I have a confession to make. I haven’t taken a bath in more than two years.
Wait. Before you get grossed out, let me assure you that I’m quite clean. I have taken any number of (brief) showers in that time.
It’s just that I haven’t once filled the enormous soaking tub that is the focal point of my luxurious bathroom. I haven’t sunk down into a sea of aromatic bubbles and let all my cares drift away. The candles that line the tub to enhance that relaxing soak are gathering dust.
Now that the chill, gloomy days of winter are upon us, I desperately want to remedy that situation. I so much want to take a bath.
But I can’t bring myself to do it. It has been raining incessantly. But according to the news, we’re still in a drought. Even if I gave myself permission to turn on the taps and run 70 gallons of water into the tub, I know I would feel too guilty to enjoy the experience.
Similarly, I really, really want to light a big, roaring fire in my fireplace. What’s the point of having one of the few chimneys on the block that survived the earthquake intact if I can’t do that?
But between Spare the Air days and fear of contributing any further to global warming (not to mention the toxic cloud of smog that I am sure will be drifting here one of these days from Beijing), I just can’t do it. So there is no cheery blaze in the hearth as I huddle in my house in a heavy sweater with the thermostat turned down to 66.
I’m a very good citizen of the earth (or a crazed, politically correct, deluded Californian, depending on your point of view). I feel guilty about my carbon footprint. I don’t litter. I reuse plastic water bottles, deplore excess packaging, recycle almost everything and dutifully collect my compostables in a biodegradable bag to add to my brown bin.
I’ve switched all my lightbulbs to low-energy LEDs. I walk and ride my bike around town (when it isn’t pouring down rain), to avoid driving my adorable but less than completely fuel-efficient little car. I always remember to bring my own shopping bags, even in cities that haven’t yet banned plastic ones. I buy meat and eggs from nearby farmers, and local produce, shunning out-of-season fruits and veggies that have logged thousands of food miles on a flight from Chile.
If it weren’t for the age of my roof and the ever-increasing deep shadow of my oak tree Woody, I would have solar panels on top of the house. My next car is likely to be electric.
And most recently, I’ve been focusing on the need to reduce food waste. Food is the biggest source of waste in landfills. Lots of it gets wasted where we don’t see it and can’t affect it, at farms, processing plants, stores and restaurants — but half of it gets thrown out in our kitchens. We buy it, then don’t eat it or let it spoil, and toss it and replace it with more. It seems a bit hoggish and Marie Antoinette-like, considering that 1 in 7 households in the U.S. faces food insecurity.
I like to think I am ahead of the curve on that issue, as I am nearly always willing to risk poisoning myself by finishing up those oddball leftovers from the back of the fridge. But considering that said fridge is 90 percent filled with weird condiments that are going to get tossed in the garbage one of these days, once I find the courage to confront them, I suspect I can be counted among the perpetrators.
I can’t do much about what’s already on my shelves, except try to use up the stuff that is still edible. For the future, I guess I should vow to stay out of the condiment aisle in the ethnic markets I love to frequent, at least until I can find a use for the containers of pickled garlic, salted plums, lime pickles and nasty-smelling shrimp paste currently clogging my shelves.
I’ll do my part, even though, I somehow doubt that my condiment addiction is the root cause of global food insecurity. But a girl can’t be too careful when the world’s fate is hanging in the balance.
I’m not sure if I’m acting from guilt or common sense — or maybe it’s just a holdover from my childhood fear of getting into trouble. But I know this for sure: If the planet goes into complete meltdown, I don’t want to be the one to blame.
However, that being said, I have to point out that it has been raining for days and days and days and days. The ground is saturated. The reservoirs are filling. The water table is rising.
Would it be so very terrible if I took a bath just once this winter?
Red Lentil Pulse with Caramelized Onions
From Paula Wolfert, “The Cooking of the Eastern Mediterranean”
In keeping with concerns about food security worldwide, the U.N. has declared 2016 to be the International Year of Pulses. “Pulses,” in case you are unfamiliar with the term, are dried legumes of various sorts, including dried beans and peas, lentils and chickpeas.
They’re marvelous foods — low in waste, high in nutrition, a good source of protein and low cost. They’re a backbone of diets in many parts of the world, and should play an expanded role in our diets here in the U.S.
This recipe, part soup, part porridge, from Paula Wolfert’s award-winning cookbook “The Cooking of the Eastern Mediterranean,” hails from Aleppo in Syria. It is one of my favorite hearty winter dishes, and it seems particularly poignant to make it now, in solidarity with the many Syrians who have been displaced by war and bombings and are fleeing their country.
1 cup red lentils
1/4 cup fine-grain bulgur
1/4 cup short-grain white rice
1 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. ground cumin
2-3 large onions (1½ pounds), halved and thinly sliced
1/2 cup olive oil
1 Tbsp. ground coriander
Pinch of cayenne
Rinse the lentils, bulgur and rice and let drain. Place in a saucepan with 6 cups water, the salt and the cumin. Bring to a boil, skim, reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 45 minutes, stirring often. If necessary, add cold water to keep the pulses covered.
Meanwhile, place the onions and oil in a 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring, until the onions begin to turn golden brown. Reduce the heat and continue to cook, stirring, until they turn deep brown (but not burnt), about 35 minutes.
Stir the coriander and cayenne into the pulse mixture. Pour the onions and oil over the soup and stir, and serve at once.