Tofu Goes West

So last Friday, I made dinner for the three of us. It was a new recipe and had all the components that I thought we’d enjoy: chicken thighs, brie, pear, fig jam, seasoned, chopped lettuce, great bread. Instead it turned out to be a big yuck—a drippy, sweet sandwich that none of us liked. Virginia was the first to bow out. Gamely, after the first disastrous bite, she divided the sandwich into its separate parts and tried to each one separately. No dice. She argued for a new dinner, but I refused—I already made dinner. She pushed her plate away in a huff. Josh got a little farther. He was starving, and probably could have made a meal out of his left arm, but instead went for the yucky sandwich first. He got through half before pushing his plate away and then raiding the refrigerator for the last piece of pizza from the night before. I, on the other hand, ate the entire sandwich. The whole thing. Every bite. This is totally out of character for me.

When I was Virginia’s age, my mom (who is a great cook) made dinners that I ate about half the time. I hardly ever ate dinner, and it wasn’t because I wasn’t hungry. It was the late 1970s and early 1980s, and my mom was a health nut back when baby boomers seriously considered carob as a substitute for chocolate. My mom’s favorite grocery store was a crunchy health food store, and her favorite cookbook was Tofu Goes West. Let’s just let that sink in and marinate for a little bit. Tofu Goes West. Remember when Seinfeld’s wife wrote a cookbook about how to sneak broccoli into everything to make your kid eat broccoli? Well, Tofu Goes West, wasn’t so much sneaking tofu in, but saying “Hey, guess who’s in this burrito? You guessed it—it’s tofu!” The tofu in these recipes “hide” tofu like a 2-year-old “hides” during a game of hide-and-seek. My mom managed to sneak tofu into and subsequently ruin everything that I had previously considered edible. Or even delicious. Burritos. Stir fry. Lasagna. Meatballs. Soup. I was pissed. I looked just like Virginia looked after she took her first bite of that awful figgy-brie-pear-chicken sandwich. And like her, I went no farther. I pushed my plate away night after night, simply because I didn’t like what was served, even if it was prepared beautifully and exactly according to the recipe. I didn’t consider that my mother might have put in some serious effort to cook it. I was not wasting precious time eating something I hated.

I am not that girl anymore. As I put together our weekly dinner menu, I picked the yucky sandwich recipe out of the latest issue of Cooking Light, a magazine that has successfully provided dozens of yummy recipes for meals that wowed the three of us. I chose and bought each ingredient. I know how much a jar of fig jam and good brie cost. I cooked those chicken thighs to perfection and waited for them to rest. I even stopped Josh from eating that pear. “No,” I scolded. “That’s for Friday night’s dinner.” I assembled the sandwich’s components and placed each sandwich back on the grill pan, where I flattened them on a large grill pan, creating the grill marks and allowing the sandwiches to blend and smoosh together into what should have been its delicious glory. In short, I knew exactly what went into making those horrible sandwiches, and because of that, I ate it. Maybe I ate the sandwich to make up for all of the tofu dishes I didn’t eat that my mom served up to me. Maybe I’m just making amends to my poor, unappreciated mother. Or maybe I’m just wrong and just should have made The Girl a grilled cheese sandwich.

Free Time Makes Me Nervous

I love a schedule. The whole family loves a schedule. Even our dog loves a schedule. In fact, he has a pretty solid routine. This is Jazzy on most days: morning walk, breakfast, play time, sitting at human’s feet, nap, lunchtime walk, treat, nap, afternoon walk, lap time, dinner, fetch, couch, nighttime walk, and bed.

As I imagine it must be for Jazz, I find my own routine both comfortable and comforting. It’s hard to overstate the joy that checking things off of lists brings me. Even though my days may not look identical day in and day out, I’ve pretty much chained myself to my calendar. And I think, I must be productive if I stick to a plan, right? And for most days, that’s what I—and I’m assuming (hoping) most of us—must ask myself before choosing to answer in the affirmative.

But sometimes I have to wrench myself away from my calendar and do something off the schedule. It doesn’t usually feel right immediately. Like I’m being undisciplined. Like I’m cheating or flaking on something. Like I’m letting my responsibilities slide. It makes me feel like I’m 19 and deciding to ditch class (again) and lounge by the dorm pool all afternoon instead. You do that enough (and I did—I had the deep tan, blonde highlights, and shitty grades to show for it), and you start to feel like a slug. And now, as the days start to lengthen and the rays of the sun filter onto my skin, I’m drawn once again to the outdoors. I’m so torn—do I skip an afternoon of essay grading to sit on my porch, catch a few rays on my calves, and finish my Tom Perotta novel instead? Or forgo a day of chipping away at my latest work in progress to attend a Sunday Phillies game with Josh and Virginia? For me, a schedule is good for the soul, but so is goofing off. Too much of either and I’m rendered as useless as a slug.

Our plans this weekend fell through, and to be honest, I’m nervous. I could easily fill my time with work. In fact, at this point in my semester, I won’t have much choice but to read through and grade a few stacks of papers Saturday and Sunday, otherwise I’ll be buried all next week. But I’d like to carve out at least one afternoon of free time to spend with Josh and VA, doing who knows what. I’ll figure it out when I get there.

A Good Deal

You wouldn’t think that the way in which a person prefers to buy and consume ice-cream would say all that much about an individual, but it does. Josh and I are totally different in this respect. I like to buy ice-cream in a single-serve cone form preferably from a hoity-toity ice-cream shop. I will happily plunk down $4 for a single scoop of outstanding strawberry ice-cream stuffed into a sugar cone. If Josh, on the other hand, witnesses me do that, I get the angry smile. Josh’s favorite ice-cream store? Shop Rite. Or Costco. Anyplace that sells ice-cream that comes in a tub.

He’s tried reasoning with me: “For $4, you can get a whole gallon of ice-cream, not just a scoop.” But that logic just bounces right off me. I don’t see buying ice-cream scoop by scoop as wasteful. In fact, I see buying a large quantity of ice-cream as wasteful. I typically don’t want ice-cream all that often, which is why I buy and eat it on a scoop-by-scoop basis. If I bought ice-cream in a larger size I’d 1) be stuck with that flavor for a while. Boring. 2) I wouldn’t eat all of it and weeks later it would render itself into that sticky goo topped with ice crystals. 3) Or alternatively, I would eat it so as not to be “wasteful.” And I’d be consuming ice-cream more often than I’d want and probably enjoying it a lot less, since I’d be so bored from having the same flavor day in, day out. Plus we’re stuck with crappy ice-cream

Me? Just give me one standout cone of high-quality ice-cream from Franklin Fountain. That tops off the end to a delightful summer afternoon. I would stand in a long line for that, and with Virginia, excitedly go back and forth on what each of us might order. Cookies ‘n’ cream? Rocky road? Sweet cream? I relish the whole experience right up to the last bite. Josh is more about quantity over quality. A gallon of Bryer’s or Friendly’s ice-cream? Fine. His enjoyment of ice-cream is directly correlated to the amount he gets. So if he gets a great deal on a great deal of ice-cream that can take him through a week or more of daily scoops, then he’s happy. Really happy. Like happy for more than a week.

So last week, Josh was faced with the choice to buy one box of Matzo for $2.50 or take home five boxes for free. Which do you think he chose?

Why I Run

I don’t really talk about running all that much. I like to do it. I do it most days of the week. I’ve done it for most of my life. But I don’t really talk about it. And the reason is because most people, especially those who don’t run and even some who do, find running really boring. I get that—I do. But today, as the outdoors looks more and more like optimal running weather, I’m going to be selfish and talk about why I run. So if running really isn’t your bag, feel free so swing by again next week—I’m sure I’ll have something stupid to complain about.

  1. I’ll start with the obvious: running makes me feel good. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah… Weight. Lung capacity. Pizza.
  1. Running keeps my brain sane. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah..blah, blah, blah. Blah.
  1. Also, running makes me feel close to my dad. Like a lot of baby boomers, my dad took up running in the 1970s. When he was just starting out as a runner, he’d let me tag along and I’d ride my bike alongside him as he ran. By the time I was Virginia’s age, I was running short distances with him—maybe two to three miles at most. Once I entered seventh grade, we started training for 5 and 10K races together. All through jr. high, high school, and college years, and throughout my twenties, we ran all over Palo Alto—through neighborhoods, around Stanford campus, and up and down the grassy hills near the “dish,” where on a clear day, you can look south and make out the skyline of San Jose and up north, San Francisco. On family vacations, we’d go on running tours through Boston, New Orleans, Chicago.

And running was a time when we could just talk about anything. Usually it wasn’t particularly deep. One ongoing conversation was considering how much someone would have to pay you to lick a square inch of the sidewalk in San Francisco’s Chinatown. (My number is surprisingly low.) Or coming up with answers to the question, what’s the grossest food or drink one could consumer after a long, summer run? (New England clam chowder.)

But running was always a time he’d check in with me and see what was on my mind, whether it was friendship dramas, applying to college, or soccer tryouts. I spent a lot of time trying to persuade him that modern music wasn’t all crap and sometimes succeeded. And that’s what I often think about now when I run. This Sunday, it’ll be fourteen years since I lost my dad. I don’t believe in angels or ghosts, and I don’t believe he’s looking down from heaven. But I do enjoy thinking about the conversations we would be having when I run now. And in my own way, I’m still running with my dad.