come from a long long line of industrious, perfectionist, workaholic women. Passed down from generations of working class and immigrant New Englanders, the values placed on being busy, churning out enormous quantities of work without complaint and placing the comfort and well-being of family and friends (especially the men-folk) above your own comfort is deeply ingrained in my DNA. Recently, I came across a clever reimagining of the Shel Silverstein book, “The Giving Tree”, which I had grown up with. It basically changes the end of the story so that the tree has some “healthy boundaries”. It seemed clever, so I opened it and started to read aloud to Willi the improved passages. And then I started to cry. Crying that so much of my life was informed by the original guidance of the book and that no one ever talked about how messed up it was that the tree gave and gave and gave until she gave out. There was talk about how the boy/man was selfish and that the tree was noble. So it was both a lesson in not asking for what you want (the boy/man’s perspective in the story) and that it is NOBLE to give until you cannot give any more.
And then there is the perfectionist side. The side that says, “there are only two ways to fold towels: my way and the wrong way” (my grandmother) The side that is at worst controlling, and at best “good at everything.” I know I have all three tendencies. I know that I want things the way I want them. I know that people tell me that I am good at a lot of things and, although I can see my “horrible flaws” in the things I do, I feed off the praise and carry it like a shield or brand (both meanings of that word work here.) I know that the side of that perfectionism/control that bugs me in my mom, is also very much a part of my personality (Sidebar: My mom used to tell me,”if you don’t like someone, there is probably something about them that you don’t like in yourself.” That advice is always too true.)
All of this is to say that, although I don’t see myself suddenly changing and making decisions based solely on what I want (despite the sticky note in my medicine cabinet that says “making decisions based on my needs”) I do need to shift my way of thinking. Yesterday was a convoluted lesson in that. As is this missive. I think about how my writing is more than just working shit out for myself. It is also MARTHA AVENUE’s window for the world. A way to reach our customers and to give a face to our food. So the catharsis that writing is, is convoluted too. I want to be as authentic about my experience as I can be, while also aware of the audience, which personal journalling avoids. I feel like there is true value in it, so I really want to do it, but I am aware of the complicated-ness of it. So, here I go. Trying to be vulnerable and brave, open and trusting.
Yesterday, I had to put out the Oasis order (and our regular customers) on my own. Willi worked hard last week to get me set up, but it still was two solid 18 hour days on my own. Jamye and Calum came to help on Friday, which was amazing, and it was a relatively calm day. (Sometimes, the Oasis order can get super hectic and intense, getting out 60-80 entrees and 50 desserts at once, on a deadline) We all work well together; Calum is helpful and cheerful, if untrained. Jamye is amazing always. So it was a relatively calm day. But there were challenges… the meatloaf needed a second cooking which I hadn’t anticipated but adapted to quickly with direction from Willi over the phone… and then there was the “Perfectionist Crisis Pot Pie.”
Now I have made excellent Chicken Pot Pie for decades. It’s a go-to for charming or comforting anyone. I particularly like it with a dollop of cranberry sauce. And I like it reheated and re-served until it’s done. For this week when Willi was going to be gone, we came up with a menu that seemed particularly suited to me having to do it on my own. Things that I have a high level of comfort doing, things that should be done the day before. The cakes that need a long cooling process and can be iced a few hours ahead of time. The salads that use ingredients that can be prepped hours earlier and kept at room temperature (bacon crumbles, sliced tomatoes). I had a few melt-downs before Willi left, but they were mostly about my worries about my stamina, given my usual level of exhaustion. Worries that I wouldn’t have enough hours available to do the work. Once we decided on using Willi’s meatloaf recipe (which he prepped them before he left), the chicken pot pie, two desserts that I could make in my sleep, I felt confident in the actual COOKING.
For this Oasis menu, I had created a deconstructed Pot Pie. Prepping for 25 (potentially up to 50) orders meant that I needed to figure out how to make and serve it in take-out boxes. I decided to do a square of pastry on the bottom, a scoop of pot pie filling, and another square of pastry on the top. I did testing of the idea a couple weeks ago, and it looked and tasted fantastic. When I prepped the filling on Thursday, I threw in a handful of chopped fresh dill… to be fancy. I had named this Oasis pot pie “Fancy Mom’s Chicken Pot Pie” so it seemed like a good idea to make it “fancy” with fresh dill. But when I started boxing it up yesterday, it smelled too much like dill… sort of sour. We heated it and tasted it again and everything tasted fine, so we boxed it up and took it down there. And then we got worried. Lori and D’Arcy thought it smelled sour/dilly too, and so we replaced everyone’s pot pie with the (very excellent) meatloaf. I replaced our own customers pot pies with meatloaf, with the exception of a few folks who said they wanted to try it for themselves, and see how it tasted to them. With offers to refund their money if they were unhappy, I gave them the pot pies. ALL of the people who actually ate the pot pies LOVED them. Said that they enjoyed the taste and that they were happy they had gotten them! And I guess it was all fine and I just panicked.
Sooo… the lessons that I have learned from yesterday:
Putting this food out into the world without another person to share the responsibility and the hours of work and the corroboration, is very very hard.
I am very quick to second-guess myself.
The commitment to bring people delicious food comes with a very real commitment to bring them food that is safe. Always. We will continue to do that diligently, of course.
I need to take better care of myself. I need to rest this week, while Willi is away. To take advantage of the house being quiet and not having to take anyone else’s needs into account. To eat well.
I need to recognize when I am leading from a position of perfectionism/control and to be ok with something NOT being perfect.
I have to figure out how not to be the original tree. And to be more like the tree who has some boundaries. Because THAT tree is still around for the subsequent generations of the boy/man’s progeny who also enjoy her shade and swinging from her branches. https://www.topherpayne.com/giving-tree
Which means that today is for resting…I am doing a reading at 2pm and then the rest of my day is going to be spent in a bath or in bed!
All of this is not to say that I am unhappy or that I am feeling like we are doing too much business. The volume or number of orders is not what makes things hard. I think the key has to be self-care. Self-honoring. Asking for help. Getting to see our customers, making those connections, feeding people delicious food and making their lives a little easier and more enjoyable is what is sustaining me. Making me feel useful and creative. AND when folks share our info with their neighbors, each trip becomes more efficient and productive. We are currently well stocked and ready to take orders for the next week. I am looking forward to seeing you over a full bag of goodies! www.marthaavenuefood.com
Orders for Monday should be placed by tonight (Saturday) or Sunday morning. Monday is SF and North Bay delivery day, which means I get to see my mom and the rest of the West Marin folks, and I will get a swim in the bay.
Be like the second version of the tree. Honor your needs. Ask for help. Reach out to friends for support and love. Order delicious food to eat and know that seeing you is a highlight of this time for me. A way to stay connected and know that we support and love each other. Hug yourselves for me. Xoxo