writing from technological press releases to advertisements to beefed-up bios for friends in diverse professions to editorial features in So Cal's hottest magazine. I've recovered my voice and myself after a 7-year snooze. However, at the same time I am struggling to maintain the So Cal lifestyle this OCDite has sold her soul to achieve.

Because most OCDites strive to be surrounded by consistent items of comfort in order to cultivate control and order in our lives, I find that it is a much larger challenge for us to make financially necessary lifestyle changes than your average person. And I feel, that it's necessary to explain why some sacrifices can be paralyzing once we're used to having them.

For example, I recently had to part with my beloved 2009 Honda Hybrid, because it turned out to be a lemon - just my luck. I searched for a deal on that damn car for nearly 3 years! But, it was obvious that this car was defective, so I set out to purchase a new vehicle, surrounded by anxiety due to the entirely sudden situation. So although I should have sought a more suitable bargain car due to my decreased income, I could not avoid the plague of already having my mind set on a particularly perfect car. Purchasing anything less would have been a 5-year burden I was not willing to carry, so I "wheeled and dealed" and came home with my shiny, sporty new car. But in avoiding one weight I added another - I now have to figure out how to compensate for my slightly higher car payment. Mom's advice is ringing in my ears.

Now, I wouldn't say that challenging myself to live on a lower budget is necessarily OCD behavior; however, tracking, monitoring and calculating feed right into this disorder and in some cases, can be very useful.

I am and always have been acutely aware of my finances - tracking and logging each penny that I spend - thanks to my Dad. The money my brother and I earned from doing daily chores wasn't given to us to put in piggy banks. It was smartly whisked away into our very own checking accounts, which Dad also taught us to balance. I remember cherishing my first little leather log of minimal finances. Now I place every detail of my financial activity into efficient - and of course pretty - Excel spreadsheets. But back to the object obsession that occurs inside an OCDite's mind: I know I should consult with my categorized budget before purchasing an $800 anthology of beautiful leather bound books, but it would just look so stunning on my bookshelves!

So how does an OCDite take her organized tracking and turn it into saving since so often the obsessive compulsive urge is to obtain rather than to dispose? Start engrossing your urges in ways to save! Here are a few tips on how I took Mom's advice and practically applied it to my disorder:

  1. Recycle. If you live in Orange County, our waste management service sorts and does the recycling for us; however, why not make the extra effort, do it yourself, and make an additional $20 a month!
  2. Pay attention to coupons. Usually, I get my mail, and throw half of it away, because it's advertisements, but there really are usable coupons in there. You should also go to the websites of the stores you shop in, because they always promote more savings on the sites than they do in the stores.
  3. Have a rummage sale. (aka a garage sale to you SoCal natives) It can be a lot of work, but if you invite your neighbors, it can be a really fun way to spend your Saturday morning while making money. Post a couple signs on the street corners, maybe post an ad on Craig's list, and I promise, the people will come. But make sure you start early - like 7 am - because that's when the bargain shoppers shop. I made $200 before 10 am during our recent rummage sale. Electronics and unique finds seem to be the most popular items. I also sold nearly $100 worth of jewelry at $1 each. The pieces were unique and trendy, but they were all inexpensive costume jewelry items. I find that the sale is all in the display, so rather than throw a bunch of earrings and necklaces on a table; I hung the items from wire cabinets and picture frames, which drew people in. A creative display makes items look more expensive - more special. One woman liked my display case idea so much that she purchased the actual cabinet, which I didn't originally intend on selling!
  4. Order your necessities online. If I run out of Bliss body lotion or Dior mascara, I order those items online from sites that don't charge shipping. Why? Because if I make the short drive to South Coast Plaza, I'll end up picking up a new fragrance or eye cream and then be drawn into the shoe store next door, and pretty soon, I've spent the rest of my month's budget on items I adore but certainly don't need.
  5. Make a list of at-home projects to keep you busy in your free time. There is always a closet to clean or a crafty idea to organize, so make a list to refer to when you have extra time instead of heading out the door to see what's new at The Hidden Jewel. (my favorite boutique in Costa Mesa! Sorry - I know that's not helping.) 
  6. Get the bulk of your groceries at your local farmer's market. Sure, you'll need to stop by Ralphs to get milk and butter and maybe bottles of water, but purchase most of your products at the farmer's market and you'll find that it's a lot easier on your budget. In addition to fabulous produce, many farmers markets are starting to carry beef and seafood and eggs as well as bread, so grab some greens, some fruit, fresh salmon and even some snacks for the week, and you'll have saved enough to dine at your favorite new restaurant over the weekend.
  7. Recycle those clothes that have been unworn for more than a year at your favorite consignment store. Let's be honest, if it's been more than a year and you're still waiting for the perfect occasion to wear that sparkly French Connection sweater, it's not going to happen. So why not sell it to someone who will get some use out of it? Keep in mind that the stores that will give you the most money for your precious pieces expect to see on-trend, in-season items when you sell. So if you have a gorgeous Marc Jacobs wool sweater, don't try to sell it in the summer. Stash it away until next season. My favorite local consignment shop is Crossroads Trading Co. in Costa Mesa. It continues to expand and can be a little daunting if you're trying to shop, but their window displays prove that those girls know what's in, and they're willing to pay fairly when they see suitable fashion. Address: 1835 Newport Blvd. (at 19th and Harbor) crossroadstrading.com
So whether you're saving money for emergency funds or that unique vintage find, try applying these ideas as a way to reach your goals without breaking the bank - all while fulfilling your own crazy compulsions.

Happy saving or shopping this Spring!

31 January 2012

Wanna Join My Mile-High Club?

Forty-eight pounds and seven ounces . . . awesome! It all fit with enough room for a 1-pound souvenir.

I'm headed to Turks and Caicos for my annual vaca with the fam, and am proud of another perfectly packed bag. After 10 years of flying from my new home to my home where I grew up, I've become an expert. It's kind of like a challenge: see how many tropical outfits I can neatly organize in a 30 x 26 inch bag with coordinating accessories and swimsuits, of course! You might assume that packing for an OCDite is more scary than soothing - and for some, it probably is - but for me, it's kind of like Tetris (which was obviously created by a fellow OCDite). It is satisfying and soothing to know that I am leaving with an impeccably organized case of gear, using each inch of suitcase space for items which are simultaneously suitable for both meeting the man of my dreams and diving for conch.

So the bag is packed and I'm ready for my journey. But the thing I will never enjoy about traveling - no matter how many times I do it - is embarking on the thought of mass transportation. I am not afraid of flying. I don't care if it's by ship, train or soaring through the air on a 747 - the thought of maintaining my space and systematic habits amidst hundreds of people packed like sardines makes my skin crawl . . . every time.

 We had an entire row to ourselves, which was great. However, this was the flight where the attendants claimed there were no blankets (see below), and it was freezing cold. (thus, my fetal position)

Here are just a handful of the undesirable encounters this OCDite has a hard time handling:
  • the guy who gets on the plane last and tries to shove his over-sized carry-on into my lovingly placed bag in the overhead until I'm certain, he's smashed my new sun hat!
  • sneezing passengers who have never heard of covering their mouth
  • chatty Cathy's who won't take a hint
  • travelers who step right in front of you at baggage claim when you've clearly placed yourself in that position for a reason, so now I can no longer see the carousel
  • dumbos who forgot to get that very important item out of their carry-on before they sat down and can't wait 15 more minutes until the regulated elevation to eat their snack, so they hold up take-off
  • the guy who pees on the seat when he obviously knows that's the ONLY bathroom for all of us for the next 9 hours!
  • the woman who rudely steps on your foot to get off the plane 1st even when she's seated 1 row behind me. I mean, unless you have another flight to catch, wait your turn.
  • the flight attendant who says, "I'm sorry. There are no blankets on this flight," when the first classers are clearly cocooned in airline throws. I'm cold!
All of this causes severe anxiety for me. And forget it; if I can't get an aisle seat, I am not getting on the plane. I will transform into the crazy guy from the 80s Twilight Zone movie if I do not have the ability to freely get out of my seat when I choose. It's like the worst claustrophobia you can imagine if I'm seated at a window or in the dreaded middle seat. If we're going down, I don't want anyone blocking my path to that exit, because they can't figure out how to get their seatbelt off. 

For my other OCDite friends who have struggled to stay sane throughout your travels, I do have suggestions or an organized routine, rather, that I have cultivated in order to provide myself a small sense of comfort so I don't elbow the large person beside me who is taking up half my seat.

I get into the navigation zone. I reach my seat and place everything I think I'm going to need during the flight in my seat pocket, so that there's no need to empty the contents of my carry-on and watch my favorite chapstick roll away while I dig for my Ipod. I always keep "airplane socks" in my carry-on, so I pull those out and put them on. (The blast of recirculated airplane air always seems to be pointed straight at the floor.) I dab lavender aromatherapy or whatever flavor I'm carrying at the time behind my ears, on my chest and in my hands, which is an instant mind easer for me. I carry essential oils and travel-sized mists on a daily basis, and they come in particularly handy when I'm flying. The aid in distracting my olfactories from a fellow passenger who must have forgotten deodorant before departing as well as that distinct airplane smell that is impossible to get out of your clothes. What is that? I shut my eyes and wait until the announcement of "it is now safe to use your portable electronic devices," and reach for my Ipod and choose my happy-place playlist. My happy place is filled with the Afghan Whigs, Peter Gabriel and Toto. How about you? And then, I meditate for the rest of the flight on how amazing it's going to be to lay on the beach everyday for the next week and I imagine how the ocean is going to sound when I'm falling asleep at night and how many lobsters I think I can eat in 7 days - until the flight attendant runs over my toe with her cart, and snaps me out of my vision, but thankfully, we're approaching our descent, so it's almost time to get off this vessel of germs.

I start to get excited, and this is why it is worth it for me to put myself through the trek of torture. I get to land in a place like Turks and Caicos where the bliss that ensues upon arrival far outweighs a pre-board panic attack.

Parasailing. I am in that parachute, and as much as I had my moments of wanting down, it was one of the more amazing experiences I've ever had.

Snorkeling. Peace out my undersea friends!
With these travleing tips, you'll survive your next trip with a little more zen, and you will be happy that you did. Bon Voyage!

04 December 2011

Finding Festive Spirit in an Empty Space

The garland has been hung; the candles have been lit; I've added a touch of sparkle to every room in the house; and, another re-organizing project has been completed amidst this year's Christmas decorating.

Hello readers and fellow bloggers, I have returned from many months of juggling a blossoming business and attending to a handful of house guests . . . just in time to reorganize my entire house for the holidays.

I am - as you might have guessed - one of those people that do not walk away from a project until it's completed, even if that means skipping meals and turning off my DROID for the day, and this project was no different. I didn't let my focus be deterred until that last pretend present was perfectly placed underneath the tree.

However, I was fortunate enough to have my wonderful Grandmother (see Blog #2) here to help welcome the always daunting task of putting up my 7.5 ft. Christmas tree. She encouraged me to enjoy the act of decorating by putting up the tree one evening and waiting to finish the rest of the ornamenting the next day. It was because of her calming presence, and most likely her promise of a martini at Mastro's, that for the first time, I left a project unfinished for the night.

The next day, I sadly said goodbye to Grandma as she walked through the doors at John Wayne Airport, and then, hurried home to complete my unfinished project . . . and another project I hadn't planned on.

I cannot be the only one who feels like every year I take down those plastic bins filled with festive tchotchkies and wonder why the place from whence that stuff came in that land of lost things couldn't be a little more organized? I will have to admit, it feels a bit like Christmas just peeking inside those boxes of mysterious holiday objects, because you never know what you might find - especially if you like to hit the "after-holiday sales," and end up stuffing those items into storage until next year. Kinda fun? Yes. But the uncertainty of it all makes this OCDite dread decorating every year.

So this year, on Day 2 of putting up holiday party decor, I decided to completely reorganize my entire storage closet (which is like a small room, I might add) before any of those empty bins went back in.

Tip: Reorganize the space where you store your holiday trinkets BEFORE you put it away, or just reorganize any space to make room for more of whatever may come.

There is now plenty of space to neatly tuck away my collection of trees and nutcrackers when the holidays are passed, and adequate shelving left for any gifts I get that may fall within the "regift" category . . . if I did that, which I don't . . . unless I truly know that someone else would appreciate it more than I. Why wouldn't I want it to have its best home?

Anyway, I gave my OCD a full workout today, filling 2 city garbage bins with old Halloween costumes (like it will ever be appropriate for me to be a fairy again), random shoe boxes (I don't understand why I insist on keeping those? It's not like I ever return anything?), my rollerblades (do people still do that?), and boxes of business cards from like 2003.

It felt good to free myself of those items I'd left behind, and while I gazed into all the now open storage space, I smiled. Kind of like the past year of my life, I've walked away from those things and people that no longer suit me, and have made room for new moments and opportunities. The occurrences of 2011 have changed me and led me down a road that finally feels right. This year, I gave myself the gift of going in a different direction. I encourage you readers to make space for those memorable moments, too, and enjoy the holidays!

Festooned in our fur and what I like to call "happy fat" to make myself feel better, from my first year as a food writer, we thank you for reading.

Photography by Ralph Palumbo Photography~ralphpalumbo.com

Happy Holidays!

31 August 2011

An Apparel Affair

"Be faithful to your own taste, because nothing you really like is ever out of style."
~ from Billy Baldwin Decorates

It is the end of August. August is a month I long for every year. By June I've already started saving money and making appointments in my calendar for that last full month of summer. This is not because I'm anxious for its predictable warmth or ready to join my European friends on their annual vacations; it is because it is the moment when the fabulous fall clothing lines begin hitting the stores. Leather, cashmere, wool and fur - for me, seeing the familiar textiles of fall reinvented each year parallels the pleasure of finding new ingredients to play with in my kitchen.

Just so you can begin to understand the strangeness of my outfit obsession, I need to explain that it's not just buying new clothes, it's an adventure in seeking out those pieces that speak to me and fit my style as if they were made for me. It becomes a physical necessity for me to purchase or I will have dreams about it until I do. Fashion is exciting - it's art which I can proudly display as a visual expression of me.

So to kick off this season's tour of textiles, I joined my girls on our bi-annual outing to the world's greatest outlet mall: The Desert Hills Premium Outlets in Cabazon, California. Every time we make the morning trek towards Palm Springs to this mile-long mall, there are new stores! Like a magnetic force I cannot pull away from, finding quality pieces at this outlet's prices, is like winning the lottery. There is something about that perfect print or a trendy pleated trouser that provokes an excitement within me similar to that of being handed my first Cabbage Patch Kid when I was 5. (Octavia Roberts - according to her certificate - just like the skirts and shoes I've treasured like trophies throughout my life, is now happily settled in a plastic storage bin for a fun future unveiling.)

My admiration for these items is not because I am materialistic, but because I can remember the feeling each item sparked within me upon discovering it for the first time. So, this is the advice I'm going to pass on to those of my friends who may want a little help in the wardrobe department:

Tip for choosing the right ensemble for you: find and pick apparel that makes you smile or reminds you of yourself.

Some may disagree with my philosophy, but if you put someone in something that they're not comfortable in just because it's trendy, they'll just look uncomfortable. An outfit that causes you to exude confidence - whether it is last season or now - will make you appear confident. Yes, there are some standard rules that apply to picking your wardrobe, like pick something that flatters your own figure or choose colors that enhance your particular skin tones, but aside from following the basics, wear what makes you feel good.

I like to wear clothes that are different. As I do with the design of my home, my favorite way to intrigue is to juxtapose opposites. On our outlet excursion, I chose two Diane Von Furstenberg separates (my favorite prints ever - she is a genius!): the tops is a bold pattern in a loose and flowing form while the bottoms are basic black, tight and high waisted (obsessed with this fit right now as long as it's figure flattering). And I'd like to share a special thank you to my shopping sister Deann for giving me her $50 DVF gift card, because she saw the look in my eye when I found this outfit.

For retro prints and fits, shop Diane Von Furstenberg.

The other outfit I picked was an unexpected pairing of an active-wear striped tank with a skirt suited for power lunching. When the weather gets warmer, I plan to add an edgy jacket to make my work wear more interesting.

Theory is a great store for basics

The girls like to laugh at me, because I tend to steer them into the designer stores, but I need to explain that it is because I honestly create a connection to my clothes. Am I a little neurotic about picking and choosing my wardrobe? Yes. But didn't you expect that? I want to feel like me and look like me in my clothes. My favorite statement to hear from my friends when we're shopping is, "this one looks like you." I am proud that I have a style of my own that's recognizable whether it is in tune with the trends or not, it makes me smile, and I hope that I can inspire you to find a few new fall garments (or maybe summer since it's all on sale right now!) that make you smile.

And don't forget to accessorize! Your attire isn't complete without properly paired shoes.

My MARNI heels - bringing the 70s back with these powerful pumps.

Happy outfitting!

05 August 2011

Summer: Months for Musing & Sushi Making

A whirlwind of joy, a journey home and juggling new clients and fantastic visitors have been the composition of my July. Although, I have missed my readers and fellow bloggers during my month of vacation, I have so much to share from my month of musing that I don't know where to begin! It seems only appropriate for this OCDite to begin at the beginning and tell my summer stories in chronological order, right? So, here is a tale of entertaining my friends before my July journey began.

Readers, I hope you enjoyed my last entry on the "joy of cooking" and maybe even tried my easy tequila chicken recipe, but I know for some, that the thought of cooking only stirs up fear rather than delicious food. So this post is for those of you who love to throw a party, but don't want to do the cooking yourself. This OCDite has discovered a way to satisfy and impress your guests without having to lift a finger in the kitchen!

Tip: Hire a private chef (much more reasonably priced than you might think). Chef Andi Therrien, a personal chef and sushi making master, uses her skills to engage guests in preparing the food, so you don't have to!

Chef Andi Therrien and I showing off my roll
 Now for most, this concept of no cooking makes for super simple planning and gratifying results as a happy host. However, as you've been reading my thoughts for the past few months, you readers may have already guessed that nothing is simple - although, always fabulous - on this OCDite's turf. I just can't plan anything without striving to perfect the details. So, in the timeline below, I will show you the process of how I accomplish the perfect party.

OCDite Party Timeline
  •  Pre-party shopping: I like to shop around for the best deals, and more importantly, the most perfect items. After this particular party, I am now a member at Marakai Market, an Asian-inspired grocery and marketplace in Costa Mesa. Although, Mitsua (one of my favorite and first experiences with Asian markets) has a beautiful selection of food, Marakai stocks its shelves with the other items you might need: Japanese-style bamboo flip flops (a polite and fun way to tell my guests to take their shoes off), printed fans for placeholders and Japanese paper doll bookmarks which I used for name tags.

The perfect party accessories can make a memorable statement

  • Party Set-up: As I finish my make-up, I run through my mental list: 1) light the candles, 2) sweep one last time, 3) finish attaching name tags to the placeholders, and 4) arrange the table and decorations to suit a photo shoot for the cover of Real Simple magazine, because you never know . . .
  • Pre-party Meditation: I use the time while I'm blow-drying my hair to breathe myself out of OCDite crazy time and into relaxed hostess with the mostess.
  • Party Time: Personally greet every guest, and make them feel comfortable (open a bottle of wine, and everyone is happy). Then, and only then, indulge in the experience with your guests, but try not to show your freak-out when someone spills soy sauce on your Peroba wood table.

Beautifully prepared, delicious food is the heart of any party

  • Post-party Cleanup & Calm: By the time I go to bed, it's 3 am, but the dishes are clean, the kitchen is sparkling, the floors are now free of fish roe, and the table linens are washed, dried, and folded neatly back in the linen closet from whence they came. Before sleep, relish in the success of your party, engrain in your mind the smiles and discoveries and even the spills which are now also a memory of the night. And then, pass out.
If you're interested in hosting your own sushi-party, I can't say enough about the memorable experience we had with Chef Andi Therrien. Email her at: chef.andit@gmail.com for your next party.

Fun and festive - a themed party is something everyone will enjoy.
 Happy Hosting!

29 June 2011

Interpretations from a Compulsive Kitchen: Part II

“I don’t think any day is worth living without thinking about what you’re going to eat next at all times.”
~Nora Ephron on Gourmet.com

Miss Ephron must be reading my mind. She must have grown up in a family of fantastic cooks, like me. I’m constantly consumed by thoughts of food – what to eat, what to cook, what I can serve for my next dinner party, and I know this love of food has been passed down to me from my food-loving ancestors. It’s in my blood. Eating and cooking is the heart and soul of my family, and so we’ve always spent most of our time gathering in the kitchen.

The view beyond my own kitchen window still lacks that chic, cozy sectional and soothing trickling waterfall, but I have been spending most mornings enjoying my coffee under my new lantern-ornamented umbrella. (Had to have a neighbor help me put the umbrella up, but now it’s not going anywhere.) I have surpassed my pining over decorating my yard and am dying to relax with a little cooking in my kitchen once more.

I can’t begin anything in my kitchen unless it begins as a shiny, spotless thing of beauty. I never go to bed or leave the house until the dishes are clean. I disinfect my countertops and cooking surfaces at least 10 times per day. To me, a dirty kitchen probably produces dirty food. My kitchen always smells a hint like lavender. It is the one space in my house where I feel the most Zen (that is, until I get my “Zen den” in my backyard completed), and it’s appropriately, the most immaculate room in the house. I mean, it really does sparkle.

When I bought my fixer-upper home nearly 2 years ago, I spent the most time (and also the most money) on building a beautiful kitchen. Although small (not really a 2-butt kitchen as my Grandma would say), I knew it would suit me perfectly with the right design. I filled every inch of space with solid cherry cabinetry, and fit a small pantry around my refrigerator which is always overflowing with pita chips and pasta. My glass tile backsplash is a mixture of colors of the ocean, and just knowing that my countertops are made from a naturally antimicrobial surface – quartz – calms my germophobe mind. And you can’t miss my lion-head cookie jar in the corner which reminds me of Aslan from the Chronicles of Narnia and brings a smile to all who enter.

So now that I’ve set the scene, let me share with you my slightly neurotic interpretation of an average cooking experience with this OCDite.

I turn on some moving music, crank open my window to let the bay breeze in, and step into the zone of my culinary form. I take my time. It’s always a personal journey for me – an expression of me on a plate. I’m methodical about the organization of my kitchen prep. I read the recipe multiple times before I even get out the ingredients so that I can feel the flow of the tasty treat that awaits my craftsmanship. Many of my recipes are derived from old family recipes, which I’ve tweaked to fit my taste buds today. So I try to imagine my relatives going through the same processes. Food makes me feel free and connects me to my family. Revisiting these old recipes always feels like having a conversation with the generations before me.

A very unglamorous me whipping up
pasta and squash blossoms in my own kitchen

I start by prepping all of the ingredients the recipe requests as well as those items that I think will add even more deliciousness to the dish (I add garlic and herbs to almost everything). I’m like an Iron Chef – or at least I like to pretend I am – while I’m chopping veggies, herbs and proteins with my Wusthöf Santoku knife. I then, carefully line each element up in multi-colored silicon bowls in order of use according to the directions just like they do for the celebrity chefs on the Food Network, and get ready to cook! I feel prepared – ready to make my way through the recipe, because I have precisely prepped. However, due to this meticulous method of prep, a Rachael Ray 30-minute meal, does not hit the table in 30 minutes at my house. I love you, Rachael, but 30-minute meals are at least 60-minute meals for this OCDite.

Tip for conceiving successful cuisine: Organize your ingredients before you begin cooking. Why? Why not! If the components are systematically laid out and ready to go, you will have so much more room for creative seasoning, sauce adjustments and enjoying the creative cooking process itself. Precise preparation will lead to a more relaxed and fun cooking environment, and possibly room for sipping wine while you stir.

I am a firm believer that good tools are essential to more fully enjoying the art of cooking. Once you feel the difference, you’ll start putting money aside to stock your cupboards with quality tools. Here are some of my favorites:

1)      Wusthöf Santoku knife (mentioned above) You don’t need an entire knife set, all you need is one good knife, and this is it.
2)     Le Creuset’s enameled cast iron French oven Can’t seem to cook both your veggies and your meat together without burning one? This heavy-duty everything pot, makes it nearly impossible to burn anything. And all of Le Creuset’s products can go from stove-top to oven seamlessly.
3)     Zojirushi rice cooker This under-credited appliance is great for busy people. It cooks rice, steams veggies, cooks protein and even cake perfectly, and all you have to do is push a button.

So have I convinced any of you to get in the kitchen and cook tonight? I’ll make it a little easier and provide you with an impressive, healthy summer dinner dish. I submitted this recipe to the Claremont, South Dakota United Methodist Church cookbook (hands down, the best cookbook I own next to The Joy of Cooking – all of the Claremont women seem to have been born for the kitchen).

Margarita-Braised Chicken Thighs
with citrus-scented jasmine rice
½ cup flour
1 T. paprika
2 tsp. garlic powder
8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
½ tsp. salt
1 T. olive oil
1 C. thinly sliced sweet onion
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 C. dried tropical fruit
1 C. orange juice
½ C. tequila (can substitute chicken broth, but it’s just not as fun)
1 lime, thinly sliced
Fresh cilantro or parsley

Preheat oven to 400°. Combine first 3 ingredients in a small baking dish. Sprinkle chicken with salt; dredge chicken in flour mixture. Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken to pan; cook 4 minutes on each side or until lightly browned but not cooked through. Transfer chicken to an 11 x 7-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray. Add onion to same skillet the chicken was cooked in; cook 3 minutes. Add garlic to pan, and sauté 1 minute. Combine fruit, juice, and tequila in a microwave-safe dish, and microwave on HIGH 2 minutes. Pour fruit mixture into pan with onions; bring to a boil, scraping pan to loosen browned, yummy bits. Cook 1 minute. Pour onion & juice mixture over chicken; top with lime slices. Bake at 400° for 20-25 minutes or until chicken is cooked through. Serve chicken on a bed of citrus-scented jasmine rice, and sprinkle with fresh herbs.

*Note: 2 chicken thighs and approximately 1/3 of cup of the fruit mixture is only 350 calories!

Citrus-scented Jasmine Rice
1 C. long-grain jasmine rice
2 ½ cups chicken broth
2 limes or sweet oranges
2 T. butter
Salt, to taste
¾ C. scallions, sliced
½ C. fresh cilantro or parsley, chopped

Add chicken broth, butter, salt and zest and juice of 2 limes (or 1 orange) to a medium saucepan that has been coated with non-stick cooking spray and bring to a boil. Stir in jasmine rice. Cover, lower heat to a simmer and cook approximately 15 minutes. OR, throw all of the ingredients into your Zojirushi rice cooker, and push the rice button. It will cook itself perfectly. Remove from heat, and add the scallions and fresh herbs. Stir to combine.

Thank you, Kitchen, you served me well yet again, and remain my favorite space for combating the day’s compulsions. And thank you, Readers, for taking this culinary tour with me.

Bon a petit!