"Any fool can make a rule, and any fool will mind it."
Henry David Thoreau
For the last few years I have made myself a little set of rules - well mini goals really I suppose. Not exactly rules, just things I would like to achieve within a day, a week, a month, a year. Let's call them goals because that's a bit less prescriptive than rules. If you break a rule, there could be consequences. Punishment even. If you don't achieve a goal there will also be consequences, but mostly just disappointment with yourself that you have not achieved your goal. Thankfully however, I am not that hard on myself. Almost never do I achieve all the things I say I will achieve. Over the years I have lowered my expectations and set the goals at a more achievable level, but even so I often miss. Which is no big deal, because these are only tiny things, that give structure to my life I suppose. A week or so ago I changed a couple of these, and already I am breaking them. Does it matter? No I don't think so.
So what are these rules/goals and which ones are regularly broken? Indeed if they are regularly broken should I change them, so that I don't. Abandon them even. Am I reaching too far?
On the health and fitness front I aim to walk for three quarters of an hour or so four times a week. Obviously not in the Umbrian countryside as here, but Eltham has its very distinct charms. And to make it more interesting I take photographs along the way, according to the week's photographic topic set by one of the family or friends. Also from a health and environmental point of view I try to eat at least one vegetarian, one fish and one legume meal per week. And this, I confess is one thing that doesn't always happen. So I give myself a mental slap on the wrist when it doesn't.
As you know - with this blog I have been trying to write a blog post a day and mostly I have done so - except when away on holiday or out somewhere. Of late though I have been feeling a bit uninspired and have failed in this aim more often than not, so I changed it to alternate days. And here I am breaking that rule too. The aim was to also spend time on other things - specifically trying to write some kind of memoir for my children and descendants. Who, it has to be said, at the moment are very uninterested in such a thing. But when they are old like me and know nothing about their parents, grandparents' ... lives, they may be. I have written a few more words on this project, but not much I confess. So although I haven't blogged, I haven't done anything else either. Failure.
The main inspiration for this particular post today however, is the one whereby I try to make, in alternate weeks, something new from a cookbook or the net, and something from 'the good old days' - from the gurus. This week, as I have mentioned before it's Claudia Roden's turn and it's bugging me.
I'm not going to go into all the stuff I have written about before - how recipes change over the years, but I am going to say a few more words about my dilemma. Because there are a couple of rules that might get broken here. It might just all be too difficult and I might not make anything by Claudia Roden in her first book at all. After all I am making something new this evening - that Lazy cheeseboard tart I told you about yesterday - but it's not the 'new' week. And of course this doesn't matter. I could just abandon the idea of Claudia Roden. Because:
"If you can't solve a problem, it's because you're playing by the rules" Paul Arden
And by breaking my own rule I will solve the problem.
Or I could break it in another way. I sort of had a short list of potential dishes which included spanakopita, Fried fish with cousbareia sauce or Lahma bi abjeen (sfiha) - those Lebanese meat pies that are a bit like a pizza. In the end I think I have opted for the meat pies - or indeed one meat pie - the same thing often seems to pop up as a pizza like thing. But honestly her recipe is a bit dull. So do I abandon the whole thing, or is this one of those seemingly uninteresting but ultimately wonderful dishes?
I went in search of alternative versions - of which there are many with varying names of course - although the most common seem to be Lahmacun (I think this is the Turkish version), Sfiha and Lahma bi Abjeen. Even Claudia Roden seems to have realised that her original recipe was a bit dull, because the one in her later book Arabesque (pictured below left) is rather more tempting - well it includes pomegranate molasses, but excludes parsley and lemon juice, so go figure. The dough is different too. I am now choosing between her two versions (no picture of the first one), Ottolenghi's version in Jerusalem (also no picture), Sami Tamimi in Falastin - in the centre, and Greg Malouf in Saha. The picture top right is from the book and probably not Malouf's version but a local one and the picture below is his recipe for Sfiha of Baalbek made by the owner of the Passion Fruit Garden website.
It does seem that the small ones are the most popular. Indeed the Passion Fruit Garden writer says of Greg Malouf's pizza-like version:
"I must say I wasn’t that impressed with the pizzas. The lamb is spread very thinly over the base, making it very dry when they are baked. By forming the dough into little pies, the meat was cooked to perfection and remained very moist. It was like eating lovely, moist, lamb meatballs in a bread base – delightful."
So there are two decisions to be made here. Small or large, original book or a later version - and if so which one? Or go for somebody else's version? Well I won't go into that here, because the point of this post, is to ponder on breaking rules however tiny. Good or bad? And is there a difference if the rules have been set by others or yourself? Or I could make an even bigger break and not make anything at all in this category of weekly goal.
Of course none of this matters. Who cares, what I do about what I cook for dinner tomorrow? Not even me really. The world, even the local one is full of really important problems that I do nothing about. My angst is completely trivial, but at heart there is the question of whether we do need to structure our lives just a little so that we achieve things, however tiny, or whether we should just be in free fall all the time. Little children need structure. They need to know the limits if only for safety reasons. A society that functions in a reasonable manner has to have a set of rules or there would be chaos. Even great artists like Picasso see the need for rules:
"Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist." Pablo Picasso
Too much structure though and you either have repression and cruelty or an obsessive compulsive disorder. Always, always, it's the same answer - moderation in all things, the middle way.
"If you obey all the rules you miss all the fun." Katharine Hepburn
So just keep some - the important ones - and change the others.
Which doesn't really answer today's dilemma, but who cares? Not me really.