17 November 2012

The Salad - pt. II

After reading the previous post, it may shock you to learn that I have actually tried a salad before, and that I did so entirely of my own volition.

It all happened in January, 2010, while I was wintering in southern France (I will never get tired of that phrase). I was staying at a beautiful and totally self-sufficient hostel, and I even had my own private room. Few people realise that when I jokingly say that I travel in order to find myself that I'm not entirely joking. I often do travel with a specific purpose in mind. I will recognize a certain obstacle in my life and go on an elaborate trip to try and remove that obstacle from my life in the privacy that anonymous travel provides. I went to Central America with the intention of learning how to dance and to read Moby Dick. (I only accomplished one of those things and it remains one of the greatest regrets of my life. I mean that completing Moby Dick is one of the biggest regrets of my life. I never learned how to dance. I guess I regret that too, but not as much.)

Before I went to Europe in late 2009, my restricted diet was really starting to weigh on me. It seemed impossible that I would ever be able to become the person I wanted to if I continued to refuse to try new foods. At the time, I foolishly wanted to be a person who could go to dinner parties and eat like a normal person. I wanted to be able to one day own cook books. I wanted to have cupboards full of ingredients and I wanted a spice rack that would hold more than just salt and pepper (adding pepper to foods is actually still pretty new to me, so at the time it would have been just salt). My time at the hostel in Nice seemed like a perfect opportunity to branch out and explore new things. I had ordered several dishes of spaghetti bolognese at the hostel before, and knowing that it came with a side of green salad, I always asked for no salad. But then one night, I didn't. I'm still not sure if I simply forgot or if I purposely forgot or if my subconscious desire for a normal life was dragging me toward that salad and forcing me to confront it. But in any case, my spaghetti arrived, and sure enough there was a green salad on the side.
This is the picture that accompanied my thoughtful expose that appeared
in a certain publication that shall not be named.
I stared at it for a long time. I considered the person I had become and questioned whether or not I wanted to continue on this path of extreme food avoidance. And then, I just stopped. I stopped thinking about what eating this salad would mean; I stopped wondering how much I would hate it once that lettuce was in my mouth; I stopped thinking about the exact amount of time it would take before the taste and all remnants of that salad would be washed away by the pasta. And I just ... took a bite of the salad. And I swallowed it. And I hated it.

But you know what trying that salad taught me? That I never ever have to try a new food ever again because if I already know that I hate it, then I hate it. It taught me to put faith in my own judgment and my ability to know myself. It taught me that I don't have to own cookbooks or cumin--or even know what cumin is--in order to live and happy and full life. And it also taught me the importance of ordering a dish without a side of salad, because I'm pretty sure you get more spaghetti that way.

Stop trying to find yourself, you'll only prove to be a fool
And the process by which you try must necessarily be cruel.
If you know you don't like something, then please don't tempt fate--
What was once cold indifference will become solidified hate. 

16 November 2012

The Salad

I hate salads. There is no such thing as a salad that I might like. There are no varying gradations of acceptable salads. I hate all of them equally (except pasta salad. I hate that salad the most. More below). I hate everything about them. I hate hearing my mum say, "Mary, can you make the salad?" I hate watching Mary (it's always Mary) make the salad. I hate seeing the salad(s) brought out to the dinner table. I hate watching people serve salad with those archaic tools (just use tongs already! This should not be a two-hand affair!). I hate watching people move their lettuce around the plate to sop up the last bits of dressing. I hate seeing the leftover dressing in the fridge because it makes me feel like I live in a laboratory that's in the business of testing unhealthy stool samples.

There are so many different kinds of salad that it's almost useless to collect them all under the blanket term "salad." What would it mean for someone to tell you that they're having salad for dinner? It wouldn't mean anything. They might be eating any disgusting combination of food! Aside from being a grab-bag of mixed ingredients, salads don't really have that much in common. Of course there are the lettuce (or other leafy greens)-based salads, but then there are all those other kinds of salads. Like bean salads. Or cold pasta salads. Or cold, slimy, Oriental noodle salad. Or potato salad. "Salad" is just an arbitrary term thrown around recklessly and attached to any collection of solid food (ie. not a soup) that is served in a bowl. If these people were half as creative at coming up for names as they are in creating revolting culinary concoctions, I wouldn't be in the position of trying to tackle all of the varying kinds of salad in one rambling post. Sometimes I wonder if anyone cares about my welfare at all.

Before I get into all of the different bowl-foods that are wrongfully and lazily referred to as salads, let me address why salads perfectly encapsulate everything I hate about food. Even though there are infinite different kinds of salads, one thing they have in common (although this is not something that is exclusive to salads, so I don't think it can be considered a defining feature) is that they're mixed. Whenever I inevitably have to explain to someone why I don't eat certain foods, I typically fall back on the excuse that I don't like my food mixed or touching other foods. Anyone who knows me knows that this is not an accurate statement. I love borscht, I love apple pie, I love spaghetti bolognese--there's actually a whole multitude of mixed foods that I would count among my favourite meals. But--and here's where it might get a bit tricky to explain--the mixed foods that I like make sense as mixed foods (with the exception of borscht. I have no idea why I like borscht. I shouldn't, but oh my God, it's so delicious). All of these foods are perfected by their combination. I love plain pasta, but it only really shines when it's paired with a bolognese sauce (similarly, I love ground beef, but it's only perfected when combined with a tomato sauce). I love apple sauce, but it's really only at its best when it's in a pie shell. These foods make sense together because there are no jarring and contradictory sensations at play. They go together like Dick and Nicole in Tender is the Night: "He supposed many men meant no more than that when they said they were in love — not a wild submergence of soul, a dipping of all colors into an obscuring dye, such as his love for Nicole had been."

But salads are the exact opposite, and they're what I mean when I tell people that I hate mixed food. Those ingredients don't go together at all. There's too much forced combination of different textures, different liquid consistencies. There's no logic behind combining lettuce, feta cheese, olives, and tomatoes. Of course I've never tried a Greek salad, but I don't have to in order to know that there are at least three too many sensations going on there (technically four because I wouldn't eat any of those ingredients). Wait. How many ingredients are there in a Greek salad? Whatever the number, that's how many of them are totally unacceptable.

So, without any further ado, let's get this show on the road. What follows is by no means an exhaustive salad list; I've included only the salads that immediately come to mind and that I have likely observed first hand.

Green Salad: Of all the salads, this one is the least offensive to my logic of mixing because, it is my understanding, that it is just lettuce and a light dressing. But it also doesn't make any sense to me. Why bother with this salad? If eating that leaf of lettuce that one time has taught me anything, it's that lettuce has absolutely no purpose. It's not filling and the texture is unpleasant.

Caesar Salad: Caesar salads are everywhere, but it wasn't until part way through high school that I actually figured out what it is. What's all the fuss about? Why is this salad on every single menu? It sounds disgusting. Egg? Worcestershire sauce? I wonder if I ordered a Caesar salad but asked them to hold the lettuce, the egg, the olive oil, the lemon juice, the Worcestershire sauce, the garlic, and the pepper if they would just bring me two separate bowls of parmesan cheese and croutons. Because I could get on board with that kind of salad.

Greek Salad: Ever since someone first explained "dick cheese" to me in elementary school, I knew I would never eat Feta cheese. I'm pretty sure that's where it comes from. Have you ever met a Greek man? They're disgusting. But there are a lot of other problems with a Greek salad. Like the large portions of tomato that force you to acknowledge their presence in a way that small cubes of tomato never do. Or the olives. Did you know that I won't shop in a grocery store that has an open olive bar because they smell and look so disgusting that I can't bear to spend another second in their vicinity? (Take note, Extra Foods in Grand Forks).

Santa Fe Salad: I hate to break it to you, but this isn't a salad. It's a bowl of beans. I understand that it sounds a lot better to roll into a potluck and announce that you've brought a Santa Fe salad rather than "Oh hey, I just brought this bowl full of beans," but come on. Call a spade a spade.

Pasta Salad: Presumably "pasta salad" is a category unto itself, but the pasta salad I'm aware of is composed of cold cork-screw pasta and strawberries and, as such, is the most offensive salad of them all. This is exactly what I meant when I said that salad forces two things together that by no means should be. Look, I love pasta. No one loves pasta more than I do. And I love strawberries. They're the second best berry (after perfectly plump blueberries, obviously). But even though I love both of them, there's no way I would ever consider putting them in a bowl together and then adding God knows what else! Get out of here with your pasta salad! I am crying right now! I'm not just saying that as a figure of speech or for emphasis! I am actually crying because it's too much for me to take in.  Stop ruining everything I love in this world! You want your strawberries paired with something more substantial? Then eat them on a waffle or with an angel food cake or in a pie or as jam on toast, but for the love of God, leave pasta out of it!

Noodle Salad: The only good thing that can be said about this salad is that it doesn't try to incorporate summer fruits. This salad is probably so slimy and makes me shudder in the exact same way that I shuddered when my mum told me that one time she was swimming in the ocean and then when she got back on the boat and shined a flashlight into the water she had just been swimming in, it was full of eels.

Kale Salad: Wow, I bet you shop at a farmer's market. I bet you bought some fashionable tote bags just to do your farmer's market shopping. I bet you rub beets on those tote bags so that when someone asks why there's a purple stain on your tote bag, you can say, "Oh, this ol' stain? That's just a beet stain from all the beets I bought at the farmer's market. I always shop at the farmer's market because I like to support our local farmers." Now that I'm actually looking at this picture of a kale salad, it looks a lot like what the end result would be if I ate a salad and then threw it up into a bowl.

Coleslaw: I've never eaten coleslaw, and I never will. But one good thing that can be said about coleslaw is that at least it has a consistent texture. What is it? Just raw, grated cabbage, right? Maybe some grated carrots? At least everything is crunchy. So I'm more or less okay with this salad. Although I have a feeling that it's also customary to add some sort of creamy dressing to it, which of course I am strongly opposed to.

Potato Salad: One time, when I was about 12 years-old, I wandered into the kitchen on a summer's day. No one was home. And I was hungry. There was a bowl sitting on the counter. I didn't know what it was. I don't know why I was drawn to it. I would never try a mystery food and I don't know what was going through my head at the time. I think I must have thought it was something it was not. But I put a piece of it my mouth and was immediately seized by pure terror and disgust. I was entirely immobilized. I couldn't even spit it out right away. I just stood there, rooted to the ground by a kind of extreme horror that I had hitherto never experienced. It was potato salad. I just put potato salad in my mouth. I get so angry when people try to coax me into trying something new because their reasoning is always that even if I don't like it, it will all be over in a second. But they weren't there when I tried that potato salad. They don't know what it's like, and they'll never understand that while that terrible taste did only last a manner of seconds before I spat it out and rinsed my mouth, I have been haunted by that experience ever since. I can't even talk about all the reasons why potato salad is wrong. I just don't want to think about it anymore.

A second post on salads is soon to follow, and its contents may shock and appall you. Just like a pasta-strawberry salad should.

On the dinner table, the salad is ever-present
But its definition is marked by constant deferment.
If I say "salad," what comes to mind?
Lettuce? Tomato? Dressing? A hint of lemon rind?
There's no natural correlation between the word and the thing
And we're left with a problem that is fundamentally Derridian.  
So remember before you sit down to dine
The inevitable gap between the signifier and the sign.  

15 November 2012


Hot damn! The rice at Rancho Chico's is SO GOOD. One time I asked what
rice they used and where they got it from, and the waiter was obviously
uncomfortable and said he didn't know, but I know that he just wasn't willing
to tell me. I don't even care if they won't tell me. I am more than happy to
pay $3 for this mystery rice, and going to Colville is a pleasure in itself.
When I was about four or five I came up with a great joke that drew on all of the important elements of my life and wove them together into what seemed at the time the greatest comic query ever produced:

Q: What did Michael Jackson say to the bowl of rice?

A: Let’s eat!

Black or White was my favourite song at the time and I guess we were having rice for dinner. Who knows. Rice is such a boring food that it’s impossible to remember when you’ve eaten it. I had a 10kg bag of rice in my closet and now it’s gone and I guess that I ate it because it’s no longer there.

But the charm of rice lies in the ease with which it is forgotten. Like an undervalued friend, it’s always there for you. But unlike the undervalued friend trope, you won’t learn a valuable lesson in taking things for granted once they’re gone because rice will never ever desert you because there is so much rice in this world and it is so cheap. It's a food that, until now, I have never really had to think about. I eat it because it's filling and cheap and doesn't really taste like anything.

Here is a delicious plate of plain rice that I enjoyed in
Bogota. I was with my mum at the time and we had met up
with a girl I met in El Salvador a few months before who was
now living and working in Colombia. She took us to this
restaurant where both she and my mum ordered really
outrageous and enormous dishes, while I happily consumed
this and contented myself with the knowledge that I was
not a disgusting human being who hate disgusting things.

Honestly I don't know what else I can say about rice. I realise now that a lot of this post is about me eating rice in Central America. I guess that's because that was the time in my life when rice really took the centre stage of my diet. By eating almost nothing but rice, I was able to forget about food and stop worrying about what I would eat that day and focus on the important things, like learning how to smoke and, for the first time in my life, really enjoying casual drinking. Rice allows for great things to happen in your life without ever taking the credit for them.

Some Ways that I Like to Eat Rice:

  • With cheese sauce. Not with cheese sauce, obviously--that would be disgusting. But my favourite dinner is white basmati rice, sausages, and broccoli and cauliflower smothered in cheese sauce. I eat the sausages first so nothing touches them/is touched by them, and then I eat the vegetables. But once the vegetables are gone, there is still a pool of cheese sauce on the plate, and I like it when some of the cheese sauce touches the edges of some of the rice, but I don’t think I would ever like to push the rice onto the cheese sauce because that would be too much. It’s just nice to get a hint of cheese sauce with your rice because then you can remember and savour how delicious that cheese sauce was.
  • White basmati rice with mixed frozen vegetables and soy sauce. I don't know if there is anything else to say about this except that it's a relatively new development for me. I had always relied on fried rice if I found myself in a Chinese restaurant, and one day I finally realise that I could just more or less make it myself and avoid Chinese restaurants all together. Eating rice with vegetables and soy sauce makes me think that maybe I am growing up and broadening my horizons.
  • 1 part brown rice, 2 parts butter. When I was little and my mum was doing some baking, I used to lick the butter paper after she was done with it. Eating rice with tonnes of butter tastes like butter but feels like rice. It's like licking butter paper without the guilt of actually licking butter paper.
  • Plain. Eating plain rice with no butter or salt is a sneaky way of tricking yourself into having an ascetic experience without actually committing to asceticism. It’s like learning something meaningful from the Orient by looking up Buddhist prayers on Wikihow.com--which I just did because I thought I would be able to make a joke about Edward Saïd, but then I lost interest.
  • In a restaurant. I love going into ethnic restaurants in big, bustling cities like Vancouver or Colville, because I know that there must be at least one person who sees me enter and think, She must be a good person. She must really care about the world. Why else would she be eating at an ethnic restaurant? Ethnic restaurants always serve plain rice, and it's always the cheapest thing on the menu. And for some reason, it's usually way better than rice that I can make at home. Must be all that ethnicity.
This was kind of a weird moment for me because while I do (now) enjoy rice
with vegetables, I definitely don't enjoy rice with these vegetables. I don't even
remember what was in here... Corn, obviously, and I think some crushed tomatoes
that had cooked into the rice so it wasn't really very traumatizing, and, I don't know,
carrots? Anyway, like all of the other pictures in this post (with the exception of the
first one), this was taken in Central America and I was really hellbent on
experiencing new things.

Something to Keep in Mind:


Of the food I eat, I never expected that rice would be the one to betray me. But betray me it did. During my trip through Central America, I was too busy finding myself to ever even question where I was finding my rice. I lived almost entirely off of rice, and I never worried about how it was prepared because it's rice and it's really hard to mess up rice. But did you know that rice can go bad? You probably did because no one was surprised when I told them that I got rice poisoning and was so miserable that I wished only for death.

In Rio Dulce (or should I say Rio Not-So-Dulce?) I ordered a plate of rice from a street vendor just as I had done countless times before and would continue to do countless times afterward. I watched as the woman scooped out a large portion from a stainless steel bowl that was sitting on a counter and heap it onto my paper plate. But I had no qualms with eating relatively cold rice that had been warmed only by sitting out in the sun all day and was of questionable freshness. None of this was of any concern because with my restricted diet, food poisoning had never even entered my mind as a possibility for me. I ate the rice in the same way that I eat any rice--as a simple means to an end--and washed it down with a litre of beer. The afternoon and evening passed as any evening in Central America passed: lazy hammock reading followed by a rousing game of gin rummy, and this specific night, with a bag of hickory sticks which I did not enjoy in the least. When I was in bed, I broke out in a sweat and began to feel the waves of nausea wash over me. Convinced it would go away by morning, I committed myself to the task of falling asleep with great success. I was awoken at around six in the morning with an immediate need to vomit. So I jumped out of bed with the grace and agility of gazelle and ran down multiple flights of stairs to the bathroom on the main floor, certain that I would make it in time. And I did--sort of. Just as I breached the threshold of the bathroom door but had not quite made it to the stalls, I projectile vomited everywhere. And I mean everywhere. I was like a veritable fountain, spewing hickory sticks in all directions. When I had expelled what I believed to be everything that had ever been in my body and surveyed the pool of vomit that now surrounded me and covered the majority of the bathroom floor, I calmly asked the hostel receptionist to provide me with a bucket and mop to clean up the mess. I showered, I brushed my teeth, and I went back to bed. Mere minutes after crawling back into bed, I was once again on my feet and rushing down to the bathroom. This time I managed to make it to the sinks and clogged not one but three sinks with hickory sticks. After scooping the puke out of the sinks and into the garbage, I again showered and brushed my teeth and went back to bed. The third time I didn't even make it out of the room and instead just dry heaved and dribbled bile into a garbage can which, in retrospect, would have made more sense to use in the first two instances.
Upon arriving in Livingston, I remained in bed in the fetal position for one
day and one night until I finally felt well enough to greet the world, at which
point I was told by a nurse that I had suffered from rice poisoning because,
duh, rice goes bad.
The next morning I had to take a boat to Livingston and it was one if the hardest things I've ever had to do. I arrived at the hostel and immediately went to bed. Until I had an eye-opening conversation with a British nurse the following night, I had been under the impression that the hickory sticks had made me so sick. It was the first time that I had ever tried hickory sticks, and they gave me the distinct impression of being rejected McDonalds' fries that were too old, dry, and crusty to sell. But, you guys, it was the rice. It was that Rio Dulce rice that had been sitting in that stainless steel bowl in the sun for God knows how long. And what followed this revelation was an existential crisis almost as painful as the rice poisoning itself. I was force to reevaluate my life and the decisions I had made. Could I still eat rice? What would it mean to give up something that had, for so long, been such a central staple of my diet? How could I continue a trip in a region that depended on rice as much as I did and not eat it? Ultimately I abandoned all of these difficult questions and resumed eating rice with the same reckless abandon as before.

A plain bowl of rice
No one cares about it.
They're missing out. *

* See what I did there? That's a haiku. Get it? The Orient?

07 November 2012

Consumption Habits

I wanted to take a picture of all the bacon I ate today but it was inside of me before I had the chance.