What is it with us humans? We spend a considerable amount of time, money and energy over our lifetimes acquiring. We acquire houses and cars that need maintenance and insurance and upkeep. We acquire clothes and shoes and jewellery that need cleaning and care and storage. We acquire books and CDs that take over our houses and need rearranging and cataloguing to enable us to ever find them again. We acquire hobbies and sports that take up all our free time and require expensive equipment to practise. We acquire beautiful furniture and ornaments and gadgets that we have to clean and store and service. We acquire friends and acquaintances who enrich our lives but also complicate them with their emotional needs and sometimes unfathomable opinions.
And then we complain that our lives are not simple enough.
Some of the above acquisitions come with fringe benefits so wonderful that we forgive the way they complicate our lives (hobbies and friends, for example) but much of the abovementioned list is just… well, stuff. Stuff you can’t take with you when you go. Earlier this year as many of you know, my father passed away and the task of clearing out the cupboards full of flotsam and jetsam (undisturbed since my mother’s death in 2003) fell largely to me. There were suitcases dating back to before my birth stored in the top of wardrobes, their hotel stickers and luggage tags kind of like a carbon dating system for every holiday my parents had ever taken. There were curtains carried with them from previous apartments that were lying moldering in closets, waiting patiently to be re-hung. There were collections of stamps and model cars and carved wooden cats, all once treasured and beloved, and now useless to man and beast; abandoned in this world by those who had collected them and of little interest to those left behind. My childhood home had become a testimony (or a cautionary tale) of how your stuff can complicate and eventually take over your life.
Evidently I am not alone in this realisation: witness the current trend towards decluttering one’s life. But the current thinking seems to be that all you have to do to simplify your life is to chuck out a few drawerfulls of stuff and you will achieve inner peace and a Zen-like calm. Au contraire. Decluttering your life and aspiring to a simpler life also has to encompass aspects other than your possessions – you have to declutter your brain too. I won’t lie to you – emotionally speaking, I have been through the wringer in the past 12 months. There have been highs and successes but also accusations, passion, pain, resentment, anger, guilt and bereavement. I have argued with, and been let down by, people from whom I expected better. I have buried my father and started cutting my emotional ties with the house where I grew up and lived for nearly 30 years. And on top of all of this, I have my own house so cluttered with little itty bits of paper and things that “might come in useful some day” that the prospect of a clear out fills me with dread.
Needless to say, I have spent a lot of time this year thinking about how to simplify my life, inside and out. I am not the burning bush and I do not have the answers, but here are my five top tips for simplifying your life. They’re not rocket science, but they certainly make sense to me:
1. Throw away, throw away, throw away. Constantly ask yourself: What is this scrap of paper? Why do I still have it? Can I transfer the info on it to my address book/computer/phone? I keep a box in my spare room marked “charity”. Anything that has not fitted me or been used or looked at for a year or more goes in it and when the box is full, I seal it immediately and take it to our favourite charity shop.
2. Go off the radar. For a few hours (or even a day, if you can), switch everything off. No mobile phone, no Twitter, no e-mail, no nothing. Go for a walk, go to a movie, have coffee with friends. It’s amazing how liberating this is, and quite addictive. All your messages will be there when you get back, and your head will be clearer.
3. Understand that buying more things will not make your life simpler. Happiness does not come with a till slip. Most things that come with a till slip require maintenance or cleaning or putting away or ironing or insuring or watering. Do these activities sound like activities that will simplify or enrich your life? Plus choosing between two pairs of black trousers for work is easier than choosing between seven…
4. Have a place for everything and make sure things return to their places. Since we installed a key rack and I religiously hang all keys there, I have never had to spend an hour dismantling the sofa looking for missing keys. Now if only I can get Nick to adopt the same philosophy…!
5. Let it go. Forgive. Move on. Don’t hold a grudge. Cluttering up your emotional life with old feuds and grudges just makes you miserable and bitter, and makes your life far more complicated than it needs to be. By all means, avoid seeing toxic people in your life; but spend some time being kind to yourself rather than clinging to the hurts that others have caused you.
If you want to talk simplicity in terms of food, it does not get simpler that these honey roast figs, nor more delicious. On our recent trip to Corfu, Greece, on the way to the villa we stopped at a roadside fruit and vegetable stall and I was dumbfounded by the selection on offer. But the “love at first sight” moment came when I saw the figs – ripe to bursting, their dusky purple skins straining to contain the ielding red flesh within. I knew there and then that I wanted a Shirley Valentine moment of eating the figs in the land where they were grown, and I wanted to do as little as possible to disguise their natural flavour. I am almost embarrassed to call this a recipe, because all it involves is slicing the figs and lightly cooking them, but to my housemates who had only ever eaten fresh or dried figs, the concentrated figgy flavours were a revelation. Simply delicious.
6 large, ripe figs
3 tsp butter, softened
6 tsp honey
about 750ml plain Greek yoghurt
Pre-heat the oven to 180C. Carefuly rinse and dry the figs. With a sharp serrated knife, cut them into quarters and place in a shallow oven-proof dish, skin side down.
Smear each fig quarter with 1/2 tsp softened butter, then drizzle about a teaspoon of runny honey over each. Finish each with a couple of drops of balsamic vinegar and pop the bakng dish into the oven. Roast for about 15 mins or until the figs start looking a little squishy and release some juice.
Divide the Greek yoghurt equally between 6 small bowls and top each with 4 fig quarters. Spoon over some of the caramelly cooking juices and serve, either as a dessert or a decadent breakfast dish.
Other fig recipes you might like on CookSister include:
- fig hazelnut and halloumi salad
- Brie, fig, Parma ham and rocket baguettes
- Parma ham and roast fig salad
And with only 18 days to go until the next Plate to Page workshop kicks off in Tuscany, we are thrilled to have a new and wonderful guest writer posting to our Plate to Page blog! Do go and read South African writer Sam Woulidge’s beautiful post on food writing.