Sunday, October 16, 2011

Cottage Pie

Do you ever have those moments where you ended up questioning something, even things in the past you didn’t have control over in the first place? Do you ever think you took the wrong path, whether it is for a career or a college major? My blogging activity waned for five excruciatingly long days, just as my motivation had for school. I kept cooking, and I kept going to school, but when it came time to study the weekly readings or blog my latest recipe, I couldn’t focus, my eyes glazed over, my mind went blank, and all I wanted to do was sleep and hide from the world.

Yesterday all I did was sleep, and I was still exhausted. My inability to sleep more than six hours without the compulsion to get up each night was starting to get to me (zombie-free, thank goodness). I look out from my bedroom window, gazing at the beauty of this clear autumn day, and I can’t help but feel so disconnected from the Cosmos. I don’t feel like I’m part of my own life.

So I’m looking back at my college career, and I think about Steve Jobs and Chris Botti. Both men are geniuses of their respective crafts, Jobs with computers and Botti with his trumpet. Neither one of them completed college (Jobs dropped out and then back “in” college, only taking the classes he found interesting and Botti dropped out to pursue the life of a musician), but look at the impact they’ve made in the world! I started thinking to myself, my minor classes in anthropology were the ones that kept my GPA under a 3.5, and suppose if I decided use those credits to take the classes I found interesting. Where would my GPA be? Where would I be as a person if I took a year off before going to school and traveled? A lot of recent opportunities have come up in the S/CAR program, opportunities that I can’t be part of because this is my last semester as an undergraduate. Maybe this is where it all started, when I found out that future S/CAR majors would have the ability to turn their senior year into their first year of the Masters program. That, and the fact that I still haven’t heard anything about my grades from Sweden transferring, that kept me from filling out my application and, in my mind, hindering my ability to being selected for the upcoming spring.

For the past few weeks I’ve been angry and frustrated and sullen. I was angry because I felt cheated, because I didn’t know what George Mason could have offered me if I hadn’t taken on the anthropology minor. I was frustrated because all the motivation and drive I had was quickly fading, and December was looming closer and closer. And I was sullen, because the only thing that was keeping me from the people that mattered most to me and inhibiting me from doing the things I loved and wanted to do was, well, me.

The nervous breakdown last night, in front of my family and friends, was my turning point. We all get together on a monthly basis to eat, love, meet new people, and discuss new ideas and philosophies. We started talking about the concepts of Wyrd and Ørlög, or fate and its path, as it is known in the Old Anglo-Saxon and Germanic cultures, and despite all my efforts to not break down, the tears fell and I excused myself for the rest of the discussion. It was at that moment I knew I didn’t feel connected to something I felt I should have been, and that my fate and destiny were secrets I wasn’t in on that they might as well not exist. What was I going to do with my life after graduation? What credentials could I possibly have that gave me a doorway to do something great for the world? What was the point of going through higher education when upon graduation I don’t feel prepared for life outside of academia? I am scared, so completely and utterly terrified, and more than once I’ve half-jokingly told people I’m going to become a Buddhist nun just to get away from everything. I began doubting my ability as being a conflict resolution practitioner. I began doubting my ability to cook. I began doubting the things I loved and the things I was good at. I wanted to put the covers over my head and wait until graduation, to not eat or move or talk.

I sat there, petting my uncle’s two dogs while I calmed down, and a couple of people came down to check on me. I told them why I was a blubbering mess with tears in my hair and a heavy heart, spilling out my fears and my reflections. Two of them, brothers and roommates, said they went through the exact same thing before and after they left the military. In fact, most if not all who talked with me said they’re still trying to figure it all out. “Your career doesn’t define you”, my uncle’s girlfriend said, “but that doesn’t mean you won’t end up where you’re supposed to.” I left the get-together in better spirits than I had arrived. I couldn’t have felt more loved or supported, and for that I am grateful for the amazing family I have.

If it hadn’t been for following Mama Dazz’s incentive and looking into conflict resolution as a discipline, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. I learned the art of communication, the power of empathy, and have met the unsung heroes of this wonderful world we have. If it hadn’t been for George Mason or the S/CAR program, I wouldn’t have met the people whom I cherish more than anything, including my colleagues in my classes or the love of my life one fateful Halloween party two years ago. And finally, if I hadn’t been part of this program, I wouldn’t have gone to the conference last year and hear Andy Shallal’s speech that inspired me more than he will ever know.

Thinking about this, now, as I write this post, further reiterates what I’ve always known. Everything is connected. There is no such thing as a coincidence. I’ve been disconnected from the Universe because I’d lost my belief in the process. And when you turn your back on that process and distrust it, you become lost and your way is uncertain. You begin to fear the process, and what it might bring. 

When I was first looking into making shepherd’s pie for the family, put into my single serving Pyrex® dishes, I searched for other people’s recipes before I sought to create my own. Maybe I wanted a point of departure so I wouldn’t mess up something I’ve never made before. Or maybe I wanted to walk down a path already traveled. But then, I noticed none of the recipes were what I was going for. I was afraid to pave my own path, even if it was a recipe for cottage pie (and before you say it, there is a difference between the two recipes).

So, despite my revelation (and a bangin’ original recipe), am I still terrified, frustrated, and sullen? A little. Graduation is still coming up. Midterms are still this week. Morri is still a stressed out, hormonal mess. But you can’t change what has already happened, and you shouldn’t worry about the things you can’t control. Sometimes what other people have done before you isn’t exactly what you want to do. And there may be a better way to do what you have in mind.

Everything happens for a reason. Trust in the process. Believe in your fate and that path your fate is taking. So here, have some cottage pie for your journey. I guarantee you’ll feel better.

Cottage Pie

1.5 lbs Lean beef stew meat, chopped into bite-sized chunks
2 carrots (about 5.5 oz), peeled, quartered, and finely chopped
1 White onion (medium), peeled and finely chopped
5.25 oz Petite peas, fresh or frozen
3 tbsp. Olive oil
2 Garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
20 oz Water
1 tsp. Unrefined apple cider vinegar
1 Bay leaf
1 tsp. Thyme
1/4 tsp. Rosemary powder
1/4 tsp. Sage powder
1 tsp. Sea salt
1/2 tsp. Cracked pepper
3 (heaping) tbsp. Potato starch

4 Russet potatoes (about 2.5 lbs), cut into small chunks
2 Garlic cloves, whole
1 oz Salted butter
3 oz Sour cream
1/4 tsp. Sea salt
1/4 tsp. Cracked pepper

In a pressure cooker or large pot, combine the beef, veggies, water, and spices (sans the potato starch, and cook for at least an hour.
Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
Cover the potato chunks and garlic cloves with cold water in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil on medium-high heat until tender.
Drain the water and add the butter, sour cream, salt, and pepper, and mash the potatoes until there is a smooth consistency.
When the pressure has subsided in the pressure cooker, create a slurry with the potato starch (about 2 oz water) and add in with the meat and veggies on medium-low heat.
Once the stew thickens, turn off the heat, remove the bay leaf, and pour it into an oven-safe casserole pan.
Top it with the potato mixture and evenly spread it out.
Bake for thirty minutes or more if you want the potato to brown.

Serves 4 – 6 people.

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