We All have Our Preferences

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Red. Delicious?

The apple of my eye is bound to be unlike yours. Even among apples, the almost bewildering array of would-be favorites almost catches up with the endless variations in personal character; together, these have the exponential potential to create such a multiplicity of possible tastes that it’s amazing if any small group of people have predictably identical loves.

On top of that, our own tastes are bound to change over time. I’ve lived long enough to have had several ‘favorite’ apple varieties, never mind had enough life experience to know that what I prefer for one use or recipe is not the universal solution for all of my cooking and eating wishes. Even the longtime favorites can be supplanted, eventually.

So while I currently favor Fuji apples for eating plain, a mixture of bright, crisp Granny Smiths with soft and über-sweet Golden Delicious and an in-between variety like Jazz or Braeburn for pies and sauces, and something with interesting color, shape or texture on its peel like a heritage variety to ‘pose’ for my artworks—any of those could change at any given moment. Why, I’ve even been known to draw Red Delicious (a variety that while I’ll grant its being among the reddest of apples I think hybridized to the point of being utterly insipid and flavorless rather than actually delicious) simply because it’s bright and shiny and stereotypically apple-y.

For the most part, life is more interesting to most of us because it offers so much variety and the possibilities inherent in change excite and intrigue our senses. But sometimes it’s perfectly okay to be predictable, too. The comfort of the familiar is also a gift. And once in a while, there’s the amazing possibility that we can surprise and shock others—even our own selves—precisely by choosing the safe and predictable thing when we have all of the options in the world right before us.

Maybe what I relish most of all is simply that I can’t guarantee from one moment to the next, let alone one day to the next, that my own tastes will remain the same, my choices the utterly expected ones. How do you like them apples?

Bland Like Me

photo montageThe marvelous Diana of A Holistic Journey has been writing posts asking about the influences of race, culture, national origin, education, and so forth and the ways that they shape who we are and how we perceive ourselves. This series of hers is proving an outstanding eye-opening and thought-provoking exercise for me, too. I have spent most of my life living amid and being part of The Majority—middle-class, white, English speaking, native-born, educated, boringly predictable, etc, etc. There were a few touches of diversity around me here and there, of course, this country of the so-called United States being what it is, but those were relatively small and isolated, so mostly I grew up sheltered and unchallenged in nearly all ways.

Yet as an individual I came to know myself as being different in one way or another from most of what I thought of as the ‘norms’ of my own environs, and even learned over time that what I thought was my Majority milieu was mostly just my very narrow path through it in life. While a lot of my classmates, immediate neighbors and friends when I was a kid, for example, were also little pasty white critters like me, the friends I remember best as seeming most interesting to me were ones like Eha, the Estonian girl, or Karen, one of my few black classmates, or the Japanese friends who shared exotic treats from their lunches and who performed classical Japanese dance in a miniature celebration of the Cherry Blossom Festival at school. I have hardly any memories so suffused with longing as that of watching the girls flutter their fans, while dressed in exquisite kimonos and dancing their stately, courtly dance to the strains of the tune ‘Sakura’, which melody in turn still fills me with delicately melancholy love.

My ideals of human physical beauty, as my husband and I have often noted musingly, are nearly all attached to non-whites or mixed-race people, not something I think of as a conscious or intentional choice but a persistent reality for me ever since I can remember. My superficial list of Most Beautiful People would probably have a paucity of caucasian members among its top fifty. While I have never been either very adventurous or flexible in my choices and tastes and experiences, I suppose I have always been fascinated by what seemed different or even exotic to me. I am a fantasist and a romantic in the cheap, popular versions of those ideas, I guess.

I have even wondered, in a broader sense, if part of my very nature is simply to feel like an outsider for no very specific reason. I was always shy, and learned as an adult that this expressed not only a naturally introverted character on my part but also demonstrated lifelong social anxiety and probably the incipient state of my developing depression that didn’t come to full fruition until later. Those, along with undiagnosed dyslexia, tremors, the dysphonia that came into play in my forties, and who knows what other quirks of my unique persona and biological makeup, could perhaps explain why I never felt I fit in with any particular group or was especially central to its character. But I still can’t say I felt consciously sad or was overtly unhappy or removed or, certainly, ostracized for any of this.

What was odder was that as I reached adulthood and gradually began to find a more comfortable sense of self and direction, I have a feeling I may have chosen to put myself into groups where it was plain that I didn’t quite match the norm, specifically because, if I knew there was no possibility of my being an exemplar in its midst of the highest standard, I might unconsciously feel safe from being expected to be so by anyone else. This might be complete nonsense, but it gives me pause. In any event, I spend a great deal of my ‘quality time’ nowadays in the company of people who are immersed in and even expert at music, pedagogy, administration, and a number of other topics in which I have no training whatsoever and only a very little observational knowledge, and I am very happy in this environment.

Conversely, I tend to keep my company of good visual artists and writers and others with training or knowledge more likely to be similar to mine at the seemingly safer arm’s-length of cyberspace, and that probably doesn’t reflect well on my personal fortitude. I never did, at least, make any claims of being any better than a big ol’ chicken. Being a scaredy-pants is probably not race-specific. Or attached with any particularity to culture, social stratum, nationality, educational accomplishment, religion, language, income level, or anything else in question. Being a scaredy-pants is just part of being myself, and the unique combination of qualities and characteristics that make up the wonderfulness of Me.

On the other hand, being attracted to, frightened by or otherwise connected to or dissociated from people who are Not Like Me is a central consideration of understanding how the human species works. Or doesn’t. And there’s no doubt that all of those things influenced by proximity (physical or metaphorical), the aforementioned race, culture, social strata, and so forth, are very potent indicators and influencers of how we will experience the concept of Self and Other at any level.

So what does that ‘solve’ about me, about how I feel about those who are or seem in any way different from me? I’m still not at all sure. Perhaps the best I can say is that my feeling of being, in a value-neutral way, unlike those around me makes me unwilling to assume much about them, in turn. I would generally rather let personalities and individuality be revealed to me and my understanding of my surroundings at the moment unfold in their own sweet time than that I jump in and make any precipitous assumptions. I’m perfectly capable of finding lots of other ways of being wrong and making a fool of myself without constantly worrying over whether I’m being judged, rightly or wrongly, as a stereotype of either the majority or the minority on hand.

Most of my blogging friends and acquaintances are significantly different from me in nearly all of the aforementioned identifying categories, and yet I feel remarkably at home among you. So I’ll let you decide if sameness or difference affects how you see me. I feel at home, and that’s good enough for my part of the bargain.photo montage

Foodie Tuesday: Sweets, Treats & Healthy Eats

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What’s good for my heart might be as much a spiritual question as a nutritional one, even at table. Mmm, BBQ!

I am one of those silly people who don’t think the title’s terms are mutually exclusive. Call me a cockeyed optimist (because, well, I am), but it also happens to follow a certain logic if I tell you that not only do scientists and nutritionists and doctors sometimes concede that what was once thought the epitome of healthful behavior and ingestion is now believed to be quite the opposite, or that things we once considered horrendously dangerous and likely to contribute to the destruction-through-dining of the entire human race might not be quite so terrible after all. Not to mention the recognition that each person’s body type, genetic makeup, chemistry, environment and so forth all make him-her-me unique in the ways we suffer or benefit from our diets.

So I will refrain from posting—on Tuesdays or otherwise—ruminations on what is Always or Never good for anybody. Besides which, as you well know on visiting with me even twice on a Tuesday, even my own two-person family household has vastly different ideas and tastes and preferences when it comes to what we simply like or don’t like to eat and drink. Thankfully, we can work out those differences in many ways, so the reality of our widely divergent food loves has relatively little impact on our love of being together.

This is, among other things, a reason that it’s nice to have something to amuse each member of the party at table, and let each choose his or her own combination of dishes, drinks and delectables. I am well aware that having no children in the family may be seen as a dodge of the most difficult issues in this regard, because as a supposedly responsible adult one might be expected to see that every child present is getting reasonable nutrition at all times, and hopefully, also building practices and habits that will lead to her continued healthy living. But of course one can point to numerous folk who have in various ways had the ability to subvert the rules and live and thrive. And of course, I live with an adult who has managed to do so despite having been raised to eat ‘right’ yet arriving at adulthood with a general dislike of much of what is, was and perhaps ever shall be considered ‘right eating’: he doesn’t like very many vegetables at all, and could probably survive on pizza, mac and cheese, hamburgers and fries, and those with little deviation from their simplest forms, especially preferred without annoying vegetable side dishes or icky sauces. While I enjoy nearly all of the foods he does like, I’ll also eat lots of other things gladly, including the veggies and sauces and many more things he would far rather not.

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Cucumber, all by itself, is refreshing; as a simple salad made with rice vinegar, honey, fresh dill and black pepper, it’s also delicious.

Does this in any way make him less intelligent or well-bred or good or admirable? It most certainly does not, any more than it confers sainthood upon me. It may be true that ‘the heart wants what it wants’, but baby, I’d say with ten times the conviction that the gut has powerful reign over our existence—stomach, tastebuds and brain in concert, that is. And I’ll bet you dollars to sugary, fat, wonderful donuts that this alone will not determine who among us lives well, survives long and dies contented. So I eat my vegetables, more often than not, alone even when eating at the same table as my beloved. He will order the same classic meat-and-potatoes food a bit more frequently than I will. We will both worry about our health and weight and shapes from time to time and each of us, occasionally, do some little thing or other to alter them, together or individually.

All I can say for certain is that I hope neither of us will ever lose interest in food and drink altogether or, especially, lose the ability to eat and sip much that we enjoy, because those tastes and those communal activities and shared experiences give us pleasure that is as beneficial to health and happiness as the nutrients themselves can ever begin to be. That makes Foodie Tuesday here a perfect day to celebrate a very special cook, hostess, family member and dear friend, whose birthday is upon us. Happy birthday, Mom Sparks! Your good cooking and your graciousness, both at table and all around, make you a Sweet Treat yourself—and helped to shape, unquestionably, the marvelous man with whom I am privileged to dine nearly every day, no matter what we choose to eat and drink.

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‘Green Banana’ Pudding: ripe bananas and avocado blended until smooth with fresh lime juice and zest, honey, butter (of *course* I’m not kidding), almond extract, and a pinch of salt. A few toasted coconut chips on top add just a hint of crunch. Banana-lime happiness in a spoon!

Persimmon Persimmon Persimmon

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[To my readers who are better educated than I am : Please pardon my humble attempt at kanji. It’s well-intentioned!]

Some words are more delicious than others. It’s not simply that they represent something actually tasty, an edible something full of juice and jazz; the mere sound, even the thought, of these words just leaps up and dances and smacks you in the chops with irrepressible mirth.

I’m not terribly familiar with persimmons as food like those who grew up in its primary regions of growth, but Persimmon bounces as a word. I can’t really imagine a way in which that fruit could have much credibility as a subject for a tragic song, having such a sunny sound. Is it even possible to write a sad story about bananas, other than the gradual present decline of the world’s banana crops? Simply thinking the word Banana makes the corners of my mouth curve up in a silly parody of the fruit. It’s not hard to be Flabbergasted or Gobsmacked by any number of things in this day and age, but would I opt to describe myself with those words rather than Stunned or Mortified if I want a sympathetic audience? Could a pair of Galoshes or Gumboots with my Bumbershoot ever be as sober and somber as Wellingtons?

As anyone who writes with purpose knows, the choice of words is not always easy or obvious in crafting the proper atmosphere. But when the opportunity arises for play, why then there are a whole lovely mess of cantankerous and giggly, hyperbolic and incorrigible and snappy word delights just lying around in dusty corners waiting to be picked up and tickled back into action and it would be a pity to just say what is expected when we can chuckle out slobbery and salacious words that will startle readers right down to their anklebones. Great if I can feel a bit outlandish while thinking and writing it; better yet if someone reading what I wrote can garner a sense of the same otherworldliness too. Go ahead and bite.

A Couple of Rustics

photo montageI’ll readily accede to being flighty in my affections. My short attention span and my determination to avoid playing favorites in dangerous or dullard ways may contribute to this seeming fickleness of mine, but I think life short enough and the list of possible pleasures long enough that it’s probably the extensive gap between that most often keeps me from landing in any one spot for great lengths of time.

My husband, too, is fairly catholic in his tastes, so though we are both creatures of habit and preference in many ways, we’re often pleased to discover any new delight to add to our own inventories of happiness. As a pair of artists, we’re often included in or happy to observe all sorts of cultural events and elements, and a rather common denominator of those is urban life. Cities do tend to have concentrations of resources. We both love the inspiring energy and wonders of The City, whatever the city of the moment happens to be.

But exposure does not guarantee infusion, immersion or exclusion. We can love and revel in our big-city adventures and lashings of high art and culture, but we’re not particularly notable for our own impressiveness in those realms. Simplicity, ease, companionability and comfort trump all of the glossy and glamorous stuff of life, in the end.

And the thrills of the city are always best savored in the context of time well spent in the contrasting marvels of the countryside. Salt to enhance the sweet. Earthiness and roughness to offset the shiny and sleek. And I guess I feel these latter things enough inside, thinking honesty and humility preferable and more natural to my way of being, that I’m more often a country mouse in the city than a city mouse when in the country. Neither my spouse nor I is probably all that complicated, despite the sophisticated milieu in which we may find ourselves at times. We are ordinary, visitors in the land of specialness, rather than the reverse.

A little time spent in the countryside tugs us away from all flash and clamor. Couple of bumpkins, maybe not entirely. But a little rusty and dusty around the edges, yes. A couple of rustics, really.

Foodie Tuesday: Pretty as a Picture

photoThere’s an almost unbreakable rule when it comes to sensory perception and food: if it looks bad, it’ll taste bad. People will eat the most strange-smelling stuff–witness durian, any number of aged cheeses, fermented foods, and a large number of culture-specific items from around the world that, to anyone not either genetically inclined to be attracted to it or else remarkably brave and adventuresome, will yell at the lizard brainPOISON! POISON!’ The emetic reflex is, indeed a powerful thing when triggered by smells, but somehow a vast quantity of people have not only overcome that response but embraced the non-toxic results of the experiment. But things that look unpleasant are often a much harder sell. We humans respond intensely to appearances.

That’s not to say that we won’t eat things that look fairly nasty. The first person who looked at a monkfish probably didn’t say to himself, ‘gosh, that looks inviting,’ so much as something like ‘good thing I’m starving here!’ and the famously slimy strands of nattō (compounded, I’m told on good authority, by a perfume that’s fully its equal for off-putting qualities) were unlikely the source of its original appeal. In our household, the favorite rude comment if food has a notably unpalatable appearance is, ‘are ya gonna eat that or did ya?’–to which my response is generally to spoon up a big bite of it, because I’m almost always the one who eats Weird Things and I’m also a petulant show-off.

But for the most part, looks are terribly important, not only because in the rawest sense they can mean the difference between safe and unsafe eating but also because ultimately, we like food to stimulate our pleasure centers. So it’s not the worst rule of thumb to look around, when seeking ingredients and recipes, for things that have the inherent beauty we will respond to most happily, and that can sustain their loveliness throughout the prep and presentation arrangements.

Sometimes, of course, the best rule of thumb in the event is to simply eat the food as we found it, because if it looks pretty to start with it probably doesn’t need any plastic surgery from us ordinary non-chef mortals. See it, eat it. Pretty good recipe, pretty often.

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