Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Cook Through Your Anxiety!

That will totally be the title of a self-help book in the next two or three years. Don't worry, I have no intention of writing it.

Thinking about food, as I did in my last post, makes me think about food, and on Monday night I took a close look at what I had in my pantry, refrigerator, and freezer. I couldn't even face my over-stuffed spice shelves, and what I had was SO. MUCH. that I'm not going to list out everything. Just know that it was A LOT, and even after going on a cooking binge, it's still enough that I don't need to go shopping for almost a month (but don't worry, that didn't stop me -- more below).

I came up with no less than seventeen recipes that I could make without having to go shopping. When I say I could eat for a month, I wasn't kidding. On Tuesday, feeling anxious about my sons' food issues, the upcoming election, poverty, the environment, and pretty much everything else, I made: vegan, gluten-free sourdough bread (in my Instapot, no less), chocolate beet cake, tomato sauce, vegan chili, and lentil soup. That's just me cracking my knuckles -- seriously, I have twelve more dishes to go -- and the fact that I needed to do some homeschooling and other general parenting. The latter included a phone call with the nutritionist, during which it was decided that they both need a lot more protein. So, budget conscious though I'm trying to be, I spent more money than I'd like to confess to on animal protein sources. As I watched my husband and son devour one-fifth of what we'd spent in one sitting, I started to wonder if the mathematics of better food needed fewer times really works out when you're talking about two growing boys. 

 

I think even this picture is giving a good idea of the awesome texture of the cake and the for-real red velvet color.

(I'm making meat for my sons because they need it. And before someone wants to get on me for not giving them vegan sources of protein, please know that one of the things that seems to be bothering them is, yep, beans. Soyfoods, probably because of the fermented nature, seem to be bothering them less, but that's not cutting it for their growth. Before you say at least give them vegetarian options, they both have issues with dairy and one of them has issues with eggs. And to anyone who wants to argue that their growth and general health isn't worth what I'm feeding them, we don't have anything to discuss.)

Perhaps you'll be surprised to hear that stress-cooking doesn't actually make your stress go away. To really burn through stress, I need to move around, but I was confined to my home both Monday and Tuesday. By the time I got back from shopping I was ready to jump out of my skin, but then I found that my body bars (36 and 15 pounds) had arrived much earlier than I'd thought. Woo hoo! As soon as my husband cut them out of the boxes for me I did what I had been promising myself I'd do: deadlifts and squats (36 pounds) and overhead presses (15 pounds). Oh, my! You know how your body can just scream for something it hasn't gotten for a while? That's how I've been feeling for a very long time, but when I picked up those bars, the delicious ache in my muscles told me that it was finally getting what it needed. 

With the prayer that I will be able to avoid food shopping for, I don't know, a week, I attacked the kitchen this morning, making chicken soup stock and then chicken soup. (Did I mention we roasted a chicken last night? It happened.) After a little calculus and chemistry with the boys -- highlight of my day, I kid you not -- I think I'm going back for vegan, gluten-free mac and cheese and squash pudding. Or we'll see what else we can come up with that I can fit in the fridge.

Off to make someone an egg and vegan cheese sandwich on gluten-free bread,

Deb in the City


Sunday, October 18, 2020

Dogged by food, again

One of the consequences of ongoing toxic stress that no one tells you about are digestive failures, and not just something as well known as IBS. It was during the, well, decade that I was living through hell that I developed a number of nasty sensitivities. While I can eat soy and sesame now, wheat is still off the table. (Dairy is as well, but that's down to straight up lactose intolerance.)

Things are better, though not always good (which is why I'm drafting this at 1:28 AM), and I thought I could finally rejoin the eco-conscious food system and buy farm-fresh produce for my family, and focus on things like zero-waste. Well, no.

Let's call COVID-19 "stressful", and for many of us, let's call it toxic. Fair to say that teens are suffering from that even more than adults are. My teens are, and they both manifested some extreme digestive symptoms. After consulting a nutritionist for both, we got some blood work done. One of them was relatively straight-forward -- as expected, don't even look at dairy and wheat, and tomatoes and beans are iffy -- but for the most part, he can eat within relatively normal parameters. I fully expected that his brother would be less dramatic, but I was wrong.

My other son showed up highly sensitive for the vast majority of what he was tested for. FYI, "vast majority" includes not only wheat and dairy, but also beef, chicken, eggs, pork, and most fruits and vegetables. I want to say that pretty much everything he's eaten showed up as something he was sensitive to, but that's not entirely correct as tea, coffee, and chocolate are all things that he's just fine for. 

 

Who doesn't love lasagna? Now all I have to do is make this with gluten free pasta, vegan cheese and meat, and figure out a tomato-free substitute for the sauce...


I spoke to another healthcare provider the day after I got the results, and her perspective was that his (and maybe both of their) immune systems need to be strengthened, and he should have small amounts of the foods he's sensitive to in the meantime. Confining him to a narrow set of food choices is going to add more stress, both physical and mental. That was the conclusion I had started to come to as well: if the food wasn't killing him, I wasn't going to take it away. (Please note, these are food sensitivity results, not allergies. I do not advise anyone to be as blithe with things that could cause anaphylactic shock.)

All of this came to a head as we had an order of farm fresh food waiting to be picked up, which I knew included things both of my sons had shown sensitivities to. Even with a more relaxed attitude, I can't help but wonder what the point is of going out of my way to get premium farm fresh produce (and meats) when my sons can't eat that much of it. Or does that mean that there's even more of a point to it?

Around this time I also found that my favorite food blogger, Jack Monroe, was posting again. Seems for now they've tightened their belt even more (Brexit is rearing it's ugly head in so many ways), and as they're cheerfully shopping for two on a weekly budget of $25.82 (the current equivalent of 20 pounds), I'm wondering how well they would cope if their family members were diagnosed with the same level of sensitivities to things like wheat and dairy. (Let's pretend that people on that tight a budget can access a test like that in the first place.) Actually, I don't have to wonder, because I've been in similar straits myself. The answer for me was to suffer through the things I was sensitive to because I didn't have a choice. I don't think I'm the only parent who has had to make that decision for themselves, and it's horrible. But having to make that decision for your children is the worst. It is also extremely -- wait for it -- stressful, which exacerbates everything and keeps you cycling through your vicious circle. My hat is off to Monroe and anyone else who can continue through that and power through.

Not sure this makes me feel better or worse about the farm order, but for now I've suspended it. It doesn't make sense right now to order something four days in advance, not knowing who will be sensitive to what. This feels like the right decision for me right now, but I can't but feel like I'm part of the problem now.

Deb in the City

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

You go with what you've got

Several years ago I read Apollo's Angels: A History of Ballet by Jennifer Homans. It was absolutely fascinating, particularly because it linked the success -- and promotion -- of ballet to politics, specifically revolution. It also explored the ways in which ballet argued with itself for centuries as it tried to find its identity. How was dance going to tell a story without being a secondary player in a play or an opera?

According to Homans, that question isn't answered until George Balanchine, who choreographed ballets that existed for their own sake (a version, perhaps, of the "medium is the message"). Balanchine is the pinnacle of ballet as high art, and it's had trouble re-establishing its footing since his death.

Maybe. I'm strictly an occasional audience member, and I have no sense of what goes in the dance world. Why I still think of Apollo's Angels is because of an anecdote Homans relayed about Balanchine. While choreographing one of his ballets -- possibly Emeralds -- he made what may have been the unusual decision to choreograph for seventeen dancers. Why? Because those are the dancers who showed up when he put out the call for the first rehearsal.

Whether true or not (and whether I got the ballet correct or not), I love that story. We all have our ideas of what would make something perfect, and some of us go to great lengths to force the components we imagine we need into place. And its exhausting, and while we may get something good, I've found that it's better, both for the sake of sanity and the ultimate "result", to go with whomever shows up for that first rehearsal.

Image from the Boston Globe
The people who show up are the ones who get things done


Monday, September 14, 2020

Romney knew exactly what he was doing

Another new book I'm reading (as opposed to something I'm re-reading) is America for Americans by Erika Lee. I loved The Making of Asian America, but this one is even more powerful, perhaps because it is so timely.

Or so you might think, but the truth is that immigration is an evergreen issue in this country, and it's easier to name periods where that wasn't a constant argument, rather than when it was. (And wow: if anyone wants to wax poetic about Boston's storied history of fighting for liberty, just toss this book at them and tell you to call you when they're done. My city appears way more frequently than it should, as does Harvard University.) My family and I just finished the chapter about what happened to Mexican Americans all over the country during the Great Depression. Really sickening to read about how people were tricked into leaving, including by social workers they trusted, so "real" white Americans wouldn't have to compete with as many people for scarce jobs. And for all of the people who go on about the calculated plots people draw up that center around US-born "anchor babies", such children were in the same boat as their parents when they were pressured to leave and coerced into signing documents that meant they wouldn't be able to return. 

You can read more here about just how well Mexico fared during the Depression.

This program was sold as "voluntary departure" and "repatriation", and when I saw that term I couldn't help but think of Mitt Romney is 2012 touting his strategy of "self-deportation" for undocumented immigrants. I remember rolling my eyes when he first proposed that during the debates, and I remember the way he said it. To me, it sounded like a hokey mix of aw shucks and someone reaching for words in the moment, something Romney did frequently on the campaign trail. But it was completely disingenuous to suggest that someone who became the Republican nominee for president had never heard of what had happened during the 1930s when he was coming up with talking points on a hot-button issue and just came up with that phrase -- and concept -- on the spur of the moment.

Romney is a much better actor than many of us ever gave him credit for, and I don't think I can see him casting a vote to remove the president -- or even marching with Black Lives Matter -- and think he's the real deal.

Deb in the City

Friday, September 11, 2020

Coming back, and concerns about recent literature

Haven't been here as much this year, or last year, though I still keep trying. Which is probably what I can say for every other part of my life.

This is an evergreen issue for every blogger who hasn't monetized their blog, I know. (Looking at my blogroll right now and seeing at least three blogs that haven't been updated in months.) My excuse is that I've been dealing with the fallout from addiction for a while. No, I don't mean my own. I don't think I want to get into too much right now, but suffice to say that being around people who have ceased to be people is wearing on soul, psyche, and body. As much as a recovered addict will feel remorse for the damage they've done, that goes only so far in helping the people they've damaged.

I've been reading, of course, but at a slower pace than before. I'm re-reading some books, which is why I've been quiet about my observations, but finally getting into some new material, including The Kingdom of Copper by S.A. Chakraborty and The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang. Looking forward to reading The Dragon Republic by Kuang, but I have some concerns.

I watch K-dramas, although less so as I've been trying to get through a backlog of books, and it's impossible not to notice the hostility against the Japanese. To the point where I'm beginning to be alarmed. Yes, I've been following the news, so I know that Japan and South Korea's relations are at a nadir, but the glee involved in taking the Japanese on and winning doesn't seem constructive. And, yes, I know the history very well. 

I noticed this particularly in The King a few months ago; there was a minor arc in which the very strong and wealthy Kingdom of Korea fended off an attack against the Japanese in uncontested waters. I had conflicting feelings watching the scene. On the one hand, I'm Korean too, and watching US take on a powerful enemy and win felt thrilling. On the other hand...what was the point of that scene in the overall story? It's come up in little and not-so-little ways all over the place for the last few years, including Crash Landing on You, Bad Guys, the Movie, Drug King, and Nameless Gangster, and that's just off the top of my head. 

I bring this up in conjunction with Kuang's series because it comes up there, too, and in disturbing, graphic detail. And it's interesting to me, because the author is American. I noticed this, also, in Ellen Oh's Dragon King series a few years ago, in which the primary villain was an evil Japanese ruler who had give himself over to an even more evil spirit.

I guess what disturbs me most is that these books are directed at younger readers. It worries me because while there are very good reasons to make sure we know our history, at this moment in time, when people are a hair-trigger away from nationalism and xenophobia, reviewing that history needs to be done such that those worst instincts aren't encouraged, but tempered. 

To be continued, I'm sure.

Deb in the City

 

Monday, June 1, 2020

Loss

I have nothing to add about the violence against African Americans that everyone else hasn't already said. It's horrifying, and it seems to defy the rule that people get numbed to something the more they're exposed to it. I haven't seen the video of George Floyd's final moments because the descriptions themselves are so sickening. 

I will only add this: when I was younger, it took me years - years - to understand the deeper meaning behind the casual, common graffiti that read "John Doe was here". It wasn't until I was in my early twenties that I realized it was someone simply memorializing that they had, indeed, been in that particular spot. It was so self-evident that someone who searches for deeper meaning, who's always so sure she isn't getting it, missed it. I consider the statement "Black Lives Matter" to be as self-evident. That other people have to repeatedly shout back "White Lives Matter!" or "Blue Lives Matter!" or "All Lives Matter!" seems to both miss and at the same time confirm the point. Are those people also searching so intently for a deeper, presumably more sinister meaning that they're missing the obvious? Or do they simply disagree?

This was my weekend (forgive the artless segue): My husband and I took one of our sons out for a walk on Saturday. We've been cooped up for far too long in our apartment, and I miss my city and the feeling of my body moving for significant periods of time. (Sadly, my home workouts weren't giving me the movement I need.) It was sunny but not insufferable, so I literally dragged my husband and son through parts of Chinatown - in case you're wondering, it's still a ghost town - down to South Station, and then along part of the Harborwalk before my son politely asked if I'd had enough of a walk yet. I hadn't, but I took that as a cue to head back any way.

On Sunday, even after working out at home, I still needed both more of a walk and more of my city. So my husband kindly agreed to another round of torment and let me guide him through Beacon Street, to the Charles Rives, then up Charles Street, before landing in the Public Garden for a break, and then continuing down Boylston Street under we were back where we started. It was a beautiful day, and though I was freaked out seeing sooo many people along the Charles and in the Public Garden, I understood why we all needed to be out.

I felt bad that I didn't hear about the protests until after I'd returned home and my husband and I were both in need of a nap. I wanted to show my solidarity, and I do try to show up for these things when I can. But maybe it's a good thing I didn't go out.

The protests were, by most accounts, hearteningly positive until they weren't. Things apparently got out of hand between 9 and 9:30 PM, and by out of hand I mean there was looting and violence. People have already talked about Newbury Street and certain parts of Downtown Crossing, but my heart went cold when I heard that there was damage in other parts of Back Bay. This is what I saw today on Boylston Street, apologies for picture quality.

Crate & Barrel, obviously

Star Market

H&M

The CVS my husband I stopped into yesterday

Sweet Green, and yes, that's the starting line for the marathon that didn't happen this year

AT&T

7-Eleven

There was also damage to Lord & Taylor, but someone was doing work on the windows, and I didn't have the heart to angle myself at that moment to get a picture.

I feel fortunate that I got to see this part of town with my family before all of this happened, because I feel like something is now gone. 

Most people are not going to understand why the vandalism here causes me to feel a tremendous sense of loss. I don't live in that part of town, and where I do live was just fine. I can only tell you that I have been going to that part of town since I was twelve and discovered the Boston Public Library, and the loss of so many of the surrounding stores during those thirty-five years to gentrification and "the market" has left me with that emptiness we call nostalgia. The fact that more of those were compromised, if not lost, to other factors last night feels like someone yanked even more away from me. I get that people are angry and that they grapple with things much worse than what I described, but don't expect me to thank them for what they did. The fact that they did this while other people were protesting sickening systemic injustices outrages me.

The good news is that the Boston Public Library, my haven, is safe. I'm not sure what I would have done if that building had been harmed. And so is the Barnes & Noble at the Prudential Center, the site where I used to have regular meetings with a group of writers before lockdown and where I am hoping we can continue to meet when this is over. (When I realized that people had vandalized Neiman Marcus and Saks, both in the same mall complex, my first concern was whether they had gotten into the book store.) 

The better news, of course, is that the officer who murdered George Floyd last week has been charged with third-degree murder. May he be brought to justice as soon as possible, and may no other lives and livelihoods be lost to people like him.

Deb in the City

Thursday, March 12, 2020

At last, I'm Amazon-Free

The whole world is starting to cancel because of covid-19, and my schedule has been impacted like everyone else's. So you know what I took it upon myself to do today? Upload my last two books onto Smashwords. Why? So I can finally announce that I am DONE with Amazon.

The clincher was when a very earnest person from a non-profit fighting hunger apologized for creating a wish list for her organization that was published on Amazon. This person was only trying to make it easier for people to be able to donate shoes and other clothing to the destitute and food-insecure clients she served - one of the worthiest causes I can think of - and yet she was apologizing for being associated with a company infamous for mistreating their workers and (credibly) accused of antitrust practices.

I mean, really, how could I still justify having my books there? I couldn't, so I didn't. Several weeks ago I removed everything I had for sale there, and I had already set my Amazon Prime membership to expire. And it's funny, because now that I've liberated myself, I can more openly say, "Ugh, I hate Amazon," when someone suggests buying gift cards there or making some other purchase. "Evil" and "hatred" are the immediate replies I've heard - clearly, I'm not alone.

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Putting Amazon where it belongs 

Someone is going to say that I'm full of sour grapes, and if I'd sold more successfully there, I wouldn't have wanted to leave. It's true, I was never willing to spend the increasing amounts of money that were needed to game Amazon's algorithm, because that's what it became after a while. But I can honestly say that I am glad I wasn't someone who cashed in early on the Amazon wave and then became increasingly, desperately dependent on Amazon's whims. I know people who went from being able to pay their mortgages with their book sales to needing to borrow thirty bucks before their next check came in - and that happened relatively quickly in the evolution of Amazon. But isn't that what Get Rich Quick usually ends up looking like?

I've compared the e-book wave to the mind-body fitness bubble from a decade or so before. One of the characteristics of the latter is that, if you look closely enough, you'll see that a lot of those organizations make money off of teachers in the form of trainings; there are some yoga and Pilates instructors who can pull in enough through private lessons to make a good living, but those people are far outnumbered by the people who are running from studio to studio to scrape together enough money to supplement their other gigs. Similarly, there are some superstar Amazon indies who are still making a lot of money, but the vast majority are trying to generate attention, not even sales, and are finding that they need to pay, not for teacher training, but Amazon ads if they want any traction.

(For the love of all that is good, please don't say this is why we need email lists. No, no, no. That was great advice five years ago, but since then the internet has been pretty much ruined by the constant calls for people to sign up for newsletters, and in thanks have been aggressively spammed at least once a week. Just...no. If you don't have something to say once a month that's worthy of being heard - and "My life is so fascinating and/or relevant, so buy my book!" doesn't qualify - just don't.)

I feel so much better. I've had this sticky, unclean feeling for about three years, and while removing my reviews (admittedly in a fit of pique) made me feel better, I knew it wasn't enough. While I do believe that we should have the right to hold conflicting ideas about the same thing, if I'm going to be about something, I need to act accordingly. And so, finally, I have.

Deb in the City

P.S. Apologies to everyone who left me a review on Amazon that has now been deleted. I thank you again; believe me, I appreciated it more than you can know.