Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The simple act of asking

Do you remember watching Sesame Street as a child, with Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch? I have one very vivid memory of watching Sesame Street when I was 4 years old. My mom would sometimes let me watch Sesame Street and Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood (they aired back-to-back) before she took me to preschool. I am sitting downstairs in the family room, on the floor, and I have a plate with some ritz crackers and a spoonful of peanut butter in front of me. This was one of my favorite lunches at that age, and I remember happily spreading peanut butter on each cracker I ate, watching the characters sing and dance on the screen (apparently I have always liked eating snack-like meals). My only concern in the world at that moment was if I would have peanut butter left over and no crackers to spread it on or if I would end up with crackers left over, but no peanut butter. Well, that, and wondering why all the cookies the cookie monster ‘ate’ actually ended up as crumbs that flew out of his mouth onto the floor.

Do you also remember how each episode was themed with a particular ‘letter of the day’? Well, today’s post is kind of like that, with the theme of ‘the importance of asking for what you need.’ It’s something Sesame Street should have taught us, along with our ABCs.

Ben spends his days helping his students identify what they need to be successful in school – a quiet place to study? Help with childcare? Access to a computer? Often, he helps them figure out what they need to be successful in some pretty stressful circumstances. In these instances, the students not only have to identify what they need, but go to their professor or their significant other or their academic advisor…and ask for help. The students may not end up getting what they need, but the simple act of vocalizing what they need at least gives others the opportunity to help. Since no one is a mind reader, staying silent almost guarantees the students will not get what they need to be successful.

This concept may sound simple, but take some time to observe and you will see how asking for what you need, or the lack of asking for what you need, plays a large role in your own life, especially in relationships. Even though we know what the other is thinking almost 99% of the time, this is one of the mantras of my relationship with Ben. We agree that we cannot do for the other what they want unless they ask and we agree to do our best to provide what the other asks for. It keeps our communication open and prevents a lot of misunderstandings.

We all come into situations with expectations. We have expectations of how the other will behave, what the interaction will look like, and what the outcomes will be. Knowing the other person’s expectations makes interactions go more smoothly. Asking for what you need to accomplish a task or successfully navigate an interaction helps the other person understand your expectations and your position. Hopefully, others will return the favor, asking for what they need so that you might understand their situation.

I certainly saw this play out in grand fashion the past couple of weeks…both in how not asking for what you need can create unnecessarily stressful situations for everyone involved and in how asking for what you need can make potentially stressful situations ridiculously easy. Part of the reason why I have been so absent from this site lately is because of misunderstood needs, because of people not asking me for what they needed, which ended up creating a chain of events that left me rushing to meet deadlines for my dissertation submission.

On the positive side of things, Ben and I took a mini-vacation to the Willamette Valley this past weekend. We enjoyed wine tasting, olive oil tasting, and visiting some small towns along the way. We stopped at the Red Ridge Farms, tasted and purchased one of the best wines we’ve tasted – the Cotttonwood winery’s 2004 Syrah.

Ben walked right up to the appetizer table and asked the attendant, “Is that salami gluten free?” She didn’t skip a beat and went to the refrigerator to check the package – we recognized the brand right away as one we have found to be gluten free and knew it was okay. I was surprised at her recognition of the words, “gluten free,” because I’ve had some pretty interesting encounters with unknowledgeable servers and restaurant staff. The thing is, we could have wondered about it or just avoided it entirely, but the simple 5-word question got us the information we needed.

Later on, in McMinnville, we had a similar, yet even better, experience. At La Rambla, where we chose to eat dinner, we explained to our server I had a gluten intolerance issue and we needed to ask lots of questions about the menu options. She explained that both her husband and daughter were celiac positive, so she knew exactly how to help us. Imagine that! La Rambla is a Spanish Tapas restaurant in old-town McMinnville and if you’ve been paying attention, you are probably not surprised we would be excited to eat at a place like this. We ate the mixed plate with olives, cheese, Serrano ham, bacon-wrapped dates, and quince paste. We had the garlic prawns and sautéed spinach with currants, pine nuts, and garlic. It was all delicious. Well, actually, Ben thinks I my cooking is better…and I certainly shouldn’t argue with him about that, now should I!

At home again, we’ve been enjoying the abundance of fresh asparagus all spring – cooking it in a myriad of ways. Mostly, since we just really like the taste of it, we sauté it with a little bit of olive oil and eat an entire bunch between us at dinner. Our latest concoction – using a bit of crème fraiche for a sauce, with fresh lemon juice, garlic, and capers. This sauce comes together quickly and makes everything taste decadent.

To make the Lemon Garlic Cream sauce:

Dollop a few spoon-fulls of crème fraiche into a small sauce pan and add a teaspoon of tapioca flour. Mix well. Turn the heat on medium-low and stir to thicken. Stir in some fresh lemon juice, a clove or two of minced garlic, and a tablespoon capers.

I’ve done this sauce with and without tapioca to thicken it. It is delicious both ways, but should be cooled a bit if you don’t use tapioca so that it doesn’t run all over the plate!

Spoon the sauce over the asparagus. Try serving with chicken seasoned with lavender, rosemary, and sea salt.


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