The other night I was in a car coming home from a cooking job. The driver and I were in traffic on 125th street, kind of just creeping along. As I looked out the window I saw all of Harlem lit up in holiday decorations. This is one of my favorite streets during this time of year.
Little Italy and China Town also have street light decorations — they arch over you as you walk or drive — but Harlem’s lights seem extra special. Modern, while also vintage. Simple, not obvious or over the top.
I take photos of everything. I want moments captured to reflect on later. I can look at a picture and transport myself back to where I was and how I felt. I also capture things because most of my friends and family don’t live in New York City. I miss out on sharing experiences with them. These photos of moments are little threads that help keep us bound together. I also take pictures because I’m moved by the beauty of things and I know I’ll find a way to incorporate them into All Good Things to share with all of you.
As I sat in the car, creeping along 125th street, I took a photo of the overhead lights welcoming us into Harlem. Beautiful. And then it started to rain. I took another photo with rain droplets on the window. Beautiful. Then the driver pressed his foot on the gas and caused us to lurch forward as I had my phone up taking another picture. The lights zigged and zagged, streaking across the wet windshield. Beautiful. I took these photos of the exact same block in a span of about 45 seconds and look how different they all are. And yet they all have the common denominator of beauty. I knew right then and there that those photos were writing my blog for me.
I was going to title this post Bright Side. One of the people closest to me will start a story and then he cuts himself off and says, “Don’t bright side me! I’m mad and frustrated and I don’t want to look for the bright side. Just please listen.” Fair enough.
We all need to vent and be heard and look at the facts of a situation that seem hurtful or unfair for us to get past the yucky stuff. I know this. And I know that it’s easier for me to see the bright side of a situation when I’m on the outside. Why is it easier? Perspective.
Perspective is literally our point of view from where we are that dictates how we see things. (Which dictates how we feel things.) We shift to the left a bit, things change. Our eyes see it differently. A nudge to the right, our view shifts. This is good news!
Anything and everything that happens around us isn’t permanent because our position isn’t fixed. Our planet spins, the molecules in the air are bubbling away creating new atmospheres all the time, and the clock keeps ticking which demands that our movements shift with time.
Seeing opportunities, not obstacles, and facing challenges with optimism is embedded inside me. It’s the first tool I reach for in my tool box when something comes up that looks like a problem. Does it always work? Nope. Is that tool always readily available? Nope. But if I can dig around until I find it, I know it will always be my greatest defense in any situation.
But I’m human. Sometimes I kick my toolbox under the bed and wallow. I complain. I cry. I rehash situations that I have no control over. I call my sister daily and fill her ears with “woe-is-me” stories. My optimism takes a vacation and pessimism is subletting my brain space. What to do?
I think the lesson here is to know that situations will change when we’re willing to see them from another angle. Acknowledge the notsogreat details, see them, feel them, talk about them. When you’re ready to shift your perspective, open your eyes and heart really wide to let the brightness in. It’s there. It’s always there. There may not be a full bright SIDE of an experience, but there’s a flicker of light. Let it shine. (Happy Hanukkah!)
It’s stew weather here in New York City, so I’m sharing Ina Garten’s perspective on beef stew in the form of Beef Bourguignon! And I bring some light with a flambé - burning off the cognac!
1 tablespoon good olive oil
8 ounces dry cured center cut applewood smoked bacon, diced
2 1/2 pounds chuck beef cut into 1-inch cubes
Freshly ground black pepper
1 pound carrots, sliced diagonally into 1-inch chunks
2 yellow onions, sliced
2 teaspoons chopped garlic (2 cloves)
1/2 cup Cognac
1 (750 ml.) bottle good dry red wine such as Cote du Rhone or Pinot Noir
1 can (2 cups) beef broth
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves (1/2 teaspoon dried)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature, divided
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 pound frozen whole onions
1 pound fresh mushrooms stems discarded, caps thickly sliced
Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F.
Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven. Add the bacon and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the bacon is lightly browned. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon to a large plate.
Dry the beef cubes with paper towels and then sprinkle them with salt and pepper. In batches in single layers, sear the beef in the hot oil for 3 to 5 minutes, turning to brown on all sides. Remove the seared cubes to the plate with the bacon and continue searing until all the beef is browned. Set aside.
Toss the carrots, and onions, 1 tablespoon of salt and 2 teaspoons of pepper in the fat in the pan and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions are lightly browned. Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Add the Cognac, stand back, and ignite with a match to burn off the alcohol. Put the meat and bacon back into the pot with the juices. Add the bottle of wine plus enough beef broth to almost cover the meat. Add the tomato paste and thyme. Bring to a simmer, cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid and place it in the oven for about 1 1/4 hours or until the meat and vegetables are very tender when pierced with a fork.
Combine 2 tablespoons of butter and the flour with a fork and stir into the stew. Add the frozen onions. Saute the mushrooms in 2 tablespoons of butter for 10 minutes until lightly browned and then add to the stew. Bring the stew to a boil on top of the stove, then lower the heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Season to taste.