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cholula, you ain’t no tabasco

Naomi Campbell once threw a phone at her assistant. But she can’t be all bad. After all, she once revealed in an interview that she carries Tabasco in her purse. Assuming she’s not carrying the Tabasco around to splash in her assistant’s eyes, that single fact makes Naomi Campbell bulletproof in my book. Because as far as I’m concerned, Tabasco is the stuff of life.

Unfortunately, around Portland, it’s getting harder and harder to find Tabasco in restaurants. I noticed it happening about a year ago. And now it happens all the time. My friend Patrick says it’s because Cholula reps are always hawking their wares to restaurateurs. Whatever the cause, it’s a real problem. Once, if you asked “Do you have Tabasco,” the response you’d get was “Green or Red?” Nowadays, if you ask “Do you have any Tabasco?” you’re likely to hear “No. [Insert sad hipster waiter face]. But I have Cholula!”

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chili lime cholula sounds absolutely disgusting

Who wants your stinking Cholula??  Cholula is fine if you’re putting it on an enchilada or Huevos Rancheros. That’s because if you sprinkle Cholula on something, your food automatically turns into Mexican food. So if you’re trying to go in that direction, it helps to start with Mexican food. Cholula gives off a dull, smoky vibe that falls somewhere between the “Hot” and “Fire” sauces at Taco Bell. I’m not knocking that. There’s definitely a place for Fire sauce, I mean, Cholula, and that place is on a 99 cent bean and cheese burrito.

But you for damn sure can’t put Cholula on a bed of tender, soft-cooked eggs, or sprinkle it in little dots all the way down a slice of crisp bacon. You can’t put Cholula on the crunchy top layer of homemade macaroni and cheese. You can’t put Cholula on pizza, unless it’s taco pizza. Admittedly, that last one is a guess, because I’d never order a taco pizza. That shit is gross.

No, sometimes, Cholula just won’t do. Sometimes, the only thing that will do is that blast of acidic, vinegary heat. That fiery hit of Tabasco.

I told my friend Ethan I was writing this post, and he immediately started in on an irrelevant diatribe against Chipotle guacamole, Hunt’s ketchup, and tomatillo salsas. Which just goes to show that we all have our least favorite condiments. I can’t take Ethan seriously because he hates Tabasco. When I complained that Cholula makes everything taste like Mexican food, Ethan opined that “Mexican food is better than Tabasco food,” which just makes me feel sorry for him.

Anyway, I’m not saying restaurants should ONLY offer Tabasco. I just want them to keep Tabasco in the mix. In case you’re wondering, Tabasco is not paying me to write this post. No, this love is for free.

Until the restaurants awake from their cloudy Cholula haze, I’ll just have to carry my own hot sauce. Which is why, this Christmas, I’m asking for this.

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please let my kids be nerds

At bedtime last night, Finn leaned in close and tenderly stroked my cheek, as he always does when he’s about to ask me to buy him something. “Mama. You know, I don’t have any cool stuff to share for sharing day.” Stroke, stroke, nuzzle, nuzzle. “So, I was thinking…I could buy some crystals. At the crystal store.”

Crystals!! Could thunder eggs and postage stamps be far behind?

Hot diggity. Now we were talking.

I have friends who don’t want their kids to be nerds, or to hang out with nerds. But these friends are going about it all wrong. In my experience, it’s hard to turn out interesting as an adult unless you were a nerd while young, or at least, had friendly, sustained contact with nerds. Don’t believe me? Think of the most outwardly-attractive-yet-inwardly-boring adult you know. I guarantee that person has never been a nerd.

finny bike

Of course, the inverse of that doesn’t work as well. Not all nerds flower into something cool. But look around at your nerdiest friends. Aren’t they often the people you want to hang out with the most? I mean, for short periods of time.

Not to brag, but I was a huge nerd for the majority of my youth. On my first day of kindergarten, I wore an itchy wool dress and a matching hat. A MATCHING HAT. As a new immigrant who barely spoke English, it’s amazing I wasn’t stoned by the other kids. Who cares though. I had no idea how inappropriately I was dressed. Because I was a nerd.

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In 7th grade, my plastic glasses broke and I fixed them with a band-aid, because band-aids are adhesive as shit. In 8th grade I walked down an entire hallway at Meadow Park Intermediate School with the back of my skirt tucked into my tights. I played cello. I wore a Guatemalan braided belt. I’m not Guatemalan. Some of my best friends were teachers. I was a nerd.

But it’s ok. Because nerds are tough. While the popular girls were collecting Esprit bags, I was learning how to develop stuff that would help me later in life, when it really mattered. Like a strong will, to cope with the teasing. Or a sense of humor, which helped me make friends with the other nerds. Somewhere along the way, probably in high school, I stopped wanting to fit in with everyone else, and started wanting to be different. That’s when I learned to embrace the nerd, to become one with it.

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Finn wears glasses and loves karaoke, but, crystals aside, he’s exhibited few other signs of classic nerd-dom. But Tate, he’s got some serious nerd potential. My youngest has an unnatural fascination with ninjas that only seems to be growing with time. All signs indicate that he’ll be the 14-year old with the Bruce Lee obsession who can quote every line from “Enter the Dragon.” When Tate gets dressed, he invariably tucks his t-shirt into his elastic-waist shorts before hiking the whole rig up to his armpits. I sure as hell didn’t teach him that. That’s strong instinctual nerdiness right there.

Tom, as a pale red-headed child with freakishly long limbs, was also a nerd. In fact, from the photos I’ve seen, he may have been a nerd until as recently as 1998. Given that my kids have nerd on both sides, I’m confident that blood will tell.

Yes. My boys have nerd in them, and I can’t wait to see it shine.

how to lie about your shopping problem

When it comes to material goods, Tom’s needs are aggravatingly few. He saves the energy he might spend on coveting things for himself, on me. And by that, I’m not talking about him buying stuff for me. He hasn’t bought me a real gift since I lost the Hermes watch I scored for giving birth to his precious firstborn. No, I refer instead to his constant vigilance in spotting and calling out my new purchases.

“Is that new?” I have grown to hate and fear these three words. Usually when you hear them, they are asked by a friend who is about to validate your purchase by complimenting you. When Tom says the words, they come laden with innuendo, and enough guilt to kill.

I have four methods of dealing with this most annoying of questions. I’m not suggesting that these methods will work for you, but then again, they have served me well in the 15 years I have known my husband. So you might give them a go.

Hypnosis

Your success with this method will vary, depending on your guy’s relative knowledge of fashion trends, and the strength of his memory. Also, your skill at lying. Basically what you have to do is convince the guy that he’s not really seeing what he’s actually seeing.

In this, you will be aided by the fact that most of what you buy looks a lot like something you already have sitting in your closet. So when Tom points to my new black sweater, made of the softest, loftiest merino wool and asks, “Is that new?,” I can look over his shoulder at the nasty old black merino sweater I bought last year, and say, “No, I’ve had this for a year.” The beauty of this method is that in that moment, the hypnosis is working its magic on both of us, because in my mind, the two sweaters really do become one. Then, when Tom’s gone, the one sweater magically separates into two sweaters again. So I’m not really even lying.

This method works especially well with jeans. I could be married to Tom Ford, not Tom Johnson, and he’d still have problems telling the difference between my three pairs of ink blue J Brand skinnies. I mean, sometimes have trouble telling the difference. But that doesn’t mean I don’t need all of them.

Bribery

You can buy your husband’s silence by throwing him a bone, which for me usually involves stopping at H&M on my way out of Nordstrom, to buy a t-shirt that costs $9.90. L’Occitane soaps are also great for this. They cost ten bucks and have the added advantage of being soap, a product your man probably actually uses. And they smell really strong, which seems to have a mildly debilitating effect on my husband that allows me the 8 seconds I need to cram my shopping bags behind the laundry hamper in my closet.

If you’re shopping in the evening, treats work well. Tom gets so happy when I walk in the front door with an Oreo McFlurry that I could be dragging a new Lexus behind me and he wouldn’t notice.

Diversion

Your success with this method will also vary, depending on your guy’s attention span and your proximity to a television. In my house, it works like this.

Tom: “Is that new?”

Yoona: “Is what new?”  (Reaching for remote).

Tom: “Is THAT new.”  (Pointing to new bag).

Yoona: “Is WHAT new?”  (Turns on TV, to Channel 735).

Tom: “Wait a second, is that the Pats game?”

Like taking candy from a baby.

Role Playing

Sometimes Tom actually gets angry about a purchase, and then I have to work extra hard to justify my decision. Last Friday he beat me home and opened a heavy Amazon box to find a new pair of Fryes. While generally clueless about the relative cost of women’s fashions, Tom knows enough about women’s clothes to know how much Frye boots cost. I mean, they cost as much as one pair of his dress shoes, but whenever I say that he lashes out that he buys one pair of shoes every year. Cruel words that always strike me as a non-sequitur.

Anyway, all he saw when he opened that box was a pair of boots. What he did not see was that the boots were the culmination of two years of me searching for the perfect flat black boot. TWO YEARS. He had no idea how many heavy boots I’d had to purchase, then return.

He also had no inkling of the pain and mental trauma I suffered each time that I tried on boots that were unflattering. If you’re a guy, you might think I’m exaggerating, but you can be damned sure that every woman reading this post knows how it feels to try on something that is so bad that it makes you re-evaluate your life and how you’ve been living it. There are certain things you have to be very careful about trying on. Bikinis, natch. Skinny jeans, of course. Crop tops. Puffy sweaters. FLAT BOOTS.

So anyway, I basically had to lay out this entire sob story for Tom until he felt what it was like to live the experience of my search for the perfect flat boot. By the end, I felt like he not only approved of my purchase, but that he wanted me to have them.  Needed me to have them.

And that’s why Tom, and my new boots, are awesome.

fryes

my boots, with the world’s cutest pregnant person

killer tofu

Everywhere you turn, someone is telling you that something you’re feeding your kids is bad for them. Which is fine if your kids are good eaters and you have a host of food options from which to choose. My kids? Left to their own devices, they each eat like twelve foods. Maybe more like six, if you take away the fruit.

One of the things they will both eat, however, is tofu. They will eat every variety of tofu, from silken to pressed. They will eat it in soup, baked, pan fried, steamed, whatever. And that’s good because tofu has nutritious stuff in it, like vegetable protein.

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Anyway, about the tofu. The latest word on tofu is that if you have boy children and they eat too much of it, they will grow breasts. Or something like that. Feel free to Google it—I haven’t, because, okay, I admit it, I’m scared of where “tofu man breasts” will lead me on Google Images. I’ve been afraid of Google Images ever since I Googled “genital warts.” Not that you believe me, but I don’t have genital warts and neither does Tom. I was just curious.

Besides, I have my own thoughts on the latest fear-mongering over tofu, and those thoughts are similar to my thoughts on MSG. Let me just point out that the Chinese have been around for a really long time. And I don’t know any Chinese people who complain about MSG headaches. I also don’t know any Chinese men with breasts.

Well, wait a minute. I know a few Chinese men with breasts, but they’re fat all the way around, and I’m sorry, if you’re a fat man you’re likely to have breasts regardless of your race or how much tofu you ingest. If you need further scientific evidence that it’s ok to eat tofu, I ate a shit ton of tofu growing up and I’m flat as a goddamned board.

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I guess what I’m really railing against is food hysteria in general. We all want to eat healthy. I try to make good choices, and make good choices for my children. But for me, food is not just about sustenance. Food is about taste, memory, pleasure, warmth, happiness. I enjoy nothing more than this loaf of bread with a crock of good butter. Eating bread reminds me of when I was a kid, tucked into my window seat on a rainy day, reading about Heidi and her grandpa and their goats and their tasty milk and cheese.

Nowadays, I feel guilty when I eat bread. And that guilt drives me to eat my croissants in the car like I’m some perv, or worse, to forgo the croissant entirely in favor of “healthy” pap like gummy, reconstituted granola. I dunno. I’m going to die of something, and I sort of doubt it’ll be the bread.**

So about that tofu. I like stir-fries because your kid can help with the washing and chopping. This delicious little stir-fry (you can sub shrimp if tofu is not your thing) makes my family happy. It’s a little spicy but even Tate will eat it, and shamefully, he thinks black pepper is spicy. Also, you might as well prepare your kids’ palates for the global Chinese domination that is coming.

Thanks to the sauce in this stir-fry, my kids will (accidentally) eat the mushrooms, water chestnuts, and green onions in the recipe. Shiitakes, not the benign kind of mushroom. Hot damn! I guess I’m ok risking two tiny sets of man boobs for that.

**I’m aware that certain people, like those with Celiac Disease, can actually die of bread consumption. I’m not making light of bread eating, except as it applies to me.

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MA PO TOFU

Adapted from “Martin Yan’s Chinatown Cooking”

Ingredients:

3 fresh or dried shiitake mushrooms (if dried, soak in warm water for 20 minutes), de-stemmed and chopped

6 oz. ground pork

1 teaspoon + 2 tablespoons soy sauce, divided

1/2 teaspoon sesame oil

1 teaspoon hot bean paste, black bean sauce, bean chili sauce, or chili garlic sauce (one of these should be available in the “ethnic foods” aisle—we’re getting ethnic, people!—of your grocery store. If you have a choice, go for the bean chili sauce)

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1/3 cup chopped water chestnuts

1 14-oz. package soft (or silken, or Japanese style) tofu, drained and cut into 1/2 inch cubes

2 green onions, trimmed and cut into 1/2 inch lengths

2 teaspoons cornstarch (dry)

2 teaspoons cornstarch, dissolved in 1 tablespoon water

Directions:

1. Marinate the pork: stir the ground pork, 2 teaspoons cornstarch, and 1 teaspoon soy sauce together, let stand 10 minutes.

2. Make the sauce: stir 2 tablespoons soy sauce in a bowl with the sesame oil and one cup water. Set aside.

3. Chop the water chestnuts, mushrooms, green onions, throw them all in bowl and set aside. Get your chopped garlic ready. Make sure your tofu is cut and drained. You want everything chopped before you start a stir-fry, because the actual cooking takes like 4 minutes.

4. Heat a wok, skillet, or cast-iron pan over high heat until hot. Add oil and swirl to coat. Add the garlic and stir fry until fragrant, mybe 20 seconds. Add the pork, whatever bean/chili paste or sauce you are using, and stir fry until the pork is crumbly, 2-3 minutes.

5. Pour the sauce into the pan along with the cut vegetables (water chestnuts, mushrooms, green onions). Slide in your tofu, stir gently or swirl the pan to get the tofu coated with the sauce. Let simmer until heated through, 2-3 minutes. Don’t freak out if your soft tofu starts to break apart. Just be as gentle as you can.

6. Pour in the dissolved cornstarch and cook gently, stirring, until sauce boils and thickens, about 1 minute. If you don’t care if your sauce is runny, you can omit this step.

7. Take off heat. Serve over hot brown rice!