It's an idea we all ascribe to, a concept we all strive for, and a belief we all can't help but hold faith in. If we could simplify our lives, everything would be easier. If we could control the day to day chaos, we would be happier. Simplicity. Even the word itself brings up images of organized bookshelves and Norman Rockwell paintings.
But, as I've realized over the past few weeks, simplicity can have many meanings.
When I think of a simple lifestyle, I flashback to reruns of Leave It To Beaver and The Brady Bunch. A hot, homemade meal is on the table precisely at six o'clock every evening. The house is always spotless, no excuses (you never know when company will arrive). Even the linen closets are photogenic enough to grace the cover of Good Housekeeping. If chaos does enter this genuinely unnatural world, it is dealt with so elegantly, so gracefully, that the issue simply evaporates by the end of the scheduled half hour period.
I can imagine maintaining that lifestyle is more trouble than it's worth. Not to mention, you know, impossible.
So how can we simplify our own lives without looking to The Wonder Years for advice?
The truth is that there is no quick, cookie cutter answer. We all have different ideas of what a little simplicity would do for ourselves. Some dream of keeping house like Martha Stewart and finding peace in the familiarity. Others imagine moving to the mountains and freeing themselves from everything but running water. I dream of a cup of tea, a good book, and unplugging myself from the electronic world, if only for a few hours.
I started my personal quest for simplicity by uncluttering the bits and pieces of my life. I stopped working so many hours a week, opting for a more reasonable forty. I've gained a good deal more sanity with a cut in pay. The pursuit of money, as we all know (but often forget), is not everything.
I cleaned up my room. I sorted through the nightmare that is my food prop closet. I'm trying to take small steps every day to maintaining a more organized home. I have always been drawn to the internet, wasting days and weeks of my life doing things that are utterly forgettable (can you even remember what you looked at yesterday?). It's easy to get caught up between blogs and Google searches, ignoring the hands making circles around the clock. I cleaned up my virtual life, sparing only the websites that are most dear to me from harsh reality of the delete button. I'm trying to watch less television.
Even though I can't remove all of the chaos or complexity in my life (and nor would I want to), I've made room for simple moments. Baking in the kitchen while the radio serenades me from the next room. Giving myself over to the camera for an hour and letting food divulge its secrets. Reading beautiful, haunting novels near a blazing fireplace. Savoring a small bowl of vanilla bean pudding as the winter sun sets.
That's the secret to simplicity.
What do your simple moments look like?
Vanilla Bean Pudding is simple and unpretentious. Lovely warmed for cold evenings or chilled for hot summer afternoons, this pudding is sweet comfort food. It is thickened with a combination of cornstarch and egg yolks which lends a creamy, smooth texture. Vanilla bean adds such a pure flavor to the pudding—the vanilla bean pods are steamed in the milk to add extra flavor—but vanilla extract can be used in a pinch.
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Vanilla Bean Pudding
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
Yields 6 half cup servings
2 2/3 cups whole milk, divided
Seeds and pod from 1/2 vanilla bean (or 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract)
1/3 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large egg yolks
In a large saucepan, bring 2 cups of whole milk, vanilla bean seeds, and vanilla bean pod (but not vanilla extract) to a boil over medium heat. Stir frequently as to not scorch the bottom.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl whisk together the sugar, cornstarch, and salt with the remaining 2/3 cup milk. When well blended, whisk in the egg yolks.
As soon as milk comes to a boil, reduce heat to low and carefully remove the vanilla bean pod. Gradually whisk in egg mixture, stirring quickly. Continue cooking and stirring until pudding thickens enough to thickly coat the back of a spoon, about 1-2 minutes. Stir in vanilla extract now, if using it. Chill pudding for at least 2 hours before serving, if desired.