I spent all day yesterday with my mom and our inspired friend, rearranging my cluttered house.
Though we have a good amount of space there’s nothing expansive about it. It’s a small house inside a big house, the footprint of the original 2 bedroom/1 bath bungalow dictating the way the rooms relate to each other, even those that have been added on since the original 1940 build date.
A bunch of small rooms means it’s a great house for hide-and-seek and intimate conversations over tea. Not for big parties or, our friend says, big furniture.
So by the end of the day, we had earmarked a cabinet and a coffee table for Craigslist, taken extra chairs to the garage, and schlepped various pieces to new rooms where we settled them into new corners.
It’s interesting. She achieved an illusion of spaciousness by condensing the seating areas. Which seems to be the way to make something work – by doing what we thought we wanted to avoid. (These rooms are so small, I think I’ll crunch the chairs together even more.)
We minimized and condensed in a similar way all day, taking every vase and lamp and candlestick out, putting back only what worked and saving the extras for shelves in a different room or for a different time altogether.
Now the house is a place I want to live. It’s inviting. And I can get to the back door without turning sideways between two tables.
But alas, the task is not finished. And until it is, our house will be a metaphor for the process of simplifying. On the one hand are the rooms that have been cleared and rearranged and even vacuumed. These rooms are serene and spare. There is no clutter on top of the piano. No slipping piles of back issues of The New Yorker on the stereo cabinet. In fact, there is no stereo cabinet. They are the kind of spaces that make you want to settle in with your laptop or a book or a cup of Rooibos and just be.
On the other hand there’s the box filled with knickknacks from the mantel-that-was, resting in another room that’s not quite serene yet. There’s a tall, neat pile of magazines in the corner for me to sort through. There are cabinets whose contents need relocating and clutter pooling around the newly moved desk that needs taming with a few IKEA cabinets. This part of the process made me feel a little panicky by the end of the day. This part of it is like peeling fava beans.
Don’t get me wrong. Fresh favas are a dream. Husk them and boil the beans gently for three or four minutes. Plunge them into ice water. Now you can enjoy the nutty flavor of the beans, tasting faintly of oregano; now you can toss them lightly with a vinaigrette and some fresh chopped vegetables and herbs and there’s dinner, right?
Not quite. Before you toss and chop, you have to peel. Each wide and lovely pale green bean is hiding something: the real bean. The bright green one that gives so nicely when you bite down into it. The one that tastes good with a splash of grapeseed oil and shredded carrots. You have to peel them. Each one of them, individually. And that is tedious. That is something I want to do about as much as I want to go through the children’s art supply cabinet and organize it, one washable marker at a time.
But the results are really, really worth it. Because favas are good. Just like organized cabinets and new office spaces are good. Don’t let the extra work deter you. Pour yourself a cup of something and put on some music and prepare a beautiful salad. And maybe your salad will be something you will eat while you go through your scratched CDs and you will emerge happier, nourished and more organized.
20 fresh fava bean pods, husked; to yield about one cup of beans
1-2 carrots, julienned
1½ teaspoons brown rice vinegar
1 teaspoon lime zest
½ teaspoon Celtic sea salt
1 tablespoon grapeseed oil
8-10 fresh mint leaves, chiffonade; to yield about one generous tablespoon
extra mint leaves for garnish
Makes one generous portion or a starter for two.
Bring a pot of water to a boil. Prepare a bowl of ice water
and place near the stove.
Add fava beans to the boiling water and boil 3-4 minutes.
Scoop beans out with a strainer and plunge into the ice water
to halt cooking. When beans have cooled, drain.
Peel fava beans by slitting outer skin with a paring knife and
slipping the bright green bean out of the skin. Place peeled
fava beans in a medium bowl.
Add carrots, vinegar, lime zest, salt, oil and mint to the
bowl and toss well.
Arrange salad on two plates and garnish with the extra mint.