Ancient Chinese Seeclet…I Just Don’t Get It

There is a very mature adult, deep inside my head, who insists on keeping my mouth out of trouble.  Some might consider it my Conscience, some might consider it the Voice of God, but I just see it just as a very little person.  Sometimes this little person has a big voice and sometimes a gentle whisper is all I need to close my mouth and smile.  Today, my little inner person screamed herself hoarse, stopping me from outright ridiculing a nice friend of mine.  Unfortunately, now that the little person has laryngitis, there’s a party going on in my head, and my mouth wants to dance on the speakers.  What I am about to write will surely offend many, but I just cannot help myself.

 

I was enjoying coffee with a visiting friend, this morning (we shall call her Betty), when her carpool partner joined us.  He is also a friend, and a co-worker of my husband.  Very nice man, about as whitebread as I can imagine a Canadian, with Scandinavian roots.  These roots are so strong, he named one of his sons Eric the Red (okay, it isn’t Eric the Red in real life, but a name so close, he might as well have named him Viking Boy).  I shall call this Scanadian Man Bob, to protect the innocent.  We all started discussing their visit to Jasper; my husband had rolled out the red carpet for them, catering all their meetings and hosting feasts at night.  Our Food and Beverage Team went above and beyond, creating drool-worthy meals.  Bob and Betty recalled the yummy food with closed eyes and dreamy voices.  But then, Bob said, “It was all so heavenly, but with my food sensitivities, you know, I really paid for it last night and today.”  I raised my eyebrows in concern and asked, “Food sensitivities?” And he said, “OH, nono, nothing like Celiac or allergies.  But you know mixing the hot foods and the cold foods, and you know, the hot kinds of foods just set me off, and I couldn’t sleep…”

 

This whole time, my eyebrows are still raised, and my jaw is slowly dropping open, as I realize that this tall white Canadian man is describing ancient Chinese food personalities.  I discretely brought my hand up to my chin to shut it quietly, as Bob proceeded to launch into his special relationship with his food.  He was very quick to point out that Chef had created such amazing delicacies, that he couldn’t resist eating it all.  But the discomfort he described afterwards, made it sound like there was a battle of the food divas in his tummy.  Eventually, we changed the subject, and started talking about little Eric the Red, and my daughter the Assassin – they are growing nicely and are poised to take over the world.

 

Long after Betty and Bob headed home, I puzzled over Bob’s latest diet trend. I pondered over this obsession people have with creating meaning from the unknown and manipulating things they just don’t understand.  Dying of the Black Plague and the monarchy has left you starving?  God will save you and punish the rich; you just have to pray pray pray, and give all your money to those less fortunate than yourself.  Don’t want to catch a cold?  Make sure you wear your cozy slippers so you don’t catch cold through the soles of your feet. Oh, and God Forbid you go outside with wet hair – you will catch pneumonia!  Well, if you do, we’ll just throw some leeches on you – the bloodletting will balance your humors…  

 

Granted, Asians are an old enough race that there are some tried and true remedies that even science has accepted.  But if I mention powdered bear gall bladders as a remedy for male impotence, all of you should roll your eyeballs along with me.  Some things are completely ridiculous.  

 

Asians aren’t the only ones with a corner on the Crazy Market.  My husband’s family is quite earthy-crunchy when it comes to medicines.  Rather than head to the doctor when coughing up green phlegm, they will try 42 different herbs and potions, all distilled into small vials of alcohol.  My sister-in-law came to visit us when we lived in California, and I wondered why her giant purse clinked when she moved.  It turns out she took a minimum of 6 different potions every hour – several drops of each.  And she said she was very nervous being in America so she also guzzled Burt’s Rescue Remedy too.  I mentally calculated the amount of alcohol in all her potions by the end of the day, and realized that it all seemed to work for her because it was the equivalent of several stiff drinks.  Well, DUH, I could have given you that prescription.  And years ago, I knew a man who went through a very painful cleanse just because his meditating yogi wife told him he would lose 30 lbs in intestinal blockage alone.  After a week of lemon juice and hot pepper water, I’m thinking he was not a fan of hot foods.  

 

So let’s get back to this hot foods cold foods thing (or the Yin and the Yang foods, as some put it).  According to Wikipedia (my main source for Asian information, as my Chinese mother is currently rolling over in her grave, filled with shame for her half-breed ignorant daughter), “Chinese food or Nutrition therapy, is a modality of traditional Chinese medicine. Central to this belief system is the idea that certain foods have a “hot” or heat-inducing quality while others have a “cold” or chilling effect on the body and its organs and fluids. An imbalance of this “heat” and “cold” is said to increase susceptibility to sickness or to directly cause disease itself. Such an imbalance is not necessarily related to the subjective feeling of being hot (tending toward sweating) or cold (tending toward shivering).

As an example, if one had a cold, or felt he was about to get a cold, he would not want to eat any “cold” foods such as a lemon, melon or cucumber. If one had a so-called “hot” disease, like Eczema, then he would not want to eat “hot” foods such as garlic, onions, or chocolate lest the “hot” disease is worsened. Indeed, it is thought by some that these “hot” or “cold” properties of foods are so intense that merely the eating of too many of one or another can actually cause diseases. For example, the eating of too many “hot” foods like chili peppers or lobster could cause a rash, or the eating of too many “cold” foods such as watermelon, or seaweed could cause one to develop stomach pain or diarrhea. In this way, this health system is in direct opposition to evidence-based medicine and the germ theory of disease (where microbes are described as the cause of many disease states).”  The article goes on to list different foods in a temperature table, showing the supposed side effects of consuming too much…for instance, my over-consumption of foie gras and other duck/goose related products, should give me hemorrhoids.  Well well well, my bottom is as smooth as the proverbial baby’s bottom. I am a walking miracle, then eh?   And how convenient for them that beer is listed as a Yin food, to counteract the dry fire effects of the Yang foods like chili peppers.  Who makes up this shit? Could it be that instead of the explanation for diarrhea after eating too much watermelon is NOT because it too much of a “cold” or Yin food, but because you are a PIG and too much fruit will give you the runs?  It’s all sugar and water, people!

So there you have it.  I am in turmoil.  The Chinese half of me is horrified that I have betrayed my roots and shamed my ancestors.  I actually flinch when I see movement in the corner of my eye, thinking it’s my mom reaching out from the grave to smack me upside my head.  When I do, the American half of me shakes her head and laughs.  SCIENCE.  We have SCIENCE to prove or disprove most of this. I will tell you what we do know.  Yes, there are chemicals in many herbal tinctures that are very helpful.  Yes, too much watermelon will give you the runs.  Yes, I take herbal supplements to help me with PMS, Hashimoto’s, and my immune system.  These herbal supplements have scientifically proven chemicals and properties that do more good than harm if taken in moderation.  But damned if I know whether or not my Evening Primrose Oil is a Yin or a Yang food.  Once again, I demonstrate that I am the Worst Chinese Person Ever, and that my inner white chick has the tiniest brain ever.  I just can’t open it up to let in this “food therapy.”  My idea of food therapy is a pan-seared slice of foie gras, with a few figs and a baguette.  Put that Yin my tummy, and Yang I’m happy! 

Beaver Tails, Croissants, and Wine, Oh My!

After waking at 3am to drive to the airport this morning, I am completely exhausted.  But the excitement of traveling and the anticipation of the next few days in Montreal just won’t let me sleep!  My cousin ,Gaby (who flew in from Philadelphia), and I were reunited at the baggage carousel of the Montreal Trudeau airport and were zoomed into the city of Montreal in a taxi whose driver weaved fearlessly between other cars, pursued by what sounded like an ambulance.  Or it may have been the police, but they couldn’t catch us.  We were gallantly deposited on the steps of Fairmont Le Reine Elizabeth (Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth – home of John and Yoko Lennon’s famous Bed-In), and a short time later we entered our luxurious 2 bedroom executive suite on the top floor.  After getting lost a few times, we discovered a formal living room, a dining room that seats 10, a kitchen, 2 bedrooms, and 2 and 1/2 baths.  I think we might need to keep the gps tracking devices activated on our phones so we can find each other in this set of rooms!  We then dumped our bags and rode up and down on the elevators until we found Le Montréalais bistro to take care of our rumbly tummies.  We immediately ordered 2 glasses of sparkling wine and toasted our Spring Break.  After our Pacifique Salad and Smoked Meat Sandwich, we took a walk to search for the legendary Beaver Tails (deep-fried pastry dough smothered in Nutella or other delectable sweet toppings of your choice).  We walked far, pushing through wind gusts like a good little Dorothy and Scarecrow would.  Eyes watering, hair askew, we came upon an empty storefront, with the remnants of Beavertail menus on the wall.  Tragic.  Heads bowed, we thought we would take a shortcut back to the hotel through the Underground City (a warren of tunnels that span 11 miles under the city of Montreal, that are filled with thousands of shops and places to eat and drink).  We now know where to go when the Zombie Apocalypse arrives.   One could live in the Underground City for years and never need to visit the street level.  As usual, I was a dismal failure at being Navigator, and luckily my cousin is a naturally talented pathfinder.  I think I’d rather have her plugged into my car, giving me directions, than my crabby Garmin, who always scolds me and repeats in her jaded phrase, “recalculating.  recalculating.”  Gaby got us back to the hotel through the tunnels, and we rewarded ourselves with pastries and lattes from the Boutique Gourmandise.  It was an eclectic mix of very bright spring clothing and handmade pastries.  We chose the pastries.  Bringing them to our room, we claimed a small end of the enormous dining table, spread out our tour books and iDevices, and proceeded to while away the afternoon, sipping coffees and planning the rest of our week.  At the end our day, we were too tired to get dolled up to eat out, so we ordered some Caesar salad, some foie gras, some fruit salad, and a bottle of wine from Room Service.  Then we settled into our living room and Facetimed my husband and kids, tormenting them with our plans to find a functioning Beaver Tails the next day.  Tomorrow, we will intersperse sightseeing with bouts of eating, followed by strolling along the mighty St. Lawrence River.  If anyone would like to join us in our gluttony, we have a sofa sleeper in the living room, or space on the room-length dining table than could sleep quite a few folks.  Day 1 completed, and things are only going to get better…Happy Easter, Mon Ami!Image

Snowhuddled and Dreaming of Another Place

3pm in Jasper, Alberta, and the snow has been pounding down since dawn.  It brings to mind the beginning of a lovely memory of my 15th wedding anniversary.  I’m going to let you read my diary…just this once. But remember that this is my diary and if you object to controversial subjects such as the Godlike quality of foie gras and sex in hotel rooms, may I suggest searching for a blog to read in the gardening section?

 

“April 14, 2011

Banff, Alberta

Started out at 4:30 this morning.  The furry German  arranged a friend to stay with the children, instructed me to pack a bag, and announced, “Happy Early Anniversary!” as he hustled me into the car.  Drove 2 treacherous hours through slush and blinding snow, and arrived at the airport with just enough time to whisk through the baggage tagging and boarded the plane.  Needn’t have rushed, because my BadWeatherShit Magnet kicked into overdrive.  The snow storm shut down the main runway at the airport in Calgary, forcing us to wait in the plane for an hour.  It was stuffy and hot, and all I could think of was that we didn’t give out medical powers-of-attorney or make our will in case we died on this trip.  Then the furry guy announces, “We are spending a romantic weekend in Montreal, and we will dine in your dream restaurant.”  All worries and thoughts of piddly things like Death and children are instantly replaced with fantasies of Au Pied de Cochon. 

Landed in Montreal at 2pm and messed up the first step of our romantic adventure.  I wanted to be welcomed to Montreal with a French kiss (get it?) but Markus forgot our agreement, and gave me a quick peck when I asked for a kiss.  Hmph!  The rest of the trip HAS to be better!

Hopped on the Express Bus 747 and rode through the city to Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth.  This is the hotel where John Lennon had his “Give Peace a Chance” Love-In.  Rode the elevator to the 19th floor and checked into Fairmont Gold.  On the elevator door, there is a sign that reads “Fairmont” and under it “Or.”  I asked my husband, “Or what?” and he replied, “Or is the French word for Gold.”  Well, duh. 

The room is beeyootiful, and we decided that after we put away our clothes, we would need to christen all the furniture.  Never finished putting away the clothes…then it was time to get ready for our 6pm dinner reservation at Au Pied de Cochon.  How does one dress for an orgy of the palate? 

At 5:15 we called the kids to bid them adieu – after all, we were heading for Heaven on a 6pm reservation, right?  10 minute taxi ride, and we arrived at the temple…a place so renowned it doesn’t even need to advertise the name of the restaurant on the door.  And we entered the pearly gates…

The bustling atmosphere was exactly as we imagined.  Every server and helper smiled, “Bonsoir!” We were seated at a table across from the open kitchen – perfect view of the frenzy.  First up, we sipped a Riesling – not too sweet; perfect for the incoming fois gras…L’amuse bouche was a dice-sized breaded cube of deep fried, liquid fois gras.  Liquid “Or”  hahaha.  Then we moved on to codfish fritters dipped in homemade mayonnaise.  They were just teasers…the entrance of the fois gras appetizers deserved a standing ovation.  I had the fois gras poutine.  Mein Mann had the terrine.  Better than sex.  Well, almost…husband has some stepping up to do…

Anything after that was just overkill.  I had the Duck in a Can – the flavors were divine.  Marinaded duck breast, fois gras, savory cabbage, pressure-cooked in a sealed can, served on a bed of celeriac puree on croutons.  If I could have borne parting with the fois gras already consumed, I would have tickled my throat with a feather as the Romans did, just to be able to finish my entrée, sigh.  As it stood, I had to leave some on my plate.  A sin.  The furry man’s eyes were rolling back into his head while savoring his beef tartar.  It was so perfectly seasoned, he only needed some bread to crunch with it, and he was set for the evening.  We both filled to bursting.  Best money ever spent on dinner.  EVER.

After dinner, we desperately needed some fresh air and a walk.  It was important to shake that food down to our toes, or it might come back up, we were so full.  So we consulted our map, and set out to walk back to the hotel.  The evening was clear and cool, with a brisk breeze blowing all the clouds away from the shining moon.  A lovely romantic way to end an evening.  But after a dozen blocks, we thought maybe we would try the subway – after all, that was an adventure we hadn’t yet tried.  After a couple of turnarounds in neighborhoods that were positively picture-book, we found an entrance to the Metro.  The underground was busy with people rushing to and fro.  We wandered about, consulted maps, and asked the ticket clerk for some direction.  He set us back on track, and two trains later, we were in the underground tunnel that led straight to the elevators that took us to the Fairmont Or Floor.  Or or Bust!  We poured ourselves some much needed Bailey’s in the Or Floor Lounge, my Lovie filled a small plate with sweets, and we locked ourselves in our little room. 

And so, Day 1 is ended, and we go to sleep with shivery memories of bites of heaven, and we will snuggle and be romantic and…ok I’ll be honest – he is watching a San Jose Sharks hockey game.  It wouldn’t be fair to let him treat me to the most romantic anniversary gift ever, without giving a little bit of joy in return, right?  Bonne Nuit!”

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