Welcome Back to the Land of Plenty

That’s what my mom said as I stepped off the scale. I was complaining about the fact that after being home for two weeks, working out every day, cooking like it was my job, and eating and drinking beer (Ale Asylum’s Contorter Porter, what?) like it was my job, I’d managed to gain a few lbs, instead of losing them as I intended.

Welcome back to the land of plenty. 

The first couple of meals I ate after landing in Chicago, I literally felt that vaguely nauseous, absolutely over-full feeling that I don’t think I’ve experienced in any other country. What is it that makes you immediately go out and shovel (Mexican vegetarian combination plate, chips &  guacamole, margarita, ahem) food in to the point where you have to unzip your pants to let that food-baby loose?

For the last four months, I haven’t had to watch my portion size. No one ever gave me too much food. Now I have to eat slowly at every meal, considering exactly how much food I need to feel satisfied but not sick. It happens when I go out, and it happens when I cook for myself. Is it a sudden sense of entitlement that encourages me to stuff my face? When I’ve learned exactly how much food I do not need, why is it that all that flies out the window when presented with a fish fry, a homemade veggie pasta, stir fry or pineapple tofu curry?

Speaking of Thai Pineapple Curry, and other dishes of Asian-influence, a lot of people ask me if I took cooking classes in Asia, or learned to make anything in particular while I was there. The truth is, I really didn’t. When I was WWOOFing, I learned about growing different kinds of food, but the food was always still in the ground, and not yet ready for the table. At Sadhana, it was difficult to learn about cooking, even though we all spent time working kitchen shifts. It was mostly prep work, with a lot of chopping, and not a lot of experimenting. We were cooking for upwards of 70 people, on a tight schedule, and there wasn’t time for instruction on what we were making, how or why. Often, volunteers had no idea what they were contributing to by chopping up a head of cauliflower.

Some volunteers at Sadhana who had experience cooking for large groups took shifts leading the kitchen team, and then they got creative liberties, composing their own menus. Depending on the person, and the complexity of the dish, there might be more collaboration in the kitchen and less you-chop-this. Almost always, the food coming out of the kitchen was a surprise. Also, we were not allowed chilies, so a lot of the dishes lacked flavor, and frankly, I love spicy food and would never cook like that for myself.

What I did learn was a familiarity with new vegetables, like okra, pumpkin and tapioca. Other vegetables, like cauliflower and eggplant, are used in abundance in India. I learned what kind of dishes these vegetables were commonly found in. I discovered what kind of curries and spices were my favorite. Thai and Indian food doesn’t feel so foreign to me anymore. Now, when I research something online, I have a basis for the information I’m presented with. I also feel a certain amount of confidence with experimenting, because I know what tasted good in India, and I know what spices they most often used. There’s a bit of a learning curve on adapting authentic dishes to an American kitchen, especially where spices are concerned. However, the internet is a great resource for this.

Besides re-learning how to eat, another challenge is unemployment. At the end of two weeks I can tell you I wouldn’t make a good housewife. There’s only a certain amount of productivity when every day’s an open book, and way too much internet surfing.

I bought a park sticker and I’ve used it over six times. That doesn’t count my jogs to, and around, several of our local Land Trusts. I have spent the morning researching recipes only to head over to Main Street Market, buy ingredients, come home and start experimenting. I’ve done a little writing, though not much. It’s hard to stay inspired. I have taken many hot showers, one bath, watched movies and an embarrassing amount of How I Met Your Mother, though I haven’t been reduced to watching television during the day…yet.

So besides naming all the fish in my boyfriend’s tank, and making a fish-face at them during the day, I find that I lack momentum. I miss being able to hop on a train and be somewhere different with a moments notice; eating and exploring. I miss paying $2 for a good vegetable curry, two chapatis, and a chai.

Excuse me, but why are the rice noodles at Pick N’ Save $5? They are rice noodles. Of course they’re gluten-free. When we went to Econo Food to pick up some ingredients for a curry, we got a “Oh, good luck,” while looking for Thai red curry paste, and when I asked an employee where coconut milk was, she said:

“Um, probably in the dairy section.”

Nevermind that coconut milk is non-dairy, and, of course, it wasn’t there. It was in the “hippie food section,” as Colin called it, and it cost $3 a can. In the back of my mind: Hey, that’s like two meals in India. 

In the Land of Plenty, things ain’t cheap.

P.S. That new Pistachio dish is trouble with a capitol T. And NO, Colin, I won’t eat an ice-cream float made with New Belgium’s 1554…oh alright, I’ll share one.



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