I love having the kind of friend who gets in his car one morning with no clear destination and finds himself at an oyster bar, at lunchtime, 90 minutes east of here.
“Oh, my gosh, you should’ve called me. I would’ve come along,” I told my friend as he relayed the story – which ended with fried catfish and oysters and homemade potato chips – over dinner.
He didn’t know he was going until he was halfway there, he said with glee.
Me? I would have had to schedule the expedition two weeks in advance, figure out when to leave to miss traffic, put directions into the GPS and make sure something was in the refrigerator for dinner later.
I am a chronic planner.
Now, it helps that my friend is retired. Besides volunteer work driving people as old as he is to doctors’ appointments, he doesn’t have many set demands on his time. Even so, there’s a deeper difference.
Just as nature abhors a vacuum, I can’t seem to let a day – or very many hours – go unbooked.
For example, as I’m writing this, the food-oriented chunk of my brain is scanning the fridge for dinner tonight (result: vegetarian stir-fry), forming a nexus of what will remain and what I’ll need to get at the store that will lead to tomorrow’s dinner (broccoli and cauliflower left from the CSA), and planning how to get to the seafood market by the end of the week (because The Hub and I will want to eat fish by then).
Another bit of the brain is looking for practice time before a fiddle lesson on Friday. A third part just noticed two deadlines in the next three weeks where it thought there was only one (oops).
Last Friday was completely open. I had to fill it. I made 13 jars of strawberry jam.
This Sunday looks vacant. My hamster-on-a-wheel brain is already eyeing it.
Make pickles? Bake banana bread from the blackening bananas on the counter? Possibly.
Sit still? Randomly drive somewhere? Probably not happening. But I wish it would.
Interestingly, I don’t cook exactly the same way. My friend and I both are adept at throwing things together, cooking from the contents of our refrigerators and freezers.
However, those receptacles are well-stocked. He freezes quarts of blueberries, corn, okra and other vegetables all summer, so they’re ready to pull out at any time. He stocks up on chicken and turkey when he spies BOGOs. Having those resources available shows that he does a certain amount of planning ahead, but often his effort amounts to no more than finding a good deal on a 25-pound bag of corn at the farmers market one day and having the time to freeze it.
I write cookbooks, so I confess that dinner is a bit more organized. Especially if guests are coming, I can go a little decorator-ish, making sure tablecloths are ironed and such, maybe flowers. I’d never expect anything like that as a guest at someone else’s house, so why do I do it? Maybe I should ask the hamster in my brain.
I can let it go when Hub and I spend our annual week at Cape Hatteras along with stacks of books. We buy whatever looks interesting at the local seafood market. I’m even relaxed while shopping at the only supermarket, which swarms like an ant hill with people in tropical shirts and flip-flops.
But that’s the plan for the beach. To not have a plan. We’re following it.
Inspired by my friend, I’m working toward recovery from chronic planning. I want to find that line that marks truly necessary forward thinking – meeting deadlines is good because paychecks are nice – and learn that dinner doesn’t always have to look like a recipe I’m testing for a book.
I’ll start small. Two hours are open this afternoon. Not enough time to get to the oyster bar and back. But if I think about what to do now, that would be planning, wouldn’t it?
Debbie Moose is a freelance food writer and cookbook author. She can be reached at debbiemoose.com, Facebook or Twitter.