The Routine, Interrupted

We interrupt our regularly scheduled Thursday essay for some handwringing about change

Big news! We're moving. In fact, this newsletter is coming at you somewhere east of the California state line, as Kin and I (and Poppy, of course) head out on I80.

Image credits: Meriç Dağlı. Not what the road trip looks like so far...

We'd been in Oakland for three-and-a-bit years — the longest, in fact, that Kin and I have been in one place since we've been together. Oakland was good to us, all things considered, and I reckon I'll be ride-or-die for The Town from now on. But after the pandemic and Isaiah's death and, well, you know, everything, it's time for a change.

Moving is good. Moving is terrible. Moving is hard. Moving is scary.

I'm particularly nervous, having established a routine that has given me some solace and sanity, of upending everything when (and as) we relocate.

I have to find new places to run (ostensibly that won't be that hard, although I’m working on an essay on how Strava heat maps and other map technologies aren’t as useful as they purport to be). And this move coincides with the kick-off of another training block for a fall half marathon.

I have to find a new gym for weight-lifting, and it's going to be impossible to replace Bay Strength.

I have to find a new route to walk the dog — no more four-mile loop around Lake Merritt every morning. And I think a new time of day too — no more 5am alarm.

I have to find a new grocery store (I'm also working on an essay about grocery stores — my dad and grandpa owned one when I was growing up, and I have Very Particular Thoughts about grocery shopping). I have to figure out new meals based on different local produce, a different kitchen, and of course a different routine.

I have to find new doctors and dentists and I should probably find a therapist, and that means repeating "my story" to new professionals and that is always super exhausting and more than a little traumatic.

I have to figure out where to sit in the new apartment so I can read and write. I have just restarted the latter, as you well know. I am hoping there is enough momentum with the practices I have now that I can just keep moving forward until I find a rhythm again.

As I list these things, they all seem like so inconsequential. But they feel huge. They feel like the elements of my life that have kept me grounded with all the upheaval. Or at least, they're all the little things that I have formed into my routine, little things that have given me some sense of control as I've tried to rebuild what's fallen apart.

I don't like "wasting food." I'm sure it's connected to my (forced) membership in the "clean plate club." Perhaps it’s related to that grocery store background too. Regardless — as we started to purge the apartment in Oakland, I set myself this ridiculous challenge of using up everything in the pantry in order to minimize what would be chucked before we hit the road.

Kin often compliments my skills as our household quartermaster. During COVID, I started using an app called Paprika to store all my recipes, but also to keep track of what's in the pantry, what's on the menu, and, in turn, what needs to be on the shopping list. I will say that while this sounds incredibly organized of me, it was really a reflection of the kinds of routines that I adopted during the pandemic, particularly when it was impossible (or at least, unwise) to just run to the grocery store for one or two items. I started buying meat once a month from a local butcher, again to minimize trips to the store and to help support the local restaurant/food industry — the infrequency of shopping prompted me to meal plan, something I’d never done before. Again, this is one of those habits that are really about my trying to have some semblance of control in a world in which things felt chaotic and unmoored. I took to it with gusto. (Recommended reading: "The Tyranny and Misogyny of Meal Planning" by Virginia Sole-Smith.)

I do love to cook. I love to bake. My pantry certainly reflected that. My shelves housed an abundance of spices. (These weren’t used up, but they weren’t ditched, good grief spices are spendy.) Two kinds of molasses — regular and blackstrap. Four different kinds of rice (basmati, short grain brown, sushi, and arborio). More kinds of flour than I care to admit, including two variations of whole wheat: white whole wheat and whole wheat pastry flour. Before adopting the Paprika app, I would always over-purchase cheddar cheese — for some reason, I'd second guess myself in the grocery store and throw a block in my shopping cart. I'm better at that now, but still tend to have more tomato paste and dijon mustard in the pantry than is necessary.

Kin and I recently read Jennifer Howard's terrific book Clutter  — which (thanks, Jen!) has actually been quite helpful in examining our tendency to amass and to hold onto stuff and then, in turn, to let go of things as we prepared for this move. (Like, if it’s sat in a crate in the closet for three years, and before that, in a storage unit, perhaps it’s not so special.) When I turned that critical gaze to the stockpile of items in my fridge — good god, all these condiments! — and pantry, it was a little appalling, even if, under normal circumstances, I'd certainly use things up eventually.

“Eventually.” LOL. Despite all the effort in tracking things — thanks technology! — there wasn’t really any efficiency or order. There’s a lesson there, you know.

Anyway, with the farro, I made Charlie Bird's Farro Salad. I used up the cocoa powder and the white whole wheat flour making King Arthur Baking's whole grain brownies. I had a box of puff pastry in the freezer, and okay yeah, I had to buy some creme fraiche and asparagus, but I made Melissa Clark's asparagus, goat cheese, and tarragon tart. I used up some of the seeds I have in the fridge — some sesame, some sunflower — and made Ali Slagle's crispy salmon with mixed seeds. I made granola. The rest of the bulgur wheat became tabbouleh. Oh shit, no. There was more bulgur wheat still? I made the "bulgur with herbed lamb and roasted red pepper" — hell yeah, that finished off a jar of the latter in the fridge! — from America's Test Kitchen's Mediterranean cookbook. I made corn cookies, adding a little miso to the recipe in lieu of some of the butter — that used up the masa marina and the miso. The bread cubes I had in the freezer were perfect for bread pudding. And Kin texted me a link to a recent recipe in The Washington Post — "perfect for the newsletter," he said: Matcha Almond Pancakes that polished off the whole wheat pastry flour, the almond flour, the matcha, and (instead of fresh strawberries), a package of freeze-dried strawberries.

But I tossed a lot of stuff: capers, half a jar of kalamata olives, the two kinds of molasses, the sushi rice, half a cup of buckwheat flour, some instant yeast, and even the sourdough starter because, at the end of the day, it’s just fermented flour and water and yeah, I can easily make some new starter when and if I bake bread again. Or not.

Actual footage...

Here's to peering at your own accumulated crap and deciding what you're going to carry down the road with you. It is okay to scrape things off your plate and into the trash. Metaphorically and literally. And here’s to knowing that habits and routines can be renewed, reimagined, rejected, and repurposed, and things’ll be okay. Change sucks. But, as Al Swearengen said, "everything changes. Don’t be afraid.”

Yours in struggle,