July 12, 2007

Savory Dreams

I had my tonsils wrenched out a week ago. Since then, Iâve done about 80 crossword puzzles, watched 40 or 50 DVDs, and worked on my burgeoning addiction to vile-tasting liquid opiates, which are basically the only thing I can swallow right now. Any POW will tell you what happens when a person is confined to a small space and systematically and continuously deprived of the basic human necessities of food, water, sleep, and variety of entertainment; in fact, they told me all about it in our conversation in my kitchen the other day after we watched The Great Escape. You start going a little bit nuts.

In my case, I think the early signs that Iâm cracking are starting to manifest in the utter destruction of two of the most important things in my emotional life: my waking and sleeping relationships to food. A week ago, I managed to harmoniously balance two seemingly contradictory elements into a personality Iâd call Vegan Foodie. Today, or tonight, or whatever time it is, I stand, or rather awkwardly recline before you a changed and broken woman.

Before the surgery I bought every vegan foodstuff I thought I might be able to eat while recovering: sorbet, soygurt, soy milk, pureed soups, cream of wheat, baby food, non-gelatin-based fruit suspension cups. I had planned for several phases of recovery: soft, mushy, pureed things at first, with slightly more substantial things to follow. Rice, bread, oatmeal, gnocchi, things of that sort. My Darling Baby Sister pointed out that since I donât have much of a sweet tooth, I would probably go crazy eating nothing but sweet things during the first phase. She was right. I stocked up on every savory vegan item I could think of that is smooth, liquid or mushy, and can be eaten cold or at room temperature. This basically amounted to polenta, instant mashed potatoes, V8 juice, and hummus. The polenta and the hummus I havenât been stupid enough to try. The V8 juice (salty; chunky), the mashed potatoes (thick; gritty), the cream of wheat (thick; pointy) and the soygurt (thick; revolting) were excruciating enough. The yams were agonizing. The "first phase" has turned out to be much longer than I'd anticipated - probably two weeks at least - and much more restrictive. It may give you an idea if I say that even drinking water is really, really painful. Here, then, is a complete list, in alphabetical order, of the things I have managed to get down over the last week, approximately three to four tablespoons at a time:

Baby food (I decided against buying any of the savory flavors, although Iâve lately been thinking that the strained peas would have been a good call)
Juice (though it gets painfully tangy)
Non-gelatin-based fruit suspension cups (mandarin orange only; the cherry has too much fruit in it and is too tangy)
Pureed soups mixed 50-50 with soy milk and served cold
Sorbet (though it gets painfully tangy)
Soy ice cream (though it makes a horrible coating in my mouth)
Tea, if cold

Youâll note that all of these things save the soups are sweet, and considering that one of the two soups is Sweet Corn Chowder, mixed with cold vanilla soymilk, itâs basically like drinking melted corn gelato.

I estimate that by my very best efforts Iâm managing to get down maybe 400 or 500 calories a day, with perhaps two cups of water. Iâm accustomed to eating about a billion calories of zesty, savory, crunchy, spicy food a day, and drinking about a quart of coffee in the morning and another quart of whiskey at night. In addition, even though the rest of me is blissfully numb with a warm belly full of liquid hydrocodone, my throat is still alive and screaming, so that I can sleep for an hour or two at a time before I swallow in my sleep and I wake up in agony, stagger into the kitchen, pour some more narcotics down my gullet, shuffle back to bed, try to find a less awkward reclining position, and do three or four crosswords before I can get back to sleep. Iâm accustomed to sleeping about eleven hours a day when schoolâs out.

The result of spending my waking hours screaming between tiny, ice-cold bites of sweet mushy foods and my sleeping hours sitting up and drooling is that Iâve started to have very strange dreams about food. I started trying to write these down when I wake up in order to create a chronicle of my descent. Iâm not making any of these up. Hereâs a small selection from the last few days:

Iâm at a department event where the normal university catering has been supplanted by competing trays of ever-more-enormous, pillowy, fresh cinnamon donuts. Iâm about to eat one when Fred Astaire dances by, takes me by the arm, and leads me over to a vending machine, where he buys me a small, dense cellophane-wrapped cinnamon donut and has me eat it while he waltzes me around singing a song about how if itâs not full of partially hydrogenated oils, itâs not good enough for me.

I buy coffee from a vending machine. The people in line behind me applaud. I turn around, fix the young man behind me with the most evil glare I can muster, and tell him loudly, âDonât you ever fucking patronize me again.â More applause.

I must find this one sandwich shop in Berkeley that makes a blueberry-and-Brie sandwich to die for. I find a shop that has such a thing, made with mustard on foccaccia, but I balk at eating lunch there because they donât have the kind of potato chips I had set my heart on, a new flavor of Kettle Chips called âExtra Hard.â

My American Studies advisor comes over to yell at me about books and ends up performing an elaborate chai-making ritual for me. I finally tell him I donât like chai, and he fixes it with a teaspoon of Tabasco just for me.

Iâm feeding chickpeas one at a time into a shiny red-and-chrome Rube Goldberg device that makes exactly one beanâs worth of hummus right onto your fingertip.

On my lunch break, I go to four different shops looking for the brand of canned salad I like. I finally find it. It comes in a normal, 15-oz tin can, and when you open it, out comes about four headsâ worth of fresh, crunchy Romaine lettuce hearts and a small stratum of lentil dressing. Iâve been talking it up to all my coworkers. It turns out to be less flavorful than Iâd remembered.

This oneâs from this morning: Iâm in Berkeley visiting my sister one last time before she moves, and I make a secret stop on the Northside to go to this chocolate shop I love. Itâs on Euclid Avenue, and Iâm hiding my face behind a newspaper so that my sister wonât catch me dallying in there while I try to decide between my two favorite flavors of chocolate truffle: oregano and enchilada.

There are more, many more, but I can only half-remember them, or theyâre only weird if you happen to know the person I was eating buttercream-glazed chicken wings with and so forth.

In my waking life, such as it is, Iâve entirely stopped thinking about the vegan foods I could be eating right now. I spent the first day or two planning to make my special, amazing, tofu-based vegan manicotti when this is all done. Fuck that. Iâve set my sights higher. Iâve now started sitting in bed dreamily architecting the sandwich I canât wait to eat. It started as a Monte Cristo, but itâs acquired layers of bacon and steak, calamari, honey mustard sauce, and onion rings, and itâs fried to a crisp. Monte Cristos are normally served with a sweet dipping sauce like currant jelly, but since I never want to see another cup of sweet pureed anything as long as I live, this one comes with one ramekin of chipotle mayo, and another one of ranchero sauce. Tonight when I wake up screaming Iâm going to work on adding more layers to my Tex-Mex-Croque-Madame-de-Monte-Cristo Surf-n-Turf Club Sandwich and see if I can find a place for some shrimp inside and a fried egg on top.

Anyone want to have lunch in a few weeks, when my throatâs better but my judgmentâs still impaired? Iâm ready for a heart attack on a plate, and Steve McQueen says he's hungry too.

Posted by katie at July 12, 2007 08:57 PM | TrackBack


Because, and only because, you are presently too far away to actually punch me for this although I don't doubt you'll start looking into long-distance punching strategies immediately: I told you. I said. I said you should swallow your pride and buy the Gerber strained peas and asparagus, and you said you'd be fine with hummus and polenta and I thought about the little sharp bits and I gave you my very best dubious look. I dubed until I could dube no more, but you had made up your mind and there was nothing to be done.

There. Now that that's out of the way:

You poor deranged thing! I'm so sorry that a) your diet is neither as zesty nor as comfortable as you hoped and b) your throat still hurts and c) your canned dream salad is not the be-all-end-all of entinned leafy greens! I would offer to come down there and sit by your bed holding a squirt gun full of codeine to re-dose you whenever you started to look pained, but I don't think that my sick leave from work covers spraying narcotics at my sister while she's trying to do crosswords. Please believe me, however, that if I could do so, I would do it not only willingly but with glee.

When you come to Portland to visit me, I will try to replicate for you the dinner that my former housemates made for me right before I left Berkeley. Vegan pork chops (breaded and fried tofu cutlets) with applesauce, home fried potatoes, and fried flying-saucer squash with onions. All fried and hard and pointy, downright zesty if I may say so and I promise not to stop you from dousing the whole mess in hot sauce anyway, and as close to your enormous fantasy parade of meat as you will get me to make. Also you can stay in the yurt.

Posted by: Dianna at July 13, 2007 07:25 PM

Wait, wait, I take back part of that last bit. No applesauce; you've had enough applesauce. The internet apparently recommends topping pork chops with onion rings and sour cream, which I think we can work with. Or caper sauce -- now that's zesty.

Posted by: Dianna at July 13, 2007 07:28 PM

I genuinely don't remember you dubing me about the hummus and polenta, but if you say you did, then I'll gladly accept vegan pork chops, onion rings and sour supreme with caper sauce as my punishment. Actually, that all sounds delicious, even if the caper sauce makes it sound like an entry from the Gallery of Regrettable Foods.

I think I'm turning a corner, actually. I managed to eat a can of Spaghetti-Os yesterday. They're not vegan (apparently it's a tomato and cheddar cheese sauce), but I don't care because at this point I'm genuinely worried about taking in enough calories to heal on. Let me tell you, this shit was the best thing I've put in my mouth in the last ten days. Amazing. I'm going to fill a wading pool with Spaghetti-Os on my patio. And redheaded stewardesses.

Posted by: katie at July 14, 2007 05:03 PM

Also, was that your former co-opmates or your former subletmates? They all seem like really, really cool people. Your subletmates in particular worked out really well for a slightly random temporary situation - I thought they were really nice.

Posted by: katie at July 14, 2007 05:05 PM

Movable Type ate this comment the first time around, but dude, you have so exceeded your allowance of imaginary redheaded stewardesses. You're cut off until you either a) buy enough kiddie pools to hold all of the various viscous substances you've been saying you'll have stewardess pools of, or b) decide on a single viscous substance and let the imaginary stewardesses get on with picking outfits to go with it. The skimpy bathing costume necessary for frolicking in buticha is very different from that necessary for taking a dip in Spaghetti-Os. And don't say they're supposed to be naked; if you're going to have a kiddie pool full of redheaded stewardesses they need matching skimpy outfits. I'm prepared to put my foot down about this.

Posted by: Dianna at July 15, 2007 11:27 PM