My imperfect foods

close up of a tray of roasted veggies in oranges and reds and beiges

Still lumping along here. I tried an internet-person thing and here is my story about it. You may have seen internet ads for places that will mail food to you. Instagram is FULL of them and while my food situation is fine and stable–supermarket is uninteresting but generally safe, farm stand is a little spendy but has great produce and nice people–I do miss the serendipity of going new places and finding/trying new things. So I got one of those ugly-box type things. I had a coupon. There was a trial offer. I figured I didn’t have much to lose.

I selected from a list of meats and fruits/vegetables and waited for my delivery date. That date came and went. I called Fedex. The company has their own drivers in high-population areas, the rest of us get Fedex. The lady on the phone told me that my package (which was a day late, and had left the warehouse two days earlier) was “spoiled.” The nice internet company made the appropriate “Oh we’re so sorry!” noises and refunded my order and gave me a $10 credit. I still had a coupon.

I tried again two weeks later, no meat this time. The package was a day late, but it arrived! And it was in kind of mixed condition. The inside of the box, which had contained an ice pack, was moist and a little warm. This was not a problem for most of what I got (root veggies, celery, corn, avocados, garlic) but my apples looked a little ragged and they may have been a little bit frozen originally. The red peppers looked tired. And, granted, these foods were supposed to be imperfect, but they were mostly supposed to be blemished and weird-sized, not inedible. So I dropped the company a note, said things were mostly okay but that my order had been late again and some of the food was damaged. They were apologetic, and refunded my entire order. I still had a coupon. I made some nice roasted veggies which were delicious and I ate three entirely perfect avocados. I do not think I have had three perfect avocados in a row in my LIFE.

Another two weeks later, I decided to try again. Another order, less dentable food, still no meat. Let’s see what happens. This time I got an email from the company that said due to “recent events” (huh? which ones?) my order was late because of staffing in the food-packing part of the whole business. I got another email that same week saying that they’d be raising their delivery charge 33% and their minimum order amount “in my area” 50%. I got a tracking number from them that said my package hadn’t left their warehouse, right up until the time the box showed up at my house a day late. It was tipped against the side of my house with all the fruits and veggies in a little pile on one side. This time I’d gotten a few canned items, just to try that option out, and the cans had destroyed two of my apples. I sent a note explaining this and saying this was a nice experiment but I’d be cancelling my account. They refunded my order for a third time (I suspect they may not have a way to do partial refunds). I still have a coupon, if I ever decide to go back. I also have some big boxes and packing material that need to go to the transfer station, as well as a few gel freezer packs that are not entirely recycleable; the company suggests emptying the gel into the trash (?) and recycling the bag. Bleh.

So, hey, stuff happens. Clearly they aren’t really ready to serve my area. And, if I am being honest, I have a lot of good, if somewhat predictable, food options here, ones that are lower on the food chain and I can get into my house without accompanying gel packs or tons of extra packing material. I got to try out a weird service basically for free. And I do still think about those three perfect avocados.

one perfect avocado, cut in half

A month of food

A dutch baby (kind of like a pancake) on a nice plate with a knife and fork

So except for a single slice of pizza, I haven’t eaten anything I didn’t make at home for a month. I’m a decent cook and have a decent pantry. But more to the point, I have a huge tolerance for eating the same thing over and over again. This means batch cooking, even for one, mostly works. But even my usual go-tos got kind of boring, so I’ve been branching out into occasional internet recipes. Here’s some of what I made, though you’ll notice this is as much about getting food as eating it.

  • Healthy Banana Bread – for whatever reason many of the recipes I wind up with are on these super-healthy food blogs where everything else is some kind of kale paste or date smoothie. This bread was good, and improved with some extra coconut. We’ve been able to get flour pretty easily at the local farm stand and I had some gross bananas that needed to give up their space in the freezer.
  • Vegetarian Matzo Ball Soup – the matzoh ball part of this was too foofy (made the recipe off the box) but I wound up with extra eggs (thanks to a lady from facebook who was delivering them) so figured I’d try to make the soup as well. I have saffron, this wound up good.
  • Golden Milk Chia Seed Pudding – sometimes you just want to use some foods up. I have had chia seeds sitting around since forever and I don’t even remember why I got them. This was… okay. I like turmeric as a flavor but it just didn’t turn into anything I’d eat again. Thumbs up texture though.
  • Overnight Oats – there are a million recipes for this and I was fine going off on my own, just wanted to make sure I had the right ratio. I have a large box of of internet-purchased self-stable soy milk that this was good for.
  • Dutch baby (pictured) – these are a great breakfast go-to because you can build them easily into sweet or savory. This one is a turkey sausage and parmesan baby.
  • Sweet Potato, Red Lentil, and Peanut Stew – This was the surprise favorite. A really neat combination of flavors and it’s good over rice or quinoa or basically anything.
  • Cheesey cornbread – this was just mix the box of stuff with some extra cheese. But it’s funny because I ordered the cornbread in the mail. It got delivered to Ronni by mistake. She thought it was for her (somehow) and I had to wrest it from her.
  • Never fail scalloped potatoes – I had won a mandoline at trivia and never tried it. Then I bought five pounds of potatoes from a local farmer (well I bought 25 but gave 20 to the food bank) and needed a PLAN. These were simple and tasted great and froze easily.
  • Late addition: I made this recipe three times, not sure how I forgot it: Chewy Molasses Cookies

We’ve been really lucky in Orange County, COVID hasn’t been overwhelming, and people are great at staying the fuck home. The supermarket, farm stands, farmers and people-with-chickens have created a nice food ecosystem, and we have enough people with enough to be able to help out the people who don’t have enough. Early on I bought some stuff online (soy milk, cornbread, almonds, apricots, too many fritos) and my last cheese delivery came at the beginning of March. So while I really really miss cheeseburgers with friends and porch beers with friends and thai food with friends and the Wayside with Jim, it’s not the food that I’ve been missing. And the food helps me not miss the other stuff quite as much.


snack bar

It’s a continual challenge trying to find things to eat that are delicious and also fit in with the current fitness regime. I’m back to taking long walks on the beach (thank you ankle! thank you Rachel who helped fix my ankle!) while I’m down in Westport for the week so I can also make bigger meals and eat more desserts. Last week in Vermont I felt like I ate, happily, nothing but squash. Every day I’d go to the farmstand and get a new type of squash and then find ways to cook it. This week I am having some people for dinner and even though they are incredibly friendly and polite I thought I could do better than “Here, I roasted this single vegetable for you!”

So, I’m putting together something with stuffed acorn squash and some butternut curry soup. While I’m planning these recipies I’m eating nothing but rice and green beans. I’m never great with desserts. I think my friends are bringing pie. I noticed that I have some marshmallows left over from a summer where I didn’t do many cookouts, so I tried to see if that old “put the marshmallow in the microwave” thing still works and it does! So, I put a melty marshmallow between two of those ginger thins that you can get at Ocean State Job Lots and am making a ton of those little sandwiches to stick in the fridge. Stupid tasty and only about 75 calories.

Another side project while I’m down here is going through the boxes of stuff that I got back, finally, from Seattle. There are a lot of books in there, many of which I liked and still look forward to reading or at least admiring on a shelf somewhere (note to self: get more shelving) but there are two types of books, maybe three, that I feel like I just don’t need anymore: cookbooks and medical type books. I took my favorite cookbooks with my when I left Seattle and the random ones I still have (a Cuisinart cookbook? a guide to soups?) have been supplanted by the easy keyword searching and ease of use of sites like this one. This is especially true when many sites online have calorie counts and/or have huge databases where you can search by what you have in your house. Health books are quickly outdated and, again, I am good at the searching online. I think for a lot of people it’s important to have something authoritative and they’re not sure if they know how to do that sort of thing online. I don’t feel that way, I know the truth about the tree octopus.

Between these books and a few different sorts of dictionaries (rhyming, crossword, Romanian/English) I have a small little pile of books that won’t make it home with me. This house has its share of useful and useless books so it may be part of a larger weeding plan. It’s good to have winter projects. I’m just happy to have one that isn’t all “Leg exercises.” and “Eat more salad.”

420 tacos and other food math

420 tacos

Hey it’s raining! I’m at my dad’s place which is sort of mine and my sister’s place (the last part of estate settling is figuring out the mortgage takeover part) solving little problems like “Where did all these mosquitoes come from?” and “Has this heater always made this funny noise?” It’s been a decent time. It’s school vacation this week in Randolph so I figured I’d come down and do the Fortress of Solitude routine which suits me pretty well. Since the last trip I made one more short trip to Indiana [like 37 hours short] which went pretty well and was fun and had me driving another one of those cute little Fiat 500s. It’s been a while since I’ve had a car that got 35MPG, I sort of miss it.

But the last few weeks have been “not much to report” for a whole ‘nother reason. It’s been nice to be home in Randolph, but with spring coming and the one year anniversary of my dad’s death has come the “Okay now, we gave you a lot of slack and now you need to start picking it up” pep talk to myself in the mirror. I tried to be kind to myself and not be really rigid in terms of things like making sure I went to the gym and making sure I was always eating healthy. So I put on some weight, not much but enough that I wasn’t totally happy about it. Now I’m getting back to more-like-normal and this is on the “to be resolved” list. And just wishing for it to happen and thinking “I am eating less. I am exercising more. Aren’t I?” wasn’t doing it.

So, since I am nerdy and I like math and numbers and charts and routines, I signed up with MyFitnessPal (terrible name, great site) and I just count what I eat, write down my exercise, stick to a limit, make sure I’m getting enough nutrition, and basically set it and forget it. And I’ve never really done this before. I guess you could call it a diet, but I think of it more as big math equation where I’m restricting some of the variables. And since I’m a person who really likes food a lot, this has meant that I’ve had to get creative with cooking and/or allotting a lot of time in the day for some sort of exercise. Or both. I like to cook and have a decent amount of free time to do this, so it’s going well. And I finally suddenly understood all those photos of food I see all over the internet. At least for me. In the past I’ve felt that the food photos thing was more “Hey check me out, I’m eating and taking care of myself.” (as opposed to “Look at this awesome thing” which I am often confused by in that “Who cares about your breakfast?” way) but now I’ve gotten to where I am looking at something I’ve made and saying to myself “Can you believe these are only 420 calories?”

So all this cooking and walking and biking and eating and calculating is interesting to me but not that interesting to outsiders (though if you care, here is what I’ve been eating) and it’s been taking up a lot of my discretionary time.

Two other things worth noting along the same lines.

1. I am participating in an eight mile, eight a.m. fundraising walk for the Randolph Area Food Shelf. If you’d like to sponsor me (and I’d appreciate it if you can spare it but I understand that everyone has their own priorities) wander over and click the “donate” link and just toss my name in the comment box.
2. The other thing that I’ve been up to is practicing ukulele. It’s going well. I am decent at it but I’m having a hard time learning to strum properly. However last week was Kelly’s birthday and we couldn’t make time to get together so I made her this video. She likes John Denver.

Next month has me heading to Montreal and Maine and New York, I think. A lot of travel but no airplanes. June is Massachusetts and North Carolina and New Hampshire then I’ve got nothing for work travel until October. We’ll see if that lasts. I suspect it won’t.

om. nom. nom.

hot donut action

As most of you know, I’m not much of a foodie. I eat to stay alive most of the time, and to have enough energy to do the other things I like to do in life, most of which are not really cooking or eating food. I mean, I really like food but I don’t dedicate a lot of mental energy or time to it. If there were a food pill, I’d take it four days out of seven. When I’m home and not travelling I’m likely to eat exactly the same thing every day for a week and then change it up for the next week. I’m aware this may be a form of OCD. This has always been true, since before my weight loss kick (essentially successful, I weigh 130-ish pretty much steadily now) but it makes things simple now.

That said (I’m a huge fan of the phrase “that said” it’s like saying “but ignore that part”) I enjoyed eating my way through Montreal this weekend. I went up to give a talk at Library Camp and then stayed with some friends the rest of the weekend. Travels were just a bus up and a bus down — though I missed a quickie bomb scare that was right near me — which worked flawlessly. I tried to eat a different sort of meal every time I ate out. This is what I wound up with. Each bullet point is an approximate meal or snack.

  • misc freegan food found on the way up: cookie, banana
  • gyro/pita/fries
  • free hot chocolate from hotel vending machine
  • fruits & cookies & coffee at camp
  • beer, blonde beer
  • chicken stuffed with spinach & veal & steak frites
  • bagels & cream cheese from this place (or another nearby bagelry)
  • ham and cheese crepe
  • indian food that could not be beat
  • the donut featured above along with some poached fruit compote over brioche with fluffy sweet yogurt
  • spiced nuts and a lime soda
  • obligatory coming home cheeseburger

I arrived home to find that the pool was closed and would be closed all week and I am a little fidgety wanting to get a little exercise. However, I’m also home to my slightly empty fridge, my meager local restaurant choices and my big jar of cereal so I think I’ll be just fine.

another thousand dollar dinner

Guestroom, New Haven CT

I have been lucky enough to have eaten some really nice meals lately. I guess luck may not be the right word for it because I’m usually just as happy to eat hummus and pita. I don’t know if it’s my palate or just that I’m happier when people aren’t serving me food, but some of it is in the take it or leave it realm. I like but do not love fancy dinners and in these troubled times I have an awful lot of guilt spending [someone else’s] money on [what I think is] overpriced food. I got Mexican corn on a stick as a side dish — you know the stuff they sell on the street, slathered in butter and white cheese — at a restaurant called Bespoke and it cost six dollars. None of this is to begrudge the people who took me out to meals where I had great times talking to people, just sort of mulling over my general discomfort with fancy spendy things.

I was at Yale speaking this weekend, in case you’re wondering who in jehu’s name was taking me out for some fancy victualizing. I was on a panel talking about the ethics of Library 2.0 which was an interesting topic and got a lot of responses. We each had about ten minutes to speak so I prepared five slides and some loose notes. Other people, more academic types, had whole big powerpoint decks, excerpts from their books and whatnot. I enjoyed listening to them and talking to them at dinner, but felt my typical disconnect. I have a hard time figuring out whether this is just me feeling weird at some sort of brain-level, or if I really was the odd person out at this high level academicky thing. I ask people and they say I’m fine so that’s really all I can do.

I came back to snow that was mostly melted and a note from my bank saying that I could pick up the two mason jars that I’d dropped off a week ago. There was $167 worth of nickels, dimes, quarters and pennies, more than I’d thought. That and thirty bucks would have paid for the hotel room you see above. My big eternal question is how to redistribute some of this money so that rural technology funding becomes as much of a genuine option as conference hotel rooms and thousand dollar dinners as far as our priorities go. My concern — and I always have one or two — is that I may need to leave my rural wonderland in order to figure that out. My second concern is that once I find the place where I feel totally and completely comfortable, it will be the end to my agitation for better things for other people. Hard to say. I sleep well at night and that seems to be sufficient to smooth out the day’s ruffled feathers.