Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Lemons and apples and pears, oh my...

Anyone who knows me knows I'm a curmudgeon bachelor. Although I have been known to enjoy watching cooking shows now and then, I don't cook. No, I mean really. Oh, I microwave frozen dinners, or do the occasional bacon and eggs breakfast or bare-bones salad, or make a nice sandwich (I am a man, after all). But no serious time over the stove, no ingredients, no seasonings, no heat-on-low-until-blah-blah-blah.

For years, I ate as much as a quarter to a third of my meals out... or, more accurately, as take-out. Fast food, Chinese take-out, whatever was on the way home, or whatever my mouth was drooling for at that moment. So I ingested my own personal Recommended Daily Allowance of fat, sodium, and other delicious things.

Occasionally, I'd buy more groceries than usual, especially when the freelance work was thin. It's tough buying for one, but cheaper and healthier than three of Jack's burgers a week.

But now I'm a little older [*koff*], and work has been so good over the last few months that I've spent just about every waking hour in front of my Mac, doing graphic design. And I moved from Beachwood Canyon to downtown, so the scenery isn't as conducive to walking. Even though I love the Disney Concert Hall, there are no trees to speak of, no deer, and no coyotes. Well, four-legged ones, at least.

The combination of 16/7 working hours and polluted urban trails has added about 15 pounds of pure joy to the world... largely in the vicinity of my belt.

All of this is to say... My blood pressure is up. It's not horrible, and my doctor says he thinks I can manage it with diet and exercise. I think he's right. After all, I'm clearly a brilliant diagnostician. Like... House. Without the cane. Or the pills. And less attitude. But still as funny.

The exercise I can handle; even though downtown's not Runyon Canyon, it'll do. Plus, I have this secret stash of Pilates DVDs. (If you tell anyone, I'll hunt you down and force you to do my taxes.)

As for the diet component... The trick for someone like me is to find a way to eat low-carb while not having to cook. And without driving one's self insane with palate boredom.

Now when I say "cook" I don't mean whipping out a frying pan. My broadened definition includes actually handling raw foods, and mixing them or chopping them or preparing them in any way beyond cutting a slit in the protective plastic wrap over the vegetable and nuking on HIGH for 7 minutes, letting stand in microwave for 1 to 2 minutes before serving.

But, today I went to the grocery store in hopes of changing my buying and eating habits. Today, I was going to do something bold and noble. Today... I was going to spend more than 2 minutes in the Produce section.

At the front door, I grabbed a cart, then headed straight for the green stuff.

As I stepped across a wooden parquet threshold, a chill ran down my spine... partly because of the refrigerated case on my right, but also because I realized I had no idea what to buy.

It was like entering some exotic rain forest, with a great variety of plant species, hunters stalking their prey, and even rain showers. (At this store, when the little water nozzles mist the veggies, the display case plays a recording of a couple of claps of thunder. Maybe to warn off anyone who doesn't want their hair to frizz.)

I was surrounded by small alien creatures, all huddled together, mocking me with their healthy nutrients, ready to leap off the shelf as I passed, just to make it look like I knocked them off.

One vegetable caught my eye. At least... I assumed it was a vegetable.

"What's that?" I thought. "It's sort of yellowish and round. And that? Kind of purple and bulbous. Hmmm... Maybe I could look at the price card to see what it is... Hopefully all those women will just think I'm comparing prices."

I wandered slowly around the islands of apples from Washington and bananas from South America, and onions from-- well, from out of some farmer's dirt. As I passed the cases of iceberg lettuce and broccoli, and through the pre-packaged greens, I tried to visualize myself buying them... then taking them home... then actually... MAKING something with them.

It was a close analogue to the Came-to-School-Not-Knowing-There's-a-Final-Exam-Today dream.

I was totally unprepared for this moment.

(Note that this is not quite as bad as the Walking-Down-the-Hall-Naked dream, but it's close.)

After long minutes of staring, glassy-eyed at the colorful, bewildering display before me, I grabbed four Rome apples, two nice, plump tomatoes, one large white onion, and two bags of precut, triple-washed American Mix lettuce-- and headed for the lunch meats.

Now, I did get several pouches of tuna (chunk light in water, of course -- I know at least that much), but I succumbed to a pint of ice cream, which I'll eat one spoonful at a time.

What's obvious now is that before my next trip to the store, I not only need to make a shopping list, I also need to complete an online cooking course.

Maybe just Salads 101.

I shall endeavor to report again once I have conquered the Forest of Fruits and Veggies.

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