Monday, October 26, 2009

Trader Joe's Black Bean Soup, 10/24

Encouraged by my foray into making my own soup - albeit the lazy way - I decided to tackle the carton of black bean soup that always seems to be in the cupboard. Someone always buys it with the best of intentions: high protein, good source of fiber, yadda, yadda, yadda. But it tends to be - well, so bean-y.

Everyone was home for dinner at the same time, a nice thing about the weekend. My brother-in-law Hiro was making pasta and my sister Jolene was washing the never-ending pile of dishes in the sink. I was trying to playing cooking "Twister" and be out of the way while embarking on my own project.

Another cause for commotion was the large pan of pumpkin mochi that my sister had baked earlier. Weeks of hoarding all the canned organic pumpkin we can find at Trader Joe's yields an endless supply of this unusual and addictive dessert all winter long. It's not as stiff as regular mochi, but more lighter, more cakelike and only slightly chewy. And like my squash soup, it makes the house smell like Thanksgiving.

Seiji and Kanzo were all too happy to beg for seconds and thirds of the mochi despite the fact that dinner was going to be on the table on about 15 minutes. I caved in and ate one small piece and started on the soup.

It was so simple it's embarrassing. I poured the black bean soup into a pot. It seemed like it ought to be darker having been made from "black" beans, but it was actually a nice mauve. I added a can of crispy corn kernels, also from Trader Joe's, and a small sprig of cilantro. A dollop of fresh sour cream gave it that gourmet kick and three grownups had black bean soup to go with ham and three-cheese pasta. The kids had Kamen Rider on YouTube to go with their dinner.

The Los Angeles County Museum is showing an Audrey Hepburn retrospective and I was planning on going to the second half of that night's double feature, "Two for the Road." This "One" got on the road too late and decided while sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic at the far end of Fairfax that I was going to miss the movie. So I took a detour to Canter's to pick up some dessert.

In the last year, I've been at Canter's with a couple of dates. There was always a jovial African American man panhandling as you step out of the parking lot onto the sidewalk. As I walked toward him, he made some comment about "the happy couple out on the town." Apparently, some guy had gotten out of his car right after I did and was walking a bit behind me. I was so embarrassed that I didn't dare turn around. A small irony was that while I was alone this time, the man asking for change now had a partner, another man who sat across the sidewalk from him.

I wasn't hungry for food, but seemed to need to "be out," so armed with a book, I decided to sit down in a tiny booth. The waiter, who wasn't half bad-looking, passes me off to an older female server. I guess the lone girl with her nose in a book doesn't appear as interesting - or as good a tipper - as the cute couple on a date in the booth in front of me. I ordered a cup of herbal tea and look for Rodney Bingenheimer, who is almost always seated at the semi-circular booth next to the stairs. He isn't there. For the last 20-plus years that I've been dining at Canter's, he's been there, either with an entourage, or in more recent years, alone.

In our 20s and 30s, my friends and I would make a pilgrimage to Canter's at least once a month, arriving no earlier than 9:30 and taxing our then-younger digestive systems with Reuben sandwiches, potato knishes, and egg creams. Most of these friends have since gotten married, had kids, moved out of state, or all of the above. Most of them, and frankly myself included, would really have to work themselves up to eating even half a Reuben with sauerkraut and mustard. And if I didn't live in closer proximity, it would be a challenge to get me to drive up to Fairfax.

But I'm here now. A busboy walks by with a tray loaded with two-foot loaves of seeded rye. The waiter, who kind of reminds me of Huey Lewis but with darker hair, is speaking very loudly to a very old and apparently deaf man who is departing from a booth on the other side of mine. The waiter tells him how much he would enjoy the film "Charlie Wilson's War," how it captured the end of the Cold War era so well, and how it reminded him of the Congressional offices that he went in and out of when he was a toddler. Definitely a conversation intended to be overheard. When he was cleaning the man's table, I wanted to ask him why he was hanging out in the Capitol as a kid, but that seemed too forward.

If I had been with friends, we would have eavesdropped on this conversation, then picked it apart when we were out of earshot. We would have come up with a satisfactory explanation as to why the waiter was hanging out at the Capitol, such as having been adopted by the Ghanaian ambassador, or part of a child genius program spearheaded by the CIA. Which incidentally, has a great "kids' page" on their Website.

But I digress. You can be obnoxious in public with your friends, which I'm sure I was. You're protected somehow by this cocoon of togetherness, of knowing that however moronic your conversation is, you're with people whose observations are equally moronic.

But being alone, free of the obligations to wait for someone to finish their egg cream, drive them home, or put up with their boyfriend/sister/co-worker, has a price. The price is feeling like a sore thumb among the couples, families and friends out on a Saturday night. I guess the alternative would be to stay home and immerse myself in a book or a project, all the while feeling that I was missing something, because it is Saturday night, after all.

I finished my tea and sauntered to the bakery counter to get some of those little rainbow cakes and my new favorite, an unassuming bar of white cake soaked in rum and coated with a thin layer of chocolate and coconut.

Back outside in the night air, I pulled a dollar out of my change and handed it to the man who greeted me and my "date" earlier. He seemed a bit surprised to be handed money by a woman alone. I guess a sense of chivalry can exist even among those who beg for change. But I figured it was time in life to start doing the things I didn't have the inclination to do when I was too busy laughing and warm with the company of friends or holding someone's hand to shield me from things like noticing show-off waiters and panhandlers on the street.

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