Tricks From The Vegans

Every once in awhile I get the opportunity to do some nutrition consulting and I find myself loving every moment of the ordeal, and having a hard time charging the going rate for my services. It just doesn’t feel like work to me. It could be because my “consulting services” involve a trip to the grocery store together, followed by a high intensity cooking class where I try to incorporate as much of what I have learned about nutrition and technique into an afternoon as humanly possible. I feel alive to the fingertips and toes during this “consulting” extravaganza.
This week I will be helping a friend alter her diet to incorporate more cholesterol lowering foods (she has recently been diagnosed with high cholesterol). This will be a fun one for me, because cholesterol lowering foods involve foods that are high in soluble fiber, plant sterols, and mono and polyunsaturated fatty acids, which translates to produce, produce, and more produce, and of course some olive oil, nuts, whole grains and fish.
This morning my friend was telling me about how she tried bringing home some kale from the grocery store and her daughter said that it looked like a scary monster. I thought back to my first experiences with kale, they were not unlike my first experience with seaweed. Totally terrifying. A few tricks that I learned from some vegans on proper seasoning, however, converted this frightening green ruffled mass into one of my favorite foods. I cannot wait to see if these tricks have the same effect on my friend and her daughter.
High cholesterol (I am talking about the LDL cholesterol here) is not always the result of diet or lifestyle factors. We all make our own cholesterol, as well as getting cholesterol from animal foods. Doctors used to recommend that people with high cholesterol remove high cholesterol foods from their diet, and the beef, egg and dairy industry suffered as a result. Don’t feel sorry for them, however, they have the USDA on their side (the people who have shaped the way America views food and nutrition by delivering to us the food pyramid, which will always reserve a prominent spot for dairy, soy and beef, no matter what the research reports).
Current research focuses more on which foods to add to the diet, as opposed to which to take away. The psychology of this works much better for me, I am far more likely to indulge in something I am not supposed to have than to resist adding new foods to my diet. Since we can make our own cholesterol, it makes more sense to eat foods that lower cholesterol than to simply remove cholesterol from the diet and hope for the best.
I borrowed some taste sensations from the vegans for today’s lunch. Nobody is better at making vegetables taste good than the vegans, to whom eating vegetables is a matter of pure survival. I think that you will find this as baffling as I do. Nutritional yeast (which can be found in co-ops) combined with a tad of soy sauce (I use tamari) and rice vinegar or lemon juice creates a lovely flavor on pasta similar to cheese. It absolutely blows my mind. Seriously, it is delicious.
Boil some water for pasta, only cook what you will eat (unless you plan on saving it, but I find pasta is really easy to overeat and then I am out for the rest of the day). I am cooking with whole grain omega-3 enriched pasta. When the water comes to a mean boil add the pasta, and add about 1/6 head of cauliflower to the water (broken into bite sized pieces).
While the pasta is cooking, heat some olive oil (~1 Tbsp) in a frying pan or wok and add 2 cloves of minced garlic. Do not leave the garlic alone in the oil for too long, because it is sensitive and will get bitter and burn if left isolated. Add 1/4 head chopped kale and a pinch of salt. Pour in a few Tbsp water, to steam/braise the kale. When the pasta/cauliflower are done cooking drain and add to the kale. Add a few sliced cherry tomatoes, and 1-2 more Tbsp olive oil. Dress with ~ 1 Tbsp rice vinegar, a few drops soy sauce, 2 Tbsp
nutritional yeast, salt, pepper, and oregano/basil.
By the way, this lunch is perfect recovery food from that half marathon I ran yesterday. The omega 3’s in the pasta are anti-inflammatory and the nutritional yeast is high in B-12 which, combined with the folate in the pasta and greens will help with cell damage repair (and of course, it has carbs to help with glycogen replacement).

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The Longer The Run, The Sweeter The Fig

The most gentle alarm sounds become anxiety provoking after just a few days of being subjected to the snooze ritual. At 4:45 am, when the gentle strumming of the harp function buzzed from the bedside table, my heart lurched into my throat. Time to get up. The next half an hour took place in the dark: Feed the cats, running clothes, shoes, ipod, headband, guzzle coffee, teeth brushed, lucky socks, kiss goodbye, out the door. I headed to a small nearby suburb to do a 20 mile training run with a half marathon race in the middle. The race started and finished in an outdoor mall with a gigantic parking lot. Since I didn’t want to miss the start, I ran a slow pre-race 3 miles in circles around the parking lot while watching the runners arrive. It was the sort of cool morning that brings to the imagination the smell of fall leaves and fires burning, being that it is August I am certain these smells were imagined.

One woman stood out from the rest of the crowd at the starting line. She was tall and lean yet bumpy with muscle. She had a long limbs, short wispy hair, and wide round glasses, giving her the appearance of a gazelle. No doubt she would beat the rest of us, but maybe I had a shot at second. I looked around and tried to guess who I would be chasing, and who I might try to pace with. The sound of the star spangled banner interrupted my crowd scan. My stomach began to turn. The gun went off and almost instantly we were separated by pace, there was no competition in the woman’s race. Within minutes the gazelle was out of sight, and I watched as second place’s ponytail gradually bounced out of view. She was surrounded by a group of men who were desperate to hold pace with her at all cost. I ran a steady 6:54 min mile placing me in 3rd. After the race their was bagels, and pizza Gatorade and coffee, followed by another slow 4 miles around the parking lot.
I am always shy at these things, except when I am running. I don’t really engage with anyone before or after the race, I listen to music and avert my eyes when walking through the crowd. It is an interesting phenomenon, the instant my legs begin to turn over, my mouth won’t stop motoring. Running is like alcohol for me, it cures me of all social phobia.
After the race, Christina and I went to Meritage for breakfast. This restaurant has a wonderful menu, and it’s patio seems to attract an interesting international crowd. The tables are set close together, encouraging table to table interaction. Having brunch at Meritage feels like dining at a luxury hotel, though the prices are very reasonable. I ordered the pork rillette with fig puree, though I have to confess I wasn’t exactly sure what I was ordering. The pork rillette came in a little glass jar and the fig puree was spread on top. Rillette, it turns out, is a meat spread similar to a pate. It is salty and rich and perfect for replacing calories after 20 miles of running. It came with old fashioned mustard and grilled bread, on which to spread the pork and fig mixture. I wanted to drink the sweetness right out of the fig puree. Perhaps it was my ravenous hunger, but I truly understood why figs were historically considered a food of the Gods.
Fresh figs are a delightful treat. I feel that they pair particularly well with arugula, which can be found in the herb or the greens section of the grocery store, or at the farmers market around this time in Minnesota. I like to slice the figs in half, to showcase their beautiful figures, and use them to decorate arugula salads dressed in a sweet vinaigrette.
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Making Breakfast For Your Love

One by one crack three farm fresh eggs (you want them to be fresh and local if possible, so that the shells are thick) and toss the yolks from shell to shell allowing the whites to discard themselves into a designated bowl. When you are done you will have three bright orange or yellow little yolks shimmering proudly and standing round and tall against a stainless steel bowl. Whisk them together for about a min and add 1 Tbsp cold water and the juice from 1 lemon. Have a stick of unsalted better melted on the stove.

If you have ghee, use 8 Tbsp of ghee instead of unsalted butter.
Forget about your finances. Forget about the fun party you went to, the people you met and the dancing you did or didn’t do. Forget about your troubled cat that bites and claws at the door at night. Forget about the work left undone, the things left unsaid, the errands that await your Monday morning arrival. Stir it all into the bright yellow moment of a Saturday morning light reflecting off of the green plants in the windowsill. Your hair is glowing the way it did when you were little, and you bounded down the stairs in children’s pajamas and slid along the smooth kitchen floor, halted by the smell of breakfast.
Heat a pot of water until it bubbles and steams like a cauldron. Add 2 Tbsp of the melted butter to the egg mixture and mix together. Set your stainless steel bowl on top of the steam (or use a double boiler) and whisk the egg yolks vigorously to prevent the egg from separating and cooking (if it does, add a little cold water to save it) No matter how tricky or hopeless your efforts may seem, don’t give up on the hollindaise sauce. Your energy and attention will keep it together. When the sauce is thick and creamy, remove from the heat and slowly drizzle in the remaining butter, whisking all the while. Keep the sauce on the edge of the stove so it stays warm while preparing the rest of breakfast. Season with a little salt, pepper, lemon zest and hot sauce.
Eugene nips at my ankles while I am poaching the eggs. The water is covered in egg froth and bubbles up a glimpse of yolk from time to time, it is like looking for jellyfish along a foamy seashore.
“Can we take a month off and go to the beach next year?” Christina says from the long red couch where she lounges with her coffee.
“Sounds good to me” I said, putting two pieces of toast in the toaster and heating up some oil in a wok to fry some kale.
“We could invite our families too, your parents and my parents. Or maybe we could go to Stone Harbor, to get everyone together to meet.” She says.
“That would be nice. ” I say, although it seems like an impossible dream. We are living in black and white. It is the great depression of the 21st century, in between the newspaper headlines. Christina and I are on a rocky boat in a tempest building card houses as though floating on a calm sea. When the storm passes we will have built a grand palace.
When the toast pops, and the kale is cooked and eggs are poached, assemble them together so that they resemble two row boats side by side, floating on a sea of kale with an egg in each boat. Top lovingly with hollindaise.
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Brussel Sprouts a Memory

Moment to moment, stroke by stroke, our lives are painted. Everywhere I go, when I feel clear enough to listen, when not tormented by some past obsession or some future plan, whispers of opportunity roll in and out. With windy fingers, they gently sway the hairs around the ears, moving ever so gently, tickling you with their little voices. Like the tiny feet of a fly they beg for your attention. Distracted by some grand idea, I might run through them, swatting as I go as though they are a nuisance. Sometimes they are. Sometimes, if I take the time to truly examine them, they are jeweled and precious like the discovery of a new friend, or the invention of a new recipe when the original plan was to have toast for dinner.

Brussel sprouts. There, I said it. Brussel sprouts were a dirty word among my generation of the kid’s table at family gatherings. The children would sit around the large dark wood table, a chorus of whines filling the antique beauty of my grandparents dining room. Our little fingers defiantly filled up white napkins with the mushy, green, mini cabbage heads, or dropped them into little piles at our swinging feet as though we were innocent little uncoordinated animals. It started with a rumor, the way children are outcast in a school yard. One of our ranks decided they didn’t like brussel sprouts, and dislike spread palate to palate around the table like gossip. My grandparents used the traditional method of vegetable preparation characteristic of their generation, cook them until they are pale yellow and then smother them in butter and pepper. They were probably quite delicious, but I wouldn’t have known. Actually, cooking long and slow is a technique used for brassica vegetables (members of the cabbage family, like collard greens, broccoli, turnips, and mustard greens) to remove bitterness.
For a brief science lesson, brassica vegetables contain glucosinolates, packaged neatly and isolated from an enzyme myrosinase. When myrosinase meets glucosinolate, through the action of chewing or chopping, products are formed known as isothiocyanates (or “mustard oils”) These products tend to be really bitter and children are especially sensitive to them. They may actually have some anti-cancer properties, so it is good that adults tend to develop a taste for them. Cooking brassica vegetables lightly actually speeds up the process of releasing the bitterness, while cooking long slow causes the bitter compounds to cook away and a sweetness to overpower.
Last night I reached into the refrigerator for some quick energy after an amazing run, where I felt like I was easily flying over mountains. My hands hovered over the bread and cheese, then I noticed some brussel sprouts pleading to be appreciated lest they wilt in hopeless apathy. I felt sorry for the little guys, and in my exhaustion I reached down and offered them my attention. As I peeled off the outer layers, they offered me the most brilliant greens and yellows. I felt energized by their color! I sliced them in quarters and soaked them briefly in cool water to begin leaching out some of the bitter compounds. I heated some salt, garlic, and olive oil and added the drained brussel sprouts with a little bit of water. Vapors filled the room, circling my head with inspiration. I reached for some Iranian spice mix that I made last week (crushed rose, cinnamon, cumin and cardamom). I added a sprinkle. I like to eat brussel sprouts while they are still crunchy, so I stopped cooking them after about 15-20 min. (cover them to speed up the process) To disguise the bitterness, I added a dash of red wine vinegar. I added a tsp of butter, for the memories.

A few years ago I was working on a sailboat that was docked in Philadelphia. I remembered from one of her cookbooks that Christina Pirello lived in that city. She was my hero at the time, in my opinion she possesses culinary genius with whole foods. I listened to the opportunity nagging and looked her up in the phone book. I called her and offered her a trip on our boat. She answered. She showed up. She listened to the opportunity to meet new people and have a sailing adventure. She taught me to braise brussel sprouts with balsamic vinegar and fennel. She inspired me to keep cooking and follow my dreams. I am so thankful that we were both open to the opportunities offered to us on that day.
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Fields of Corn

At 8 am this morning Christina nervously over filled four bowls with cat food and 3 bowls with water. I stood at the door with a bag on each shoulder and a can of sparkling water in my hands “cmmmon we’re late, let’s go!” I said. “Amy is coming to check on them this afternoon.”

“I know, but I just want to make sure they will be okay in case something happens to Amy and she can’t get here.” She said opening the cabinet to retrieve a fourth water bowl. I suddenly went from feeling completely justified by my impatience to feeling like an insensitive animal owner. We were headed over to Katie and Eliza’s. Eliza was accepted to graduate school in Kalamazoo, MI and she and Katie had packed their entire house worth of belongings into a giant moving truck. They asked if we would follow them with their dogs on the drive to their new home. We decided it would be fun to get out of the city before the summer puts on her sweater and scarf and starts shopping the back to school specials.

As we drive, the green hills are wall papered with neatly combed rows of corn. They follow the contours of the landscape in a striped pattern so that it feels as though we are traversing the side of a Chia pet. The occasional town is decipherable by a lonely square of golden arches or motel 8, which stands like a push pin on what feels like a two dimensional landscape. Wisconsin. Rusty old steel trucks sit like gravestones on the side of the road and our radio crackles threateningly. Snippets of right wing radio shows and classic rock of the 70’s bleed in and out of our music like subliminal messaging. Cheese. Beef. Corn. Custard. Wisconsin is a perpetual state fair. It is a never-ending tailgate party. It is cheap beer and processed food. It is theme parks and tie-dye and the eternally stylish mullet.

We bounced off the wide highway down a dirt and gravel road chasing the promise of a non-fast food lunch at a “family restaurant”. The four of us communed around a square table topped with ketchup, a breakfast menu and.. an ashtray? The walls were decorated with guns held in place by antlers and the adjacent rest stop/gas station had one magazine rack filled entirely with adult magazines. Apparently the “family” this restaurant had in mind when creating their name was of the adult trucker variety. A little old lady in a trucker cap chain-smoked in the adjacent booth.

We all ordered cautiously. My turkey club came in Easter colors, light pink tomato with light green lettuce and light yellow french fries and, of course, mayonnaise. Not only did they put mayo ON my sandwich, but they also delivered a cup smeared with a large side of mayo just in case I needed extra. “My lunch came in pastel” I said smiling sarcastically at the watery vegetables on my plate. “You are such a food snob” Christina said.

Maybe so, but I still (regretfully) ate the sandwich.

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A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood

Cigarette smoke bleeds through the walls of our apartment, it is an unwanted offering from our neighbors next door and it hovers and turns stale as a delivered tuna casserole. Welcome to the neighborhood. The familiar aroma, differs somewhat from the smoky dorm rooms of my college years, it lacks a certain boozy overtone and the stench of morning after regret. No, this smoke clearly comes from an elderly smoker, it is the discount variety; the sort of aroma that could only manifest from an extra long Benson and Hedges burned in an overcrowded ashtray. Something had to be done.

We stood at the lobby counter ready to file our complaint about the old woman next door and her pollution of our apartment with her incessant smoking. Before we could deliver a word about it, we were slapped with a counter complaint. “The woman next door has been complaining about the noise.” Said the day manager. “It seems she goes to bed early, but cannot get a wink of sleep due to the constant slamming of doors coming from your apartment.”

We have a cat, who behaves like a dog. He is like a Labrador, to be specific. He is a sensitive creature and is prone to resentments, which lead him to rip our favorite houseplant to shreds, or make a mess out of your garbage can. It is for this reason that we are constantly slamming doors at night. Eugene has developed quite a temper, and has taken to ankle biting when he wants to be let into the office. Sasha, our siamese who resembles a football with little kicking feet, likes to play jungle cat when she gets into the office..until she tips an orchid, gets frightened and runs away. One has to be quick about shutting the door if one wants to successfully protect the office.

A guest who drops in for a visit without giving advance notice will get a glimpse of a coffee spattered office door in the style of a Jackson Pollack painting. I create this almost daily while balancing a snack of cut cabbage and salad dressing in one hand, coffee in the other, and faking out the cats on my way through the door.

Since the day we made our complaint, the building maintenance crew has come to seal off our vent so it no longer smells smoky (for the most part). To the dismay of the orchids, we have begun allowing the cats to roam around freely about the office so we don’t have to keep the door closed.

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Preferred Seasonings

The world is full of choices and yet I seem to settle into some paths easier than others, directed as pinched salt sprinkled by the fingers of fate. The egg and potato sandwich I ate for lunch today had no flavor at all, but it expanded my belly and added color to my cheeks as I sat on a bench in the rain and nibbled at it’s edges. The sandwich filled up my stomach to a dull ache and the rain seemed to saturate my heart, while the sands of time were falling one grain at a time. Like salt, each tiny grain has to choose a side to fall on before settling in to the mountainous pile below.

I was waiting for the clock to strike 2, so that I might pick up my thesis from my professor for the second time. I felt anxious knowing that inside the yellow-orange manila folder their is a copy of my work, scribbled with the opinions of a man who is authorized by title to have them. One might say he is “entitled” to his opinion, which I imagine to be the climate of the landscape on his side of the mountain.

Halfway through my sandwich I began to regret that I was eating it. It tasted horrible, it needed salt badly. I remember when I learned to properly salt food, pinching with my fingers I rolled the granules from high above so as to evenly spread flavor into a simmering pan of onions. Salt added early enhances the flavor of food exposing some molecular structures which bow to the tongue offering a dancers embrace. Salt added at the table, just before eating of food rides on the back of flavor, and sneaks in its own flavor stealing the dance floor with a one trick solo show.
I remembered last night’s dinner, which was such a stark contrast to today’s lunch that it hardly feels as though the experience were real. After leaving the rutabaga, and leek perfumed glow of my apartment I went to see a friend for coffee. An evening sun had manifested and lifted the sky of moisture, after the rain. We sat outside sipping cappuccino on damp benches, and I told my friend about the artichokes, and the rutabaga, and the warm ghee with pepper.
“Wow.” she said in regards to my dinner experience “You must feel just amazing eating all that wonderful food!” I checked in with myself. I did feel pretty energized.
Christina always accuses me of blaming the food for everything. Feeling good? It must have been the cabbage! Feeling sluggish? Probably too much fried food or sugar, or not enough red meat. I realized in that moment, that for me it is the food that drives my energy level sky high even before it is digested! My energy comes from imagining spices with squash, or coconut curry. It comes from grated carrots seasoned with vinegar and candied with raisins, or the browning edges of greased onions over fire. My energy comes from my passion for cooking, which is the light that shines on my side of the mountain.
As I left with my manila envelope, having spent minutes talking with my advisor about my thesis and an hour talking to him about my culinary endeavors, he congratulated me on the work that I have done thus far, and gently urged that I let my self roll down the path that feels most natural to me.
How to fry onions to improve an egg sandwich.
The problem with my egg sandwich is that it wasn’t cooked properly. The egg was most likely heated in a microwave (I got the sandwich from a cafe) and microwaves don’t get hot enough to produce the Maillard reaction. The Maillard reaction is basically the browning effect which occurs when amino acid meets sugar in the passion of heat (basically).
The bread was heated briefly in a waffle iron, which trapped the moisture of the bread further ruining the chances of any browning to occur on my lunch.
Their also appeared to be no trace of salt sprinkled on my sandwich, which meant the flavors lacked definition.
Vidalia onions have a high sugar content and are wonderful onions to fry if you are looking to add sweetness and some of that delicious browning effect to your sandwich. Yellow or red onions will work as well. Turn the heat up to high on your burner. Add an oil with a high smoke point, a thin oil like grapeseed or canola oil. When the oil is fluid, add a pinch of salt to the pan and toss in some sliced onions, shaking the pan to evenly coat the onions. The salt will help to draw out the moisture of the onions, and increase the speed of browning effect. Add some baking soda (just a tad) to speed up the Maillard reaction further. Remove from heat when the desired color has been reached.
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Artichoke’s, Rutabaga, and Turnips OH MY!

The rain peppered my windshield with glass stones. The world in the streets had turned into a color strip of variations, a swatch of darkened asphalt grey buildings and silver sky. I was driving through an industrial park, to see a guy about a knife. I parked out front of Eversharp, a little knife shop in the middle of NE Minneapolis. You really have to know about this place to find it. I popped open my black umbrella, which Christina and I bought from a drugstore on one of our caught-in-the-rain walks (it is really more of a prop than a shield, as it barely covers my shoulders) and walked carefully to the door. I was greeted instantly by a friendly man who reached his arms forward, as though he was closing in to give me a hug, but instead took the wrapped knife out of my hands and said

“I’ll sharpen that for you”.
“Thank you” I said.
“No problem. You in the industry?” He asked, head turned to the side.
“I…” Just then Kevin, my new friend who had informed me about the shop came into the room. “Glad you stopped by”, he said “Let me give you the nickel tour..”
In no time I was handling every knife in the shop, smooth handles, curved handles, some felt masculine, some feminine, some felt light and sleek as a razor blade, others were heavy and stiff, like a Samurai sword. I must have chatted with them for two hours, testing driving knives. They sell high quality knives at a major discount that have been used once for demo or photograph purposes, and then cannot be sold as new.

I bought a new set of Wusthof’s at a majorly discounted price. As Kevin was rolling them into their case he said “Use these right away” as though he were instructing me on how to take care of a new pet.
“Don’t worry, I will” I said.
I was in such a good mood driving home, that I had to call people and tell them. I realize that I might be a little cracked in this regard. I love grocery shopping and I loved the idea of having new cooking knives. A sharp knife makes all the difference in the kitchen and I was sure that having a brand new set of quality knives was going to be pure heaven. I stopped at the grocery store on the way home to find challenging produce to test my new knives on. Rutabaga, turnips, carrots, leeks (they can be slippery when cut), and I stopped abruptly when I noticed the lovely long stemmed artichokes lying like roses on the produce rack. I remembered the words of Christina “how come we never have artichokes if you love them so much” and I picked out two of them.
Artichokes are flowers. They remind me of my childhood, each of us would get our own artichoke and bowl of butter. We would scrape the buttery leaves with our teeth, they my father and I would split everyone else’s artichoke heart because we were the artichoke lovers of the family. The stem has an edible core, which is really an extension of the heart. It was the perfect thing for testing out my new paring knife.. I whittled through the woody outer layer of the stem with ease. I used the serrated bread knife to cut off the prickly ends, and the chefs knife to cut the ends of the stems. Then I bathed the little darlings in vinegar water and set them in my tallest soup pot to steam. Then I set to work on the rutabaga and turnips, I peeled and diced them both into little squares.
Using my knew chefs knife was like dancing with a beautiful stranger. We both had the right moves but we were not yet acquainted with one another. We quickly learned how not to step on each others toes. I went for the leek next, with quick swish swish the leak lay in beautiful circles against the wood of my cutting board. I looked up and around, half expecting to be given an award for such a performance.
Leek, rutabaga and turnip went into the frying pan at once with a little salt and some ghee (if you don’t have ghee you can use oil, but add a little butter at the end for flavor). I peeled the carrots with my new pairing knife. I own two carrot peelers, but I figured I would use the opportunity to get to know my knives better. The carrots went into the mix. When the leeks began acquiring a caramel brown, I removed the frying pan from the burner and added some salt and fresh ground pepper and a sprinkle of white wine vinegar.
Delicious comfort food for dinner!

If you live in the twin cities, I highly recommend

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The Divine Eggplant

I stir my coffee slowly and methodically because I am aware that I am being watched. Were I alone I would pour the cream in and allow it to mix naturally with the coffee. I would watch the tiny globules of creamy fat explode open and glide through the warm brown sea the way the hair of a mermaid bursts forward as she stops abruptly to change direction upon encountering a sunken ship. I sip politely, although the coffee is acidic and stale, a combination of bile and letter glue.

Around me the ladies sit proper in their chair, the hostess beams and offers us gooey fig cookies from a tiny china plate. Everyone appears to be speaking in code “you look lovely” “the coffee is divine” “where in the world did you find that fabulous pattern” The hostess was Scarlett O’hara, closely surrounded by her admirers, whose reddening faces appeared to be acquiring sunburns from her radiance. The image of Scarlet O’hara suddenly made me feel as though I were wearing a very tight corset, the laces constricting my lungs I until I found it difficult to breathe properly.

They brought out the baba ganoush. That creamy eggplant and salted flat bread with olives made the saliva pool on my tongue. I anticipated tanginess, I wanted to rip into the soft warm flat bread and scoop the creamy baba ganoush. Roasted eggplant can be bitter or sweet depending on the chef and I was dying to taste this particular batch. Unfortunately, I was trapped by my anxiety. I was imprisoned by my own silence. The only way out was to find an ally. I needed to find someone quickly, and, pulling them aside, expel as many honest thoughts as possible to reduce the pressure in my chest. Dishonesty makes me anxious. I don’t mean outright lying, I mean squandering feelings.

I was afraid to speak openly in front of the group. Not that I was afraid of their judgement, I was afraid of their flattery. Flattery can be used as a pacifier, to quiet the nonsensical cries of real emotion when the occasion calls for pleasantries. I needed to wail and be heard, or I feared I would burst at the ribcage. When the conversation had turned to gossip about Mrs. So and So who couldn’t attend and her “workaholic-husband-such-a-nice-man-but-never-around-for-the- kids” I scooped up the half empty fig cookie tray and headed off to the kitchen.

“Hey” The hostess had a teenage daughter who was sitting at the kitchen counter glued to her text messenger, she had looked up for a moment only to acknowledge me.

“Hey!” I said, all too enthusiastically. I had found a victim. Teenagers are sponges who have an over-expansive capacity to absorb what is “real”. I set my intention on venting, but something shifted in that moment, and I felt I had some greater purpose for being in the kitchen. I sat next to her and began making small talk. Soon she began sharing every pessimistic though, every fear, every doubt, that she had never before shared with another human being. As I listened, I felt my breathing relax. Our story was one story, our fears were the same, she spoke so eloquently that I laughed freely because I could relate to her. I had forgotten all about the party, until the hostess rushed in to refill the cream carafe. “Have you met my daughter Lise?” the hostess said looking at us as we sat in adjacent chairs. Clearly we had met. Lise rolled her eyes. I reached my hand out and said, “how DO you DO Lise” Mocking a proper introduction. Lise laughed. The hostess swung herself back into the party. I whirled up from my chair to follow.

The eggplant was divine.

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I have a new blog

This project is now complete. I have begun a new blog, called “Leafy Reader”. Leafy reader is a collection of short stories inspired by love and produce. I hope you will visit my site and join me in my journey as I discover and re-discover the amazing and expansive landscape of freshly grown foods.
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