Monday, February 25, 2008

Cooking is healing

Right now, the thing that brings me the most joy is cooking for people. I love having people in my kitchen, chatting, while I slice vegetables and sip wine. And the dinner, of course, eating together and conversing. I love the feeling of feeding friends, and in that act, orchestrating community.
I’ve always enjoyed dinner parties, but lately, I find I need them. And, fortunately, my friends oblige and lend me their company and appetites.
With my new food philosophy (I’m trying to eat only whole foods, not packaged, preservative-heavy foods) cooking takes on a different meaning and care. Cooking is now an act of assembling dishes that not just taste good, but are made from fresh ingredients, preferably organic, and ideally local.

My preferred soundtrack right now for dinner parties: Jack Johnson’s new CD (he continues to impress me with his music) and all of Jack’s soundtracks to his surfing movies—Thicker than Water, A Brokedown Melody, and The September Sessions. The mellow vibes make for a fantastic background.

I've been experimenting with more meat dishes--I've never been much of a meat eater, and cooking it always intimidated me, but I'm finding it surprisingly simple to make. My favorites so far have been lamb coated with garlic and rosemary, and a peppercorn steak recipe that I attempted. My secret? Cooks Illustrated, which is a monthly magazine (I've bought one of the cookbooks that has all of the annual recipes)that shows you, scientifically, how to cook. They test hundreds of techniques and recipes before presenting the "winner," and the steps are explained in a way that makes perfect sense. It's a rather foolproof way to cook.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Myrtle Beach weekend

I spent this past weekend in Myrtle Beach with a big group of girls from my running group, and predictably, we ran. We competed in the Myrtle Beach Relay Marathon, which was quite fun. I’ve never done a relay before, but I quite enjoyed it. (Save for the last mile.) We divided it up into chunks of five miles, with the last being a 6.2 mile leg. Since there were only four girls on my team, our best runner, Sarah, ran 10 miles.

Almost as fun as hanging out around so many athletic people (I think there were 11,000 entrants?) was the navigating-to-our tradeoff spots. Many roads were closed, so it was more like orienteering as we found our way to each spot, deposited a runner and picked one up. The weather was beautiful for running—in the 60s. Well, okay, by the time it was my leg to run, it was in the 60s.

I haven’t done a 10k since September, pre-surgery, and I was disappointed/okay with the fact that my time was exactly the same. I suppose it’s okay because I did take a few months off, but, I just feel faster right now, so I was hoping for a better time.
I did feel slightly guilty passing so many true marathoners, who had run 20 + miles by the time I was beginning my first. I remember being totally demoralized at the trail marathon I did when relay-ers would pass because it was never entirely clear if they were running the relay or the full thing.
I’m rambling.

Mostly, it was great to get out of Winston and away from a very bad week. I spent time with girls I really enjoy being around, danced in a rather, um…typical Myrtle Beach club, and drank enough to make it fun to dance in said club.
For those of you who don’t know, Myrtle Beach isn’t exactly a “classy town.” No, try over-touristy tacky strip malls, big hotels, and the token “Planet Hollywood” restaurant town. But no matter. It was a good weekend.

And now it’s Monday. I’m getting through it.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

A difficult undertaking

I’m reading a most excellent book right now: The Omnivore’s Dilemma, by Michael Pollan. Normally, I’m not much of an alarmist when it comes to reading books that expose industries. I will generally feel brief shock, but commence on my merry way with little lifestyle/habit changes. Even after reading Fast Food Nation, I felt disgusted about the thought of eating fries or hamburgers again, and though I rarely, rarely eat fast food, I do confess to still ordering fries. Pollan has me thinking differently.
Pollan exposes the corn industry. I won’t do a full book review here, because he goes so in-depth that I couldn’t do his research justice, but Pollan artfully exposes how the majority of our food is corn-product laden, thanks to generous corn subsidies and industry giants Cargill and ADM. He also goes in-depth on the meat-processing and farming industries.
We were not designed to eat processed, chemicalized corn-processed food, in the quantities that we do. Nor were the cattle we eat. They should be eating grass; not forced to consume mass quantities of corn when they reach the feedlots. A good portion of this country’s health problems can be traced back to high fructose-corn syrup, copious amounts of corn-fattened beef, and food composed of chemicals that only chemists can decipher.

Here’s the tragedy: Finding relatively un-processed, non corn-product containing food is a difficult undertaking. Americans, alone, suffer this obstacle, though we’re rapidly spreading our food processing techniques elsewhere. Even so-called “organics” are stuffed with corn by-products and now controlled by behemoth companies.

The best I’ve ever felt, and the most nutritious, consistent diet I’ve had, occurred when I spent a summer in Costa Rica. My daily eats consisted of black beans and rice, florescent tropical fruits, and rich coffee. I rarely ate meat, occasionally splurged on fish. My diet was wholesome, genuine, and pure. I did not feast on an amalgamation of ingredients from various regions. I ate locally and traditionally.
I’ve also felt/ate great while traveling in Europe. Switzerland and Germany, in particular. Local dairies produce the milk and yogurt products. You see the actual cows grazing on, shockingly, grass! Artificial sweeteners, preservatives, and stripped grains are not main ingredients in food. Local bakeries produce bread, not General Mills. (I'm being simplistic with that statement: of course there are large mills, and American products, but it is just as easy to come by locally baked products.) People eat the way they have for centuries, and though they may consume large amounts of cheese and butter, the purity of their food, and the fact that they walk to their destinations, contributes to their healthier lifestyle.

I’m feeling pronounced sadness reading Pollan’s book. I find it shameful how ignorant most of us are about what goes into our food. I find it alarming that it is so hard now to find pure, unadulterated food—even in so-called “healthy” products. Seeing so many overweight people around, mindlessly consuming plastic-encased “food,” is a shame. As a society, we’ve gotten incredibly off-course on one of life’s greatest pleasures: eating wholesome, locally grown food, exercising and strengthening our bodies, and respectfully growing food in ways that are sustainable and humane to animals and the environment. I love my country, but I hate the type of consumers we’ve become.

So here’s how I’m changing: I’m making an honest effort to eat wholesome food. I’ve gone back to the rice and beans that sustained me in Costa Rica. I buy plain, organic yogurt, fruits and vegetables that are in-season, bread from local bakeries, and most of all, I read labels. I want to see a minimum of ingredients on labels, and if corn-products in processed form grace the label, I put it back.
I find that grocery shopping is taking much longer. Even pasta sauces—high-fructose corn syrup. Most “whole-grain” breads. Yup, corn syrup. It’s everywhere.
I find that I’m not even tempted right now to eat candy around the office or put jam on my bagels. The artificiality of it all disgusts me.
Food is so essential to cultures, customs, unity, and bonding. Trying to eat well is a challenge, and I don’t want my new habits to alienate me from those I love and rituals I enjoy. But I will proceed cautiously and mindfully, eating food that is as un-processed as possible.

T&J do NYC

I spent four fantastic days in NYC with my sister last week. It was my first trip to the city. She’s a bit of a city veteran, so she guided us to the best bagel shops, restaurants, and sights. I loved the energy, the expansive forever-ness of buildings, and the ingenuity of a city so large. We shopped in fantastic consignment shops, ate flavorful ethnic food, and walked our legs off. We got caught in a deluge on our way across the Brooklyn Bridge. We were too soaked and freezing to continue, even with the promise of pizza on the other side, so we caught a sub and made our way back to the hotel for dry clothes.
It was fantastic to spend four days with my sister, whom I rarely see, due to us living on other sides of the country.
It will definitely not be my last trip to the city.