Through that Door, Turn Left, and You’ll Find Enlightenment

“Na mah stay.” I placed my hands in prayer position (the Anjali mudra, if you must know), bowed my head and stated the syllables slowly and clearly. “Na mah stay.” Seven guys, unwashed and in varying states of dishevelment, slowly, but carefully pronounced each syllable as they bowed in response.

“Does anyone know what Namaste means?” I didn’t ask this lightly. In the course of my classes, I had been surprised by what bits of arcane knowledge these guys knew. One guy uttered “Peace?” Another suggested “We’re done, we can go?”

I started to laugh, “Kinda…it roughly means ‘The goodness in me honors the goodness in you. It’s a nice way of honoring you guys for showing up. Now, who wants a brownie?’

Where have I been? Like the proverbial skin cell, I have been sloughed off and renewed–I’m pink and plump. Oops, not plump per se, rather, let’s say, pink and juicy. When I started blogging, my initial goal was to write every day. Who knew thinking in text was such a chore! Setting such a goal induces an intense form of aphasia. Suddenly, nothing I had to say was particularly noteworthy or interesting. Plus, it felt good to uncurl my stiff little fingers from the keyboard, as they hovered waiting to tap out any profound idea that surfaced its pretty little ephemeral head.

So I turned off the computer for a while. No more blogging…no more Ebay and Zappos (my drugs of choice)…and decided to take a look at my too comfy (read: lethargic) existence and decide, once again, what to be when I grow up. The housewife gig (my recent incarnation) was killing me. On my death bed, a spotless kitchen should not be my legacy.

So off on a quest I sailed. The old adage of the student being ready and the teacher appearing is pretty true.

One day, on my way to my usual coffee shop, a gentle breeze of burning sandalwood wafted from a delightful lavender and orange doorway. Why had I not seen this transom before? The doorway was draped by gold and purple silk fabric similar to an elegant sari. A small fountain babbled from an interior courtyard. The wind made the crystal chimes that hung from the thin branch of a small ficus tree gently tinkle. A low table held a small ceramic cat with burning stick of sandalwood incense propped into a small hole in the top of its head. A small brass Ganesh sat atop a stack of light blue flyers. I lifted the Ganesh (remover of obstacles) and took a flyer.

“ Iyengar yoga classes – First Class Free.”

Over the years, I have attempted yoga. I would fall in love, professing to be a real devotee only to be discouraged by how immensely inflexible my body was and how slow the workouts can be…and in defeat, abruptly quit. I knew that I liked Iyengar because of its attention to precise details. But…

My pattern of starting and quitting began when I was about 12…growing up blocks from the notorious Haight Ashbury in the full blossoming of the Hippy movement…it was hard not to be influenced by all things eastern, or arcane, specifically spiritual endeavors. (At 13 I swore I wanted to be a Zoroastrian—I think, because, Zoroastrianism was found in the last volume of the Encyclopedia, for some reason, I found that to be amazingly cool.) There was even an Ashram across the street from our flat near Golden Gate Park. My parochial school teachers spoke about the use of mantras and one amazingly progressive English teacher brought a book of blank mandalas for us to color. Pretty cool stuff for a Catholic girl’s school…then again, this was San Francisco.

In the recesses of my saurian memory lurked a respect but trepidation towards yoga. After all, I like my workouts to burn! And most of all, I like them to be over and done with in a hurry!

Maybe it was the intoxication of the sandalwood or the immense serenity of the place, but I was intrigued. I noted the class time and date. Why not?

The class felt good. It was hard—this was burning—a good thing. For the first time, maybe it’s the ability to focus that comes with middle age, for 90 minutes, nothing off of my mat existed. No to do lists, no bills to be paid, no phone calls to be made. The world was delimited by the borders of my purple mat. I liked that. A lot. But wandering eyes…Soon I was looking at people around me…Look at her lift her leg! If only I had her butt! Dang, my downward dog looks like a puppy with parvo! Not good…I could feel the seeds of discouragement and frustration take place beneath my corporeal awareness of simply feeling good.

Then one day, the teacher opened with an explanation of the first Sutra of Patanjali (the putative first codifier of yoga)… The first word of the Sutra, is atha, frequently translated as “now,” atha can also mean a blessing, turning point, or the start of commitment. She grinned, “Start where you are…” She continued, “Every time you come to your practice, you will be different, your practice will be different. Start there.”

A light went on. Start where you are. Pema Chodron, the awesome Buddhist nun, says the same thing. Start where you are. This concept is liberating as is another yoga concept—Ahimsa, or nonviolence. Usually, we turn this idea towards others…but yoga teaches that it is just as important to be nonviolent in terms of the self. It does no good to attempt a posture one is not ready to do, nor to berate oneself for the lack of perfection. Let me tell ya, as a triple type A person who swears by perfection, this idea is downright earth shattering. I don’t have to bend like Rodney Yee to be a yogini! I just have to do yoga as my body sees fit. Perfection is in the attempt, not the end. Doh. Who knew?

After a few months of daily yoga, my life is different—I am different. Things shifted. I can touch my toes…I am 10 lbs. lighter…and I am happier—and have been told, much less bitchier (I have my doubts, enlightenment can only do so much!)

Months after I stumbled upon the doorway to the yoga studio, I stumbled upon another doorway. My friend told me about a program in San Francisco that provides a hot meal and activities for homeless seniors in the Tenderloin that needed volunteers…I can write grants, so I figured I could help.

The universe is so cool and crazy sometimes. During my interview to be a volunteer grant writer, I mentioned I’ve started studying yoga…the rest, as they say, is weird synchronistic history.

I now lead anywhere from 3 to 7 homeless guys twice a week through a modified yoga class—mostly seated…and with a hearty dose of Buddhist principles of non-violence and anger management…and batches of brownies as incentives…I tried organic fruit, but nothing gets them to class like fresh brownies! I love my guys. They have taught me so much about seeing beyond the surface. They’re funny, insightful and willing to bend. How cool is that?

I found my calling…I have enrolled in a program to be a community health worker—focusing on holistic modalities. My goal is to serve the homeless and low income seniors.

It’s amazing where a doorway will lead you!

Published in: Uncategorized on May 13, 2010 at 2:14 AM  Leave a Comment  
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I Saw A Racoon Today and He was Wearing Hiking Boots

This morning, it dawned on me: Hills rock. Oakland rocks. But it’s the hills that rock the most. I stopped going to the gym…45 minutes on the treadmill, then 45 minutes on the stairmaster made for a l-o-n-g do-I-gotta?-workout. Every morning there was that fragile liminal space wherein I would argue that being Rubenesque really isn’t the end of the world…(it is) and that sloth is an art form (it isn’t). So, I’d trudge down to the bus stop to hop onto the bus to go to my crowded gym each and every morning. The key phrase there is ‘trudge down to.’ Like a dimwitted child it hit me: I live in the hills of Oakland, technically Piedmont…a terrain that makes cars wheeze and bikers gasp. Bur the views! And the precipitous cliffs!

When we first moved up here, it was the hills that held the allure. I can see the Bay Bridge from my balcony…not only that, here we are smack dab in da hood, but surrounded by redwood trees and Oakland’s arboreal namesake, oak trees. Not only that, the neighborhood is full of stately old mansions dating back to the 1800’s. At one time, Piedmont was known as the City of Millionaires. In the 1920’s, Piedmont boasted the most millionaires in all of the US. They built these lovely Italianate mansions surrounded by groves of trees. All of which are built on upslopes. Each time I point out a new favorite house, my husband always mentions the sheer hell it would be to haul bags of cat litter up the slopping front terrace and then up the three flights of stairs to the front door. Yeah, but our asses would be like steel!

The first day I decided to trek the neighborhood, I donned my trusty ol’ Nikes and off I went. Shoes are the semiotic indicator of who lives in the Bay Area. When we first moved to our apartment, as I stood on the balcony watching the tiny white sailboats off in the distance, I looked down. Way down the hill and then down at my feet. I was wearing a pair of pink pumps with a cute bow over the tow. While they were sartorialy adorable, I knew I was doomed. I went through my catalogue of shoes in my head that I had just unpacked. The last place I lived was flat…and walking consisted of going to the cab, and from the cab, to my office. Come 5pm, all I needed to do was retrace my 20 or so steps (office – cab—condo) and I was finished. This meant that shoes were nothing but pointy jewelry for me. Suddenly, I realized that my python boots would render me housebound, All I had to do was walk out to get the morning paper and I would slide into the bay. Now, a native, I wear those platypus looking Keens…ugly, yes. But in them, I am like a gecko with sticky toes…I can scale any hill.

I love hills. I will never live on a flat topology again. There is something about flatness that transcends geology and permeates the spirit of a place without hills. Hills lend character. Hill dwellers incorporate the expansive views into their souls—at least they do here—it’s hard not to be progressive and live in the Oakland/Berkeley hills…compare our hilly ethos to say, the flat mundane terroir of Fresno or Bakersfield.

I have a three mile circuitous loop that weaves through canyons, skittles down winding roads and chugs back up alpine worthy hills. I take great pains to search the neighborhood via Google maps whenever I change routes…one can’t, just say, arbitrarily turn left and then turn right on a whim…if one did, they’d become lost for days. At least, I would, I’d be too embarrassed to knock on someone’s door to ask, “Excuse me, but where exactly is the main road from here? This takes less than an hour—much more efficient than my 90 minutes at the gym. And it works! The joy of buying a pair of yoga pants in XS knows no boundaries! Lately, I have been running (yeah, right), trudging a tad perceptibly faster on the inclines.

Our neighborhood must be an engineer’s nightmare…the hills roll. Within one block, there could be three steep inclines followed by a terrace of jaw dropping declines. I try to avoid the hills where you can’t see beyond the summit. Talk about a sudden fear of heights! But this is why hill walking is the best workout—it is far from boring. There is always that subtext of immanent and unforgiving danger to keep you on your toes. Since the houses are so old, the trees are even more ancient, which means that the roots are the size of underground hippos swelling beneath the sidewalk (when there is an actual sidewalk) or the road. Your mind cannot wander. Walking at a good clip down a hill then stepping off a 2 inch drop can be lethal.

Even better is all of the wildlife I get to see…Raccoons! Who knew we had raccoons in Oakland? And rabbits. You can tell I am an urbanite when you hear how excited I get at seeing non-rat rodents in the neighborhood. On Christmas morning, I convinced the DH to join me…we were the only ones out in the morning fog. It was so peaceful. Suddenly we froze as we watched a pair of wild turkeys walk across the street. Totally amazing.

This is why I love Oakland…walking back up the hill to our apartment complex, I stop and stare in awe at the Julia Morgan mansion on the corner. I turn to the left and catch the sight of a hawk soaring over the redwood tree in front of our building…I turn to the right, sniff the soft air ever so gently and catch the faint whiff of the crack house across the street. Oakland rocks.

Published in: on January 22, 2010 at 4:53 AM  Comments (2)  
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This Chick Swallows!

I am in love. Total and amazing love. I met my sweetie, and I do mean sweetie, about a month ago in a tiny café. The décor was retro-roadhouse: dark beams traversed the ceiling, cool black slate tiles with red veins skittled across the floor. Candles flickered, casting a soft glow throughout the room. Soft jazz from a street musician—a saxophone doing a Miles riff—wafted through the French doors.

Across the crowded room, I coyly pointed at the object of my desire. The bartender winked and nodded with sly approval. Such sophistication! I blushed and then squeeled at my honey’s passionate tumescence as I received it my wet, hungry mouth.

Oh baby, yes! I moaned, I do indeed swallow!

Let me introduce you to my love, my newfound passion: The chiogga beet.

Yes! A beet…but ohmygod, What. A. Beet. This sublime botanical creature is light years from that bloody creature, that evil biennial Beta vulgaris that comes in a can or a jar. The Chiogga? Think Ferrari. Think cool…this is the Armani of beetdom. The Chiogga is a pretty creature, its flesh sports pink and white concentric circles…when you bite into one, your palate is treated to a refined sweetened frutiness with enough peppery spunk to make anyone smile.

My first introduction to these jewels took the form of a simple but classy (and often repeated hors d’oeurve. Chilled thinly sliced discs formed a hot pink and white bed for whole pan seared anchovies drizzled with balsamic vinegar. Oh yes, Jesus, I do believe! The sweet cold crunch combined with the hot salty fish and the piquant bite of the vinegar…well, let me just say, my eyes rolled back so far in my head and the uncontrolled moaning made my husband blush.

Run to your grocery store and buy a pound or two. Really. You must. If your grocer lacks the god given good sense to stock these lovelies…start packing, because you clearly live among the uncivilized. Whoever heard of a grocery store that doesn’t carry Italian heirloom beets. Unthinkable. Seriously, these are staples at most farmers markets, and though I haven’t checked, Whole Foods probably carries them.

Here’s a nifty easy recipe:

1 lb of Chiogga beets

1 cup of crème fresh

1 peeled English cucumber chopped into cubes

½ cup of French feta crumbled

1 tbl chopped dill

Scrub the beets and place in a deep pot…cover with cold water, bring to a boil, reduce to a medium simmer for about 30 mins or until fork tender. I do this in the morning so that I can chill these guys before dinner.

When you’re ready to peel them, they’re an easy gig…no gloves necessary (like the red one which will permanently stain, i.e., RUIN your white-tipped acrylic nails…making people gasp whenever you pay for anything), the Chioggas (Chioggae?) are much lighter in color.

Dice the beet and cucumber into to roughly equal sized chunks…stir in the crème fresh, crumbled feta and the dill.

I serve this either as a salad, on a bed of field greens or as an hors d’oeurve, on a wedge of toasted pita bread.

I promise you, this is awesome.

Published in: on January 1, 2010 at 3:02 AM  Comments (3)  
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That Tacky Dame, Sara Lee

My mouth hit the floor. I had to find something to hold on to as I recovered from the shock. Who would have thought? At once I was stunned…my gut feelings were, once again right on track. But still, who would of thought?

Not only are they ugly, they’re owned by Sara Lee. I wouldn’t ever dream of eating her pastries, why would I carry her purse? I just found out that Coach is owned by Sara Lee—the pound cake and pesticide maker.

I have an addiction. I’ve been able to white knuckle it, and keep it in check since getting married. After all, it is something I do keep from my husband, are at least make every concerted effort to do so.

I am addicted to handbags. I know this isn’t that uncommon a malady. Some are turned on by shoes—true, I once flirted with a brief craving for Jimmy Choos…and there was that one day, when I was walking in Paris and, I turned down the Rue St. Honore, only to find myself sitting in a shoe salon trying on a pair of ankle boots lined in chinchilla. True, it was freezing outside, and my word, my feet had never been so warm or so cute, but the price was just too hard to justify—I could have bought a car AND rented a condo in Paris for the price of the bottines—I left the store, I mean, the ‘salon,’ with a sigh as I waved adieu to the boots. But had the object of affection been a handbag, who knows where I’d be today…no doubt homeless, in Paris but with really good accessories.

This addiction started early. I was about seven when I got my first handbag…a cute black patent leather envelope style purse with a velvet bow on the flap. Very Audrey. I carried my purse everywhere. I had a small pink kisslock coin purse in the shape of a monkey’s head, a pink comb, my bus token, and depending on my mood, a small doll or stuffed animal—my favorite was a tiny furry tiger that wore overalls. The contents were important, but it was the handbag that propelled me to the grown up world.

I was in high school when I received my first Chanel—Iconic quilted lambskin and gold chain. To this day, it still looks brand new and of course, is still a classic. To me, Chanel is the gold standard of handbag style: European and chic without calling attention to itself. Much of its cache is that Chanel bags are not for everyone—nothing is more of a style killer than democracy. They aren’t even replicated as often as other designers—a Chanel bag isn’t flashy like a Louis Vuitton—a designer that seems more Ghetto chic than most. Even I prefer to carry my Stephan Sprouse for more ‘funkier’ everyday errands.

The problem with designer handbags is that so many people carry copies of the real thing that the joy of carrying the real thing is diminished. One could easily assume your Gucci Pelham is just a good copy—or that Prada is a fake. Besides, even if it were real, why would you want to look like everyone else?

Coach handbags in particular, come to mind. When I walk downtown, four out of seven purses in San Francisco are a Coach. I always thought a double C signified Chanel…instead, the C signifies middle class sturdiness and a designer purse that mom would love.

The other day, in a moment of weakness, I found myself asking, “What is this thing called Coach?” I wandered into the Coach store in downtown San Francisco…I started sniffing around. Hmmmm? Salon-like atmosphere. Check. Lots of glass and silver. Check. Deep pile carpeting. Check. The ubiquitous techno-vibe music. Check. But the mood killer was the sales girl…I felt like a chew toy trapped in the maw of an overfed albeit rabid terrier. This dear girl kept proffering handbags that I just had to try. I just had to, she gushed. I prefer the surly girls over at Prada who totally ignore me and kind of sneer when I pay. This affect is merely a ruse to scare off the weak, the ones who really shouldn’t be wearing Prada…the tough few who aren’t intimidated are the chosen. I always leave feeling victorious.

At Coach, the prices were good…for half the price of a Barbara Bui, I could walk out with their latest model. Not only that, but for a tad more money, I could add a Coach accessory: a key fob or a scarf! Really?

There was something inflated about Coach—too many of them were out there. This was a designer for the masses. I just had to hop on the subway to see moms going back to the suburbs clutching their designer, I mean, Coach handbag as they rode home to their hubby and kids. I politely declined the salesgirl’s ministrations. I was totally confused. There was nothing overtly unique…perhaps, that’s the hook…in fact it is…A coach purse is the illusion of luxury that everyone can afford.

Sorry. I’ll stick to my ancient but wearing nicely, Hermes and Bottega Venetas…

Published in: on December 31, 2009 at 3:53 AM  Comments (1)  
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Honey, does this Shopping Cart Make Me Look Fat?

It amazes me how stubborn Americans are sometime. Land of the Free, Land of the Brave but Land of the chronically ill. Ironically, most of our chronic illnesses are self-imposed.

According to the According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, three-quarters of health care spending now goes to treat “preventable chronic diseases.” Many, if not most, of them are directly related to really poor lifestyle choices. Specifically, what we choose to spear with our forks: We’re spending $147 billion to treat obesity, $116 billion to treat diabetes, and hundreds of billions more to treat cardiovascular disease and the many types of cancer that have been linked to typical American diet. One recent study estimated that 30 percent of the increase in health care spending over the past 20 years could be attributed to the soaring rate of obesity.

Honestly, I think it is immoral to deny anyone health care predicated on income. No one should go without care because it is unaffordable; however, I do think there is an ethical problem with taxpayers having to foot the bill for another individual’s chronic bad habits. Habits imply choice.

For a long time, obesity, it seems has been accepted as a cultural norm…television shows such as the Biggest Loser, or the Style Network’s chronicles of Ruby Gettinger’s 700 pound journey of weight loss beg the question of causality and responsibility – at what point does an individual not know that their lifestyle choices are not the healthiest? While individuals on these programs have made the admirable, if not difficult choice to change, how many other individuals are at home, on the sofa, bag of chips in hand, who have not made that choice?

I love food. Yet maintaining a healthy lifestyle and consequently, a healthy weight, has always been very important in our home. I loath dieting. As we all know, Americans spend billions on weight loss products and strategies. The efficacy of which is frequently questionable, if not nonexistent. Instead, of deprivation, I believe in celebrating food.

The rule to maintaining a healthy weight is eating whole, real foods…I agree with Michael Pollan, and go with the rule that we only eat foods that our grandparents’ would have recognized as such. I also make sure that we have one home cooked – from scratch—meal a day. I know that we are lucky; where we live there is a farmers market everyday of the week somewhere in our community. There is an organic bakery down the block and a green grocer around the corner.

Wouldn’t be ideal if this were the rule rather than the exception? Instead of paying for health care, it would make more sense to have the government invest in small farms….or give tax credits to small businesses that serve organic or whole food ingredients.

I volunteer for a group that promotes communty gardens in low income neighborhoods. These communities are over run with chronic illlnesses such as diabetes and hypertension–the effects of economics, lack of education rather than simply poor choices. However, the benefits from organic gardens sprout like wildfire, entrepeneurial spirits flower. Organic restaurants and bakeries are popping up in neighborhoods where you’d least expect them. I have no doubt that the health benefits are slowly becoming more and more apparent where families have access to community gardens. Once educated, most people are more careful about the choices they make. Wouldn’t it make more sense for more government investment in programs like these?

The second component to staying healthy is movement. I would go nuts without my matinal three mile hike over the hills in our neighborhood or our weekly jog on the beach. When these get old, I alternate with Pilates classes or my favorite, Bikram yoga. When these get old, I fall back on my old prosaic gym membership. My husband runs around Lake Merritt everyday after work. We’re not unusual, most mornings my neighborhood is filled with runners and walkers. More telling, the rate of obesity is, pardon the pun, slim to none.

Wouldn’t it be nifty if the government focused less on healthcare and more on preventative health measures? Tax credits for running shoes? Or even, issuing pedometers…say, for every 100,000 steps, people earned a tax deduction? (that’s less than five miles a day for two weeks!) Or mandatory gym memberships? When I was a little girl, the President’s Council on Physical Fitness was a big deal. Then again, this was back in the day when school’s had enough money for physical education.

More funding should be invested in programs that promote wellness than treating illness that results from poor choices and lethargy.

Published in: on December 27, 2009 at 5:21 AM  Comments (2)  
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Xenophobic Cuisine: The Food Network

I have issues with the Food Network.

The network aims its shows smack dab at the middle of the American palate and totally misses.  Are we really that bland? I used to think (ok, I still do) the FN was racist.  As a Chinese American, I want to raise my hand and ask, “What about me?”  Oh, they do have a smattering of African American and Latin cooks sprinkled like chopped chives throughout its programming, but still, their recipes are, uhm, a bit ‘regular’… nothing outstanding, nor terribly regional…or, OMG! Too ethnic!

In fact, it would seem to me that the Food Network represents pervasive blandness that defines much of our country.   Once you leave the borders of San Francisco, or New York City, or any other concentrated urban center, you enter a world of malls and big box stores that repeat themselves every few miles.  Tell me, exactly why a community needs a Bed, Bath, and Beyond every two miles? Even scarier, why is there a Chevy’s or Chili’s equidistant from each other?

When DH and I visited his hometown of Houston—I wanted to see Texas, not a facsimile of venues I could see in my home state. We had to look hard to find locally owned anything.   I did learn though, the saying, everything is bigger in Texas, is true. I went grocery shopping with my inlaws…at their neighborhood Target (neighborhood? It took us an hour to drive to it)…the store was the size of 14 airplane hangers. I swear you could land a jet in the dairy aisle. But I dare you, try to find a block of fresh tofu or a tub of crème fresh. But! Wait! They had shelves and shelves of blue box’d mac & cheese.

This homogenization is what irks me when I flip on the food network.  What a shame, their programming could be used as an opportunity to teach us about the many yummy varieties of food out there.

I think the best way to learn about another culture, beside learning the language (which we as Americans seem to have difficulty doing) is to eat its food.  What a cool way to work towards world peace and mutual understanding:  Eating!

So, Food Network, where are the Asian food shows? (Ming Tsai is arguably too cool for you guys…but….)

There is a wealth of culinary worlds categorized as Asian cuisine. Imagine a Japanese cooking show? (There’s more than Sushi!) Or, a Filipino cooking show? Biko anyone? Thai? Malaysian? ooooh, Korean Barbecue?  Move over, Bobby Flay! Or what about the entire world of Middle Eastern cooking?

Heck, I’d be tickled pink and totally amazed if they’d do a vegan cooking show.

Here’s a recipe for one of our favorite soups when DH and I eat at our local Ethiopian restaurants. Sadly, I don’t think you’ll ever see it done on the Food Network—‘too ethnic,’ but it is easy and very good. Enjoy:

Ethiopian Lentil Soup (Yemisir Shorba)

Ingredients 1 1/2 cup lentils

4 tbl Yetenet’tere zeyt (this is just spiced oil: crush 2 teaspoons each:  chopped garlic, onion, and dried basil and 1 teaspoon chopped ginger root to a mash, then stirring it into 2 cups each of water and olive oil, and boiling until all the water evaporates. Cool, strain, and store in the refrigerator in a tightly covered glass jar. (This stuff is great on veggies, all meats, and as a base for salad dressing…I like it hot, so I also add red pepper flakes).

1/2 cup chopped onions

1/4 tsp mashed peeled ginger root

1/4 tsp mashed garlic

Salt to taste

7 cup water


Wash lentils thoroughly and let drain. Heat the oil to low in a large saucepan and add the onion. Saute at a low heat, stirring constantly, so that the onion doesn’t turn color, but rather becomes transparent. This takes some time – 10 minutes or so. Add the mashed garlic and ginger and continue cooking on low for about 5 minutes. Then add the lentils, turn the heat up just a little bit, and cook, stirring, for 5 more minutes. Add 7 cups of warm water, bring to a boil, then boil on medium heat for 20 to 25 minutes. Season to taste with salt.

Serve hot with injera, if you can find it – or with pita bread.

Published in: on December 18, 2009 at 11:25 PM  Comments (2)  
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It Takes A Red Ball Gown to Make a Home

The scene:  I am walking to my girlfriend’s apartment in San Francisco’s Tenderloin…a  cool Über urban neighborhood filled with a tasty mélange of  junkies, transsexual hookers (who always compliment me on my outfits, thank you, Ladies!) and business men in their Dunhill finery.  I always smile at the incongruity of homeless people asleep in the doorway of a liquor store and a limo pulled to the curb, driver rushing inside to buy a Vietnamese sandwich for the guy in the backseat….then again, the sandwiches sold in that liquor store are the finest around.

I come to the corner to wait for the light to change.  Little Chinese grandmas clutch shopping bags over flowing with bok choy and pink boxes full of chinese goodies.  This is the typical crowd one sees at noon, people going about their daily chores.  The light turns green, as I cross the street, the crowd shifts.  In front of me, about half a block  ahead of me walks a very tall man.   He towered over me, and the group of  Chinese grandmas.  I’d say he was easily 6’4.  He had a short haircut and a neatly trimmed beard. In one hand was a shopping bag, and beneath his other arm, was  folded a copy of this week’s edition of the New Yorker.

Nothing outstanding, nor particularly unusual, except that he was wearing a full length red ball gown.  The dress’ train must have been 3 feet long.  The crowd shifted and weaved to avoid stepping on the fabric.  Nobody stopped. Nobody stared.  Just a normal day in the neighborhood.

I smiled as I thought, this is why I could never live anywhere else.

Published in: on December 18, 2009 at 1:42 AM  Comments (3)  
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Jackson Pollock and Brussel Sprouts

Lovely Readers,

I haven’t shared any recipes of late, have I? My primary intention here was to post a recipe a day.  The purpose, ideally, was to create a repository of recipes into which I could delve and repeat preparing meals we have eaten. The reason for this is that  my memory is that of a May fly: once a dish is cooked and consumed, it is forgotten (by me).

I like to call it spontaneous cooking. I open the fridge, find a couple of pounds of chicken thighs bought on sale, spy an open bottle of a Spanish Rioja sitting on the kitchen counter, next to a basket containing two Fuji apples. I’d stand back, and utter my favorite mantric query: “What if…,?” (I find this mantra to be applicable in a surfeit of situations).

I fancy that my approach to ingredients is similar to a jazz riff or of how an abstract painter approaches tubes of acrylic paints. This is a super fun way to cook, unfortunately, without a record of the schematics, the recipe for what I made often fades into totally obscurity.   DH would look off into the distance and sigh, as if he were remembering a best friend from junior high, “That lamb tajine, it made the whole floor of are apartment building smell like cumin…Make that again…”  This request to me, was as if  upon viewing Pollock’s Number 8, you gushed, “oooh do that again!” Not that my cooking even remotely approaches Pollock’s utter genius… but I’d sit there in an invisible (to DH) panic.

I made that? It smelled like what? The whole floor? (One of the best things, I think, about our apartment building is the food smells: we have neighbors from Thailand, New Dehli and Mississipi…when these people cook, it is an amazing topology of scents: curry, jasmine rice, fried chicken…if I weren’t concerned about being perceived as more than slightly odd, I would go from floor to floor, inhaling deeply as I stood on the transom to the elevator). I would respond to DH’s request with a sigh, totally at a loss as to how I had prepared that dish. Recipe cards? Too domestic.

So, the blog seemed like a good way to record these epicurean experiments…not only that, knowing I had to write the recipe down, compelled me to pay attention to measuring. I actually went out and bought a Pyrex measuring cup…I figured a cup of stock lends a little more credence to a recipe than “one Bordeaux glass full of stock.”

But good intentions…sigh.

In reality, my indolent self overtook the compulsion to adhere to my goal of recording what I cooked coupled with a sort of humility…a platter of Brussels sprouts braised with bacon and balsamic vinegar suddenly seemed like an amazing example of something so prosaic, I couldn’t even bring myself to describe it. Besides, it is so much more fun to talk about other stuff like left wing politics and Armani.

Today, though, as I tippy-tap on the keyboard, I am eating leftovers from last night.  And, dang, these Brussels sprouts rock. This weekend, at Berkeley Bowl we bought a two and a half foot tall stalk of Brussels sprouts—if you have never seen how these little guys grow, check this out:  Brussels sprouts If we ever buy a house with a yard, I am so growing these. (another reason why BB rocks).

Here’s what I did: Brussels sprouts are a lot of work…after I cut them from their stalk, I had roughly 2 pounds of these little guys which translates into about 4 billion little green heads—not really, but it felt that way when I trimmed the final little globe of leaves. So, with a sharp paring knife, cut off the woody bottom of each sprout. Strip off any dried or dark leaves. I then cut each sprout in half (length wise). Fill your sink or a large bowl (for those of us with teeny apartment kitchen sinks) with cold water. Swish the sprouts to allow for any sand to fall to the bottom of the bowl. Drain and pat dry with paper towel. Transfer the sprouts to a rimmed broiling pan—you want it large enough to accommodate the sprouts in one layer. Drizzle the sprouts lightly with olive oil.

HERE’S THE SECRET –>bacon! Cut roughly 4 thick cut slices of bacon into 1 inch pieces, sprinkle the raw, yes, raw pieces over the sprouts. Slip this into a preheated oven 450 for about 15 minutes, or until the sprouts and bacon are commencing to brown.

HERE’S ANOTHER SECRET–>Give the sprouts and bacon a good slosh (about a cup of good chicken stock) return to the oven and cook until the stock is absorbed.

And the FINAL SECRET –>Right before you serve these, toss with Balsamic vinegar.

This, I promise, is the most amazing dish–and NO greasy frying pan to wash(!!)…it almost makes cutting the ends off of 4 billion sprouts worth the time.

Published in: on December 16, 2009 at 1:12 AM  Comments (2)  
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Pullet Sperm and Armani Sweaters

In Shakespeare’s, “The Merry Wives Of Windsor” Sir John Falstaff calls for a flagon of wine.  His man asks if he will have it with eggs. To which Falstaff replies,

Simple of itself. I’ll no pullet-sperm in my brewage.”

I learned something today.  Unless a wine is so labeled, it is not vegan.  Of all things!  Don’t get me wrong, I am not vegan, hardly…let’s just say, I never met a pig I didn’t like.  However, I like to keep my options open.  A lot of wine is filtered with egg whites.  There are many good unfiltered wines on the market, notably from Alsace, which, I also learned, is a wine that has a ‘truer expression of the grape.’  Who knew?

How did this pedagogical incursion in the mystical world of wine take place?  Well, blame it on the rain and a building with a parking garage!!

It is amazingly bleak and drippy today.  In fact, I am wearing leggings, boots and a long black skirt and long sleeved turtleneck sweater and am still cold.  As mentioned previously, Sundays are the day we hit the farmers market, canvas bags in hand to gather food stuffs for the coming week…we supplement this by swinging by our neighborhood ’traditional’ corporate chain grocery store on the way home.  As far as corporate chains go, I prefer the Whole Foods up the block from us, but DH starts to develop his nervous twitch when I beg to shop there…tho’ let me FOR.  THE.  LAST.  TIME.  state, it is a myth perpetuated by the other grocery chains that Whole Foods is more expensive. No. No. No.  It is not.  That is, if you are a careful shopper.  I have gone in with my weekly list and came out with a total that was equal to what we spend at our more traditional market.

The thing is I think people are easily seduced by all of the specialty items…the jar of chestnuts from France for $15?  Yum, but if that’s not on your normal shopping list…my weakness is the jars of tuna packed in olive oil from Italy….but if you stick to a list, buy the house brand, you’ll do fine.  Besides, there is the factor of considering the price of buying REAL food vs. paying for a bunch of additives…if you factor in health care that results from eating processed but cheap food…you realize that what most people consider as low-cost, really isn’t.   Consider the associated costs of such things as childhood obesity.  I wonder how many parents who buy groceries at Whole Foods or farmers markets have overweight kids??  In my opinion, parents who feed their kids processed foods should get some sort of citation such as a traffic ticket only for child abuse…

DH cringes when I walk down the cereal aisle of a grocery store…

Dang, don’t even get me started.

Annnnnyway….where was I?  Oh yeah, so it was raining today…DH asked if I wanted to go to the farmers market…I know the hearty souls are out there, huddled in their stalls…selling their goods to even the heartier folk out there shopping.  I applaud such dedication.  However, I am not so inclined.  Besides it’s winter, all we buy is a bag of field greens for our week’s salads, broccoli and bags of root vegetables.  Did I want to get rained upon for that?

Instead, we went to the new  Berkeley Bowl supermarket.  For those of you not blessed with the good sense luck to live in San Francisco or Oakland, call your mayor (BTW did you hear HOUSTON elected a GAY mayor???  Really??  Like. Wow!)  or other city officials and beg them to open a Berkeley Bowl in your city.  Berkeley Bowl is like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s on steroids minus the markup.

This place is awesome.  Kinda organic, kinda hippy, kinda “oh-my-god-it’s–world-market here” place.  Plus it’s a type of co-op (which is a Bay Area thing –I swear, we’re all Trotskyites, (but that’s sooo cool), so the prices are cheap, really cheap.  Also, everything is labeled to say from whence it came—entering the produce section feels like walking into a geography/botany lab.  I found produce I have only seen in books…Malanga, anyone?  I bought a bag of red and white carrots…who eats the orange ones anymore?

And the Asian foods…let me just say, if you have the urge to make miso soup at home, start here…I counted four types of miso, red and white, bonita flakes, kombu, and a literal plethora of soba noodle variations.

Back story:  This is their new store…the old store was much smaller and the parking lot was a veritable postage stamp sized piece of real estate.  Those yoga-loving people in their Prius car are downright nasty when it comes to parking.  The parking lot was legendary for the “No, you butt head, it’s my space!” duels.  We shopped there once, but it took us an hour to park, and once we pulled out of our stall, a fist fight ensued over our spot.  We drove off, clutching our kale in fear…

The new store has a multilevel parking garage.  You simply park, walk to the sleek silver elevator, press the button, DING!  The doors part and you’re in the land of happy.  If you are a foodie who likes to cook, this is truly the place to be.  Everyone seems to be   grinning.  I felt as if we had walked into Toys R Us, but stocked with food not Barbies.  The store is stocked with everything.  No, really, everything.  I know that is hyperbole, but in this case, it is true.  They have everything.  I heard Ruth Reichl speak a few months ago, where she said that she and her friends play a game: they try and name an item not found at the Berkeley Bowl…to date, they haven’t had success.  It almost feels like overkill…walk though the produce and be overwhelmed by the 20 varieties of apples…did you know that there are three types of Fuji?  I meandered down the rice aisle and counted 15 different types of rice…I bought some purple jasmine rice from Thailand.  Purple.  The potato section had about the same number of variations…I never knew that tuber was so colorful…we’ve all had the tiny blue ones, but pink and orange?

The wine selection took up three aisles…three aisles of wine?  The Sake section alone went across an entire wall…just reading labels would turn a shopper into a sake expert.  The knowledge base that was evident by all of the shelf labels was worthy of what one finds inside the covers of Wine Connoisseur—hence, the surprise that all wine is not a vegan product.

What is it that is so exciting about good food?  DH and I love to eat, but that one activity does not a life make.  We were wandering the aisles, as was everyone else, in total awe and wonder.  I had to consciously restrain from touching things, I started to get self-conscious when I started petting the chayote…who wants to buy veggies already stroked by someone else??

I started to think, what else engenders such absolute adoration?  Where else had I felt this giddiness?  When I went to the Louvre, I was totally bedazzled into a similar state of awe.  I walked into the Armani store a week ago and swooned over the white (!) cashmere…the common element here is the artisan craftsmanship that brings me to my knees.

Dedicated craftsmanship is always good, but there is an almost ineffable point at which the crafter’s heart and soul are evinced in their art.  This occurs in something as mundane as an Armani sweater where the stitches are as fine as those woven into the silk webs of spiders, or as sublime as in the narrative filled details David’s Andromache, or something as fundamental as a well-grown bunch of chervil or artisinal cheese.

When I pick up a box of rice grown and harvested by a small family farm in Thailand, or an heirloom tomato grown in the best possible conditions, I feel as if I am receiving a gift that someone has dedicated their hearts to produce for me to consume.  We become partners, wherein my part of this bargain is to go home and create a dish worthy of the effort that went into growing or producing the food.

This understanding is the hallmark of being a foodie:  it’s not just about eating.

Published in: on December 15, 2009 at 1:36 AM  Comments (4)  
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WTF?? They don’t Like us Girls…

`You know, when I first started the blog, politics was as far from my thoughts as picking up and moving to Montana! Not that there is anything wrong with Montana, but it is as remote as the moon for this city girl.  I keep thinking of Gloria Steinem’s adage that the personal is political.  It is.  I think injustice ,be it social or ecological, should be fought.  I mean, wouldn’t one think that this is how civilized people should act?  <raising hand> I do.  We all can commit small acts that support an equitable, end environmentally viable community for everyone…from not shopping at Walmart–bad labor practices –to simply reusing your grocery bags…

But sometimes, we need to come together and fight individuals who  want to take away our fundamental rights…like this:


Published in: on December 13, 2009 at 12:45 AM  Leave a Comment