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October 2008

September 2008

Fear of the Natural World

SeasnailsThis afternoon I was cleaning mussels for our weekly seafood feast (mussels cooked dry in a frying pan; more on this later, I promise, as it is the best way I've ever had mussels and spaghetti a la vongole) when I noticed something odd. We get our mussels from our local greenmarket, which has the freshest fish in the city. I rinse them, pull the beards, and make sure they are alive and ready to be eaten. Some of the mussels, I noticed, had snails attached to their shells. As a matter of course, I pulled them off and discarded them. I've seen this before, but today I had so many of them that I could have made a meal of them. Or at least an appetizer. Yet I didn't, because I didn't know what they were. Once, before we had children, we took a trip to San Sebastian, in Spain. When we were there we had the most delicious street food--caracolitos, or some kind of snails from the sea. We at them by using pins to pick them from their shells and marveled at their taste. Could these have been just as good? I'll never know. Having grown up in the suburbs and moved to the city, I have a fear of the natural world. If a food doesn't come packaged or at least labeled in a way that I can understand, I don't know what to do with it. Knowing what to do with caracdolitos is not a problem for others. Apparently they are good for more than just eating.

The Joy of Not Eating

Emptytagine4_4Lately, I've been cooking breakfast, lunch, and dinner for most members of my family. I'd say all, but I wouldn't be telling the truth. I just discovered that it's easier to take care of lunch and dinner for my wife and kids when I don't actually eat the thing I've made. Earlier this week I cooked a grand beef and green olive tagine. It's basically a really good beef stew (when I was a child I thought that was the consummate oxymoron), and my kids love it. Because I was out at social events a number of times this week, I didn't actually eat any of the tagine. So it lasted and lasted. And I got a break from cooking. They had it for at least two lunches and two dinners. Today I brought it with them to their daycare. When I picked them up in the evening, it turned out they had only eaten about half of what I had sent with them. So I finally got to eat some myself. Even cold, it's delicious.

New Lessons

DryingdishesBuddhists say, more or less, that if one is unhappy while doing the dishes, then one isn't really doing the dishes at all. When I was cleaning up this evening, I wasn't exactly unhappy, but I was distracted by a few thoughts. Such as "What do we remember learning? And how does it help or hinder us as we grow?" When I was little, I played with childish things. Now that I'm older... Well anyway, we don't have a dishwasher, so I was up to my elbows in suds.

One of the challenges of washing dishes for a family of four is fitting all the clean dishes into the dish rack to dry. I do not believe in hand drying the dishes at night. Why not let them dry on their own and put them away in the morning? Often, though, there isn't enough room in the rack for all the dishes, and I'm forced to stop and dry a few. Tonight,  I happened to have washed all the smaller cups and kids bowls before I got to the big pots and pans. As I did this, I noticed that I had plenty of room to pile those on top of the others.

This notion of putting the smaller items in the rack first contradicted a lesson I've been holding onto for all my life. When I was a child and I had to put away my Lincoln Logs, I learned that the only way to get the pile of them back into the can was to put the big ones in the first. Tonight I discovered that we can learn more by dropping the lessons of our youth. Sometimes the opposite of what you know is best.

Sea Bacon

KombuYesterday I wanted to make miso soup for my family. The first part of the process is softening the kombu so I plucked a few sheets of it from the package in the cupboard and set it to boiling on the stove. Then I headed to the fridge for the miso paste, tofu, and scallions. That’s when I realized I wouldn’t be making miso soup that morning. The scallions that had been in the fridge the day before had mysteriously vanished. No scallions, no miso soup. So I tabled that idea, and the question then became, what to do with the boiling seaweed.

I figured it wouldn't hurt the kombu any to let it sit overnight. I could make the miso the following day. And that’s what I did this morning. Doing so, I realized that I had too much seaweed. I was left with two large sheets of it. I’d read somewhere about frying it up so I put some oil in a pan and sautéed a leaf until it was crispy. My toddler Pinta was running about so I offered her a taste. She like it. Nina was watching, and I like to make a habit of offering her everything that I offer to her sister.  I said to Nina who loves bacon, “Would you like some sea bacon?”

Nina tried a bit and then politely rejected it. Pinta, for her part was clamoring for more. Nina saw this and changed her mind. She wanted more, too. The sea bacon was a hit. I quickly fried up the other piece and fed it to them before breakfast. They loved it.