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This weeks writing prompt from The Red Dress Club was to take an item from our pantry and use every word on the label. Though this story is fiction the recipe is not and I have linked it at the bottom for anyone who is interested.

“Why do I do this to myself?” Alex thought as she is squatting in the Asian Foods section of Whole Foods. Alex likes this Whole Foods where the fresh food is in the basement and the pre-prepared food on the main floor. It makes her feel like she is in a speakeasy. She is squatting because all of the noodles are on the bottom shelf. “Figures,” she thinks as she tries to ignore the fact that age is making it more difficult to maintain this position than she’d like to admit. Alex does a lot of ignoring of such things. She’s convinced that she breaks at least even.  Sometimes ignoring lets her try things she otherwise wouldn’t and other times it just gets her into trouble. Denial, well, that’s what some people call it. It’s not a word or concept that agrees with Alex.

During Christmas Eve dinner a few weeks back, she agreed to cook an Asian themed dinner in January for some friends that she doesn’t get to see often. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Of course, the three cucumber margaritas she had with dinner added even more shine to that genius moment, yet another sign of aging. There was a time that didn’t feel that long ago where three margaritas wouldn’t even have gotten her tipsy. Sometimes she forgets this new limit on her liver and finds herself with world ending hangover after what seems like an unfair and minuscule amount of drink. Alex, of course, does not want to really admit that no person needs more than 4 Kings pints at any one sitting. But that’s the funny thing about bars, it’s an entirely organic system of enabling where the word need gets left at the door and exchanged for want.

Even though Alex cooks a lot of Asian food, it occurred to her the other evening that she had never really done it dinner party style and she is worried that a lot of the dishes have too many of the same components, that it is all going to taste the same. And of course, Whole Foods doesn’t seem to have the Chinese egg ramen noodles that she is looking for. Instead in her hand is a package of Organic Round Udon Noodles. With a sub label that says Asian Pasta. The Asian Pasta part is irritating Alex with its redundancy, and is making her not want to buy them. Alex sighs and from above her she hears, “Can I help you find something?”  Not bothering to unfold herself from her squat she peers up at the source of the inquiry and finds herself looking at an older man in a bloody butchers apron who doesn’t seem in full possession of all of his teeth. This grosses Alex out, so instead of asking the man, who could probably help her if they have more noodles in the back she says, “No, thank you. I’m fine.” Even though what she really means is; “No, thank you, and get away from me because your half gummy mouth is grossing me out and I’m trying really hard not to imagine it on my body.”

“Ok, well let me know if you need anything,” says gummy man as he heads on to the butcher counter.

Alex turns the package of noodles over in her hand to check the label; she does a lot of this these days having cut out not only High Fructose Corn Syrup but also any ingredient that she can’t pronounce. The ingredient label reads: Organic heirloom wheat flour and sea salt. Alex rolls her eyes at the heirloom part, she wonders how long this trend of ‘heirloom’ everything is going to last. Then she sees on the package; Koyo uses Organic Heirloom grains, special varieties that are handed down from generation to generation and revered for their superior quality, purity and taste. A portion of the export profit from this product goes to support organic agriculture in the local community. Made in China. The idea of supporting local organic agriculture in China makes Alex grin and almost makes up for the Asian Pasta sub label. She tosses them in her basket figuring they will do for the sesame noodle salad she is making as a side dish, it’s not like her guests are going to spit them out because they are the wrong noodles.

Unfolding herself and ignoring the pins and needles in her feet she heads over to the butcher counter and as a result the gummy man,  hoping they have bone-in local pork shoulder today. If they don’t she will have to make a second stop and Alex isn’t sure she has the patience for that today. Luckily enough they do, and gummy man says, “I’m glad that I was able to help you after all,” and then ruins it by grinning. Alex keeps her mouth shut again, which unknown to him is at least a medium-sized miracle. She smiles and takes her wrapped dead pig piece and says, “Thanks very much. Have a good night.” It’s not until she’s standing in line adding up the total of her groceries in her head that she realizes that the butcher has given her well over a pound for free. She weighs it in her hand wondering if she’s crazy. But Alex knows that she isn’t crazy, because of all the cooking she does, she knows exactly what 5 pounds of pork shoulder should feel like. This random act of kindness makes Alex suddenly very thirsty for a tall cold pint of Toasted Lager. Moments later she pushes against the Mahogany colored wood that frames the glass of the front door of her local bar and she marvels at the immediate warmth that fills her and recognizes that the scent filling her nostrils is of belonging.  She takes her first sip and the honey amber-colored liquid slides easily down her throat quickly soothing what struggles inside and she thinks; “This is why I do this to myself. For better and worse.”