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Monday, April 27, 2009

broccoli marinated in sesame-walnut-ginger sauce


saying “No, thank you”

Something else I’ve been working on lately is saying “No, thank you.” Seems like every week someone is asking me to volunteer for a worthy cause. Sometimes it’s money they’re asking for, but more often it’s my time. It’s hard because very often I think “That’s a GREAT idea for a program [or event or board or organization or presentation or meeting or conference]!”

Here’s my usual pattern:  I agree to participate (because it really IS a very good cause). But after initially accepting the obligation with enthusiasm, as the time approaches for the actual event, I get increasingly resentful of the time that it takes to prepare for it, and then begin to dread my actual participation. At this point, I finally acknowledge the time that it is taking away from my family, or my friends, or time for myself, and I get CRANKY about it. But since I agreed to do it, I suck it up and fulfill the obligation.

This whole pattern seemed silly, because there was no one to blame but myself. No one was holding a gun to my head and forcing me to do these things. Why didn’t I say no at the beginning, instead of repeatedly going through this drama? I would tell myself not to let myself get caught up again, but it kept happening (because sure enough, there are so MANY different worthy causes out there!).

Dan (my husband) and I had the good fortune to meet Alice Hanscam, and last Fall we took a course of parent coaching lessons with her. During that process, she asked each of us to come up with a mission statement. Here’s mine. You could probably guess even without me telling you that it’s at a time when I was feeling completely over-committed and overwhelmed with work (bakery, CSA, farmers’ market) and related volunteer obligations, and unhappy with my interactions with four-year-old Meredith.

1. I feel liberated from obligations.
2. I have space on my calendar for spontaneous activities.
3. I have energy for time with family, friends, exercise and pursuing hobbies.

On the one hand, I am almost always inclined to agree to a request for help, but luckily, I’m also a compulsive planner. So, to try to achieve my mission, I constructed the following elaborate filter for myself to use whenever I was presented with an opportunity, invitation or request—be it social, work-related, or public service/volunteer work. It really helped me in the initial stages of saying “no, thank you.”

When someone wants something from me, I ask myself several questions:
1. What’s in it for me?  Is it good for me? My family? My health? My business? if so, HOW good?
2. What is the entire time/energy obligation?  (Cooking a potluck dish required? Writing a presentation? Practicing a talk?)
3. Do I already have something scheduled for that day?
4. Is the week already too busy?
5. Is it planning too far in advance?

At first it was really hard to say “no, thank you” to people who wanted me to participate in their worthy cause or fun event…  but gradually it got a little easier, and pretty soon I was agonizing less over the decisions, and more or less stopped second-guessing myself. I don’t have to formally go through the filter each time now, and most of the time I make decisions that I don’t feel resentful about later. Finally I’m at a place where I’m feeling good about the things I’m saying “no, thank you” to, because I’m feeling even better about the time that it’s opening up to take care of and enjoy myself, my family, and my friends.

I guess part of the reason I’m sharing this with you is that one of the things I’m not feeling obligated to do is write blog posts all the time. I’m only writing them if I really WANT to write them! Which feels fantastic. So now you know that every time I post, I am excited and happy to write to you!

So, what about a recipe to go with this story? As part of my feeling free from obligations these days, I’m keeping my meal prep simpler than usual. So I’m including this broccoli recipe because it’s easy, and REALLY GOOD, and you don’t have to feel obligated to make something fancier or more elaborate to treat yourself to a really really delicious meal (and it’s healthy, to boot). 


broccoli marinated in sesame-walnut-ginger sauce

This fantastic recipe is based on one in Mollie Katzen’s The Vegetable Dishes I Can’t Live Without. And once you try this recipe, you’ll see why. It’s amazing. I use way less sauce than she calls for, but adjust it to your taste, adding more or less broccoli as you wish. Use more broccoli if you want a leaner dish, less broccoli for a richer dish.

You marinate the broccoli for an hour or two in the sesame and walnut oils, garlic and ginger, then add the rice wine vinegar at the end, so the green of the broccoli doesn’t fade. You can even let it marinate overnight in the refrigerator, and then add the vinegar the next day, after warming the broccoli up to room temperature.

Somehow, this dish is so hearty and full-flavored—you just have to try it to believe how good it is! You can just eat a big pile of it for a meal. It’s got plenty of protein with the nuts!

¼ cup roasted walnut oil (such as Loriva—don’t use refined walnut oil, it won’t have much taste)
1 tablespoon dark roasted sesame oil
1-2 tablespoons soy sauce (I like Nama Shoyu)
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons finely minced garlic
2 tablespoons finely minced fresh ginger
Pinch of cayenne
2-4 pounds broccoli heads, cut into bite-sized florets
2-4 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar (I like brown rice vinegar best)
½ to 1 cup walnuts, toasted for 15 minutes in a 350 degree oven, and chopped coarsely

1. Reserve the broccoli stems for another use (like roasting them at 450 degrees with olive oil, salt, and garlic).
2. Steam the broccoli florets for about 4 minutes, in batches, as necessary, just until tender. Dump them out on a dishtowel on the counter and spread them into a single layer. Let them cool and steam off their excess moisture.
3. Combine the oils, soy sauce, salt, garlic, ginger, and cayenne in a large bowl. Add the broccoli to this marinade and toss well until completely coated. Let stand at room temperature for an hour or two (or covered, in the refrigerator, if you’re going to let it marinate longer).
4. Sprinkle in the vinegar just before serving. Taste and see if you need more vinegar, soy sauce, or salt.
5. Sprinkle the walnuts on each serving at the table, and have a dish of nuts on the table for everyone to add more, as desired.


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