Monday, January 29, 2007

Actual Line From The Wife

(We are reading an email newsletter from a fancy chocolate shop in the city. It says, "Say 'I Love You' With Chocolate!")

Wife: Oh god, no, you should not say 'I love you' with chocolate.

Me: What's wrong with that? I love you, I like chocolate.

Wife: No, you should give me chocolate and say 'I love you.' They should be separate things.

So Sayeth She.

Monday, January 22, 2007

In Which Sangria Fixes Everything

I had half a post written about the semester beginning, and about how I'm a big ball of nerves, and about all my anxiety, and about how I'm having to give up a lot of cooking, because I have so much work and so little time and need to train myself to focus. And then something happened.

I got drunk.

More specifically, I went out to drink with a bunch of folks from my class at Spain, a dive-ish tapas bar. I sat with folks I know and folks I don't, and we talked about department politics, city politics, babies/weddings/not having them, and the sex lives of our friends. And I drank two half-pitchers of sangria, and ate about ten pounds of patatas bravas, which are thin slices of potato (thicker than potato chips, but not by much) slathered in bottled hot sauce and are the only vegetarian tapa that ever comes out of that damn kitchen, and I walked to the subway slightly dizzy and giddy in the light of the flurries landing on my head.

I'm a lightweight. I always have been, and I actually have cultivated the talent. When I drank more regularly in college, I noticed when my tolerance increased and cut back on drinking, to keep my tolerance down. I want to get giggly on a glass of wine. I want to have my head spin easily.

And there is something in the sociality of drinking with people that sucks me in. My first drink was in a boîte in the south of France with my host sisters, who poured me whisky and coke. My second was poured for me by a guy who, after that, became my closest friend for nine months, at which point he failed to answer my emails for a summer, at which point we were peaceful and friendly to each other for the remainder of our time at school. My first time drinking with the Boy, when he got drunk for the first time in--five years?--at a formal dance, and my mother carried the photo of us together, glassy-eyed trashed, in her purse for years. The night the Boy and two friends and I were walking home from pitchers of sangria and nachos at Viva's, and I slipped on the ice and got a hematoma in my hand but didn't care because, and this was the important part, my cigarette did not go out. Blenders of chocolate milkshakes spiked with vanilla vodka, split between the four of us in the commune, laying on the floor of the trailer at the beach, feeling like a family as we played round after round of Phase 10 and laughed, and laughed.

And tonight. Tonight was drinking with people who I want to like me. Tonight was taking half a moment off from my panic and anxiety, half a moment off from being terrified about ruining everything in my life, and drank.

And something amazing happened when I came home. I made the Wife a frozen pizza and some romain lettuce with dressing. And then I made salad. It was just baby spinach and fresh goat cheese and pomegranite-balsamic vinaigrette. It took five minutes. But it was...amazing. The dressing was just right--sweet in a way I haven't tasted before. It was simple and clear. I may not have time this semester to spend hours cooking, like I like to. But I can feed myself, and I can do it right.

Pomegranite-balsamic vinaigrette, for when everything needs to be OK
Mix equal parts pomegranate molasses, balsamic vinegar, and olive oil if, like me, you like your vinaigrette sour. If not, toy with it; the pomegranate molasses is sweet-sour and smokey in flavor. Good on any sort of salad, especially, I realized tonight, on the plainest ones.

Menus From Vacation

No one eats well on vacation. Normally, you don't even have the ability to cook, so you're stuck eating nasty restaurant food on the edge of your hotel bed. If you're like me and the Wife, you're stuck at the few restaurants that can accommodate both of your eating habits. (At Outback Steakhouse, I can eat the blue cheese salad, she gets the Chicken on the Barbie, and we split the flourless chocolate cake for dessert. Mexican is easy, so is Indian.)

Luckily, we have a kitchen here at at the trailer, so we can cook for ourselves. But there's very little in the cabinet here, meaning we have to buy whatever we are going to eat. We brought some polenta, some Tinkyada pasta (the only really edible gluten-free brand), and breakfast cereal, and bought basic supplies at the SuperFresh and the two health food stores. (The one in the Midway Plaza has a good selection of frozen baked goods; the one on Rehoboth Avenue is better with dry goods, including a full selection of Tinkyada products and DeeTee's pizzelles). But that means that we're on a limited menu for the week. Here's what we put together.


Breakfast: Fried Eggs

Dinner: Black Bean Chili and Cornbread

Cornbread: Gluten-Free Pantry's Yankee Cornbread Mix. The mix called for buttermilk, which was a pain because we only needed a third of the quart and I have no idea what to do with the rest.

Chili: I made the whole 1 pound bag of beans, and put most of it away for the rest of the week. Then I made this:

Bring to a boil 2 c beans and 3 cups broth from boiling. (Don't use the liquid from canned beans; it's gross. Instead, add water or broth.) Add 1 cup uncooked rice, 1 chopped carrot, 1/2 chopped onion, 1/2 chopped potato, 2 cloves chopped garlic, 1 cup frozen green beans or other frozen veggies. I didn't get to add frozen veggies, because my bag of frozen green beans was totally gross and dried out; they were really old. Blast those grocery stores with low turnover in organic frozen goods. Add whatever spices are in the cabinet, preferably cumin and chili powder, but in my case, McCormick Montreal Steak Seasoning, celery salt, and paprika. I have to say, our version turned out pretty lousy. But the cornbread is top-notch.


Breakfast: GluteNo Plain Bagel with cream cheese

Lunch: (eaten at 6 PM) Pizza and Salad

Pizza: Amy's Gluten-Free Cheese Pizza. Tastes a lot like their non-GF pizzas, guaranteed vegetarian. As good as frozen pizza gets, in my opinion. Cooks better cut into quarters.

Salad: Half a head of romaine lettuce divided between the two of us, one chopped carrot each, Newman's Own Oil and Vinegar Salad Dressing. Lettuce was bitter. Again with the old produce.

Dessert: (eaten in place of dinner when I awoke from my nap at eleven) Kinnikinnik Chocolate Frosted Donuts, chocolate peanut butter ice cream


Breakfast: A banana for me, an Ensure for the Wife

Lunch: La Tolteca, which is a little Delaware chain. She had Bola Chile Dip and I had Huevos Rancheros.

Dinner: Polenta and Black Beans.

Beans for polenta is best made with cannellini or pinto beans, browned butter, fresh sage, and no broth. Sometime I'll give you a recipe. Until then: melt 1 tablespoon of butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil in saucepan. Add two chopped cloves garlic. Cook briefly, but do not brown. Add 1.5 cups black beans and 2 cups liquid. Sprinkle in sage if you have it, or herbes de provence. I used "Italian seasoning" and celery salt. Cook it down until the liquid is mostly gone. Then, slightly mash the beans and cook until the liquid is nearly entirely gone. Serve over hot, soft polenta, sprinkled with salt and probably with more butter.


Breakfast: We split a GluteNo Bagel with cream cheese.

Lunch: A pack of peanut M&Ms, a 'chai tea latte' (see below for what I think of those), a bag of movie theater popcorn and a bottle of Boylan's root beer, all split. We were on the go.

Dinner: Salad (same as made on Monday) for both of us. I had hummus, toasted black bread, and sriracha. Thumbs way up to sriracha, which Barbara calls "the rooster." I've never gotten a bottle before, purely through chance, but it's a hotter, chunkier tabasco.

The Wife had a mug of Imagine Cream of Tomato soup (which is vegan, despite the name). We're both huge fans of the tomato soup (though I'm off tomatoes for the moment, grrrrr), and also buy their No-Chicken Broth for cooking at home. However, I've never been as impressed with their other soups; the corn and the potato leek are both way too bland for me. I want them to taste more like, respectively, corn and potatoes and leeks. (In fact, I've added potatoes and leeks to the potato leek soup, and lo and behold, it turns good.) This probably works for the tomato because tomato flavor holds up so well to heavy processing, and because tomato soup is not supposed to taste 'fresh.' In any case, try the soups, but don't expect fresh vegetable flavor. They are, however, a damn sight better than most packaged soups.

Dessert: My aunt who lives down here came over, and we had tea and custard.

Maple and Spice Custard
Preheat over to 350 degrees. Place a large baking dish (a 9x13 pan) half-full of water in it; this is called a bain-marie, and helps the custard not curdle. Heat 2 cups milk, 1/2 cup maple syrup, a dash of powdered cinnamon and a dash of powdered cardamom on the stove. In a casserole dish small enough to fit in the baking dish, beat three eggs. When milk begins to steam, pour it extremely slowly into the eggs, whisking all the while. Put the casserole in the bain-marie, and bake for 30 minutes. Can be served warm or cold. If you don't have maple syrup, you can make this with 1/2 cup sugar; beat it with the eggs. Whole spices can be boiled in the milk and then strained out, if you've got them.


Breakfast: Fried egg for The Wife. I made what I'm calling scrambled tortilla, by which I mean tortilla in the Spanish, not Mexican sense.

Scrambled Tortilla
Cut half a potato and a thick slice of onion very thin. Saute in oil or butter (or both) with a hefty spoonful of chili garlic sauce, or another hot sauce. When the onions look soft and the potatoes look brown, crack an egg over the whole deal. You can probably turn off the stove and cook the egg entirely on residual heat, especially if you're stuck with a stupid electric range (I hate electric ranges). Serve with more hot sauce and some salt. Defend against interested cats.

Early Evening Snack: Tomato soup for The Wife. Hummus, carrot, and rice crackers for me.

Dinner: NACHOS!

My Nachos
Dump a whole bag of tortilla chips onto a baking sheet that you've covered with aluminum foil. Sprinkle a cup and a half of drained and rinsed black beans over the top. Cover with cheddar cheese until the beans are mostly obscured, and sprinkle cumin and chili powder over top. (Having neither of those, I used garlic salt and paprika.) Bake in a 350 oven for about ten minutes, or until the cheese is fully melted. Serve with dips of choice. Our dips of the evening were Desert Pepper Chipotle Black Bean Dip and chili garlic sauce mixed with cream cheese and melted in the microwave, which is pretty tasty but has given me a stomach ache every time I've eaten it.


Breakfast: Bagel for her, toast for me.

Lunch: A Mexican restaurant two blocks from the beach on Garfield Parkway in Bethany, which is two towns south of Rehoboth. The restaurant was run by surfer-ish white dudes, and the food they turned out was inauthentic but fairly tasty.

Dinner: I tried to make macaroni and cheese, but something went terribly wrong with the cheese sauce. I didn't have cornstarch, which is my flour-substitute for gravies and béchamel sauces, and so was going to thicken with instant polenta, but the cheese didn't melt right, and it all turned into a gloppy mess. So we had pasta instead. Hers with butter and salt, mine with sauteed onions and celery seed.

The Day Of Eating Leftovers. I can't actually remember any organized meals; we just ate everything in the fridge. All day. Until we left. Then it was chips and honey roasted cashews and Mr. Pibb in the car all the way home.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

On Vacation

The Wife and I are spending a week of vacation, along with the cats, in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, hence the radio silence. My grandmother had a trailer down here, and when she died she left it to my parents and aunt and uncle. Yes, I do usually go through that circuitous way of explaining why I have a place to come to here; I hate the idea of saying that "my parents have a place in Rehoboth," because I hate the idea that people will think of me as coming from that sort of class background. The truth is, my parents are broke, and I was raised broke but middle-class in a very non-broke, upper middle class town. I don't like to sound like I came from money, which is why I say it like that. I also avoid saying where I went to college for as long as possible, because I attended somewhere that bleeds blue (and that's a hint), and I don't want people to think that I'm one of them when I'm talking. Anyway. So we're in Rehoboth.

Haven't been here long enough to have complex thoughts, but here are a few:

1) The Wife and I rented a Prius for the week. I have to say, it is a mighty fine car. I can't drive, but the Wife assures me that it drives excellently; she says she would like it a lot even if it weren't a hybrid. The little screen that shows where energy is being pulled at any moment is really great, especially for a passenger who doesn't have to do anything. Not great trunk space, but the rest is fabulous. As much as I like it, though, something bugs me about the emphasis on hybrid cars, as opposed to biodiesel, all-electric, or other fuels for cars. I mean, sure, it's fabulous that we're getting 47 miles per gallon, but we're still putting out exhaust. Less is good, but it does not equal none, and none is a good target to aim for. Especially on today, when it was seventy in January. Guess what? When we came down last year, it was seventy in January too. It shouldn't be more than fifty.

2) Once you get out of Wilmington, Delaware very quickly becomes rural. Most of the drive down route 1 is through fields, now barren, but full of corn and strawberries and other crops in the summer. Why, then, is it so impossible to find local produce down here? In the summer, there are a few produce places along 1, before you get to the actual beaches, that sell locally grown food. But there is nothing available once you get into the town. Where does the food grown not ten miles from here end up? Why isn't it feeding people here, en route to feeding people elsewhere? And why, then, are people who shop in this town stuck with buying lousy vegetables and fruit trucked in from elsewhere? Something is seriously wrong with the food economy in rural Delaware.

3) When I asked if the huevos rancheros were vegetarian at the wonderful Mexican restaurant down here, the waiter looked very confused for a moment. And then he said, "No, not really..." and I expected him to let me know that everything in the entire restaurant was cooked in gallons of lard. Which was very possible. Then he said, "You know, it comes from a hen." And I was extremely, extremely happy. (It remains possible that everything there is fried in gallons of lard, but I'm choosing not to ask. Also, they changed their salsa recipe, and not for the better. Boo.)

4) A really surprising amount of gluten-free food in the regular supermarkets, and more in the health food stores. Thumbs up to Kinnikinnick chocolate-frosted donuts, Gluten-Free Pantry cornbread mix, and GluteNo bagels. However, organic produce selection is lousy, organic butter costs $6/pound, organic eggs are $3/dozen. Again with the ambivalence.

5) I'm ambivalently a fan of outlet shopping. Discuss your opinions on the subject.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

What I Talk About When I Talk About Food & Politics

When I say "better politics through food," what the hell do I mean?

Wait, let me start this over.

There are a lot of ways to relate "food" and "politics." So what, particularly, am I talking about? What is my focus? Let me go through a bunch of the different ways of relating these terms, and try to explain where I locate myself, most of the time.

To start: the term "food" should be pretty self-explanatory, but I don't only mean food objects, like apples or steaks or boxes of Lucky Charms. I mean the entire system through which our food is produced--farms, slaughterhouses, supermarkets, backyard gardens--and the social ways in which we consume it--in schools, with family, alone in our cars, standing on the corner outside the bodega. By politics, I most certainly do not mean (only) things that happen in government, during elections, or as part of lobbying. I also mean the interactions between people that are about power--that is, how power, which can be located in social interactions or in the form of the state, affects us as individuals, communities, and societies.

Power and politics have a lot to do with the way food is distributed in the contemporary world. A lot of people don't have enough food. A lot more people don't have food that is appropriately nutritional. Other people eat too much and particular sorts of food as part of a lifestyle of overconsumption. Clean your plate, there are starving children in Ethiopia. These distributional issues are serious. They kill people. They doom others to a life of poor health. These distributional issues are a part of why I'm a vegetarian: meat is wasteful, in that it takes grain which could feed many and turns it into meat that can feed a few. But I'm not here writing about world hunger, or the injustice of how food is marketed in poor, non-white communities in the US. I'm not focusing on how food is distributed through class, race, and gender in the US or elsewhere in the world. I will write about these things where they intersect with the things I am thinking about, but they are not my main focus.

Another place where politics and food come together is sustainable consumption. When most people talk about food and politics, they are talking about the organic, sustainable, fair trade, and local food movements. There is no question that eating locally produced, organic, fairly traded food is more sustainable than eating things shipped across the world, covered in chemicals that will poison you, the people who grew it, and the people who processed it, for which no one involved in the production was paid a fair wage. To me, each of these individual ideas is so obvious that it seems silly to proselytize about them. Organic food doesn't contain poison; you gotta like that. Fairly traded food is made by people who are suddenly making a decent wage, which is either just human decency or, if you are a pro-liberalization type, means global economic growth for all. Local food is the clearest sell. Food produced close to where you live cuts down substantially on the carbon (and other pollutant) emissions associated with your food's production, shipping, and selling. It supports a secure local food infrastructure, meaning that in the event that, say, nothing can get between California and New York because of (insert major disaster), I still get to eat. Most importantly from a foodie's point of view, local food doesn't taste like crap all the time. Tomatoes shipped from California are picked hard and green and chemically treated to turn red. Apples that have to get here from Washington state have to be like little rocks. Peaches from Georgia can't bruise on the way. Blech. It's all cardboard. Give me the bushels of peaches in July I get at the Greenmarket anytime.

As with distribution, this is something I care about. I buy organic, local, and fairly traded products for the majority of my food shopping. I will buy minimally treated conventional produce if its locally grown, but I prefer to get organic and local. This is a major part of my consumption life. But I will not spend all my time singing the praises of the local tomato, or lecturing about farmer's markets, or talking about seasonality. They'll come up, probably frequently, but that's not what I'm doing here.

I want to talk about food as a social object. Eating, cooking, buying food, going to restaurants: these are socially mediated phenomena, which make sense in a social context and can be used to interpret that social context. The actions we take in our everyday lives are a part of the broader social reality with which we all interact. As Foucault would say, we are all in the discourse, and we cannot escape so easily.

Food is particularly fraught with social significance. For some of us, mostly women, it connects to our struggle to fit into the conception of what a 'beautiful' or 'normal' female body is. This isn't just a matter of eating disorders. The Wife, having been sick all her life from eating food with gluten in it, and undiagnosed until a year and a half ago, has struggled with being thought anorexic, with having a body so thin that it is clearly abnormal and judged. This is painful, in a way that is connected to the pain heavy women feel, but not identical. In any case, the relationship that the Wife has to food is inherently connected to the social constructions of gender in our society, and the power relations they create.

For others, food means our relationship with our culture or class. The Boy's family always had a pan of refried beans on the stove, because they were Mexican; it was that smell that separated him from the world outside his door, which literally smelled of WonderBread, since he grew up near their factory. To not have beans would be to be not Mexican. Immigrants and their children and people of color struggle with the connections between food and culture: they accept or reject old food, and it has to do with how their identities as Other than mainstream white Americans can be accepted or rejected.

Food is essentially connected to our bodies: hunger is physical, as is the pleasure of eating. My relationship with my body is hostile and filled with struggle, as a result of years of serious illness and disability. When I was really, really sick, I couldn't eat. Coming back into eating--and being able to enjoy my body through feeding it--was healing. Because food is both bodily and social, we as social beings are able to use food to bridge between our body/senses and our emotions and mind. We can be embodied and cared for at the same time. This gives food the ability to bring the social, and the political, very close into our bodies. I write about food and politics as a feminist: the personal is political, and the political is very personal, nestled close to our chests, living on our forks and in our long dinner conversations. We live politics through our food.

That's what I want to write about. We experience politics whenever we engage in the socially fraught act of eating food, buying it, preparing it. I want to find the politics in the eating and cooking I do, and I want to tease them out to find what can be transformatory in them.

And then there's that word, "better." What about politics would be better if we thought about food politically? I think that political organizing, political movements, and political thinking work best when they are embedded in an understanding of culture, society, and people which gives them rich levels of interpretation. If you are only thinking about the mechanics of politics, you will proceed mechanistically. Eventually, treating people as cogs will wear them out, just as cogs wear out over time. But treating people like people, giving them a rich experience that provides them with the ability to grow and flourish, means that they can stay in the moment, stay in the movement, and replenish themselves while keeping up the struggle. Politics is better for the people involved if it is a place well fed with caring, attention, individuality, and concrete and metaphorical food for all.

So this is what I mean by "better politics through food." I want to find how food and the things it exposes and connects can together lead us into different ways of thinking about politics, so that we can engage in the transformation into a more just and, hopefully, better tasting one.

Friday, January 12, 2007

The Ontological Status of My Deprivation: On Balancing Food Issues

The Wife and I went out for brunch. We don't do this often, but we had things to do in Manhattan, so we found a place that served fancy schmancy breakfasts at an hour late enough to allow us to make it. She ordered scrambled eggs with bacon and a small salad. I got their vegetarian eggs benedict (I can't remember what the non-Canadian bacon was, but I remember thinking it was mediocre). I drank tea, she drank Coke, and we talked about her job, my classes, our wedding, our housemates, and probably Buffy the Vampire Slayer. At some point, she offered me what was left of her salad. I like salad, so I said, "Sure." I shoved it onto my plate and started eating.

Bacon. It tasted like bacon. Warm, smokey, fatty bacon. The slices she ate must have laid over it when it was served. "Goddamnit," I said to her. "Your salad tastes like bacon. That's just mean."

"You could eat bacon, if you wanted to," she said. "And, I mean, you ate an English muffin right in front of me."

"You don't have anything against English muffins. And I didn't put it on your plate."

"I'd get sick if I had an English muffin. You're still eating the bacon-y salad."

And it's true. I ate the whole, bacon-flavored thing.

Both of us eat restricted diets. I'm what's commonly called a lacto-ovo vegetarian: I eat eggs and dairy products, but no meat, poultry, fish, or seafood. I would term it as not eating anything that had been alive, although the 'aliveness' of eggs is open for debate. (The historical debate has come down across the board. For South Asian vegetarians, eggs are meat; for those who keep kosher, they are dairy.) The Wife, on the other hand, is a celiac. Celiac disease is a condition where certain proteins, called gluten, in wheat, rye, and barley cause the small intestine to, for lack of a better explanation, quit and move to Venezuela, which is not what you want a body part doing. The only way to cure the disease is to avoid wheat, rye, barley, and oats (which are usually contaminated with gluten) entirely. For the rest of your life.

We also don't share each other's restrictions. There is a "gluten drawer" in the fridge with pita bread, whole wheat sandwich bread, and knishes for me and the Boy to eat. She eats pepperoni sandwiches for lunch three days a week.

We have something in common with our different restrictions. Neither of us dislikes the food we can't eat. I crave bacon, hot dogs, sausages. Part of her wants bread, pizza, donuts. But we choose not to eat them because the way we want to live our lives includes not eating these foods, and the benefits we get (ethically, medically) from forgoing these things we want.

The issue here is the different ontological statuses of our food restrictions, by which I mean the way they came into being and their fundamental nature. I'm a vegetarian because I think eating meat is morally indefensible for a whole host of ways. (Something seems wrong about killing other living creatures; meat production is environmentally destructive; the meat industry is cruel in the extreme to animals living in it. I'll leave out the 'meat is gross' issue.) Being a vegetarian comes from a place about ethics and morality, about living a life I feel is justifiable. So I don't eat meat.

The Wife, on the other hand, does not eat gluten because her health depends on it. Since going gluten-free, she has gained weight for the first time in her adult life. She has stopped having what I will obliquely call "tummy trouble" that traps her in the bathroom for an hour at a time. She has more energy than she ever had before. If she eats gluten accidentally, she becomes physically ill. This is about living without suffering.

Our differences in eating stems from different sorts of ideas about "the good life." The good life is the goal of a number of "ethical" branches of moral philosophy, beginning with the work of Aristotle and leading to Martha Nussbaum and Amartya Sen today, which present various ideas of what the good life consists of. The point is that each individual gets to determine what her good life is, and from there act accordingly.

My notion of the good life revolves around notions of doing right. In this, the ethical (what is required to live a good life) comes close, some would say too close, to the moral, that which all human beings are required to do in order to live in society. But vegetarianism, not killing animals for my own pleasure, is to me ethical, a decision that I make in order to live the "good life" with a clear conscience.

The Wife, on the other hand, chooses not to eat gluten out of another idea of the good life, one that involves bodily well-being and lack of physical suffering. Her good life involves being free of pain and capable of living her everyday life with fewer restrictions than previously.

The trouble is the tendency to make one of these ideas of the good life prior to the other--that is, to decide one is a better life. I could easily argue that, since my good life is more moral than hers, mine wins. Therefore, no more pepperoni in the house, no more turkey on Thanksgiving. However, she could respond that my good life is about adherence to a principle, not to anything concrete, where as she concretely suffers if she eats gluten. No more gluten drawer, no more sneaking donuts on the side.

She doesn't have anything against English muffins. Nothing is going to happen to me if I eat bacon.

I think this arguing over the ontology and ethics of our food preferences is silly, though. We each are acting out of confirmed beliefs about what makes our life good. We also recognize the importance of each other's beliefs, and respect them. When I said I couldn't cook a turkey, she said, OK. We'll order one. When she says I can't buy croissants when we're out, I say, OK. I'll eat something else. This is the way we manage our life together, by recognizing what we each have to say about food and the good life. And that's why, I think, our life together is so good.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Happy Birthday, Boy

The Boy's birthday just passed. I made a fabulous meal for the house, which we devoured before I could photograph it. But, though I'll talk about the food (because I'm me), I want to talk about The Boy. Because he deserves it.

To talk about politics for a moment, the way our relationship works in the world is complicated, and it's about who is allowed to form complex, devoted relationships with whom. It's understood, in our culture, that people can form romantic attachments that are life-long, committed, adoring, and passionate. In fact, that's what most people aspire to; that's what marriage is about in our current cultural understanding. (Marriage wasn't about that a hundred and fifty years ago; it was those beloved Victorians who made it what it is today, conceptually. But marriage is a topic for another post, probably associated with a cake tasting at some later point.) There is also an understanding that women can form passionate, life-long bonds with each other that are not necessarily sexual, but that are entirely committed. This is what Sex in the City was about, really, and the whole stupid sisterhood genre of chick lit. Men don't get to form these relationships, because our society doesn't really believe that men can have those sorts of emotions without being terribly conflicted about it. (The only real, close relationship between two unrelated men I've seen on TV is the relationship between Turk and J.D. on Scrubs. Scrubs has really fascinating, and I think useful, politics. But that's another post.) But for a man and a woman to be in that sort of committed friendship--it's odd. It smacks of suppressed sexual tension. It's unseemly.

For a man and a woman to be in that sort of committed friendship--it's odd. It smacks of suppressed sexual tension. It's unseemly. It's only allowed between a woman and a gay man, which strips the sex out of it (just as relationships between women have the sex stripped out). However, the 'hag' (female pal of fabulous gay man) is always, always straight. Or bisexual in the popular, flirty way that is so commonly discussed these days. (And I'm pro-bisexual. I might identify as bisexual, if I didn't hate men. But a lot of people are pop bisexual these days, and it's corny and stupid and I'm a revolutionary queer so get the hell away from me.) There is no cultural space for a lesbian to be a hag, or, as is more appropriate for me and the Boy, for a gay man and a lesbian to form the sort of committed, loving friendship that women are allowed to form together, or that exists in a different form between spouses/lovers/partners/whatever your generic for things like that is.

So when we're together, the Boy and I get read as one of two things. Either we're a couple, or I'm his [straight] hag. The couple thing I kinda get. We hold hands in public; we walk arm in arm; we call each other "baby," "honey," and "mama;" we wear each other's clothes; we end all our phone calls with "love you." Compulsory heterosexuality reads us as a straight couple. We realize we look like a couple, and find it terribly funny. In fact, I regularly call him my boyfriend.

But, if you read him as gay, assuming I'm straight? That doesn't make any freakin' sense, as far as I'm concerned. I mean, it does--I don't dress dykey, I don't have short hair, I only have one piercing per ear. (I do have cat's-eye glasses, and wear Timberland boots, but that's insufficent, apparently.) But, when I am 'hagging' (by which I mean accompanying him, in wing-man style, on bouts of organized and slightly drunken gayness) why, oh why oh why, does mainstream gay male culture have to read me as straight? Come on, people. Lesbians can be fabulous too!

Well, maybe that's my problem.

But the politics of relationships between gay men and lesbians, or, more accurately, between men and women in the broader queer community, are not the point of this post. I'm getting away from what is supposed to be important here, which is the Boy, and why I am so grateful for him in my life. This guy is totally dedicated to those he loves. He is completely emotionally open and honest. When you are with him, he is there. I need people like that in my life. (The Wife is like that, too, in a slightly different way, but it's good to have backup. For emergencies. And I have those sorts of emergencies frequently.)

And it's amazing to live with people who you can trust. Who you can count on. Who really want to live the way you do, so that you can make it work. A beloved roommate just moved out (very, very far out, different-state out), and while I loved her (and still do), we didn't always agree about how to live. But Wife, Boy, and I, we are on the exact same page.

The real way you can tell this is that we all walk in the door and take off our pants. We then spend the rest of the evening in our panties (which I assert applies to both male and female underpants, plus what he wears are totally panties and nothing butcher), reading our email, watching shows we TiVoed, and eating. It is totally together and united and beautiful. And pantsless. (I'm not wearing pants as I type this, in fact.)

And he has not been happy recently. There's a lousy job, which I won't write about since I'm pretty sure there's a confidentiality agreement involved; there's a bad breakup, which I won't write about because no one involved was an asshole, it just sucked; there are life decisions to be pondered, which I won't write about because everyone in their mid-twenties is having a similar version of the same thing. But he's not happy. So I have to be there for him. And the main way I know how to do that is through cooking.

Luckily, he's Mexican, and therefore believes that cooking=love as much as I do.

The Boy, at the beach last fall.

Menu for a Slightly Sad Best Friend, Upon Turning 25

Salad course:
Romaine lettuce, sliced steamed beets, and goat cheese rolled in real Mexican chili powder, served with balsamic vinaigrette
  • The goat cheese was Fairway brand, and I wasn't too impressed. Not assertive and goat-y enough for me. My Mexican chili powder comes from Kansas, of all places, but the Boy asserts that it is authentic. And since he gets mad when people put tomatoes in guacamole, I think he knows from authentic.

Main Course:
Brie Souffle
Yukon Gold Potatoes with Herbes de Provence Infused Olive Oil
  • To make brie souffle, add an entire wedge of brie, rind removed and cut in chunks, to the bérnaise (white) sauce you are using as the base, along with the egg yolks. More brie is always good, but even with just one wedge of lousy cheese the flavor will be excellent. I infused the oil by warming about a quarter cup of olive oil (mixed with some canola, to prevent smoking) to about 200 degrees in my smallest cast iron skillet, adding the dried herbs, and turning off the heat. It sat for about an hour, at which point I strained it and poured it over the chopped potatoes. Don't use cast iron if you want to store the oil; the iron which leaches into the oil, while yummy if you are an anemic vegetarian like myself, would make the oil go rancid more quickly.
Namaste Spice Cake, sprinkled with powdered sugar
  • The Namaste Vanilla Cake is also excellent.
Wine Pairing
Réservé Maison Nicolas 2005 (chardonnay)
  • This is not an informed pairing; I had two bottles of red in the house, and one of white. I asked LiveJournal to help me, but got mixed responses. Something in me said "white with eggs," which is why I went with it. But, ya know, I didn't really care. It was good; I'd recommend it.
Serve, on the good china, in the new dining room, on a table with a table cloth. Spend two hours, at least, sitting together as a house, laughing, feeding the cats bits of souffle, and talking about life. Repeat more often than once a year.

Love you, baby. Happy birthday.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Breakfast, Slowly

One of the most wonderful things about not having to leave the house at a particularly early hour is eating breakfast at one's own pace. My preferred morning goes something like this. First, I help get the Wife out the door, putting together a reused deli container full of last night's leftovers, or a sandwich when I've got a loaf of gluten-free bread in the fridge. Once she's gone, I put on a pot of tea. Sometimes, it is Earl Grey, which I take very bitter (brewed 5-8 minutes, not the 3-5 usually suggested for black tea), with lots of milk and sugar. However, I've been seriously lactose intolerant lately, and no nondairy milk really works in Earl Grey, as far as I'm concerned. My black tea of choice at the moment is a bastardized masala chai. Masala chai is what the beverage called a "chai tea latte" in American English started out as. Chai means tea in Hindi, Urdu, and other South Asian languages (making "chai tea" redundant). (Chai also means tea in Chinese; the Arabic word, شائ shay, is related linguistically.) The masala part means spice mixture (the most commonly known to Americans is garam masala; my favorite is chaat masala). So masala chai is spiced tea, and can be served with or without milk. I make a very simple and not terribly authentic version out of black tea, cinnamon, cardamom, and ginger, whole if I've got them, ground if I don't. It tastes good with almond milk, which is my nondairy of choice, or with cow's milk if you like.

This morning, however, it was a green tea day. Specifically sencha (a long-leaf Japanese green tea) and hibiscus. You've probably had hibiscus, though you don't know it. If you've ever had an herbal tea that turned really, really red, that was hibiscus at work, my friend. Mexicans make a cold drink from it called jamaica, pronounced ha-ma-i-ka, because it arrived in Mexico from Jamaica. In Egypt, a similar drink called karkaday (كركادي, I think; it's colloquial, so not in my MSA [Modern Standard Arabic] dictionaries) is used to celebrate weddings, and is served both hot and cold. Although I like it cold, I prefer my hibiscus infusions hot, and cut with another tea; it is strong, strong stuff. I had it this morning for one pressing reason: I'm coming down with a cold. Tea with milk, even nondairy milk, feels too thick for a throat with postnasal drip. Hibiscus tea is rich in vitamin C, can stand up to enough honey to make it soothing to the throat, and just makes you feel better, ya know?

Hibiscus and Sencha with Honey. It poses with the laptop nicely. Now I just have to not spill it...

After I make my tea, I sit around, check my email, read my blogs, check my Livejournal friends' page, and watch a news cycle on New York 1. New York 1, if you are unfortunate enough not to live in the five boroughs, is a 24 hour local news station, with a liberal bias, a quick news cycle, and smart anchors and reporters. Also, they occasionally read you the newspaper. And they have a section called "The World Beyond New York," which I think puts the rest of the world in its place, bitches. Around 10:30, I start getting hungry.

Some mornings, it's a cornflakes moment. Cornflakes are amazing. At a moment of particular emotional stress, a bowl of cornflakes with almond milk has made me burst into tears. But sometimes it's a leftovers morning--I want something hot, spicy, and cold-from-the-fridge-with-a-spoon. Sometimes I have gluten bagels (with garlic and salt and poppy seeds and everything else in the universe) in the freezer, and I have one with scallion cream cheese.

This morning was a polenta morning. Hot cereals have never been my thing. I was never an oatmeal fan. Bob's Red Mill gluten-free hot cereal is OK. But polenta is amazing, any time of day but, surprisingly, for breakfast especially. Polenta is Italian grits, if you don't know, cornmeal porridge. You've probably seen it in little squares, after it has been left to set up; I like it better immediately after cooking, when it is still a soft, smooth texture. Polenta takes about 45 minutes to an hour to cook the regular way. However, I've been lucky enough to find a brand of quick-cooking polenta that is really good, which means I can make it for breakfast. It is rich in a way oatmeal could never be, and carries other flavors remarkably well.

Below is my breakfast polenta recipe. It goes well with masala chai or, really, anything. I use De La Estancia polenta from Argentina, but any quick-cooking/instant polenta would do. Probably instant grits would be OK, too.

Breakfast Polenta

1/2 cup water
1/2 cup milk (I use almond milk; you could use soy, cow, or any nut milk, or a mix)
polenta, as dictated by the directions on your package (1/3 cup of De La Estancia)
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
2 tsp sugar
maple sugar to taste

Bring water and milk to a boil in small pan. Just before boiling, add cinnamon, cardamom, and sugar. Add polenta in a small stream, whisking constantly. Cook until it becomes thick and the bubbles splatter slightly. Serve immediately, with maple syrup on top.

*Want to serve conventional polenta without standing over the stove for freakin' ever? Make polenta in a slow cooker. 3 cups water to 1 cup regular stone-ground cornmeal, and a pinch of salt. Cooks for 3-4 hours on high, and could probably go overnight on low. Breakfast polenta would make a great dish for a holiday morning, or a brunch.

Monday, January 08, 2007

A Balanced Meal

When I was in elementary school, there were four food groups. I think it is important to remember this: the food groups are not some sort of eternal truth that inheres in the nature of food. They are merely a way of conceptualizing the much messier, and less segmented, question of what, precisely, humans should eat to remain functional. (Much like gender, race, sexuality, and the piles we use to sort laundry by color.) Anyway, when I was in elementary school, there were four food groups: meat, fruits and vegetables, grains, and dairy. One was supposed to acheive 'balance' among them.

This lead to me believing, for a while, that pepperoni pizza was the perfect food. The reason for this should be obvious: it contains all four of the food groups. There was meat; there was tomato sauce; there was cheese; and there was bread. QED. I never tried to subsist on an all pepperoni pizza diet or anything like that, but something in me thought that this was that perfect spot to eat.

I mention this now because the Princess, in all of her wisdom, has one food she will always, always eat. When it's a really bad day--or her parents' fridge contains nothing but bacon grease, moldy parmagiano-reggiano, and Chinese takeout of questionable age, and those days are often--I know what to do.

"Hey, Princess," I say. "Want do go get pizza?"

I used that tactic today when we'd been in Barnes and Noble too long for my taste. For some reason, tons upon tons of baby through young elementary school kids are brought, mostly by caregivers but some by mothers (and the occasional father), to Barnes and Noble on 7th Ave in Park Slope, every afternoon. This totally, totally mystifies me. The kids play on the small wooden trainset, and fight over the trains; they rip books off the shelves, and demand that their caregivers read them. What bugs me about this is that it's a freakin' store, OK? It's not a library; it's not a playspace; it's not a school. It's a place that you go to buy stuff. Everything you touch is about consumerism. Princess went through an entire rack of plastic Disney-branded crap, saying she needed each item. A Cinderella book light. A Snow White pen that lights up. An Ariel book light. An Ariel book mark. Can I add that she can't read or write yet, just to bring home my point? Though she's thinking about it, which makes me happy. I had to say, for each object, I can tell you would like that. It's really nice. Why don't we tell your mom you like it, and she can think about buying it for you? I even offered to take camera phone pictures of the objects in question, so that I would remember to tell her mom.

I've gotten a little off topic. But the point is, you walk into the store, and it isn't all about the reading books, playing with trains, running around thing. You get suckered into the act of consumerism, almost by default. Once Princess and I had a playdate there with a friend of hers, and it turned totally naturally into "oh, let's get coffee and cookies for the girls," and then into "oh, there are no tables, let's go to the totally bourgie cafe that just opened up near your house," which Princess still refers to as the place that makes "bad cupcakes." You enter, you shop.

What incenses me here, besides everything, is that Park Slope has a perfectly lovely library branch. It's an oldish building, which means the children's wing is long and thin with a two-story ceiling and a crazy-cool fireplace. There is a little nook where the board books and preschool books are, with a rug, and in front of the fireplace there are foam things to stack. There isn't a train set, but there are big tables to sit at, and a good long aisle to run up and down. At the library, there's no hard sell. If you like a book, you don't have to pay anything for it. (Although, if you are me, you run up fines. I want to make sure Princess doesn't learn this habit, because I was the adult who signed for her library card, meaning I'm responsible for her library debts until she turns 18. Scary.) Money doesn't enter the picture. This exchange is brought to you by your tax dollars at work. This is, to me, a good thing.

And maybe that's why the kids who hang out at the library are different from the ones at Barnes and Nobles. They're mostly black, mostly not with parents or caregivers. Most of them are old enough not to be in daycare, to fend for themselves for a few hours. They're finding somewhere to hang out after school, and the library is open and accessible. It's somewhere to be.

So the bourgie kids go to the store where their zoned-out caregivers and parents get mocha lattes and buy the kids Cinderella book lights, and the non-bourgie kids go to the library and screw around on the computers. And we dig the trenches between classes/races even deeper. Kudos to you, Park Slope. Kudos, indeed.

So I really wanted to get the hell out of B&N, plus it was past four and I was hungry. Princess eats very lightly; so far that day, she had had a bowl full of preztels and two 'bottles.' A bottle, in her world, is a mixture of yogurt and something else. Yogurt, because if she gets too much milk she gets anemic. Something else, because she doesn't like kefir, which is just about the only drinkable yogurt around. One bottle was a mix of orange-carrot juice and yogurt; the other was 'chocolate milk,' which is half yogurt and half milk with enough Hershey's Syrup to kill the yogurt taste. (Yogurt+chocolate≠love, in my book.) So she needed to eat, I needed to eat, her fridge looked like I described above, and we needed to make a graceful exit from the land of consumption. "Hey princess," I said. "Let's go get pizza."

On the way, I asked if she'd rather go somewhere else. There's a diner that I offered up ("A restaurant where you could have french fries and steak"). Or Japanese ("Or you could get soup and rice").

"No, pepperoni pizza," she said. Then, after a pause, "Let's go to Pino's, next to Maggie Moo's." This was to differentiate it from Two Boots, a fancy pizza place where her parents get takeout frequently. Pino's on the other hand, is a standard New York slice joint, the type where you walk in and get something yumtastic and basic. We went in, got our usual booth, and I ordered for both of us.

This is pretty standard for us. The pepperoni slice, cut-up by the pizza guy, and the lemonade, two cups, two straws, which at some point we exchange during the meal, are constant. What I get varies. They make an excellent 'grampa' slice (square pizza with sauce, cheese, and sauteed onions), and a very good pizza alla norma (fresh mozzerella, fried eggplant slices, and chunky tomato sauce). However, I'm supposed to be avoiding tomatoes, according to my allergist. Goddamn it. So what you see there is a broccoli and ricotta calzone, along with a large pile of garlic powder and red pepper flakes.

Princess offered me a slice of pepperoni. I politely declined. I haven't yet explained to her that I don't eat meat. The kid is a total meatitarian--sausage, steak, pepperoni, bacon. I don't want to be the one to explain to her that I don't eat meat because it's animals. (Really, my reasons for being a vegetarian are more complicated--the questionable morality of killing animals for my consumption, the environmental disaster of the meat and dairy industries, a Diet-for-a-Small-Planet era dislike for eating high on the food chain, and a totally inability to interact with raw meat without getting sick. But the upshot is, it's animals, and I have a problem with that.) I know people who became vegetarians because, very young, they made the meat=animals connection and just stopped eating meat. Some never go back. I wouldn't mind, per se, if Princess decides to become a militant vegetarian. But I don't want to have to deal with her parents, who I really like, who are my friends, and who would be displeased, I think, to have Princess tell them "Emmy said that bacon is made of pigs, and it's wrong to eat pigs." I mean, and this kid wants to wear her hair like me. And wear boots like me. And I'm nothin' special in the physical appearance department.

In the end, we ate our "balanced meal," stopped at the store to get a few groceries (apples, bananas, apple juice, orange-carrot juice, plain yogurt, baby carrots), and walked home, chilly but well fed, and thankfully out of Barnes and Noble, at last.

The Cast of Characters

Me: A twenty-something vegetarian radical lesbian feminist with a cooking itch. On the days when grad school gets me down, I fantasize about starting a little restaurant in outer Brooklyn, where I would gradually work my way up to getting a New York Times star on the strength of my lentil paté and gluten-free crèpes. Or possibly having the Food Network hire me to make travel specials on Middle Eastern food.

Wife: The sponsor of my insanity. Works 9-to-5 (well, 10-to-6) at a socially responsible job in order to keep us all fed. Has celiac disease, and has been gluten-free since June of 2005. Graciously puts up with the food, and the politics. The wedding will be in May.

Boy: My best friend and our beloved roommate. A fellow queer revolutionary in college, now moonlighting as a ballerina and personal assistant.

The House: A queer feminist communal living arrangement in central Brooklyn, complete with chore chart, weekly collective shopping, house meetings, and tournaments of Risk.

Wicket and Vodka: Our children, in all their four-legged, furry glory. It wouldn't be a lesbian commune without cats, would it? Yes, those are their real names.

Princess: My main source of income--er, my best friend. Who is three. And in a princess phase. A serious one. Right now the babysitting schedule's at two days a week, three sometimes.