8 Oct 2010

Sustaining Through September

Posted by annmcolford

Last night I made a favorite recipe from years past: Broccoli and Tofu in Peanut Sauce, from The Enchanted Broccoli Forest cookbook (Mollie Katzen’s sequel to the original Moosewood Cookbook). The broccoli came from my last CSA box of the season, picked up on Saturday; the tofu came from Small Planet, the formerly local and now regional producer.

The dish (like so many of mine) was actually a riff on the original, keeping the spirit of the dish while lightening the sauce and crisping up the tofu. I deep-fried the chunks of tofu in canola oil, then sautéed the broccoli (in olive oil) with onion, garlic and ginger, tossing in some peanuts and splashing it with some tamari. Instead of the heavy, sweetened peanut sauce from the recipe’s 1970s glory days, I used a lighter, more vinegary recipe from another source. I reheated some leftover brown rice, put the sautéed broccoli over it, spooned on the peanut sauce/dressing, and garnished with the golden chunks of tofu, for a highly satisfying meal that’s sustainable in many ways.

Sustainability has been a major theme over the past month, as Spokane has celebrated “Sustainable September” with events both large and small, many of them focused on food. I got into the spirit of it by attending a couple of events, but I found that the pace just wasn’t… well… sustainable. At least not for me.

Part of the problem is that I’ve been fighting off the respiratory crud that’s been circulating here since late August (whine, whine), but part of it is that sustainability has become the central factor of my life. All of my actions and choices have to be sustainable for me, personally, as well as for the community and for the planet. “Sustainable for me” means within my (meager) financial budget and within the limits of my physical, mental and emotional stamina.

I have chosen a lifestyle of limited material consumption but one that’s (ideally) rich in time. I no longer devote 50 to 60 hours each week to employment; I no longer feel compelled to take part in as many social or civic events. When I choose to spend my time connecting with friends, I want to be fully present to the experience. If instead I am thinking about how many errands I have to squeeze in on the way home, or what I have to get done before bedtime, I am not honoring my friends. And when I choose to be at home, I want to be fully present there, too, whether I am cooking, reading, or cleaning the litter box.

Back when I was employed, I often found myself apologizing to friends and acquaintances (and colleagues) for taking so long to return phone calls, e-mails, and so on. Few people seemed offended by my conduct, however; they were all “crazy busy” as well, and they understood the fine art of prioritizing when the volume of tasks becomes overwhelming. Now that I’m out of that lifestyle, though, “crazy busy” just looks like “crazy.”

(I need to give a quick shout-out here to my friend Bike-to-Work Barb, who reflected on this in a Facebook post a while back and got me thinking about it again. And I have to note one other curious thing: People who weren’t offended by my unavailability when work was my excuse sometimes take offense when I’m unavailable in order to take time for myself. Attaching that magic word “work” to potentially offensive behavior somehow grants absolution.)

Because my schedule is not “crazy,” I have the time to make choices that are more sustainable for the larger community as well. I can choose to walk or take the bus, rather than driving; I can cook dinner from scratch, using locally sourced ingredients, rather than relying on takeout or convenience foods; I can host a potluck meal with friends rather than dining out all the time. (Dining out remains a favorite way to connect, but it’s far more of a rare and special treat than it used to be.)

So I’ve come to a newly articulated mantra for my life: living within my means, while living in accordance with my principles.

Doesn’t mean I always achieve the ideal. I am human, and therefore weak in the face of temptation (like chocolate, say, or that lamb ragu at Italia Trattoria). But at least now I have words to guide me. As a writer, that comforts me—if I can say it, maybe I can live it.

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One Response to “Sustaining Through September”

  1. Nice piece (and thanks for the shout-out!). I want the peanut sauce recipe since that’s one of my favorites; the whole dish sounds yummy.

    I’m trying to live within my “time means”, which means gradually stepping back from some of my volunteer commitments so I have more time for cooking, preserving local food for winter, and just being with family and friends. Less crazy AND less busy, I hope.


    Barb Chamberlain

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