The dangers of grocery shopping addiction

August 26, 2013

I realized recently that I have an addiction to grocery shopping. I go two to five times a week. After a bad day, usually most week days and Sundays, there is nothing like walking down the aisles of Safeway or Trader Joe’s. The shopping cart making that delightful rickety sound; all the lights and colors; the waxy, shiny fruit—grocery shopping is a sexy, sexy experience. I get hot and bothered when Barilla pasta is on sale, 10 for $10. And oh hells no, organic tamari soy sauce in travel-size packets?! 20 packets for $4.99? Who HASN’T experienced the frustration of being on a picnic and wishing desperately for a packet of tamari! No one, that’s who, except maybe crazy people!

I don’t know where this compulsion comes from, but it probably has something to do with growing up as a poor refugee. This survival mentality has apparently affected me in a couple of ways. First, whenever I see food items that are on sale, I must buy them, never mind if we will ever get around to using them before they expire. Going through the pantry the other day, I found the Arborio rice I bought six years ago when I wanted to make that wild mushroom risotto! And there’s the dried wild mushrooms mix!

Paradoxically, though, growing up poor and unable to afford gourmet food also makes exotic and expensive high-end food items very attractive, now that we can actually afford them. Jameelah, maybe because of her own childhood or maybe because I’ve infected her, is also addicted. Every other day, one of us would come home with some crazy new food item. This is Seattle, with its creative hipsters making stuff like applewood-smoked-olive-flavored caramel sprinkled with pink Himalayan sea salt and hemp seeds, or organic lavender-infused coconut flakes mixed with truffled agave syrup-flavored goji berries or something. Once, Jameelah came home with some weird yellow spiky fruit. “What is it?” I asked. “I don’t know! But it was only six dollars for one!” Last month we bought a new fruit called lekima for five bucks; it was disgusting.

A while ago I was cleaning the fridge and came across a bottle of chipotle blackberry barbecue sauce and could not remember when or from where we bought it. It looked expensive and expired in 2010. Digging out the rest of the fridge and pantry we found all sorts of stuff we bought, some of which we can no longer recognize. That weird powder is either garbanzo flour or vital wheat gluten…or maybe polenta. “All right,” I told Jameelah, “We can’t keep spending money on food. Let’s do a use-the-[stuff]-we-have challenge this month. We can only buy fresh fruit and veggies. No more spices, processed foods, simmer sauces, etc.” She agreed to it.

It has been two weeks now since our challenge started, and it is hard. What the hell do we do with arrowroot powder or three-year-old garam masala? Wanting to not think about it, and lucking out on a babysitter, we decided to go see a movie. The theater was next to the World Market, a magical place with food from all around the world. We forgot our challenge and bought several bars of high-end chocolate. Then we ran into some olives that were stuffed with sun-dried tomatoes, so we had to have a jar of those. And we had to have these bottles of mangosteen and pomegranate soda. At the cash register, there were cans of sparkling muscato wine for four bucks each, and the novelty of wine in a can was enough to entice us to get one.

We ate and drank our goodies while watching the movie, then felt bad that we had failed our challenge with so much of August left. This is a classic symptom of addiction: You indulge in it, then you feel like crap afterward, and you vow to get better. We have to get better. Each month, childcare is literally more than our mortgage. Feeling awful and stuffed with strawberry-champagne-flavored chocolate and muscato, we drove home and made wild mushroom risotto.

What I learned about life from making kimchi

March 1, 2012

As my birthday approaches this month, I start to reflect back on my life and accomplishments. And by that, I mean I start to freak out and get depressed and eat like an entire family-sized bag of Tim’s Cascade jalapeno-flavored potato chips, followed by eight Tums. Birthdays are pretty brutal; they force us to reflect on ourselves and our worth, and that’s never a good thing.

This year, however, I discovered the joys of making kimchi! Yes, kimchi, that traditional Korean condiment made with vegetables, usually nappa cabbage, garlic, ginger, Korean red peppers, green onions, all fermented until it tastes sour and smells like spicy marinated gym socks, but in a good way. Vegan kimchi’s are hard to come by, since they’re usually made with fish, tiny shrimp, oyster, or other animal ingredients, so I thought I would make my own. Through these past couple of months of experimenting, I have learned several valuable lessons about life and happiness, which I will now share with you, because they are profound.

First, kimchi is a combination of different elements. The balance of all these different ingredients differentiates a good kimchi from a horrid one. A good one must be balanced between salty, spicy, sour, bitter, sweet, and umami, or “savory.” In my first batch, I used way too much garlic and ginger, producing a vile and slightly toxic concoction that would have brought tears to my eyes if the Lasik surgery I got in Vietnam hadn’t damaged my tear ducts. Lesson about life: hipsters are ridiculous, and I hate them.

Second, one of these ingredients, Korean red pepper is essential. You can use cayenne or sriracha or jalapeno or whatever, but the taste will be different. For weeks, I went around local Asian markets searching for this elusive red pepper, having no luck. So I took a shortcut and made my kimchi with cayenne pepper flakes, and it was not good. Lesson about life: Millennials totally get on my nerves with their whininess and constant narcissism.

Third, kimchi takes time to ferment. A young kimchi tastes different than one that has been allowed time to age, to develop its flavors. The perfectly aged kimchi will taste better and more complex and will complement foods better and also be better for you. Lesson about life: What’s with those stupid songs with the breathy women singing songs with whimsical lyrics that are used in commercials these days? I’m sick of breathy women singing songs with whimsical lyrics. I hate whimsical lyrics!

Fourth, kimchi is good for you, full of great bacteria that help in digestion and so on. Each bite of fermented cabbage is full of millions or billions of living, writhing, squirming bacteria that will improve your health. We take them for granted, because we can’t see them, but they are there. Lesson about life: Morning people! With their yoga and green smoothies and perkiness, could they be any more irritating?

Fifth, kimchi complements other foods. Kimchi is rarely eaten by itself. Though it is bold, it is also understated and humble and plays a supporting role, helping to enhance and uplift other dishes. This role does not diminish it, but rather lifts the kimchi up as well. Lesson about life: Gerber commercials with those babies having adult hands doing magic or something. That is so creepy and disturbing! Babies are cute because they’re clumsy and helpless. They can’t do magic or juggle! It’s sick, sick!

For my birthday, I’ll eat my kimchi and reflect on my life and what I have accomplished and what is in store. And as I savor each morsel of fermented cabbage, I’ll be thinking—Those dancing KIA hamsters are truly insipid and annoying. If I could, I would kick each of them in the face while they’re dancing to that stupid song.

JN146: Portland, natural habitat of the hipsters

October 24, 2011

My friends,

You’ll be proud of me. After watching on average four hours of TV each day, Jameelah and I have taken the first steps to doing more self-actualizing hobbies, i.e., we ordered a bunch of art supplies from Amazon. Before I became addicted to Netflix and reruns of Friends, I drew crap, wrote a lot, and took pictures of stuff. Now, it’s been endless slogs through the 11-hour work day, followed by watching other people do stuff. Sure, it was stress-free, but life is not about relaxation. It’s about the struggles to create! To express! To livvvvve, livvvvve….

And there is no better place to do all the above than Portland, Oregon, one of the most interesting cities we’ve been to. We went there to visit our friends, Brandi and Candy, who are not strippers, I don’t think. Portland is an awesome vortex of weirdness and kick-assery. Sure, we were only there for a day and a night, but it’s enough to get a good sense of the city, which is beautiful place, very clean.

50% of the people there are hipsters. Hipsters are wackos who wear horrible clothing, including impossibly skinny jeans, stupid hats and scarves, lens-less glasses, have asymmetric hair, one or more piercings, don’t bathe for days, and project an aura that make you want to throw bars of soap at them. Portland seems to be their natural habitat, so it was fascinating watching them. At one point, one of them passed by. He was wearing tight blue spandex shorts, a button-down yellow shirt with a black vest, a pink hat, and his lips and brows were pierced. On his back, I swear, was a wooden sword!! Seconds later, a goth hipster waddled by with her equally bizarre-looking hipster boyfriend. I didn’t notice the boyfriend much, since I was distracted by the girl’s yellow and black Batman underwear, which was showing because her extra skinny black jeans were sagging. The courtship habbits of hipsters is something that would make an interesting research dissertation topic.

The rest of the city comprises hippies, yuppies, and homeless people. We had never seen so many homeless people in the US. On every street corner were homeless kids begging for change or some Voodoo Donuts, which is a famous donut joint in Portland. They are famous, by the way, partly because of the phallic shape of one of their pastries, which they subtly call “cock-and-balls.” The line wrapped halfway down the block, past an adult video store/movie theater. We were happy that they had vegan donuts.

So there we were, waiting in line for our donuts, observing the hipsters as they socialized, hunted for food, and avoided natural predators (which is almost everyone). Jameelah was ordering for me, but she can be excessively indecisive when the stakes are low. “Get the maple bar and the vegan C and B,” I said. “What’s C and B,” she asked. “Cock-and-Balls,” I whispered. “OK,” she said, though it was obvious she was distracted. Five minutes later she asked, “What did you want again?” “The C and B,” I said. “What’s C and B again?” she said. “Cock and Balls,” Brandi and Candy said. Five minutes later: “OK,” she said, “I’m getting anxious. There are so many options! What do you want?” “C and B,” I said. “What’s C and B?” she asked. “COCK AND BALLS!” we screamed in unison, drawing the attention of several people.

The donuts were delicious, even better with the dirty jokes we made while eating them, which I won’t repeat here, but suffice to say, the jokes involved C and B.

At night, we ventured out to observe the nocturnal hipsters, hitting a dance club, where a dozen or so Yager Bombs later, we were bouncing along with the music and the scantily-clad women on the platform overlooking the dance floor. I noticed something. There were no hipsters in the club! Hipsters, apparently, are averse to dancing. At 1:30am, we left, because, as Candy put it, “we’re too old for this $#!%.”

Overall, I was quite fond of Portland. The combo of hipsters, yuppies, hippies, and homeless and how they interact is fascinating. Kind of like a movie or a tv show, actually. The night scene is also pretty nice, seeming to be livelier than Seattle. And there are quite a huge population of vegans, so there was vegan food everywhere. And all sorts of art and handmade jewelry and crap like that. Hipster lifestyle is the opposite of ours right now, and I can’t help but envy it a little. To live without caring that you look like you were dressed by color-blind monkeys, to be free of societal rules of normal behavior, to wear a wooden sword on your back for no reason, to be free, free…

Jameelah and I are inspired. We’re going to watch less TV and do more art stuff. But first, we have to polish off our C and B.

JN86: Someone doesn’t like me! What do I do? Vote now!

April 13, 2010

My friends,

I am trying to write this early so I can go to sleep at 10. There is a meeting of Asian nonprofit directors tomorrow at 7:30am. These other nonprofit directors are all morning people, who, along with Tea Party Republicans and hipsters, are ridiculous. They have unexplainable, weird behaviors. For example they wake up at 5am and “go to the gym” and “have breakfast.” You call and ask them to go out for coffee, and they cuss at you and say stuff like “Do you know what time it is?! It’s 2am! I have to wake up and make a green smoothie in three hours!” They are not very friendly between the hours of 10pm and 3am, when I am most productive.

The forum last week actually went pretty well. I was not called a communist and driven out of the community like a rabid leper, forced to live among homeless people and woodland creatures. Over 50 people showed up in total, which was 40 more than we expected. They gave input on the strengths and weaknesses they saw in the Vietnamese community, as well as what they would like to see in ten years. Scanning the room, I was moved by how engaged everyone was, youth, young professionals, and elders. There was only one moment of tenseness, which was when I crossed by one focus group, and two elders were complaining about the question “What is one thing you would change about the community?” This question makes no sense, they said, it should be, What is one thing you would change about the community to make it better! For five minutes they argued, berating whoever came up with the question, until I came along and did some amazing diplomatic verbal gymnastics, including “Yes, sir, you are completely right” and “You elders know much more than we kids do! Please, pour your wisdom unto the empty vessels that are our brains.” They were appeased; the discussion continued. At the end, everyone was very inspired, and I was able to sleep peacefully for the first night in weeks.

The small neighborhood group of which I am the chair, meanwhile, is also going pretty well. I just found out that the 98118 zip code is the most diverse in the nation! Which means I’m chair of the neighborhood council of the most diverse district in the nation! Muahahahaha! Power, unfettered power is mine, mine!!! I think the group of 30 has gotten used to my style of leadership, which revolves around three principles: 1. Every meeting must have snacks; the Chair will not be hungry 2. Every meeting must start and end on time; the Chair must be back in time for Law and Order SVU and 3. We shall all sit in a circle, with no tables, so that the Chair can have better sights of assassination attempts. Lately we have been talking about what one project to tackle this year, “so we can tell our grandkids that in 2010, our neighborhood group accomplished something significant for our community.” I was thinking of having a statue built of me at one of the parks, but they were thinking of something like a celebration of diversity with food and music that everyone could enjoy. Fine, that doesn’t last as long as a statue, but I guess it’s a start.

Overall, I’m doing OK leading this neighborhood group and getting along with everyone. Except one. Joe, the 70-year-old Joe, whose perpetual scowl is like a sharp-edged scimitar dangling over my head. No matter what I do, he hates it. He doesn’t respond to buttering up, like the Vietnamese elders. One time I asked everyone to get up vote on something using stickers on a chart. He refused. What kind of person hates stickers?! Last meeting, we had an icebreaker for everyone to get to know everyone else. Everyone enjoyed it. Joe reluctantly participated, but throughout, his glare was fixed on me like that piece of chocolate I one dropped on the car seat and then accidentally sat on, but more bitter. I need to be liked by everyone! Everyone! What should I do? Here are some ideas. Vote now!

  1. Invite Joe to coffee. Ask him to tell stories about the “good ol’ days”
  2. During the meeting, steal one of his shoes. Then, when he’s trying to find his shoes, give it back to him. He’ll be grateful that I found his shoe.
  3. Find out where he lives. Show up one day with a pie.
  4. Plant several spearmint plants in his garden. Everyone loves fresh mint.
  5. Invent time machine, go back in time to when Joe was friendly, befriend him


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