Thursday, May 31, 2012

my food conundrum

I have a lot on my mind right now, so please bear with me.

I have been thinking about my food choices for a while now, and the recent changes in my diet and what the implications of those choices are. I've written about my thoughts on food before and I hope you won't mind my rambling again as I continue, I hope, to grow in my own understanding.

I was raised an omnivore in a culture that approves of using probably every part of the animal - boiled, stewed, fried, skewered, roasted - you name it. We ate everything else too - poultry, seafood, vegetables and sea vegetables, tropical fruit.

Then I started my yoga practice maybe 10-ish years ago and slowly transitioned to a vegetarian diet (which for me means no animal flesh, but with minimal to moderate amounts of dairy and egg). For the longest time, animal flesh just did not appeal to me.

butter lettuce, grown in Ohio

When asked by others why I became vegetarian, I just keep it simple and say, "personal reasons". Which is why I also hesitate to write about why I became vegetarian on this blog, except for a few posts. I don't want to alienate or polarize people, especially at social gatherings, and especially those who mean a lot to me (and well, the handful of readers I have on my blog are family and friends). But when pressed further to explain my reasons, my reasons started out as health-based, which later became more environmental (e.g., negative impact of factory farming on the ecosystem - the documentary Food, Inc. is an interesting one to watch).

image source

I've had a friend, who is an omnivore, say that out of all her vegetarian friends, I'm the one she enjoys eating with the most because she doesn't feel judged by me. I was glad to hear that (thanks, CD). Eating is a social and pleasurable experience - it's "breaking bread together".  Sharing a meal is nurturing. And again, I don't want to alienate or polarize people; I value the friendships I have. My entire family is still omnivore, and I've always been okay with it. (Of course, my dad eating crispy fried pork belly while having blood pressure issues is another story. Sorry for spilling it here, dad.).

A few months ago, after about 6 or 7 years of not eating animal flesh, I ate fish.

image source

I thought that was just a one-time thing. Then on my birthday, I ate fish again.

dinner at Lolita

(Here is a good resource on fish species that are more sustainable choices depending on where you live.)

And here is an even greater shock, even to me: I ate chicken. From this restaurant (which prides itself on sourcing produce and animals locally and sustainably). I am saying these buzzwords "local" and "sustainable" for reasons I will save for later, not to sound holier-than-thou. Just putting that out there.

chicken at Greenhouse Tavern ~ image source

It was so.darn.good. And yes, during that moment, I enjoyed it. Unapologetically. I'm being honest here. Which came as a surprise to me, because I've always been surrounded by omnivores and shared meals with them - and I always felt happy eating my legumes and vegetables while they enjoyed their meat/seafood/poultry. And, more importantly, we always enjoyed each others' company regardless of individual food choices.

There has been a lot of debate on the ethics of eating a plant-based diet vs. meat. Just do a search on the New York Times - there was an essay contest on "why eating meat is ethical", and I would imagine, many, many, many commentaries and responses on blogs and websites from non-meat-eaters and meat-eaters alike. 
image source
And while I try to keep up with all of this controversy and debate, I have to admit I haven't followed it closely. But that's probably not a bad thing, because I also don't want to be swayed as I am developing my own sense of ethics.

I think, that when it comes to food (and any product we use as a consumer, for that matter), it's not so much a matter of ethical versus non-ethical. I think we live in a continuum of ethics in our consumption, and our decisions lie in different points of the continuum from day to day.

Now I understand that there is good and there is bad. Before I go any further I will say that I'm not an expert on ethics by any means. We did study philosophy and ethics by St. Thomas Aquinas and the other great thinkers in my undergraduate years, and this was one of the toughest, yet most interesting  classes I took (even compared to some classes I took in grad school!). I'm not sure if I can re-state what I learned enough to do justice to their philosophies. So I'm not trying to write an essay on ethics by any means; this is just my way of thinking through my own dilemmas in my head.

Anyway -- the continuum. I have a hard time thinking in absolutes. If I did think in absolutes, then maybe my husband and I won't even be able to work through our interfaith marriage. But we do, and I think we're doing quite well. Ok before I go on that tangent, I will go back to my original thoughts...

Continuum example #1:
What is "better" - to eat local wild-caught fish from our nearby Lake Erie, or a processed and packaged GMO-soy product trucked in from the West Coast? Sure, the fish died to become food. But the fishery was also able to sell their catch, pay their employees, who can then provide for their families. Does this justify eating ridiculous amounts of seafood a la Man vs. Food? (there aren't a lot of things I hate - that is a strong word - but I really, really, really dislike that show on so many levels). Perhaps not. But consumed in moderation? Perhaps so.

Sure, no animal may have been killed directly in the production of a processed "vegetarian" GMO-soy product, but there may have been animals killed indirectly when their habitat was turned into a soy plantation. But what does a highly-processed "vegetarian" food do to the body compared to fresh seafood?

In the end, which is more harmful?

Continuum example #2:
Who makes "better" choices - someone who eats fresh food including a moderate amount of meat, rides his/her bike to work, and donates his/her time to charitable causes, or someone who eats a microwaved, packaged "vegan" meal and picks fights all day? (These are fictional characters for the sake of comparison only!)

I think the reason there is such a heated debate around food is that food is a choice we make everyday, 3 times a day (ok, in my case, 5-6 times, not including the meals I dream about). And I can make an impact through my choices 3x 6x a day 24/7.

We make food choices so frequently. And unless we run our own farm, raise our own animals in a healthy environment, grow our own plants as food, and source 100% of our food this way, our food choices can't be perfect all the time. I think, that unless we have full control over where our food or any product we use or consume comes from, the reality is that we inflict some degree of harm in any decision we make.

The banana I put in  my smoothie everyday.
This cheap T-shirt I'm wearing.
The laptop I am typing on to write this post.
Heck, even my so-called PVC-free yoga mat "made from natural materials".

I do not know the whole truth of how all of these are grown, harvested, produced, or manufactured. The truth is, we use the energy of something else - or someone else - in varying degrees in order to live. Whether that is the energy of an animal, or a person growing/harvesting our food or manufacturing the products we use every single day. I don't know if a migrant laborer suffered from heat exhaustion hauling loads of fruits all day. Or if a worker in the T-shirt factory who made the very T-shirt I am wearing suffered from a work-related injury due to unsafe labor conditions, received low wages and had no health insurance, then had to be laid off. Who knows?

This being the case, we can't live our lives feeling guilty. Food is a pleasure - I won't lie. It's something I enjoy in solitude, and it's also something I enjoy sharing with others. So maybe someone might say that I'm writing all this as a scapegoat to excuse my recent fish/poultry consumption. One can argue that a killed animal, regardless of how kindly it was raised, in the end, is a killed animal. The debate on ethics and nonviolence regarding food choices centers on this, and this is where you can probably read the most heated arguments, opinions, even outright judgments and name-calling. Non-violence, huh? Ironic, I think.

We live in a world of ironies. Take the craze on reusable grocery bags. Pretty much every store right now sells reusable grocery bags, and yet maybe 75% or more (just a guess) of the food they sell are packaged in plastic with no recycling facilities nearby (thankfully, we do have recycling facilities nearby, which I am happy to note recycles all plastics from #1-7). But hey, reusable grocery bags are a great start. The reality is, it's cheaper for me to buy the pound of dried pasta packaged in plastic for $2 (which, ahem, I virtuously ironically pack in my old cloth tote bag) than it is to get the fresh pasta - made locally and minimally packaged - for $6-7 for a half-pound. Though I've splurged on the latter on occasion, I can't do it every time. Now this probably contradicts my preference for the buzzword-worthy "wild-caught" fish or "pasture-raised, local" (i.e., more expensive) chicken I recently ate - but this is more of a rare indulgence than it is an everyday occurrence. Where am I in the continuum?

So now what?

Because I think we inflict some degree of harm in any decision we make, my responsibility then is make the best possible (least harming) decisions given the circumstances of the situation, and to offset my less-than-perfectly ethical decisions with good decisions whenever I can. Because no one is perfect.

So I go to my university campus once or twice a week, and burn fossil fuels with each 45-minute drive. But on other days, I minimize driving and walk to do my errands in my neighborhood whenever possible - despite the fact that my area has a  WalkScore of only 54/100 (which translates to "somewhat walkable").

So sometimes A. and I eat a packaged, but grain- and whole-food based vegetarian sausage (which I have to say by the way, is really good - the smoked apple sage flavor is awesome. I'm not going to lie.) produced thousands of miles away in Seattle and shipped to our local grocery store in Cleveland. But I reduce and reuse/re-purpose whenever possible, and bring a bag of recyclables to the recycling dumpster each week.

And A. and I use whole milk. From a cow. From a local, family-run sustainable farm that raises artificial growth hormone-free and antibiotic-free cows. Which I feel better about than packaged soy milk. Sure, I can make my own almond milk from raw almonds. Well, these almonds are grown thousands of miles away, in California. What about the person who has a severe dairy and nut allergy, and has to take either packaged soy or rice milk? We all need to do what's best for our own bodies, families, communities.

Then I recently ate fish, from a restaurant that supports and sources from local farms. But perhaps I can use the energy and nourishment that this fish provided to do better at my job (an unpaid summer "job"). To encourage, and hopefully, inspire the graduate students I'm supervising this summer to be better teachers.

Are these farfetched arguments? Maybe.

I'm not saying all this to give myself a pat on the back. The point I'm trying to make is, I can offset my not-so-good choices with good ones in other ways. Every decision we make will be in a different point within the continuum. We just have to do the best we can overall.

As I said earlier, I'm no expert on ethics and I certainly don't have all the answers.

I feel fortunate to live in a situation in which I can make these choices, understanding that this is mostly a first-world debate. A shepherding family or community in a remote area will use the wool from their lambs to clothe themselves and protect themselves from the elements, and eat the flesh of the lamb to survive. Are they making unethical choices? No. How about the child who ravenously eats some kind of "fish" that comes in perfectly cut squares, filled with extenders and breaded, in a box, shipped in a truck from a thousand miles away and then fried in a non-hexane free oil and served in a styrofoam plate at lunch in school because that is the only meal he will get for that day? Or take that same food, served by a parent who was recently laid off and is forced into this situation because this kind of food is what she/he can get with food stamps and they need to stretch their $ as thinly as possible? They are doing this for their survival. Who am I to judge?

I think the other reason there is such a heated debate on the matter is that we do live in a situation in which we can make choices. It's not a question of survival, but choices. Local. Organic. Sustainable. PVC-free. BPA-free. Free of this and that and the other. Sure it all sounds elitist, and by no means are my own finances in unlimited supply. We do the best we can with the options and resources we have.

The issue of food choices seems to be one of the most polarizing topics recently. I only wish that, in this issue, one side does not blindly judge the other for the choices the other makes, but instead seek to understand, respect, and make individual decisions thoughtfully, food-wise and otherwise.

As a dear friend responded to me, when I wrote to her to share what I was thinking regarding my dilemma: "I had to choose the things I can and cannot do to 'save the world.' You, alone, cannot save the world. You do what you can, within the context of your life. Peace, your peace, also saves the world." (Thank you, DLH.

In the end, this is what matters:

Saw this bus during my evening walk with A. tonight
(after enjoying a delicious dinner of enchiladas with black beans, spinach, and potato)

As the great poet Rumi wrote: There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground. 

There are also hundreds of ways to practice nonviolence, kindness and compassion. Food-wise and otherwise.

If you made it this far - thank you for reading. I'm still wrestling with this dilemma and trying to make sense of it. I'd love to know what you think, friends.

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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

a day of too much perfection

I love those transitioning spring-to-summer days.

Cloudless blue skies, 72 degrees. Everything just feels... alive.

infinite blue sky

It was one of those perfect days, in which I just wished I could spend the entire day outside (alas, I needed to work too...).

I walked for 15 minutes to the yoga studio, loving the warm sunshine on my bare arms. Attended a 75-minute vinyasa class. Walked back home afterwards, and on the way stopped at a store to pick up something we needed at home.

Made dinner. Without a real plan, but somehow it all came together. Don't you love when you end up with a delicious meal through improvisation? We had leftover tortillas from a previous taco night. Leftover Cuban black beans from another night. I had a potato. Some frozen spinach. Pureed tomatoes which turned into a mole-inspired sauce. We ended up with spinach, black bean, and potato enchiladas. Yum.

Ate dinner.

Went on another 30-minute after-dinner walk with A. Enjoyed the cool evening while laughing at silly jokes, as we always do.

Came back home and had some lavender honey mascarpone ice cream. (It was good, but I'm still making some tweaks and adjustments to the recipe... will post another time.)

I love days like this.

"Thank you for a day of too much perfection." (from the old movie Bed of Roses)

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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

flash mob fantasy

So I have a little secret to share.

I'd like to be a part of a flash mob dance.

I think there's something so fun and refreshing about doing something totally unexpected. Though I'm generally reserved, I've performed in some way since childhood - ballet, gymnastics, dancing in high school. Which I know sounds like a contradiction in terms (being reserved and performing), but movement as creative expression is just something that inspires me.

Do any of you watch Modern Family? I don't watch it often enough (trying to be disciplined about my TV viewing time, especially with A. and I loving our House re-run marathons and NCIS marathons to unwind on weekends). But Modern Family just always cracks me up. It's such a smart, quirky comedy.

This is an old episode but I LOVED the Free Your Mind flash mob here. Of course, having a sentimental attachment to this song definitely played into it. I will say though that this dear friend choreographed THE.BEST. Free Your Mind dance routine for our senior year competition.

Anyway, here is the video...enjoy!

Oh, and this video has the dance in its entirety (without the dialogue between Mitchell and Cameron).  Though of course, what Mitchell says in the episode about his performance being his love letter to Cameron was really sweet. :)

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Saturday, May 26, 2012

finally...dinner at Lolita

I had been wanting to eat at Iron Chef Michael Symon's restaurants for a while. Since I moved to Cleveland last year, I was probably checking his restaurant menus every season to see if there were enough offerings for A. and me to enjoy besides his meat-centered dishes. I have always enjoyed watching Michael Symon cook on TV, his trademark infectious laugh a clear indication of his enthusiasm for cooking. His recent love letter to Cleveland makes him even more likeable as a celebrity chef. I love when people are proud of the cities in which they live - especially a city like Cleveland, which seems to have gotten a bad reputation in the past.

So this week, I checked the website of one of his restaurants, Lolita. My mouth was watering as I read about all the fresh spring flavors in his dinner offerings. Yesterday when I called to make the reservation, I also asked whether all the seasonal/spring dishes I had planned to try were in fact on the menu (many of the chef-run restaurants around here change up their menus seasonally - which is how it should be!). And indeed they were.

I try to have an open mind when I visit a restaurant for the first time, because I don't like feeling disappointed. But I couldn't help having great expectations; this was a highly-anticipated meal. 

starter at Lolita
 Bruschetta with fava bean puree, arugula, sliced red onion, meyer lemon, shaved pecorino Romano, and agrumato. The perfect homage to spring.

The bruschetta was charred at the edges, yet still chewy in the center. It had the perfect texture contrast of crusty outside and airy crumb inside.

The fava bean puree was sweet - in that vegetable-sweet, not sugar-sweet sense. It even tasted green. A. and I both love baby arugula, so that was a no-brainer. The red onion slices were so thin, they were translucent; so they did not overpower the mild fava bean puree. The shaved pecorino Romano added a nice bite; the agrumato gave a perfect citrusy finish. I can probably sip agrumato with a straw if I could; it's more than just lemon-flavored olive oil, but lemons and olives actually pressed together for the fullest extraction of flavor.

The dish was delicate, yet flavorful, with none of the ingredients overpowering any other. You could taste each individual flavor, yet the whole was more than the sum of its parts.

My only regret is eating it too fast. A. and I inhaled this thing.

 Next we had a spring salad, with a variety of baby lettuce, asparagus, peas, garlic vinaigrette, and crunchy breadcrumbs. Now this sounds like a simple salad that you might get anywhere. Yet it was absolutely not. The difference was in the thoughtful preparation and execution. The lettuce tasted like they were just picked. The dressing was creamy, but not overly so and didn't weigh down the delicate leaves. The rest of the vegetables were blanched (I think) as they were tender yet had a nice snap, and remained bright green. The crunch of the fresh breadcrumbs added another layer of flavor and texture.

Pan-seared halibut with fava bean puree, peas, mint, radishes, and preserved lemon. Another beautiful execution of the season's bounty.

(Yes, I eat fish occasionally now...)

I actually first ordered the pappardelle with peas, ramps, oyster mushrooms, house ricotta, and truffle, as it had all the ingredients I love; and the server confirmed that the pappardelle was house-made. Then I changed my mind just a minute after placing my order and went for the fish instead. Thankfully the server was very nice (even after our requests, like no prosciutto on one of our dishes), and they hadn't started on my entree yet. 

The halibut was seared to a golden brown, so there was a crunchy crust giving way to a moist, flaky interior. The fava bean puree somewhat echoed the flavor in the bruschetta, yet the dish was distinct with the fresh mint and flat-leaf parsley. The preserved lemon was just right, not too acidic that it overpowers the mild-tasting fish. The radishes added color and a subtle peppery flavor.

And the sides. My goodness. Other restaurants might take side dishes for granted, but these were so good, they could have been my meal. We had the fried brussels sprouts with capers and walnuts, which even A. loved - despite the fact that he usually doesn't go near brussels sprouts unless I cook them like this, which I don't do often - the reasons for which are obvious when you read the recipe.

These brussels sprouts were caramelized so well, they were almost sweet. The outer leaves became crunchy, the insides were soft yet not mushy. The walnuts added another crunch, and the capers gave it a bit of a punchy tang. There was also a very, very subtle heat, possibly from a hint of chilies.

Creamy polenta with mascarpone and parmesan. Oh. my. goodness.

This polenta was so creamy. I think it might be more fair to say mascarpone with polenta.

But the nice thing about this polenta is that despite the incredibly creamy, silky mouthfeel, you could still feel a bit of the cornmeal here and there, adding more rustic character to an otherwise decadent dish. A. and I each took one bite and just looked at each other without words, needing a moment of silence to contemplate the deliciousness of this polenta.

I also loved how both sides were served in little pots - it was an unpretentious way of serving it, but more importantly it helped keep the food hot longer - because sides do have a tendency to get cold. Even towards the end of enjoying our entree, there was still steam rising each time we took a spoonful of polenta.

It took some self-restraint for me to not ask for a flexible spatula to scrape that pot clean and enjoy each bit of it.

Then, dessert.

Dessert # 1
Chocolate pots de creme with whipped cream and salted caramel.

The chocolate was slightly sweet, with a coffee-like finish lingering on the tongue. I wish they had added a little more salted caramel than that little dollop on the center.

Dessert #2

Strawberry pots de creme with vanilla whipped cream, fresh strawberries, balsamic vinegar, and mint. It was sweet yet also tart, the balsamic cutting through the rich and creamy texture.

I have to admit I wasn't completely blown away by the desserts as I had been with the rest of the meal. They were both good, but perhaps I was too full. But then again, I always find room for good dessert. We only finished half of each, as the servings were also larger than what we were used to from other chef-run restaurants.

happy :)
My pink top just happened to match the bright pink gerberas A. gave me. :)

(One of the rare photos of myself on the blog, in which I'm actually looking at the camera. Collage photo inspired by this friend, who executes "picstitch-ed" photos so amazingly well)

Aaaahh... after a day of self-care, time with my amazing husband, incredible food, and phone calls from family and friends, my heart (and belly) is full.

I give thanks.

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Friday, May 25, 2012

celebrating 33 years, savoring meals for one, and learning new lessons

It's no secret that I seriously, utterly love food. I can spend time thinking about it, reading about it, shopping for it, cooking and experimenting with it, and finally eating it. I even dream about it. One night, I dreamed I was back home and planning the menu for a dinner party in our garden - the setting of many, many dinners with family and friends. I miss this place, so carefully tended by my late grandparents.

So it was only appropriate the I celebrated 33 years with some seriously good food. Although I firmly believe that we should celebrate with good food every day as best we can, birthdays are a cause to up the ante, right?

Typically on a weekday I just have a simple breakfast of tea, and a piece of sprouted grain toast with butter and jam. But yesterday, I craved a heartier breakfast, with some polenta as the base. Usually this would be a weekend brunch... but why not on a Thursday?

birthday breakfast

So. Creamy polenta cooked in vegetable broth and milk, with grated pecorino Romano mixed in. Cremini mushrooms and Swiss chard sauteed in olive oil and garlic, leftover from the previous night's dinner. Then topped with a poached egg (I think I've realized that I can top just about anything with a poached egg), freshly grated pecorino Romano and cracked black pepper. A douse of bright green, fruity-yet-peppery extra virgin olive oil to finish.

I was so full I thought I wouldn't make it to my 11 am yoga class a couple of hours later.

Thankfully I did make it though, because there ended up being only one other student in the class - so it was a semi-private class and I got lots of individual assistance from the instructor. A birthday yoga treat.

I debated whether to get a pedicure or not, then decided against it. In favor of more food, of course. Thankfully I had some errands to do after yoga, to walk off my big breakfast and also to replenish some staples we need at home after our trip (essentials like toothpaste and TP - not so fun shopping, but required).

long noodles for long life! (as our tradition goes)

Lunch was linguine cacio e pepe. Despite having been used to cooking pasta for a crowd when I was back home and the designated pasta cook for my big family, I have now discovered the pleasure of cooking pasta for one. It's up there with the tea-for-one ritual.

Waiting for water to boil, salting it, dropping the pasta in, swirling it after a minute to make sure it doesn't stick. Five minutes into cooking the pasta: toasting the freshly ground black pepper in a skillet (to release the fragrant oils - I learned that I end up needing less pepper for this dish when I do it this way, yet I still taste the heat in the final result). Saving about a cup of the starchy pasta cooking water, to make the pan sauce. Draining the pasta just shy of al dente, adding it to a skillet with the pepper. Then dropping the butter into the skillet, letting the heat of the pasta melt the butter. Over medium heat so the pasta continues to cook gently, stirring and lifting the pasta with tongs to coat each strand with the butter. Mixing in a small cupped-palm-full of freshly grated pecorino Romano and parmigiano reggiano. Adding only enough  pasta water to loosen the pasta a bit so that it's not clumpy. The silky noodles are transferred to a favorite pasta bowl. I sat down at the table to enjoy my linguine for one, looking out onto the great big tree outside, all lush and green. For a moment I was transported to a trattoria in Rome, imagining that I were enjoying this quintessential Roman dish alfresco. Yet at the same time I was grounded in where I was in the present moment - savoring the meal I had made for myself.


This is such a humble pasta dish, but it's elegant in its simplicity. Sure it's got butter - but how else would you make it?

(Don't worry, I don't love butter quite as much as Paula Deen.)

I have to say I do enjoy my own company as much as time with my loved ones. Birthdays, while memorable celebrated with others, are also a time to pause in solitude. I went back to a phrase I had been reflecting on:  

Surrender to grace.

Something I want to practice in the years ahead.

It's like surrendering to child's pose in a yoga asana practice. It's a simple pose to do, yet a difficult one to actually practice.

But surrendering in this sense doesn't mean admitting to weakness.

I remember the times I was in limbo right before a big decision or transition. Does excessive worrying improve the outcome or increase my chances at getting the results I want? No. So, after doing everything I can, in the end, I need to let go - to surrender to grace - and have faith.

A lesson for my 33rd year. 

Later: a detailed account of last night's birthday dinner. 

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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

on living (and eating) well... plus an easy weekday lunch

If it isn't already obvious, I take eating quite seriously. My husband gets amused by how I actually enjoy food shopping - whether in a farmers' market, or a specialty food store, even in a regular grocery store - I don't see it as a chore to get over and done with (ironing, however, is another story). He also gets amused by how I pack my lunch and dinner for my long days at the university - with all my little containers for the main meal and a few sides and maybe a little garnish, plus some fruit and dark chocolate. And how I peruse a restaurant menu with utmost concentration - whether online before we actually head out (I want to be prepared!) or in the restaurant, to strategically plan the dish I want to try for each course.

I'm admittedly picky about food - in the sense that I prefer to use simple yet quality ingredients to the greatest extent possible. Another food-loving friend and I had a conversation about how we are both "food snobs" - but for the right reasons. We want to live well. And don't we all? As I've said before, life's too short to eat bad food.

I actually don't like hurried meals. I remember when I worked a regular job and sometimes had to eat lunch at my desk - not my favorite thing to do. I am thankful that in my current situation of working at home, I am able to avoid it.

In between work and errands today (e.g., car registration renewal - not my most favorite thing to do either), I did my best to pause and actually compose my lunch, no matter how simple it might be. I ended up with this:

This is one of those dishes that are actually non-recipes. I just took a couple of handfuls of baby arugula and piled it on my favorite salad bowl, then topped it with Italian butter beans (which I marinated quickly - 5 minutes - in extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, dried herbes de Provence, salt and pepper) and a poached egg, then finished it off with shavings of Parmigiano Reggiano. An extra douse of extra virgin olive oil, a little more lemon juice, coarse sea salt, and cracked black pepper - and there you have it, a simple weekday lunch.

I love meals like this - and I usually make some variation of this salad and swap out ingredients depending on what I have. I typically start with either baby arugula or baby spinach. Other times I use cannellini beans. Sometimes I add diced avocado for a little creaminess. Maybe some grapefruit segments to cut through the richness of the avocado. Toasted pine nuts or walnuts for crunch. I might have a slice of crusty bread if I feel like it. Sometimes I keep my salad dressing extremely unfussy (as above, EV olive oil, lemon juice); other times I crave a more complex flavor and I might add a little bit of minced shallot or Dijon mustard, maybe some chopped herbs.

It saddens me that sitting down for a meal has become a luxury for many - I've experienced this too. But sitting down to enjoy a good meal - whether in the company of loved ones, or in solitude, truly is one of life's simple pleasures - to pause, use some good china, a linen napkin... and then give some thanks and enjoy some simple yet really good food.

I hope you, too, savored your lunch today...

Meanwhile, I'm already thinking about tomorrow's midday meal. I think it will be spaghetti cacio e pepe (another one of those non-recipes, unfussy yet so delicious). Noodles for long life, for my birthday lunch.

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Monday, May 21, 2012

back home

Aaaah... traveling is such an amazing experience. Despite long flights, numerous layovers (from Cleveland --> Newark --> Brussels --> Mumbai --> Indore), sitting immobile for hours at a time - the pros definitely outweigh the inconveniences.

above the clouds

I have to say I like airports. I admit that airports can be stressful, with long lines at security, having to think of all the required ID's and documentation (especially when I was not yet a permanent resident), possibilities of delays and cancellations and such... but overall, to me airports signal the start of a new experience - or, when coming back, remind me that home is near.

Being caffeinated helps. :)

strong latte at the Brussels airport, enjoyed with a chocolate croissant for breakfast

(I know, the coffee doesn't really help with the dehydration that is so common during long-haul flights. We armed ourselves with 2 big bottles of water - after going through security - and Airborne)


But as wonderful as traveling is, it's also really good to be home. I do push myself to go beyond my comfort zone, but it's also a comfort to come back to what is familiar.


 And after many hearty, delicious (and spicy!) meals like this - I'm also happy to start making simpler meals, refreshing salads and fruit smoothies again. 

Clockwise from 1:00: mango mousse, kadhi (yogurt-based dish), pullao (rice dish), pakora (fritters), aloo (potatoes), green mango chutney, cilantro chutney. Center: wheat roll

We arrived on Saturday evening, after what seemed like 30 hours of traveling (Indore --> Mumbai --> Brussels --> Newark --> Cleveland). I recovered from jet lag much better than I expected this time around, compared to my 3-4 days' worth of interrupted sleep (and resulting headaches) upon arrival in India. I'm hitting the ground running, starting my work-at-home mode today and teaching at the university tomorrow.

Next weekend, I'll start sorting through the many, many photos I took during my stay. More on that later...

Meanwhile, I am back with many fond memories, and a deep sense of gratitude.

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Sunday, May 13, 2012

happy mother's day

Happy Mother's Day to all mothers everywhere... and all those acting in a maternal capacity towards others.

with my mom, circa 1979 (?)

Thank you, Mom...

... for letting me "bake" with you when I was 3, while you baked the highly delicate and sensitive Sans Rival, a recipe that almost requires a "do not disturb" sign for utmost concentration... and thank you for letting me have fun and make a mess in the kitchen.
...for letting me try different things as a kid - whether that was ballet, jazz, gymnastics, piano, tennis, swimming, etc... until I found what was right for me.
...for working so hard, along with dad, so that we could have a quality education, and travel the world as education.
...for showing me your eye for art, color, and design while I tagged along with you as you shopped for fabric and other design items for our home or for your friends' homes that you helped design.
...for teaching me the value of DIY projects, and how to grocery-shop on a tight budget. 
...for trusting me to find my way as an adult, and encouraging me to spread my wings - to succeed, or fail and get up again.
...for being with me on the phone despite being half a world away, so that I could cry to you.
...for instilling in me that the greatest wealth lies in our relationships and experiences, not in things.
...for teaching me that class and elegance is not what you wear or what car you drive, but what you say and do - and most importantly, how you treat others.
...for showing me that family takes precedence before all other things.
...for showing me how to be graceful under pressure (something I'm still constantly learning).
...for showing me how to have unshakeable faith in the darkest of days.
...for showing me how special the friendship is between mother and daughter.

And Happy Mothers' Day as well to my mother-in-law in India... who treated me like a daughter from day one.

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Friday, May 11, 2012

incredible India

May 11th, 2012

Happy, happy birthday to A., my dear husband...(there's a man's face on my palm, supposedly his profile - see it?)

So many thoughts and emotions are swirling in my soul, much like the intricate lines and curves of the mehndi (henna) on my arms. I'll write more another time.

Amit and I are celebrating "wedding part 3 of 3" tomorrow (the Hindu ceremony this time). Incredible as that sounds - for someone who's not wedding-crazy like me. But I am going to embrace the experience, as my new family has embraced me.

On the day I arrived, my mother and sister-in-law showered me with gifts - flowers, kurtas (long tunics), saris, beaded purses, jewelry. I have been overcome with emotion as they have accepted me as a daughter despite not having met me prior to that day. They both knelt in front of my feet to place jewelry (paayal = ankle bracelet) on both my ankles. I couldn't help but burst into tears. I don't have a photograph of this moment, but it is forever etched in my memory.

PS: My husband's name is spelled out on my hand below - can anyone find it?

photos taken by A.

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Tuesday, May 1, 2012

happy anniversary

circa 1970's (?), photo taken by...?

Celebrating 41 years...

And celebrating with wanderlust, as always. My parents are now in Hong Kong en route to India. I hope I get to travel even half as much as they do when I retire 40 years from now. 

Photo by eyesopenwide

 I love this photo of my parents (above), from my wedding. They are not facing the camera, yet I know they are smiling.

Happy anniversary, Mom and Dad!

You truly raise the bar. Much love.

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