Sunday, January 29, 2012

foods from my childhood

I've loved cooking and preparing food all my conscious life, as I know I've mentioned often.

Some, many really, of the foods I ate as a child will never be in my kitchen again. Some by choice, some by necessity, some simply don't seem like food anymore. But so many are still part of everything I enjoy about cooking and serving good food. I love to cook for friends and family, the notorious tapioca incident aside; it feels like a really intimate, loving act. Mostly these days, I'm cooking for one or two, plus Coco, of course. We still have dinner parties, guests for wine and munchies, and big holiday dinners, but the day-in, day-out kitchen activity is on a very small scale. Even so, sometimes the sight or smell, even the thought, of a specific food from my childhood takes me on a daydreaming journey and transforms our meals.

This morning was one of those times. My plan was to make a quick breakfast while GK took Coco for her morning walk. I was thinking simple scrambled eggs with avocado on the side for me and hash brown-like potatoes for him. While pulling eggs from the refrigerator, I noticed the avocados from last week's farm delivery had ripened and decided to use one of them instead of those in the fridge. So far, nothing exciting, but as I picked up the avocado, a fuerte, I was swept back to my childhood. My mom never used California's Hass avocados. I think she thought they were ugly or something. If we had avocados in the house, they were big, beautiful, smooth-skinned, green fuertes. And they always and only went into salad. In our house salad only meant one thing: iceberg lettuce, diced tomato, minced onion, olive oil, salt, dried mint, and avocado on very rare occasions. That was the only salad I knew of, other than tabbouleh, which was for special occasions only. I don't remember when I found out about salad dressings. I do remember they seemed foreign and I was smitten with them.

Still, I digress. As I thought of the only avocados I knew and the only salad I knew, my mind naturally (for me anyway) ended up with the only omelet I knew. At our house, the word omelet meant only one thing. Always. Eggs and milk, beaten with a fork and seasoned with salt, a tiny bit of pepper, and dried mint. We always had mint, lots of mint, growing in the yard. My mother would dry a big batch every couple of years and run it through her Foley food mill. There was never a time that we were without dried mint, a habit that I took into adulthood with me.

So the scrambled egg plan gave way to omelets. Not the omelets of my childhood, but mushroom and avocado for GK and shrimp and mushroom for me. We had exactly 3 shrimp (from US Wellness Meats) leftover from last night's visit with Erika and Kristen. It felt silly saving them, but I was not about to throw them away. Three was a perfect number. After I chopped them into large chunks, every bite had a taste of the garlicky shrimp. And right next to my omelet sat one half of a large fuerte avocado, a reminder of childhood. Though in my childhood, half an avocado would have made a salad for six. No way would it ever have been a side dish for one person's breakfast.

Friday, January 27, 2012

really? are you kidding me?

I took a health assessment survey today that my employer has been encouraging. I'd passed on the idea a month or two ago, but today I gave in to the $150 they were dangling in front of my nose. That could buy the spices from Penzey's I've been resisting or a supply of Primal Pacs or the Whole9 telephone consultation that's been sounding so tempting. So I sold out, took the darned survey, answered all their questions about diet and weight and health and exercise and self-esteem.

This was a long survey and in retrospect possibly not worth the money when you get right down to it. Especially since it's not really money; it's one of those annoying Visa cards that they load as you go. Still, I did it; it's done.

After they processed all my information which included not a single question about allergies or food intolerances, they said they were formulating my personal report. (Oh, did I mention this was an online survey? "They" refers to the program.) The report would tell me how healthy I am, and the follow-up virtual consultation would tell me what I could do to improve my health. Sure enough, after about 60 seconds, up popped my personal evaluation.

The report said I was at a healthy weight (yay!), applauded my non-smoker status, made a cautious suggestion that I might want to work on my exercise program, and then addressed diet. Apparently, my lack of healthy whole grains and sufficient dairy products is grave. That was mentioned over and over and over. They gave me all kinds of disgusting ways in which I might add grains. Of course, along with that I should limit my fat intake. They gave me lots of artificial low-fat suggestions. Apparently, they think I eat enough vegetables, but I should really increase my daily servings of fruit.

People are taking these surveys, thinking there's something to them. You know they are. Then they're following the outrageous recommendations or feeling guilty that they're not. This is not okay, not even for $150.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

when a foodie isn't

Most of my life, for as far back as I can remember, has revolved around food. I plan trips around where we'll eat, what we'll take to eat, how often we'll stop to eat. Grocery shopping for me is not an ordeal. It's an adventure. I get more excited over spotting a Whole Foods than a Neiman Marcus. Williams Sonoma feels like a home away from home. I started subscribing to food magazines like Bon Appetit and Gourmet while I was still in my teens.

Over the years though, there have been times, and not just short ones, when I just did not feel like cooking, times when I didn't even like my kitchen. Those times felt odd but not so foreign as to confuse me. Once, several years ago, I was so out of sinc with food, cooking, and my health that I subscribed to Nutrisystems and had them send me yucky pre-packaged, processed food for several months. I simply didn't want to cook and didn't want to think about food. It was an odd time in my life, the only time I have ever lived alone, so maybe that had something to do with my extreme disassociation with cooking and health. I'm still not sure.

sometimes plain ol' chicken drumsticks just sound good
These days, I mostly love cooking. "Mostly" being the operative word here. Some days I don't want to enter the kitchen and seriously bemoan the fact that eating out, fast food, and ready to serve processed food simply are not options for me. Period. Most days I get jazzed over grass-fed beef, wild-caught fish, and local organic vegetables. Some days I actually wish I could drive through a Taco Bell. Now, that doesn't sound like a foodie at all, I know. And Taco Bell is not the worst of my non-foodie fantasies. It's just the worst I'm willing to acknowledge right now. It gets pretty ugly.

I suppose on a very basic level I should be happy that giving into even one of these (occasional) urges would make me painfully ill for days. I'm much better off whining because I will never again eat a Baby Ruth candy bar than putting it in my body and hating myself for it.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

starting another whole30

I'm starting another Whole30 soon. I've been away from home and a computer for a bit, but I'll be back to regular posts this week.

Friday, January 6, 2012

a house divided

Maybe it was too good to last. Maybe I was asking too much. Though come to think of it, I didn't ask. He offered.

Whatever the cause, things are changing at my house, and chaos is in the air.

I can't eat gluten, dairy, soy, corn, and a bunch of other things that escape my mind at the moment. GK seems to be able to eat anything he pleases without obvious repercussions. For the first year or so, he was completely up for clearing out our pantry and freezer and fridge of foods that might make me sick. He is a sweetheart for sure, but I still think some of his motivation came from a desire to not have to listen to me in pain half the time. Anyway, year one was pretty easy around our house. I was still struggling to determine what I could safely eat, but he was willingly eating what I cooked and forgoing sandwiches except when he went to lunch with friends. I went through the usual grain substitutions, trying lots of interesting sounding flours and adding sugar into my diet for the first time in years. I also started cooking with xanthan gum and guar gum and all sorts of yucky stuff. I was determined to find food I could eat, and that was the direction much of the gluten-free literature was sending me. It was only after months and months of trial and error, mostly error, that I put enough puzzle pieces together to rule out lots of culprits in my diet in addition to gluten and dairy.

As I added to my list of "must avoids," the Paleo approach to food, drink, and lifestyle started to become an obvious choice. Obvious for me, anyway. Like many of us, I'd gone through phases of avoiding red meat, trying on vegetarian, toying with vegan, low-fat, low carb, low protein, high protein, heavy supplement use. Still, in my heart of hearts, I'm a meat-eater, a happy carnivore. I can easily fantasize about thick rare steaks, carpaccio, lamb shanks, and lobster. I grew up eating raw lamb and frog legs. Paleo sounded perfectly fine to me. I could easily do without grains and legumes.

Uh, what was I thinking? GK would happily, very happily, forgo meat entirely. He will eat it, but he most definitely did not want, does not want, any association with a diet that revels in it. Though Paleo is certainly not all about gnawing on knuckle bones and emphasises real food, including lots of vegetables, it may elicit visions of cave men with clubs eating raw flesh. And did I mention this man practically lives for potatoes and beans? Seriously, I could serve beans twice a day, every day, and he would be thrilled. I didn't even think of all that as I talked excitedly about finally finding a grove that seemed to fit, about bloggers and cooks who used ingredients I could actually eat and shared recipes I could use without constant substitution. I also missed what should have been an even more obvious shift. I was now talking about a personal choice, a positive move toward something I wanted, not just escape from the pain of the last few years.

So as I embraced Paleo foods, GK quietly took another stand. He didn't ask me to change the foods I bought or ate. And thankfully, he's not one of those scary people who likes to slip offending foods onto your plate just to show you. No, it wasn't horrid; it was just weird. He started picking up cheeses when we shopped, stood looking longingly at the bread section before slipping a loaf of sprouted grain bread into the cart, and asked for oatmeal. The contents of my kitchen started changing.

And then came the big guns; he wouldn't eat the meals I'd cooked. He said there was too much meat or too much fat. He asked for beans and sandwiches and oatmeal with raisins. Yikes! Who was this? What happened to the man who said he didn't mind at all? The one who said he could just eat those foods when he was in a restaurant? The one who was happy to eat scrambled eggs instead of his beloved oatmeal?

We are working out the kinks in all this still. Since I cook and he cleans, I've agreed to add some meals where meat is optional, others where it plays a less significant role. Though our meals had never been meat-fests, they must have seemed that way to him. It is, of course, more complicated now, and I worry sometimes about cross-contamination, but heck, ya do what ya gotta do. I guess I should still count myself pretty lucky.