Category Archives: Musings


D.I.Y. Peanut Butter, Revisited

The Great Peanut Butter Emergency of late winter 2014 (see my original post here) got me started on making my own peanut butter. As promised, I continued experimenting with that original recipe; with the changes I’ve made, it now rivals my favorite store-bought brand in texture and spreadability (go to the revised recipe here). In terms of flavor, IMHO, it’s better! Fresh, warm peanut butter (think fresh-baked bread), with its heady aromas, delicious flavors, and exceptional mouth-feel, is so good! It’s a 3-D movie compared to its stick-figure flipbook of a store-bought cousin.

We’re eating more peanut butter than ever. Emboldened, the DD wants to branch out into almond butter and cashew butter. She tries peanut butter with almost anything. Some of her recent trials:

  • green olives (yum)
  • sliced bananas (grudging OK from the girl who only ever allows bananas to pass the security gates of her lips in the form of banana-nut-chocolate chip muffins)
  • mashed potatoes (yuck)
  • figs (OMG! That’s disgusting!)

She ought to have a blog.

The secret to great homemade peanut butter is in roasting the nuts, grinding them while they’re still piping hot, and then processing them until they’re whipped. In the spirit of complete transparency, the DD prefers the flavor of the PB without additional roasting. The image of the (empty) jar of “Better Butter” peanut butter at the top of the post is one that she made and labeled. In my rival marketing campaign, I’m calling my peanut butter “Bestest Butter.” She likes a mellower flavor so that she can really pile it on, but I like the full-bodied flavor and darker color that additional roasting brings out. Of course, the beauty of homemade is that if you like a mild-tasting PB, you can skip the additional roasting and simply grind the peanuts as described in the recipe. Which do you prefer? The lighter original or the robust revised version?

Soylent: fix or flub?

If you could replace some or all your food with a nutritionally balanced drink, would you? Maybe you’re too busy, or you just don’t feel like cooking. Maybe you’re on a tight budget. Instead of filling up at the Golden Arches, grabbing chips or an energy bar, or nuking up a frozen entrée, you could sip on something healthful, filling, and easy to make instead. And when it was a good time for you, you could go ahead and have a nice meal. Sound appealing? There’s already a product that claims to meet this need: Soylent.

But before you run out and buy Soylent (though actually, you’d just click the “Buy Now!” button on your browser and then wait for the UPS truck) or pull out your lab kit to mix some up based on the original recipe, made available by Soylent’s creators, take a few moments to consider the flip side. A steady diet of Soylent is thought by many to be downright boring, and is acknowledged even by its proponents as unapologetically functional. Many users also report serious problems with gas — though this is supposed to, if you’ll excuse the pun, pass after a week. Also, no long-term scientific studies have been conducted to test its claimed benefits, or even its basic safety.

Soylent didn’t create the problem of lives that are so busy that eating (never mind cooking!) becomes a chore satisfied with whatever might be convenient and crammed into the spare minutes in between commitments. As you might expect from a Cozy Foodie, I prefer the ideal of cherishing these necessary pauses in the day, but at least Soylent is trying to ameliorate the problem by making sure that we get adequate nutrition. However, I worry that a product like Soylent will exacerbate the problem because it makes it that much easier to skip meals.

Superficially, test tube nutrition may look appealing. People can get adequate nutrition at a relatively low cost, at the same time sidestepping the problems of a diet of hyper-processed food products and of contemporary industrial agriculture: pollution, water waste, overuse of antibiotics, and superbugs. But it remains to be seen whether test tube nutrition is yet another technological fix with unforeseen consequences in a long line of supposed solutions for the basic problem of how to feed the hungry. For example, the industrial model of agriculture led to monocultures which led to pest infestations that destroyed entire crops. Chemical pesticides were created to counter these pests, but pesticide-resistant pests evolved, leading to the need for ever-more toxic pesticides and genetically modified plants that can withstand the pesticides. I won’t recount all of the problems of industrial agriculture here, but knowing this history, we should study the costs and imagine the consequences of advocating the widespread use of test tube nutrition.

First and foremost, we don’t really know enough about nutrition to know what is optimal, and eating a wide variety of foods may be better than taking in only a limited, pre-defined panel of nutrients. Supporters of Soylent assert the obverse: that people don’t know if they are getting optimal nutrition even by eating a wide variety of foods, and that by using the scientific method for formulating new iterations of Soylent, people can hone in on what we need to function at our best. Regardless, even in its current iteration, Soylent may still be a better alternative compared to a diet consisting primarily of McFood. And there are also limits to arguing that we should eat what humans evolved to eat, given that modern agriculture has taken homo sapiens far afield from our hunter-gatherer days. But it doesn’t necessarily follow that test tube nutrition is better than food, and at this point, I’d still take my chances with food, from a nutritional as well as a social standpoint.

I can imagine is a society where people who rely on government assistance (either SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or WIC, the special supplemental foods program for women, infants, and children) must receive all or some portion of that assistance in the form of test tube nutrition. It would be an economical solution, and people would be assured of receiving better nutrition than a diet consisting primarily of highly processed food products. With better nutrition, long-term savings in medical costs should also accrue. However, we would also create a society with a pool of second-class citizens who couldn’t afford food and a privileged minority who could. An historical parallel can be seen in the promotion of potatoes in Europe as a cheap, nutritionally complete source of nutrition for peasants and laborers. This population was thought to require nutrition and not pleasure, reinforcing class distinctions. I’m really uncomfortable with creating a class-based entitlement of this sort. And when the potato blight hit northern Europe in the 1840s, the effects were catastrophic and long lasting. What would happen if there was a shortage of a key ingredient in a test tube nutrition product?

If meals are consigned to leisure time events, akin to hobbies, fewer people than ever will cook. The makers of Soylent argue that what they term “leisure meals” can still be part of our culture, but if people don’t cook their day-to-day meals, they won’t learn the skills to cook, much less to make high-stakes special-occasion meals. Food will become another area where the overwhelming majority of people simply consume products rather than create them, like making clothes, furniture, toys, music, or art. We each answer the question of what is the right balance of consumption versus production, but at the very least, I think we should make our choices in a thoughtful way instead of simply grasping at what appears to be a convenient solution to a difficult problem.

Another troubling issue is that test tube nutrition is yet another step away from something essentially vital — in all the meanings of the word: of or pertaining to life, having remarkable energy or force of personality, being necessary for or a source of life, indispensable. I don’t know whether our bodies and our spirits can be so easily compartmentalized, so that the needs of one can be met without regard to the other. If eating is a sensual act, maybe that makes test tube nutrition a sense-less act. Over the long haul, our spirits may suffer from such a mechanical idea of nutrition. After all, our bodies aren’t cars. We’re not just refueling our bodies at meal times; we’re also engaging our senses in ways that help us to center ourselves and reconnect us to our communities. When the DD was a toddler, for example, she could never simply start playing with her friends. She had to share a snack with them before she felt comfortable enough to play with them. Sharing food with her friends is still an important way for them to bond. Nowadays, instead of preparing meals and sharing them with our families, too often I hear that it’s necessary to schedule Mommy-and-me or Daddy-and-me dates, sign up for social skills and etiquette classes for kids, or hire social managers for adults.  Perhaps people, being the endlessly inventive creatures that we are, will create other products to replace the sensual enjoyment of eating and new activities for structuring our social time. We need to have a better understanding of the relationship between overscheduled lives, frayed social relationships, and the devaluation of meals.

Writing this post reminded me that an important component of meals is the pleasure and satisfaction that I get from preparing food and eating it. There’s something essentially human about that. When I’m “too busy” to cook or eat, it usually isn’t because I’m doing something else that brings me deep joy or fulfillment. More often than not, it’s just busywork. In this day and age, we need to make conscious choices for doing things that contribute positively to our lives. If using test tube nutrition gave me an opportunity for that, then I’d be for it. Otherwise, I’ll pass. How about you? Do you see test tube nutrition becoming a part of your daily routine?


Cheers! Ganbei! Salud! Tchin chin! Prost!

Why save toasts for holidays and rare milestones? New Year and all the other traditional holidays when toasts are made only come once a year. The last wedding I went to was about 10 years ago, and the next one might not be until the DD gets married. Instead of waiting for an occasion to raise a glass to, we should raise our glasses and create occasions to celebrate.

My family has gotten into doing this in the last couple of months. As we sit down for dinner, we’ll raise our glasses — no bubbles in a fluted glass, just cold milk or maybe beer or wine — to something good or positive in our day. Here are some things we’ve toasted to:

  • celebrating a good swim or run (*gasp*pant*)
  • getting through a(nother) test at school
  • good deeds
  • finishing a blog post
  • finishing a project
  • friends
  • meeting a goal
  • surviving the week
  • the dinner in front of us
  • the rain (we live in California, a.k.a. Land O’Lakebeds)

You get the idea. We’re not curing cancer or achieving world peace, but each of these small accomplishments deserve a nod. And we’re not religious, so we don’t say grace over our meal, but pausing for a moment to acknowledge what is going well in our lives, or what we are thankful for, transcends religion and feeds our spirits. According to psychological studies, participating in rituals before eating increases our enjoyment of food. Maybe that’s one reason why the family has been saying that dinner tastes so good ;-)

What will you raise your glass to at dinner tonight?

Source: “To Savor the Flavor, Perform a Short Ritual First,” in Association for Psychological Science. Published: July 22, 2013. Accessed: May 18, 2014. <>


D.I.Y. Peanut butter

I stared at the gaping space on the shelf where our favorite peanut butter usually was. I should have seen it coming, but like all such calamities, I didn’t understand the signs until it was too late….

It started small, as these things usually do, just a small gap on the grocery store shelf. The crunchy peanut butter was missing. No biggy. We weren’t completely out; if we were frugal, we would last another week with what we had at home. A few days of peanut-butterless existence wouldn’t be the end of the world.

The next week, when I returned to the grocery store, still no crunchy peanut butter. I just shrugged my shoulders and thought, “Well, I’ll try the smooth.”

But the third week rolled around, and the full enormity of the disaster finally forced itself on me… like a cavernous hole on the grocery store shelf. No crunchy peanut butter. No smooth peanut butter. I stared at that vacant real estate. How could I go home without peanut butter? There would be bitter recriminations, riots, chaos.

Then the proverbial light bulb turned on. Why not make my own peanut butter? The stuff I usually get has just the one ingredient: organic roasted peanuts. How hard could it be? At $2.99 a pound for bulk organic roasted peanuts, it would be worth trying. I helped myself to a couple of scoops of peanuts, and brought them home.

A couple of days later, we got to the bottom of the jar of the store-bought P.B. I screwed up my courage, pulled out the food processor, tossed in the nuts, and started pulsing. The nuts were quickly pulverized. Once they were mealy crumbs, they stayed that way, but undeterred, I pushed everything down, and kept pushing the ‘Pulse’ button on the food processor. Finally, the peanuts transformed into familiar gooey peanut-buttery goodness. I reached in, took a tentative taste. Still grainy, but not bad, so I ran the processor some more, until the P.B. gathered itself up in a rough ball and rode around on the blades. I tasted again. My D.I.Y. P.B. had a delicate flavor, and a satisfying, slightly grainy, mouthfeel. The store-bought P.B. had a more robust peanut flavor, a darker color, and was smoother, but I thought my P.B. was pretty good for an improvised effort. The DD and DS both liked my D.I.Y. P.B. better that the store-bought, and told me not to bother getting the store-bought anymore. Armageddon averted!

The next day, we had an unexpected (mostly vegetarian) guest who stayed for lunch. I scoured the pantry and fridge to pull together a meal, and put together a salad, a loaf of brown soda bread, and cheese, hummus, and that D.I.Y. P.B., thinking the kids and I could stick to the P.B. and cheese, and our guest would enjoy the hummus, but he dug into that P.B. and kept on digging! He loved it!

O.K. Now I felt encouraged. This week, still no P.B. on the grocery store shelf. I bought another bag of peanuts, and this time, I tried adding peanuts into the work bowl of the food processor in two stages to see if I could make crunchy P.B.

It’s good peanut butter. It’s cheaper than store-bought. And it takes about 5 minutes to make. Sounds like a win-win-win to me!

I’m sharing the recipe, even though I plan to keep playing with it (stay tuned for updates). Many peanut butters have added salt and honey or sugar, not to mention oil, but since my favorite store-brand doesn’t have any added ingredients, there ought to be a way to get the same results at home. Will roasting the peanuts a little more boost the peanut flavor and deepen the color? Even longer processing? My grocery store only stocks one species of peanut, but do different peanut species make better or worse peanut butters? What do you think? Do you prefer P.B. with just peanuts, or with added salt, sweetener, and/or oil?


Update: 2014 New Year’s Resolutions

I hope the DH is flexing his fingers, because I’ve just crossed the finish line of my 2014 New Year’s Resolutions challenge. You know what that means, don’t you? He’s going to be treating me to a massage.… there’s that tight spot right behind my shoulder blades…. Aaaah!

But I’m sure that you’re more interested in how the Crazy Foodie Whole Grains and Tofu Challenge turned out, right? My goal was to serve whole grains and tofu at least once a week for six weeks. Here’s the week-by-week break down (recipe sources for new recipes are at the bottom):

Week 1

  • Pepperoni pizza and Hawaiian pizza on 100% white whole wheat crust.
  • Short grain brown rice (with black bean, sausage, and sweet potato soup).
  • Oops! What happened? I forgot to make something with tofu!

Week 2

  • Short grain brown rice bowl with oven-baked miso glazed tofu, red peppers and kimchi (Shulman) New! Too much like red rice with miso-roasted squash, leeks, red pepper, and tofu (also from Shulman), so it was good, but we preferred the other recipe.
  • Buttermilk rye bread (King Arthur) New! Pastrami on rye was ubiquitous in New York City delis and diners when I was growing up — I’m sure they still are — but I couldn’t pass up the hot open-faced turkey sandwiches (on white bread, of course) smothered in gravy, so I never got acquainted with rye. What a revelation! We loved the heady flavor and sturdy texture of this quick bread.

Week 3

  • Stir-fried rainbow peppers, eggplant, and tofu (Shulman) New! (with short grain brown rice) Loved the interplay of textures and flavors: roasted eggplant melting in your mouth, crunchy peppers, and meaty tofu. Beautiful colors, and the earthy aroma of hoisin sauce! Adjusted the proportions of the ingredients from the printed recipe to suit my family’s taste.
  • Short grain brown rice (with beef curry).

Week 4

  • Pine nut-parmesan biscuits (King Arthur) New! Everyone really loved these flaky biscuits except me. I thought they were a little too salty, and the flavor of the pine nuts might be brought out more by toasting them first. With a little adjusting, this recipe has potential.
  • Tofu in creamy nut butter sauce with scallions served with roasted brown rice with gomasio (Kaufmann) New! Roasting short grain brown rice lightened up its texture and punched up the nutty aromas of the rice. I could eat gomasio — a traditional Japanese condiment made of toasted sesame seeds and salt ground to a coarse powder — sprinkled on top of rice every day for the rest of my life!

Week 5

  • Brown basmati rice with onions, peas, and corn.
  • Seared tofu salad (inspired by “Grilled Tofu Salad,” in Hugo Arnold’s The Wagamama Cookbook) New! I used the printed recipe as a springboard, because the bean sprouts that the original recipe called for wouldn’t keep long enough, and also, I forgot to get some other key ingredients… doh! But we all loved the results, so check out the recipe here.

Week 6

  • Long grain brown rice (with red beans and rice).
  • Soba noodles with tofu (which counts for both tofu and whole grains, since soba noodles are made with buckwheat) (Shulman)

Final grade? A-. How embarrassing! I didn’t even realize that I missed the first week’s tofu dinner until I went back over my dinner journal. Still, it’s a decent track record, and a good mix of new recipes and picks from the recipe box.

I’ll raise the bar for my next challenge: can I keep both my resolutions for another 9 weeks? Remember that the recipe for the seared tofu salad in week 5 is here. Drop me a line if you’d like to hear about any of the other recipes that I mentioned!


I gave a short review of these sources (except for Hugo Arnold’s book) in my post, 2014 New Year’s Resolutions.

  • Hugo Arnold, The Wagamama Cookbook (Kyle Books, 2004).
  • Julie Kaufmann and Beth Hensperger, The Ultimate Rice Cooker Cookbook (Harvard Common Press, 2002).
  • King Arthur Flour, Whole Grain Baking: Delicious Recipes Using Nutritious Whole Grains (Countryman Press, 2006).
  • Martha Rose Shulman, “Recipes for Health,” in The New York Times.



2014 New Year’s Resolutions

We’re in that time of year when resolutions abound. The funny thing is that nobody I’ve talked to personally admits to having any resolutions of their own, but nonetheless, resolutions are floating around out there, like a virus or a deep-seated anxiety. Maybe I was careless about breathing in too deeply as I chatted with my friend over tea? Or when I was washing my hands at the movie theater and eavesdropping on the gossiping and texting teens? Or when I made eye contact with the man behind me at the grocery store? But I caught the New Year’s Resolution bug: the first is to pick up writing again, and the second is to incorporate more whole grains and tofu into my cooking.

Of course, it’s really no bad thing, this aspiration for self improvement, but I know how hard it is to keep up the momentum and create a permanent “new normal.” A handful of general “rules” helps, and I wrote about them in my first posts from 2013. I am applying this process to my own resolutions.

In terms of starting to write again, as you may have noticed, I’ve been on a hiatus from blogging since September. The reasons don’t really matter, the important thing is that I want to start again. My goal is to write 4 times a week for 30 minutes a day. I need to change my habit of doing everything else before I write, so before I check email, or call my mom, or clean the kitchen, I will write. Keeping track of my progress on a spreadsheet will help me visualize my success or need for improvement. If I can meet my weekly writing goal for 6 weeks, then my reward will be a massage (thank you, DH)!


Whole grains and tofu aren’t new in my kitchen, but in 2014, I want to include them regularly in my weekly menus. My goal is to serve tofu and whole grains for dinner, not necessarily at the same time, once a week. At the very least, I want to have brown rice frozen in small(er) servings that I can use any time. I need to be more consistent about using recipe sources I already know about, and I also need to keep an eye out for fresh ideas. I’ll keep track of my progress in my dinner diary. And adding more delicious, healthful dishes to my repertoire is reward enough to keep me motivated (though I wouldn’t mind another massage, hint-hint). These are some resources that I’ve already found useful:

  • The Ultimate Rice Cooker Cookbook by Julie Kaufmann and Beth Hensperger (Harvard Common Press). I have the 2002 edition, but there’s a revised 2012 edition. I skimmed the recipe titles of the first six sections of the table of contents, and except for three recipes that have been removed, the 2002 and 2012 editions look the same. I like the basic cooking instructions for many varieties of rice and grains in “The Perfect Pot of Rice” and “The Whole Grain Cooker.” The family loves Basmati Rice with Corn and Peas with brown basmati rice instead of white, and I want to try substituting brown rice in other recipes in “Simple Everyday Rices and Little Meals” and “The Family of Pilafs.”
  • Whole Grain Baking: Delicious Recipes Using Nutritious Whole Grains by King Arthur Flour (Countryman Press, 2006). For every day, the sections on quick breads, and biscuits, popovers, and dumplings have some known winners: Honey-Whole Wheat Biscuits and Peach-Oatmeal Bread are mouth-watering, and the Spelt Popovers are already a family favorite. When there’s more time, Dark & Soft Restaurant Dinner Rolls, Whole Wheat Pita, and Wheat Baguettes have been scrumptious. Can’t wait to try other recipes, especially those featuring other types of grains.
  • One of the obstacles to eating more tofu has been that I prefer dishes that are at least Asian-based — to me, tofutti and tofurky are just tofunky — and I have only a handful of recipes that we all enjoy. But Martha Rose Shulman, who writes the Recipes for Health column in the New York Times, has some promising possibilities that I’m looking forward to trying. Her Red-Rice or Farro With Miso-Roasted Squash, Leeks, Red Peppers and Tofu, for example, introduced me to red rice, with its appealing brown-red color and nutty flavor. The dish is a beautiful combination of colors, textures, and flavors, and the marinade is equally tasty on tofu and veggies. If her other tofu recipes are just as delish, I’ll have lots of great additions to my recipe box!

Where do you find delicious, easy, healthful recipes featuring whole grains or tofu? What resolutions do you have for 2014? I’ll share my progress as 2014 unfolds. Wish me luck!


Michael Pollan and the alchemy of cooking

Cooks are modern-day alchemists and mages. We are sensualists, spiritual pilgrims, and death-defying stuntmen. We are healers, change agents, and activists. Our day-to-day routines may obscure these awesome truths, but Michael Pollan’s latest book, Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation (Penguin, 2013), is a heartening reminder. In the second half of May, I had the pleasure of hearing Pollan twice—once in a radio interview, and then live at a book signing in the San Francisco Bay Area—as he “entice[d] people into the kitchen by showing them how interesting and pleasurable it can be.” Of course, with Cozy Foodies, he is preaching to the choir, but he sure has a knack for connecting the dots between good food and cooking, and just about everything that is (or should be) central to living well.

Frankly, I like the idea of a little sorcery in my everyday life. But to become adept at transforming those lumps of leaden raw ingredients into golden morsels of food, you need a few more things. Pollan draws an analogy between cooking and doing yoga: both require patience, practice, and presence. I don’t do yoga (Ssh. Don’t tell anyone! They’ll take away my license to live in the Bay Area!), but sometimes I do a mindful breathing exercise, and—man!—it’s hard to keep your mind only on breathing. Every seventeen seconds or so, my mind shifts to thinking about the worry du jour or the obsession of the moment. But, on good days, cooking is like meditating: I become solely focused on the activity of dicing and slicing, and everything else melts away. My brain quiets down; I’m calm and relaxed. The activity of cooking can be, in and of itself, a moment of living well.

Living well means coming to terms with death. Cooking means that I must grapple with death: as an omnivore graphically contemplating the animal who gave its life to nourish me, but also in the act of fermentation, which Pollan piquantly calls “the management of rot.” It’s not polite, but it is true. Thinking about rot and other earthy topics isn’t comforting when I bite into a well-matured piece of cheese that’s been hiding in the back corner of my deli drawer (I sure hope that was Gorgonzola!). Understanding fermentation, however, adds an extra layer of interest and depth to things like bread, beer, or yogurt. And when I really pause to allow the thought to percolate, it’s also a spiritual one too, in an “ashes to ashes” kind of way. Do you know what I mean?

By now, people’s eyes tend to glaze over when they hear that making more home cooked meals is an important way to take charge of our health or to strengthen our family bonds, so I won’t gnaw on that old bone again. But cooking is also a way to take part in “maker” culture, the D.I.Y. movement—it’s hip and fashionable! Who doesn’t want to be more in control of their lives? By making our own food more of the time, we challenge the balance of power between corporate food producers and ourselves when we cook. As Pollan notes, we don’t outsource our workouts and hobbies; why should we outsource so much of our cooking, an activity that is essential to better health and can be a source of deep satisfaction?

Many of these Big Ideas have knocked around in the old thinker at one point or another, so it’s affirming to have them displayed beautifully like a bouquet of roses. There is so much upside to cooking for ourselves; I’m ready to roll up my sleeves and do some magic! How about you?

A foodie at the pro b-ball game

At the end of March, the DS and I went to the Oakland Warriors v. Portland Trailblazers basketball game with his swim team, which had reserved the Skybox. I’m not a basketball fan, but I figured I’d just go for the experience. The outing left an impression on me, but not because of the game play; what has stayed with me was what a whacky total-immersion cultural experience it was—kind of like going to Disneyland, but not as much fun—and the schizophrenic food messages embedded in it.

Happy pop music with a driving beat, amplified to a mind-numbing roar, set the mood as we climbed up to the entrance of Oracle Arena. As we passed security, near-continuous chatter by an M.C. was layered onto the throbbing music so that conversations had to be carried on at a quiet shout. We were drowned in odors blasting from the fried-food vendors. Eye-popping billboards screamed for our attention. Basketball per se was sandwiched in between hula and maori dancing demos (it was Pacific Islander Day, coincidentally); peppy cheerleaders in small outfits shaking their things (and I’m not talking about their pom poms); stuntmen making improbable baskets after bounding acrobatically from a trampoline; couples encouraged to kiss, or audience members to dance, on camera; and lots of advertiser-sponsored breaks.

And here’s where the head-trip really hits a Cozy Foodie, and why I’m writing this post. Throughout the evening, we were bombarded with bizarre food messages. Let me set the stage. “Guests” are forbidden from bringing “outside” food or beverages into the arena. It’s an understandable precaution when a friend pointed out that it’s impossible for security to distinguish water from vodka, but Cynical Foodie that I am, I thought about the unfettered profit margins that could be wrung from the captive audience. Indeed, water went for $5.50 for 1.25 pints; prices went up from there. The food choices ran the usual gamut of fast food options: burgers, chicken tenders, pizza, fries, nachos, popcorn, beer, and soda. But while fans downed their greasy cardboard pizza, they gazed up at Lucky Supermarket’s full-color, bigger-than-life banners advertising healthy meal choices; during the game, the M.C. asked rhetorically which meal the fans would choose, but nobody could actually get any of those healthy meals at the arena. Lucky also sponsored a break where a fan was pulled from the stands: if he could make a basket, he would win free groceries, but the poor schlub missed all his throws. Seems like Lucky wasn’t so lucky for anyone that night. Meanwhile, McDonald’s parachute drops with coupons, and advertisements for 20 chicken McNuggets for $4.99, had people practically diving and wrestling in the aisles. And coupons for free 16-ounce smoothies from Jamba Juice if the Warriors won and kept the Trailblazers from scoring 100 points or more fed the frenzy of the home crowd.

The group of swimmers I was with eventually did find dinner at a small stand tucked behind a big column. Staffed by two African American women, it purportedly sold Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches, but which were really just heros dressed up with a large slice of cucumber, shaved carrots, and some cilantro on top. A bunch of us opted for these as the best option. I ate my banh mi and was hungry again before the end of the game. When I got home, I snacked on leftover chicken fajitas in the quiet coolness of my kitchen with the lights turned down low, ruminating about this upside-down trip where I paid a lot to have a three-ring circus shot at me from point-blank range so that ads could then be injected directly into my inert, overwhelmed brain. Now that’s entertainment!

Obviously, I wasn’t the target audience for pro b-ball. I’d rather clear poison oak! …from around the base of that tree with the wasp’s nest! …(it’s not even my tree, or my poison oak!) …on a high pollen count day! …than go to another game. I’m only exaggerating a little. But if I ever do go to another game, say hello, you’ll recognize me. I’ll be the Crazy Foodie with the empty water bottle that I can fill at a fountain after I get past security.



Pneumonia’s Silver Lining

I don’t recommend pneumonia, from which I have been recuperating since the beginning of the month. IMHO, the only upside to this nasty bug has been—once I was on the road to recovery—the incredible sensation of eating “regular” food again. For a  small handful of days, I drank only water, and I ate only that quintessential Chinese comfort food: rice porridge (also known as jook or congee). Too tired to put any effort into savory stir-ins, I simply had my jook with some fried gluten (an admittedly unappetizing name, but neither is “vegetarian mock duck”) or 5-spice baked tofu and edamame, with some fruit on the side. That’s all that I wanted.

When I was ready to vary my diet again, I nibbled on a few tablespoons of plain grilled chicken, cut into small bite-sized pieces, and boiled, sliced carrots. I felt like a baby trying chicken and carrots for the first time: the flavor of each of these foods burst in my mouth like an intense and complex display of fireworks. The apparently tough texture of the chicken had me chewing like a cow on her cud, but the carrots were smooth and soothing. I wasn’t sure I liked chicken: it was overpowering and rubbery. But how do you explain the flavor of chicken? Carrots? Any food? It’s like trying to explain anything you feel with your senses: impossible. But the sensation recalled vividly my memory of the faces the DD and DS made when they tried foods for the first time: wondering, curious, grimacing, gumming, surprised, dubious, skeptical, and then, if they liked it, the bottomless open maw with a desperately groping hand as the spoon approached. If they didn’t like it, their mouths were shut tight like Fort Knox, and they did everything they could to swat the spoon away or move their heads in the opposite direction from the terrible idea of another mouthful of the awful stuff.

Over the next few days, I slowly rediscovered pork, broccoli, udon, Nappa cabbage, and so on. I was forced to eat slowly; if I ate too fast, I would feel out of breath and tired. I wanted only a little bit: chewing, again, was tiring, but the flavors were so intense that even a little bit was enough (not to mention the fact that I didn’t really need a whole lot of food, since I was essentially sleeping, napping, and resting all day). This process brought home the realization of the extent to which I usually take the look, flavors, and textures of food for granted. It reminded me of an article I read last year about mindful eating (“Mindful Eating as Food for Thought,” by Jeff Gordinier, in The New York Times, Feb.12, 2012). After reading it, I sometimes tried eating at least a few bites of a meal with this Buddhist concept in mind: doing nothing but chewing, tasting, and being in the moment of eating my meal. I didn’t stick with the program though. There are too many distractions: talking to the family, thinking about  what happened with the day or what would be happening after the meal, snatching a few minutes to read the newspaper or a book while I eat. This experience of discovering food anew reawakens my appreciation and gratitude for food. I hope that I can maintain this awareness and slow down, at least for a few bites, when I eat my meals!

Photo by p.Gordon