Well, I’m not dead yet.

I really should be posting something about my job and current experiences thus far, but this is more fun.

So far, there are only a few minor mistakes I’ve made in my time here in India.  The first is that I may or may not have been eating street food the entire time I’ve been working.  Why?  Because we usually eat in the office, and someone else orders from who knows where.  Ok, they know where, and it’s someplace they’re comfortable with, but of course my immune/digestive system is not accustomed to it.  But judging from my bosses’ reaction to what I’d been eating – frog eyes and “Seriously?!?” – maybe it’s something I should’ve been more careful about.  And then there was that time he put his foot down about me eating bhelpuri.  Evidently our ‘of council’ got typhoid and all his hair turned white from eating it someplace on the street, and he’s probably got more of an iron stomach than I have.  So no more of that for me, even though it’s delicious.  Of course I didn’t get smarmy about how I took the live typhoid vaccine so I’d be inoculated for the next five years, thanks very much – because why take a risk?  I could get e coli instead.

I have been careful not to drink the water.  I’ve been doing all the right things as far as brushing my teeth with the bottled stuff and not eating raw things unless they are fruits with a thick peel, like bananas.  But then there’s the chutneys, which I didn’t really think much about until recently.  I should probably have been more careful of those, since I’m not sure quite what is in them – or how much, if any, fresh stuff (especially herbs) they contain.  Coriander is delicious, but it might be a bit of a risk. However, despite all this, I haven’t gotten myself sick yet, at least as far as digestion goes.

What I have done is had the worst allergy attack in quite some time merely due to the change in climates.  For a single day, I went through a box and a half of tissues, which is bad, even for me.  I took antihistamines up to the hilt, which didn’t really help much.  And I didn’t epi pen myself, as I could breathe just fine – I was just sneezing up a storm.  Thankfully, for that eventuality I came prepared – three boxes worth of tissues, family size, stuffed into separate ziplocks.  And they ended up having plenty of tissues for sale here, in this very metropolitan city.  Even have toilet paper!

Additionally, tonight, I may have gotten my co-worker drunk.  I’ve been craving just a sit-down someplace with people to hang out, and I finally convinced at least a few people to go with me tonight.  Of course, this meant me advocating for it for half the week, the girls in the office being excited in the office and seemingly willing to join me, another bunch saying they ‘don’t drink’ and me convincing them that my company and appreciation are worth a slightly pricy lime juice, and then half the cast dropping out last minute.  But, there were two other girls still willing to go – after a suitable amount of time hanging around, waiting – and then some shopping on the way, because who doesn’t need more chapatas? – and then some serious confusion and walking around dazedly when we got separated.

But my one drinker and my one non drinker eventually crowded into the only available table at the back of a small restaurant/bar on the main strip.  And it was lovely – cool, dimly lit, and only just a little loud.  My drinking buddy decided she didn’t know what she wanted, and I was the resource as the oh-so-cultured foreigner.  So.  I suggested something with rum.  She thought maybe she wanted to try tequila – a shot of it in fact.  I counter suggested getting some food into her stomach first, and explained the concept of a shot.  Eventually we decided on some strawberry soda concoction with tequila in it.  Very fruit, very sweet, and possibly too much for her, even with a mound of noodles, a fact of which I was only aware when we stood to leave and she started traipsing off through the crowd, a mad cackle on her lips.  Luckily, I was able to leave her in the care of my non drinking buddy as far as making sure she got on the right train.

As far as my usual habits, I haven’t fallen into anything obnoxious, I haven’t broken myself too badly, and I haven’t had any negative interactions with glass or fire.  One evening in particular the snails were out in force and I may or may not have stepped on one and crushed it to death in the dark, but I continue to hope it was just a crunchy leaf or something.  Oh yeah – I did explode my water heater.  Turns out you aren’t supposed to leave this particular type turned on without the water running – the connecting fittings get to hot and can snap off.  I think you can even rupture the tank eventually with the pressure that builds up, but thankfully I didn’t get that far.  Thankfully it also popped off while both me and my landlord were home, so he was able to shut off the water almost instantly when I came banging on the door.

Lastly, I discovered today that honey in India has a high concentration of lead.  Not sure how high, but you can bet I’m going to be checking out the symptoms of lead poisoning online and will be finding something else to go with my pb in the mornings.

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A whole truckle of Wensleydale

I love cheese.   I love it so much that to this day, I can overeat enough of it to make me almost sick.  I love it so much that I kept a stock of the locally produced compressed milk pellets on hand to sate my cravings, even though they barely tasted cheesy.  Even cheese food is a wonderfully delicious product to my taste buds.

As a cheese lover, I’m always ready to try new shapes and flavors.  Most recently this took the form of a something-or-other round with cranberries in it.  What could be more delicious than cheese?  Cheese with fruit, of course!  Yum.  After sharing more than half a round with Corina, I was able to convince myself to stop consuming, but it was difficult.  It was, after all, a sweet, crumbly cheese – what could be better for dessert, for a perfect cap to any meal?  And after the cap, how about a recap?  I still get shivers just thinking about it.

If there’s one thing both thinking and deliciousness lead to, it’s research.  So, after a cursory interweb browse, I feel pretty confident that the cheese we consumed so rambunctiously was a Wensleydale.  Wensleydale comes from Yorkshire, specifically the town of Hawes.  I feel like I should now be talking with a Secret Garden accent. It has a supple, crumbly, moist texture (check) and a flavor that suggests wild honey (double check) balanced with a fresh acidity (quoi?).  What is ‘fresh acidity’, anyway?  And how does it relate to this totally delicious, totally sweet cheese?  Those cheese tasters and their weird ideas of flavor.  it’s almost as bad as wine connoisseurs.

The cheese comes in a range of sizes, the smallest of which is a a wax-covered round called a ‘truckle’, which evidently comes from the phrase ‘truck a wheel’ and can refer to the pulleys in a block or the wheels of a truckle or trundle bed, or any small wheels or casters.  The word ‘truckle’ can also mean ‘to submit’.  Ah, my little obsequious cheese!  Finally, this cheese is ‘suited to combination with sweeter produce’, commonly cranberries.  In England, they also eat it typically with fruitcake or Christmas Cake, which I can barely think about.  Those crazy little islanders…

It’s all in the butter.

The recent salmonella outbreak has now supposedly been traced to King Nut peanut butter, which evidently is not responsible for any of the ingredients it usued to produce its butter and other products.  In addition, none of its products are sold directly to consumers – the King Nut brand is only available through food service.  So if you’ve had restaurant or cafeteria peanut butter recently, you might be at risk, but store-bought Skippy is still basically reliable (thank you, Annette Funicello).

I am also eager to report that Massachussetts ranked in the top five for number of reported cases, along with California, Ohio, Michigan, and the surprise salmonella guest, Minnesota, which reported 30 cases.  As for the 8 states that are supposedly salmonella-free, I am happy to say that, as anticipated, Alaska and Hawaii and Montana are all on the list.  Also making the cut are New Mexico, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Florida.

Avoiding the dreaded ‘popcorn lung’.

I had no idea, but evidently microwaves can do more than just turning your Styrofoam toxic or enlarging Peeps (the only good Peep is a dead Peep).  There is at least one consumer case now of microwave popcorn fume inhalation which may have caused lung disease.  of course, the conclusion is uncertain, but so far there is no other explanation other than diacetyl.  If you work in a popcorn factory, the risk might be higher than you want.  For the rest of you popcorn lovers?  I’d say you can still eat your popcorn – just don’t inhale.  Or it might be a good time to convert to air pop…

Thanks, Josue, for the tip (via Green Steam).

We’ve got COOL, now let’s get … TAMS?

As of today, the new COOL (Country-of-Origin Labeling) law goes into effect.  Basically this means that any fresh produce sold in the US must have a label declaring what country it’s from.  The government is giving growers until spring before beginning to fine them, but you should at least begin to see the new labels at stores.  More details about the law and its implementation can be found here.

And that’s great.  I think it will promote consumer awareness and help alleviate some of the worries of food scares and give us a little more information about where our products come from.  But I want more.  I was thinking that I want to know when my organic radishes are from the farmer two miles away and when they’re from Texas.  I want to know where my veggies have been shipped before they came to me, and where they might have stopped in transit, and how long it took them to come.  Ripeness is an issue.  Health is an issue.  Environmental impact is an issue.  I want to track that.

I propose the Tracking and Management System.  I want to know where my stuff went, where it came from – including a little blurb about the farmer – and how long it took to get there.  I want to know details of its shipment, including how far it travelled and at what environmental cost.  Lastly, I want to know the conditions of its transport – was it sent in a refrigerated box?  Was it overheated?  Unintentionally frozen?  I know they’re doing this sort of tracking now with wine, and I know for more commodity items, it’s probably less fiscally feasible.  But still, I want it – and I think it’s something other consumers, even at a more speciality store level which would provide this kind of information, would want it.

The Cookie Gods

There are few things in life I like more than a cookie.  Just say the word – “cookie”.  It even sounds like it’s filled with goodness.  I love that my boss and other office minions delight in providing me with a daily cookie fix.  I love that the word is a source of humor either by itself (if you’re Shannon) or in various jokes involving tossed cookies or cowboys.  I love that Jason comfort-foods me with them.  For any of you who’ve ever read (or had read to them) the story Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, you’ll notice that cookies are one of the foods that never becomes a problem in falling from the skies.  Why?  Because cookies are simply never bad.

Which brings me to my next point – why are we not awash in a sea of cookie provender from benficent gods above?  As cookies cannot cause floods, they would be more useful than excessive rain.  And don’t I (Don’t you, ALL of you) deserve a cookie?  I think I do.  But how does one bring about a hail of cookies from the sky?  Have we already angered the cookie gods in some way we don’t know about?  Does our cloud-dough lack substance?  Did somebody leave out that pinch of salt that would provide an instant cookie downpour?

I cannot say.  But, I think, it would be advisable for those of us without cookies to begin an immediate cookie dance to bring down the cookies from the sky once again.  Couldn’t hurt, and provided no one breaks themselves, it would at least be entertaining.

Wellfleets. Yum.

I like raw oysters.  Only since moving to Boston did I realize I like them.  In Indiana, oysters just aren’t as prevalent, and while I like seafood, somehow I never got around to trying them.  Now I love to hop up to Summer Shack after a long week and grab a pitcher of Fisherman’s Brew and a nice little selection of oozy goodness.  I generally try what they have on hand, learning the names of different types and maybe even something about the part of the coast a particular oyster comes from.

Wellfleets are pretty good.  The Wellfleet Oyster Fest describes them as ‘long and strong-shelled. Experienced tasters know that they are plump and clean with a distinctively good balance of creamy sweetness and brine.’  But I’ve never been to Wellfleet, MA, and didn’t even know they had a lighthouse, until now.

It is interesting to me the way local legend grows up around a particular event or circumstance.  It must have been true that someone in Wellfleet knew the fate of the lighthouse at the time it was moved.  The amount of effort it must take to move a lighthouse from one coast to another, even disassembled as some think it was, must have meant the local population was well aware of the movement, even if they were unaware that the lighthouse would eventually end up on Point Montara, CA.  Someone must have written the letters that are now coming to light as evidence of the movement of the lighthouse.  Local rumor may have eventually spewed forth the idea that the lighthouse was merely disassembled and not transported, but what of those ‘in the know’?  Is there some reason they would not want the town to know that their lighthouse was still being used (and is still being used today) somewhere else?  Or did the townspeople themselves simply prefer to allow the truth to fade into past and legend.

It is odd the ways truth and story blur in local tradition.  In Talcott, WV, it is often said that after his titanic battle with the steam engine, John Henry came home to his wife, had a quiet dinner, and passed softly in his sleep, his big heart finally giving out from the strain of that struggle.  In Ireland, Oisin lives to tell his tale to the future, perhaps even to Saint Patrick.  We are drawn to the poetry of the moment, and who would rather not see their beacon of light sinking slowly beneath the waves forever, rather than used for purposes not their own on some distant shore?

Cook Yer Tomatoes.

As Americans, most of us live distant from our foods.  I’m not talking about prepackaged, processed foods or even raw meat, but even fresh produce.  We don’t live close to it, or see the steps it goes through to get to our stores, and yet we expect it to be fresh and ripe when we buy it.  We expect our Sunkist oranges to look fresh, our Dole lettuces to be bug- and wilt-free.  I was aware of this most clearly in China, where veggies come fresh with both creepy-crawlies and nightsoil fertilizer.  In China, you really wash your foods good, and you don’t often eat anything raw.

Don’t get me wrong, I love fresh  veggies, but there are certain unavoidable health risks with very fresh, unprocessed produce.  Take the recent spread of salmonella from tomatoes.  People are becoming sick not because they weren’t taking precautions and washing their food, but simply because they were eating something raw that they thought was safe.  Ultimately there is going to be a ‘culprit’, some poor individual who didn’t wash his hands or is otherwise responsible for not taking safety precautions.  But sometimes I wonder if we’re not asking for too much.  Should we be guaranteed the safety of fresh, raw produce?  Or is the cost too high?  Should we all go back to keeping our own gardens?  Or should we be more careful about eating raw products that we cannot guarantee the safety of?  Should we all be buying from local small farmers anyway?

All I know is that every tomato I’ve got is going into tomato and egg soup (think egg drop, except better and with actual flavor), rather than for fresh eating.

White Hot (chocolate)

It is a legend of my office that at one time, we had a 12 cup coffee maker that rebrewed regular throughout the day.  There are various stories of people not making a fresh pot, people not cleaning and letting the coffee mold, and people generally being rude and somewhat inhuman to each other.   I’m glad I don’t have to deal with that.  However, the current solution of Keurig one-cup brews, or K-cups, is not an elegant one.  The coffee inside each package is pre-ground and generally stale, despite a ‘freshness’ seal.  Most of the flavors are either too strong or too weak (where’s my medium roast?!?).  Finally, the K-cups brew what seems to be 7 oz., an amount that is perfectly the wrong size for one or two brews in my 12 oz. mug.  I need like one and a half brews of K-cup.

But there is one thing I’ve discovered that not even K-cups can foul up – white hot chocolate.  Liquid warmth beyond the understanding of mortal man, it comes out a little foamy, reminiscent of marshmallows and downy pillows.  It’s like a hot cloud of wonderment.

McDonald’s may have its persuasive hooks in the world with copious amounts of salt, fat, sugar, and other horribly bad things, but Keurig will now always have a deeper hook in my heart.

Double Stuf

Some of you may be familiar with the singer Harry Chapin, who does a variety of more ridiculous songs for adults.  I know him via his brother Tom, who was my childhood substitution for Raffi.  Anyway, one of Harry’s songs that I delight in is ‘30,000 Pounds of Bananas’.  Just picture it – a truck losing control outside of Scranton, sacrificing its load to the demon of bad breaks on a  treacherous road.  Now replace the treacherous road with a relatively flat and straight one, and substitute the bananas with 14 tons of Double Stuf Oreos, and you have today’s news.

While I find it ridiculous to envision literal TONS of cookies stopping traffic, there are other questions.  What happened to the driver?  Did he lose control?  Was he injured?  Did he have to eat his way out of tons of cookies after the spill?  The article claims none of the cookie bags ripped open (yeah right), but even for those cookies still in bags, are there legal issues to selling them after the spill?  Nobody likes crumbly Oreos.  Personally, i think the company should sell the goods at a discount.  Who knows what kind of invisible damage could result from the spill?  There could be a complete loss of structural integrity, resulting in dissolving cookie if I try to dip it in milk.  I vote, if not for a discount, at least for a random dipping test of the cookies spilled, just to check.  I would guess there are very few who like oreo cookie floaters in their milk, either.

Thanks to Kate for the article and keeping me up to date on the Midwest (woohoo!).

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