Downsize me-I

Many of us are downsizing.  Many of us never sized up; some for ethical and moral reasons, some for purely financial, some for both combined.  There are entire magazines now devoted to the “movement” of simplicity (as absurd and contradictory as that seems to me).  Eating out as it is called, is one of the first things to be cut from most budgets.  It certainly was from ours, and it happened a long time ago.  Less because we thought it was consuming a hole in our budget and more because we found ourselves just saying, “what the heck was that?” after most meals. 

Case in point:  the boys got to have McDonalds with their great-grandma yesterday, and I ordered a happy meal too (small portions).  It was as I remembered, awful.  Tasteless, oddly dry, and smacked afterward of a floating sense of ick.  The film Supersize Me got mass produced US culture right, but only touched upon the taste issues. That yuck sensation is the same one we get whenever we eat at chains, and why we developed the rule that we would not eat out unless it was a. food we could not cook ourselves (or at least not as well)  and b. that was actually good (ok, this conflates two rules).  After spending several years reading about food industries, as well as high culinary experiences (Anthony Bourdain is a great read for information and laughs) we found our rule was not only practical, but healthy as well.

Accordingly, there are but a few places in town we “eat out” (The second rule is only once every two weeks do we eat out).  Of three Thai restaurants in town, only one is any good.  The food is prepared with fresh ingredients, and the nuances of flavor are not watered down or changed for anyone.  The owners are a wonderful couple and their extended family helps out.  The matriarch has been trained in a variety of skills, and never fails to make beautiful carrot butterflies for the boys and flip to PBS kids on her flat screen when we walk in.  It is always a pleasure to eat at the café Thai Flavor.

There is an equally kind and competent couple who run the Saigon Café, our go to for Vietnamese food.  We can’t go without the boys watching the koi, or without me being amazed by all the framed expert textiles.  Never a bad experience there.

The co-op Little Grill is a funky place that offers live music in the evenings and lots of terrific young people who try to do a little good every week (Mondays all day are soup kitchen day- anyone eats for free no questions asked, and much of the food is locally grown and organic).  Breakfast here is always packed, and on weekends anyone not familiar with needing to arrive early will find themselves with a long wait.  The ambience is decaying 1930’s micro building that has been lovingly patched up with a variety of fun items and colors.  The food is generally pretty good, and while we are not vegetarian or vegan I am told the multiple items for those folks are very good (I try them, and eh- it’s ok).  The juice is always fresh squeezed, and the giant tub of Mr. Potatoes and parts are on a shelf with the monkey-headed Godzilla, available for kids.  A giant Gonzo rides an antique bike near the ceiling, and a paint-by-numbers Martin Luther King hangs next to ancient velvet Bob Dylan.  A small mirror ball hangs a distance from a beautiful antique wooden plumb, and local artists have work that rotate according to the vicissitudes of the co-op members.

With so many Spanish speaking immigrants in this area, you might imagine we have a few decent such restaurants.  Wrong.  Everything claiming to be Mexican or some such are absolutely awful, and several routinely riddled with health inspection notices.  I asked one of son’s preschool parents (She is Honduran, her husband is Mexican) if there was anywhere she recommended and she laughed.  She gets her tamales from an old woman who makes them out of her home for people who know about her, and her aunt makes her flour tortillas the old school way and offers them from home as well.  She promised to hook me up when she places her next orders.  Given my previous post, my dime bag of Garam Masala rant now has a parallel with my procuring of good “Mexican” food.

Four hours from the coast might as well be four days.  The seafood around here stinks (literally), and locally offered trout are incubated in ponds down stream from where the owners’ cows see fit to crap whenever they wish.  In essence, no thanks.

A terrific Korean couple owns Café Jako, and the husband of the two is a fun sushi chef, who is very good to kids.  The food passes the worth-it test, and satisfies our jones for sushi, tempura, and miso.

A new Indian restaurant opened up, and it passed the “worth-it” test.  The Blue Nile owners (Ethiopian food) renovated a building downtown and while not all the complexities of the regional foods are represented, it is fresh and it is good.  The ambience is hip, and in the evenings it becomes a club.  Husband argues for a nice bar downtown, Clementine’s, but I respond that while offering food, it is not where we would take the kids and “eat out”.

There are several other locally owned places.  Most of these are popular, or at least consistently patronized, but the food truly stinks.  They do not pass the “worth it” test.

We do not live in a metropolitan wonder where we could explore the culinary offerings for years, but what we have will suffice.  At least until we cut out eating out altogether, that next step in downsizing.  Prepping for this, we are experimenting with a large garden.  That’s what that big box of compost we have been making for a year is intended to feed.  We’ll see what we learn from this first year of serious gardening training and how it affects our diets.  Oh, that’s another “movement” I hear, Practical Yards or some other title.  If you can do it, good on ya.  As Garrison Keillor so eloquently pointed out, there is nothing better than fresh homegrown tomatoes and corn.  Producing it will downsize your waist, and consuming it will downsize financial leak I am told.  We’ll see.  I know my ninety-four year old grandmother took gardens for granted, necessities of life.  I hope we can tap into that Midwestern gene memory and learn. 

My memories of my great-grandmother’s city garden, which she tended into her late eighties, are some of my best.  The center was a long grape arbor, cool and dark to walk under.  Each narrow row shot off from this center.  The back row was entirely high sunflowers, providing a mask for the fence.  In the front were gnarled but fecund fruit trees, one on each side.  The bees buzzed purposefully, and the sun seemed to warm everything it touched.  The garden was her entire, long backyard.  It was meticulously tended, and beautiful.  When she died, I crept into her stone basement and lining all the cool wall shelves were ball jars of green beans and bacon, tomatoes, and all assortments of vegetables and fruits she had canned.  Husband, when his grandmother died, was allowed to take something from what she left behind.  He took her old ball jars.  They have traveled far and wide, and now maybe they will live again.

A blog I read recently ranted about all the crap we can and will do without (  I’ll add that it is not only tangible crap, but experiential crap as well.  I’ll trade access to all that crap for the old ball jars, and knowledge about how to make our garden work.  It has been said that downsizing may ultimately be the best thing that happened to many of us.  I do not idealize the necessity of downsizing; there are too many folks of all ages (and I lose sleep over how to make sure it is not us) who will be without heat, homes, food, jobs, and the real necessities of life while the rich wave their hands and say it’s good for us all.

But for now, I am hopeful we are getting a bead on one facet of our lives, the food.  How to maintain quality and health and variety on a limited budget.  Grocery store offerings are not getting cheaper, or more healthy, and the collection of cookbooks we have needs more stains. 

More later on how this all plays out.


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