My mind steeped in vinegar today, latching to this one ingredient, wanting to make a meal in its honor. I have somehow developed this habit, of choosing the "Least of These." I consciously look for the ugliest beet, the misshapen carrot, the food that no one else will ever pick. This sounds like some lingering childhood complex from grassy fields and chosen teams. I, not usually on one. Not a "team player," it was not that I wasn't chosen, but rather that I chose not to allow myself to be. A group? Oh, my mind was a much more interesting friend, complete with voices and arguments all its own. And, I am sure a psychoanalyst would have a heyday going through these memories and behaviors. I can explain it all. I am Odd, an "Oddie," a proud member of this select group.
And so this underdog complex which I attach to unassuming foods, had fastened itself intent upon vinegar. Vinegar is rarely seen as The Star. It's not something to showcase, it works its way through the background, corded in complexity. A vinegar though, caught my eye...
...capturing my thoughts, I was taken back to a small red Honda Civic, driving north on Josephine Street.
This vinegar was Ume Plum Vinegar made from the treasured Japanese Umeboshi Plums. I had tried these plums before, driving north on Josephine St. Their olfactory greeting, brimming with brine, was enough to give me pause before popping one of these wrinkly pickled plums in my mouth. This wasn't going to be a sweet fruit experience. I think my face wrinkled up with much resemblance to the plum.
Always, my imagination is excited by things Japanese. When I was young, perhaps 7 or 8, I remember my grandmother wrapping my small frame in a kimono and slipping my feet into geta. I accompanied her to a Baptist Women's Group meeting, to talk about my grandmother's missionary experience in Japan, many years ago when my mother was a child. My grandfather, a tall and handsome Dutchman, had announced with his voice still thick with the language of his home country, to my grandmother as she stood before him pregnant, that they were going to Japan. My grandmother, a Minnesota dairy farmer's daughter, had gotten herself quite the adventure.
My grandpa died before I was born, long before, of a stomach/intestinal cancer. I have never been too sure. Perhaps the doctors weren't either. Cancer's grasp on someone so young, was blamed on the time my grandfather spent in concentration camps during the Second World War; his crime being working with the Dutch Underground resistance movement.
I have inherited this legacy of Odd Workings of the Gut. Shall I prize this as some strange connection to a man and history I never knew? But even so, without which, I would not exist.
Back again to vinegar. It captured my mind. Could I have this? Ingredients: Water, Ume Plum, Beefsteak Leaf (shiso), Sea Salt. That sounded safe. But, I have become ever the skeptic. Of everything.
Celiac Disease causes a painful awareness, acute in its nearness, of food's impacts on the body. Discovering that the protein of the Staff of Life was literally devouring me from the inside out, was more than just a jolting turn in diet; it was disturbingly processing the reality that for 23 years of my life, I had been killing myself. Slowly shortening each day's minutes whole grain by whole grain.
I remember feeling mad at the faceless names, books, magazine articles, doctors and even the FDA and their dam'd "pyramid," all touting the health benefits of whole wheat. Those 6-11 servings comprising the solid base? Sure "whole grain" encompasses rice, buckwheat, quinoa and other gluten-free grains. But, pancakes, a sandwich, or pasta, are far more likely to be eaten in a standard day's fare. I felt betrayed by the recommendations. This broke my trust. Does this sound unreasonable blame? Perhaps. But, now imagine finding out that something you eat, something you have been told to eat, something you have been fed, something you have been given time and time again to be "nourished" by, is in reality, killing you inside. And, you are going to your death upon recommendations, indeed commendations, of Health.
I still find it amazing that one tiny protein, one part of one single grain, can hold reign over an entire physical body, mental capacity and ability, and indeed entire life. Gluten was sentencing my death.
Where once labels were scanned, if at all, now they are combed and scoured, like some demented treasure hunt.
I deduced: this would be safe (I think). One never really knows. There, my skepticism.
Since childhood, I have been known to drink sauerkraut juice, pickle juice, and leftover olive juice straight from the can (these behaviors I now understand to my body's way of filling itself with its lacked and craved for salt). Always, a suspicious look follows my actions, silently questioning, "weird cravings, you aren't pregnant are you?" No, no, no, no! I sat today, with cravings beginning for this pickled plum brine, my stomach growing larger only with anticipation of indulging taste. Would the puckerings of plums on Josephine Street return?
The dark bottle hid the beautiful tone of this liquid's ferments, and I delighted at its rosied splash onto the teaspoon, drippings of aged flavor falling down onto the naked white flesh of mung beans sprouted only days into their youth.
~ Umeboshi Salad ~
Black Japonica rice
Mung bean sprouts
Red leaf lettuce
Ume plum vinegar