Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Eat Your Rice

The honorable bowl of rice- in this case topped with shiso and ginger
The Mule went to bed with her tummy protruding so full of rice that her belly button was sticking out. I had to laugh thinking back to when she was little and drank so much milk that you could hear it jiggling in her belly and see her belly button sticking out. She had absentmindedly asked for more rice at dinner, and I had absentmindedly served too much in her second bowl.
kome kanji for rice
This week her class learned the kanji for rice, kome, though she said, "O'kome," meaning honorable rice. The sensei told the children they should never waste rice; that it a very ancient grain; and that they must eat all of their rice- even if they are very full, even painfully full. Thus the reason the Mule was compelled to eat all of her second bowl. Her sensei had told a tale of having to eat a whole bowl of rice when she had asked for too much. I laughed knowingly as I have heard a few friends tell the tale of when they were forced to eat all of the rice in their bowl, a shiny empty bowl is the goal. It comes up when I warn my Japanese friends to abandon their country's custom of eating everything on their plate when I take them to the American style restaurant, Chilli's, on the base. Our dinner table discussion unleashed a litany of boasts by the Mule and Moose who had to pronounce, "I always eat all of my rice!" Neither of them usually ask for seconds. Knowing the rice rule, I aim to serve an appropriate amount- the Mule gets a generous serving, and the Moose gets a smaller bowl because despite his claims at the table, he doesn't eat rice the way the Mule does.

The Mule is thin and there is a long line of string beans, at least through adolescence, in our families. When she was a baby, the doctor harangued me about her weight- it was never quite what or where it should be on the curve or on the chart. When i told him, "She sleeps great though!" He asked, "How much does she sleep?" I bragged, "Twelve hours!" Expecting "wow, you're lucky" or perhaps "you are doing a great job at something," but that didn't come. Instead, he said, "That's too much! You need to wake that baby up and feed her! No wonder she's not growing!" She gets sleeping twelve hours a day honestly too. You ever heard what happens when you wake up a grizzly bear? You don't wake up a sleeping baby either. The doctor had no children. That was the beginning of taking what the pediatrician said with a grain of salt.

This month the Mule will turn eight years old. After having to attend school on Saturday, school was off on Monday. I scheduled her annual physical on that day, a motherhood coup meaning I was able to avoid having to take her out of school on another day. The pediatrician noted she was in great health, but that she could improve her fat and protein intake (she eats mostly vegetarian by choice, hers not mine). She also eats extremely healthily- she dislikes fatty foods and most sweets. I said, "Please use your position of authority and encourage her to try to eat more!" He did, and she has- between the doctor and the sensei's messages- she has been asking for extra portions from time to time of yogurt and rice. Now if the rest of us had these dietary problems!

Americans in particular resist the "white food diet." However, there is something extremely healthy about eating cooked rice and tofu- you feel lighter and more energetic. I eat lots of bread and pasta, but I don't feel quite the same as when I eat onigiri. Every summer when we return to the States, the meat gluttony sinks my feeling of well-being along with the jet lag as I adjust to the higher meat consumption from summertime BBQs and more restaurant meals. This year we did teach the cousins about yaki onigiri; it is amazing what a little soy sauce and grill time can do to a humble ball of rice. Consider trying a basic Japanese meal of rice, miso soup, tofu (instead of meat), and a small serving of a vegetable yourself. I bet you'll feel better too.
Tofu- part of the white diet- lots of protein and no fat
Yaki onigiri cooking on the grill