Have a good fast

October 13, 2005 at 11:26 pm (Uncategorized)

Seriously, this is what people say on Yom Kippur. Because fasting is fun? Or perhaps it’s meant more as a wish of good luck, as in, “you can get through this baby, no sweat!” I should mention that I’m really only culturally Jewish, but give me any challenge that involves food (or the non-consumption of food, I’m no good at eating contests) and I’m in. Passover? Love it. Yom Kippur? Almost every year. I used to fast once a year just for the heck of it, just for the challenge. If you’re tempted to make some comment about control freaks, just zip it. This time around it seems appropriate to see what it’s like to go hungry, though my day will spent, not at temple, but at prayer of a different sort – work.

Want to know how my fast is going? I’ll tell you. Several times throughout the day.

13 hours, 35 minutes: I’m officially hungry. I eat breakfast every day, without fail, though I’d much prefer to wake at noon and just start with lunch. I believe in breakfast, not the kinds of foods, but the food to start your day. Though it was nice to have an extra 10 minutes to get to work this morning. Yup, I can hear my stomach. Glad my office-mate has taken the day off and doesn’t have to sit through this all day. At what point do you think I’ll start to snap at co-workers? 3:30? 4:00? And what time does the sun go down tonight?

20 hours, 22 minutes: It’s starting to affect my mental capabilities. I’m functioning slowly. Coming to work and not planning to eat was a bad idea. So was pudding for dinner last night. I could have used protein to hold me over. This really shouldn’t be difficult. And it’s not, really, it’s just frustrating. Because my mind is wandering and focusing is a challenge. And when my mind wanders, it wanders to food. So of course I ended up reading this NYT article that didn’t help at all. An excerpt, for those of you who have eaten today:

After a few crisp, garlicky wontons, we moved straight to mee krob, the sticky, sweet-and-spicy fried noodles found on Thai menus from Delhi to Des Moines. These were another matter altogether: subtler, tarter, zestier. The secret, Mr. Halliday quickly explained, was peel from a rare, sourish citrus fruit called som saa.

The banana-flower salad was stunning indeed, another example of a standard transformed. Prawns, chicken and the shredded red buds of the banana tree, among other things, went into the dish, but its brilliance, as with all the best Thai dishes, lay in the complexity of its seasonings – sour in the front of the mouth (tamarind pulp), fiery in the back (dried chilies), and sweetly nutty at the top (coconut cream). Eating it left me punch-drunk with pleasure.

There was wonderful tom yum pla, that eye-poppingly vibrant fish soup. Hot, rich and sharp, it owed everything to the liltingly fresh, vividly perfumed lemon grass, ka-prao or holy basil, coriander and kaffir lime leaves that flavored it, along with the obligatory chili. A mildly piquant vegetable curry, too (still made from a paste prepared by hand every day). And a small wok-fried bass. But for me, the pièce de résistance was a salad made from long green eggplants, makheua yao, heady with smoke from the grill, plus shrimp, red shallots and palm sugar. An addictive sour tang was added by fermented shrimp and lime juice.

For dessert, Mr. Halliday dashed around the corner to buy sticky rice, cooked in coconut cream and coconut sugar, at Kor Panich, the city’s oldest sweet shop. We ate it with Okrong mangoes, perhaps the world’s most succulent and least fibrous. No point in going overboard here, but I can’t imagine a better dessert; it was an ideal finish to a meal of Thai classics, cooked with consummate finesse, with a whole array of bitter, spicy, nutty, sweet, salty and sour flavors in perfect balance and harmony.
R.W. Apple, Jr. — NYT

21 hours 26 minutes: Someone at work just said “kudos” to someone else. They meant congratulations and well done, but mmm…kudos. I used to love those as a kid. Sushi, then kudos for dessert was my favorite meal. I was a strange child.

-4 hours, 23 minutes: I feel like Oliver (Twist, not Jamie). Glorious food. Amy M. throws one heck of a breakfast. All in all, this fasting thing is not so bad until 3 pm, and certainly no problem if work hadn’t been involved. Of course, this was one day of going without, instead of years upon years of going with very little. “Eat your potatoes, there are starving children in China,” my grandmother used to say. And though I never understood how finishing my potatoes would have helped kids halfway around the world, my grandmother was right. There are starving children. I’ve seen them. Not such a bad idea once a year to remind myself that some people live hungry. Every day, not just once a year.



  1. fabulous girl said,

    R.W. Apple, Jr. is my fav food writer – I just love the way he eats his way around the world with his lovely wife, Betsey.

  2. winnekat said,

    Oh MAN do I wish I was Betsey. I have this little game whenever I read one of his articles–the “when will he mention ‘my wife, Betsey'” game.

    I mean, don’t we all know her name by now?

  3. BS said,

    Apparently, we don’t all know her name! It seems I’ve been reading too much of the National, Art, Books, and Travel sections and not enough of the Dining and Wine.

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