Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Littlest Epicure

It's strange how your thoughts can wander when you're making a sandwich. Well, my thoughts, anyway. The sandwich was straightforward and one of my favorites:hummus and avocado. Plain 'ole avocado, no guacamole, although gauc' is good too. For interest I applied a few grape tomatoes and oil-cured olives. Sometimes I'll do cheese instead, like hummus, avocado and brie with tomato. All on a nice, rough textured oat bread from the bakery in town. Ymmm.

Anyhoo, as I was planning on sharing the sandwich with the wee one, I started thinking about nursing. Actually, it stemmed from an incident at work earlier this week about nursing, but more on that some other time. There's a great benefit of breastfeeding, especially extended breastfeeding, that no one talks about: developing baby's palate. There's a reason why Indian babies develope a taste for spicy chili dishes and Japanese babies love fish and Jamaican babies love meat pies and jerk chicken. It's because by the time they are ready to eat "adult" food, they have already tasted it through their mother's milk. Big deal, you might say, so my kid will never appreciate baba ghanoush. So what? But it's more than just enjoying the taste of things. Think about it, by 1970, the breastfeeding rate in the US was in the low teens. Every baby drank formula that tasted pretty much the same all the time no matter who the manufacturer is. Now think about what American adults eat. McDonald's. Outback. Bennigan's. God-help-me, Taco Bell. In a word, crap. Food that tastes exactly the same whether you eat it in Bangor, Maine or San Diego, California. Food that is loaded with fat, salt and high fructose corn syrup. Food, that despite what the commercials tell you, comes from a can or a freezer.

I'd like to see a study that shows the effects of breastfeeding in obesity. Oh, wait, here's one: from the CDC no less, I thank you. I'll bet you my last drop of breastmilk it's because breastfed babies develope a taste for better, wholesome food than bottle-fed babies. And breast fed infants are less likely to develop asthma, diabetes and heart disease later in life. The original super food.

I was breastfed for six weeks, pretty good for 1968. And my mom used cloth diapers, but that's another post. We ate a LOT of processed food. Cheese Wizz in a can, spaghetti-O's, instant mashed potatoes, Hydrox cookies, Tang, Hi-C, Rice-A-Roni. And God knows we never ate a vegetable that didn't come out of a can. My mother, God bless her, worked four nights a week, so we ate a lot of warmed up leftovers. No nibble of food was too small for my mom to wrap up in tinfoil. Wasting food is a sin, ya know. In the time before microwaves, she'd save little bits of whatever in tins that she saved from, I don't know, food that came in tins-chicken pot pie, for example. At least once a week, Dad would place a dozen or so tins of various leftover stuff on a cookie tray and heat it up in the oven. I think it reminded him of C-rations. All of that may explain why I tend to keep leftovers in the fridge until they are absolutely, without a doubt, beyond consuming. "Is this still good?" "I don't know, but wait a week and we'll know for sure."

None of this explains my love of good food today, though. I have my Italian grandmother to thank. We ate over their just about every Sunday and holiday. I was so amazed by real butter as a child I ate it by the pat-full. And sauce that didn't come in a can. So my childhood wasn't totally devoid of flavor; it had garlic and oregano, onions and fresh grown basil from my grandfather's garden. On very special occasions I was even allowed to drink a little watered down wine.

When Pooter was starting on solids she was crazy for pureed fruit and veggies for, like, 3 weeks. Then, suddenly, she didn't seem interested. One night my husband made a kickin' penne with vodka sauce. The baby crawled over and stuck her entire face in the bowl. Is it in the genes or the breastmilk? She's not saying, she's too busy eating.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

What Happened to Walking?

The first real snow storm of the winter happened this week while I was at work. Looking down onto Route 27, I could see traffic already at a standstill. Now, normally my husband will pick me up but this evening I called him and told him I’d walk home. This decision caused shock and dismay among my co-workers. “You’re going to walk? In the snow? At night?” You think I had said I was going by way of a tightrope across the Raritan. My logic was simple: traffic is at a standstill and it’ll be quicker to walk. And it was-it took me 30 minutes to walk the 2 miles, a trip that took my husband over an hour to do earlier in the day.

I will and I have walked in all kinds of weather. I’ve walked across open prairie in the heat of summer and I’ve walked in pouring rain. About the only weather I despise walking in is a high wind, because there’s just no escaping it. Possibly a sandstorm would be worse. If I’m ever caught out in the desert, I’ll let you know.

No one walks anymore, at least not in the middle class. I’m sure that many of those horrified by the thought of my walking home pay good money for a gym membership. I’m further sure that when they get to the gym they vie for the closest parking spot. You know where I’m going with this. I’ve seen people drive to a strip mall, go in and out of a store and then get back in their car and drive a few feet down to the next store. How many people do you know whose only walking is from the house to the car to work to the car back to the house? There are places in NJ where it is not only inconvenient but dangerous to walk from one store to the next because there are no sidewalks or intersections to cross at.

I could get into all the environmental reasons for using people power instead of fossil fuels. Then there are the health benefits and the savings of having one car, one insurance policy, one gas bill. But really, is there any better reason than just getting off your butt and feeling alive. I used to arrive at work snarling over who cut me off and how long I had sat in traffic. Now, I arrive feeling full of energy and ready to start the day.

Funny thing is, most days I ride the bike to work. Now, if walking two miles is nice, biking two miles is a piece of cake, even with the hills. This truly amazes people. They’re not sure if I’m crazy or just lost my license. The truth is that it’s convenient. Driving from my house to New Brunswick takes 5-10 minutes depending on traffic and lights. Then I have to park about a mile from work in a parking deck and take a shuttle. Waiting for the shuttle to fill up takes another 10 minutes and then it’s a 10 minute drive to the hospital. 30 minutes to go two miles. Biking: 8 minutes, 13 if I stop at Starbuck’s. On a bike I bought at a yard sale for five bucks. When I hit that downhill and fly over the Albany St. Bridge for a few minutes I feel like I’m 10 again and that is good enough reason for me.