One thing that happens when a person works from home is that “getting dressed” becomes a highly relative term. For instance, right now I consider myself dressed because I am wearing sporty leggings and a tank top, so if there was a fire I would be able to leave the house fairly quickly (once I put on shoes). But as “looks” go, it falls somewhere along the cat mom/occasional jogger spectrum, and it is not an aberration.
This is not exactly what I had imagined for myself as a kid. My 10-year-old self assumed that by 31 I’d have long since figured out how to make my hair look consistently presentable, that I’d dress in a uniform of glamorous, well-tailored Good Wife-esque suits, and also that I’d have won an Olympic gold medal in women’s figure skating. (I imagined I’d have moved on to politics not long after my gold medal performance, naturally, hence the suits.) These days I feel basically resigned to the reality of my hair, and while I will never forgive my parents for not spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to harvest my mediocre figure skating abilities, I feel generally happy to have landed on a profession in which wearing a suit is literally never a requirement.
But sometimes I do feel conflicted about leading a life that’s so deeply…unprofessional. As I lay in bed, frantically trolling the internet for inspiration (ignoring the full notebook of ideas I actually have because I’m not sure they’re 1000% infallible), I conjure up visions of office life: A-line skirts, ruffled blouses, meetings in conference rooms and, above all, a sense of daily purpose—the confidence that I will not waste a day entirely in my own head. I’ll open my closet, a graveyard of business casual from past jobs, and gaze longingly at the (fairly hideous) clothing that once upon a time helped me convince myself that I was a “professional journalist.” Dressing for success feels crucial in those moments. If you’re sitting at home in your gym clothes, unkempt hair stuffed in a bun, makeup bag hidden somewhere in the depths of your bathroom cupboard, how can you begin to pretend you’re leading a productive life?
This is why I love doing freelance office gigs, such as I did a few weeks ago, at a fancy company with a high-stakes dress code. Every morning I’d put on my Office Costume—boxy blazers, knee-length dresses, high heels—and head out the door with real ambition. (Think Melanie Griffith in Working Girl.) I interacted with a lot of very talented and friendly people, and for several consecutive days my hair looked great. The sense of purpose I got from having a consistent, productive routine bled into my home life, and upon returning home from the office I’d cook up elaborate dinners, experimental, long-simmering dishes that would take hours and keep me up past midnight.
Of course, I soon became exhausted with this regimen, and by the end of the gig I felt overwhelmed by how much of my freelancing work I had neglected. (It turns out my responsibilities in that area, though they can sometimes feel ambiguous, are actually about as time-consuming as having a Real Job.) At the end of the day, I’d collapse in bed with a to-do list the length of my arm. The fancy dinners ended.
Before I reached that point, however, I did come up with a very good recipe for butternut squash and apple soup. It’s seasonal and quite simple, and it tastes delicious, which means it’s a great payoff if you’ve just finished up a long day at the office and have managed, miraculously, to scrounge up enough energy to make a nice dinner. Business casual attire is recommended but not required in the preparation of this dish.
Yield: 4+ servings 1 2.5-lb butternut squash, peeled*, seeds removed, and cut into two-inch cubes *I wish I could tell you about some great way to peel a butternut squash that is quick and painless, and that does not require you to labor in the kitchen for hours alternating a paring knife and a big-old chef’s knife as you hack away at this thick-ass gourd. Sadly I cannot. (Can you? Please share in the comments.) I can however offer a few recommendations in re: how to ease this thankless task: Pour yourself a big glass of pinot noir, cut up a few pieces of cheese to nibble on, and then turn on Serial, the very amazing new podcast that I’m sure you’ve already heard all about. This should distract you somewhat.
Butternut Squash and Apple Soup
1 honeycrisp apple, peeled, cored and chopped
1 onion, chopped
3 whole, unpeeled garlic cloves
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
5 cups water
3 bouillon cubes
5 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. salt, divided, plus more to taste
1 tsp. ground pepper, divided, plus more to taste
Yield: 4+ servings
1 2.5-lb butternut squash, peeled*, seeds removed, and cut into two-inch cubes
*I wish I could tell you about some great way to peel a butternut squash that is quick and painless, and that does not require you to labor in the kitchen for hours alternating a paring knife and a big-old chef’s knife as you hack away at this thick-ass gourd. Sadly I cannot. (Can you? Please share in the comments.) I can however offer a few recommendations in re: how to ease this thankless task: Pour yourself a big glass of pinot noir, cut up a few pieces of cheese to nibble on, and then turn on Serial, the very amazing new podcast that I’m sure you’ve already heard all about. This should distract you somewhat.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Toss the butternut squash in 3 tablespoons of olive oil and 1/2 tsp. salt and pepper, until nicely coated. Spread the squash on a cookie sheet and add the full, unpeeled garlic cloves. Bake for 50 minutes, or until the squash is soft. Remove from heat and discard the garlic cloves.
Sauté the chopped apple in 1 Tbsp. olive oil on medium-low, until soft and golden, about 7 minutes. Remove from heat. In a big pot, with the remaining olive oil, sauté the onions and minced garlic on medium until soft and the onions are transparent, about 4 minutes. Stir in the squash, the remaining salt and pepper, and cinnamon. Add the water, bouillon cubes, and apple. Simmer on medium-low uncovered for about 40 minutes, until both the apple and the squash are very soft and the ingredients are well incorporated. Use an immersion blender or a food processor to purée the soup (I, for one, am a huge fan of the immersion blender). If the soup is too thick, you can add water until you reach the desired consistency. Add salt and pepper to taste.