Monday, May 12, 2008

On the Virtues of Being Single-Minded

Have you noticed how crazy we Americans are about multi-tasking? It’s all the rage: the more things you can do at one time, the more god-like you are. Read a book while listening to your Ipod while doing laps on the track at the gym? Piece of cake. But not for me.

I am a terrible, terrible multi-tasker. I can barely watch over two things happening at one time, which I suppose makes me a dual-tasker at best. At work, I am expected to multi-task, especially since molecular biology has a lot of “set it up and wait”-type protocols. I do my best to be efficient, but believe me, I deserve no gold stars for multi-tasking. I wonder, though, if multi-tasking is really over-rated. I mean, how many times have you had a conversation with someone who is clearly thinking about something else? How many mistakes have been made by people whose attention was divided just a little too much? How many car accidents have been caused by drivers talking on cell phones? Is multi-tasking efficient or is it deadly?

I’m not the only one to question the value of multi-tasking, nor am I the first person to struggle with it. Eknath Easwaran wrote a whole book about not multi-tasking and paying attention to the task at hand. Although I never met Dr. Easwaran, I think I would have liked him. He was probably the kind of guy who paid such close, loving attention to people that you couldn’t help but feel all warm and fuzzy around him. I love feeling warm and fuzzy. My friend Owl, who, like me, has spent years working in a reseach lab, is making peace with her inability to multi-task. Her solution? She slows down, takes her time, and looks at the benefits of being meticulous and clear-headed in her work. She’s very wise. And she makes me feel better about my own turtle-like pace in life.

So maybe it’s a lot of hot air about how great multi-tasking is. I remain adamantly convinced that my single-mindedness has its own virtues, especially at the dinner table. In a world swamped with fake foods, diet fads, and too many forgotten-by-tomorrow trends, a little single-mindedness can go a long way. Each and every day, my goal remains the same: eat more vegetables.

Of all the food goals one might have, why vegetables? I think the answer is best summed up in single words. Tasty. Antioxidants. Texture. Health. Crunch. Fiber. I believe of all the changes we might make to our diets, eating more vegetables is one of the best. As for the single-mindedness? Pardon me while I brag a moment, but I believe most of my eating habits now are pretty solidly good for me (and tasty, too)—it’s the vegetables I have to keep working on. It’s not because I don’t like them. Instead, I think it’s because dinner usually arrives after I’ve worked a long day. On an empty stomach, my resolve has been known to weaken. But I figure as long as I keep vegetables front and center, I’m good to go. Even if said vegetables find themselves cozying up with a plate of macaroni and cheese. From a box. Hey, it happens even to the best of us.

Maple-Mustard Vinaigrette
From the February/March 2006 issue of Eating Well
Makes ~1 ¼ cups

If vegetables are a priority, then so are ways to spiff them up. It’s nice to have a delicious array of salad dressings in your cooking repertoire; this vinaigrette cozies right into that spot between sweet and tangy. Its sweet maple flavor is front and center, with mustard and apple cider vinegar providing soft notes of savory sourness. And through some magic of ingredient synergy, it tastes downright buttery to me when spooned over steamed kale. This dressing is stellar. Try it with salad or steamed vegetables or whatever floats your boat.

½ c. canola oil
¼ c. real maple syrup
¼ c. cider vinegar
2 tbsp. Dijon or coarse-grained mustard
2 tbsp. soy sauce
Salt and pepper to taste

Into a large jar for which you have a lid (I use a clean 16-oz. jar, such as an old salsa jar), add all the ingredients except for the salt and pepper. Cap the jar tightly with its lid and shake like mad to blend the ingredients. Uncap and taste; decide if you want to add some salt and pepper. If you do, add your seasonings, cap and shake again, and repeat until it's perfectly seasoned to your taste. Serve over some very lucky vegetables.


daphna said...

Oh yum, this looks really good! I may have to halve the recipe since I'm the only vinaigrette-eater in my family. :)

Nick said...

I myself am a multi-tasker. While at the gym listening to my music and/or watching tv, the only thing going on in my head is what I'm doing later on, continuously planning out and scheduling my day, planning meals, etc... I always have at least 4-5 internet windows open so that I can switch between them while the other ones are loading.

My girlfriend, on the other hand, is probably the complete opposite. She tries to multi-task, but often fails in such instances as pouring water into a glass while watching tv, or putting things down on the counter while looking the other way.

Speaking of vegetables, they do need to be jazzed up. Your vinaigrette sounds wonderful. Personally my favorite seasoning of all time for veggies is garlic salt. I boiled a batch of beans yesterday and threw in a load of garlic salt, they came out perfect! But better than that: slice some zucchini in 1/4" slices, spray with cooking spray and coat one or both sides with garlic salt. Cook on the grill and you'll be happily scarfing down 14 zucchinis for dinner!

As for those 5 lb's of strawberries, I had to freeze about half of them which isn't a bad thing, because now I use them for my smoothies and they're better quality than the ones you buy frozen. But I did recently buy a new batch of fresh ones and cut them up to put on my pancakes for this week, but I love the idea of making a sandwich with them, I'll get on that!

RecipeGirl said...

That does sound like a good way to spiff up veggies. I just started subscribing to Eating Well so I'm looking forward to seeing what kinds of recipes they have!

Rosiecat said...

Hi, everyone!

Daphna, a half-batch is a great idea. This dressing does keep really well, but when you make a half batch, you eat it up faster and then you can make a new salad dressing! I like variety in my dressings.

Ah, Nick, it sounds like you are a Multi-Tasking Master! I'm afraid I am prone to the same sorts of multi-tasking disasters as your girlfriend. She has my sympathies!

So what's in this garlic salt of yours? Is it a storebought blend of salt and dried garlic or something more exotic? What kind of beans did you make?

Goodness, I love strawberries. They are so very sweet right now; it's hard for me to justify doing anything but eating them raw because they are so tasty. But if I had five pounds, I'd let my imagination run wild!

Recipegirl, I'm so far behind on my earmarked Eating Well recipes! That's how tasty the last few issues have looked to me. For my part, I find their recipes to be really hit-or-miss: I either absolutely LOVE what I've made or I wish I could just throw out the leftovers and be done with it. But I haven't figured out the pattern yet...but do tell if you find some gems once you get cooking!

Anonymous said...

This sounds great! I NEED to make this! Thanks! :)

Rosiecat said...

Tina, I think I said the EXACT same thing when I spotted this recipe in Eating Well! Clearly, great minds think alike. It's definitely a keeper in my kitchen. Let me know what you think about this dressing when you try it!