I’m going back to basics this week, pals. Returning to the original format of Three Things, mostly because I can only mine the deep, dark depths of my soul for so long before I need to come up for air. Excuse me while I suck in as much life-giving oxygen as I can. In the meantime, here’s this week’s Three Things.
SOMETHING I’M LISTENING TO: EVERYTHING, ON SPOTIFY
Music is the marrow in my bones, the plasma in my veins, it’s the pump of my heart that sends life pulsing through my body. Raised in a house filled with a full spectrum of art, music has always been the most powerful influence in my life.
It seems just like yesterday and also a million miles ago when I sat in a Starbucks in the early 2000s and breathlessly picked out ten songs of my own choosing and burned my very own custom CD at one of their now-defunct Hear Music bars. Not long after that, iTunes launched and shivers shot down my spine when I realized I had a seemingly limitless library of music at my fingertips in my very own home. Down the rabbit hole I tumbled, sometimes losing myself searching for and downloading music for hours on end. When the first iPods were introduced, my mind was officially blown. My mom was still alive when I tried to explain to her how thousands of songs could be stored on this wee device. I don’t think she ever quite grasped the concept.
My kids have chided me for holding onto to my quaint iPods and allegiance to iTunes for so long. Although I may not be quite ready yet to surrender my tiny blue iPod Shuffle that clips to the hem of my shirt while I’m sweating on the elliptical, I am slowly coming around. I know music streaming is where it’s at and I need to start putting all my eggs in one basket, musically speaking.
Spotify has been around for ten years now. Developed in Sweden, it was an easy choice. I’ve actually had a Spotify account for a number of years, but only recently upgraded to their premium service. I love that I can listen to Bach on Sunday mornings and obscure 70s disco tracks while I cook and switch between the two with a tap of my finger. Chill downtempo dubs? Yes. Trap and 80s house music? Sure! A little Chet Baker vibe mixed with early Johnny Cash? It’s all so easy and right there. Of course I have my favorite songs and artists, but nothing thrills me more than to discover brand spankin’ new music. That never-before-heard song that makes you swoon, that artist that blows your mind, that one trigger that sends you down the rabbit hole again and sets your soul ablaze. Once you’ve used Spotify for awhile, their Discover Weekly playlists become more and more perfectly customized to your tastes. It’s like cracking open the most beautiful Easter egg and discovering oodles of shimmering gems inside.
By the way, did you know Madison McFerrin is Bobby Mcferrin’s (“Don’t Worry, Be Happy”) daughter and her music is dreamy and to-die-for? Thanks, Spotify.
I create custom playlists for all my yoga classes and am often approached about the music I play. With over a hundred playlists on my iTunes account, I’m in the process of switching them over to Spotify so that folks can eventually access all my playlists there. I’ve linked my Facebook to my Spotify account, so feel free to find and follow me on Spotify–my user name is “trixiekat”. Once there, you’ll be able to see what rabbit hole I’m presently in and maybe even take a tumble down alongside me.
C’mon in and join me. We’ll hang out.
SOMETHING I’M COOKING: HARISSA CHICKEN AND CHICKPEAS
Speaking of rabbit holes, lately you’ll find me in the one filled with chickpeas.
Honestly, I’m not a big fan of hummus, but give me chickpeas (also known as garbanzo beans) in their whole, unadulterated form and I’m in heaven. In my younger days, I’d often crack open a can and just eat them on their own. So when I found myself searching for a way to put a jar of harissa paste to good use, this recipe caught my eye.
Trader Joe’s is my favorite place to discover inexpensive little jars of interesting condiments, sauces and seasonings. The bright and fiery orange-red jar of harissa called my name and I dropped it in my shopping cart without much forethought about what I’d use it for. I brought it home and there it sat in my pantry–always so pretty and inviting, but mysterious and exotic, like that attractive stranger you notice in line at the coffee shop but can’t imagine ever talking to.
So now what the hell do I do with it?
After a bit of research, I learned that harissa is a smoky-spicy condiment from Northern Africa–Tunisia, to be exact. Made from peppers and spices, its purpose can be as simple as swirling a small smear into your scrambled eggs for a morning jolt of zing or making it the featured player in a more complex dish. You can make your own harissa fairly easily, too, and thereby control the heat a bit more. Apparently, each jar and tube of harissa can vary widely in the hotness department, so make sure you give yours a nibble before dumping the whole thing in your pan.
The Trader Joe’s harissa packs a mighty punch. You’ve been warned.
I know the Instapot is all the rage these days, but if you don’t have a well-seasoned cast iron pan, don’t even start with me. My cast iron pan gets at least as much use as any of my other cookware and yields results that you just can’t get in a standard frying pan. Cast iron easily withstands a high heat to get a wonderful caramelized crust on things like veggies and meat, and then can get tossed right into the oven for finishing. This recipe can be made without a cast iron pan, but it’s so much better and easier with one.
Harissa Chicken and Chickpeas uses bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs which I adore. You can probably substitute boneless, skinless thighs, or even chicken breasts if you must, but why pay more for less flavor? I love the crispy sear the skin develops with the high heat and the meat cooks better, tastes better and stays super tender when cooked on the bone. You can play around with the amount of chicken stock, giving it more or less sauce as you see fit. I was grateful to have a pile of couscous flavored with stock alongside the chicken to cut the heat a bit. Plain yogurt with a drizzle of good olive oil would be a nice, cooling accompaniment as well.
The best part of Harissa Chicken and Chickpeas is that it’s done in one pan–simple, inexpensive, packed with flavor and spice. Also, chickpeas.
More chickpeas, please. And pass the harissa.
SOMETHING I’M DOING: THE HARD THINGS
My parents gave me many gifts, not the least of which are my love of music and cooking really good food. But in the area of discipline and buckling down and doing the really hard things, they were a bit remiss. I like to give them ample grace, though, knowing that I came along as a seventh surprise towards the end of a wild, crazy ride. I get it. They were tired.
As I grew into a teenager and young adult and found myself faced with a daunting challenge or two, my mom would wring her hands and tell me I could quit. Sometimes she told me I should quit. She hated seeing me upset. Granted, I’ve always tended to feel and express things in big ways–I’m not much for subtlety or a poker face. As a mom myself now, I understand how tough it is to see your kid struggle. But you know, it’s not about the mom. It’s about the kid learning what it means to do the hard things. And how.
Yoga has been my greatest teacher on learning how to do the hard things. Physically, without a doubt–putting in the time and effort to build enough strength, endurance and body awareness to take myself into more advanced postures was where it began. But then came the mental test. Holding a simple pose for an extended period of time, watching my mind shift into overdrive and doubt. Convinced I can’t withstand the challenge, daydreaming of leaving my body and running out the door to find relief. Overwhelmed with fear and self-loathing, my worst enemy is almost always myself.
I’m still learning how to get out of my own way.
So it goes with writing. There is a common misconception that writing comes easily to writers. Any ease of writing that I’ve developed has come primarily from practice, not from any innate gift of creativity or expression. I think most writers would agree that while writing is not easier for us, it is much more necessary.
And sometimes it’s necessary to do the hard things.
Week after week, I write. I struggle. I doubt. I want to quit. My pity parties are unparalleled. Over time, I’ve grown more comfortable with writing poorly so that I can go back, revise and write better. I watch my mind flail and falter into the same self-defeating thoughts I’ve learned to identify in my yoga practice. Through my yoga, I begin to make the connections. I start to understand how I am prone to undermining my very necessary writing practice as well.
And so it goes with life. We show up. We don’t quit. We write that first word of the first sentence of a new paragraph and cringe. We do the hard, necessary things and maybe, just maybe, it gets easier.
I’ll make the playlist and bring some really good food along the way.