Ten Foods

When I was just out of college my parents moved to Washington DC.  They lived in a one bedroom corporate apartment for the first few months while they renovated a house.  The apartment was in Crystal city, which my father loving called the “Houston” of Washington due to its apparent lack of zoning.  They had a tiny balcony that pointed toward Potomac, but they could not see the river, just the airplanes landing over it into what was then National Airport.

One Sunday I went to see them and I knew they needed to get out and meet some friends because I found them sitting on the balcony, watching the planes land, silently scribbling notes on paper, dressed in clothes that I am sure they did not wear out in public.  This was the conversation I walked in on.

Mom:  “If I pick beef do I get a whole cow including steaks and ground beef?

Dad:  “No, you either get hamburger or steak.  You have to pick each cut individually.”

Scribble, scribble, scribble…

Dad: “Does milk count as one of the ten, or did we decide drinks are free?”

Mom:  “Drinks have to be free because I need both milk and wine.”

More writing and crossing out, as I silently stand by…

Mom:  “Can we choose complete dishes like spaghetti and meat sauce?

Dad:  “I can’t remember what we decided about that?  I think if you chose creamed spinach that is OK, as long as you never get to separate the ingredients into spinach, cream, butter, etc.”

Mom:  “Ed, you are making this too hard.”

After witnessing this conversation and having no idea what they were doing I announced my arrival to which I was shushed.

Dad: “Ok, here are my 10; steak, chicken, cheese, bread, eggs”

Mom:  “Oh no, I forgot eggs.  I need to redo my whole list.”

Dad:  (with shock in his voice) “How could you have forgotten eggs?”

Mom:  “I was still on the ‘A’ vegetables, avocado, asparagus and artichokes.”

I tried again.

Dana:  “What are you doing?

Mom:  “We are trying to figure out if we could only eat 10 foods for the rest of our lives, what would they be?”

Dana:  (With more than a little bit of disbelief) “How long have you been doing this?”

Dad:  “All weekend.  It is really hard.”

I don’t know if they ever finished that exercise because I think they all of a sudden realized they had lives to live, but it was an interesting question.

So if you could only eat ten foods for the rest of your life, what would they be?  Now please don’t ask me the rules to this game.  That is a negotiation that requires Mother Teresa, Gandhi and George Mitchell to work out.

Did Colonial Children Complain About What Was For Dinner?

The answer to the eternal question ”What’s for dinner?” has so many more answers today than it did when I was a kid.  Just the categories of food has more in number than I had as actual choices; Thai, Italian, Sushi, Mexican, Burgers, Chinese, Pizza, Indian, both Southern and Northern which are not to be confused with Persian, Southern, Barbeque, German, Steakhouse, American, New American (I’m sure that “new” just means more expensive that non-new), Seafood, Vegetarian, French, Japanese, Scandinavian, African…

Even with all these categories to choose from, whether we cook it at home or, throw the other choice in the pot I did not have as a kid, go out for dinner, it seems that someone is unhappy.  How can that be?  My family has almost unlimited options between my cooking and Durham’s culinary offerings.

When I was a kid, my menu was limited by the few raw ingredients my mother was likely to purchase.  See I did a lot of the cooking, but since I could not drive, I did none of the shopping.  We never ate out for dinner, so take that option off the table.  That left us with ground beef or chicken and as far as categories it was American, since new American was still just a spark in some future chef’s eye, Italian and maybe Southern, since my parents were southerners.  The complaining about “what’s for dinner?” existed then.

All this whining despite the giant choice got me thinking about kids even further back than my 1960-70’s era.  What about kids in colonial time whose menu was limited to what they could grow or raise and how long it could keep in an underground root cellar.  Did children in the dead of winter complain of another yam stew or were they thankful just to have food at all?

If you don’t have many choices does it make it better or worse?  Has the explosion of worldwide culinary offerings spoiled us so much that we don’t enjoy what we have when we have it?

When I was in college, I spent one summer living in my college town renovating my off-campus house and working many different jobs.  One of those jobs was working in the catering office of the food service department.  We served all kinds of different groups who used the campus for various meetings and conferences.

Our food service was run by the college and not a big corporate contractor and thus was really good.  Depending on what a group was willing to pay we could make a meal as nice as surf & turf or as down home as shepherds’ pie.  I will never forget my favorite group who had a conference, The Farmer’s Wives of America.  Eleven hundred women filled the dining hall as we served them our least expensive, but heaviest plated meal of opened faced hot roast beef sandwiches, mashed potatoes and gravy and cooked to death green beans with ham hocks.

When the servers went to clear the tables they were shocked to find that the women had scraped and stacked their plates at the end of each table and all were terribly complimentary of what a wonderful lunch it was.  I remember being summoned out into the dining room over the PA system by the organizer of the meeting to be introduced to all 1,100 Farmer’s Wives so they could thank me for their lunch.  Their gratitude for not our best meal was overwhelming.  I wonder if it was just that they were just pleased to have a meal they did not have to cook, let alone grow or raise.  They did not even get to have a choice in what they ate, but they appreciated it just the same.

I don’t have an answer to this complaining about “what’s for dinner?” just wondering if it is an age-old problem, or perhaps just New American.

God’s Gift

Everyone I know is busy. I was talking to my friend who has two girls out of college and both employed and one in college, and I was complaining that she had not been at Mah Jongg.  She looked at me with a you-are-never-going-to-believe-this look in her eye and said, “I know, I am busier than ever.  I want to play Mah Jongg, but I have so much going on.”

What is happening in the world that we all keep getting busier and busier, but yet the world is not really improving that much?  I am no better, just today I had one phone interview, four meetings in various places around town, a blog, three letters of recommendations, one report and 42 e-mails to write, so far and a dog who lies next to me, head on my lap top wishing I were throwing her the ball.  All of this and no one is paying me a cent to do any of it.  Shouldn’t I throw the ball first because my dog gives me the best payback for my investment?

The only one I see in my world who is not busy is my dog, but she is the happiest being I know.  I think that when she leans on the key board and inadvertently pushes the caps lock she is sending me a message to stop typing and give her a snuggle.  She is yet to type out an actual request, perhaps for lamb and rice rather than chicken, but I would not be surprised if she had one she wanted to convey.

I am working on actually being productive and not just busy without the productive stuff being things like laundry or a clean house.  But I not only want to be productive, but I want to have fun and bring joy to my world.  In other words, I want to be more like my dog who is always happy to greet another being whether two of four legged, rejoices in an embrace and brings a smile to all who meet her.

My dog is not busy, yet she is productive if in no other way to make everyone in our house spend time outside and show affection everyday.  It’s an old thought, but dog spelled backwards does spell god.  I think of our dog as god’s gift to us and a reminder to slow down and play a little everyday.

Canned Food Longevity

I was looking in my pantry and noticed a can of soup from a brand I think went defunct a couple of years ago.  I think it is time for that can to go.  I was just glad my mother who was visiting this weekend did not see it.  See, keeping canned food is practically a blood sport in my family.

My mother was raised in a time when people thought that once food was “tinized” it would last forever.  Whether you were interested in ever eating it or not you still kept it.  I am not such a believer.  In trying to convince my mother that despite her very full pantry she really did not have much that was edible she challenged me to prove it.

I told her I could do one better than prove it, but that I could do it with my eyes closed.  She took that challenge and I went to the pantry and she watched as I closed my eyes and opened the door.  Without peeking I reached my hand in and pulled out a can.  It was the first one I touched, not one in the back behind some two-year-old crackers.  When I opened my eyes I knew I had hit pay dirt.

My father was witnessing this game and seemed to take cover as I squealed in delight at the can of Pepperidge Farm Gazpacho.  First, the idea of gazpacho in a can is revolting, but I was not there to comment on the original quality of the product, just it’s age.

The can I held was so old that it did not have a bar code on it, but an old-fashioned price sticker.  Granted there are still stores, like small bodegas, that do not have scanners so they put price stickers on items, but those items still have barcodes from the manufacturer.  Just the mere absence of the barcode was proof that the can was at probably made before 1980, but the particular price sticker was an even greater clue to the exact age because it said the words “Stop & Shop” along with the .79¢ price.

My parents lived in Wilton, CT. at the time a Stop and Shop was open in Ridgefield, the next town over.  I can remember my mother shopping there until the store closed on or around 1978.  That was proof enough for my father who declared me the winner in this game.

Being the spoiled winner that I was I went on to point out that not only was this can decades old, but that my parents had moved it five times when they moved from Wilton to London, London back to Wilton, Wilton to Massachusetts Heights in Washington DC, Mass Heights to Georgetown, and Georgetown to Pawleys Island, SC.  I consider that can better traveled than 99 % of all Americans.

My mother gave in and threw the can out.  We were all too afraid to open it and recycle it, so please forgive us.  So for today’s challenge, go to your pantry, find something that has been there at least since the last republican administration and either eat it or properly dispose of it.

Having a full pantry of things we are not going to eat is wasteful.  If you find anything that is still good and you don’t want to eat it, donate it.  There are lots of people who might need it, as long as you are sure it won’t kill anyone.

Listening is the Hard — Hearing is Even Harder

Recently I had a friend ask me if I could talk to her husband about losing weight.   “Whoa, whoa, whoa,” was my response.  “Do you want me to talk to him or does he want me to talk to him?”

My friend, who loves and adores her husband, is interested in his losing weight.  She confessed that he does not see the same man in the mirror that she does.  Jump back friend.  I would never bring up the subject of losing weight to anyone else.  I am happy to answer someone’s questions, but not initiate the conversation.

I know from personal experience that the only person who can make you want to lose weight is the person who is putting the food in your mouth.  Losing weight is a brain exercise first; only when your brain is interested in doing it will it happen.

On the other side of things, if someone is telling you something you don’t want to hear stop and consider how hard it was for them to do it.

Many years ago when Russ and I were working in London and had terrible sleep schedules due to too many transatlantic flights we had a next-door neighbor who had a garage without a door, on the bedroom side of our house.  These neighbors who were used to us not being home much had gotten a puppy and they kept him tied up in the garage at night.

When we were home we were kept awake by this poor lonely puppy howling and barking in the echo chamber that was my neighbors’ garage.  At first I thought that it would be a short-lived problem and eventually the puppy would learn to sleep alone, but that did not happen.

One night as I lay there I thought surely these people know their dog barks all night, but no.  When I finally could not take it anymore I got out of bed, put my trench coat on over my nightgown and in the pouring rain went over to my neighbor’s house.

When they came to the door I apologized for the late visit, although it was only 9:00 at night it was 3:00 in the morning to me, which was very late.  I said I was sure they did not know that their puppy’s barking echoed so loudly into our bedroom and asked if they could bring the dog inside.  I will never forget the wife’s response, “Our dog does not bark.”  Now this couple was elderly, but I had never seen them with any hearing aids that could be removed at night to ignore a barking dog.

I was shocked that my practically apologetic request had been met with an accusation of my being a liar.  In my jet lagged and not most polished state I responded, “Lady, why in the world would I come over here at this hour in my nightgown in the pouring rain and make up a story about your dog?  How would I even know you had a dog?  Your dog barks and by leaving in your open garage it amplifies his crying.”

Her husband apologized and brought the dog inside and never left him to sleep in the garage again.  The wife has never spoken to me since despite my saying hello to her every time I see her.

What was in this for me if her dog did not really bark?  Why would I risk bad neighborly relations if it were not true?  If someone tells you something you don’t really like, stop and consider what it is it for them to tell you.  Drop your defenses and try and listen to the truth.

I am not advocating that anyone runs out and tells your loved ones they need to lose weight or control their dog, but if someone gives you a signal, perhaps a lot more subtly than I told my neighbor, that you have a problem, think about it.  They risk something in telling you, but if you can really hear it, maybe your brain can take one step closer to trying to solve it.

The Solution for America

There are many issues facing America I am told over and over again by the unending droning of political ads that are ruining TV watching.  Two major issues that have gotten no airplay in North Carolina are the high cost of infant daycare and the difficulty that overweight people have in trying to lose weight.

I am shocked that the binders of women have not come out and made the daycare issue more of a topic given that they stand to get some high-ranking jobs if anyone looking for some tokens is elected.  Also, it is surprising that someone running for political office who is interested in everyone having healthcare has not tried to have all Americans slim down if for no other reason than obesity is a huge drain on medical resources.

Tonight while trying to enjoy dinner in a public place, I was seated next to a table with two brand new Grandparents, their daughter, son-in-law and their long awaited grandchild who could not have been more than three weeks old.  That isn’t-my grandchild-precious new Grandmother was completely oblivious to the rest of the diners as she proudly held up a screaming baby for a good thirty minutes without the thought that perhaps she could leave the room and try and comfort her.   No, that Grandmother was sure that the rest of us were all enjoying the sounds of a baby who clearly was too young to know how to go to sleep while we tried to enjoy our diner.

As the baby screamed louder and louder I was less and less interested in my meal.  That was when it dawned on me how we can solve two giant issues causing ruin in our country with one solution.  Infant daycare weight loss centers, a truly bipartisan solution to a universal problem.

People pay big money to lose weight and I guarantee that there is no better way to keep people from eating than to put them in a room full of screaming babies.  Let’s put those babies to good use as appetite killers and help those fat people get skinny by making them be baby sitters.

If you hear about this in the next debate you can bet that some high-ranking advisor to a candidate has been reading my blog because this is surely a win-win for America.

Redneck Respect

This morning on the news I caught the whiff of a segment on the growing number of reality TV shows about “Rednecks” such as Here Comes Honey Boo Boo and Hill Billy Hand fishing.   First I must confess that I have never actually seen any of these shows except for the moments shown on the news or on late night talk shows.  There is a lot of interest in “Rednecks” these days but I am worried that Yankees and the uber educated are actually confused between Rednecks and PWT’s.

See I have great respect for actual Rednecks because the term is derived from people who work outside bent down, face to the soil growing food for us, thus getting a red neck from over sun exposure.  Most of these reality TV shows are not about those hard working people.

The entertaining and often uneducated people who make great subjects for TV are PWT’s, which stands for “Poor White Trash.”  Now there can be Rednecks who are at the same time also PWT’s, but not all PWT’s are Rednecks.  Here is an example of the difference; a Redneck might be missing an important tooth or two because they did not have the money to go to the dentist, a PWT might be missing an important tooth because his cousin punched him after he found out he was sleeping with his wife and his mouth hit the bar as he fell over.  I am sure this is a distinction that is lost on many who just see people without teeth, but I feel the need to defend hard working farmers.

I write this today because I harvested my sweet potato crop.  I am using the word crop very liberally since I don’t think five plants make much of a harvest, especially in my case.  This is the first time I have tried to grow sweet potatoes and I feel quite unsuccessful at it.

In the end my plants were lush and beautiful after having deer come and denude all the plants not just once, but twice, which probably did not help my potato production.  After pulling the vines up and digging around I found just about 18 sweet potatoes ranging in size from four pounds down to a few ounces.  A couple looked like they could even be sold in a store, but most were gnarly and pock marked and as ugly as I imagine Russ Limbaugh’s rear side to be.  I have no idea how they taste yet and won’t for a while because I have to “cure” them by leaving them in a box in a warm spot for a week or two.

Next time you enjoy some sweet potato fries, take a moment and silently give thanks to the farmer who grew them.  They may be missing some teeth but I would like to know what they know about bringing food out of the ground.  It is harder than you think.