Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Don't Crowd the Mushrooms, Among Other Things

Around the same time last year, I experienced something along the lines of depression and anxiety. I tend to not admit it. I tend to not use the “d” word at all. After all, what did I have to be depressed about? I was living abroad, making a name for myself. Or, rather, I was learning what it meant to do the job in front of me because it needed doing. In February of last year, I developed Secondary Traumatic Stress (a similar beast to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but one typically seen in those helping people who experienced trauma firsthand) in an effort to help out on a project the NGO I interned at managed.

It has been a growing year for me since then.

In March of this year, I had gotten sick with probably one of the longest running bugs I’ve had in a while. And that turned into a terrible sinus infection, which in turn lasted another two weeks with an on again, off again fever. All motivation to do the things I enjoyed went out the window. No Insanity with CK. No Meals with Morri posts (or celebration of its fourth birthday, for that matter). No art. No job applications. Nothing.

My weakened immune system brought me back to how I felt last year, and the lack of interest from potential employers made it worse.

I write about this because I think it’s important. Meals with Morri is, first and foremost, a site about living healthfully with food sensitivities. But it’s also a place where I write about other health issues, like hypothyroidism, disordered eating, and stress.

In Malta, I kept my emotional pain relatively quiet (with the exception of CK, my parents, certain friends, and my therapist). I was living alone and on my own for the first time. I was finishing up grad school. I was working in a country on issues that were highly contentious and subject to scorn. Outside of work, I didn’t have a social life because I found it hard to assimilate and integrate with the culture). It was a hard lesson in learning to be alone and honest with myself.

Fast forward to today. I’m in Rome for twelve more days, living with an amazing human being that I refer to as my Partner with a capital ‘p’. I’ve volunteered my time and expertise at his school to get out of the apartment. I’ve improved as an artist, a cook, and as a writer. I’ve applied for jobs everywhere.

Depression isn’t logical. I am aware of my privilege. I have supportive friends, and I’ve grown as a person because of my experiences. But there would be days where I go through job listing sites like Idealist.org or Indeed.com and come up with nothing. Until recently, the idea of sending an email to another potential employer only to be ignored would bring me to tears, staring at the computer screen with blurred vision as the anxiety and worthlessness feeling grew. If you are presently searching for employment or had a hard time finding a job, you’ll know how detrimental it can be when your inbox is empty, and no one seems interested in what you can offer both their mission and their office.

But as I’ve said, I’ve been able to volunteer my time at CK’s school in more ways than I could have ever hoped for. It has validated my self-worth in that, despite the empty inbox, what I can and do contribute to the world (even to one person's world) matters. 

Upcoming post: the importance of school gardens

This funk has made it that much harder for me to do things that I clearly love doing, including Meals with Morri posts. The turning point for me was realizing that it was affecting my physical health too.

I know gaining 1.6 pounds isn’t a lot in retrospect, especially since the body fluctuates that amount on any given day. Regardless, I had gained 1.6 pounds, and it bugged me. It had nothing to do with the number and everything to what it represented. To me, it represented my depression affecting me in a very real way with very real consequences. I love physical activity. I love working out. I love being creative. And seeing that number gave me two ways of dealing with it: I could either turn it inward and accept it, beating myself even further to feeling lower than low; or I could say “f*ck that” and take charge. I chose the latter, and with it I had to be prepared to hold myself accountable.

I can’t control whether or not an employer wants to hire me. It’s a vulnerable position to apply for jobs, and that can’t be helped. But what I can do is make my first impression, that is, my cover letter and résumé, a labor of love. I can send them in and be able to say, “I wrote these to the best of my ability, with sincerity and integrity, and that’s something to be proud of.” Sure, it may also mean being downcast when they don’t get back to me, but that just means the right job will.

I can also control how I manage my time. I can sit around and mope, or I can actively seek out someone to talk to. I can work on my art or read another Terry Pratchett (Gods, I miss this man) novel. I can do Insanity instead of napping away the day in an effort to avoid my anger, disappointment, and sadness. I can stop comparing myself to others and instead focus on the positive as well as the things I can control.

I can control how many jobs I apply to. I can control how much time I put into my art and physical health. I can control how often I post on Meals with Morri.

Never let depression ruin your progress. Never let it win. Experience it. Work through it. But in the end, you can and will triumph.

This recipe isn’t particularly relevant to what I’ve written, only that I’ve been meaning to post it for weeks now and wanted to take those first crucial steps in overcoming my funk. It is more of a technique than a recipe. But if you learn anything from today, learn this invaluable tip: Don’t crowd the mushrooms in the pan.

Flawlessly Pan-Fried Mushrooms

400 g Mushrooms of your choice
Olive oil, for the pan
Sea salt

As I said, this is more of a technique than a recipe, but it’s an easy way to dazzle dinner guests. I’ve done this technique with three types of mushrooms: oyster, white button, and a long stemmed, small hooded mushroom that came in clumps and various sizes (I’ll update the name when/if I can find it). All where prepared and cooked similarly, and I have to say I’ve come to appreciate mushrooms by themselves because of this technique.

When you take the mushrooms out of the package, the first thing you do is cut the bottom roots and clean off the remaining debris from its initial picking with a dry paper towel. This is important. If you do end up wetting the mushrooms (they soak up moisture like a sponge, leading to a soggy product, which we do not want), let them sit on the counter to dry out for fifteen minutes or so.

Now, you can keep the stems on or remove them depending on your preference, but it’s up to you. You can also slice them in any shape or simply leave them whole. How you prepare them will determine the cooking time, so be aware of that. What I typically do is, if possible, cut them into quarters to get ultimate browning and body with every bite.

Once the mushrooms are cut, place a large sauté pan on the burner on high heat. When the pan itself is hot, pour a decent amount of olive oil at the bottom of the pan, enough to coat the bottom evenly but not thickly. Toss the mushrooms in, lower the heat slightly (not by much, around medium-high), but be sure that each piece has room. This is extremely important for perfectly cooked browned mushroom: do not crowd the pan with them. This may mean cooking them in batches. And since the mushrooms won’t be crowded, the liquid they do give off will evaporate, leaving soft, browned deliciousness in the pan. 

Stir with a wooden spoon or spatula and shake the pan once in a while. You will know you are doing the recipe right if the pan starts to look dry and the mushrooms sound like they’re squeaking. If it looks like the mushrooms are smoking, DO NOT ADD WATER. Instead, turn on the exhaust fan and maybe add a little more oil.

Once evenly browned, pour onto a serving plate and sprinkle sea salt on top. Repeat if you have more batches to cook (add oil every time). Serve hot as a side dish or simply eat as is. Yes, they’re that good.

This makes two servings… if you’re willing to share, that is.

1 comment:

  1. I am a total sucker for mushrooms...just about any way they are prepared, and variety! I am so trying your technique, I have a bunch I could do for dinner and hog it all myself!