Tag Archives: food

How to Get Through Thanksgiving Without Overly Gendering Everything

It’s one thing to recognize I’ve reached adulthood, but it’s quite another to be able to look back over many, many years and see that the threshold was crossed quite a long time ago. I’ve now got under my belt a large swath of experiences that have pointed in the direction of today. When it comes to Thanksgiving, I’ve learned to perfect my turkey preparation, just one of many aspects to the day that are now part and parcel of the holiday for me.

I’ve also gotten attached to a certain table setting for Thanksgiving, and to having the Macy’s Day Parade on in the background as I cook, which let me just say really sucks for people in the Pacific Time Zone. For those of us who grow up with Thanksgiving through our childhood and into adulthood, we have expectations around something that happens in that day. Eating the crappy green bean casserole, or at least having it on the table, arguing about who sits where, making a particular holiday cookie, there’s always something.

Also in my personal history is the need to dress up. It’s a formalish dinner, with the special china laid out and the polished silver on the fancy schmancy tablecloth. Mom would even enlist me in ironing the napkins, which of course I hated but which of course she hated worse. Which is why the job fell on me. (Remind me sometime to tell you about the enormous Jabba the Hut pile of ironing in the downstairs laundry.)

Now then, dress up often meant dress, which by the time I’d reached adolescence was more often a clean sweater and khakis, but my point, as obtuse as I’ve made it, is this: Thanksgiving is a gendered experience. Who sits on the couch, yelling at the football game, and who is in the kitchen prepping the meal. Who does the dishes afterward, who carves the turkey, there are many moments throughout the day that tell us something about gender roles and expectations.

Now that Emile is more aware of his surroundings and the relationships of the adults around him, it’s occurred to me that there are things I can do–as the adult that I am now–to help dial down some of the more sexist traditions that my culture has handed to me. There’s nothing revolutionary here, but maybe if we can make it through the next 15 Thanksgivings with less emphasis on sexist ideology, we’ll have made a small difference in the experience for our family and friends. Some of the ideas that come to mind are: Read More…

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Explosion in the Produce Aisle

Several scientist type people insist that between our first and second years, humans set up their palates for the rest of their lives. Give your toddler too much sugary stuff and it’s all she’ll eat later on. Lean toward too many processed foods and you’ll have trouble getting him to eat macrobiotic, more nutritious food when he’s entering grade school. Nothing beats the tension of worrying that during those exhausting days after the infant stage you’re merely preparing for culinary disaster. Thus I attempt to balance the following when figuring out not only each and every meal for the baby, but my overall nutritional and taste goals for Emile:

  • Include whole grain and fiber, protein, vegetables, and fruit
  • Put out a melange of shapes and colors, some finger foods that he can wrestle on his own, and some spoon-fed
  • Keep everything in rotation so he doesn’t get bored by the same stuff
  • Make each piece of food easy to swallow so he doesn’t die
  • Ensure only organic, homemade, or all-natural food passes his tender lips

Above all else, however, is this:

Show no stress about trying to remember all of the above rules. Read More…

Nous Gourmands

We’ve explored a respectable swath of the eateries in Seattle these past six months, everything from food truck vendors to lunch counters, bakers, a chocolate factory, and German tavern fare. We’ve also pursued ethnic food from local Indian buffets to authentic Chinese food and Ethiopian shared plates (injera, mmm). So we jumped at the chance to have dinner at an upscale classic French restaurant, Le Gourmand in Ballard. Susanne made our reservation, since attempting to dine there as a walk-in is a long shot at best, and we drove over on a typically cold, rainy early winter Seattle evening. Read More…

To market, to market

Eastern Market doorI’m very excited to get back to Eastern Market this afternoon; having lived in walking distance of the market building, we went there on a regular basis for food staples and baked goods, and I for one greatly miss such easy access to fresh vegetables and the like. Once upon a time Washington, DC had several market areas tucked into its quadranted neighborhoods, but now, there is only one standing.

Even this market building suffered a serious blow from an electrical fire that swept through the brick structure, and only in the last six months is it back, having been painstakingly restored by the city. Good thing it sits next to one of the wealthiest and most historic neighborhoods in the city, Capitol Hill. It’s so beloved it is the namesake for its own local area, and the corresponding Metro stop. The mayor couldn’t possibly have turned his back on Eastern Market and lived to talk about it.

I’d moved from Arlington, Virginia into the city in 2004, never really venturing over to the brick building, where inside, deli counters, fish and seafood mongers, a baker, a cheese counter, and a couple of produce sellers stood, always grinning from ear to ear while they put edibles in one’s bag and pocketed one’s donation of green paper. Actually, I couldn’t have told anyone that these people existed when I moved because I’d never gone inside. Susanne, however, was a regular visitor. She lived a few blocks away from me and I’d never met her. But she knew the value of the market.

Once we started dating, some weekend or other rolled around and I went with her—much to her astonishment, I’d lived 10 minutes walking time from the place for more than a year and had not yet checked it out—and I was amazed. On Saturdays and Sundays more vendors flocked to the block like they were wildebeests descending on the only watering hole for miles, filling up the sidewalks with everything from pottery and paintings to local fruit and fresh in-season vegetables. Silver queen corn, cut yesterday. Pink lady apples. Yellow watermelon, the leaves still drying on one end. Stubby carrots that tasted like sunshine. Peaches that made even patient people beg while they waited for them to ripen. I could not believe these were my options in a city, and I spent my first working summers at a produce stand at the edge of New Jersey’s farmlands.

Canales' deli and SusanneIt wasn’t long before I’d made friends with the weekday vendors and knew what kind of small talk interested the weekend folks. Susanne just shook her head at me doing my extrovert thing. After we’d gotten engaged, the deli owners would ask us how the planning was going. Their daughter had tied the knot the year before and had lots of advice and enthusiasm for us. I totally fell in love with Eastern Market, but it had shown me its affection first.

We had just decided to try a new kind of sausage every week and were fixing to grill up some weisswurst when I heard about the fire in the South Building, the technical name for the weekday market center. I was crushed. We ventured over to see how bad the damage was, since brick seemed like a fairly sturdy construction material. The roof hung down in strips, the big gaps letting in the evening sky. Bricks sat in their rows, tidy, scorched, looking ghostly. This was a gravely wounded structure, and we weren’t certain anyone would get it together enough to repair it.

But the the groundswell of support came loudly and quickly, businesses saying they’d donate what they could, the mayor making all kinds of near-frenetic-sounding promises, and the proximate school lending over its playground so a temporary building could be erected while the displacement of the vendors continued. I was heartened that everyone’s focus was on the owners of the market shops and their families; we made it a mission to head over there at least as often as we already did to keep buying from them. And they counted us among their regulars, too stubborn to let a little 5-alarm fire get in the way of cured meat.

burned out Eastern market buildingThe restoration work began with the demolition of the ruined roof, and its reconstruction. Those days at the market we would make our purchases with the cacophony of drills, hammers, and saws cutting through the air to our ears.

The temporary building was sturdy, but reminiscent of what was probably dotting the landscapes of Iraq and Afghanistan. We didn’t care for military housing for our peaceful market, but we were glad the war hawks had invented something we could use to keep the vendors going.

The city sponsored a mural contest, inviting artists to paint window panels while the work continued. These would at some point—some point being when the glass was ready—be auctioned off to help pay for the restoration. It was as if art didn’t want to be left out as a helper to save the heart of the neighborhood.

City managers closed off 7th Street SE next to the market so the weekend vendors could gather there, since there was a fenced perimeter around the building, taking up a good chunk of the sidewalk space. It was brilliant, and why hadn’t they done it before?

restored Eastern Market buildingWe saw the estimated time of completion for the project and again were saddened because we knew we’d be moving away before its rise from the ashes. But last January we were back in town, and got to walk through the redone space. I could still see the sun through the roof, but this time it was because of a lovely line of sky lights. Eastern Market was back.

And so I smile every time I see the old brick building with its la grande dame makeover.

Season of the stomach flu

happy toilet bowlI am a stickler for cleanliness in food preparation. I actively think about cross-contamination, heating temperatures and holding temperatures, the timing of separate dishes, and the kinds of food that go well in one’s stomach and not just with one’s taste buds. I dedicate myself to these tiny causes as if I were wielding a neon green small plastic fork, usually only suitable for battles with tasteless green olives before they are drowned in a sea of gin and tonic. My persistence comes not because I was scared into it by countless local news broadcasts, but because I have intersected salmonella before, and have vowed to avoid it from here on out if at all possible. And I certainly, most definitely, to the nth degree do not want to unleash that kind of hell onto anyone else.

Especially my wife.

To say I was upset that she was ill would be an understatement, but whatever it was, her emotions regarding her sudden lack of stomach control were probably more intense.

We presumed something had gone off the rails with regard to the chicken I’d made Friday night. I was just fine and she was the keeling over canary in the mine. Perhaps the bacteria party had only made a scene on one chicken breast and not the other.

Saturday and Sunday she struggled through, mostly sleeping, and me mostly writing downstairs, venturing out to the supermarket a couple of times for electrolyte-rich liquids. By Sunday evening she was mostly repaired.

roasted chickenI was excited to start my Census training the next day, on Monday. Well, excited might be a bit of an overstatement. I was happy to get back to work, and interested in knowing where they’d send me and what my door-knocking experience would be like. I had a little stack of items the recruiter had said I’d need, a little bundle of my personal identifying information or PII as the government calls it. The government has never met an acronym it didn’t like. TGHNMAAIDL. Well, maybe that one.

Monday morning, I felt oddly sluggish, and not entirely myself. Having no direct recall of being anyone else, I couldn’t name who else I felt like, so I just took the 70 percent that was me and sat up. This turned out to be a bad idea. I bolted to the bathroom and threw up the little that was in my stomach after 8 hours of sleep. While this might seem fortunate—generally, people don’t like the experience of vomiting, after all—what it really meant was that the material that had moved on past my stomach was just looking for the next nearest exit, which as anyone who’s ever flown a plane knows, may be behind you.

I was supposed to report to my swearing in at 9:00. It was 7:50. This was not good.

I showered briefly, cursing my alimentary canal for the Judas it was, and I crept back into bed for I don’t know what reason. Susanne pet my head.

And then she acknowledged that perhaps I hadn’t made her sick. I groaned in response.

I figured if I didn’t eat anything and didn’t drink anything, I could make it through the so-called “administration day.” I’d have to swear to protect the Constitution, which I’ve done before and having seen a good number of inaugurations, am pretty sure how it goes. I’d get fingerprinted, and fill out lots of paperwork.

Question: How long could that take?

Answer: Long enough to have to run to the men’s room and heave a few times.

The Census staff were nice enough, but the problem was that these trainings—even for the rote paperwork chicken scratching—are designed for inattentive or otherwise unfocused people. Every direction is read three times, using slightly different words. One would think this would be a helpful device, but it’s not, because those inattentive and otherwise unfocused people, or IOUPs, as they’re known in this blog, get all caught up on those differences.

“Wait a minute,” said one young fellow looking at the tax withholding form, “how do I know if I’m exempt from taxes?”

“Well, let me read you the definition,” said the crew chief. Because most people are exempt due to the fact that they’re retired and on Social Security, the chief knew this guy didn’t fit the criteria already, but he read it anyway.

And still, my young friend did not understand. Now he was getting confused between excluded from taxpaying and withholding allowances, like for head of household or the Duggans’ 20 dependents.

Five minutes later the crew chief was back on track and I had forged ahead with my paperwork, my hands neatly folded in front of me.

I held myself back from taking hold of any of the bottles of water in the room. Oh, water, I thought. I love you so much. You are a part of me. I am sorry for our recent misfortune. I don’t want to be like those leaky-from-the-mouth water people on that recent episode of Doctor Who. I just want to drink you. I am Alice in wonderland, okay?

I made it through the fingerprinting and had finished all but one of my forms and saw, to my horror, that I had been there for two and a half hours. I asked the assistant crew chief how much longer we’d be today.

“Oh, we’ll go to 4 or 4:30,” she said cheerily.

I stabbed my eyes out with my pencil. At least, I thought hard about doing that but realized it wouldn’t actual help me with anything. I really just wanted to drink some water. In my mind I saw water fountains, bursting faucets, twirling bottles of Evian. My stomach lurched and I felt unsteady and shaky. I hadn’t eaten or drunk in 16 hours.

“I’m sorry, I have to go,” I told the crew chief, who seemed to recognize that I was a cesspool of virus strands. I was Patient Zero.

He looked to see what else I had to complete and told me if I could bring it back in later today, I could come back for the start of training tomorrow. I nodded and thanked him.

The rest of my day was a feverish blur. I froze under a thick woolen blanket on the couch and slept, and Susanne sweetly delivered my signed papers to him. But Tuesday morning I was no better, the thermometer reading 100.6. I was now holding down liquid, but I’d lost 8 pounds, I guessed all in water.

I blew my opportunity to work for Census, although they’d said I could do another training in May. Given that we’re heading out of town at the end of May, it doesn’t seem worth it to me or my friend the government. Susanne summed it up for me in a way that made me laugh out loud in one duck honk:

“I feel like your blog is all about the stuff you’re about to do but that doesn’t somehow work out for you.”

Touche, darling. Touche.

Cherries jubilee

It sounded like a fun little outing, going to our friend’s aunt’s house, an hour away, to pick cherries. I think of things like picking strawberries, down at one’s feet, where I can walk away whenever I think I have enough, or picking blueberries, right at torso height and brambleless.

Cherry picking is not those things. And one cherry tree has something like a gazillion pieces of fruit on it. Such was it that a couple who showed up—in response to the aunt’s mass email announcement—walked away with 150 pounds of cherries, and I couldn’t tell which part of the tree had been hit. Getting the fruit out of the tree entailed extremely high, rickety metal ladders, which, given the knee issues of mine, Susanne forbade me to climb, and plastic buckets we were supposed to string around our necks so we could pick with two hands.

The aunt and her sister chuckled quietly as we walked toward the tree, thinking that these city folk would be poor farmers. Susanne, however, proved them wrong, getting her little body in between large branches heavy with cherries, double fisting clumps of berries and quickly accumulating several full buckets. We joked that she was a migrant farmer in a past life, and if the political science professing career dried up, we’d be just fine with her picking prowress.

I, meanwhile, thought the tree was quite the pugilist, and I came away with several scrapes on my arms and torso as if I’d gone five rounds with the thing. For my part I hauled in something on the order of 8 quarts, certainly laughable by the aunts’ standards. They sat on their porch  smoking cigarettes and drinking Mexican beer as dusk overtook us. Aunt Maureen—affectionately called Mo—is quite the antiques collector, and her home is filled with old things, especially kitch from the 1930s and 40s. Our friend warned us before we walked in that she has a lot of “Aunt Jemima stuff,” which amounted to dolls in black face, framed sheet music about “how funny the Negroes are,” and old Amos ‘n Andy stills.

“Aunt Mo has a funny sense of humor,” our friend said, in summary.

We therefore ignored the offensive portion of the antiques in Mo’s house, and considered them an unfortunate piece of American history, artifacts of a time when people were more openly, though not necessarily more, racist.

Mo was not afraid of new technology, her love of things archaic notwithstanding. Perhaps it was just that gadgets needed to have proper motivation. For example, her cat, Sharon, had both a locator microchip implanted in her neck, and a “finder collar” that was wirelessly connected to a button Mo could push to show her where the cat was in space. This would have been only a small point of interest except for the fact that the feline did go missing later that evening. And then we identified the flaw in the cat radar screen: walking up to where the cat should have been, there was no Sharon. It was like the scene in Aliens when Riley is looking at the green blip, knowing she should be right on top of the thing, but there’s no alien.

Or is there?

Sure enough, Sharon had taken solace directly above where we had gathered. Turns out she had a bad tooth and wanted nothing more than to alleviate her pain, and barring that, figured hiding under her caregiver’s bed was her next best bet. So kudos to the cat finder company: they’ve gone and taken very useful technology and morphd it into something only a crazy pet owner would desire.

After a summer meal of salmon, corn on the cob, fruit salad, and rhubarb crisp, we took the cherries to the car, realizing we’d picked about 50 pounds worth. Aunt Mo was grateful to have people harvest the tree so that she didn’t have a rotting mess on her lawn come next week. Getting home, we made every kind of cherry everything: dried cherries, preserved cherries in syrup, cherry preserves, liquor-infused cherries, cherry ice cream, and cherry pie and for the love of Pete, we still have a boatload in our kitchen.

So chalk one up for Walla Walla, having lots of summer produce for us to pluck out of trees, and teaching us about 19th Century food preservation. Next up, skinning a wild boar and using the hide to make moccasins.

In tandem

I woke up from a dream a couple of nights ago in which I was riding the front half of a two-person bicycle down a hill in the rain on a busy city street. I think we’ll call that a stress dream. But the only way I could have imagined this as a dream was as the regurgitation of an actual memory of going down a rainy hill on a two-person cycle with my other half screaming in fear the whole time. Steering was a nightmare. There was this sense that even if you wanted to stop or slow down, your partner wasn’t with you on that, and you were just about to hurtle out of control. It’s one thing to learn how to ride a bike, but it’s quite another to cause muscle memory confusion because half of the muscles riding the contraption aren’t yours and so the bike is constantly making unanticipated moves.

I suppose that gets better with practice, for those intrepid individuals who can push past the first wall of terror and shock. I am not so strong. We rolled the bike back next to the garage at my sister’s old house in Connecticut and sat down on the lawn until the shaking stopped.

But I acknowledge that some things get better with time. Walla Walla, for its own efforts, is mildly more fun to live in during springtime than in the nadir of winter. I am reminded, by the colorful daffodils and tulips that have pushed out of the ground on people’s lawns and in downtown, that we are an oasis in the desert. I am hearing now about things that were either held back from me because of my temporary disability, or because I am getting to know people better: there’s a fun group who go bowling every Thursday night, there’s another gang who started a Stitch ‘n Bitch on Wednesdays, there’s a shepherding dog trial event coming up in May, and a hot air balloon race in a few weeks, east of town, I think.

One of the things we have been able to do through my varying stages of not having a left ACL, having a dead person’s ACL replacement, and having a rehabilitated knee, is hit the restaurants. It is with this gratitude that I can write a bit about one notable venue, Pho Sho.

Cute name aside, Pho Sho has a small but strong menu of salads, rice and spring rolls, and, of course, pho. The pho tai, a rare beef pho, is the most delightful. Spicing is minimal and left up to the customers, via a series of chili and spice jars out on the tables, and folks should take advantage of them. Spring rolls are fresh—I often crave the peanut sauce that accompanies them. Entrees are priced in the high $8-to high $9 range, and I have wondered exactly why the price points are so tight but different, but that doesn’t really matter if you’re not going to own your own restaurant, I suppose. The chicken pho is less expressive but still well seasoned. Pho, though, really works better with beef. If you’re going to go veg, you’ll be happy that the vegetarian pho comes with amazingly crunchy cubes of fried tofu. 

The place is well lit, and the minimal decoration lets you appreciate the clean lines of the room and the heavy wooden tables. The communal table in the middle of the room is a great way to meet new neighbors, which translated into, in this small city, creating new friends to see the next time you sit down here to eat. A very satisfying, interesting meal, expect to pay about $30 for two big bowl of pho, an appetizer, and a pot of green tea.

Slice of life

 

Peach custard pie

Peach custard pie

 

 

I was made aware this evening of an upcoming pie contest to raise money for our local food cooperative. It didn’t take long for my mind to start hypothesizing pie contents that would be sure-fire champions. After five minutes of dedicated thinking, I realized a few things:

1. I guess I’m going to enter the contest — let’s just say the universe seems to have decided this for me, since it was a done deal the second I heard the contest existed.

2. I have no idea how to strategize my approach to pie baking for the purposes of winning a contest.

3. It shouldn’t be about the winning. It should be about the baking and the fundraising and the community spirit.

4. Oh heck, of course it’s about the winning! Just for bragging rights.

5. Oh crap, I think I’m a carpetbagger. Thinking I can roll into town and twelve weeks later, walk away with pie baking bragging rights as if nobody else in town knows how to bake a pie.

And then I went to making dinner, a faux chicken Kiev dish consisting of pounded chicken breasts stuffed with goat cheese and broccoli, garlic bread, and spiced lentils for a side because I made 67 cups accidentally last Friday and I have just got to find a way to use them up. For being half-Lebanese I have no insight into making lentils interesting to eat.

As I made dinner, pounding the chicken hard enough that the windows rattled in the room next to me, I mused the pie possibilities. Old-fashioned apple pie. Simple to make and I do it well, but wouldn’t the judges’ expectations be too high for it to be impressive? Apple pie with my mother’s crumble top. Always a hit, but again, perhaps too generic. Granola pie. Definitely out-of-the-box thinking, but I might not want to make something with corn syrup if it’s for a food co-op. And would a “granola” pie be offensive to people usually referred to as “crunchy?” It’s one thing not to win a contest, I reckoned, but it’s another to alienate people! This is a small town, after all! I mean, of course it’s small, it hosts a PIE CONTEST.

Okay, so maybe I should go for a pie that is unexpected but not ridiculous in any way. Something rather old-fashioned, something that I could expect nobody else would make. And since it’s fall, berry pies are probably out. Perhaps a pumpkin custard pie with a meringue top. Or a brown sugar and grits pie. But maybe that’s too southern for them. For me, small town = The South, even though I know the only “southeast” around here is our location in the state. Susanne wondered if the local stores even sold grits. I can’t imagine a grocery store not stocking grits — it’s just a poor man’s polenta, I told her. But she may have a point, and now I have to check the next time I drop by. I’ve got a week to decide on a pie — actually two pies, since you have to make it twice.

I wonder if getting excited about a pie contest means I’m acclimating to my new environment, or if I’m just bored out of my skull and looking for just about anything to do. I still haven’t joined a band, for instance, and everyone and their brother is in a band here, with all manner of names like “Trixie and the Catnips,” or some such. So if I’ve held off that demon, perhaps a pie contest is no big deal.

Where else could you get 5 slices of pie for $5? That’s exciting all on its own merits.

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