Last Monday, I was waiting for my friend to get home, so I could go into her house and start cooking dinner. For a variety of reasons, we were eating really late — it was already around 7:30 — and I was starving, so while I waited I put together some side salads for us. On a base of mixed greens, I added red onion, red pear, radish, and cucumber, topped with balsamic vinegar. She still hadn’t arrived and like I said, I was hungry, so to distract myself I put together a little appetizer plate, too: dates wrapped in prosciutto and some mixed olives. When she got home, I topped some salmon with lemon preserves and put it under the broiler. About fifteen minutes later, we were eating. The salmon needed some salt, but it was fast, efficient, and delicious.

On Saturday, I showed up at the same friend’s house, and we had no plans. But we were both tired. Around six, we finally decided — well, I think I finally decided — that we should just cook something. I had boneless chicken thighs, so I sprinkled an herb mix (coriander, chili, cumin, parsley) over them, tossed in some dried apricots, and stuck them in the oven. While they baked, I made some brown rice, and salads of mixed greens, chopped dried apricot, pecans, avocado, radish, green onions, tomatoes… I think that was it. Again, it was delicious, but it’s not like there’s a way to go wrong with baked chicken thighs.

While we were eating, E gave me the loveliest compliment on my cooking. I wish I remembered her exact words, but alas, I don’t. But I know it was something about simplicity. I think, actually, she first told me I was an incredible cook and I pointed out that baked chicken thighs and salad are pretty much lowest common denominator — it’s not like it’s even possible to ruin a salad and it would be pretty challenging to mess up baked chicken thighs. Well, I guess they could be overcooked. Or undercooked. Or flavorless. But they were none of the above: they were very yum. But it wasn’t like it was a planned meal: I was literally just pulling stuff out of my cabinets and fridge to make us something to eat because we were hungry and feeling lazy. I guess, though, that was her point, because that was when she said… oh, I do wish I remembered her exact words! But something about while she was sure I could cook intricate meals, it was my ability to make simplicity wonderful that she admired. Something like that. And it’s funny that I can’t remember the exact words, but I still feel the glow of pleasure they gave me.

When I got to her house on Saturday, I was feeling stressed and over-tired and drawn back into a world of responsibility and worry. But we took the dogs for a long walk, then sat in her back yard and admired the trees and the birds. While I cooked dinner I felt the internal hum of satisfaction of being in a kitchen creating something and while we ate, I was almost purring with the delight of delicious food. By the time I fell asleep in Serenity that night, I was calm and mellow and happy again.

I wish I could get to a place where those things were instinctive — where I knew intuitively that what I need when I’m feeling off is outside, exercise, healthy food, creation, and companionship. Because earlier on Saturday I seriously wanted computer time and junk food and solitude. But it’s just not intuitive. Still, every time I learn that lesson maybe it sinks in a little more and I definitely learned it this weekend. The switch in my mood from Saturday morning to Sunday morning wasn’t dark to light — I’d had a really good week, so I wasn’t starting off from a bleak place — but it was definitely from heavy to light, if that makes any sense to anyone besides me.

Today is going to be a day of adventure — I’m headed to a haunted plantation to explore. And it’s Halloween! And then a new campground tonight, up in St. Augustine.

I should note, though, that I seriously love the state park I’m camped at — Tomoka State Park. It was an impulse stop when I didn’t know where I wanted to be yesterday, but it’s beautiful. I’m definitely putting it on my mental list of places to come back to and stay much, much longer.

I should write more about it — I hope I remember writing this blog post outside Serenity, in my little (not very comfortable) camp chair, with the white sand, palm trees and palmettos and live oaks, and the dogs peacefully snoring on either side of me. It also looks like a perfect place to pull out the kayak. But I’ve already spent over an hour writing this blog post — it was a lot of thinking, and a lot of words that went in circles and wound up getting deleted — and it’s time to get going.

Happy Halloween!