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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Word of the Day, vol. V

Word of the Day: FOOD
My stomach hurts. That means I’m nervous. Mostly about lugging my two large suitcases to Back Bay tomorrow, then somehow carting them to New Haven on Monday. For some reason, I foresee this being a ridiculous effort. Like that my arms will suddenly stop working or that the weight of the two suitcases and my backpack will become so overwhelming that I will stop mid-street and mid-stride and give up.

My stomach hurting sometimes means I can’t eat. Because I’m nervous. For a period of time this past winter, it meant I dry-heaved for 10 minutes every morning, panicked on the T on the way to class and could barely keep food down. (Want to lose 10 pounds? Get ANXIETY!) It was sad too. Because I love food.

One of the qualities I am proudest of (and most grateful to my parents for) is my adventurous sense of taste. I’ve been eating sushi since I was in elementary school. I eat it with such passion and voracity that I went to a traditional sushi restaurant with a Japanese native in college once and she said, “I’ve never seen a white person eat sushi like you do,” as I inhaled my chirashi. It was a great triumph.

I was on a cruise with my family as a teenager and tried caviar, escargot, and pate for the first time all in one meal.

I remember great traditional Chinese feasts with my mother’s family. All 15 or so of us would sit around a Lazy Susan, and I would try each dish as it rolled past. Once, I was even dared to pluck out a fish eye and eat it. It had the texture of a raisin and tasted like garlic.

My mother cooked dinner for us almost every night: baked ziti, Chinese chicken over rice, pork chops with homemade tomato sauce over them, tuna salad with celery and relish and carrots and radishes, sausage and peppers over couscous. Now, she watches the Food Network like it’s an old friend and experiments with dishes like Rachael Ray makes.

My dad cooked duck for a Christmas meal once, and I ate most of it. He’d make what he called Everything Rice, which had everything we needed to get rid of in the fridge and somehow tasted great. [Note: my brother just reminded me it's official title is Salad Fried Rice. I stand corrected.] Chinese beef and string beans, tilapia, quince. We grew basil in the backyard when I was very small and ate pesto so much, my brother and I were off it for years. I also can never eat beans and rice ever again. It’s a family joke.

Even my brother is a good cook. He makes homemade ramen and concocts fried chicken out of thin air.

I was really proud of myself once for making French toast for dinner when I was in middle school. I think making a quesadilla is a feat, especially if I put salsa and sour cream on it and eat it with a side of avocado. Mostly, I just throw a sandwich together or heat up a bowl of soup.

One of my early grad school assignments was to teach my classmate something and have her teach me something. I professed I could not cook (or ride a bike) and teamed up with someone who offered to teach me how to make a quick, easy meal of veggies and curry. It was stressful but ended up being delicious. (I still don’t know how to ride a bike.)

I actually do have a couple culinary specialties: soft-boiled eggs with bread in them and steaming edamame to perfection. (Seriously. Nobody does those two things better.)

Sometimes, my palate gets fatigued. I cannot imagine eating another Morningstar Farms Grillers Original with swiss cheese on wheat toast or another tortilla with hummus or another Columbo yogurt. This happened last week, and I was hoping there were some frozen chicken breasts left from my previous roommate, so I could attempt to put something homemade together. There was a whole bag, but they were so freezer-burned, they looked cooked. So I had some oatmeal for dinner. And went shopping the next day: chicken tenders and avocadoes and carrots and couscous and grape tomatoes.

I came straight home and marinated the chicken in a lemon Italian dressing. I dredged the tomatoes in olive oil and salt and pepper and roasted them for 15 minutes. I sauted the chicken, sliced up an avocado, and enjoyed what was probably the first meal I’d ever really cooked for myself. I froze half the unused chicken and cooked in later that week, making a poor man’s honey mustard sauce and eating the sauted chicken (my expertise begins and ends at sautéing) smothered in sauce over rosemary and garlic couscous.

Perhaps what my parents and brother have been telling me for years--that cooking can be fun and easy--is finally sinking in.

I guess this is growing up.

I think I'll have oatmeal for lunch.

(I’m taking the word bag to CT with me. We’ll see if I have time to do anything besides write frantic, short posts about the cat-herding I’m doing there.)

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