Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Cashewal Sex

I’m staring at Joe's nuts, lusting. Trader Joe’s nuts, that is. My eyes are glued to the cashews when I hear a voice.

“If you buy them, you will binge,” it says. 

Then I hear another voice.

“Just get the raw, unsalted ones. They don’t taste like anything. How can you binge on something you don’t even know is there?”

“Right. And don’t look at a naked Hugh Jackman when he pops out of your birthday cake," says voice #1. "That way you won't want any."

These voices are starting to freak me out, so I slowly wean myself away from Joe’s nuts and Hugh's "any."

It’s the sixth month of my allergy cleanse, and I’ve been off wheat, corn, eggs and over a dozen other culprits. I haven’t eaten a pastry, pizza, tortilla, enchilada, frittata, ciabatta—nada. I deserve a freaking bag of cashews. Of course I’m the only one on the planet who can endure six months of this and not lose weight. Somehow I always find something to make up for those lost calories. It’s usually nuts, dried fruit or rice cakes with some kind of nut butter slathered on them. Or I simply latch onto something I can eat and then eat a third portion to affirm what a good girl I’m being by not eating what I really want.

So I'm home now, after being seduced into buying the boring bag of cashews that I don't even like, thinking one day maybe I’ll make a vegan, gluten-free cheesecake or cashew cheese or throw some in a curry. If I’m desperate to eat them as a snack, I can roast them in a pan, salt them and then have a few. All that calibrated consciousness will guarantee that mindful eating ensues and I can't binge. Five minutes later I’m scarfing them down straight out of the bag. Even raw and unsalted, they have an alluring texture and sweet richness. They are the crack cocaine of nuts, wooing me to a verboten place from which there's no return without violating several laws. That addictive feeling draws me in and tells me I'm a bad, bad girl. Oooh, I like being a bad girl. So why not be really bad and have more?

There’s a fine line between bad girl and sicko, and I cross it. So I hide the bag of cashews inside an empty bag of rice cakes that has printing all over it. You can’t make out what’s in the bag with all that rice cake propaganda, so I figure once I see the words, “Rice Cakes,” I won’t pay them any mind and they will languish, forgotten in the fridge. I forget my passwords, my bill due dates, my doctor appointments and the last time I brushed my teeth, so not remembering I have cashews should be a no-brainer.

The next day I open the fridge to discover I have x-ray vision. I see straight through the colorful, opaque package that says Lundberg Family Farms Organic Brown Rice Cakes, lightly salted, gluten-free, vegan, USDA organic and Non GMO Project Verified. My otherworldly eyes see the cashews seductively waiting for me to have my way with them. After bad girl turns sicko, I put them in the freezer, knowing they will not be ready to be ravaged any time soon. The next day, sicko gets it on with cashewsicles. 

In a desperate attempt for redemption, I decide to put the remaining few cashews under my mattress next to my money. When I roll over in the middle of the night, I feel a lump. So at 12:37—an hour when bad girls are in their prime—I’m going at it with the nuts. I finish, roll over and get some sleep. In the morning I find the crumbs and empty wrapper lying next to my money, and suddenly I feel cheap, dirty and degraded—a tawdry nut slut. Next time I'm going to bring home Filbert. He doesn't seem to have that effect on me.

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Monday, March 18, 2013

A Job Farewell: Nine Years and Nine Salads

I am feeling verklempt. When you leave a job after nine years, it’s kind of like a divorce. As much as you wanted out, it doesn’t mean you won’t miss the S.O.B. and his money. I’m sad that I won’t see all my cubicled compadres with whom I laughed, cried and raged against the machine. But as painful as it is to let them go, there are others that I will miss even more. The ones who told me that they only wanted what's best for me. Who provided support and sustenance so I'd make it through the day. And not only gave me something to look forward to, but put a little spring, summer or fall into my step. Yes, I will miss the salads that I lovingly fashioned for lunch. Those ornate showstoppers that I chowed down on between the prefab walls of a corporate cube.

I groomed greens like they were CEOs—dressed for success and off to conquer the working world via a pyrex bowl and plastic blue lid. With a tailor-made vinaigrette for each colorful ensemble, I had the best-dressed salads in the whole damn office. Truth be told, I spent more time dressing my salads than myself. While I adore fashionista farmers, I'm not much of a fashionista. Maybe if I could buy Juicy Couture at the farmers’ market, I'd be more of a fashion plate. But having to go to a mall with a Hot Dog On A Stick? I'd rather wear a potato sack. Yet even when my wardrobe was stale, my bowl always sported something fresh and in season. My legs may have been stuck in bellbottoms, but my lunches were all skinny jeans. Below are some random shots I happened to take of them with my phone.

1. Marinated French green lentils with kalamata olives, sundried tomatoes, artichokes and thyme on beet greens with avocado, carrots and golden raisins with a Dijon shallot vinaigrette

2. Oyster mushrooms sauteéd with shallots in olive oil, nestled with roasted butternut squash and carrots on mustard greens, arugula, kale and cilantro with an apple cider vinaigrette

3. White beans, radishes, carrots, celery and yellow peppers on arugula and baby purple kale with a white balsamic and roasted garlic vinaigrette

Gone are my ritualistic Sundays when I’d hit the local farmers’ market and then hurry home to wash, spin and store my greens for the week. And then came the side salads that I’d prepare from grains or legumes to beets or roasted veggies, along with my five-day supply of vinaigrette. Sure, now I can make them on demand, in real time and not have to spend half a day at it. But it was the discipline of doing it each Sunday that rewarded my heroic efforts with quality assurance and portion control for the next five days. 

4. Beets, cucumbers and dill with a white wine Dijon shallot vinaigrette

5. Black-eyed peas, blood oranges, avocado and cilantro over hand-selected greens with an orange and pomegranate molasses vinaigrette

6. Orange cauliflower and black beans with red cabbage, red onions, carrots, yellow peppers, celery and cilantro with a cumin and lime vinaigrette

When you’re an ad writer, sometimes you feel like a line cook in a kitchen full of Gordon Ramsays. You're there to crank things out and to serve others. You don't always get to plan the menu or be a tastemaker. Maybe a salad is the only thing you have creative control over in your whole day. It’s your own content that doesn’t have to please anyone higher on the food chain. A single serving for yourself—not for the firm, but from the farm—that is not open to negotiation.

7. Alaskan salmon, white beans, black olive tapenade, capers, parsley and tomatoes

8. Beets, oranges, quinoa and chives with an orange muscat champagne vinaigrette

9. Lentil and brown rice salad with dill, mint, mixed olives, celery, carrots, radishes and onion on lolla rossa and baby green kale with an apple cider Dijon vinaigrette

Before you know it, tomato, corn and fig season will be here. I hope by then I'll have discovered fertile, new ground. Something that feels right and real and meaningful, full of perennial possibilities. And when that day comes, I know my salad bowl will be dressed to the nines.

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Friday, March 8, 2013

An I-Don't-Give-a-Rat's-Ass Epiphany, Part 3

Rats! Missed Part 1 or Part 2?

I stood in front of the dark cemetery with my skull and crossbones sign shouting, “You have a right to know what’s in your food! Vote Yes on Prop 37!” Thousands of people had come out to the legendary Hollywood Forever Cemetery that night to look at altars, listen to music, eat tamales and revel in the joie de vivre of Dia de los Muertos.

With only a week left before the election, I had been feeling desperate because Monsanto and the processed food companies had poured $45,000,000 into a smear campaign. So I poured $3 into the 99¢ Only Store and scored a Halloween Prop 37 ensemble—a pirate hat, a bloody apron and a large chair cover I turned into a sign by draping it over an old t-square.

As throngs of people waited to get inside the cemetery gates, I walked back and forth handing out flyers, and as if selling red-hots, chanted, “You have a right to know what’s in your food! Vote Yes on Prop 37!” There were a few other people who were also handing out Prop 37 literature, including a guy who had printed his own Halloween stickers. 

If you put a photo of Hitler on a sticker, chances are people will want one. For some inexplicable reason, an image on a self-adhering back really draws a crowd—and these devils were no exception. So the guy I met gave me a big box of stickers to take home, and back I went to the 99¢ Store to buy a cauldron to carry them in for my next night out. Did I feel guilty for buying cheap plastic crap from China? Yup, but hot on the heels of my cemetery visit, I quickly buried the shame.

After work on Halloween night, I headed over to the big RuPaul of parades—the West Hollywood Halloween Costume Carnaval—a mile-long stretch of Santa Monica Boulevard full of flamboyant revelers and sexually ambiguous creatures out on an all-night gender bender. If I was going to make a spectacle of myself, doing it in a carcass apron in the middle of a raunch-fest was as good a place as any. Even though I knew I’d be preaching to the Gay Men’s Choir, I figured out of the 500,000 people in attendance, there had to be a few who didn't know about Prop 37. So as I walked for miles with my sign and cauldron handing out stickers and flyers, I was just an ordinary freak in the crowd—who happened to be chanting, “You have a right to know what’s in your food! Vote Yes on Prop 37!”

Since a dark mob scene had proven the perfect milieu for a macabre messenger, Friday night I headed off for another Day of the Dead festival—this one in East LA. It was not the bastion of safety for a solo gringa after dark, but I wanted to spread the Prop 37 word to Latinos since GMO corn is the centerpiece of their diet. I had a loco motive to take the Metrolink train because I could hand out stickers and literature through the various stations I passed through along the way. As people came up to me, asking me questions about Prop 37, I was starting to feel kind of useful. Was I more than just a strong opinion and a big mouth or did I have some street cred? Either way, there I was, decked out in death garb, chatting with passersby in the station and strangers on a train. 

The Metrolink let me off right in front of the festival, and as I walked among the ginormous paper maché skeletons and festive altars, the heavenly waft of tacos, tamales, chile rellenos and churros tried to seduce me. Even with all that GMO corn, it smelled diabolically good. But then my inner skeleton said, “You are here to spread the word—not to eat la comida.” So I took the skeleton’s advice, and as I walked the grounds and worked the crowd, people enthusiastically took the stickers and engaged me in conversation. Some even made it a point to thank me for what I was doing. 

Meanwhile, back at the office, my contribution to our annual Halloween pumpkin carving contest was a Monsanto still life. I tightly wedged a watermelon inside a pumpkin and strategically placed purple cauliflower in it to look like it was growing. A dead lab rat was lying in front, accompanied by a cauldron of free stickers. A friend told me that while she was looking at the pumpkins, Danny, a guy we worked with, gazed at mine, rolled his eyes and said in a disparaging tone, “Gee, I wonder who did that one.”
“I don’t give a rat’s ass what Danny thinks!” I told her.  
I knew I had a bit of a "reputation," but now for the first time, what Danny thought of me was Danny’s problem.

As people celebrated Halloween at my farmers' market, there I stood in broad daylight with my sign, apron and cauldron, handing out stickers and flyers. This was the last time I would be fighting for this cause at the market where I had staked out my territory so many months before—where I had felt so mousy collecting signatures. This was last call before closing time, and I wanted one last round—one last shot to get the word out before the election. A woman came up to me and started talking about what this proposition meant for our food supply, and she passionately thanked me for what I was doing. Then she asked if I had a business card, and I gave her one. A few days later she sent me an email:
"Hi Adair, I met you Sunday at the farmers market in Mar Vista. First let me tell you how much I respect and appreciate people like you, people who fight for the right things, people who care. Thank you for being you."  
Wow. Someone thanking me for being me? I used to apologize for that. But boy, oh Danny boy, those days are over.