Thursday, November 19, 2009

Notes from the Center

Sometimes I am the center of my own universe.  Let me tell ya, it's a quiet and lonely place.  Living there is like being swathed in bubble wrap with cotton wool stuffed in my ears. My, what a pretty image!  I can't see out, nor hear a peep.  Or rather, the bits and pieces of reality that manage to seep in arr more often than I like to admit, really distorted.  Oh the downfall of solipsism no one tells you about!

Yesterday, I had a major epiphany as to how steep a slope this downfall really is.  Let's go skiing, right?  Well, really, this is not a happy ride to take. Usually that abrupt ending--kinda like a free fall--is met with a resounding thud.  The truth can be as hard as the very ground upon which we walk.

As I got ready to run errands yesterday, I donned my leopard print trench coat.  I bought this a year ago.  At the time, I was working outside the home. Part of the cache of the job, besides a paycheck, was that my office was surrounded luscious dens of grease and salt.  When lunchtime rolled around, I would push my way to the elevator and then scurry to the lobby...standing on the sidewalk, I felt like a kid in a candy store.   If I turned left and walked 1/2 a block, I had two Chinese restaurants to choose from--one was decidedly Americanized--but very cheap and super fast. If I turned right and walked around the corner, I had a Cajun restaurant--yum! Deep fried catfish and cheesy grits or a Tex Mex dive that served pork burritos the size of my cat.  I often went to the left.

In the Americanized Chinese hole-in-the-wall I could eat and be back at work in about 30 mins. In under 10 minutes and for about $5!, I'd be dining on a shiny shimmering platter of chow mein with a FREE egg roll.  But the other place was heaven!  Much more authentic.  I could devour all things fermented and brined:  Salted fish and duck egg fried rice was often my drug of choice.  Meals like this connect to an almost reptilian memory buried deep inside of me.  I am half Chinese, I grew up within walking distance of San Francisco's Chinatown. My mother, was anglo -- dust bowl Okie -- but was a fanatic about things Chinese.  She raised her children to appreciate smoked duck feet and thousand year old eggs. If it reeked to the untrained nose, we knew the truth, it tasted good, really good.  Heck, she would eat and often much to our horror, offer us the opportunity to eat things that would make me leap up from the table or sit there, frozen by the fear that the dish might come alive and slither or fly off the plate.  To this day, my one culinary rule that is never violated is that if I am eating meat or fish, it cannot look anything remotely like it did when it was scampering or swimming about.  Calamari must be cut into little rings...not bluish little baby squids bobbing up in down in a salty fish broth.  I remember my mom ordering that dish in a Chinese restaurant, as the grownups ooo'd and awww'd, I sat there frozen in utter horror.  I was prodded to 'just try a tiny bite...' I did, leading me to form culinary rule #2: Food should not bounce when you bite it. But if I focused on the crab in lobster sauce, the baby squid would leave me alone.  There was always something good, if not too scary to savor.

Unfortunately, DH isn't always as appreciative of the more savory aspects of Asian cuisine.  I married a white guy from Houston.  However, I will admit he has impressed me more than a few times.  He knew what Pho was before we met.  He will go for Dim Sum on a crowded Saturday morning--and politely decline the chicken feet instead of gasping when the waitress proffers the dish.  But things aromatic?  I have to use them judiciously.  So, things like salt fish and jars of pickled cabbage make rare appearances in our kitchen.

So, when I discovered a restaurant near my office that served these things, I was home.  I'd order a heaping plate of fried rice that had salty unctuous chunks of salted fish and juicy cubes of fatty bacon made from duck.  I wanted to hug the cook.  I'd waddle back to my office all shiney and more than a little sleepy but inordinately happy.

Waddle is the key word here.  To increase the waddle, four hours later, I would be back home, cooking a gravied and creamy dinner for DH and me.  To make this happen, I was slightly lubricated with a couple of cocktails to assuage the effects of a teeth-grinding commute and the normal tensions of a workaday life.  After a year of this gourmande exuberence, (I really mean 'gourmande' in the true French sense of the word:  Gourmande = glutton, whereas, the word gourmet = is one who appreciates good food, why people fail to know this, amazes me), I had almost doubled my dress size.

I was amazingly blind to this.  When I went shopping for clothes, I really was perplexed as to why sizing had changed.  I figured they really had.  A large was really yesterday's small.  Oh, that wacky fashion industry!  I know, this makes no sense.  But when you are the center of your own universe, you call the shots.  Your reality, is your reality.  The leopard trenchcoat is proof of this.

I fell in love with its picture in a J. Crew catalogue. Oooh, I had to have it.  So I ordered it in the size I had worn for the last 10 years.  I have always been a perfect speciman of that size--it was weird, I would pick anything in that size, and it fit--always.  When the coat arrived, I put it on and the arms were snug.  I could wear it, but not over a sweater, I figured.  I couldn't button it, but it's a trench, I could tie it like a bathrobe, I thought.  No problem.  But damn!  I was incenced by the shoddy sizing.  For the price, and reputation of the company, I wanted more.  I fumed every time I wore it.  I should write them a nasty letter, I often said out loud as I stuffed my pudgy arm into the sleeve.

The letter I would have received in response to my misguided missive would have started "Dear Fat Ass:..."

I know that.  When my job ended, so did my foray into the exotic land of lard and salt.  Also, it slowly dawned on me that I really was out of breath from being f-a-t, and not suffering from a weird allergy...I had increased in girth and the apartment had not shrunk. So, I started working out, quit drinking quarts of Vodka and ate more salads.  Amazingly, this worked.  There is now a lot less of me, and I am back to the size I have always been.

Yesterday, as I was getting ready to leave, I put on the leopard trench -- I was flabbergasted--it buttoned and I was wearing it over a bulky sweater dress.  J. Crew had not conspired to sell me a shoddily sized coat after all.  All that angst and anger!  Imagine!

Sometimes, it is a good idea to step out of your own center and to take a peek from the outside to see what is real.

I mentioned in a previous post that DH and I eat a lot of chicken.  For the most part, it is healthy...or at least, a teenier bit less in calories than fattier beef.  Here's what I did last night:

Pomegranate Chicken

3 chicken breasts
1  bay leaf
Pam nonstick spray -- Olive oil
1 tsp of red pepper flakes
1 packet of McCormick's Grill Seasoning packet
1 16 oz bottle of POM pomegranate juice
1 12 oz bag of sliced crimini mushrooms
  • Spray the chicken breasts to coat with Pam Olive Oil spray
  • cover with the contents from the grill seasoning packet and red pepper flakes
  • place coated chicken and mushrooms in a pretty deep baking dish
  • cover with the POM -- add a little chicken broth if necessary.
  • Bake at 400 for 40 minutes -- let the chicken brown a little as the liquid cooks away.

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