Posts Tagged ‘food’

Reflections on the Super Star

16 November 2011

Dear J-

This last Sunday I ran out the door without having packed my lunch, rationalizing that I could always run out at noon a grab a hamburger from Carl’s Jr, just up the road. I’d read in one of these multiple websites I follow that the author wasn’t too keen on burgers anymore: it wasn’t a moral concern over animal well-being or the meat industry in general or planteary resources, even. He just didn’t eat them because they didn’t taste all that great and he definitely paid the price later, headache-wise. I’mthinkin about this as I bite into a Super Star and I definitely know that I was feeling particularly blah later that day.

If you’ve watched Morgan Spurlock in Super Size Me where he embarks on a quest to eat nothing but McDonald’s for a month you’ve seen the nadir, three weeks in: he eats and immediately retches it back up, held prisoner by the rush of fat and sugar, almost as powerful as heroin and frighteningly addictive. That’s not to say that there aren’t good burgers out there or that the occasional trip to McDonald’s is going to doom you to a lifetime of bad eating habits but moderation in all things must be the key. We went to dinner with my cousin while we were up in the Bay Area this last triup and rather than the restaurant food everyone else was eating they’d brought some McNugggets and hamburger for the kids — it was a restaurant they’d had to go to many times before and I’m sure they’ve learned their lesson on what they’ll eat and what they won’t.

Sometimes convenience has to trump quality and health. Show me an American parent with an uncompromised diet and I’ll show you the child with the stronger will. Perhaps we give in too easily to temptation and choose harmony over the uncontrolled swell of emotions that rise from the frustration of being four: not completely independent but not willing to give up being babied. I think about food prices sometimes in the context of how sustainable it is: with seven billion souls in the world and the demand for food increasing how spoiled are we to demand ever-cheaper produce and meat? Norman Borlaug aside, what’s the next great revolution in food production? Can we afford the wait?



Milo’s Goop

10 June 2011


Dear J-

This sustained me the last couple of afternoons: I was hoping it was sweet tea but any caffeinated beverage would do. When I checked the expiration date I had some cause to pause: a week probabaly wouldn’t matter, but five months should make you stop. When I poured it out it oozed a bit like oil and the taste was a smoky syrup, coating and opening eyes as a dark rippling river of flavor and texture. Your iced tea doesn’t know any better but the thick stuff out of the old bottle in the fridge is worth chewing over when you get a chance.


Culture Cross

18 March 2011


Dear J-

True story: in 1999, after my brother got married they held two receptions as the ceremony itself was limited to a handful of participants. The ceremonies held to appease the mobs that are our families were in Spokane (where we’re from) and Taipei (where she’s from). Upon flying in to Spokane my parents had us wait around for a few hours while other flights were trickling in to GEG, bringing hordes of cousins and other relatives. As meal service was nonexistent and the airport restaurants were shut down for the night we got hungry in short order and finally asked my parents if they had anything to eat in between flight arrivals. They produced a couple of plates of food from the back that they adnitted to saving for my brother (whose flight had been delayed by that point) which we ate with overeager gusto and hunger-induced relish. As we ate I saw little Caucasian kids staring at us in amazement and some disgust (we were eating garlicky fish by that point) and elbowing theVet I jerked my head towards the kids and told her that no doubt they were thinking what disgusting Asian people we were, but by then the hunger was our judge and we didn’t care about the stares.

I think about that story lately when we’re talking Alexandra Wallace, the UCLA student who posted the rant about too many Asians in the library, distracting her with phone calls and the scads of relatives descending on dorms over the weekend. Enough digital ink has been spilled and hands wrung that she understands it was poor judgment at best that caused her to speak her piece but this much may be said quickly: there is some truth to the stereotype, as there is some truth to all stereotypes, and why we can’t say these things out loud doesn’t always make sense. Yet clearly a line has been crossed and perhaps it’s because you’d expect more from someone at an elite college, one that’s got a good mix of races and faces. Pry into motive and eventually you find your own biases and assumptions projected back at yourself: you generally find what you expected to find. We see her as a vaid blonde, she sees us as a faceless mob of nonindividuals all behaving with a strange hive intelligence.

I came back from my grampa’s funeral carrying a couple of pounds of fresh dumplings as my carry-on. In post-9/11 America it brought on some scrutiny at the airport but not as much as shoes or gels. In the line for the x-ray machines the Asian guy in front of me turns around and asks if they’re home made. When I say yes he turns back to his blonde girlfriend and tells her how good they are, how lucky I am (man how much better the homemade ones are!) when really I’m not feeling much of anything inside, having seen my grampa wrapped in a sheet earlier that morning. But the point is not what keeps us apart, it’s food in airports eliciting two different reactions. Given two different people in two different situations I don’t think you could have two more different reactions. Without the cultural interpreter to tell her how and why I wonder if she would have bothered to be curious enough to ask about the dumplings or if I would have gotten written off as someone weird and disgusting. Seek first to understand, never assume. It all sounds so trite but without it you find yourself at the center of a firestorm of words you don’t understand and never will until you want to understand.


Gluttony Failure

7 March 2011

Dear J-

I completely failed at my self-imposed rules for travel eating yesterday with two meals in the airport topped off with dinner at a chain, Wendy’s. So today I tried to get back on track but ended up getting some crazy expensive mac-n-cheese instead (in my defense it did have lobster in it but still probably not worth the twenty it’s going to cost the company). At least I was able to keep up the rules: it was a local chain of three stores/restaurants that sells fresh fish and cuts of meat in the front while serving food in the back.

Spend enough time on the road and you learn that your eyes are often bigger than your stomach. The meal that sounded so good on paper and smelled so delicious in the car becomes a leaden weight in the belly. Let this be a lesson advertising the importance of moderation. Half a serving would have been plenty but now I’m stuck rubbing my gut and making animal noises, logy with the promise of more digestion even though I suspect I’ll never be hungry again for the balance of the trip.

This is ultimately the failure of me on my own: there is no sense of what’s enough and when to stop, instead watching Forrest Gump twice last night and failing to sleep. theVet thinks that I would starve to death without her but the truth is much more sinister than that: there are far more ways to overindulge than you think. It’s all right but I really need to stop as it’s doing me no good. I feel exhaustion coming on again.


Silent Service

28 November 2010

Dear J-

My parents are gone and leave in their wake a bewildering array of leftover foods in the fridge. Sure, there’s the American Thanksgiving holiday to blame for some of that (along with the truly heroic twenty-three pound bird my sister-in-law made up) but a lot of it has to do with the way I remember us all eating as a family. If it wasn’t two starving teenage boys at the table, it was starving college students, on and off, for years and years: I remember they used to host all of the Chinese-speaking students at the college my dad taught for Thanksgiving dinners; the spread would be so immense and the preparations so exacting that we’d be ushered out of the kitchen for the day and given a free pass at TV while my mom labored to fill the ping-pong table downstairs with all kinds of food, from the traditional stuffing and turkey to various fishes and noodle dishes.

They’ve taken a break from that but even now one of their favorite greetings and questions is whether we’ve had enough to eat or not. My other sister-in-law was taken under their wing while she was studying in Cheney and my folks proceeded to stuff her with food every chance they got. Over the years I’ve learned to accept the edible offerings with glee; there is a certain art to ordering off a Chinese restaurant’s menu, and if you don’t balance your starches and your meats they’ll look at you askance and suggest something else (I suppose part of the reason that all these restaurants get bad marks for service is because the servers know more about the food than the patrons, but in most places they’ve subscribed to customer-as-king and don’t bother to question the selections to your face). It’s now hardwired to expect that we’ll get something completely extravagant and unprecedented to eat that we wouldn’t buy for ourselves — I remember the winter my mom pressed a Costco-sized tin (which could have served as a fortress in the backyard, by the way) of shortbread on us; when pressed, she said that they weren’t cookies, they’re bread.

I’m reminded of that tonight in the epic struggle between mom and daughter over the marble. We give figgy a few trinkets now and then and one of the latest came from the storage room, as we ran across an old marble hiding out from years ago (pretty nondescript — glass with a little red swirl of paint inside) so we gave it to her and every night since she’s stuck it in her mouth at least once which leads to no end of cajoling and trying to get it back out before she swallows it and/or chokes. Finally theVet gave up and just took it away, flat-out stuck it on a high shelf of no return saying all the while that she’d had chances, she was told not to put it in her mouth and in the guileful charm of a three-year-old, she kept re-producing it at the tip of her tongue with a secret smile: see, here it is, what can you do about it? Mom knows best, even if it’s impossible to reason with figgy at this point, she does understand the punishment and deprivation and let us know — loudly — all she wanted tonight. So yes, as you suspected growing up, sometimes part of parenting is growing deaf.


Three Games

25 November 2010

Dear J-

American thanksgiving is drawing to a close, three football games, twenty-three pounds of turkey, and one bowl of questionable stuffing later (they say never to eat the dressing that’s been in the bird, but you have to live sometime).  Raw numbers add up but don’t make much sense when you’re considering what to be thankful for, after all.

After having gathered a blended family (my parents, theVet’s parents, us, and theVet’s sister’s family) into one cheerful organism at a single house, my mom called for a prayer before lunch (and here I was confused:  like gravy that tastes like flour and cranberry sauce from a can, the one thing I always could anticipate was no prayer), which my father-in-law obligingly provided.  While I was trying to shush figgy before I knew it the hastily mumbled benediction was over and it was time for food.

Which I didn’t go after immediately, of course.  No sooner had we set him down than Calcifer began letting us know he was alone, and sad about it to boot.  So much of the meal was spent in shifts, first helping figgy with cutting the meat into savory bits, then joggling Calcifer and keeping him amused with swings and dips.  The kid’s hours are all flipped around, but I recognize the pattern:  bolting awake upright with darkness all around, the cries receding into sobs every couple of hours.  I did get to eat.  You pick the times when you’re allowed, and you’re thankful for having as much as you’re given.


Sunday Junk

11 April 2010

Dear J-

It’s another full day, culminating in eating enough food to feed a small village (which I suppose is par for the course in America on Sunday night) — figgy and I ended up going out for all three meals (“To the Restaurant Noodle!” for lunch), while theVet had to attend a baby shower instead. Thus the team was split, but I suppose it’s karma making up for last weekend, when we were able to spend both days together.

Just lately I’ve been reading some of the novels by Stieg Larsson (published posthumously); I’ll admit that I wouldn’t have picked them up if the first movie hadn’t been making some headlines lately, but I’m glad I did. My favorite parts aren’t necessarily the mysteries but the descriptions of life in modern Sweden; in my pre-purchase research (I like to know what I’m getting), I read that Sjowall and Wahloo influenced Larsson, and the one novel of theirs that I’ve read gave me a glimpse of life in 1970s Sweden, so I knew I was in good hands.

I’m thinking of Lita Ford’s Kiss Me Deadly for some reason tonight too. I’m just old enough to prefer purchasing albums over singles; my thought is to trust the artist and believe that all the songs are meant to hang together, much as the chapters in a novel or, perhaps more relevantly, short story anthologies are. So when you get a song with a ton of airplay (c.f. The Proclaimers I’m Gonna Be (Five Hundred Miles) or The La’s There She Goes), did you get the album to get at the single? In this iTunes world it’s easier to pick and choose single songs, and I worry that the death of albums may be imminent, but perhaps I’m crying Pandora again.


Health Food

3 January 2010

Dear J-

I wonder if I am as strange about food as the voices in my head tell me I am: once I settle on a dish or two, every time I go to that restaurant I’ll get the same thing. Weekends find us at some point going to the Original Pancake House, where I go through a steady rotation of buckwheat pancakes or corned beef hash & scrambled eggs. This weekend, working the late shift I hate going out at night — so naturally on Saturday I busted out the bento box I got from Mitsuwa a few hours earlier and today I made a special trip there just to pick up not just a bento, but the exact same one, with a nice fat piece of mackerel. There are other varieties, of course, but this one hits the right notes for me, just the same as the different restaurants I have programmed into my head.

Perhaps it’s an unadventurous, unambitious sort of cowardice: I know that X will work, so why bother changing? It doesn’t make much sense to take a gamble on other items that may or may not please me as well (on the other hand, this is how I always get in trouble when cooking: experimentation is fine as long as your test subjects are, well, you, not so much loved ones). Regardless, it’s one of those things where if you ask me I’m sure I’ll deny being stuck in a rut, food-wise.

One of the things that tends to shock people about figgy is how voracious she is at times; though I have my favorites I wouldn’t say that I’m particularly picky (I do not care for the texture of liver, but aside from that …) — growing up with the parents I had meant that you were in for big meals with a ton of variety, and we’ve been trying to instill that in her. She is, of course, a big fan of the carbohydrates but also, surprisingly, a meaty sort of kid in that all the different kinds that cross our plates end up being sampled (sometimes extensively) by her. I’m sure she’ll develop favorites — she’s already starting to pooh-pooh some foods — but right now it’s a treat to watch, and great for us in that we don’t have to plan our menus around anything but keeping peanuts out. Hmm, that reminds me, we haven’t been for Thai in a while …


Glutton Season

22 November 2009

Dear J-

Once you get past Halloween your reward for overindulging in trick or treat candy (the kids have it all wrong; you could either go out and pick up collect candy, or you could stay at home and snack on candy, turning off the porch lights at strategic intervals in order to extend the shelf life of certain favorites) is the collection of pumpkin-based treats awaiting you like certain land mines along the path through the holidays.

Pumpkin pies and pancakes (it’s a seasonal treat, despite the year-round availability of canned pumpkin); one time, while waiting for a pizza I picked up a pie sweetened with the non-sugar maltitol as a treat, but the resulting hyperactive toddler was enough to make us hide the leftovers. We now look for the full-flavor equivalents, dripping with sugar and butter enough to make cookies with the leftover crumbs. People decrying the death of creativity have no idea of the things crossing through the kitchens at the end of the month.

Every year we’ve got another treacherous road to travel, these holidays, littered with good intentions of restraint and exploding with overindulgence. I find at some time during the holidays I’ve eaten so much that I’ve lost the will to live, choosing instead to nap off the excess in a food coma. Every year I think it’ll be different, and I manage to prove myself wrong without fail. There is hope every year for the recidivist gluttonists out there, but only just.


Food Woes

24 October 2009

Dear J-

Today I forgot to throw some kind of snack into the all-conquering vest (it’s amazing how much stuff I can stash in there; for all the impulsive glass purchases of the past year, I can fit an astonishing range of focal lengths in my little pockets) and so at SeaWorld, surrounded by candy and other treats, figgy turns to me and asks for pizza bites.  No.  Snacks?  No.  Before the fever pitch of wailing erupted, we took a quick detour into the unfortunately named Pineapple Pete’s Island Treats for something.

Oh My 3076 -sm

There staring at me were signs offering three different kinds of funnel cakes, which are similar in concept to an experimental donut:  let’s dip dough into boiling oil — through a funnel — and sprinkle sugar on top.  All three were topped with glorious ice cream and various candied fruit sauces (except for the brownie fudge sundae variety, which made do with chocolate syrup; I’m sure the world is still turning without gooey confections, but there’s little in it if you’re not going to be enjoying it.  Despite the stern warnings and visions of impending gastric disaster (this has been a week where she’s gone through several diaper blowouts), I continue to feed her like some kind of pariah uncle currying favor with bribes.  I later report that I fed her ice cream from Pineapple Pete’s … but not as a topping for funnel cake.  We will see what happens.

What I didn’t understand was the folks in line ahead of us, which prompted the cash register attendant to immediately drop her eyes when we came up and mumble an apology about how long it was taking.  I’ve always hated people who thought that their bit of money made them better; yes, I suppose in America the customer is king, but it doesn’t excuse asking useless questions like “Why is the food so much more expensive than at Disneyland?” (if you really want an answer, instead of disguising it in a lame attempt to make the employee feel worse, you should have probably taken it up with corporate management) or audibly sighing and tapping your foot.  It’s courtesy, people, and you get what you give.


Side note:  what kind of crazy world is it where a used 2008 Mazda CX-9 costs more than a 2009 RX-8 R-3?  What priorities have we wrought on the world?  I’m starting to understand the decisions made in buying cars; you either approach it in the Consumer Reports mode, where the car is an appliance meant to cause as little bother as possible (here’s some gas, now go away) or something designed to make every drive an adventure — and that means personality, it means quirks.  So while I read the repeated critiques (tiny, thirsty, burns oil) the little four-seater coupe keeps burning a hole in my mind.  If I do have to make the commute — the hundred-mile drive — the drive itself should be interesting, neh?