I cannot think of any more boring vice than sloth. However, when it comes to the seven deadly sins, this is the one in which I find myself firmly entrenched. A hardened sinner, and to such little profit. Lust just seems too strenuous nowadays, although I can and do lust in my heart from time to time. But pursuit of the objects of my lust – well, it is just too much effort for me with too little likelihood of success. Imagine if one had to mush from Nome, Alaska to, say, Fairbanks to purchase a lottery ticket, and one can pretty well make a fair equation for the proportion of effort to reward.
I have never been a huge glutton – unless liking beer a whole lot falls under that heading. And I let that little sinlet go on my fortieth birthday, if not for good, then at least for the last 28 years. I do like certain foods, and I do occasionally overeat, but I am more likely to forget to eat until four or five in the afternoon than I am to spend the day eating. As to avarice – well, I am not really clear on all that falls under that heading. I am certainly no miser, and if I do say so myself, I occasionally overdo on gifts for others, while being a bit ungenerous in a day to day sense. On the other hand, I really like having two of everything, and the more expensive and useless the better. Still, I couldn’t say that avarice is my sin of choice. I think I have faults in the avarice arena, but I would guess they are more faults of lacking empathy or imagination or – even more likely - laziness, which gets us back to sloth.
Pride is also a bit difficult to get a handle on. I know I can be all about myself sometimes, and I know that I occasionally – maybe more than occasionally – indulge in what can be termed ‘stubborn pride’. I am not sure, though, that pride in the seven-deadly-sins sense is the same thing as the quality that is commonly referred to as pride. It seems that pride in common parlance means too stubborn or too aware of one’s dignity to accept charity. I don’t see how that can be a sin – it would seem more like a virtue to me. To tell the truth, I don’t see how one could spend a lifetime with pride as its centerpiece. I mean, what would one be doing in a day-to-day sense, if one’s central vice were overweening pride? It would pretty much mean sitting around glorifying oneself, and that seems way more like sloth to me. Does it mean that one puts oneself above God? Well, of course, I do have the issue that I think that I am real and that He is imaginary, but then imaginary beings nearly all seem to be better than I am. There’s Superman, for instance, or King Arthur, or Lassie: all much superior to me. Even Goldilocks seemed to have a great deal more intellectual curiosity and ‘git-up-and-go’ than I do nowadays.
I am pretty certain that I don’t practice envy to a mortally sinful extent. My understanding of envy is that it is more than coveting what one’s neighbor has; it also means wishing ill-fortune to the neighbor for having it. I don’t think that is one of my failings. I willingly confess to a touch of schadenfreud when someone who seems to me to be particularly undeserving or obnoxious, but gifted with goods or worldly honors, slips on a moral banana peel, but I wouldn’t say that I am envious in a truly hell-worthy sense. I can’t imagine myself working to bring down someone just because he or she had something that I wish were mine.
Let’s see: what is left? Oh (I actually had to Google to find the remaining sin) wrath! Well, I DO get pissed off. And the annoying entry in Wikipedia for ‘seven deadly sins’ points out that being ‘capital’ means they are the root sins that lead to all others (‘capital’ refers to the Latin word for ‘head’), and that one can be guilty in either a venial or mortal sense, and still be guilty of a capital sin; this certainly appeals to my old Catholic upbringing where you pretty much found yourself innocent of one sin when you were overly busy committing another. Well, there goes that. I guess I am guilt of all of them then. I don’t know if that is a relief (I am balanced) or cause for further self-recrimination. Either way, I do believe my really morally disfiguring sin is sloth.
Because I am slothful, while still desirous of being minimally healthy, I have found a number of ways to keep myself fed without raising too much of a sweat in food preparation. I do like things to taste good, if possible, and to be more healthy than not when it is just as easy either way. My sole use of sugar, other than the very rare times I try baking a cake (five times in my life by actual count!) is to throw in a tablespoonful or two when I make pasta sauce or chili or anything requiring massive amounts of cooked tomato in order to cut the acidity. My brother Rob has been going through my supply of sugar much faster than I have done merely by coming to the Breakfast Club on Sundays and using sugar in his coffee, of which he drinks copious amounts.
In the interests of public service for all the lazy folks out there, I will give a brief résumé of lessons I have learned in having the best possible food for the least possible effort. To begin with, none of these ideas is of any use if one has to run to the store, or prepare every meal from scratch. Therefore there are a number of things to keep on hand at all times – things which keep for a goodish length of time.
One of those huge bags of frozen chicken parts that one can find at the ‘big box’ stores. I prefer skinless boneless thighs (I hate skin, and if cooking chicken bone-in is easy, eating it is not. Let’s look at the big picture here.) Breasts (in chickens) are too darn bland for me.
Again from the big box emporia, I like to keep on hand those pork cutlets – you know, those thickly cut slices (nearly an inch thick) that look like pork chops without the bone and come about ten to the package – that is ten meals right there.
A bottle of some kind of marinade.
A BIG bottle or jar of that pre-chopped garlic.
A number of cans of crushed tomatoes, as well as a couple of cans of diced tomatoes. Pasta sauce or chili are always better with a can of the chunkier cut stuff thrown in.
A bag of onions.
A big bag of frozen peas – you can add a handful of these to anything.
A big bag of those small pre-peeled ‘baby’ carrots- - these keep forever.
A big bag of broccoli florets, or crowns – these will last two to three weeks, and are worth their weight in gold for the degree of virtue one feels in adding some of them to everything.
A dozen boiled eggs.
A bell pepper or two.
Every kind of spice you can imagine. Spices are god’s way of saying, “Relax: you can cover up everything one way or another." Although spices lose flavor over time, it is a good idea to slowly work out which ones you commonly use and get those in the larger sizes. The last thing you ever want is to start something and find you are out of a key spice. I make sure to have a lot of black pepper, chili powder, garlic powder, cumin and coriander. It is good to keep turmeric on hand. I throw it in most things – not so much for taste, but it is supposed to be amazingly healthy and it also makes things look golden and lovely.
Also, it is good to keep on hand bottles of Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, teriyaki sauce and balsamic vinegar. The whole point of all these sauces and spices is that you can keep making the same things over and over but have them taste different every time.
Olive oil – the BIG jars of a gallon or so. Also yellow mustard and mayonnaise
Several jars of pre made pasta sauce. The trick is to doctor these if you must (here comes that broccoli again!) without going thru the mess of actual ‘from scratch’ preparation. Pre-made alfredo sauces - even the store brands - are really good - and you can add a bit of the tomato sauce for variety. Also I keep a pre-made jar of pesto sauce - a spoonful added to almost anything is pretty darn yummy. OK, don't add it to desserts.
Lots of pasta. To cover the health angle, make these whole grain pastas where possible. For whole grain pasta, you want to get the shapes of pasta that hold the most sauce: rotelli is ideal. The more sauce the less you taste the difference between the good stuff and the healthy stuff. The worst pasta for whole grain is the thinner spaghetti forms, especially angel hair. On the other hand angel hair is the best for the lazy cook, because it cooks in just about three minutes. One place whole grain spaghetti is superior is in any stir-fry version of chow mein. I actually prefer whole grain in chow mein type dishes. If you are a fan of stir fry, one mixed spice that is absolutely wonderful is Emeril Legasse’s Asian Essence.
I do not tend to keep hamburger on hand because the taste goes off fairly quickly if you do not use it or freeze it, and if you freeze it, it is a hassle to either pre-form it into patties or usable quantities, or to get it unfrozen quickly when you want it. Thawing a huge chunk in a microwave also seems to cook the exterior of the stuff – so I have gotten away from keeping hamburger meat on hand. Anyway beef isn’t all that good for you, although it does have the virtue that, unlike chicken, no matter how bad it seems to have gone ‘off’ it is still pretty safe to eat.
To make preparation easier, it is always good to keep a shallow pan or bowl with some chicken parts or pork cutlets defrosting in a pool of marinade. It is nice to throw a tablespoon of chopped garlic into the marinade for extra taste.
Chicken or pork can be cooked in the oven while you work on your computer – the rule for me is when I can smell it, it is usually done.
Keep a steamer for vegetables. Once the water comes to a boil, you can put a bunch of the baby carrots in for 3-4 minutes (set the timer, so you can putter around doing other things.) Broccoli should not steam more than two minutes. So you can put the water on to boil, watch TV until it is boiling, then throw the broccoli in, once it boils at the beginning of a TV commercial break and it is steamed before the commercial break is over. Easy or what? And you get to miss the commercial without missing the program.
I recently bought a package of whole wheat ‘wraps’. I found that I could cut up one cooked cutlet of the marinaded pork (or some chicken), chop up a handful of broccoli and steam it, mix the two with some mayonnaise, dill, dried mustard or curry powder, and whatever spice seems to be my preference for the day. And the result was really, REALLY good. It is all about having stuff on hand, re-thawed and pre-marinaded, getting a feel for spices and mixing the same few things differently over and over.
If one wishes to use steamed broccoli as a side dish, it is really good with a small spot of yellow mustard dotted here and there amongst the florets. Then one can put any other sauce over it – or even none.
This sounds like a blog on gluttony, but believe me, it is all about sloth – once I got in the habit of keeping things on hand, I had to spend no more than half an hour in the kitchen per day – for all the meals I needed. And that can’t be a bad thing.