Archives for: October 2006
It's that time of year again. The Swiss cheeses are arriving, and my heart turns to Fondue.
When I lived in Switzerland, I learned to prepare and enjoy Cheese Fondue, and, of course, this is a recipe for B's only. I like to use the "stinkiest" Fondue cheeses, but feel free to go for the milder Emmenthal, maybe 50%. At least 50% of your cheese should be Gruyère or stronger. I generally use 1/3 strong Gruyère, 1/3 Vacherin Fribourgeois, and 1/3 Appenzell. I'm told we like our cheeses stinkier and stinkier the older we get...
Also, let's touch upon the equipment. In Switzerland, one uses the so-called caquelon, a nice deep pot that is enamelled inside and out. But any pot will do, as long as you can stick long fondue forks in it and bring it to the table. You'll also need a heat source AT the table, electric or canned, so that the Fondue will be warm and simmering "on location".
OK. Here goes:
1 French baguette
1 clove garlic, halved
1 glass dry white wine
1/4 lemon, juiced
3/4 lb. cheese to feed 4 people
1/2 Tbs. kuzu*
1 small glass Kirschwasser
sprinkle grated nutmeg
water as needed
*(kuzu replaces the more typical cornstarch, for obvious reasons)
First, cube the baguette and fill a basket with the cubes. Set it on the table. Turn on your table's heat source, if electric, so it warms up in time.
Rub the sides of the pan with the cut sides of the garlic.
Over medium heat, place the pan and pour in the wine and lemon juice. When warmed, grate your cheeses into the pot and stir as it warms/melts. Keep stirring. Add water if necessary, about 1/2 wine glass usually is enough.
When bubbling, add the small glass of Kirschwasser with the kuzu mashed/dissolved in it. Stir this around in the fondue. Add grated nutmeg. Bring the pot to your table's heat source, where you should keep it on low, with just enough heat to maintain a simmer to the very end.
Now: A bit of etiquette. Don't seat more than 5 people around one pot of Fondue (it causes "traffic jams"). Also: Be careful not to drop your bread cube into the pot. If you do so and you're male, you must buy a round of drinks. If you drop it in and you're female, you must kiss the man to your right. Figure out your strategy, ladies, when creating your seating arrangement...
The crusty stuff at the bottom is called "La Réligieuse", i.e., the Nun. It's dang-good.
When I, "La Californienne", lived in Switzerland, my friends there made fun of me for my (then) low-fat, salad-y way of eating. I was also warned that one must drink wine with Fondue (they drink Fendant there, but any dry white will do, or, if you must, a light-to-medium-bodied red is fine...) and follow it with fruit.
One day I went up into the alpine country with a (Chinese) friend, and we stopped for lunch at a very quaint chalet/inn, where we ordered the Fondue and watched the farmer stir a huge kettle of Fondue inside the fireplace (which was the size of a small garage, though not as deep!). He also oversaw the Raclette's melting. A whole HALF of a Raclette wheel, dripping down, which he'd scrape ("racler"=to scrape) over plates of pearl onions and cornichons. I digress.
I didn't listen to my friends. For some reason I didn't have wine or fruit, and when I went to sleep that night, I had a horrible dream: I was in some torture chamber where my head was being stuffed with cheese. I woke up and told my friends, which they thought was a real hoot: The California Girl couldn't take the Cheese. But I was sick the whole next day. Take my advice: Enjoy the wine!
A public service ad re: Quitting Smoking opens with this statement: "You can't quit cigarette addiction without a solid plan".
During the Christmas season of 1980, I decided that I would quit smoking when my then-current carton would be empty, i.e., that I'd never buy another.
On January 6, 1981, I was in a meeting and pulled out that Last Cigarette from its pack. As I lit it, I said to the other party, "This is my last cigarette". He replied, "No problem: There's a machine in the lobby".
"You don't get it", I corrected him, "This is the last cigarette I'll ever smoke. I'm quitting".
He: You can't know that.
I: If not I, then who?
It was. I did.
Fast Forward to Spring 1992. I told a friend I was "cutting out all caffeine for awhile". She replied, "You can't do that alone. You need a program..." I had as much idea of what she meant as I had this evening when hearing that public service ad re: Smoking. "You can't..."?
Guess what. People quit habits every day somewhere in the world; right now someone's simply making up his or her mind to quit something.
What are the naysayers selling? A "12-step" program and culture? The idea of helplessness? Lots of patches, pills, candies and chewing gums in drugstores? Remember the "dysfunctional" fad? The one pasting the epithet "In Denial" upon anyone who said "Yes I can"? It seems that foul spirit is still about.
You wanna quit? Then you will. You DON'T wanna quit? Then you won't.
Here's how I did it -- Refer to it as "a plan" if you must.
1. I'd recently changed my diet. It was only after this that I craved better health and habits and decided to quit smoking. Then:
2. I spilled a hot ash on my couch, and when rushing to retrieve it, some red wine spilled on it, too, staining the upholstery. "This is disgusting", I said, "That's it. I'm buying no more cigarettes".
3. I borrowed a dress from someone. When removing it from its hanger bag to put it on, it REEKED of smoke. "I can't wear this!" Then I wondered, "Is this what MY clothes smell like? Yecch. Am I ever glad I'm quitting."
January 6, 1981. My last cigarette. And I never looked back.
It CAN be done, and I say this as a formerly heavy smoker. You DON'T need to join a support group or follow 12 steps or chew gum or wear a patch. When these "don't work" for you, THEN what? The Program says that if these devices don't work, nothing will ("You can't"). Then, you'll give up the idea? and you'll have something to forever blame? (Those #%*@ patches!")
There's ONE crucial thing you need to do to be FREE of smoking - or anything else: MEAN IT. Be 100% resolved that you are no longer a smoker. This used to be called "Will Power". I exercised it in 1981, before drugstore shelves were smothered in Nico-Whatever products. Before OTHER corporations were sucking in the revenues previously invested in cigarettes!
A friend once sighed that her son really really wanted to be married. I intrigued her by countering, "No he doesn't".
"What do you mean?" she protested.
"He's 45 years old", I replied. "He works morning, noon and night and has no social interests or hobbies. A man who really really wants to be married doesn't act that way."
She: WOW! I never looked at it that way! You're right!
Do you want to quit smoking? If you do, if you really really do, you need neither my Blog nor a support group, nor a drug. Do what I did almost 26 years ago. Make up your mind once and for all. When you're ready, you surely will quit. If you're not ready, you surely won't. And I hope you'll transfer this confidence to every aspect of your life, because if you don't, then "I can't" becomes your motto.
* * * * * * * * * *
Recall the excuses of many for failing to repent and follow Jesus, in His earthly day. The reasons given for not immediately following Him reflected this lack of wholehearted resolve.
"Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father". (Mt. 8:21)
"Lord, I will follow Thee, but let me first go bid them farewell which are at home at my house". (Luke 9:31)
Others chose to put off responding to the gospel to some later time:
"We will hear thee again of this matter". (Acts 17:32)
"Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee". (Acts 24:25)
Here's what Jesus DIDN'T say: "You poor dears. Join a support group about it". (There's nothing of that spirit in Christianity.)
Here's what Jesus DID say: "No one, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the Kingdom of God". (Luke 9:62).
And: "So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of My mouth". (Rev. 3:16) (Wasn't HE a tough customer!)
You might be choosing to hem and haw over the decision to quit smoking. In honesty, you might even end up firmly resolving to continue to smoke! In the end, be sure of this: You'll do What You Really Really Want to do.
"He doth truly bewail the sins he hath committed, who resists the sins he hath bewailed". - GS Bowes
My friend Molly - AB - is probably 10 years older than I, and the other day she was explaining that the 20 lbs. she'd lost on Weight Watchers had "come back". She's headed to Florida soon for a family reunion where, she says, she expects to gain yet a bit more weight. She said something that struck me, echoing a thought I'd entertained before: "This is me. This is how I look. I'm no glutton, but I'm certainly not trying to look younger or like an athlete or actress".
People (women, in particular) often gain weight over the course of our adult lives, according to a genetic pattern. Life insurance company guidelines in fact allow for a certain amount of such weight gain, indicating a fairly broad range of accepted weights. Throughout history, people in their 50's and 60's were not (unlike us) working out in gyms or INCREASING their physical output, let alone appearing less and less aged.
Some sobriety is called for when we look at ourselves, and others, in midlife. We are a generation saturated and besotted with TV and movie images; we have artificial "ideals" and role models. Molly's physique is not her livelihood, so, unlike her peers in the public eye, she can be 100% honest-Molly-in-the-flesh and not lose her job, say. While the morbidly obese can be in grave medical danger, those of us grown-ups who are simply somewhat overweight, or just heavier than we were 20 years ago,may be extraordinarily well-occupied otherwise.
My readership is well aware of this pet peeve of mine, here on a health/diet-oriented website; I am convinced that good physical health is but one possible ingredient in a Life-Well-Lived. I've known people suffering from poor -even tragic- health who've been kind, generous, brilliant, courageous, and plenty of other things that, to my mind, make them memorable and important individuals, without whom the world would have been much poorer. And I know plenty of self-absorbed, uninspiring people who keep themselves utterly buff, not to mention "lifted", as if living to be featured on some vapid TV-makeover show. I usually don't remember their names... I'm actually of the opinion that later eras will look back on these obsessions, including that of celebrity/fame for mere TV sitcom actors, to find us seriously askew.
Me? I'm currently on the heavy side, but that's FAR from my most immediate or pressing concern. Yes, I could stand to lose 20 lbs, as can Molly. Nevertheless I'm spending myself in numerous other and important ways. (Often I work with a new mom who's a "fashionplate" and is yearning to "get her figure back" early in the postpartum, so she can look like she DIDN'T just have a baby?)
Genes? My grandmothers were both vital, active, attractive women with "great figures" in youth, more "full-figured" in midlife and later. I'm really glad they weren't weight-obsessed, as were the moms of some of my childhood friends, with calorie charts taped (pre-magnets) to the refrigerator. Indeed, some of my loveliest memories of both women include their excellent, and generous, cooking. They also had That Feeling of worth and peace, sourced in considerations other than slenderness, or even wellness! Both women lived into their mid-eighties.
I once had lunch with a lady who appeared to be only slightly my senior, when I was, oh, 40 or so. She confessed to being 62 and having had alot of --excellent-- plastic surgery. But she admitted she was unable to stop; she was single and had met men who'd guess (as did I) she was much younger, and so, in order to keep up the charade in light of her relationships'...progress... she'd run to the OR for tummy, thigh, and breast work. She looked vital --even fantastic--(clothed), but she sounded haggard, demoralized. Surgery is still surgery, and harder to recuperate from later in life; and living a lie was leading her to despair.
I think good health is important, insofar as it enables one to continue in good works. But, even there, it's not essential. Many of the world's greatest contributors didn't live very long. In fact, as longevity increases from century to century, we're not necessarily becoming better, finer human beings with a LESS socially troubled society.
For many, midlife is when we face mortality: Our friends have heart attacks and bypasses, cancer, diabetes and other increasingly-prevalent-with-age conditions, from varicose veins to cataracts. If we haven't learned What Matters by age 50 or so, if we're obsessed with Perfect Health just to achieve a greater number of years' longevity, then we're but hoarders of a commodity mislabeled "Life", frustrated "Ponce de Leon"s, mirage-chasers.
Do you want That Feeling? (Perfect health doesn't provide it! Nor does beauty.) Molly's looking forward to it when she sees her beloved family in Florida, over a number of meals, surely. She's being realistic: She could gain some weight there, weight she'll try, to some extent, to lose later. But Molly cuts herself slack, because (did I mention?) she's kicked cancer and alcohol; she "shouldn't" even be alive! And she's quite a dame, the kind no diet can deliver.
Remember to have priorities that transcend Health, which is just one means to a greater end, one tool in your God-given belt. If, in spite of all of your efforts and knowledge, you should lose your health, live in such a way that all is not lost, that you are not deemed a failure, especially of the moral kind; in such a way that, fit or not, your departure will be mourned by those you've served and known. If in your life you invest too heavily in cheating Death and Decay, your INEVITABLE defeat will appear all the more ironic or even pathetic. Having done your best at the grocery store, go and live your life.
Occasionally, through no fault of my own, I've eaten tomato products that were served to me outside my home. I remember one case, in which there was a light smear of ketchup already on my hamburger. Another involved a "Spinach Pesto Lasagna", chosen over the regular Tomato Meat Lasagna, that turned out to be a tomato-sauced meat-free lasagna with a spinach-pesto-marked "X" on its surface, squeezed from a pastry tube!
One does not expect to be handed a pre-sauced hamburger, or for Pesto Lasagna to be a marinara-sauced affair. I could have rejected either dish and demanded a tomato-free meal in its place, but I ate both. On these occasions, I'd say I took in about 1/2 teaspoon of ketchup and a tablespoon-and-a-half of marinara sauce, respectively. And I'm the wiser, should I ever again find myself in similar situations, to be alert to such possibilities. Simple, right?
Though I'm not alone in my liberality, I sense there are hypercompliant types who'd easily send back the burger or the lasagna, demanding the tomato-free expectation be met. These folks are willing to wait another 15 minutes or more for the replacement to be prepared and served them, as if that teaspoon or tablespoon might derail the trajectory of their health's improvement. It is this notion of the trajectory, I believe, that we find at the crux of the Compliance issue: Does a small bump in the road upset the whole journey?
It's a spiritual matter, actually. For some, it's as if permitting the teaspoon of ketchup to enter one's mouth were to be as concertedly avoided as some grievous sin that would seriously compromise one's entire life of faith! (And one would hope that their vigilance re: "Avoids" would indeed carry over to their moral life; likewise resilience in the face of failure.) It does have an almost "superstitious" quality, like the tennis player who is convinced he lost the match because, back in the 5th game of the first set, his second serve wasn't preceded by four bounces.
Did the ketchup distract and derail my general compliance? Not at all. A mere blip on the screen. Did it lead me to crave ketchup on all future burgers? No.
Sometimes perspective is called for. Laughter is good, too.
I am a serious book collector, and San Francisco used to be a serious town for the likes of me. I buy 'em used, sometimes by the carton-load, and upon occasion I resell to selected fair buyers.
Independent booksellers have taken a beating, first by the big national chains, and then by the Internet. Recently Powell's, the huge ("square block of a million books") used book store in Portland, Oregon, has been sending its agents down to San Francisco to offer PUNY lump sums for the entire inventories of targeted local used book sellers, to induce them to drop out of the increasingly difficult market, and thus increase Powell's share.
The San Francisco Chronicle article breaking the story behind two recent local shop closings, involving incentives offered by Powell's of Portland, was waved in my face by Tracy, the petite owner of Lifetime Books, a used book shop in town. She knew that I, of all people, would want/need to know.
The story broke this summer, just after one SF shop closed without warning, another announced its imminent closing, and yet another was winding down toward closing. I plopped down in the big naugahyde armchair by Tracy's bookpile-covered front counter, so that she and I could hash this out, after picking up dinner for us both, next door. I knew it'd be a long discussion, and that Tracy would be indignant and very vocal.
Tracy explained/ranted that she would NEVER sell out to Powell's. She was disgusted that her colleagues were doing so, rather than soliciting offers from herself and other struggling locals in the business. So committed, in fact, was Tracy to the Cause of Independent (local) Bookselling that she'd recently started up a second (unrelated) business, just so that she wouldn't be starved-out as a book retailer! This was, indeed, her consuming interest.
Tracy (O, age 50) was a tiny spitfire (5 feet tall, without the Harley helmet or spike heels), and her counter was a neighborhood hub. She knew titles, authors, editions, everything a bookseller needs to know, yet she was no intellectual: She was, rather, a very diligent hound, scouring the papers and Web for news of library sales, garage sales, etc. She'd regularly comb thrift shops and sniff through all sorts of charity bins. And then, at her counter while hobnobbing with her usual customers and friends, she'd mylar-cover the dust jacket of each hardcover she'd acquired.
I knew Tracy's buying preferences pretty well. Any bag of my outgoing tomes that I knew she'd want, she'd in fact want. She'd issue Store Credit in return (which I'd immediately use!). Kind of a symbiotic thing.
* * * * * * * *
A few weeks ago, I brought a bag of surefire titles to her store, but an employee was behind the counter, saying Tracy hadnt come in: She didn't feel well (was having a headache and a "pinched nerve in her neck"), so there'd be no purchases that day. I had a heavy load, so I left and sold the books immediately elsewhere.
A couple of days later, I passed by to say hello, but Tracy was still out sick. "What's wrong?" I asked, seeing that same (previously very part-time) employee. I was told she was still in pain, so she'd decided to ... go for a chiropractic adjustment.
"But what's the DIAGNOSIS?" I asked. "This isn't like Tracy, to be down for days on end. Has she seen a doctor?" "No", he replied, "And I know what you mean...But then, she says she THINKS the chiropractor MIGHT actually have helped".
"'THINKS'? 'MIGHT'? And helped WHAT?" I argued. "She doesn't even know what's wrong! She has a severe headache for DAYS? it came on SUDDENLY?" I was disgusted. I would have given her a piece of my mind -- I bought a book and left.
Four days later, I was passing Tracy's store and thought I'd go in and get the lowdown from Tracy herself. But there was that employee again (I've since become friendly with him)! "Still??!" I asked.
"Tracy died", he said softly. And then, "And this is her brother, in from Colorado...It WAS more than a pinched nerve...". The brother sat glassy-eyed in the big naugahyde chair. "I just cremated my sister", he said, gazing from some distant mental tundra. Long silence.
"Did she pop an aneurysm?" I asked. The two men looked at me, astonished. "How'd you know?" asked the brother, suddenly alert.
"Because of her sex and age, because of the abruptness of onset, the symptom of headache, but most of all, frankly, because of the outcome".
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Just a week previously, Tracy and I had discussed what the imminent (9/30/06) closing of a landmark bookstore a block away would mean for her own business. She was hoping to adopt some of those customers as her own. "We'll see", she said, ever the optimist. "I'm ready for 'em".
And she was. Her eye for titles had gotten better and better, with every year --- PLUS: She was on the upswing, having just started the 2nd business and moved to a new apartment, which she'd wanted me to help her decorate... But - DANG! - I could really read her the riot act here: She went to her CHIROPRACTOR, with a sudden, excruciating headache and neuro-deficit symptoms, thinking "pinched nerve", and "I need 'an adjustment'". She even told her boyfriend, after she'd come-to from a repeated faint: "Don't you DARE call 9-1-1!"
Look, folks, I can be as holistic as the next guy - sorta - but Tracy urgently needed medical attention: Specifically, an angiogram or MRI. She'd even had a few days' window to obtain it immediately: This isn't England or Canada, where such testing only comes after weeks or months on some waiting list; any San Francisco Emergency Room would have worked her up for Intracranial Hemorrhage. (As it turns out, that's what happened, when it was too late: Tracy was indeed admitted to the hospital, where she promptly lapsed into a coma, convulsed, and died.)
I'm continually amazed by people who choose Chiropractic over emergency medicine, especially for sudden-onset headache. And I'm positively vitriolic toward practitioners who DON'T say, "Y'know what? See a medical doctor first: Your life might depend on it".
My friend Shelley, also 50, also type O, had collapsed at her own store in 1999, and was taken by ambulance to the hospital, where her cerebral aneurysm was surgically repaired; she survived: Gradual but complete recovery, returned to work, etc.
But Tracy will not return to work, at this crucial time for her Pet Obsession. Tracy will not be a part of what becomes of her Cause or her store. (Powell's of Portland? "Over my dead body!" Tracy would have quipped, winking, and stomping in her inimitable clipped and bug-eyed way [Thyroid]. And then she'd give off a big burst of a laugh.)
* * * * * * * *
1. Go out today and support your local independent (used) bookseller. Browse those stacks, and make it a habit. Do it for Tracy! Take up the Cause!
2. Don't categorically write off Allopathic Medicine. As you can see, the stakes are just too high. Be definitively diagnosed; THEN make educated choices. Remember Tracy, who, a couple of weeks ago, had a new business, a new apartment, and more spunk and spark than any 5 women half her age. She was dying, and she went to the Chiropractor.
3. If you're a Chiropractor, remember Tracy. It's okay to suspect the worst and do the prudent thing. Otherwise, someone could lose a sister, a wife, a daughter...or a friend.