Thursday, July 19, 2012

Choosing Difficulty: Chard Frittata

My husband often teases me that I make things unnecessarily difficult.  I belabor decisions, second-guessing myself and often initiating the same conversation with him several times in different ways to make sure the answers haven't changed; I do too many completely unrelated things at the same time; I create challenges (like signing up for a CSA when I know that it creates stress to figure out how I'm going to use all of the produce creatively and effectively in a week) ... you get the idea.  It's an expression of my tendency towards perfectionism, I guess, but also a way for me to test ideas and processes so that I can optimize efficiency.  In my own little mind, making things difficult temporarily makes them easier somewhere down the road.

In cognitive psychology, there is a concept called "desirable difficulty" which actually supports this approach to problem-solving.  The theory is that introducing hurdles into the learning process makes the lessons "stick" better: examples include spacing lessons farther apart, varying where the learning takes place, having learners generate material by creating puzzles rather than just reading it, making learning less clearly organized, even using fonts that are harder to read.  (See this article for more information about the theory and its applications.)

I choose difficulty, because I like a challenge, but also because I guess I've always suspected I'd learn more that way. And also because I'm a stubborn so-and-so.

Our farm continues to produce chard, though now the supply is dwindling and it's pick-your-own, and no one seems to be picking it.  I don't even really like chard all that much, and I've been feeling out of ideas for things to do with it, but I'm also a sucker for "free" (and "pick all you can" is about the same as "free" to me, even if I hadn't won our half share), so on Tuesday, when it was about 97 degrees, I set off with N. on my back in the huge Kelty backpack (I won't let her down in the fields because I can't chase a child trampling the tomato vines and pick vegetables at the same time).

My husband would have told me that I was a nut for going picking optional chard, which I don't love, on a day that was so hot, carrying N. on my back.  And then I asked him to go raid our garden for the usable chard when he came home.

But I love the CSA challenge.  It's like a puzzle, trying to figure out what to do with it each week.  I've learned a lot about cooking by having to cope with what the farm has made available.  And every year I get a little bit better at it.  One of the things I've learned this time around was also something that they covered in the NYTimes yesterday: that if you set aside time to cook some of your produce as soon as it arrives (or soon aftger), you'll be a bit less at a loss for what to do with it later.  For example: once you cook the chard, this frittata comes together easily.  And if you have a lot of chard, you could cook it all up this with the overabundance of green or spring onions that you may also have, and use some for the frittata, some for chard pie, some for a side dish, even throw some in a pasta or rice salad.

Do you make things "unnecessarily" difficult for yourself?  How so?  Do you think there can be a productive purpose for doing so?  When does creating difficulty become unhealthy and unproductive?

Chard Frittata

1 tablespoon olive oil or butter (sauteeing in butter seems to make the chard less bitter)
1 small yellow onion, diced
3-4 green onions
1 bunch Swiss chard, leaves removed, stems and leaves chopped separately
6 eggs
Pinch of salt
Black pepper to taste
1 1/2 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
cooking spray

In a large (12-inch) skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion and cook until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the chard stems and cook over medium-low heat until just translucent, about 5-7 minutes.  Add green onions, cook a minute or two, and then chard leaves; cook until the chard is completely soft and water evaporated, stirring occasionally.  Allow to cool.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs with the salt and cheese, then stir in the chard and onion mixture.

Spray an ovenproof medium skillet with cooking spray and heat over medium until sizzling, then add the egg mixture. Cook until the bottom and sides begin to set, about 2-3 minutes, then transfer to the oven and continue cooking until the center is solid, abut 12 minutes depending on the shape of the pan.
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  1. I absolutely make things difficult for myself: I always take on too much. Like this summer, for example, when I signed up for a ggmg magazine article and enrolled in not one, but two creative writing classes at the nearby university. I've had so much writing to do every week, it's been almost impossible to keep up. Most teachers don't do much of anything in the summer and here I am, giving myself unnecessary homework!

    I'm the same way at work, except that is more because I'm a perfectionist and would rather create my own perfect worksheet or project rubric than use the mostly okay one that's already been made. I taught 7th grade history six years ago and they still use all the chapter reviews that I created myself for my class.

    I gave you serious props for conquering the CSA box; MV really struggles with ours. If we move into this new house we'll have to stop it and he's so relieved to have an out--he hates the idea that he gave up.

    Interesting post. Very thought provoking.

  2. Ah, puzzles. I tend to love challenges like NaBloPoMo because it forces me to complete things. I was not very good at our CSA box, although I did use a lot of it and discovered things I loved: rainbow chard, green garlic and blood oranges among them.

    This makes me realize that I need to sign up for a writers workshop so I can finish this gosh darn novel. Grr.

  3. Yes, I make things difficult for myself too. Some of it stems from being a perfectionist and overanlyzing everyone and everything in my life.

    Kudos on the CSA box stuff! I briefly considered doing that this summer and it would have been interesting to challenge myself to use it all. But I don't think our house of relatively picky eaters is ready for that just yet.

    I also like a good challenge and can be very determined and self disciplined when I make up my mind to do so! But I can also be very inconsistent at times, over extending myself, multi-tasking too much, etc.


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