Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Life is like a box of plastics...

People with taste buds know that cooking is an art. Good food entices all the senses, not just taste. Good food emits an aroma to titillate our noses, arouses our tongues with varying textures, tantalizes our eyes with multifarious hues and shapes and sizes, and yes, even pleases our ears with a sizzle or a crunch.

I've never quite excelled in the kitchen arts, yet I have some sense for it. I know what flavors go together and how to make a salad appealing by the addition of a red or green food. But I'm terrible at timing and quantities. I use too much oil or not enough basil, or I overcook something while waiting for something else to finish up. I don't know how long too cook a chicken and I'm never quite sure when the pasta is done.

But I know how to cook eggs. I got up this morning and cooked a full breakfast. It all started with chopping up zucchini, jalepeno, and sweet onion into very fine pieces. Those went into a bowl. Next I fried up some sausage patties. After that, I chopped up some black olives and cilantro and put those to the side. When the sausage was done, I covered it and fried the zucchini, jalepeno, and sweet onion mix in the grease. While that was cooking, I mixed the black olives and cilantro with eggs, Frank's Red Hot Sauce, garlic salt, dried basil, and black pepper. After draining what grease I could from the other veggies, I washed up the pan, mixed in the veggies with the egg concoction, and poured the eggs into the skillet. Oh yeah, there was PLENTY of cheddar cheese.

I never eat breakfast, so this was a new experience, this waking in the morning hours and chopping things with knives. I guess I'm a fan of those kind of "kitchen sink" dishes when you just dump whatever you have into them. In Beirut I used to go to a little market every day and buy a couple of potatoes, an onion, a green pepper, and usually some other veggie, whatever was in season, all for about two dollars. The market was a tiny place stuck between two high rise apartment buildings and run by a Shia family in the mostly Sunni Hamra district. They were open in the mornings by the time I'd walk the block to the coffee shop across the street from it, which was often at 7am (for some reason I was always able to wake up early in Beirut when I struggle to get out of bed before 10am in Washington). They closed in the evenings when they felt like it, sometimes shutting up at 7pm, sometimes staying open until 9 or even 10pm. Such is Beirut, where people aren't so robotic about their daily routines that they can't stay open past posted hours when there are still customers to serve. They don't have that luxury, for there is nothing routine in Beirut. Aside from the traffic.

The potato dish was my usual dinner, mixed in with garlic (always!) and an array of spices. Sometimes I'd spend three or four hours on homemade tomato sauce for some pasta, another food I actually know how to cook. On occasion I'd have the good fortune of having some homemade pomegranate molasses or homegrown dried peppers or some other labelless food given to me by the generosity of the Lebanese.  I miss that.

Anyway, I don't know why I got up and cooked breakfast or why I'm writing about doing so, but I started thinking about parents who feed their kids processed foods in the mornings when there is so much wonderful and easy to throw together real food. It took me all of twenty minutes to put together an egg dish that was chock full of veggies, most of them locally grown. And then I started to wonder what if local farmers advertised their produce on television as much as Toaster Strudel or Frosted Flakes show their ads? I've never seen a commercial for zucchini or tomatoes, but beef (it's what's for dinner), pork (the other white meat), and milk (does a body good) have all run memorable campaigns. Does it work? Do people buy that boxed crap because they see it on television? Can't we spend an extra ten minutes in the mornings preparing fresh and nutritious breakfasts? How do we as a society convince each other to stop buying so many processed foods? When people like Michelle Obama try to push for healthier food choices, they are mocked by overweight talk radio hosts and the minions who listen to them. When laws are passed banning junk food in schools, a certain segment of the population is outraged at the "attack on freedom." When our health care system is breaking down because people don't know how to take care of themselves, those who try to fix it are labeled "socialists." Why has healthy eating become a political stance?

I'm glad farmers markets have made a comeback in cities big and small across America. Locally grown, pesticide free vegetables aren't a political ideology, they are common sense building blocks for life. We have one of the highest cancer rates in the world, and our health care system is overburdened because we don't take care of ourselves. We poison ourselves with "food" products made of plastics or petroleum or other chemicals we can't pronounce. Isn't it time we, supposedly the most intelligent species on the planet, go back to the natural order of things?

By the way, the sausage wasn't my choice. But it's ok to eat something like that every now and then when you are mostly responsible about the things you eat. It's no secret that moderation is the key to healthy living. Or is it?

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