We had no television or Internet to entertain us in our temporary Parisian one-bedroom, six-floor walk-up. And so, when we had down time, usually in the late afternoon, we either listened to music and read, or turned to podcasts. We didn’t listen separately via headphones like we do at home. Instead, we gathered around the iPod dock/stereo, (like olden times!). One that we found particularly interesting was an episode of Fresh Air titled, “Habits: How They Form and How to Break Them.”
In it, Terry Gross interviews Charles Duhigg, author of "The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business.” Duhigg explains how every habit has three parts: the cue, the routine (the habit itself), and the reward, and how these three events work together to form, and reinforce, a habit. He also explains why our brains form habits: because it’s a more efficient way to do certain repetitive tasks. Take brushing your teeth for example. We don’t have to think about the process. We can brush away while our mind wanders to what we need to buy at the grocery store or how to say I would like to make reservations for tomorrow night in French. But what interested me most was the part where Duhigg explained how to change a habit. The first step, he said, is to identify what the cue and the reward are. “But,” said Duhigg, “if you go on vacation—and we know this from studies—if you go on vacation, and all the cues are different, you'll brush your teeth in a different way without even noticing it. You'll put your shoes on in a different order without paying any attention to it because once the cues change, the habit becomes broken up… [it’s a] a great reason why changing a habit on a vacation is one of the proven most-successful ways to do it.”
Well, I didn’t break any bad habits while in Paris (unless becoming accustomed to a daily aperitif at 5 o’clock counts?), but it did get me thinking about what mine are back home and how I might one day break them.
Matt said this sweet corn polenta and eggplant is the last attempt in this kitchen. I shook my head at him. “No, it isn’t. We’re still here for another 10 days!”
But if one packed box leads to another and Matt ends up being right, I’m happy for this kitchen to go out on such a great meal. I had been trying really hard, for months now, not to buy the cookbook Plenty, (one more thing to own and box up) but with the arrival of summer and that bin of fresh corn greeting me outside the grocery-store entrance, I gave in in order to make this dish.
Ottolenghi is right. Don’t expect this sweet corn polenta to taste like regular polenta. No, it’s so much more like a rich, sweet corn purée with flecks of feta throughout. The dish on a whole is a bit labor intensive but definitely worth the effort, especially for a summer dinner party. In fact, I was just as impressed with the flavorful eggplant sauce as I was the faux polenta.
Matt and I are moving from a one-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment we’ve shared these past four years to a three-bedroom, two-bathroom house with a yard and a driveway. And for this month of escrow, of being in-between homeownership and renting—I’ve been excited, though not just about all the extra space, the blessed space (!), and the idea of getting a dog (Matt has already purchased this book.), but also with the idea that in the new environment all of my cues are going to change. And you know what Duhigg says: when your cues change, your habits change. Perhaps I’m being overly optimistic, but I have plans for new cues that will lead to new habits, like, say, drinking my morning coffee outside on the deck, with the fresh air and sunshine instead of inside by the warm light of my computer screen; becoming a gardener and consequently having bunches of flat leaf parsley at my disposal; becoming someone who would have composted the ears of corn used in this recipe instead of throwing them in the trash; and of course, hosting family and friends for long visits and forcing them to shoot Bon Appétempt videos with us.
If you haven’t had the opportunity to flip through the pages of this gorgeous book, I urge you to do so on your next trip to your local, likely understaffed bookstore. You’ll be shocked at everything this guy does sans meat. Actually, I think you’ll be inspired. I certainly have been. This may be the last you’ll see of our rental kitchen, but you’ll see plenty more of Plenty.