Alexa, Are You Listening?

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Written by Leslie Lichtenberg

Originally published in June of 2019

Since leaving full-time employment, my daily routine — or lack thereof — has shifted radically. There are days, many of them in fact, when my calendar is nothing more than a cavernous grid of emptiness (Helloooo out there…can anyone hear me?). Of course I spend many hours waist-deep in introspection. Lots and lots of introspection. My pre-frontal cortex is getting quite the workout — even as my conversational skills may be waning.

But let’s be clear: I’m not complaining. In fact, I’m learning that spending long stretches of time alone is not that bad. Sure, there are days when it seems the only person I speak to is “Alexa.” And yes, lots of time with just me — the woman who has been known to overthink everything from which route to take when walking the dogs to what to eat for dinner — can lead to…well frankly, headaches. You know how sometimes you get that random song stuck in your head? Some 1980s new wave number that you hated even when it was trending on the radio? Well, ample alone time can make it hard to pull the plug on that seemingly never ending loop too.

But, living large chunks of my days in the company of just me has its perks. For one thing, I’ve pretty much mastered the art of folding fitted sheets by myself (Martha would be proud). Then of course, there are my dogs, the true beneficiaries of this new normal. I may not be talking to humans for large measures of time, but my dogs? Yeah, just ask them.

Seriously, though, here’s what I am learning on my solo journey. While too many hours spent up in our heads can lead to “paralysis by analysis,” it can also awaken our creative side. I don’t know if anyone is reading this blog, but I’m happy to be getting back to writing. And of course there’s the cooking — the idea of making something new; the colors, textures, smells and sizzles; but mostly, the sharing, feeding and nourishing in ways literal and figurative. Molly Wizenberg, one of my favorite food writers, sums it up much more eloquently than I:

“Like most people who love to cook, I like the tangible things. I like the way the knife claps when it meets the cutting board. I like the haze of sweet air that hovers over a hot cake as it sits, cooling, on the counter. I like the way a strip of orange peel looks on an empty plate. But what I like even more are the intangible things: the familiar voices that fall out of the folds of an old cookbook, or the scenes that replay like a film reel across my kitchen wall. When we fall in love with a certain dish, I think that’s what we’re often responding to: that something else behind the fork or the spoon, the familiar story that food tells.”

I guess it’s the “familiar story that food tells” that inspires me to cook and to feed — and also to write this blog. New York Times travel writer Stephanie Rosenbloom has written a book extolling the virtues of traveling solo. A review of the book explains it thus:

“Loneliness always feels bad, but solitude often feels good, and if there is a little of one in the other, the balance can be its own source of sustenance.” TIME MAGAZINE

 Solitude for me feels good, albeit a little lonely. But I know that on those days when the quiet is just a bit too loud, there’s always my laptop, my kitchen, and of course, Alexa.

Lentil, Arugula and Cherry Tomato Salad

Here’s a recipe for a light but flavorful and fiber-full salad that is perfect for these hot summer months.

1 tablespoon shallot (diced)
1 tablespoon vinegar
3 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Salt & pepper to taste

1 package Melissa’s Steamed Lentils (9oz pkg.)
1/2 cup fresh arugula 
3oz. cherry tomatoes (halved)

In a bowl, whisk together the vinaigrette ingredients and set aside. In another bowl, toss together the rest of the ingredients and gently mix in the vinaigrette.