I like brown rice. But I didn’t always. It wasn’t exactly an everyday staple in our family when I was growing up. We mostly ate other starches like potatoes and spaghetti, before it was referred to as pasta. My love affair with brown rice began just before I got my heart broken for the first time. They say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. That may well be true. But quite often a woman’s heart is influenced by what a man puts in his stomach. In the case of my first love, it was brown rice. Although the relationship ended badly, it left me with two things. A new way to eat. And a new child.
Little back story. Ma was a great cook. Not a cordon bleu. Nor a top chef. Julia Childs. Or Martha Stewart even. But among her many gifts was the ability to create homespun, delicious meals for her family ever day. While she may not have been a gourmet, there were times when she was called upon to be a magician, making much of little. Shazam.
For the most part, we were meat and potato folks. We also had our weekly meal regimen. There were just certain things we ate on a regular basis that you could count on. As surely as the sun rose in the east and set in the west, these meals were part of our family narrative.
The weekend began with fish and chips on Friday night, despite the fact that we weren’t Catholics. For lunch on Saturdays we had hotdogs and fresh-brewed coffee, along with a visit from my mother’s cousin C, who I called Uncle C, because he was about a million years older than me. Saturday nights were spaghetti nights, in homage to Ma’s Italian heritage. Ma would get up early Saturday morning to prepare her tomato sauce and famous spicy meatballs. She would place the pot of Italian goodness on the back burner of the stove to simmer all day, filling the house with a mouthwatering aroma that taunted us. As a result, there were many “taste testers” in our family. Wooden spoon dippers and sneaky samplers. Guilty parties, all of us. After church on Sunday we had some sort of roasted meat (usually beef) with mashed potatoes, gravy, boiled vegetables and maybe a tossed iceberg lettuce salad. Sunday nights, The Old Man would cook up a batch of sweet wafer-thin Finnish Pancakes, which we smothered in maple syrup and washed down with more fresh-brewed coffee.
Dinner meals from Monday to Thursday were a little more unpredictable. For the most part they still involved some sort of meat and potato combo. A little fried chicken. Or a savory tuna casserole. Occasionally, despite my very vocal protests, liver and onions. I have only one word to adequately describe this culinary offensive offering. Yuck. Often on the Thursday before The Old Man got paid, we had wieners and beans. And usually sometime during the week, Ma fried up hamburger patties, which she served with mashed potatoes and green beans. I used to pick out the onions in the patties and dip each mouthful in Heinz ketchup, then wash it down with a large gulp of milk. The Old Man and I enjoyed a glass of milk with every meal. Plus, there was always the whitest of white bread and butter in the centre of the table. Each meal ended with dessert. Usually something freshly baked by Ma. Pie, cake, cookies, pudding. If there were no baked goods, then we had ice cream. Vanilla. Sometimes topped with canned fruit cocktail and its coveted token maraschino cherry.
On special occasions and holidays like Christmas and Easter, we had grander versions of the Sunday roasted meat and potatoes. By this I mean, turkey or ham. Holiday dinners, however, involved more boiled vegetables, baked turnips, cranberry or apple sauce (depending on the meat), stuffing, cabbage rolls, and either dill pickles (with turkey) and mustard or sweet pickles (with ham.) The exclamation mark that followed these meals was the assortment of desserts and sweet treats.
These were the meals of my childhood and youth. But after I had my first big love, followed by my first big heartbreak, some things changed. My primo amore introduced me to a book called You are all Sanpaku. I don’t remember all the intimate details from this book, but I do recall spending hours gazing into the mirror trying to determine whether or not I had Sanpaku eyes. Were the whites of my eyes perilously showing in three places – side, bottom, side? It was terrifying. I was convinced that I was going to die suddenly from some heinous mystery illness if my irises didn’t centre themselves properly in my eyes. Fortunately, there was a cure for this Japanese medical malady. The Macrobiotic Diet, as prescribed in You are all Sanpaku. It involved consuming copious amounts of whole grains and preferably raw vegetables. And if not raw, lightly steamed in a stainless steel steam basket. Nothing processed. Nothing. Not even a hotdog.
The whole grain of choice for my love and I was brown rice. Not white. Not parboiled. Not Minute. Nor anything produced by Uncle Ben. Brown with long grains and unmilled. Chewy. Nutty. Whole. Had I not been so in love and consumed by fear, I would have considered this to have been food only suitable for our Budgie. Had my pheromones not marred my taste buds and clouded my judgement, I would have acknowledged forthrightly that brown rice did not taste good. Compared to the fluffy white stuff that came with our sweet and sour chicken balls, it was unappetizing. Downright disgusting.
But I was in love for the first time. And I would eat anything for love. Mushrooms even. And broccoli. Wild fiddleheads. And because I liked to share things with Ma, I introduced her to the wonders of the Macrobiotic Diet too. Typical of Ma, she embraced this new fandangled idea of mine with open arms and an open mind. Slowly, bit by bit, together we introduced aspects of this new way of eating into our lives. First the brown rice. Then the stainless steel steamer. She bought a blender. A pasta maker. She added whole wheat flour and a variety of new interesting fresh vegetables, including broccoli, to her grocery list. A health food store opened on the other side of town. She began to explore the wonders of its wares. Suddenly weird things began to pop up in our cupboards and refrigerator. Yogurt. Wheat germ. Lecithin granules. B-complex vitamins. Ma not only embraced this new approach to eating and health, she ran with it. Like a health food flag bearer leading the charge. Hail to Ma Earth.
Over the years there have been many books that have transformed my life.
was one of the first. It may not have saved my life but it certainly changed its course. At least the part that involved my physical wellbeing. As for my spiritual path, and matters involving the heart, there have been many books that have had their influence. I’m still a work in progress so I’m certain there will be many more.
But we always remember our firsts.
Like the young man who gave me the book, and the lifelong dietary path. Yes, he broke my heart and it took years to fully recover from that. But he also gave me one of my greatest treasures in life. My firstborn. And that blender Ma bought? We used it to make all of his baby food. Fresh. Lightly steamed. And blended with love.