Saturday, June 09, 2007

Meals I had this week and my food story

Dinner: a bowl of Anasazi beans (from Native Seeds/SEARCH here in Tucson) with cilantro, cumin, black pepper, jalapeño and tomato salsa, sea salt, red onion, lime juice, garlic, and melted sharp cheddar cheese; and a salad of romaine lettuce, sunflower sprouts, sliced radishes, tomatoes, cucumbers, and red onion with a dressing of lemon juice and olive oil; Gerolsteiner mineral water with lime.

Lunch: slices of fresh mozarrella, tomatoes, cucumbers, basil, sunflower sprouts, kalamata olives, red onion, black pepper, a little salt, oregano, and olive oil; and a plate of toasted whole wheat pita bread with Earth Balance spread.

Lunch: farfalle pasta with chopped tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, black pepper, sea salt, and a little grated parmesan. The salad is composed of red leaf lettuce, radishes, cucumbers, red onion, carrots, tomato, apple cider vinegar and olive oil.

Snack: a plain bowl of brown rice eaten with my hands! Simple and yummy.

Afternoon tea: white peony tea and a small bowl of eda mame.

Snack: plain yoghurt with raw almonds and dried cranberries, a pear, and a cup of oolong tea.

Breakfast: Soba noodles mixed with soy sauce and sesame oil and sprinkled with black sesame seeds and sliced green onion.

Afternoon snack: Raw piñones, dried cranberries, dried apricots, raw almonds, sun.

Breakfast: Amaranth flake cereal (from a box) in soymilk with dried cranberries.

Tohono O'odham Pink Beans soaking (from Native Seeds/SEARCH here in Tucson). I soak all the beans I eat for at least 8 hours, then drain their soaking water and replace with fresh water before cooking. I like having a big pot of beans in the fridge; they make an easy meal heated up in a pot with the addition of some chopped vegetables, spices, salsa, melted cheese, and fresh tortillas.

This dinner meal was a bowl of Hopi Purple String/Rio Zape Beans (from Native Seeds/SEARCH here in Tucson) with cilantro, melted sharp cheddar cheese, red onion, salsa, cumin, and garlic; a green chile tamale* topped with cilantro and red jalapeño hot sauce, and my favorite hot weather beverage: sparkling mineral water with lime.

*Note: Tamale is an anglocized form of tamal. In Spanish, the singular form is tamal and the plural is tamales. For example/por ejemplo: Comí un tamal anoche (I ate a "tamale" last night). A mi me gustan mucho los tamales, son muy ricos (I love tamales, they are delicious).

A typical favorite breakfast meal (clockwise from upper left): stir-fried bok choy with garlic, sea salt, and pepper; tsukemono (Japanese style daikon radish pickles); salmon; yin zhen "silver needle" white tea; kim to eat wrapped around the rice (kim is Korean nori seasoned with sesame oil & salt. Yuki & Jesse also enjoy kim); rice sprinkled with black sesame seeds; miso soup with wakame seaweed, a drop of toasted sesame oil, bonito flakes, and sliced green onion. I make variations of this meal to eat at any time of day, eating raw or cooked tofu instead of, or in addition to, the fish (depends on how much protein I feel I need at the time), and with steamed greens, a small grated cabbage salad, or a seaweed & cucumber salad. Sometimes eda mame, sometimes natto, sometimes only rice, miso soup, and pickles; or soba instead of rice, and sometimes only rice with green tea!

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My Food Story (short version):

I used to eat according to my ethnic culture and region. Now I eat rice.

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My Food Story (long version, still-in-progress):

In 1979, I learned how to cook from my friend, Elliott Yamamoto, in Flagstaff, Arizona. Elliott was a second-generation Japanese-American (nisei) born and raised in Hawaii. 1979 was the year I first moved away from my family and Illinois to attend Northern Arizona University (NAU) in Flagstaff. From Elliott, I learned the macrobiotic way of chopping vegetables, rotating the vegetables and cutting on a diagonal. Once a week or so, we got together to cook and eat what we made. Thus began my almost 30-year Japanese-y way of cooking.

During the week, I often ate dinner at a hippy, vegetarian co-op restaurant in Flagstaff that made a dish I loved called "Tofu Clouds". Tofu Clouds was a mandala of stir-fried vegetables and tofu surrounded by rings of fluffy brown rice and alfalfa sprouts. The servers all had dread locks or long long hair and wore colorful homemade hippy clothes and patchouli. Tofu Clouds came with miso soup and seaweed, and they offered condiments to sprinkle on your food like gomashio (crushed sesame seeds with sea salt), nutritional yeast, tamari, seaweed sprinkles, and Spike. After sampling the offerings at NAU then tasting the delicious meals at the vegetarian restaurant, I bought a restaurant punch card worth $50 that entitled me to 20 meals.

I much preferred the atmosphere of the restaurant with its whole grain meals and heavy wooden tables that you shared with co-op friends, over the bustling NAU cafeteria with its bland potatoes, salad bar, pasta, pizza, and cheesy beans. I needed more than just the salads I could eat at the university cafeteria and Elliott showed me how to prepare simple whole meals, even in a dorm room. I made brown rice and steamed vegetables with tofu, seaweed, and miso soup and started munching on brown rice cakes and sheets of nori for snacks. I liked learning to cook healthy foods by cooking with Elliott. I didn't pay much attention to the complexities of Macrobiotic philosophy, though I did read some books by Michio Kushi, George Ohsawa, and others.

Macrobiotic philosophy suggests specific times of day that are best to eat certain foods (according to the way foods grow naturally) and categorizes foods as Yin or Yang. I don't follow the macrobiotic philosophy. I follow what tastes and feels good to me. Anyway, chocolate mousse is not macrobiotic; I couldn't possibly follow a way of eating that does not incorporate an occasional yummy morsel of chocolate :).

Later, during my time in Japan (1985-1988), I continued to explore simple traditional Japanese foods, adding new ingredients and foods such as: natto (fermented soy beans), mochi (pounded glutinous rice), additional seaweeds, umeboshi (salted pickled plums), shiso (a delicate leaf herb), kimpira gobo (a grated carrot and burdock dish), Japanese squash (kabocha), osoba and udon (buckwheat and wheat noodles), mugicha (barley "tea" drunk in summer), and green tea (ocha!). I learned to cook tasty dishes from my Japanese friends and from co-workers at the natural foods shop in Kyoto where I worked part-time. I've been eating meals consisting of mainly Japanese foods for most of my life now. But it wasn't always that way.

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In Chicago, where I lived from 0-18, my mom always cooked for us. My mom was--and still is--a really good cook of the kinds of Midwestern and Jewish foods I grew up on. I'm sure I inherited much of the artful way I prepare and arrange meals from my mom. At home, we always ate meals as a family around the kitchen table: my mom, dad, and two sisters. Our dinners lasted over an hour (often much longer) and included eating, talking, laughing, and story-telling. We usually ate a meat dish (including chicken and fish), a cooked vegetable, rye bread, sometimes a baked potato, and always a salad. I loved everything my mom made, except for asparagus which I still don't eat unless it is served to me by an unknowing friend, is disguised under some tasty dressing, or I feel like challenging my taste buds.

In the summer when I went to a ranch camp in Arizona for two months from age 6-17, I had no choice but to eat the white bread they served. We made little dough balls from the Wonder Bread, but I never considered that real bread; it was just camp bread. I liked the corn tortillas we ate at camp (it was Arizona!) and I loved the famous "mystery meat" whose origins were just that. One summer, I eagerly tried "rocky mountain oysters" (we branded cattle and rode in rodeos on a 40,000 acre ranch camp) and several times enjoyed rattlesnake cooked over an open fire while on horse pack trips.

During the holidays back in Chicago, I helped my mom and sisters make kreplach (dumplings), stuffed cabbage, matzoh ball soup, charoses (apple-nut-wine mixture for Passover), and latkes (potato pancakes). On a daily basis, meals were my mom's domain; my "job" (along with my sisters and my dad) was to eat. With a mom that cooked, I really had no need or desire to cook anything more complicated for myself than scrambled eggs, toasted rye bread, and challah. I could also make "fried" matzoh (which is not really fried, but "fried" is the translation from the Yiddish of matzoh brie) and I could put together a cream cheese & black olive sandwich or a bagel with cream cheese when I wanted it. Our refrigerator always had such items as Kosher dills, beet borscht, gefilte fish, beet colored horse radish, spinach borscht with lemon juice, and corned beef for sandwiches. These are some of the foods I grew up on.

As a child, my mom made our school sandwiches on challah (Jewish egg bread), rye bread, pumpernickel, or cracked wheat bread. We ate lukschen kugel (Jewish noodle cake), kishke (a kind of orange colored snake-like tube of mashed vegetables and wheat), brisket, lots of vegetables, fruit, chicken, beef, and salads. My mom always kept a bowl of fresh fruit on the kitchen table and I ate fruit for snacks everyday. We never had any fried foods and I can't remember ever trying a doughnut until maybe 18 or 19 years old. Being from the Midwest, we always had delicious sweet corn in the summers that I husked in front of our house from a nearby farm and the fruit was fresh and ripe. Healthy, delicious food was abundant.

However, I didn't thrive exclusively on homemade Jewish foods and healthy Midwestern fruits and vegetables. With my 10 cents a week allowance, I satisfied my sweet tooth. I delighted in my secret bicycle trips to Alpine Pharmacy to buy myself a Butterfinger, a Three Musketeers', or a Nestle's Crunch bar. I also ate little containers of marble sundaes in the school cafeteria and chased after the Good Humor truck when it came into the neighborhood. When I could successfully convince my mom at the grocery store, she bought Lucky Charms, Trix, and Cocoa Puffs besides the requisite (and boring) Kellogg's Cornflakes and Rice Krispies. And a few times, the cashier had already rung up the HOHOs I'd hidden under other items in the cart and the bagger had already bagged 'em up before my mom caught on.

At home, we also consumed American staples like Uncle Ben's Converted Rice, Lipton and Campbell's soups, Jello brand gelatin, and Kraft Macaroni 'N Cheese. On nights my parents went to the theatre, my sisters and I got to eat Swenson's TV dinners, which we thought were simply magical and wonderful treats.

Some of the kitchen "flavor" I remember most in Wilmette, was the kosher salami with Hebrew written on it, always hanging from a string in the kitchen. In the bread box I could always find rye bread, bagels, pumpernickel, or challah, and on the shelf always a box or two of matzoh, which I ate as a snack. A favorite treat was crunchy baked kichel from a Jewish bakery on Devon in Chicago. And on many Sunday mornings, we ate lox & bagels with several kinds of smoked fish after we came home from temple Sunday School. As for dining out, we frequently ate in Chicago's Chinatown and at nice European/continental restaurants in the city, but not Japanese. Not until I met Elliott and then six years later went to Japan on my bicycle trip.

In the meantime, at 16 or 17, my friends and I had decided to become vegetarians and to eat whole natural foods (except for on the holidays) without knowing exactly how to prepare these foods. In one of our classes at New Trier, we had all read Frances Moore Lappé's book, Diet For A Small Planet, and were rethinking our consumption habits. So my last couple of years in Illinois were my vegetarian dabbling years.

Once I got to Flagstaff after high school (1979), I was primed to incorporate a different way of eating. Exploring new ways to eat healthy was easy in Flagstaff since there was no place to buy lox & bagels and nobody seemed to know of matzoh ball soup or kreplach.

Perhaps it was Francis Moore Lappé's book that planted the Japanese-y natural foods seed in me, perhaps it was cooking with Elliott and eating at the local hippy veggie restaurant/co-op. Whatever it was, I consider all of it a blessing. The bagels, the seaweed, the mom who cooked, all of it.

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ENjoy more of my food photos and drawings HERE.

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