Dis-Comfort Food

If you have known me long enough, you have surely heard my tuna fish story. It goes something like this: “I love food, I love all foods! Well, except one. The only thing I really have a hard time with is tuna fish from a can. Fresh tuna – sushi tuna! – is great. The canned tuna issue all started when I was 3. I went to a big preschool that had its own cafeteria and offered (my mom claims ‘required,’ but my adult self shakes my head at her looking back) hot lunches. So I ate hot lunches every day, ‘because it was required.’

“There were a lot of mediocre dishes, I’m sure. But my memory really just latched on to two food memories from this time period. One tasty and one absolutely revolting. The latter was none other than the feared, the jiggling, the mountainous tuna fish casserole. Now, I could go on about this dish. But there’s little point. I imagine most reasonable people can imagine why a fishy-smelling, unidentifiable pile of hot mess would be unappetizing, to say the least, to a 3-year-old.

“But what I do need to explain is this cafeteria’s 3-bites rule. Some of you may have grown up with this rule in your households; however, I was apparently spoiled enough to find this to be close to prison law tactics. The rule is, you have to be seen taking three bites of each item on your plate before you can be ‘done,’ and go to recess. You who were smarter, more conniving children than I might be thinking, ‘Well that’s easy, just take three bites, then spit them out on the playground!’ I, unfortunately, had yet to comprehend the risk/benefit ratio of lying in my first three years of life. And so there I was, paralyzed by morality, staring down my duty every tuna fish Friday.

“With enough prodding, my 3-year-old hand would inevitably clamp onto a tiny metal fork and scoop up a quarter fork-full of the vomit-like substance. Forcing three quick tastes into my little mouth all at once, the reaction was always the same. At the overwhelming smell and taste combination, not to mention the mouth feel, a gag reflex would kick in. I would then be forced to re-swallow what I had already confronted once. And with an, I’m sure, adorable little alcoholic’s shudder with the last drop going down, I would raise my hand to be let out for playtime.”

And so it was that my tuna problem started. And when my mom did start letting me take sack lunch to school in Kindergarten, it began a decade-long peanut butter and jelly addiction that I clung to like it was air to breathe (What other choice was there?).

I bring all this up today because, being January, I was leaning in the comfort food direction. And what came to mind was the other dish I remember from preschool prison. The tasty one. Good ol’ beans’n’franks. Sigh. Where the tuna mess was putrid, this bean dish was invitingly sweet, where tuna was inane, the bean-frank combination was identifiable comfort food genius.

Incredibly, I have managed to never make beans’n’franks in my kitchen. Until today. And so I share it with you, on one condition: three bites before recess.


Changes I made:

  • Used 2 T of bacon grease stored in my fridge, and skipped the actual bacon
  • Added 8 organic, grass-fed beef hot dogs, sliced into coin-like pieces
  • I used pinto beans
  • I didn’t include bell pepper. Meh.
  • I didn’t have any BBQ sauce or Worcestershire sauce. I didn’t use either, and I didn’t even substitute anything for them, and it still came out good. (Maybe a bit more bland, but that’s what my 3-year-old memory was asking for, so it worked out nicely.)
  • IMG_2431 copy



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A little mortar for rebuilding


It is almost Spring, and it is time for charoset! While I am not Jewish, I sometimes try to be, and most importantly, my own personal religion commands that the tulips will not rise from the ground unless I have eaten some wine-soaked fruit mush on a matzoh cracker before my birthday. And so I try to follow directions.

This year’s version stayed simple (although I wish I had invested in some raisins!) but it was finished by the addition of one lemon’s juice – amazing what this little zinger does for flavor in all dishes. As some of you may know, I am currently avoiding yeast-fermented alcoholic beverages – including wine – because they give me headaches. However, I have decided that in this case, a little charoset changover is worth it – goddamn it, I need those tulips to bloom!

As I have done before, I herewith send my shameless plea to be invited to a Seder. I’ll be in Portland for Passover this year. …And home to Seattle for Easter with my growing fam!

Sending love and the smell of things growing…maybe cleaning out, rebuilding…to all.



Filed under Ritual

Fish Still Need Love





Remember GE Salmon? Thought maybe that idea went away? Unfortunately not. But thankfully, it has been temporarily fended off by Food & Water Watch and other concerned groups. Genetically Engineered animals have no place in our ecosystems or our digestive systems! Take 15 seconds to send an email to your senators urging them to support Alaska senator Begich’s bill to ban GE Salmon:

This Takes 15 Seconds

Still not fired up about GE-foods? Remember that food makes the world go around. The only reason why some may say money makes the world go around is because money buys food. And we eat three times a day. You are what you eat. Food is life, health, sustainability, and power. Use some of that power!

STILL not fired up about GE-foods? Listen to Vandana Shiva lay it down.

And thank you.





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Thanks, Wyatt!

Some of you may know that one of the reasons I am so concerned about food is the part it plays in chronic disease epidemics. Thanks to Wyatt Cenac on The Daily Show for calling out not big business, in this case, but “big association.” All I can do is echo Wyatt on this one – WTF?!

And thanks to my public policy class, I have fancy terminology to explain what happened to HR 3472 – like a lack of “softening up” the interest groups, a lack of a “policy window,” and, oh yeah, a bounty of totally corrupt capitalism!! Rrrrarrr!!!

According to http://www.opencongress.org, it looks like the bill tried and failed back in 2009. Here’s the official summary below. I am not yet a skilled enough policy analyst to figure out what was really going on here. For all I know, it could have just been a really inefficient bill. But one reading from class (the Epilogue to John Kingdon’s 2nd edition of Agendas, Alternatives, and Public Policies* – Health Care Reform in the Clinton and Obama Administrations) opened my eyes to the number of players at the health table in politics (and the complexity of their relationships and bargaining systems).

“7/31/2009–Introduced.Requires a group health plan, and a health insurance issuer offering group health insurance coverage in the group market or health insurance coverage in the individual market, for plan years beginning on or after January 1, 2010, to provide premium discounts for healthy behavior and improvements toward healthy behavior. Requires the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), acting through the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), to conclude a rulemaking procedure to determine the appropriate premium discount applicable to each healthy behavior and each improvement toward healthy behavior. Describes “healthy behavior” (and improvements toward such behavior) as indicated by factors related to smoking, blood pressure, body mass index, lipoprotein levels, and hemoglobin A1c levels. Requires any healthy behavior or improvement toward healthy behavior to be supported by medical test result information which is certified by a licensed physician, and the individual to whom it relates, as being complete, accurate, and current. Imposes civil penalties for false certifications.”

As a side note, I did look up the websites of all three associations Wyatt calls out–The American Diabetes Association, The American Cancer Society, and The American Heart Association. They all include preventive tips (including exercise) on their websites.

Let me know when you figure this one out?

* Note: I wish I could post the pdf of this epilogue so you could read it, but that would be totally illegal, which seems counterproductive to my whole reason for taking the policy class. So. You can use the library?

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Denver Bites

After a strenuous application process, a catastrophic pick-up and haul across state lines, and an awkward tumble into life as a graduate student, I now find myself miraculously settled here in Denver, my new home. And I am surrounded by food – thank the lord, because I sure am hungry!

As I discovered during my first days in the state of Colorado, Denverites have opinions about food. This is no “a burger is a burger” kind of place. A clear hierarchy exists. How that structure is defined, of course, has infinite possibilities, but nonetheless, “my burger is better than your burger, and I’ll only roll my eyes at you if you try to convince me otherwise.”

Or maybe I should say, “my chili is better than your chili,” for that is the dish that receives the most debate around these parts. I received an introduction to the seriousness (and fun) of this issue one particularly stressful school day when I wandered off campus to a downtown shopping district. Originally searching for a quick cup of soup, I turned a corner and walked into chili street festival madness. While I have since learned that this kind of happening is all too common (the Coloradans yawn), I felt I had discovered food culture gold. The annual firefighters’ chili cook-off was in full swing and I had stumbled upon it, in all its spicy, muscly, urban foodie glory. Each local fire department comes out for this event to raise money for a charity, selling samples of their home-cooked chili for a small price. Official tasters cast their votes for the “superior” chili and then, who knows what happens, maybe all the firemen wrestle in the leftovers?!

Needless to say, I had a great time. And I also learned a very important lesson about chili. In Colorado, chili does not have beans and meat in it. (Shhh, did you really just think that? So losing foodie points!) Chili here is chili peppers (and a few other things) cooked down to something people in other states might call a sauce (again, watch what you say). It is not a sauce, it is a dish, to which other things may or may not be added. You can pick from green chili, red chili, and probably a few other colors, as well. But either way, make sure you have some water on hand. Like I said, this is no Hormel!

To my delight, chilitopia was not the end of my unexpected food happenings. Thanks to a booming food truck craze (no – it’s nowhere near the level of Portland’s, so don’t remind me), campus events often include some pretty fantastic meals on wheels. I waited about 15 minutes in line for a totally-worthwhile gyro, complete with fries in the sandwich! And just today (when I thought it had gotten too cold for outdoor eating), I sampled pumpkin doughnut holes with not just one but two fancy dipping sauces.

There is even a hot dog stand on campus that sells pheasant, reindeer, and even rattlesnake dogs topped with Coke-sauteed onions and cream cheese to long lines of commuter students. It occurs to me that perhaps I truly am starting to become a Coloradan, because the excitement of this fixture of Denver life seems to have worn off already. Yeah, so I only eat wild boar hot dogs. What are you saying, I’m a snob or something?


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Food is Love

Today is Mother’s Day. And, though I sometimes forget, my mother is my beginning, middle, and end of so much in my life, especially my love of food.

Growing up, we made not just cookies, but French crepes (I remember cranking the flour sifter) and “hobo eggs” (commonly known as “toad-in-a-hole”) which I always requested when I wasn’t feeling well. My mom remembers letting me make up my own recipes, which I vaguely recall often included key ingredients: cereal, sugar, and chocolate chips.

But more than cook, we ate together, trying new and sometimes exotic foods that no doubt helped form my current epicuriosity. Anything international got extra points in my mom’s book, whether it was lebkuchen cookies shipped in from our friends in Germany at Christmas, Chinese dim sum we ate in Seattle’s International District (where I marveled as a child at such a thing called a “dumb-waiter”), Russian piroshky and borscht from a hole in the wall on nights when she didn’t want to cook, or, my mom’s favorite, French anything.

When our family went to France when I was nine, my mouth met a circus of new foods and cultural beliefs about food, thanks to Mom who had previewed everything for us in her youth. There were oeufs mayonnaise, crepes with banana and chocolate, real croissants and baguettes (and dipped in hot chocolate at breakfast!), fromage everywhere, and, Mom’s favorite cultural experiment–fruit salad served at Le McDonald’s. Most importantly, as we ate with local families and on road-side picnics, we learned to take time to really eat and to savor the experience.

An art historian, Mom showed me the fun in finding out why things were the way they were and the value in understanding other cultures. She taught me that pretzels look like arms crossed in prayer, eggs benedict meant new life (and a very happy family), hot dogs were beef because Jews didn’t want to get sick from pork, an almond in your cake on Twelfth Night meant you were the king, and croissants were “crescents” representing the defeat of Turkey. It’s not hard to see that she contributed to my current endeavor, cultural anthropology.

When I moved away to college, we continued sharing meals together. Mom’s emails regularly included recounts of recent gastronomic experiences, even just the everyday kitchen experiments or cafe lunches. Mom taught me that any little moment in life, even a meal, can be full of wonder, if you are looking out for it.

When I got my first apartment, she prepared me for adult life with the most important survival guide–The Joy of Cooking. She also officially sanctioned my obsessive collecting of recipes by gifting a binder she made called “Alysa’s Favorite Recipes,” in which she included “Chewy Wheat Germ Brownies,” “Sue’s Enchilagna,” and a banana bread recipe from the 1971 New York Times Natural Foods Cookbook (this recipe has gotten me through a lot of heartache, let me tell you!).

Now, we write and talk about food more than ever before. She listens to my rants about organic foods and the evils of industrial agriculture, and I take notes on just exactly how she and Dad make the hollandaise sauce at Easter. We swap recipes through emails and, not surprisingly, she is also this blog’s number one fan. I somehow got my parents addicted to a too-corny-not-to-love 1980’s British TV series about a detective that just happens to run a gourmet restaurant on the side. We update each other on the status of the DVD releases in the U.S., chomping at the bit to watch characters that appreciate food as much as we do.

Thinking of mothers and food also brings me to my favorite food movie, “Tampopo,” directed by Juzo Itami. From birth to death back to birth, Itami shows us that food is life, a process which starts with the gift of mother’s milk. From the act of giving birth, to breast feeding, to feeding us when we are sick, and feeding us when we are too poor to move out, mothers nourish us with love, usually without thinking about it. It is simply their mode. But this makes it no less miraculous. And so, my Mom has given me one more thing to marvel at.

So I’d like to say, thank you, Mom. I don’t know how you do it, but you love me unconditionally and this means more than I can say or will probably ever understand. You deserve more recognition than I give you, and more recognition than our society gives mothers. But thank God, they’ve at least given us this one day to smack us over the head with the astounding fact that you have given us life. And so, I want to share with everyone something that I intended to post here many months ago.

As far as I recall, this was a blackberry pie that Mom made with berries she picked with my nieces. And I have to say, the concept of pie is really only something women could invent. For, to paraphrase one of my favorite filmmakers, Maya Deren,  women have the power to wait–they wait for nine months for a baby, for flowers to bloom in spring, and for children to learn the lessons they already taught them. If you’ve ever tried to make a pie that not only smells and tastes good but doesn’t look like a kindergardener made it, you know that pie takes patience. And perhaps patience might be translated to really mean love. So thanks to my mother, and to all mothers, for feeding us love, no matter how many times it takes, to keep us standing on our own two feet.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom! It’s not a poem, but I hope you like it.


Your Daughter


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I woke up to read a Seattle Times food article and managed to work up the nerve to comment. Since I’m sure no one will ever read my comment, I wanted to share it with you all.


Yes, I get that I may be a tree-hugging freak, but that doesn’t stop me from being right. Stop giving yourself excuses. Be forward-thinking already!

My comment as posted:

“I agree with Atkinson that a mix of some local, some imported is a perfect place to start and makes for a nice dish to enjoy. However, Budiansky’s opinion is snobbish in itself, assuming that good food necessarily includes the global variation we have grown used to in the past sixty years. Yes, it may be lovely to eat diets with a smattering of international products, but human cultures of great merit have existed on local foods for thousands of years without a dull moment on their palates. I challenge American society to finally discover a food culture of its own and take a look at what’s in our own pantry.”

Thoughts, comments?? (This is the part where you tell me I’m wrong. Really.)


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