Brainscrubber Lives!

Reviving The Blog

It’s been years since I added anything to my very well received blog. After leaving Saudi Arabia, I found myself disinterested in maintaining regular posts; so, it kind of died off. It was not that I had nothing interesting to say, but I just did not have the energy for it.

That’s changed, now. I have several new interests, chief of which is language learning – particularly from the perspective of an older learner. So, I’ve decided to chronicle my language learning experience here in this blog.

A New Direction

One of the most commonly cited reasons for why someone cannot learn a new language is that they are too old. Language learning is for kids and young adults. Kids pick it up faster, and the brains of young adults are quicker and retain more than do those of older adults.

While those assertions have a certain degree of truth to them, I am going to call bullshit. I am fifty-six-years-old at the time of this writing. I’ve reached the point where I have to search for a word that is just out of reach a whole lot more often than I used to have to do. But, I am still a very intelligent person. I still can analyze a situation and come up with a solution. And, I have a lot of life experiences in the old databases with which I can create comparisons to current challenges and map out a path to where I want to go. I have met very few older people who are not able to say the same thing.

So, I have decided there is no better time than now for me to learn a new language. Language learning results in newly created neural connections – the powerful data highways that allow us to function in life. This aids us as we grow older, helping us not only to sharpen our memories, but also to help fight off dementia. But, just as importantly, we gain a greater insight and understanding of another culture, which enriches our lives. I like that part.

Where To Start

I have begun with learning Spanish.

This is a rather natural choice for me. I was born and grew up in the southwest United States, and I have been exposed to the Spanish language for as long as I can remember. I learned Spanglish (street-level English/Spanish blend) by osmosis as a kid. I learned greetings. I learned profanity (most of us used Spanish cuss words more often than we used English cuss words). And, I learned how to ask simple questions. It is a language about which I have always wanted a deeper understanding.

So, I set a simple goal: to be conversationally fluent enough to hold a thirty-minute general interest conversation, solely in Spanish, by the end of 2016. I started way back in January, and I have made a tremendous amount of progress in only three months. I am inviting you to join the rest of my journey. Maybe, just maybe, you’ll decide there is a language out there that beckons you to give it a try.

I will review tools, techniques, and other resources. While I will emphasize how older folks can use these, the information is broadly applicable to anyone at any age. So, come along. Let’s learn something new together.

 

 

 

Vegetarian Variety

Today is the 73rd day of my grand experiment to see if I can go 366 days without eating flesh.  So far, it’s not been much of an issue.  I like vegetables and fruit.  There are very few that I don’t like, and I am willing to experiment; so, I have had a great deal of variety in my menus. 

There are so many fruits and vegetables available to people that it amazes me so many folks limit themselves to green beans, potatoes, corn, green peas, and iceberg lettuce.  Seriously folks, the self-imposed finickiness of eaters is stunning.  “I won’t eat that because it’s green.”  “I won’t eat that because it’s orange.”  “I won’t eat that because it’s red.”

I mean I get that texture can be off-putting.  We were given a large quantity of chard the other day.  The fact that it’s an unfamiliar green to many people is enough to prevent some people from not trying it.  This can be amplified by the fact that it wilts as it cooks up; although, it wilts far less that most greens.  The thing is, though, it is a nutrition powerhouse, and it really tastes good – especially when cooked with caramelized onions and garlic.  Yummmm!

Unfortunately, most people eat with their eyes, an evolutionary protection that has kept us from poisoning our species since we first began to gather berries.  The thing is we have millions of years of experience behind us, and the food knowledge compiled over the last ten thousand years is truly staggering.  This allows us to get past the rancid smell of fermenting grapes and enjoy a glass of wine.  It lets us know that not every member of the nightshade family is completely poisonous and provides us with a great accompaniment to pasta.  We are able to know escarole is one of the most flexible greens around – suitable for salads and soups and stir-fry.  Food allergies aside, there are not a lot of risks for the modern day eater when eating properly prepared foods.

The point is – Stop being a fraidy cat when it comes to food.  Try this experiment for the next three months:  Each week, select a fruit or a vegetable you have never, or rarely, ever eaten. It’s getting to be Spring, and the grocery stores will offer a lot more selection.  Google your new found friend for recipes (e.g., “escarole recipes”).  Then fix one of those recipes for one of your meals.  You may find that you truly hate something; but, more often than not, you’re going to find something you like.  And, your culinary experience will be enriched. 

As Julia Child would say, “Bon appetit!”

So…if you’re a vegetarian…what do you get to eat?

Seriously?

There’s probably no more annoying question to a vegetarian than perhaps, “Not even fish?”

I usually respond with a very glib, “Food.”

Seriously, the better question is, “What sort of new foods have you discovered?”

In general, people eat a very narrow range of food items.  For some, it is an issue of their comfort range.  For others, it is a lack of imagination or experience.  When I was a kid, if my dad cooked, we got a pork chop fried to shoe leather, some instant mashed potatoes, and a piece of bread.  Maybe a hamburger patty instead.  My mother was an imaginative cook who could make nothing into something.  This proved to be a problem when she returned to work in my early teens.  My brother and I actually liked vegetables; so, we taught ourselves how to cook and made some pretty darned good meals – purely out of self defense. We liked to experiment.  Most of the time experiments worked.  😉

I am the primary cook in our house, and I try to bring that same imagination to what I cook now.  And, with vegetables, there are so many options.  Kale is a good one.  So very, very healthy, it’s a sturdy green that can be used as a salad green or as part of a stir fry or in a soup.  Cabbage – there are so many different types of cabbage: green, red, Napa, bok choy, to name a few – as well as many different applications – not just corned beef or coleslaw!  There are a jillion types of beans, each with a different texture, a different flavor, loaded with protein and other nutrients. 

And, there’s more to life than just pasta or rice.  Couscous! Quinoa! Falafel!  There is so much you can do with these items.  Salads, soups, risottos.  It really is limited only by your imagination.

A word about meat substitutes and tofu.  If you don’t like them, don’t eat them.  I have worked hard to figure out how to prepare them for meals, and I think they turn out pretty well. My vegetarian chili is a big hit with most everyone who eats it.  Once, I even got accused by two hardcore carnivores of lying about the fact there was no meat in it. 🙂  Tofu is not the favorite of lots of folks, too bland for them.  But, again, it’s how you use it.  It’s great for blending in to baked dishes, and my favorite way to use it is to cube it and fry it in olive oil, garlic, and onion until it turns dark brown.  So delicious.  But, it’s not for everyone.

Eating should not be limited by fear or a bad experience.  It should be liberated by the imagination.

Thirty-eight Days

I have to admit, I don’t think about it much. I cook at home, mostly; so, it is not an issue.

About the only time going meatless is an issue is when I eat out. They don’t even have meatless entrees at Panda Express here in Kennewick. I had to order a side of mixed veggies and get some veggie spring rolls.

That’s okay, but I guess I am spoiled. Back home you can something veggie friendly in about 80% of the eating places. I guess they’re all carnivores here. Although, I met a vegetarian woman at work today.

But, there really are not a lot of fast food options for vegetarians out there.

Veggie Sandwiches

Very few things are more convenient for a quick meal or snack than a sandwich. Very little prep work is required – a couple of pieces of bread, something in the middle, some mustard – then, you munch.

I think it’s easier to accomplish a sandwich if you eat meat. However, that could just be me. To me, it seems as if there is a lack of options. Maybe that is due to my limited definition of a sandwich: meat and cheese. Which, if you think about it is pretty limited.

Okay, what makes for a sandwich if you’re forgoing salami and cheese? There’s always peanut butter, or just cheese. I have few complaints for either, other than a steady diet of either is going have some negative consequences weight-wise. Then, there is hummus, which I love and make from scratch. By itself, though, it’s more like a condiment than the excellent source of protein it is. So, I think sliced veggies, maybe some sprouts and/or lettuce, too.

Some folks will suggest marinated tempeh or eggplant or zucchini. Those are good ideas; but, I usually want a sandwich on the fly, and those options take preparation and planning. I am not vegan, so eggs are an option; yet, they are easy to overdo, too. I do eat veggie burgers, but I don’t want a steady diet of them.

I haven’t tried any of the veggie “sandwich meats.” They are expensive and unappealing to me. Maybe I’ll give them a shot sooner or later.

What about you? Do you have a non-animal flesh sandwich you like and want to recommend?

First Five Days

Five days without meat, and to be honest, I have hardly noticed. My diet is light on meat in the first place, so it’s not the hugest of sacrifices.

My big concern in meeting my goal is in sustaining it over the long haul. I can do pretty much anything over the short run. One year constitutes “the long run,” I think.

My biggest temptation so for was a sudden urge to eat some jerky the other day. But, that passed pretty quickly. One of the other things is convenience. It is far more convenient to be a meat eater; it’s ubiquitous. You have to think things through a little more if you are opting out of the carnivorous lifestyle. For me, at least, that involves pre-cooking several dishes on the weekend so they are ready during the week.

Or, maybe I just over think it. 😉

New Beginnings – January 1, 2012

So, I am restarting my blog.

I’ve been meaning to get back to it for quite some time, but inertia…you understand. Then, I decided to conduct a personal experiment for the next year – all 366 days of it.  I am going to spend the next year NOT eating meat.  Mostly, I just want to see if I can do it.  But, part of me is also developing a much different perspective on the use of animals for food.  Again, though, it’s mostly because I just want to see if it’s something I can accomplish – much as some of my friends periodically give up alcohol, tobacco, or caffeine.

Strange how people respond when you say you’re going to give up meat, even if only temporarily.  Some seem to take it personally and say some fairly harsh things.  I don’t really get attacking someone’s personal choices in such a manner.  Folks who know me know I have a pretty strong libertarian (small ‘l’, not large) streak running through me; so, I really do try to accept people’s choices at face value.  If they’re making an obviously harmful choice, based on objective evidence – not my opinion, then I will say something.  But, when it comes to daily, life choices, it’s simply none of my business.

I’ve had a love/hate relationship with meat for the better part of the last twenty years.  I love meat.  I am well known as a fairly accomplished smoker/griller, and I admit to thoroughly enjoying the positive accolades I get when I turn out something that is especially tasty.   On the other hand, the older I get the less I like being involved in killing and violence.  And, make no mistake, if you eat meat, you’re involved in the killing of the animal, however passively.  This is something many try to avoid acknowledging, but it is true.  I am guessing this awareness for me has increased as I’ve amplified my studies in Buddhism…mindfulness and interconnectedness being key components of Zen study.  Not all, maybe not even most Buddhists, are vegetarians.  But, a good many are aware of the food process from start to finish, even the ugly bits.

I don’t plan to preach, but I am sure some will take my comments over the next year in that way.  That’s unfortunate.  I am far more likely to “preach” about environmental and forestry practices, which I will also be commenting on as the year progresses.  That’s something about which I feel quite passionately.  I hope I can convince you to be just as passionate about it.  We need to “put feets to our prayers” to quote a preacher from my youth.

Oh, and my first non-meat meal of the year 2012?  The very fine Where’s the Beef sandwich served to me by Courtney and Olga at Espresso World in Kennewick, Washington.  Mmm…mmm…good!

If you’re new to my blog, then I highly recommend reading many of the previous entries, which mostly cover my time in Saudi Arabia.  I think you will enjoy them.  If you’ve followed me in the past, you may enjoy re-reading some of them.