Baked Feta Pasta and a Gratitude Project
Simple but yummy and a day-by-day gratitude-infused drawing project.
Happy Sunday! Maybe you woke this morning noticing the change in the light, the room darker than you expected. The changing light in this month is often a tangible thing, a presence in the day.
This is true… if we are open to it.
I have had to remind myself this week that the looking is within my control. It isn’t something that necessarily happens on its own. You can drive down a street with the setting sun ahead of you and never notice the way the color blends and spreads. You can walk by a morning window and completely miss the warming of the sky and the first bits of color.
We so often forget to look, and then we wonder why we don’t see, why things seem stale, stagnant, still.
We have to craft and nurture and nourish and strengthen and fortify the cloak, the mantle we wear, swishing as we move, rustling with the stirrings of gratitude, the shimmering of memory, the then and the now alive and moving. The weaving, the sewing, the piecing and layering and quilting, the stitching… this is the work. This is the garment I need, and when I am in exactly the right moment, I know, with utter certainty and acceptance, that this is the project, the goal, the hope, that this cloak can warm and sustain and deflect and protect through the years. A simple concept. It requires no extra materials, no special threads, but the stitching is a daily act. (Had I started here….. today’s post would have been different. I play with this metaphor a lot. I need to dive in a bit deeper. It’s comforting.)
There are three threads today….
After starting this introductory note and realizing that it could easily slip and go long, I decided to move my gratitude musing for the month to a stand-alone page that I can add to throughout the month. I think I will wander there a bit in these 30 days, play with gratitude and light and maybe do some simple art to supplement some of the things I am thinking about. (If you missed last week’s post, it sets the stage with some gratitude reminders and nudges for November.)
I’m going to focus this post on the pasta and the panels. It’s nice and warm and tart and easy. I do recommend serving it with toast.
Thank you for reading. I hope gratitude is on your mind. I won’t pretend that it’s easy. If I’ve given you that sense because I tend to wax poetic about gratitude over and over and over again, then this needs to be repeated: a gratitude mindset isn’t always easy. I’m struggling, and I know I’ve struggled each year. But I also know that the potential is there for something helpful, hopeful, and life-changing. It’s worth it, and I hope you find your footing, a system that works for you.
Baked Feta Pasta
This was my graphic novel challenge for the week.
I don’t think we did anything crazy in terms of food during the pandemic. We stockpiled, yes. The metal storage cube system in the living room still serves as a pantry wasn’t there before COVID.
We ordered groceries during the pandemic. There were no grocery store runs after the first weeks when the shelves were wiped clean. We ate a lot of frozen pizza. We went through a lot of jars of green olives. We ordered giant aluminum foil trays of lasagna.
We didn’t make our own sourdough. We didn’t make pudding.
You can probably chart your adult life with food trends and food preparation. Maybe there were periods of take-out. Maybe there were baking periods or soup periods. Maybe there have been sandwich ruts. Maybe there have been fast food years or microwave years. Maybe you’ve counted points. Maybe you’ve counted carbs or shopped only the outer aisles, cut out refined sugar, tried a Mediterranean diet, or eaten by color. Maybe you had a family to feed, kids, a partner. Maybe some people are or were picky. Maybe you had family sit-down dinners, or maybe that never happened. Maybe you have felt through the years like a short order cook. Maybe you enjoy cooking. Maybe you don’t. Maybe you ate what you could afford. Maybe you made sure everyone was fed but always ate something different yourself. Maybe.
It’s not a bad exercise to think through how food maps to a timeline of your life. That was the soup year. That was the year of the same sandwich every night. Our houses hold many stories related to food. We have histories with food. Our relationships with people have connections to food.
We’ve eaten a lot of eggplant Parmesan in the last six months. I’ll let that sentence stand in as an indicator of the current era of food. My sandwich fixings basically all went bad. My clothes don’t fit.
It’s complicated, a story of its own. It’s complicated, but, for the most part, tasty.
One night a month or so ago, there was a new dish, a pasta dish with cherry tomatoes and feta cheese. Choosing the recipe had been random, something seen, something that sparked interest, and then someone mentioned that the dish had been a viral thing, a TikTok craze during the pandemic.
When I heard this, I was skeptical. Of all the foods out there, this specific one that was randomly stumbled over had been a viral sensation? And we were just learning about it three years later? A split second of googling confirmed that, indeed, it was a pandemic thing.
It’s easy. It’s got a bit of a tartness. A bit of acidity.
When I looked it up this week, I searched “Feta and cherry tomato pasta,” and I found it. I also tried “TikTok feta and cherry tomato pasta,” and found it that way, too. But it seems to mostly be known as, simply, baked feta pasta.
I looked it up because there was a large container of cherry tomatoes on the counter.
Incredibly, they seemed to be holding their own.
Over the last two weeks, I’ve found and thrown out all sorts of disintegrated foods. Eggplant that had liquified in a bag I didn’t even know was tucked away on the counter, limes that had shriveled, apples turned to mush. The bananas went bad. I ran into a puddle, a sticky, stinky mess formerly known as a shallot. It looked like brains and goo. It was disgusting.
It’s hard to explain why so many things went bad. I feel bad that things went bad.
(We’ve been busy cutting grilled cheese with scissors and eating possibly undercooked pizza.)
Seeing the container of tomatoes, I thought about the feta pasta. I figured I could use up the tomatoes.
I had just placed a grocery order when I thought about the feta pasta. I tried, but it was too late to add feta. I went looking, and I found a block and a container (expired) in a fridge drawer.
I knew the basics, but I looked the recipe up, read a compelling review on The Delish, and salvaged the cherry tomatoes. What’s not to love? Tomatoes, olive oil, feta, pasta. For good measure, I cut the heads off four Romas that were going and stuck them in the corners of the dish. (I can’t see how there really could be too many tomatoes.) I used the block of feta but also threw in most of the expired container. (It had been unopened, and Feta stinks anyway. Really, I think it was fine. Feta is resilient in its aging.)
Voila. Baked feta cherry tomato pasta.
Having read The Delish writeup, I did add some red pepper, some garlic, and so on. I added 1 /2 c of the pasta water when I mixed things together in the end. I put it back in the oven for a few minutes after mixing because I prefer it really hot.
We had it with toast. It was excellent and no cherry tomatoes were wasted.
If you haven’t tried this one, it’s super simple. It also reheats well, with a bit of doctoring, as grown-up Mac and cheese.
The drawings show something of the moment. Maybe they hint at something of the hollowness and disorientation of the last two weeks. The drawings hide a lot and leave a lot unexplained. (We don’t eat at 4 o’clock.) But they capture something…. and, again, leave me with a beginning. (We know this is true because I’ve written all these words and yet the eight panels say very little. Instead, they capture something basic even as, maybe, they leave the real story out. (Maybe I still don’t trust putting the story out there. Maybe I still can’t. Maybe it doesn’t matter anyway.)
Drawing the panel sequence and working on different aspects of this process was a highlight this week.
Last week, when I started realizing the turn of the month was upon me, I thought about a gratitude project I did in the past. This project (which I did twice) had sort of slipped my mind. It’s been a few years since the last time.
It was a simple project in concept, just adding a drawing a day to a single piece of paper. It’s the kind of piece that someone else might complete all in one sitting or over a few days. But racing to fill the page wasn’t the point.
Instead, each day, I added a single drawing to, gradually filling a page over the month.
I grounded the whole process within an overall gratitude mindset.
This was a gratitude project.
What makes it a gratitude project? I drew things specifically that were small but for which I was grateful or that were related to something larger for which I was grateful. I used the drawing process to remind myself of gratitude, of abundance, of memory, and of enough.
What makes it a gratitude project? I said it was. I approached it that way, and thus it became infused with an aura of gratitude. It was, absolutely, a gratitude project.
You can make any drawing project mindful. It is all in how you approach it.
I enjoy projects that involve something that may be simple and small but invite slowing down. While drawing, there is room to think, room for intentional thinking, room for remembering. There is room for prayer, for wishing, for wondering, and for being.
When we slow down and draw, we may find we open a door.
We may find we breathe a little deeper.
Maybe we cry.
Maybe we smile at what once was.
Maybe we puzzle over what we can’t remember.
I have filled pages of circles or squares many times, seeking calm in the repetition of line. Watching ink shift color as it dries can be mesmerizing, enchanting. It is such a simple thing. Building in space for this kind of mindfulness is important (to me) in my illustrated journal, but with the November gratitude project, I was drawing real things, not just filling space.
The first time, I drew a random assortment of objects. I drew something each day tied to gratitude. My glasses. A little finger puppet. A star-studded Beanie Baby (which I remember I drew on the night of the election as I watched, disbelieving and afraid).
The second time, I took a similar approach, but I focused on remnants from my kids’ childhood. I also used a red ink (pretty sure that is Diamine Red Dragon). (I wish I had thought ahead and done that this year!)
Both times I did this project, I really enjoyed it. I found it mindful, a bit of a puzzle to arrange things on the page, and a nice way to combine a bunch of drawings into one unified piece.
Again This Year?
It took a bit of digging to find photos of these pieces. (The photos are not great, but I don’t know precisely where these pieces are tucked away right now.) 2016 and 2018. It feels like a long time ago, truly. I know that repeating projects rarely has the same feeling as the first time, but as November came into view and these came to mind (I’d sort of forgotten about them entirely), I started thinking…. Can I? Should I?
What will I draw?
That’s the big one, really. I have almost exactly the same things in my house as I did seven years ago. There is a real chance that I’ll draw many of the same things again. The kids’ toys, the bits and pieces I’ve stashed away, really are the things that call to me most clearly for a project like this, but I don’t know that there are enough little toys remaining to make it work. I could do Matchbox cars. There is a giant bin of them in the basement.
Unfortunately, I draw cars really wonky. I enjoy the puzzle now and then, but I really do skew those lines. I think I considered cars back when I was lining up my 100-day project for this year. Pretty sure I did a quick acid test, drew one or two to see how it felt, and admitted that the wonk might just be too much for me.
The night before the first of November, I told myself I had to make some kind of decision. I finished my last drawing for October’s Inktoportraits series (which I do plan to talk about at some point). Then I got out the large pad of Bristol (grateful it was where I thought it might be when I opened the cabinet) and tore off a sheet. Then I got out the art board (grateful that it was behind the couch where I thought it might be). (I didn’t realize at either of these points that this paper was too big.)
Then I walked around the house. I had worked and then spent a few hours at the hospital. I came home and made dinner for my son and put leftover feta and cherry tomato pasta in the oven for me (adding some white cheddar, red pepper, cayenne, garlic, and cream, of course, since turning the leftovers into comfort food seems to be my go-to). While it was in the oven, I sat at my table and did some work to offset the time I’d spent on the 8th floor (an improvement over time last week on the 9th floor).
By the time I finished my last Inktober clown a few hours later and thought again about the gratitude piece, I was definitely not going to the basement to look at the cars. Not only is the lightbulb out, but the basement is not my favorite place. I looked on top of the TV cabinet and saw a car, but it’s a boring one. I saw another, a little red, white, and blue roadster. It’s cute. I’ve probably drawn it before. But it feels too fluffy. So maybe not cars. I looked at a little figurine of a cat with a blue and white checked shirt and sand-colored overalls. That’s a maybe, even though I can’t place the cat’s story. I went into the office and looked around. Nothing jumped out at me. I got in a cabinet and pulled out a bag of small toys I’ve kept. I think I drew the stacking wooden robots one of the times I did this.
As I faced the fact that time has stood still, that I probably would end up drawing some of the same things again, it felt a bit depressing. Surely this isn’t all there is? The thought was there, uncomfortable. Rationally, I tell myself this should not be depressing. I am so tired of the excess that I am glad that there are no new tchotchkes in all these years. I know that’s the right way to think about it. Somehow, facing the utter lack of change was hard.
I didn’t make any decisions that night. But on the first, I went to the basement, and I pulled out a few cars.
And I drew one.
I drew one in my journal (sort of a test), and then I drew one on the paper, the first drawing for this year’s gratitude process.
And yes, it’s wonky. But so is my gratitude.
(Uh-oh! I think I made a mistake. I think the piece of Bristol I pulled is too big. The earlier projects must have been smaller, but what I used for Inktober seems impossibly small for 30 drawings. The paper I started on seems too big. The board is too awkward. I remember when I did a portrait gratitude project, drawing all the women in my Facebook community, in November 2017…. the board was unwieldy. I also am really wishing I had used a colored ink. I know it’s hard to fit things into a smaller space, but sitting here Saturday and looking at the first three days on the giant page…. I’m really thinking about starting over. It feels silly. It might derail the whole project. I know myself. But continuing with this thing so awkwardly big might also derail it. Starting over feels like a definite maybe. If I do, I think I’ll do purple. It does mean I’ll have to draw two cars again…. )
Gratitude Tracking and Musing
As mentioned above, I’m going to keep my gratitude tracking in a separate post. It might be that I pull things out later. Please understand that the post is limited for viewing.
I keep stumbling over and being directed to so many amazing writers here at Substack. I read many amazing pieces this week, and I’m really enjoying discovering new-to-me comic artists, graphic novelists, and poets:
Here are a few this week that really spoke to me:
Weirdo Poetry (Jason McBride)
Potter Poems (Jonathan Potter)
Pretend I Never Sent You This (Kat Schneider)
Thank you for reading along! I always enjoy your comments and invite you to chime in.
What gratitude is on your mind today? (It’s okay not to share it here. But think it. Write it down. Say it out loud.)
Sunset if you’ve watched this week; sunrise if you’ve caught one. Moonlight if that’s more your style.
Lighthouse if you are tracking gratitude. Prism if you are trying but struggling. Cookies if you are tracking, and it feels easy.
Three words that start with “G.”
As always, feel free to rearrange, embellish, and add your own flair and whimsy. Feel free to share a joke or a quote or whatever reading this post made you think about.
Jump in in whatever way feels comfortable. If you enjoy the weekly post or know someone who might, please share.
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Illustrate Your Week — Week 45
The new prompts for Week 45 have been posted.
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