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I saw this article the other day, and I couldn’t stop thinking about whether (or how) the results applied to me. The authors of the study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology write:

Residential mobility, the very factor that allows Americans to pursue their individual desires, ironically facilitates the uniformity of American landscapes.

They found that cities with a highly mobile population had more chain stores, and that students who have moved a lot prefer national chains. Honestly, I have some issues with the series of studies, particularly confounding variables, the scenarios, small sample size, and generalizing from college students. But I still wondered about how my choices might fit into the authors’ theory.

I definitely am very mobile so I started thinking through where I shop and eat and how my dollars contribute to the American (and other countries’) landscape.

Eating is the easier category for me. I figured that I probably eat at independently owned restaurants about 9 times out of 10. I know that plenty of cognitive impairment might affect that figure so I pulled up my online account, which showed that I was very close. It’s more like 8.5 out of 10 restaurants. (An aside, it was interesting to see what chain restaurants I go to even though there weren’t many repeats in the past few months. They included Panera, Chipotle, Au Bon Pain, Corner Bakery, Subway, and In-n-Out. There’s clearly a trend that when we decide to have soup and sandwiches we go to chain restaurants. Almost all ethnic food, which is mostly what we eat when going out because it’s dishes that I can’t (or won’t) cook, is from independent restaurants.)

Shopping is another matter.

For clothes and household items, I stick fairly closely to thrift stores or online, and in an emergency or for something I can’t find elsewhere, I go to Wal-Mart followed by Target. Part of this is because of cost and the rest is convenience.

As for groceries, it varies quite a bit. I pick up basic items from Wal-Mart, followed by Trader Joes, farmer’s markets, and ethnic stores. Each week varies depending on what I need and what part of town I’m in.

I will say, along these same lines, that upon moving to a new place like LA, I am much more likely to eat somewhere new while shop somewhere I know.

Today is Indian Independence Day. For most of my Indian friends, it’s just another day, unlike major holi or diwali celebrations in India. But several years ago, I said what better day than today to try to make a new indian dish. At the time, it was just an excuse to make some curious pistachio cookies called peda.

But now it’s my very own tradition that I look forward to each year. While trying to make an Indian dish might not seem like a big adventure, it most wholeheartedly is. First, the recipes are notoriously poorly written: often way off in proportions (my first attempt at poha consisted of twice the amount of flattened rice to seasoning) or simply vague quantities (such as “a bunch of raisins”). It’s also difficult to know what texture it is supposed to be for food I haven’t eaten (the peda above is very wet, not like a cookie at all). And then there’s always the issue that I’m very sensitive to heat (so much so that when I made mango-orange salad I was very glad we had guests…because I couldn’t eat it!)

This year I settled on chicken biryani. It’s a dish I have had several times and felt pretty comfortable trying to make. However, I was glad when M stepped in to help when I assumed that a standard recipe would use one pound of chicken (I had lazily done the conversions for the chicken, but not for the chili powder!)

Like so many indian recipes, this dish has 25,000 steps in it. It’s marinating, sautéing, sautéing, sautéing, cooking, browning, cooking down, draining, cooling, combining, sautéing, separating, sautéing, roasting, cooking down, sitting, combining, layering, layering, and steaming. And that doesn’t include all of the chopping, grinding, measuring, more chopping and washing of dishes throughout the process.

The end result should have been the elixir of life or at least a charm brewed in Macbeth. But it was DELICIOUS, especially combined with the raita that M suggested making.

As I mentioned in my post about cleaning, I’m trying out a bunch of things that I read about last year while abroad. Since finding out that lentils really can taste good (thanks to a wonderful cook in Kabul), I have been trying to incorporate them into my diet. And as an apartment dweller, I’m often looking for easy ways to grow things, preferably things I can eat. When I learned that bean sprouts are substantially more nutritious and more easily digestible than seeds I wanted to see how easy it really is to produce them at home.

Here’s a quick video and a descriptive website about how to make bean sprouts.

It really is that easy. Watching the seed turn into food in a few days is pure instant gratification! This is what I produced after a mere 3 days!

Sprouts are great for salads, stir fry, and whipped in the blender for shakes and salad dressings. (Actually, if you’re the kind of person who enjoys eating peas (pod and all) fresh off the plant, you may enjoy eating sprouts as a snack.)


Once you get started with the basics, you can do more research (and experimenting) with other options like almonds and grains.

Note: my half cup of lentils turned into over 3 cups of sprouts so start small 🙂

I really enjoyed some of the Afghan dishes that I had while I lived there. Each of the cooks taught me how to make one of my favorite dishes.

This is Hussain showing me how to make eggplant. This dish was so good that if someone came to dinner a little late they often didn’t get any! However, once I learned how to make it, I wasn’t sure if I would actually do it. It has 3 major steps, making it time-consuming (although far from the most time-consuming Afghan recipes). While I enjoy cooking, that’s quite a commitment. But I finally attempted it last week, and I’m so pleased with it. Here’s the basic recipe, although quantities are eyeball estimates.

Eggplant with yogurt

Preparing eggplant

2 eggplant* (long, skinny “chinese” variety recommended”)


Vegetable oil

First, slice eggplant, sprinkle with salt, and set for 30 min. Next, rinse eggplant with water to remove salt and juices (I patted them dry after this). Heat oil in shallow pan and deep fry slices for 3-5 min on each side until lightly brown. (Note: this is the time consuming step because you can only cook so many at a time.)

Tomato sauce

6 tomatoes

4 garlic cloves

1 t. salt

1 t. pepper

Combine above ingredients. Cook on medium heat until tomatoes resemble a sauce. Layer cooked eggplant and tomato sauce in oven pan. Bake at around 350 degrees for 20 min.

Yogurt sauce

1-1.5 cups yogurt (sour or natural plain yogurt)

1-2 t. salt

2 cloves of garlic

Combine yogurt, salt, and garlic (I recommend doing this toward the beginning and letting it sit). Place yogurt sauce over the eggplant dish and serve.

The dish is blissful!

Note: I tried using canned tomatoes and the sauce was a little too watery, but I can adjust that. And now that I’ve made it successfully, I’m going to try some tweaks to see if I can find a quicker way to cook the eggplant, such as broiling the eggplant in the oven.

If you attempt to make this, you will be pleasantly surprised in just how good it tastes!

*I have to mention that until I went to Afghanistan I didn’t think I liked eggplant. I was completely surprised to eat it there and love it! I’ve since learned that eggplant varieties vary substantially in taste. The nice round ones are typical in the US, and the slender ones are found at specialty stores (and at your local grocery are often called chinese eggplant). If you haven’t tried different kinds, I highly recommend it.

Random tips and observations about food in Spain:

  • At the grocery store, which resembles a medium-sized 7-11 to me, I’m the only person in line with more than 4 items in my basket. This feels odd since I’m only picking up a few things…
  • It can be very expensive to eat out for all of your meals. I always carry some snacks around (from a mini-mart or outdoor market). More importantly, be prepared to eat tapas as meals. This might be tasty cheese, sausage, ham, anchovies, deep fried fish, olives & capers, or croquettes. Order 2 or 3, and then see if you need any more.
  • Often you will pay different prices if you sit at a table versus the bar. I prefer to sit at the bar, mostly to see the tapas and watch the food being prepared. However, be aware that many, many bartenders are very busy, difficult to flag down, and generally seem discontent to bother with you.
  • Waiters will bring you bread (or rolls or some crackers), which will be billed to you if you eat it. Typically, it’s a Euro, but at one nice place, it was 3 Euros!
  • If you ask for water at a restaurant, expect to pay for it, unless you specifically ask for tap water (“agua de grifo”). And don’t be surprised if they look at you funny when you ask for this.
  • Don’t tip in Spain, although you can always round the bill up to the nearest Euro if you get good service.
  • Expect to make mistakes when ordering food. At one restaurant, while I was out of sorts, I asked for 2 eggs and ham. I thought the waiter was confirming the order by questioning the number of eggs, but instead he brought me 2 plates of eggs and ham…
  • The typical times for eating will throw you for a loop. Most places close for several hours during the day (siesta). Those timings vary by the region and the establishment.
  • Be prepared for pig, and lots of it! Coming from a Muslim country, where I only had pork 3xs (bacon for two brunches and ham at Christmas), it has been a salty adjustment.

Today, I met a colleague for lunch at a Japanese restaurant. I had the chicken teriyaki bento box. It was tasty, although surprisingly didn’t include any wasabi. (You can get some spicy food in Afghanistan, but the focus seems to be on very flavorful food, which I like.) And at the end of the meal, the waiter brought us each a whole, uncut peach.

I’m not sure what to make of that.

It isn’t unusual for restaurants to provide an unordered dessert (one of my favs gives chocolate cake at the end of your meal).

I understand that they wouldn’t give us fresh cut fruit (being that the place serves expats), but there was no sharp knife to remove the skin, which definitely needs to be washed with bottled water before it can be eaten.

We get a lot of apples, bananas, and mangos here so a peach is a treat. Obviously, I took it with me to wash and eat tonight.

Any thoughts on why a whole peach was given at a Japanese restaurant in Afghanistan?

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