Yolks on you

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I think something fowl is going on. What is with this latest egg obsession? Runny eggs on burgers and in Pho…among other things…egg whites in/on perfectly good cocktails. I’m not a fan. I enjoy the unfertilized ovum of chickens. I like them scrambled, fried, boiled. In all cases, I like the eggs fully cooked. I like eggs cooked well. I realize this is subjective. But subjectivity is the basis for most blogs. I never claimed to be a food journalist, after all.

Humans have eaten eggs for thousands of years. Not just bird eggs. Reptile eggs, fish eggs, even some eggs of mammals, turn up on menus and plates. The most common eggs eaten by people are chicken eggs. They are full of protein and can be prepared so many ways and in so many dishes, sweet, savory and everything in between.

Generally, I am not the kind of person to turn down an edible purely because I don’t think I’ll like it. (After all, I’m not four years old.) I’ll try just about anything once. Ok…sometimes twice or more if I forget I didn’t like it or if I am trying to convince myself that I should like it because so many other people do. I’ve applied this tactic to beets (still hate them), black licorice (still a nope), oysters (mind changed, I like them now…in the right circumstances), fennel (happy surprise, I really like it roasted, hate it raw)…so I’m open and willing to give things another try. This is not the case with eggs.

I watch A LOT of food television. PBS, Food Network, Cooking Channel, Travel Channel, BBC…if there is a food/cooking show on TV, radio, podcast, I’m all in. Very few don’t pique my interest. Some shows have an entertainment factor, like, Iron Chef or Chopped. Others are informational (Parts Unknown, Bizarre Foods). Still others are a combination (Good Eats, for example.) In so many of these shows, I hear people get full of affection for a runny egg (an egg with a very soft, barely cooked yolk) also known as a “dippy egg” in some parts, poached eggs or soft boiled eggs. *You should know that I got a little queasy just typing that last sentence. Seriously. Sigh…ok.  I just don’t get it. And maybe it is the idea of what it will taste like or feel like more than the reality. I’m not sure. In another blog post I speak about my love of sauces. As I understand the egg’s description, the runny yolk becomes some version of a delicious sauce when it spills over food or is a dip for toast. Again, I don’t get it.

I’ve talked about my runny egg issue with others. I find there to be two camps: the “OMG you don’t know what you’re missing” folks; and the “Ewwww, I’m right there with you…that is some nasty mess” folks. I used to think it was cultural. Then I was dismayed by finding people I expected to be in Camp Yum in Camp Yuk and vice versa. Such is life. You can’t judge an egg by its shell. So others are of no help. In the case of the runny egg it seems to be, like most tastes, very individual.

Are we born this way? Maybe. My eight year old is offended by the sight on a runny egg on a burger “Why ruin a perfectly good burger?” but this little human has limited experience with food, so…. I was raised by people who kill dead proteins another time, just to be safe. So there was no chance I’d become the kind of person who enjoyed under cooked foods. I have never had or been seated next to anyone who has eaten a poached egg (at least they didn’t eat one in my presence). To date I am still given weird looks for wanting a med-rare steak or burger at the cookout. When hosting, I have to be sure that I prepare meats with a gradation of temperatures so all the meat eaters can be happy. Even delicate fish like salmon, will get side-eye if Auntie doesn’t think I’ve cooked it “long enough”. I’ve even had to send salmon back at restaurants because they over cooked it. So, I’m not a well-done-or-none eater. I feel like all foods have their optimal temperature of done. Eggs are known to be more easily digested when cooked. With me, the eggs must be firm throughout. (Am I making this clear?)

And don’t get me started on Balut eggs. Look it up. I can’t say more or I will actually be sick and I’d like to finish this piece (or it will languish in “drafts” like so many others).

Now, don’t get me wrong: I’ve eaten raw and under-cooked eggs. I know…stay with me. These specimen have been cleverly disguised. As long as I can’t see or taste the offending egg, then I’m fine (mostly…I have to not think about it too). Product #1: Eggnog. I absolutely LOVE the stuff. It is holiday magic. Creamy, boozy, holiday dessert in a glass. I also enjoy it without the booze. I enjoy it from Thanksgiving until the Epiphany. If I can store some, I may be able to stretch the season, but I rarely do this as it takes away from the magic of the holiday season. (Because otherwise, I’d make it year round.) Product #2: French Silk Pie. A rare treat and it doesn’t matter to me that I could make it with pasteurized eggs (true in almost any recipe that calls for raw eggs and is fact recommended)…because I like following traditional, classic recipes to the letter). Besides, chocolate, cream and sugar…if raw eggs gild this lily, bring it. Product #3: Pasta carbonara. This one just skirts the edge for me. The egg is not cooked. In the dish it does create a type of sauce for the pasta. But again, the yolk is cleverly disguised by the flavors of onion, bacon, garlic, cheese. I was plenty leery when I made this for the first time, but was won over after the first bite. I don’t know why I can’t have the same reaction so soft cooked eggs generally.

It also doesn’t help to see this on every recipe or menu with eggs: “Note: Raw eggs should not be used in food, consumed or  prepared for pregnant women, babies, young children, or anyone whose health is compromised.” See, this statement basically says “no one should eat raw eggs”, because how are we to know when our “health is compromised” until it is actually compromised? Many of us are walking around “compromised” and don’t even know it. The primary risk being avoided here is salmonellosis. (An infection caused by the salmonella bacteria.) Is consuming raw egges high risk or low risk? Depends on the individual. Eating, generally is risky. After all, one could choke on a pretzel. Some hazards are happenstance. Some can be avoided. Some are worth taking. For me, I’ll pass on the under-cooked fowl eggs.

One last note just to add to my quirkiness: I also don’t like over-cooked or “hard” eggs. I’m Goldilocks when it comes to eggs, I guess.

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When you just don’t feel like cooking…

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I am not a professional chef or cook. I know a lot about food. I enjoy learning about food. And of course I enjoy eating good food. What qualifies as “good food” though? Well, that depends. Overall, it has to be something I want to eat, it has to be tasty and it has to be well-prepared. I’ve been called “picky”, “difficult”, “complicated” and more when it comes to my food preferences. I don’t agree. My desires are not predictable. That much is true. But anyone who knows me knows what I like to eat, just not when. For that reason, I can’t really be surprised with food. (Though, there are a few things someone could bring me and I will always be happy to have it even if I don’t eat it right away: a Blimpie Best sandwich, a pint of good ice cream, a bag of chocolate covered pretzels, fresh salmon filet–skin on, my favorite pizza.) But sometimes, when I don’t feel like cooking, just about anything will do.

Any home-cooking expert will tell us the most important thing to have is a well-stocked pantry. This usually means a very long list of staples (flour/s, sugar/s, rice/s, pasta/s, canned and bottled goodness, canned beans), a few specialty items (nuts, teas, dried fruits, spices, salts) and some items you can’t afford and wouldn’t know from where to source them. In my house, a well-stocked pantry and fridge contains some type of go-to food item that is easy to prepare, quick to make, and tasty. For us that can be pasta and a favorite jarred sauce, canned soup, Spaghetti O’s (those are just for me, no one else will eat them), a decent frozen pizza, assorted cereals, crackers, and various different cheeses. Fresh fruit is a given. We keep that on the dining room table. While this means we won’t starve, it isn’t always what we want to eat.

My favorite quick-easy-foolproof food is something I’ve made and frozen. This is ideal. I am a planner and long-range thinker when it comes to food, but even I have trouble with this one. Part of the problem is I cook a large entree and we will eat it for days. We have no problem with leftovers, especially when the food is tasty. If I want to freeze some of that chili or stew, I’ve got to remember to do that right away. Finding a quart of chili in the freezer is like waking up to discover the Tooth Fairy has left $40 under your pillow and you still have all of your teeth. Another problem for me is that I try to buy fresh and I don’t buy large quantities of anything from warehouse/shopping club type stores. I don’t even have a stand alone, chest freezer, so storage is a problem. Still, the best frozen meals are the ones I make myself. I just have to remember to do it.

Carry-out or delivery of food is an option for some, depending upon where one lives. I am accustomed to urban living. I expect to be able to order a pizza, Chinese, East Indian, chicken…whatever. It is such a part of my life that when I watch home buying shows, I wonder which house would have the better delivery options. I’ve been known to talk out loud to the shoppers, advising them not to choose the desolate (albeit suitable) home because “what if you want to order a pizza?”. Yes, delivery options or proximity to good carry-out is on my list of “must haves”. I am a homebody. I am an introvert. I like to eat at home, in comfy clothes and slippers. I couldn’t imagine living somewhere that required I always cook or get nicely dressed for a long drive to a nice restaurant. I keep a small binder of menus (delivery on one side and carry-out only on the other side). I started this binder pre GrubHub or Uber Eats when I worked in an office with few lunch or dinner options on site. I am old enough to still find hard-copy menus more appealing than looking at them on a screen that needs to be scrolled through. It also means we can see all of our options at once. Decision making is easier for me with menus in hand.

I am not a fan of fast-food. Not the way I used to be when I was a kid. I don’t know if the food have changed, my tastes have changed or a combination of both. I do feel like the quality of the food has declined. There are many more options, but they are not better options. Menus are larger, prices are higher (comparably), there are more fast-food restaurants to choose among. And let’s not talk about the service. Overall, I find the service at most chain fast-food outlets to be terrible. I mean really awful. So awful in fact, that it isn’t usually worth my time and effort to procure the janky meal to begin with. I spend time deciding, driving, waiting, dealing with surly service, ordering, checking to make sure they got it right, waiting again if not, driving some more, THEN eating. This process is made slightly less painful by taking advantage of the on-line ordering options some outlets have made available. Still the items need to be picked up and checked for accuracy. But at least human interaction and human error are mitigated. All of that said, sometimes this gal craves a Big Mac. Sure, I regret that decision shortly after consumption, but I didn’t have to cook it and if it is made well, it was good on the lips for a moment. Lastly, sometimes I just want a delicious salad. Salad is something fast-food outlets have not perfected. Who can blame them? Fresh vegetables are very fragile things. Add to that most people who want fast food do not want healthy food. There are a few places I can think of that do a fair job with salads: Chick-fil-a, Panera, Chipotle. Of course, some of the independent, local joints do a really good job with salad options. These are usually places likely to have a customer base that comes in and often orders a salad as or with their meal.

Finally, it is important that every person in the household who eats knows how to cook. Sure, we all won’t cook to the same level of aptitude. But we should all be able to cook a simple meal for the family if called upon to do so. In my house I am the primary cook. I mostly enjoy cooking and my family relies on my abilities and willingness to do it. The husband is getting better at building a repertoire of things he is confident preparing. He has some “Dad” standards such as: oatmeal, pancakes, hash browned potatoes. He can also heat up processed food with minimal help (provided he remembers to read the instructions on the box/can/package). The boy is the fledgling of the trio. He can make simple sandwiches, a bowl of cereal, toast. I have him assist some days when I make meals because I believe that is the best way for him to learn. I talk to him while we cook and I explain what I am doing and answer his questions. (Perhaps if I’d done this with the husband some twenty years ago, he’d be a better cook now. Oh well.) I am letting go of feeling like I always HAVE TO cook. This is a real challenge for me. The kitchen is mine. I don’t like going in there are discovering that someone has messed around in my pantry, moved things and repositioned items in the fridge, rearranged spices on the shelf. They may as well have rifled through my underwear drawer. Truly, it feels like that kind of violation. So I take the blame for being a control freak when it comes to the kitchen and all of its contents. Relaxing that grip and giving the other members of my family to make mistakes and accomplishments is helpful to us all. Because sometimes, I just don’t feel like cooking.

 

Sam’iches!

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The internet tells me that today is World/International Sandwich Day. Ugh. I am so weary of all of these made up “Day”s on the calendar. There is one for everything under the sun: coffee, chocolate, donuts, ice cream…sandwiches, you name it. If you, like me, really love food on a deeper level that just eating it to stay alive, then you probably try to fill your days with morsels of things you love. We don’t need a special day to honor particular foods. We eat what we like. If it is particularly good we thank the maker (lower case m), if we are very grateful and religious, we thank The Maker (big T, big M). I’ve fallen out of the habit of saying grace, but I am very happy and grateful to have food, tasty food, tasty food I didn’t have to cook…always. Are these “Day”s a marketing ploy? Perhaps. I really like sandwiches. If celebrating them means I can get one of my favorites, made by someone else, at a discount…sign me up. I will play along.

I don’t know when my love of sandwiches began. They seem to have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. When I transferred to a small Catholic school in second grade, I had to pack a lunch most days. Because that lunch had to be affordable and transportable and sit in my tin square suitcase for hours, sandwiches became the norm. During my childhood there were the usual menu staples: PB&J, tuna, bologna, egg salad, ham&cheese. And like a superstitious gambler, you played the same sandwich all week. I didn’t live in a household that offered a buffet of options. If mom bought bologna, that was the sandwich Monday-Friday (unless it was Lent, then it was PB&J on Fri or tuna, or egg salad, but only on Friday). These sandwiches were not fancy. It was the 1970’s, bread, filler, condiment, done. I did also have a matching Thermos in my lunchbox, so sometimes there was soup. But this was pre juice boxes and water bottles, so if a choice had to be made, I chose the beverage over soup. Then those little stubby Thermos bowl thingys became available, but you couldn’t fit one of those, the regular matching Thermos, the sandwich, and all of the rest (fruit, chips, cookies)…so…no. Add to that a parent with a limited income who says “you already have a Thermos…if you bring soup in it, drink water from the fountain…no, you can’t have $.35 to buy chocolate milk…” I recall making my own lunches very early…maybe always. And it had to be perfect. My version of perfect.

I don’t mind the crusts of bread. I was raised on Wonder bread. I realize now that that should hardly be called bread at all. But the crusts were plenty soft and added a mild taste contrast to the sandwich, so the crusts stay. I was floored when I went to a friend’s home and her mom a: made the sandwich for her; b: cut the crusts off, AFTER she made the sandwich; c: threw the crusts in the trash! In my house we didn’t waste food (we weren’t trendy, we were poor) If I were anti-crust and had adults around me who indulged such nonsense, they would have cut the crusts off in advance and saved them to make bread crumbs or add it to meatloaf or stuffing. Funny thing is, the same kid who won’t eat the crusts of bread will eat a hamburger or hot dog with a bun that is MOSTLY CRUST. Ok…I think I’m done.

It was also in elementary school, in the 1970s that I first learned of Nutella. Way before it was a household name and trendy (I don’t even know if it was called Nutella), my Sicilian classmate was eating  a sandwich with a dark brown filling. I knew this was not peanut butter. It looked like dirt. She was a shy quiet girl, her mastery of the American English was not certain. I asked her about it. She only smiled and shrugged. Another Sicilian student translated: it is what we eat, it is Italian, it is like peanut butter, but better. She held it out to me. “No thank you.” These Eye-talians were not going to trick me into eating a dirt-pepper sandwich. I don’t even like peanut better and this looks worse. Even now, I’ve yet to try Nutella. And the Nutella I see now looks more like milk chocolate than the ground coffee paste she was eating in 1978,

On special days, say…a class trip, I was allowed to buy lunch to take. Recalling this I don’t understand why, except maybe my self-conscious mother didn’t want me to “look poor” on a school trip, so the lunch I bought and brought was a step above everyday fare. On these days, the same portable and will be in a bag for hours conditions applied (I didn’t bring the lunchbox on trips…what if I lost it!?). Yes. I bought a sandwich. Usually my favorite Italian cold-cut sub, from my favorite deli or Blimpie. I LOVE BLIMPIE. (They are not paying me to say that. But hey Blimpie, if you want to pass a few gift cards along to this chick…oh, and place a Blimpie within 20 miles of my house…I wouldn’t be mad at cha.) There was also a soda, in a can. This was some delicate lunch alchemy. I had to get up early, put the soda in the freezer, then wrap it in foil (some odd belief that this insulated the can) and hope for a cool drink in four hours. I purchased a Hostess snack cake (usually a Chocodile (Google it…so good then, crap now) a bag of chips and a candy bar. Not at all a healthy lunch, but those lunches made my trip experience all the better. Bonus: The whole sub was, and still is, too much for me to consume in a single sitting, so that meant I had sandwich part two for later or a next day.

I think my mom liked sandwiches. Not certain. When I think about it now, I have few memories of her eating them. I do know she loved a good tuna sandwich and would make those for herself. Mom also introduced me to the grilled cheese/tomato soup combo. Another favorite of mine. And my mother  introduced me to pastrami. A good pastrami sandwich is THE BEST THING EVER. This girl from Brooklyn loves a good pastrami sandwich. (*I took the Ancestry DNA test and I can’t believe I’m not even a tiny bit Jewish! Not even east African-Israel adjacent. That test lied.) Pastrami, a bit fatty (lean is for wosses), sliced thinly, warmed in the pan, swiss cheese (or meunster if I’m feeling less punchy), sliced raw white onion, brown mustard, seedless rye bread (I hate rye seeds, sue me). Toast the bread and this is the MOST phenomenal sandwich. Pair this with a quality cream soda, a good bag of potato chips and a crisp kosher pickle. To hell with diamonds, this is my best friend: a good pastrami sandwich lunch. Thank you Mommy.

In high school sandwiches became less frequent. I was able to buy lunch more often and couldn’t muster the planning, time and energy to make my lunch every day. There were however days when I would rendezvous with my beloved. Cheesesteak day…yum. Grilled cheese day…more yum. See, while I love a cold sandwich just fine, my heart melts for melty cheese. Add meat to the melty cheese and I will tell state secrets. The tuna melt eluded me until a college hook-up with some dude I met on Amtrak (that’s a story for another day, but suffice it to say the most memorable thing about that trip was the tuna melt he made for me and I got to see Boston). I got a job at a supermarket in high school. I ate many a sandwich on my breaks. The guy at the deli would let me sample the cheeses, so I was able to broaden my horizons. Toward the middle of my high school years, when we began driving, we’d hang out in diners or IHOP after school. Both were places to grab a pretty decent sandwich back in the day.

At some point in my youth I was introduced to Braunsweiger / Liverwurst. I have to believe this too was my mother’s doing. Not sure about that. Few people my age even know what liverwurst is. Fewer black people from urban areas know what Braunsweiger is. The German influence is strong where my mother spent her formative years. Lucky for me, I’ve made that place my home and I can find liverwurst in better delis and grocery stores. I don’t love it. It is a mushy, pungent meat product. I have it maybe once every four years. It just isn’t on my radar. But every now and then when my German genes are active (still don’t care what Ancestry DNA says, nurture over nature) and I am likely embracing PMS, then I find myself craving a liverwurst sandwich. Here is where I need to mention the luxury of a good deli. It is never good for me to buy an entire roll of Braunsweiger or liverwurst. It is the kind of thing I only want one serving of to satisfy my craving. For that, a trip to the deli for a few slices is optimal. Come to think of it, a well stocked, busy deli is superb. You have so many options, the meats and cheeses are fresh and there is usually a great assortment of fresh breads and fancy condiments. My favorite local place gets a bum rap for being elites. They cater to the well-heeled, money-having, privileged set. I DON’T CARE. My money is just as good there, they make superb sandwiches and their customer service is stellar. I do have one complaint about them. I think they are sexist. When I go and get a sandwich it is fine. Made well and tasty. When my husband goes, the sandwich is HEAVY. For the same price he gets way more bang for his buck. I have not and will not complain about this (my feminist peeps hold on…don’t start writing yet). Why not complain? Two reasons: one…I don’t want them to start measuring/weighing the meats and cheeses..I hate that about some of the chain places; two…this is my reason to send my husband to get me sandwiches.

As an adult, my love of sandwiches has not waned. I can eat them every day, in every way. There is a sandwich for every season and occasion. I like sandwiches better than pizza. Burgers are sandwiches, so I include them in the sandwich love. I like to get a prepared sandwich and put it in the “upstairs fridge” near my bedroom. They are perfect for a late night snack or when I am just feeling lazy and don’t want to go down to the kitchen to make a real meal. The two dudes who live with me could probably live on PB&J (my least favorite sandwich), which is fine with me because they can both make them easily without any cooking or help from me. Otherwise, they will not make sandwiches on their own, but will want one if I am making one. (*You make them better. Yours taste so good.) This is especially true if I am making a meaty, melty type of sandwich. I have few requirements when it comes to sandwiches (my husband would probably disagree). I like balance of flavors, good bread, it can’t be too big (the Dagwood is an abomination) nor too skimpy (ratio is important), the add-ons have to be good–dry lettuce, in-season tomato, seasoned vegetables (especially if they are roasted), the condiments have to be high quality. Easy, right. Just put all of that goodness together ok? And flaw in any of these areas can ruin my sandwich. The whole thing, in the trash, ruined because the mayo was off.

So…I don’t need a special “Day” to enjoy a sandwich and I hope you don’t either. But if you want to indulge, go for it. Get your favorite, made the way you like it. Pretend you’re going on a class trip and get all the accoutrements to make it the most wonderful sandwich meal. You’re welcome.

All Soul’s Food

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Today is All Souls Day. In the Roman Catholic tradition, today is a day to be spent praying for the souls of the departed, that may be dwelling in purgatory to cleanses them of sin so that they may reach heaven. Many spend the day remembering lost loved ones. Unlike All Saints Day, a “Holy Day of Obligation” one day before (Nov 1st) and All Hallow’s Eve (Halloween Oct 31st), today is the day I have the most sentiment for. As a lapsed Catholic, I have let go of all of the trappings of religion. But as a person who is loved and who loves, I appreciate a day dedicated to reflecting and remembering loved ones with mindfulness and purpose. I think of these beloved friends and family members almost every day. They are never far from me even though they no longer inhabit space the way that I still do. It dawned upon me several weeks ago that almost everyone I know…at least those I know well, I have attached a food memory to them.

My earliest and most intimate food memories are the usual suspects: home, my grandmother’s home, school, restaurants. It doesn’t take much for me to have a memory spark. Sometimes (fairly often) it is a certain smell in the air, a recipe on-line, a color, even the look of the sky on a certain day…any of these things can force a recall of an edible and a person. Some days I find myself in my kitchen talking to the food I am preparing. This often brings back clear memories of my grandmother trussing a turkey and apologizing, fussing or laughing, depending on how well it was all going. This motivates a chuckle. It was especially funny when she would stuff a bird and imply that she was somehow making the fowl uncomfortable. She’d rub the skin all over with butter. All the while like she was massaging lotion on a beloved grand-baby. A grunt and a huff and the huge roasting pan went into the oven. A few last words to the bird, oven door closed, temperature checked, hands wiped, and she was off to the next thing. (Or she poured a cold beverage and sat down for a bit.) This is only one food memory of one person. My mind is catalogued with them. Like a mash-up between a photo album and a collection of favorite recipe cards. A recipe Rolodex, a yearbook of yummies, a contact list of cuisine…you get it. And this list is private. No one knows about it but me, well…and now you. No one knows that they are associated with a food in my mind.

There is food that reminds me of a dearly departed soul. There is food that warms my soul. There is that book “Chicken Soup for the Soul” (which I’ve never read). And there is the proverbial American-Southern soul food. This last one perplexes me a bit. To me, all food is soul food. If it makes you feel good, it changes your attitude (hopefully for the better) then that is soul food. And while most explanations attribute soul food to the deep south of the United States of America and the influence of African culture brought by slaves, further understanding means knowing that what has become known as soul food has MANY influences. The Indigenous peoples, the Spanish, the French, the Portuguese, the English, the Africans and then all the people who came to these shores after, all contributed to what we know as soul food. This is so apparent when traveling around the US and experiencing something as standard as Collard greens or fried chicken. How it is made, the ingredients…all vary from region to region…and each claims to be authentic soul food. And it is. And what we like is very much tied to the soul of the person who made it for us. Countless times I’ve heard “I only like (so and so’s) pie”, “I haven’t had ______ since my Pop-pop died”. Sadly, some of the tastes we love seem to go with the souls who prepared the dish.

Before literacy was so wide-spread, many people shared cooking techniques one-on-one. With no written recipes or cookbooks, many of us, most of us, learned (or in many cases lately, didn’t learn) how to cook from one another. If you watch any cooking show, inevitably the question of how the host or guest became interested in cooking comes up. Usually it is because someone was in the kitchen of a parent, grandparent, neighbor, teacher, coach,  or counselor of some sort. Sometimes the person was naturally interested, sometimes they were conscripted and in some cases they were mandated to get involved. Whatever the case, one soul imparted upon another usually not only how to cook, but how to really know food, enjoy food, understand foods effect on people. They say money makes the world go ’round. I think it is food. We all have to eat. Wealthy people, poor people, everyone in between…if we don’t eat, we don’t live. In most cases, eating involves cooking. More and more I see that people are relinquishing that task to someone else (or an automated factory of nobodies).

Soul-less fast food flourishes and has become the go-to option for many. We know this ain’t right or good for us. We make excuses about why we eat fast food (work, time, kids, etc.). We try to pretend we take advantage of “healthy options” on fast food menus. We buy into the marketing manipulation key words like “fresh”, “inspired”, “goodness”, “real”(this one confuses me), “clean”, “crafted”, “light”, “responsible” and “wholesome” among others. Then, there are those of us who know we’re making bad choices, cry YOLO and just dig in. Yes…WeOLO, but how we do it matters. Movements toward better prove to me that our souls are aching for more than what fast-food chains have been offering for the past fifty years. We tell ourselves our parents or grandparents ate better because they had more time, better choices, grew their own food. I call BS. We have the time (put down the smartphone, turn off the TV, quit Yoga class…yeah I said it. Grocery shopping and cooking can give you the same benefits if you do it right AND you’ll have a meal at the end. Not your bag? Ok, keep the Yoga. You get my point.) InstaPots are a thing now. It’s the new CrockPot. We are fans of these tools because they can give us rich, hearty, warm meals with the ease of tossing stuff in and turning it on. Like laundry. Also, the make-a-meal delivery systems are a thing now. I get it but I don’t get it (and I don’t buy them or buy them either…lol…ok…sorry). I guess these are happy medium options. Subscribers get a recipe, directions, portioned ingredients…everything but the pots, pans, dishes, and utensils. All is in the box. It comes to you. You just make the time and make the meal. It looks fresh “enough”. But seriously, for a fraction of the cost, you could find a few recipes this week, shop the ingredients and make the meals next week. Subscribers are paying a premium to have someone else meal plan and prep for them. Worth it? Maybe…not for me.

Even though I often feel taken for granted, I enjoy cooking for my family and friends. Yes, I complain. There are two able-bodied people who eat what I prepare and rarely offer to grocery shop, help or cook. (*Full disclosure: they are getting better in this area.) I feel like I have an obligation to the souls I love and live with to share what departed souls have shared with me. And even without the quid pro quo, I smile when I think about how much my grandmother liked my cakes, how my Auntie will request cookies if she knows I’m coming for a visit, how my mom will say “You made this?” when she likes something, how my father-in-law’s eyes would shine when he was invited over for a meal. These are memories of people and food that warm my soul, that give me life in more ways than one.

So today, on All Souls Day, have something good (and maybe even good for you) that sparks a memory and touches your soul. Perhaps a hot chocolate, a cup of tea, a piece of toast.

So many diets. Why?

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I seem to learn of a new “diet” every week. Each one just a little bit different than the one last week and very similar to some other one last year. It is too much. I can’t keep up (nor do I want to). I try to accommodate the changing needs of family and friends, but honestly, everyone is just going to have to manage their own dietary needs and work around what I’ve prepared.

As the Holiday Season is approaching, many of us will be tasked with trying to make meals that all of our guests can enjoy. Among this year’s most wanted: raw, soy free, sugar free, nut free, gluten free, low carb, vegetarian, vegan, Keto friendly. Now, don’t get me wrong…if one has a valid health concern and needs to modify their diet, I am sympathetic. But asking a host to make a menu to accommodate the needs of a single guest (which could theoretically turn into ten accommodations for ten individual guest’s needs) is inconsiderate. Especially so if the request is a preference and not a necessity. I don’t have any food restrictions. It is everyone’s best interest if I stay away from the eggnog (which I love), but other than that I can and will eat almost anything served. However, if I did have a food restriction, I’d be fine to eat around it, bring a meal of my own, or eat at home and show up to be sociable and have fun.

Millennials are getting a bad rap for being self indulgent “snowflakes” who want a tailored and curated world that suits them individually, with minimal discomfort or need to be flexible. I am not buying it. People have been acting this way for quite some time (I am also not a Millennial, so I’ve seen life longer). We’ve done it to ourselves. We want more options. We go to restaurants and ask for substitutions. Menus are the size of telephone books instead of one-page beauties. (If you don’t know what a “phone book” is…Google it.) When we ate at home more, meals were only customized if we cooked them. If a parent or grandparent cooked, that is what was served and that is what was eaten. I remember some years ago (before I became a parent) seeing a commercial for a dual oven that boasted of being able to prepare a separate dinner for finicky children and another for the parents. My husband and I scoffed at this idea. Now we are parents and while we still agree with our pre-parent stance, I can also see the appeal for parents with kids who are more than just picky. Some have significant dietary needs, others are on the spectrum and have texture aversions (these are not congruent…many people have texture issues when it comes to foods). Sometimes the adults don’t want pizza (or chicken, or broccoli, or pasta…) AGAIN.  If one’s home is multi-generational, there may also be a need to menu plan for specific bodies. Nana can’t chew that, Pop-pop will get gassy if he eats this. We all want to enjoy our meals. When it comes to food we’re all “snowflakes” to a degree.

The myriad, named diets I don’t get. There must be a diet machine wizard behind the curtain, whose sole job it is is to make a way to market and capitalize on people’s phobia’s, fears, ignorance, hopes and dreams. So few people stick with a diet. According to what I’ve read, five weeks is the average length of time people stay on a diet consistently. Also, most diets also call for an exercise regimen. That flies out the window sooner than the food diet. So, I guess that is why the diet options have to stay fresh, new and exciting. People need/want new options that they think will work “this time”. Crash diets and cleanses are popular. They promise fast and immediate results, but the results are temporary and the effects (nausea, blood sugar fluctuations, weakness, etc) don’t seem worth the small pay-off. Long term lifestyle changes are probably best, but most of us don’t have the stamina for that. Atkins, Alkaline, Paleo, Keto, Whole30, Anti-Inflammatory…just to name a few. Some of these have restrictions designed to make life miserable for fun-loving Americans. The “eat this only and none of that ever” diets I just can’t get down with. I am a moderation gal.

Diets seem to want to identify enemy foods, put them on the no-no list and dare you to stick with the diet and avoid the baddies at all costs. Oh, and most of these diets will cost you…money and happiness. Even Mary Poppins said “a spoonful of sugar, helps…”. (A SPOONFUL, not nine tablespoons.) So, why the all-or-nothing attitude? Because so many of us lack the ability to moderate our intake. Sugar especially is like a drug that is hard to get off of…or at least limit. But once we do cut down, we feel better and notice how sweet everything is (figuratively and actually). Then again, there are some exceptions to these bad food/good food lists.

There is just so much food/diet propaganda out there. Do some reading on the history of food and you may indeed become angry about what you’ve been manipulated and duped into believing (I like anything by Michael Pollan balanced with a little Dr. Andrew Weil to get you started). No time to read? Watch an episode (or ten, like I do) of Food: Fact or Fiction? on the Cooking Channel. Heck, there are even some very good podcasts you can listen to as you drive to Chick-fil-A. After you’ve gotten some well-rounded knowledge about food and your own health and unique bodily needs, then, MAYBE, start exploring diets if you feel that is necessary (I bet you don’t). After you’ve narrowed down three choices, see your doctor, run it by them. Then see a nutritionist. Then chat up the people in your favorite grocery store. Then..start (maybe). Good luck. And if you’re a guest, be a guest…not the star. You’ll be fine. Eat what you can and be gracious. Oh…and if you’re a host on a diet…that is YOUR diet, not ours. Thank you.

I Watched Some Movies…sigh.

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TW: child sexual abuse
Ugh…I watched The Keepers and Spotlight over the weekend. It was somewhat of a coincidence, but probably NOT a good idea.
 
The Keepers made me feel horrible on a number of levels. (*And at least two of those women seemed very familiar to me. I think I’ve met them through past jobs or schools.) And the fact that the setting is known to me, made it so much more grossly familiar. I’ve been down those streets, in those stores, passed those churches and schools. I did like that I could relate to the school, the Churches, the practice of Catholics, etc. I think sometimes people who weren’t raised Catholic don’t really understand the ease of this systemic abuse of trust and people’s strong defense of the RC Church.
 
After I watched The Keepers I was angry at the abusers. I’ve met and worked with many good members of the clergy. I was never abused (though given the levels of abuse and the statistics, I am sure that I know someone who has been). I was angry that these many bad people have ruined the reputation of the many more schools and churches and organization that have helped people. My heart breaks for the victims who were not heard, not believed, forced to retreat, banished by family & friends, lead to self abuse, committed suicide, …the unimaginable suffering and pain. And the three year statute of limitations…disgusting!! We all have an obligation to fix that.
 
Then I watched Spotlight. That was a look into the cover up by the Boston Archdiocese when they knew, without question that clergymen (and likely some women, though that was not addressed) were abusing children FOR DECADES. It furthered my belief that the RC Church is run like an organized crime syndicate. The orchestration employed to cover up CRIMES AGAINST CHILDREN is mind boggling.
I’m glad I watched them, but it took a tool on my spirit. It really does “take a village to abuse a child” and hide it, in most cases.
 
Not that you asked, but I also watched Wonder Woman (meh…the real Wonder Women were in The Keepers), Lion (good but white saviors I can do without) Far From the Maddening Crowd (kinda maddening actually) and Tammy (’cause it was on and Melissa McCarthy makes everything better).

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A while back I took a Facebook vacation. I’d decided that I was spending way too much time monitoring the goings on of friends and strangers on social media. I didn’t quit altogether, like some people do, I just severely limited my hours (yes, HOURS). I limited my Facebook time to fifteen minutes, three times a day: morning, mid-day and evening. It was refreshing.  I felt unencumbered, like I’d ended a bad food habit or stopped biting my nails (a habit I never had).

I’ve been told “Oh, you should use your Twitter account more. That is smaller text/tweets…you’d do better with short bursts.” That may have been true before people decided to abuse the system by just piling the Tweets into a long, broken up, machine gun fire styled posts. Additionally, once DJT got a hold of Twitter and turned it into his cray-cray cyber podium, I knew Twitter was not the answer.

I’ve sense eased back into larger chunks of time on Facebook. Like many bad habits, it is difficult to maintain discipline and stay on the healthy path. I have an endless curiosity and Facebook makes it so easy for me to indulge my queries. But now, in addition to using up an embarrassing amount of time, I also find myself getting into long conversations and sometimes arguments on Facebook with people I don’t even know.

I am not one of those types of people who is mean or nasty. I don’t feel like “everyone has an opinion” and that justifies sharing said opinion in an aggressive, know-it-all fashion. But I really can’t tolerate other people being bullies on social media. Especially when they are sharing information I know to be untrue. Sigh…so then I jump into the pool. Sometimes I am met with success. Because I was educated by teachers who stressed the importance of “citing your sources”, I come to on-line arguments prepared to back up my position with facts. Oh…and “Google it.” is not a source of information. Someone telling me that is likely to rile me up even more. It is the equivalent of someone telling me to go ask the tree outside which stocks I should invest in. Other times, the person I am countering just digs in further with a bigger shovel in the stupid shit pile. I can’t with these people. They are determined to be right, refuse to accept facts or logic.

My solution to the indefatigably ignorant is to limit myself to three comments on any one post, unless it is bringing me knowledge or joy. This is a struggle. Not because I feel the need to be right, but rather because I have trouble walking away allowing the other person to feel victorious. (No, that is not the same.) I also feel like I didn’t help if I give up. Nevertheless, for my own sake, I can usually walk away, turn off notifications, distract myself in other ways.

Lately, my fixes haven’t been good enough. I leave the conversations, but the feelings stay with me. The irritant has gotten under my skin. I find myself engaging my spouse in my on-line mess. I need to know I’m not crazy. Turns out, I may be crazy, LOL. I am a smart, reasonable person. I should NOT be engaging with those who are a pal on my on-line experience. So now I have to go a step further. Enter the “no comment” phase.

My Facebook vacation of the past was so refreshing and successful, that shortly thereafter I decided to limit my responses to “Like” or keep scrolling. This was before the emoji expansion. Now I can “like”, “love”, “dislike”, etc. Sure, the expansion broadened my ability to more accurately express how I felt about a post, but it sometimes wasn’t enough. And then depending on the topic of the post, I’d feel compelled to read the comments. BAD IDEA. There is almost always some person in the comments thread who is going to bait me into commenting. This isn’t their fault, it’s all me. I have to be stronger.

So, now I am trying a new experiment. Fifteen minutes, three times a day, like/emoji only and no comments read nor comments posted UNLESS it brings joy to someone else. I think I can do this. I have steadily been on the road to this anyway. Once in a while I get blindsided by someone misunderstanding a comment I’ve made or just being plain old miserable and wanting to shoot me down. These people will be the toughest to ignore because I’ll feel the need to explain myself. (Wish me luck.) I have the ability to verbally eviscerate and be very condescending and mean. I generally choose to be the bigger person and smother my negative thoughts. This is made easier by not reading the comments or commenting at all myself.

The additional upside is I’ll likely need a place to vent and where better to do that than here!? I can thereby meet a few other goals: better use of my time; healthier outlook, writing/blogging more; reading books; etc. This can only be a positive change. I am looking forward to this “no comment” life. There are plenty of people out there willing to fill the void. My absence will go unnoticed.

Don’t Sweat…Don’t Celebrate either.

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Ok. We all have heard of and possibly read, “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff: and It’s All Small Stuff” by Richard Carlson. I haven’t read it, but I get the premise. I’m guessing the title told me too much for me to invest time in reading it. After all, it was a directive. Ok, won’t sweat it…done. Maybe if the title was “How Not to Sweat the Small Stuff” that would have motivated me to read it. The book tells of how to not let little things in life drive us crazy. Life is stressful enough. Why add to our stresses? We should aim to lighten the load. So my question is this: Why are we now celebrating nearly every damn thing?

This stream of though is motivated by the end of school season and the many “stepping up” ceremonies happening. What? You don’t know what a “stepping up ceremony” is? If you’re bright (and you must be because you are reading my blog) then by the time you finish this sentence, you’ve either figured it out via context or you’ve “googled it”. And now you know. Ha! Joke ‘s on you if you relied on Google to answer this apparently cultural question for you. Google is a great search engine, but it isn’t smart in the way that you need it to be to answer very specific questions. You can ask Siri or Alexa or some other random AI entity you rely on. I don’t trust them and I don’t use them, so I have no idea how they might answer you. If you’ve got a FOC (friend of color) who grew up “ghetto adjacent”, ask them. (I’ll wait.) They didn’t answer or understand your text? Ok…I’ll tell you. A “stepping up ceremony” is a celebration of a student completing one grade successfully and “stepping up” to the next grade. This is different (usually) from a true graduation. Graduations come with diplomas and a transition to another school. And they happen at milestone grades 5th (to middle school or Jr. High), 8th (to High School) and 12th (to college/university/military/job/walk the Earth).

Graduations I get. Well, mostly. The only graduations worth celebrating, in my opinion, are High School graduation and any college/advanced degree/trade school graduations that may follow. That marks one’s entry into adulthood. The expectation worth celebrating is that you are now equipped to take care of yourself. Yayy!  Upon graduation from High School a person is usually 18 and a legal adult. All of the excitement of being an adult commences with graduation from High School. But more and more, it seems like some of the “adulting” that used to come hand in hand with graduation actually arrives years before: getting a car, formal dances that look more like (and cost more like) weddings, over-the-top sweet 16 parties, quinceañeras, bar and bat mitvahs. Few have cotillions anymore, but I’ll include those as well. Ok…graduations…go ahead celebrate those. Some students struggle and work very hard to make it to those milestones. But ONE school year? No.

A typical school year is 180 days. Some of those days are half days or the tricky “early dismissal” which schools count as a full day even though students don’t stay from 8-3. Then there are the days a student was ill, snow days, fog days (they exist), heat advisory days (they exist too…some schools don’t have air conditioning and are too hot for conducive learning. This is a new thing. I remember sweating away 20% of my body weight in classrooms in Aug/Sept and then again in May/June.) So, maybe…maybe a kid with perfect attendance goes to school for 180 days. Yayy! Do we need to celebrate that a kid has accomplished this…with a party? Gifts, food, music, all the party accoutrements happen at “stepping up ceremonies”. Parents take photos. Parents congratulate themselves on social media. “We did it.” Really? We? Ok, yes. I get it because I used to teach. I know what a well invested parent goes through. I also know you do half of the homework and projects, so yeah…go ahead you’ve earned it about as much as the student has.

But is this really worth celebrating? I don’t know. Maybe in extenuating circumstances. Maybe Jeffrey had a really hard year wherein he really struggled. But don’t throw him a party. Make him a special dinner. Tell him you’re proud of him. Tell him to keep up the good work. You know…stuff you were probably telling him all school year to see him through. I fear that when we celebrate every little accomplishment, it takes the shine off of them. And it ramps up the expectations for celebrating the big things. If it is all “big stuff” there is no “small stuff”. So we shouldn’t sweat any of it. Unless it is REALLY BIG STUFF.

But no. We are having multiple showers/parties for one event: engagement shower/party, bridal shower, bachelor/bachelorette party, rehearsal party, then the wedding and reception and sometimes a honeymoon send off party (yes…this is a thing!). Baby shower, Gender reveal, Push gifts, naming ceremony, Baptism/Bris/Christening and then the over-the-top first birthday. It is too much. Too much sweating stuff and celebrating stuff. We can’t stop and smell the roses because we are so distracted into smelling EVERYTHING. (Not to mention the costs involved in all of this celebrating. But that is a blog for another day.)

What about our lives has become so sad and low that we feel the need to celebrate so much? We’ve gone from a trend of not “sweating” to over “sweating”. Are we celebrating to ignore the things to which we should be paying attention? I don’t know. I don’t have answers, just a lot of questions. I am not a celebratory person. I bet you’ve figured that out by now. I acknowledge. If something great happens, I’ll raise a glass, maybe even send a card. But I am not getting dressed up, hair done, nails done, etc., unless this is going to be a life changing event worth celebrating. “Stepping up” from third grade to fourth grade doesn’t warrant my effort nor a gift.

I miss you.

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Sigh. Just sitting here thinking about all the foods I miss. Food conjures up so many memories. Sometimes I swear I can smell foods I haven’t had in decades. Where did all these lovelies go?

Unlike a past (human) love or an old song, we can’t relive food favorites. Sure, we can revisit a restaurant or make Grandma’s recipe, but somehow it isn’t quite the same. Some small changes make a huge difference: our aging taste buds, the company we kept then or keep now, the pan is not the same, the source of ingredients is different, the quality has gotten worse (or in some cases, better and that even changes things), the ambience…so many reasons.

I miss that corner store I’d run to after school, the bakery near church, the steak sub place that had THE BEST bread and perfect fries (and they delivered!), the seafood carry-out that was the most delicious messy thing ever put in styrofoam…mmmmmm. I miss my auntie’s cake and M’dear’s fried chicken. I miss my great-aunt’s chitterling preparation (even though I rarely ate any). I miss Mr. Stoftee in Brooklyn (old Brooklyn, not this hipster concoction).

I miss the hotels downtown that Mr. and I used to pop into for Happy Hour. They had carving stations with pit beef…yum. And the rolls. We’d fill up on the complimentary buffet, have a few drinks and then sit and wait for the bus home, laughing and talking the entire time.

I even find myself missing the types of budget friendly meals I used to make when time, money and my skill set was in short supply. (I miss you chicken cacciatore.) I’ll have to revisit some of these. This was good food and it was abundant. Now I know better, it will be “cleaner” and healthier (sometimes), but still tasty.

Of course, “nothing gold can stay” and new treasures are just around the corner. But if you have a food that you like a lot, enjoy the moment. Savor the experience. Fond food memories are better than horrible ones, after all.

I weep

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I’ve learned a lot about how truly IGNORANT people are about the country they live, work, and vote in. It is so very sad. I don’t know where to lay the blame: parents, schools, individual motivation to learn. I think people really thought they didn’t need to pay attention in History/Government/Civics/Economics classes because it “didn’t interest” or “bored” them. Well guess what, now other people, some well-intended, many not, will be making decisions on your behalf because YOU decided that YOUR LIFE was going to be fine in the hands of others. Or worse, you are making poor decisions in the voting booth (if you even bother to vote) because you were too busy to be educated and informed about things that affect you.
 
And guess what? If you are over 18, it is f**king hard to learn all that stuff teachers tried to teach you NOW. Really, whose got that kinda time like we had in school? (*And there was so much more…they really can’t fit everything you need to know, absorb, understand into a school year for the years you are there. And in their defense and yours, you are expected to be able to comprehend something intended for very intelligent adults who already know this stuff (politicians…and sadly they are lacking in knowledge as well…have you heard some of these people talk about what they do, what they believe, why they take the actions they take?) How do you catch up when you are constantly bombarded with misinformation for sources you possibly can’t or shouldn’t trust?
You can learn. Tiny bites, bit by bit. Heck, take a class (there are some free ones), visit the library (some librarians would love to help you), call your former teacher (be brave), join a group, get one of those “for dummies” books! There are options besides ignorance. Once you’ve learned a little something, start asking questions. And don’t just accept one answer or the one you thought it was, or the one that aligns to your way of thinking. Listen to opposing views and voices. Find common ground. Really hear people who don’t live where you live, look like you look, have what you have. Turn off the TV for a week or more. Next try ignoring the internet for a week (this is a tough one). Go to a bookstore and look at how many books there are about so many differing opinions on the same topics. Listen to the soundtrack from Hamilton (that will at least get you some kind of foundation).
I don’t have all of the answers. I just think it is terribly sad how little so many of us know about something so very important. Do better people, do better.