Kathleen Alcalá

The Clueless Eater

Happy Vegetarian New Year

January 24, 2014

Shoichi Sugiyama, on right, supervises joyful volunteers pounding rice.
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.
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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
Fiction
"...a mesmerizing tale... the author explores the fascinating confusions and contradictions plaguing a culture precariously poised between tradition and modernization."
Booklist
"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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