HEE Dal

19Sep11

Perhaps I have been making huge potfuls of dal because I was almost in India right now, visiting Nick and his Orphan Sponsorship International program in Pune.  Did my heart make it on the plane, while the rest of me stayed to keep on keeping on with the deli, even though I constantly want to chuck Death by Mocha dough balls at my power-hungry micromanager’s head every time she forbids me from creating a new mochi, baked good, or hummus?

“I feel empty inside, but at least my belly’s full.” -Classic HEE

My travel companions and I are re-planning our trip for next year.  In the meantime, my home kitchen will be fragrant with curry, as I try to get back to center each evening by cooking warm, nourishing whole food meals for the inspiring and amazing people that surround HEE.

(BEGIN TANGENT)

This is a selection from boyfriend’s pre-HEE “Bachelor Pantry.”  Rest assured–none of these ingredients were used in the making of HEE Dal.

(END TANGENT)

The dal curries you are familiar with are those secretly spiced, infinitely diverse Indian lentil and vegetable dishes, served with naan, roti, or rice. Not much is authentic about HEE Dal, which often uses whatever vegetables are in the fridge with little premeditated shopping, and might be more accurately described as “curry stew” or “a shitload of lentils and vegetables in a bowl.” I like my dal as I like my men–a little spicy, comforting after a long day in the kitchen, mixed race, and easy to freeze and reheat.

Since I bake professionally–a truly comic manifestation of my usual chaos–I overcompensate in my other cooking by being unable to either follow a recipe or compose recipes out of my own creations.  But everyone always asks, and I want to teach a man to fish or a homemaker to cook dal–however the phrase goes.  So while I’d like to say with confidence that this HEE Dal recipe will result in a dish that recreates what I cook at home, you will need to adjust the spices until your taste buds leap from the sidelines to cheer for team fucking delicious.  So turn HEE Dal into [Insert Your Name Here] Dal, and please don’t send me hate mail if this recipe is about as precise as predicting the return of a lord and/or savior.

HEE Dal

The dal part of HEE Dal:

  • 1 1/2 cups lentils and/or beans (soak overnight, if possible)

I use a blend of whatever lentils I have in my pantry.  Ideally, combine lentils/beans that have similar cooking times.  Mung beans, French lentils, chana dal, and yellow split peas are some of my favorites.  Kidney beans and garbanzo are a good combination as well.

The Base:

  • 1/2 a large onion, minced
  • 2 stalks celery, minced
  • 5-7 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 inches of ginger, peeled and grated
  • 4 tablespoons organic coconut oil
  • 2 tablespoons cumin seed
  • 2 tablespoons sesame seed
  • 2 teaspoons mustard seed
  • 2 teaspoons turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
  • 2 tablespoons curry powder (I use local Ka’iulani Exotic Curry. Garam Masala also works well.)
  • 1 tablespoon tamarind paste, optional
  • 1 (15 oz) can of organic tomato sauce or diced tomato, optional
  • 1 (14 oz) can of lite organic coconut milk, not optional!
  • 1-2 vegan bouillon cubes (I use Rapunzel bouillon.)
  • 2-ish cups of water and/or homemade vegetable stock
  • sea salt, to taste
  • cilantro, garnish

The Veggies:

The beautiful thing about dal is that you can incorporate all your favorite veggies in one place, and modify the vegetables based on what’s in season.  Keep in mind that if you use a bountiful cornucopia of vegetables, you may have to add more spices and stock.  I usually chop my veggies like eggplant and sweet potato into bite-sized chinks, chop my carrots a bit smaller, and very thinly slice my kale and collards.  Prep/chop all your veggies before you begin.  I love to take an everything-in-the-CSA-box approach to dal–in my most recent batch o’ dal, I used all the veggie as captured above, as well as a bag of frozen organic peas and an entire bunch of lacinato kale.  I try to use whatever vegetables look stunning at the farmers’ market, rather than deciding ahead of time, “Tonight I’m going to make okra dal!”–and then becoming unhinged when I can’t find okra anywhere, thus beginning the downward hopelessness spiral-which can indeed be triggered by lack of okra if you are a fragile creature such as myself.

Anyway, here are some excellent vegetables to use in different combinations:

  • Eggplant
  • Sweet Potato
  • Peas (frozen)
  • Carrot
  • Greens: Spinach, kale, or collards
  • Cauliflower
  • Zucchini, yellow squash
  • Pumpkin
  • Ulu
  • Daikon
  • Okra

The Method:

1.  Rinse the lentils and beans.  In a pot, cover the lentils/beans with a few inches of water and bring to a boil.  (f you have a lot of homemade veggie stock, feel free to cook them in veggie stock.)  Cover pot and reduce to medium-low heat, stirring occasionally to keep the lentils/beans from sticking to the bottom.

2.  Meanwhile, heat the coconut oil in a large soup pot over medium-high heat.  Add the cumin, sesame, and mustard seeds and stir occasionally–until they begin popping.  Add turmeric, cayenne, tamarind paste and curry power and continue to heat for a few minutes, until fragrant.  I call this the “flavor orgy” step of making dal.  Add onions and saute until translucent.  Add celery, garlic, and ginger and saute for a few minutes more.  Reduce the heat to medium.

3.  At this point, some cooking knowledge and common sense is required.  Which of your vegetables have the longest cooking time?  Which should be added at the very end?  If I’m using carrot, for example, I saute the carrot for a while, and then incorporate the eggplant and zucchini, adding a little water if the mixture is sticking to the bottom of the pan and is too dry.  After five minutes or so (depending on your veggies)–add 2-ish cups of water/stock and the bouillon cube(s).  Stir and bring everything to a gentle boil.  Add the sweet potato and cook until all the vegetables are almost done, stirring every few minutes and monitoring the heat.  If there’s any useful tip I can offer in this post, it is that you do not burn the dal.

4.  Add the cooked lentils and beans (remaining liquid is fine to add).  Add the coconut milk and optional tomato sauce.  Add more water or stock if you went crazy on the vegetables.  Add the quick-cooking greens such as spinach or kale.  Taste, add sea salt, and adjust spices.

5.  Let HEE Dal simmer over very low heat for the amount of time it takes you to enjoy a cup of strawberry vanilla green tea and/or a few vodka tonics.

6.  Serve with warm naan or over whole grains like brown rice and quinoa.  Garnish with cilantro.  For bonus magic, enjoy with Maui Upcountry Green Guava Chutney.

What we do in the kitchen is like what we do in real life–we hope.  We hope that things are going to turn out okay, perhaps even better and more delicious than expected.  So use my “recipe” as a guideline in your dal making adventures, and trust that you’ve chosen the best ingredients possible for the dal and life you’ve been fucking starving for.


Okay kids.  Ask for my kale smoothie recipe and you shall receive!  Last year, I published a sidebar called “Kale is the New Bacon,” where I explained Green Smoothie basics.  While there is an actual kale smoothie recipe with “measurements” in that piece, truth be told I never measure ingredients when I make smoothies.  Or when I whip up a big batch of sweet, sweet love.  I have heard many people say they are worried they’ll screw up a kale smoothie, which seems like such a silly concern, considering said people are not worried about SPAM screwing up their entire body, beginning with their souls.  But I want everyone to be successful, so here are a few potential problems and solutions:

1.  You use too much kale (and didn’t remove the bitter stems) and/or other greens, and can’t handle that “I just mowed the lawn with my mouth” taste.  Sometimes even I get excited and overdo it on parsley, which I can only remedy by making a guttural “KKKKKAAAAHH” sound after every earthy sip.

SOLUTION: Pour half of your smoothie FAIL into a mason jar and refrigerate it, and use it as a base for tomorrow’s smoothie.  Then rebuild your current smoothie FAIL using more fruit, juice and ice.  Add more sweetener if necessary and keep adjusting to taste.

2.  You don’t pulverize the kale into a smooth near-liquid.

SOLUTION: Reblend.  Ideally, invest in a Vitamix and your body will thank you forever.

3.  You added mango and you’re allergic to mango.

SOLUTION: Eat more mango, your existence is making evolution really hard for the rest of us.

Anyway, please feel free to let me know any other ways your green smoothies aren’t working out, and I shall happily provide tech support!

This is my kale smoothie recipe as published in the Hawaii Women’s Journal:

  • 1 cup fruit juice
  • 1 frozen banana
  • 1 cup organic blueberries
  • As much kale as you can handle, stems removed
  • A gentle squirt of agave or honey
  • 1 Tbs almond butter
  • 2 handfuls of ice

For my personal smoothies, I start with Mega Green Juice, but most 100% fruit juices work well:

Also, I don’t use agave or honey, and instead use one Medjool date (pitted).  I use only 1/2 a banana and a very small handful of different fruits each time: papaya, pineapple, cherry, blueberry, pear. The goal is to drink more greens and minimize the sugary stuff.  Or maybe your goal is to become a lawyer, I don’t know, but my goal is to see how green I can go, because even though I like to pretend I am the pinnacle of vegan health, according to my doctor and his little doctor tests, I consume way too much sugar.

I also do not add almond butter since I eat raw almonds as a snack.  Additionally, I always throw in Green Vibrance and different vegan protein powders–my current favorite is Hemp Protein.  When I use lacinato kale, blueberries and double up on Green Vibrance with hemp protein, my smoothie turns into a dark, sludgy mess of superfood.  Kimmy calls it, “Baby’s First Poo.”  BFP is a much more hardcore green smoothie, so for now start with the basics and slowly reduce the fruit and increase the greens.  I also occasionally use Emergen-C, raw beets, or carrot chunks as smoothie add-ins.  Make sure you vary your produce and fruits–because while you have to “eat the rainbow” to be healthy, what no one tells you is that you have to eat a different goddamn rainbow every day.

Why yes, all this does fit into my giant jar of awesome:


Green Vibrance for extra GREEN MAGIC AND WONDER:

My sister’s favorite green smoothie is her brilliant “Piña Kale-ada” creation:

Piña Kale-ada

  • Kale – as much as you can handle–start with one leaf, stem removed
  • Organic Lite Coconut Milk – splash
  • Frozen Pineapple – 5+ chunks
  • Banana – 1/2 to a whole banana, depending on banana size
  • Orange Juice, Pineapple Juice, or Coconut Water
  • Ice

If you like piña kale-ada…

In conclusion, to begin a green smoothie revolution in the intimacy of your own body:

  • Start with a juice base
  • Add a generous, gorgeous pile of greens–kale, spinach, parsley, chard and/or beet greens work well.
  • Add 1/2 a frozen banana
  • Add a small handful of your favorite fruits and/or berries
  • Add a sweetener: 1 date, agave, or honey

I know what you’re thinking–green smoothies seem expensive.  A bunch of kale or other greens from the farm closest to my house is $2.50.  One bunch of greens will probably last you at least six smoothies.  (For me one bunch lasts two smoothies.)  I buy organic spinach from Costco–$7 for a massive container.  A bag of frozen organic blueberries at Costco is $10, and this usually lasts me a month.  The other fruits I simply stock up on when they’re on sale, chopping and freezing some.  You can also dilute juice with water and get more sweet bang for your buck.  High quality supplements are more expensive if you choose to use them, but in general I think a big jar of green awesomeness is cheaper than heart disease.  At Kale’s Natural Foods we even get CHILDREN–yes, CHILDREN–to drink kale by tricking them.  Our “Keiki Shakey” is a classic strawberry banana smoothie with a big leaf o’ kale.  Instead of sneaking high fructose corn syrup into your child’s breakfast, we sneak kale.

As for other lifechanging beverages, I have been recently obsessed with this Cherry Chia Juice recipe by Bakery Manis.  I’ve been putting chia seeds in my kale smoothie, on my toast, in my oatmeal, under my pillow–but drinking cherry chia juice, with chia as the main attraction, has taken my chia love to an inappropriately intense level.  (However, be aware that three tablespoons of chia does contain 12 grams of fat–important omega-3 fatty acids, but still something to keep in mind if your daily recommended fat intake is 50 grams.)

For my more sporty days, or extra long kitchen days–I soak a bag or two of Guayaki Yerba Mate Greener Green Tea in a jar with coconut water overnight.  Hydration plus a little caffeine jazz is very win-win in my book of win-win type things.  (I got this yerba + coconut water idea from Thrive Fitness: The Vegan-Based Training Program for Maximum Strength, Health, and Fitness).

Bottoms up!

For more green smoothie ideas and inspiration:

Joy the Baker

Elena’s Pantry

A Grateful Life

Healthy Green Kitchen

Raw Family


In a Beautiful Country 
by Kevin Prufer

A good way to fall in love
is to turn off the headlights
and drive very fast down dark roads.

Another way to fall in love
is to say they are only mints
and swallow them with a strong drink.

Then it is autumn in the body.
Your hands are cold.
Then it is winter and we are still at war.

The gold-haired girl is singing into your ear
about how we live in a beautiful country.
Snow sifts from the clouds

into your drink. It doesn’t matter about the war.
A good way to fall in love
is to close up the garage and turn the engine on,

then down you’ll fall through lovely mists
as a body might fall early one morning
from a high window into love. Love,

the broken glass. Love, the scissors
and the water basin. A good way to fall
is with a rope to catch you.

A good way is with something to drink
to help you march forward.
The gold-haired girl says, Don’t worry

about the armies, says, We live in a time
full of love. You’re thinking about this too much.
Slow down. Nothing bad will happen.


This poem made me wander into the yard with my camera, searching for things that used to have an other, used to be shiny new and shellacked, things whose purpose has changed, things empty, things dirty, things that can’t hide their wearing.

If you like this, see also:


Hey, check it out, my blog-thing still works!  I encourage you to read Managing Editor Mayumi Shimose Poe’s ohsoperfect issue summary/love letter here.  I think it’s about time to make a flowchart of each issue’s journey from conception to publication, but in the meantime, enjoy Issue #4:

You can also download the PDF version here.


Somehow I managed a few late night writing sessions, and finally finished my first blog for Peace Corps Worldwide–an online community for Returned Peace Corps Volunteers.  My PCWW blog is called “Post-PCV, Post-Feminist!” My first piece is called “Just a Little off the Top,” and it’s about my vagina.

Sorry, Mom.

Well, I can cross that off my To Do list for “January 2010.”  I’m starting on February any day now.

Enjoy!
Jenn


Become a Facebook Fan.

Follow us on Twitter.

Kale’s Natural Foods Website.

Come visit us after February 15th!  We’ll be cooking Made-to-Order breakfast & lunch from 9am until 2pm (for now–hours will be longer soon), as well as making smoothies, freshly squeezed juice, and wheatgrass.  In the deli Grab-and-Go case, there will be healthiness galore.  Grab-and-Go samples?  Here we go:

Arame Miso Barley Salad

Cranberry-Citrus Quinoa Salad

Mediterranean Farro

Bulgur & ‘Banzos Greek Salad

Hijiki Sweet Potato Salad w/Tamari-Tahini Dressing

Chipotle-Lime Hummus that I’ve spent 2 weeks perfecting

Carolyn’s Beet Hummus

My favorite vegan Sweet Corn Chowder w/Roasted Sweet Potato and fresh herbs

… and more!  Will post complete menu later this week.  We’re working on Grab-and-Go dinners as well.  I know most of you fools work past 2pm… but if you come by after work, we may not be there, but our FOOD will.  Soon we’ll be open early enough that if you’re on your way to work from Hawaii Kai, you can grab a Breakfast Panini and a fresh orange & carrot juice!

Also we”ll be busting out a signature vegan wheat-free powerbar that I’ve spent a month working on… fresh roasted almond butter, spelt flour, shredded coconut, “chocolate” chips, sunflower seeds, cranberries, coconut oil, organic oats, and a tablespoon of all my hopes and dreams. Other baked goods?  My favorite vegan Banana Hazelnut bread and Death by Mocha cookies.

Mmm.

I love you, come eat our food.


Mis Huevos Epilogue

I can’t leave the IVF doctor looking like a condescending ass. I mean, I could, but I won’t. Because every appointment we became more and more human to each other. He was quickly concerned about me, my hormone levels, my Alice in Wonderland follicles growing too fast, too soon. He told me to call him from the mainland, to make sure I the clinic was taking care of me properly.  You’ll get to read all about his transformation into the best doctor ever soon enough… because….

Mis Huevos Epilogue, Epilogue

Oh universe, you crack my Hee shiz up! Three days ago I posted this:

I wrote this as part of a longer piece on Sri Lanka that I queried to a publication two months ago.

And this morning I woke up to an e-mail from said publication:

We like this piece and would be happy to have it on the site.

Yeaaaaa The Smart Set! I’m not really good at emoting–wallowing is really my forte—but holy fucking shit! I looooove The Smart Set and have read their travel essays forever. I’m such a writer-nerd–I’ve been to Barnes and Nobles every other day for weeks so I could read my first Chromatic piece and see what it looks like minus cussing, which was deemed inappropriate for a fashion lifestyle magazine. Issue 2 is STILL not out, but in the meantime I’ve managed to spend more at Barnes and Nobles than I made on the article.

Mom Hee: You were doing so well controlling your book binges.

I had been clean for a few months, getting my fix at the library, but trust me, when the librarian told me I couldn’t renew Love Soup because someone else requested it, I almost snatched that shit back out of her hands and made a run for it.

Hee doesn’t like to share.

(Update: Beautiful Chromatic editor Stacey Makiya hand-delivered Issue 2 to me this afternoon.  Yippee!  The entire magazine looks fantastic!  Holy awesome graphics guy!  For my piece, I have to give photo credit and love to Ryan Scott Matsumoto, who also helped me edit and provided much inspiration… as you’ll see.)

Rehashing ’09 Forever

Montages are very manipulative. They find your emotional G-spot, over and over again, until you are at the mercy of the montage, even though you swore you would never sleep with a Republican. Montage. Ryan’s 2009 montage of our lives forced me to do what I am terrible at doing—focusing on the positive, and appreciating the music of the Black Eyed Peas. 2009 was the kind of year where I’d sign up for a race, pay for that shit, and decide the morning of the race that I’d rather sleep than run, because what’s the point of running. Or races. Or Carole Kai.

We moved home in July of ’08. Every month we were home without our own home, I felt like I had lost my family. Half of the week I was at my parent’s house, and Ryan was at his family’s house—what are we? 16? A kiss goodnight and a high five. Shit, we’re not Christian, one of us in not in Iraq, we’ve lived together for two years—regressing back to high school–nay, junior high–was So. Not. Cool. Usually I’d stay at Ryan’s house, leaving Mati in the car, which fucked with my shit, because to me this meant I had my shit so not together that my daughter/dog had to sleep in the car. It chattered in the insomnia ear of my insomnia, saying you’ll oversleep, terrified the Hawaii sun would wake up before I did. Plus, Ryan’s neighbors are the kind of people who ask you to “keep it down” on New Year’s Eve, so you can imagine how they feel about Mati’s Slavic barking. Once or 50 times, I wished the neighbors’ house would get sucked up in a magic tornado and dropped in the middle of Chennai, India. Honking all night, humans shitting on sidewalks, stray dogs fights galore, —yea, welcome to el junglo, motherfuckers.

In conclusion, when I did stay at my parents’ house, with Mati beside me, no fear of sun or assholes–I could hear Ryan’s eyes rolling all the way across the marina—because I’m so neurotic, because I was choosing to stay by a dog and not my boyfriend. I didn’t know what mattered most; I was just so tired.

It’s 2010. While I still get frustrated at not having a Jenn Hee nook, that Mati doesn’t have a yard to run and bark freely, that Ryan doesn’t have a man-space where he can be man—the size of what we do have fills me more and more. I didn’t lose my family–we found family, as adults sharing an oddly comfortable communal space, thanks to economic and psychological recessions, and the cost of living in Hawaii being more than the cost of living in somewhere cheap and imaginary, like Heaven. All our immediate family lives, incredibly, within a 4-mile radius. In our homes, there is always food, too much food. My mom will call us to tell us what she made, and halfway through dinner at Hee House, one of Ryan’s sisters will call asking where are we? There’s dinner. There is always dinner. And while no one (me) wants to hear her father (my father) telling people how he wasted his money on your education, how you’re a failure, how you make the worst decisions—and all you want to scream back is you didn’t ask to brought here, my failures are not my fault, be glad I am still alive—you don’t, because his words are just sounds for the air to carry away, and everyone’s lost something this year.

In the day-to-day, my father keeps the mechanics of my life together—changing my oil, restringing my guitar when I pop the 6th string again and again, fixing what’s fixable. He always welcomes our friends over, re-spray painting his bar decor, offering best times to all, scotch, and on special occasions, scotch. He even gave me a gas card—my whole life I’ve never had a gas card–as I’ve been looking into bikes, which he is 100% against, claiming there are “blind Japanese men” who might run me over. He’s not being racist—I think he worked out the percentages based on demographics. And ethnic stereotypes known only to him.

My mom, willing victim of the Hee-sister test kitchen, grins and bears our kale and beet green smoothies with the same support as our five year-old attempts at scrambled pancakes. That’s what mothers do. Grin and bear it all.

Ryan and I will never marry, but the Matsumoto clan has always made me feel like an extension of the family. I’ve never really been into babies—I mean, I’ll touch them and smile and stuff—they always just seem so inscrutable and unpredictable, so vulnerable as they sit in their own shit. But when you see them even just in passing every day, and you watch them go from not being able to walk or say anything, to being able to dance, poop solo, and be sarcastic—it’s beautiful. Fucking beautiful. Ryan’s niece and nephew are the same age as our relationship—a little over three years. And just about as mature.

Anyway–I’m not proud. 2009 was almost all dread and panic. I spent a year wrapping and unwrapping the gauze holding me together–incredulous that there was no wound, that I still had skin, at the birthmark where a scar should be. When I stopped looking for the source of pain, when I decided to break up with my day job and have an open employment relationship, when I bought Ryan and myself tickets to India against all logic and Ryan’s own will—suddenly I was too distracted by change and poor children to obsess about my now very hard to see boo boos. Thanks, relativity. It was like the opposite version of those really scary “Not Even Once” meth ads on TV—instead of the non-methy version of myself showering, suddenly seeing the methed-up me crouched in the corner of the tub, covered in sores and looking like death on a good day—I looked up and saw that I was healthy, surrounded by support. Gas and metaphorical gas. No meth and no metaphorical meth. Still, I can’t survive another 2009, and every time I get that creeping feeling that everything is horriblehorribleHORRIBLE, I wrestle Tucker, I hold onto Ryan, I walk Mati, I read submissions, I work on recipes, I run, I run, I run and try to keep ahead of the horrible by not really thinking about what I’m doing, if I should be doing it, if it’s what I really want, if it’s part of my nonexistent 10-year plan, if I will ever have shapely triceps, if I’ll ever finish going through puberty and have an “After” Proactiv face, who I’ll be if Ryan leaves me. I’ll just have to keep running, the rest of my life–and learn to accept the wise words of Miley Cyrus—Sometimes I’m gonna have to lose.

I just finished Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. One of my favorite all-time novels is The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, a book that reaffirmed my faith in books. (New Moon was not that book.) Reading What I Talk About made me realize how there are people out there (Murakami) who say to themselves one day, in their early 30s, having never written—Hey, I think I’ll write a novel. And they become one of Japan’s greatest gifts to literature. Murakami also said one day–noticing his new sedentary writing career was making him pudgy—Hey, I think I’ll take up running. And began running every day, no matter how busy or sick he was—running a marathon every year, completing some triathlons, and even an ultramarathon. Motherfucker made me realize that there are some people who just pop out of the womb and say—Hey, I think I’ll say things I’m going to do and then do them.

I wish I had that superpower.

When I can’t sleep, and I’ve logged off Facebook, I read cookbooks. Read them like they’re stories, read the notes about how to improve my well-being by making peace with food, and the importance of forming perfect proteins with legumes and grains. It’s how I try to turn my brain off, but it’s a dimmer more than a switch, sometimes turning infinitely on itself, like a clock, the hours of the night passing. I enjoy thinking about ingredients, how every step makes sense. There’s a start and a finish, no angst in between, and imagining what I could do with a kabocha soothes, rather than stokes, the coals of my latent ulcer. Baking is so exact that it takes all my not-me qualities to get it right.

Ryan and I have now been together for three years—to all my married friends with babies, three years was, like, so college, but both Ryan and I have had an equal amount of serious relationships that all ended before the two-year mark.  Every other relationship I’ve had was a really simple game, like the card game “War”—except I had all the cards, and the other person, only an open hand. (The difference is everything.) Now terror will seize me, sitting in traffic, trying to sleep alone at home—the terror that I’ll lose the first person to every understand me, because I couldn’t understand him back. Sometimes I feel the ripple as he moves away from me, like I’m swimming in this really big pool, yelling Marco Marco Marco–and his Polo is less and less audible. I want to open my eyes underwater and cheat, but I’m afraid I won’t see him there, and the Polo was just me whispering to myself. All along. The girl inside me is screaming underwater, barely breaking the surface. I try to explain, I don’t love you like anyone else, I love you like someone’s who has waited her whole life to give you this person that no one else has known. Let me call this love. From the surface, it sounds less desperate, the terror watered down by my inability to emote right at the right time. I look at most of the couples around me, I see how fucked up we are to the people we share the most of ourselves to. I see how much we demand and how little we give.  And so knowing how much hurt is possible, we start documenting 2010, imagining the next montage, treading water and looking at each other from single bodies, completely in love, and completely afraid of how how it will end.  Just like life.

I want my relationship to be like a recipe. I want to know exactly what to put in, exactly how, in which amounts.

I want my love muffins to fucking rise.

(I feel like I’ve written this before, like I’ve written all this before, but you roll around thoughts in your own head long enough, you lose track of what you’ve said to the world, and what you’ve only said to yourself. Or perhaps because I always write about the same shit.)

I had a lot to do today. But first, I took Tucker, our newest Golden Retriever Beastie Puppy (see reverse shit scene in 2009 Montage) on his first hike—Mariner’s Ridge. He cried in the car when we got there, cried when we left—those cries had nothing in common—the first because he was out of sorts, the second because he didn’t want to leave this fabulous new world, roots to leap up and stumble down. We cry when we’re not sure where we are; we cry because we don’t want to leave—because even if we don’t know where we are, we’d rather be here, as Ryan says—living, living in a world where Haiti happens.

BEST NEWS EVER!

(Look at Hee–framing my angsty waa-waa in this blog with awesome, positive shit.)

My sister and I worked together for over a year in the deli at ‘Umeke Market.  She has wanted to open her own restaurant, but in these tough times, it’s a few galaxies away from feasible. Either way, she wanted to grow—as a manager and a cook—and find a place for her ideas and passion for natural, wholesome, healing foods. Fast-forward to a surprise meeting with a natural foods store owner, and one crazy month and many meetings and experiments with beets and farro later—my sister, myself, and our friend Carolyn are re-opening the deli in Kale’s Natural Foods. (Kale = Owner’s Hawaiian name, not pronounced like the superfood kale.)  The owner has a small deli currently, but he’s been wanting to offer more than a soups and sandwiches. We’re developing our own Made-to-Order menu; working on recipes for Grab-and-Go whole grain salads, wraps, stews, soba, summer rolls, baked goods, etc., etc., ETC!!!; and going on equipment shopping sprees. So much fun, so much work, and oh my god we’re launching Hawaii Women’s Journal the same month. He says the deli was the last missing piece of his store, and is hand-building us picnic tables so customers can eat-in. None of us have been to culinary school, but Carolyn grew up on a farm in the Philippines and can kill chickens, Christina likes to do all that tedious business shit like order produce and determine food costs, and I have a million ways to make food sound as exciting as it tastes. Farmer’s Market Fruit Salad with minted agave drizzle? A selection of Made-to-Order Miso Bowls with names such as: “Miso Clean: A detoxifying miso bowl with ginger, sea vegetables, cilantro, lemon juice, watercress, green onion, and cayenne”? Oh yea, we got this.

Who: Hee Sisters and Carolyn the Filipino Chicken Killer

What: Uber-healthy wholesome CLEAN yumminess. Organic, local, seasonal, non-GMO, free-range, eco-friendly containers… yea yea yea, all that good shit.

Where: Kale’s Natural Foods Deli, next to Safeway in the Hawaii Kai Shopping Center

When: February 15th

How: I have no idea.

Don’t you dare: Come to visit us with a bag of McDonald’s fast-food death from across the street.

Last words from my Latent Ulcer: I hate you, Jenn Hee.

I wanted to post this blog before I disappear into the HWJ and Kale’s vortex. I love both of these projects with all my heart, and believe in them. Even though I wasn’t trained to be an editor or a cook, I feel that these facts are inconsequential—I’m a woman, a woman who could–with any desire–carry a human life in my invisible uterus, push it out via a little vagina hole, feed it with my own body, and then release it into the wild of its horrid adulthood. Edit a magazine and start a deli?

The mere thought lulls me into a gentle slumber.

Come visit us at Kale’s after the 15th–even if you hate healthy food, come in for my monthly newsletter.  You know it will be “special.”


All-Star Team discusses organics over vodka at The Shack.


India

I bought Ryan and myself tickets to India one afternoon after giving myself an ultimatum, noose in one hand and Expedia dot com on the other.  Change, or get out of here.  I decided to change.  India seemed like one of those transformational places you go when you really, really hate everything and need a good henna-stained bitch slap.

We decided to visit our friend Jason (*name changed to protect monk-identity).  Also from Hawaii, he turned monk a few years ago, and now studies with 4,000 Tibetan Buddhist monks at the Sera Je Monastic University.  His every endeavor works towards transforming his mind, in order to achieve authentic happiness.  What better way to rediscover my happiness–than to spend a week with a man who would bet his next four lives that he’s on the slow, scenic route to nirvana?  I appreciated the fact that his path– all the way in India, all the way at no-sex university–was called crazy by the people who I called crazy.  At first glance, Jason’s life seemed to be the opposite of enjoyable–six days a week from before dawn to way past dusk, he studies Tibetan, memorizes Tibetan texts, debates the tenets of Buddhist philosophy, chants hours of prayers and mantras.  For 18 years.  Jason is on year three.  Also, his name is no longer Jason, but Namjong.

(I call him Jason.)

Monk Fact: No sexual contact is a root vow taken by all Buddhist monks.

Monk Fact: The number one reason monks disrobe is for romantic love.

Jason used to be a part of the dating world, pre-monk, even dating a former Miss Hawaii.  He attended the same high school as Obama, graduated with a degree in Philosophy from an Ivy League university (watch out!), and while traveling the world following a successful corporate job, became interested in yoga (sexy!), then meditation, and finally, stopped doing the nasty (record scratch).  To Jason, it made sense.  To me, it’s as though he went from not eating cow, to not consuming all living creatures, to not bumping uglies for the rest of his able life.  To this, I had a few thoughts: A lot can get done in a day minus sex and Facebook.  And, Jason was hot.  Hot despite his robes, voluntary baldness, and the fact he doesn’t kill mosquitoes.  Or roaches.  Or women with a stare that says, Mediate on this, bitch.

Indeed, at Sera Je, I found it strange being surrounded by 2,700 men who wouldn’t even touch me with another monk’s prayer book.  It confused me on how to act.  It wasn’t that these 2,700 men have taken a strict vow against all sexual contact, but that a high percentage had never even gotten to third base.  Here at the Sera Je Monastery, my fine piece of ass was worth 0 rupees.  My market value was no value.  I had supply for no demand.

Being in monk world made me understand economics for the first time in my life.

My vagina identity crisis lead me to focus on other aspects of my personality, such as my personality. This didn’t last long, as I woke up on day three at the monastery with searing pain between my legs.  Figuring in detached horror that one of India’s mountain spiders went downtown, I took some ibuprofen and allergy meds, tried my best to when in Rome, and not think about my vagina.

It wasn’t easy.  Monks have worked hard to achieve what I haven’t–which is mental fortitude, mind over genital agony.  Ryan and I would wake up at 5:00am to catch the 5:30am puja—a ritual prayer session inside the monastery.  The chanting was right between monotone and melodious; prayers ended with anti-climatic moans, as voices fell steeply off the staff.  As non-religious as I am, there was a supernatural peace to the thousands of male voices, filling the soundless morning with life.  It was always misty dim at dawn, adding to the surreal scene as endless streams of monks floated up village side streets in their dark robes.  In these mornings, I couldn’t tell if I was still in dream world.

I was learning slowly that the answer to this question is always yes.

At first, I felt concerned for Jason/Namjong.  He gave up the parts of life we consider joyful–singing and playing music with friends, Lady Gaga, Team Jacob, Starbucks, sleeping in, cold beer, hot sex–to live on the other side of the world from home, wear the same maroon robe every day, eat dahl every day, pray for hours in Tibetan every day, and not give into any desire but the desire to become a monk.  How does his spiritual monogamy lead to happiness today–much less in 18 years when he finishes his study? While there are many scholarly things one could write about Buddhist tradition and practice, what concerns me the most about Jason/Namjong is that he is hot and hot men shouldn’t pursue nirvana.  At least not the reincarnating through centuries of progressively more realized states nirvana.  He doesn’t seem like a monk—he seems so normal, the soft-spoken-but-clever guy on a reality TV show every girl has a crush on, the smart good guy I would set up with my friends if he wasn’t celibate and didn’t carry a prayer wheel everywhere, the guy who is pensive but in a good way, short but tall, Asian but not totally.  His monkhood, while full of good karma, is a great loss to the dating world.

Three months later, thinking about Jason, and about how I’m writing and he’s still not having sex–I’ve shifted towards the understanding side on the spectrum of understanding.  What if instead of a Buddhist monk community, it was a self-supported writing community?  I could live with thousands of bald writers, somewhere beautiful and remote, and all day we’d write and study words.  If our lives were dedicated to understanding existence through writing, bliss through writing, writing through writing–and I had to give up material things–gym membership, my MacBook Pro, holiday-themed bikini waxing–I could do it.  But I’d draw the line at romantic love.  Love is one of the few experiences in my life that’s always on the “pro” side.  I can be contentedly single for years, but love gives me a balanced sort of mania.  I fall in love with myself, my words, my dreams again through another person, who sees me new.

Jason takes each of his monk vows with joy, certain they will help him reach the place he defines as happiness—but in our own lives, we all decide what we are willing to sacrifice to “get there.”  I realized, during our first week in India–that I was acting a lot like an Asian father—judging Jason the same way my father judges me—asking how can you give up the very things that make me happy–that give my life meaning?  Jason’s decisions made me look closer at my own imbalances, misplaced values, and dependencies.  Financial security makes my father happy; doing what I love—which includes love–makes me happy; meticulous ritual and breaking down emotions into malleable cognitive processes makes Jason happy.  To me, Jason seems to be on the hard road to happiness.  To my father, so am I.  It’s always a hard road, because none of us have the passport stamp for our ultimate destination.  We can’t even see past the next sharp curve.  We have too many blind spots; we focus our rearview mirrors on parts of our lives that justify what we’re doing and how we’re doing it.

We move forward by looking back.

Sri Lanka

We left the monastery in a quintessential Indian downhill rickshaw ride, where we miraculously defied both death and near-death.  Twenty-minute ride, two-hour bus, ten-minute rickshaw, seven-hour train, 30-minute rickshaw, seven-hour wait, one-hour plane, and a three-hour taxi ride later, we arrived at my friend Nick’s home in the hill country of Sri Lanka.  At this point, my Darth Vajayjer was in a feverish rage.  Walking made me cry a little, sitting made me nauseated with pain, and urinating had me speaking in tongues.  I had tried to seek help at the monastery, but the doctor was in America, and the only person who could see me was a monk nurse.  I didn’t want the monk nurse’s introduction to vagina to be mine, even though it would probably convince him to be a monk in this life and the next 20.  When I arrived at Nick’s—I started popping some Cipro.  And Ambien.  And drinking Three Coins, Sri Lanka’s most excellent beer.

Two days later, the memory of my vagina’s last stand actually fading thanks to the Cipro, I uploaded our photos from India.  As the photos flashed one-by-one on my MacBook screen, I saw monks, children, the sunset, and a flash of what could only be the infected nub on my left labia meets the crypt keeper.

“Ryan, what the hell?”

Apparently, after the Cipro, Ambien, and Three Coins, I thought Voldemort Junior would make good slideshow material for the folks back home.

If only memories were as easily emptied as the little trashcan on my desktop.

I met Nick six years ago, when I moved to a small town in southwest Bulgaria as a Peace Corps Volunteer.  He was running the organization he founded–Orphan Sponsorship International.  He was American, I was American–we were meant to be friends, meant to come together in the evenings, discuss our work frustrations over Kamentiza beer, catching a little cancer in the smoke-filled cafes.  When he moved to Sri Lanka, I took over his work in Bulgaria, his frustrations, orphans ringing the doorbell at 7:00am saying they needed new school shoes immediately.  And tampons.  And a Ferrari.  After I finished my work in Bulgaria, and moved back to America, Nick insisted I come to Sri Lanka, at least to visit–the kids are amazing–he insisted–and they never ask for Ferraris

Finally, I was here—at Nick’s house in Bandarawela, a town in the lower right half of the Sri Lanka tear.  We spent our days in Nayabedde—a small, impoverished tea estate village nearby, where Nick works with social orphans, trying to do the best he can by his motto–you can’t change the world, but you can change the world of a child.

Nick is the only person who has told me that if he dies tomorrow, he’d be happy with what he has done with his life.  He doesn’t make a single rupee from his sponsorship work–to survive he builds a website here and there, and thus lives a life as ascetic as the monks at the Sera Je Monastery.  He studies books on ancient Greek and Roman politics and philosophy  to unwind.  He likes to think for thinking’s sake, prefers an isolated life to one where he wakes up every morning to silent emergency sirens blaring in his head–the ones that make Americans jump out of bed and into khakis–that fear of failure, that desperate search for security.  Nick, his books, his beautiful home for $150.00 a month, children and families whose gratitude he is too humble to fully accept—Nick has determined what defines enough, and he has enough.  His life, I could move into.

Almost.  For three weeks, it’s idyllic.  We spend every day with the kids, play games we make up on the spot, visit homes where we dance and sing, drink milk tea and throw birthday parties.  Everything we experience is simultaneously profound and superficial, because we do not speak Tamil.  Still—it’s here, in the middle of poverty, where I experience travel’s most addicting feeling—that feeling that I’m in my favorite place in the world, here in the hills, quilted bright tea tree green, the kids sprinting out of the one-room school in a giant dust cloud, beautiful in their white uniforms, bare feet, hundreds of smiles too wide for such small faces.  (The moment I smile back, we are no longer strangers.)  But our games, the easy laughter and gentle hand holding–these are the best parts I remember about the Peace Corps, condensed, minus the daily challenges of community development and volunteer Chlamydia epidemics.  I remember how language opened a door I sometimes wished I could slam shut, and actual working with orphanages and the organizations– trying to change things with my American backpack full of tricks–is as easy as squeezing Type AB negative blood from a potato.  But you try because you can’t be human and not try.  What we from any-class America don’t comprehend, is that not everyone in the world looks at their neighbor and sees a human being, an equal, a child worth saving.

On one of our last days in Bandarawela, I woke up with one eye swollen shut.  The next morning I woke up with the other eye swollen shut.  Rather than running down the hall screaming “Metaphor!  Metaphor!”–I let Ryan call me the Hunchback, and remind me it could be worse, it could be my vagina.  I was suspicious of the culprits, because we were using “Ninja”–a Glade plug-in looking device that filled the house with a constant spray of bug killer.  (If it was killing little things, it was probably giving us a little bit of cancer.)  We had been talking a lot about cancer, because on our second day here, Nick’s dad was diagnosed with cancer of the pleura–the smooth membrane that surrounds the lungs, a body part that hardly seems worth learning the name of, until you get cancer there.  The only cause of mesothelioma is asbestos exposure, which happened to Nick’s dad in the navy during wartime.  It was good for Nick that we were here, because he is always alone, which is fine, until dad gets terminal cancer and only has a few months left, and dad’s in Iowa–and who can he talk to about being so far, about always having felt so far, besides the kids, who speak Tamil and Sinhalese.  He wouldn’t talk to them about what he is going through, because they’re kids.  Kids whose grandmother puts them on the streets to beg, whose dad died and mom works all day in the tea estates for $2.00 a day, who are all Tamil in a country that has killed Tamil people.  We will never talk to them about anything that’s hard for us, because there is nothing that can touch what they suffer now and what they might suffer tomorrow.  And the amazing thing is they are not suffering.  Not as much as we think they should be.  So many withouts, that they have no sense of without, each is canceled out by another.  Here children laugh hysterically at a funny face, dance joyously, excitedly show you a certificate they won for placing 3rd in a long jump competition 5 years ago.  We brought apples to school. In Nayabedde, apples were Ferraris.  It’s funny how strongly you begin to miss moments, children, happiness while they’re happening.  And that’s life—always being nostalgic for the present, learning to be thankful for what we have before it’s gone.


Ryan’s “Pushin’ 40″ BBQ at the Hee House, a Haiku.

Ryan’s Birthday freestyle.
Uncle Danny rocks the bass.
Drunkdrunkdrunkdrunkdrunk.


I wrote this as part of a longer piece on Sri Lanka that I queried to a publication two months ago.  Hell.  My blog is lonely.  I hate waiting on queries.  Once it took Hana Hou over a year to reject a query.  In the meantime between rejections… enjoy.

I am philosophically against the reproduction aspect of sex.  I am also poor, and am willing to go against everything I believe in for a quick ten grand and a plane ticket.  So I sold my eggs.  It wasn’t the first time.  I hate the hormones, hate feeling as though it’s the only way I can make immediate money, hate disappointing my sister, who says, “What if your eggs turn into a baby that gets abused?”  To which I can’t say anything without saying everything, such as–everyone who has a child is selfish.  We are all abused, some by our own door-knob shaped fists, some by peers, by strangers, or anyone who doesn’t understand the Acme-anchor-from-the-sky crush of unhappiness.

But anyway, this is not something I’m really passionate about.

I had the operation to retrieve my super-sized eggs as soon as I got back from Sri Lanka.  But before I left Hawaii, I went to an IVF doctor to make sure my ovaries were ready for grotesque manipulation.  The doctor turned out to be the father of my classmate.  While maneuvering the condom-covered ultrasound wand around my cho-cha, he gave me the Asian-father inquisition, which added a new dimension to the clichéd exchange:

Why are you donating your eggs?

If you have no money, why are you going to Sri Lanka?

Credit card debt is very bad.

Why are you working as a baker if you went to Harvard?

Why don’t you get a real job?

What do you mean, now you’re a writer?

What do you write?

What does your father do?

What does your mother do?

How did you turn out so smart?

Why don’t you have a gynecologist?

Planned Parenthood?  You go to Planned Parenthood?

You need a real doctor.

I don’t care if you move a lot.

You don’t have health insurance?

My daughter is graduating from an Ivy League medical school while mothering her infant daughter.

My daughter has a gynecologist.

I can’t find your uterus.

My daughter has a uterus.

You probably can’t have children.

If you were a supermodel, you could make $100,000 on your eggs.

Your egg donor agency is taking advantage of you.

You’re too naïve.  People must always take advantage of you.

I drew a pyramid depicting the various levels of condescension involved in the 10 minutes we spent together, folded it into a paper airplane, crumpled it into a paper airplane trash ball, and threw it away.  I am all those things—naïve, a not-supermodel, an egg donor with an MIA uterus.

I have no witty comeback for the truth.

This leap outside the box–quitting my job, leaving the country–landed me on an operating table, legs spread in stirrups, wondering if Sri Lanka was worth it’s weight in ovum, and why do people always say life is worth it, without defining the it–but I never figured it out.  The IV hurt and suddenly I slipped into the peace of nowhere.




Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.