eating for one, by one…

i’ve now lived alone for over nine months. still married to the same man after 28 years, still very happily in love with him (more so, actually), and missing him every day. i moved east to care for my aging mother and just in the nick of time, as i was able to advocate for her when it was most critical that someone carry out her wishes. she’s moved on now and i have a contract to fulfill (and for some bizarre reason, i’ve recently agreed to an extension of said contract for another semester, meaning my exile will last well in 2014 as well as forcing me to make the decision to resign from my work back ‘home’) so i eat, sleep, work, and write in a little, two-bedroom apartment outside of a capital city on the east coast (not that capital city, thank the goddess!). as this was originally intended as my journey through the canyons and valleys of struggling with food issues, it seems only fitting that i take a moment to reflect on where the past nine months have taken me.

okay, the easy thing would be to say nowhere. and in the sense that i’ve neither gained nor lost weight, at least not from point a to point b, though lots of fluctuations in between, this would be true. after my mother passed, i indulged in a brief, but detrimental, infatuation with those boys who really know their way around an ice cream maker, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield (yeah, yeah, i know, the place is owned by unilever now, but still, from one old vermont hippie to another…it’s still b&j’s to me).

i thought i could make a stab at vegetarianism and while i do avoid meat for somewhat large blocks of time, i’m not insistent about it. oh, wait, that reminds me, i need to get some beans soaking…be right back.

mission accomplished. so where was i? oh, yes, vegetarianism. well, somedays, i just don’t feel like making the effort. all that washing and chopping, that prepping and pre-cooking, and making of broths and such. yes, i admit, i am lazy. i’ve avoided convenience foods, though, and i’ve eliminated wheat (for the most part, sometimes it is pretty hard to avoid, my sympathies to those with celiac’s), so it’s not like i’m eating junk food. mostly, at least. (shut up about the reese’s already…no one needs to know about that.) mostly i eat a lot of fruit, a moderate amount of veggies, and peanuts. i know, peanuts, weird, right? easy snacking food, good source of protein, and no, i repeat, no prep. so there we have it. my disturbing, single-life, solo-living eating habits.

did i mention the coffee? lots of that, unhealthy, i’m sure, and i’m working on converting some of that to tea now that i’ve discovered the pleasures of a properly brewed cup. and jack, who has mysteriously taken up residency in my kitchen closet. say hello to the nice people, jack, don’t be shy. sod knows, when you are around, no one is shy.

for the real meat of my blogosphere existence, though, i would direct you to a reluctant academic. yeah, i’m sorry, but that pun was totally intended. jog on.

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i woke up with …

i woke up with a cold this morning. not a polite, pleasant cold that said something like “oh, pardon me, may i sit here next to you for a bit?” no, this is an in your face, i’m going to make you a bit miserable for a time by plopping down so close to you, you can’t see beyond me. to the dayquil, batman!

why do these things always happen on weekends? and weekends where i have stuff to do like grade papers and complete the first round of a simulation? ah, me.

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November 5, 2011 · 9:03 am

ingredients: flour

while back east for the thanksgiving holiday, i went shopping with my kiwi. we always have such a good time together and this was no exception. i am still amazed at the relationship i have with her – we never went through that awkward stage of ‘i’m just going to walk up ahead so no one knows we’re together’. so we stop at panera bread for coffee, then to a couple of malls. finally, we are at barnes and noble, because, honestly, who can resist a book store? and…this one had a starbucks, and kiwi is enamored of starbuck’s peppermint mocha concoctions.

i’d just read a couple of cook book reviews in the boston globe and there on the front table was flour by joanne chang. of course, i had to get a copy, silly me, thinking it would be a local fav, but wouldn’t make it out of the region. i should have known better. on the plane ride home (most of the 12 hours…) i read the cookbook nearly cover to cover. each recipe had a little story, most of them quite charming. the directions were extremely detailed and the measurements exacting. for anyone not intimidated by the precise nature of baking, this book offers many exciting recipes. and come on, how can specific weights and measures be intimidating? the opposite is intimidating. how much is a pinch? watch different tv cooks and you’ll see pinches that range from a smidgen to a hint, a sixteenth of a teaspoon to a quarter…how specific is that? but i digress, as i am wont to do.

i tried the maple cranberry pecan bread. very tasty…though i’ll have to adapt it to my kitchen and stove as i found the crust a bit too crusty. and, boo, the fruit and nuts all sank to the bottom. hmm, something for a food detective. the crumb was very fine, though, and the bread tasted yummy.

and then i tried the holiday sugar cookies. the best i’ve ever made. i’ve now made two more batches. with simple sugar and milk for a frosting. i brought some to a lunch meeting (my department was on tap for lunch that day) and oo-la-la, the compliments! so, if you are still looking for a gift for a baker, try joanne’s book. leaf through it first, then read a couple of recipes. see what i mean? then fork over the money and hum on your way out of the store.

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learning to eat

i have never learned how to eat. not that i don’t consume everything in sight. that is just the problem. i don’t really know how to taste my food. that may sound weird to non-foodies or non-gourmands, but perhaps if i really tasted my food i wouldn’t feel so compelled to eat all that i can whenever i can.

my mother was not a bad cook, but she wasn’t a good cook, either. as the youngest of six children growing up in a lower-middle class household, my food memories from childhood consist of spaghetti on wednesdays, fish and eggs on fridays, and hot dogs and beans saturday nights. sunday roast was something good to eat, but it was generally overcooked (this i know only in retrospect). my mother worked hard to make a meager grocery budget stretch. canned goods reigned supreme, fresh ingredients were few and far between, and variety was non-existent. the one nod to ethnic food was the ritual spaghetti on wednesdays – and in boston, wednesdays were prince days, so everyone was having spaghetti. medium rare did not exist.

i’ve been told that before we moved in 1959, the family home included a garden and grapevines and fruit trees. this was all before i was old enough to remember. my sibs have talked of home-made jams and preserves, pickles and fresh-made doughnuts. my mother told me she made bechamel and hollandaise when she was first married, but the closest we ever got to bechamel was creamed tuna on toast. if memory serves, this was made from a water and cornstarch slurry, not a nut brown roux. i have a faint memory of a stone crock with doughnuts, but no jams or jellies, no preserves. mostly i remember hard as pucks hamburgers, greyish peas, potatoes from a box. there were no fresh salads, some fresh fruit in summer, though mostly macintosh apples and navel oranges (which were limited as they were for the boys’ lunches) and herbs were dried and in jars.

so how does one learn to eat after 50 plus years of simply consuming food? how does one develop a palate that distinguishes between plum and apricot, shallots and leeks, marjoram and savory?

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home again, home again, jiggedy-jog

it turns out i was actually in southwestern new mexico. still high desert country, rocky, hilly, and amazingly rainy. rained nearly every day and as often new flowers would bloom in the desert. some of the cacti grow several inches as they soaked up the daily drenching. fabulous thunder-boomers, with stupendous lightning shows. one evening the ranch cattle decided to come over to our side of the valley. first time i’ve woken to mooing cattle in decades. saw my first rattlesnake up close and personal, but managed to keep enough distance to not get in her way.

the retreat itself was perhaps the all-time best retreat i’ve ever taken. the teachings were truly sublime and yes, i do remember what was said. despite the searing hot temperatures coupled with after rain humidity, i was able to relax and absorb it all. for two weeks i did not look at a computer, drink coffee, or look in a mirror. when i was finally at the tucson airport, i saw myself in the restroom mirror and just laughed out loud. it was sweet and precious and i think i will have to return, again and again, if i am able. in the meantime, i sincerely wish all beings happiness and contentment.

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leaving on a jet plane

i’m off tonight for a two week retreat in high desert country of northwestern new mexico. right now i am not looking forward to the plane ride and hauling my stuff around and all the anxiety and brouhaha that comes with traveling, but i know that the retreat will be sublime. ok, so to be genuine, most, if not all, retreats of this nature tend to be a series of highs and lows, times when one questions just what one is doing and times when one is simply, dare i say it, high on life. and this one will be no different, i am sure. the desert will be hot in a way i am not used to and the ranch has no consistent source of electricity (solar power only) so the prospect of wearing dirty clothes as the weeks wear on i tickling the back of my mind as i write this. not only can i not pack that many changes of clothes, i simple don’t have that many things that will be appropriate for this weather and these teachings. so i will be one stinky retreatant, despite regular showers, by the end of the two weeks. given that this is really just a relative thing, i should just relax and let this go. ok, there, gone. well, mostly. fortunately, i will return home alone and will have the place to myself for a few days before my partner returns from a quick trip east to settle our daughter into school for her senior year at college and a short stay with his dad.

i’ve not had time lately to work on my fact finding mission regarding the subject of human slavery, particularly child slavery and prostitution, and i suspect my fall will be equally busy with little down time for such endeavors. this retreat is in one way my means of making some progress towards contributing to a change in this practice. i’ve come to recognize that while contributing to such social causes and actively working with the disadvantage, disengaged, or the endangered is truly a worthy and noble pursuit, at the root of these activities is a fundamental problem that lies not with the victims, but with the perpetrators. until we can change the demand, we cannot expect to change the practice. and changing the demand is not easy to accomplish – it is not a matter of prosecuting those currently responsible, be they the providers of the chattel or the purchasers of the chattel. this will require a change of mind. not a simple or easy task. before this can take place, we need to understand who the purchasers are – they are the true villains in this story because without them, the rest of the supply chain falls apart. i’ve not idea how to go about this and i recognize that even if i personally knew someone involved in this business, i would not have much, if any, power in trying to persuade this individual to change, through my actions, i just may, maybe, cause someone to look at life a bit differently, which might just then get passed on to the next, and so on, and so for. be the example, walk the walk, see the illusion for what it is and what it is not. only that type of action will bring out an end to this suffering. that is what i can hope for. that is what i can work for. and so, to better understand this illusory experience, i am off for two weeks of contemplation, meditation, cooking in the heat of the new mexican sun. ok, now i am psyched.

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a cold spring

as daylight lingers long after any self-respecting circadian rhythm abiding being should still be awake, the thermometer refuses to likewise change its ways. cool, crisp mornings, more like fall than mid-may, are followed by breezy, cool days, partly cloudy, partly sunny, but never quite warm. and warm here in anchorage is 60s. the interior is well on its way to a delightful, warm summer. not so this little scrub of land that juts into cook inlet.

when the days get this long, we tend to do a lot of living in a short span of time. it makes up for the cocoon existence of the winter for any not inclined to cross country skiing in 20 below temperatures. the old saying about hoping summer falls on a weekend may just well ring true this year as spring takes its damn sweet time about warming up our little corner of the planet. the garden beds are blank canvases, waiting for splashes of color straight from lowe’s and home depot. with soil temps not up to the challenge and cold, not cool, nights for hardening off, it may be a while before the grounds get planted.

spring really does spring here. no creeping up, no gentle glide into summer. one day the lawns are the color of straw, with patches of snow, dark and dirty now. the next day, a pale green aura begins to rise from beneath the straw. the trees are shrouded in a pale green-grey fog and the next day, bright yellow green leaflings turn towards the sun. within a week, the world goes from dusty motes and mud-brown vistas to vibrant light green pom-poms, waving at you from above.

spring is considered a time of renewal, when all things seem possible. so just for today, i am going to believe and act in accordance with this. if it works out well, maybe i’ll do it again tomorrow.

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