Saturday, March 21, 2015

Perception and Connection

I like food.  I like playing with making food.  I like tasting new flavors and learning new techniques for making food.  Occasionally, I even like to talk about food.  I like to brag about how my wife makes amazing meals for me to eat.  Despite life being crazy busy, she makes things that are new and interesting on a semi regular basis, which is pretty impressive considering how the kids behave sometimes.  Just recently, we had a bottle of "rose water" arrive in the mail, and my wife exclaimed "Hooray, I can finally try that wine pasta with the saffron and the rose water sauce."  I frankly have almost no idea what to expect, other than that I'll experience something probably incredibly delicious with flavors I've never experienced before in my life.  When I come across something spectacular and special, I want to share it.  It's part of how I connect to life and to other people who can rejoice with me in the celebration of life that eating represents.

Since I no longer feel morally bound by the paradigms of Mormonism, I naturally have a desire to expand my boundaries and in the process I discover new worlds of flavor.  Recently the expanding horizons we've been playing with have involved tea.  Though our first tries weren't very good, we've found some basic flavors that we've fallen in love with.  There is an entire world of flavors involved in tea drinking and we've only just scratched the surface.  I've tried a number of types of tea, experimented with different techniques of preparation, and learned how to work with new types of equipment.  Its as if I just opened a new flavor world just waiting for me to play in it.  That's my perception.  With anything that fun I'd just love to reach out and connect to people in sharing just the simple joy of flavor.

But who would I share such a connection with?  My perceptions aren't the only ones that matter to make a connection.  To most of my social world from my life before leaving the church, I'm participating in a forbidden act.  It would look like I was smearing the signs of my unholiness as a badge of honor- rejoicing in wickedness.  Some would probably think that I probably left the church because I just wanted to sin anyways and so came up with excuses to allow myself to do so.  For some, it would be as if I were posting a picture of using a dangerous drug like Meth and then bragging about how awesome it was and asking for people to follow in my footsteps.  It could be seen as crass and immoral- an example of the bad things that come to those who wander in spiritually dangerous territory.  Some might even speculate that my poor health over the past few months was a punishment from God or a withdrawal of blessings for being willing to cook with and partake of forbidden foods in rejection of the pure will of God.  Without shared perception, there is little room for human connection.  Even while I can enjoy playing with new flavors and using new tools for creating new worlds of experience, I mourn the loss of connection.

Monday, March 9, 2015

What about the Word of Wisdom?

Christ stated, "What goes into someone's mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them." (Matthew 15:11) While I fully understand that from a Mormon perspective Christ can speak again and give good advice and commands beyond what is recorded in the New Testament, I no longer accept the Mormon tradition as speaking for Christ. That doesn't mean I've decided to take up smoking or binge drinking. I just view them as about on the same level of moral concern as participating in extreme sports- having many potential negative consequences including death but not a black and white matter of right and wrong.

I've heard stories of people who leave the church and suddenly family and friends assume that they are immediately going to start smoking cigarettes and heavily drinking. Frankly any former member of the LDS church is probably going to have some period of experimentation with things that used to be forbidden to them like a teenager trying to figure out what their increased freedom really means. However, what each person experiments with and how they do it will be different- assumptions are inappropriate.

Just to clear things up, at this point I do not intend to drink much alcohol. Being on the autistic spectrum I have been and probably always will be at a high risk of depression, anxiety, chronic loneliness, and a high level of social inhibitions when I'm around people. Since drinking can loosen social inhibitions I'd probably enjoy social drinking quite a lot. It would also probably be personally risky. My life is hard enough without giving myself an unhealthy short cut to feeling better that would be easy to abuse. I just don't plan on going there, but that isn't the same as total abstinence.

I love trying new foods and I love to cook. Many recipes call for alcohol. I no longer feel a need to always substitute out other ingredients for alcohol. When I cook with alcohol, I see no reason not to taste it to understand better the flavors I am experimenting with. The three alcohols I've tasted so far I'd rate as tasting more "interesting" than "good" on their own. Cooked into other foods, they can be fantastic. For example, pasta with white wine infused into the dough tastes absolutely marvelous even with a bottled alfredo sauce. I've made red wine infused pasta that in the right context was heavenly. One of the best grilled steaks I've eaten in my life was marinated in ingredients including red wine.

What about the health risks of alcohol? Am I endangering my children by letting them eat wine pasta and marinated steaks? I'm honestly not that worried about it. I am aware that alcohol does not completely "cook out." I am also aware that especially for longer cooking times, much alcohol is destroyed or evaporated during cooking and what remains is very dilute. Most of the health risks of alcohol come from drinking more than something like one glass a day (for a man) or drinking too much at once. Most of the recipes that I have tried with alcohol in them have called only for a few tablespoons or perhaps 1/4 cup for a dish that might take my entire family two days to eat. We don't make many of these dishes because some of them are time consuming, wine is expensive, and many recipes that call for it we've substituted out the alcohol so long that it tastes right to us the way we've always done it and we forget to pull the frozen wine out of the freezer to thaw in time. My alcohol intake from cooking with alcohol over time is probably less than my alcohol intake from cough syrup or even my alcohol intake from eating fresh homemade yogurt with a drop of almond extract. McCormick Almond Extract flavoring is 32% alcohol-dramatically higher than any wine I've  even thought about cooking with and my kids eat a lot of homemade yogurt.  All told, since leaving the LDS church a little less than a year ago, our cooking projects have consumed a little less than two bottles of wine.

I have started to experiment with drinking tea. I love Indian food with the variety of spices and flavors that I would have found unimaginable before I started eating Indian food. Chai tea in its many varieties plays with some of the same flavors. I'm looking forwards to trying to learn to brew it properly with my own spices instead of relying on pre-flavored packets. So far, I have no plan to experiment with coffee. Though I might someday, at this point there simply hasn't been an inherent appeal. I do not intend to ever experiment with tobacco- there is no inherent appeal for me and the health risks are high and are not readily avoidable by using it sparingly.

For my still Mormon friends and family members, I promise I won't even invite you to dinner and try to trick you into eating something with alcohol in it. It probably wouldn't even be on the menu. For my non-LDS friends, if you want a little wine with dinner we'll have to check what's in the freezer.