Kathleen Alcalá

The Clueless Eater

Happy Vegetarian New Year!

January 24, 2014

Tags: vegetarian, pescetarian, Molly Katzen, The Heart of the Plate, Japanese American, Woody Allen, Kokon Taiko, rice, cholesterol, sustainability, Bainbridge, Mochi Tsuki, Lunar New Year

I’ve been meaning to write a New Year’s entry! I guess I haven’t missed the lunar New Year, which is Friday, January 31. Each year Mochi Tsuki, held at Islandwood, an environmental education center, attracts more visitors. This year it was held on January 5.

Sweet rice was steamed over a hot fire under pressure, and pounded with mallets to a doughy pulp in a stone basin. A kitchen full of volunteers from the Japanese American community shaped the dough into little buns, serving them with soy sauce or sweet red bean paste. Anyone with clean hands could help.

Mochi Tsuki is a great mid-winter activity, addressing all the senses. Visitors took turns wielding the mallets under the supervision of Shoichi Sugiyama, who bravely reached in and turned the dough between strokes. Inside the great hall, Kokon Taiko of Seattle provided a drum show to the lucky people who stood in line to obtain the limited-to-capacity free tickets.

Started 25 years ago by a few island families, the event drew over 2,000 people this year. Many were families with children, and a separate origami station was set up in the art studio on the Islandwood campus. Many mixed heritage families attended, here to remind their children that this is part of the cultural mix, too.

Like many mid-winter celebrations, Mochi Tsuki revolves around food. It serves as a reminder that, although it is cold now, spring is on its way. The winter so far has been still and dry, with sunbreaks through the grey clouds. Small birds forage in the rustling leaves, and the fawns have lost their spots. This is the time to be grateful for what we have, stand with hands outstretched before a blazing fire, and tell stories.

In my continuing adventures with food, sustainability, and health on Bainbridge Island, I’ve started the year by joining a gym (argh) and cooking vegetarian, or at least pescetarian, at home. My doctor left clinical practice to teach full-time, so I had to transfer my records. This caused me to review the papers I had in my home health file, full of high cholesterol results, medicine or no medicine, supplements or restricted diets. I’ve tried everything but vegetarian, so here goes. I’m using a cookbook by Molly Katzen called The Heart of the Plate for menu ideas. As far as I can tell, colorful food combinations seem to be her rationale.

Like the Woody Allen character in “Sleeper,” I hope to wake up one day and find that, like chocolate, having high cholesterol will be considered a good thing in the future. In the meantime, best wishes for your own New Year.


  1. February 17, 2014 11:26 AM PST
    Hello Kathleen. Please enjoy your La Pachanga participation. Also please un abrazo para Jesus "El Flaco" Maldonado de mi parte. I have known this fine poet for almost fifty years. I remember when he left Texas for Seattle and then Yakima Valley. You and I have Stanford and U of Washington in common. I worked at Univ of Washington in Denny Hall years ago. I was also at Stanford from 1952-56. Juan Rael inspired me. Also took courses from Ronald Hilton. Since 1967 I have lived in Texas. I also admire the work of Ben Saenz....
    I was at Stanford such a long time ago that the mascot was the "Indian" -- not the "Cardinal"... We also have San Miguel Allende in common. I used to go there as a child when my parents lived in Mexico. Saludos cordiales de parte de John Saunders
    - John Saunders (aka juan sanchez)
  2. February 17, 2014 8:29 PM PST
    Thanks, John! I will share your comments with Jesus when I see him.
    - Kathleen Alcala
With Cowichan Elder Hyamiciate, Della (Rice) Sylvester at the The Living Breath of wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ Indigenous Foods and Ecological Knowledge Symposium


Selected Works

Creative nonfiction, memoir, environmental sustainability.
Combining memoir, historical records, and a blueprint for sustainability, The Deepest Roots shows us how an island population can mature into responsible food stewards and reminds us that innovation, adaptation, diversity, and common sense will help us make wise decisions about our future. And along the way, we learn how food is intertwined with our present but offers a path to a better understanding of the future.
Creative Nonfiction
Essays on Family and Writing

The Desert Remembers My Name makes an important contribution to discussions of ethnicity, identity, and the literature of place.”
Bloomsbury Review
"...a mesmerizing tale... the author explores the fascinating confusions and contradictions plaguing a culture precariously poised between tradition and modernization."
"She never forgot the power of storytelling as testimony."
The Utne Reader
"Kathleen Alcalá's Spirits of the Ordinary is an enthralling book..."
–Paul Yamazaki, City Lights Books

"This book entered my dreams."
–Alberto Rios
Short Fiction
"Thoroughly satisfying."
The New York Times Book Review

"By turns touching, entertaining, and surprising, and uniquely her own."
Publishers Weekly

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