Rice Rice Baby

We were recently browsing through an Asian market, looking for ingredients for spring rolls, and happened upon a section where there were 50-lb. bags of rice stacked up.

“Holy shit,” Tara remarked. “Can you believe people actually buy that much rice?”

Actually, yes. I do believe it, because I used to be one of those people. In a past life – the one in which I was married to a woman who was part Latino, part Filipino  – I ate rice a lot. Like, almost every meal, a lot. I blame the Asian side of her heritage for that. Rice was the go-to side dish with everything. Hell, if she made rice, she’d serve it with a side of rice.

I’m only partly exaggerating.

I remember the first Thanksgiving I ever attended with her family in San Jose. It was a beautiful spread: turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, corn, rolls, pumpkin pie. And rice. That struck me as odd. There was already a starch, after all. A perfectly acceptable, traditional Thanksgiving starch. Why was there also rice?! My young mind was blown, but I simply chalked it up to different cultures. And over the years, I got used to eating a lot of rice. We bought those fifty pound bags of rice all the time! It took two of us to maneuver the bag in from the garage to the kitchen, almost as if we were moving a couch or something.  I never worried about intruders, either. I figured if anybody ever broke into the house and I caught them in the act, I’d knock them over the head with a bag of rice. Trust me, they’d be down for the count. (The don’t-take-away-our-rice crowd is going to say “rice doesn’t kill people, people kill people,” but that’s a bunch of malarkey. People with rice kill people).

We went through bags of this stuff back in the day!
We went through bags of this stuff back in the day!

Because of all the rice we ate, I am an expert at making it. There’s an art to making rice: one doesn’t just dump it in a pot and walk away. Oh, no. You’ve got to measure the water level with the first joint of your index finger. Bring it to a near-boil, then lower the temperature at just the right moment so it doesn’t boil over. And then leave it alone for exactly twenty-five minutes. I own a rice cooker, but that’s cheating. Once in awhile I like to make it the old-fashioned way, just to keep my skills sharp. It turns our perfectly every time.

The irony is, I hardly ever eat rice now. I’ve developed a complex over it. Past girlfriends have chided me when I’ve suggested rice with dinner. Tara is no exception. She’s not a fan, and gives me grief on the rare occasions I do make it. Not mean-spirited grief. Playful grief. But grief nonetheless. So I just don’t make it that much anymore. I’m much more likely to bust open a box of Rice-A-Roni. You know, the San Francisco treat.

It’s all just a reminder of how much my life has changed over the years. A close friend (hello, Monica!) said recently, “Can you believe you were once married to another person and living a completely different life?” She’s in the same boat as me, and is a thousand times happier today than she was ten years ago. I know exactly what she’s talking about, too. It’s surreal to think that I was married to this other person who is so completely different from me in every way, shape, and form. It sometimes feels like it was all a dream, something that happened long ago. Did I really used to wake up beside her every morning? Eat rice with her every evening? I can hardly remember that time. “Is there anything you miss about those days?” Tara asked recently. We’d both consumed a few alcoholic beverages by then, so it was the perfect time for honest contemplation. I thought about her question long and hard. About the not-insignificant period of time we were married. It’s hard to focus on anything other than that last horrible year. 2006 was a disaster, marked by anger and sadness and fights and a desperate but fruitless attempt to salvage our relationship. But of course, I loved her at one time, or I never would have married her. There were warning signs early on, but I ignored them, and we had a bunch of years together that didn’t suck. And that’s when I realized the truth of the matter. My fondest memories were of times that “didn’t suck.” That’s pretty telling, huh? I never felt the passion I do now, was never this happy.

“I honestly don’t miss a thing about those days,” I told Tara. “Well, except maybe rice.”

In other news, the weather has done an abrupt about-face this week. It’s been an unusually warm and dry late winter and spring. We’d had about half our normal rainfall, and a string of sunny and hot days. Temperatures in the mid- and upper-80s. We ran the air-conditioning for a week straight, unheard of this early in the year. And then, bam! On Tuesday it started raining. And it hasn’t stopped since. Plus, it’s gotten cold. The mercury is barely inching out of the 40s. One of the local meteorologists dubbed this “Mayuary” and he’s not really exaggerating. This weather has been much more typical of January or February than May. The other day, both Portland and Vancouver, WA set records for coldest high temperature for the date (50) and most rainfall for the date (over an inch in both locations). Plus, it’s the latest in the year it’s ever only managed to hit 50. Apparently, Mother Nature has a wicked awesome sense of humor.

And apparently, Mother Nature lives in Boston.

Anyway, rain or not, we’re excited for this weekend. It’s the first three-day weekend I’ve had since the Christmas break. Five months is an interminable stretch, especially after not working for so long last year. And the year before. So we’re going to take advantage. Tonight we’re going out for snails. I’m a classy date! (It’s also National Escargot Day so our food challenge demands we eat them). Tomorrow, we’re going to see the new Star Trek movie with the kids. And on Sunday, Tara and I are headed to Lincoln City on the Oregon coast for an overnight stay and a little R&R. And it’ll give us a chance to check out the beach house we rented for our wedding. Despite my parents’ suggestion that we stay at this cheap motel they like down there, we splurged on an oceanfront room with a private balcony. If we’re going to go all that way and stay along the coast, we might as well spend a few extra dollars and get a room we’ll really enjoy. That’s how we roll, anyway.

Have a great, long weekend!


Published by Mark Petruska

I'm a professional writer and editor living my best life in south central Wisconsin.

20 thoughts on “Rice Rice Baby

  1. OMG, Mark..that bag of rice is HUGE!!!!! It looks like something a restaurant would purchase.

    If you could see how I make rice it would kill you. I buy it already made in microwavable bags from Trader Joe’s. You just pop it into the microwave and in 3 minutes it’s done. And I have to say, it comes our perfect every time. I like the jasmine rice the best.

    Have an AWESOME time in Lincoln Center this weekend, buddy!

    Happy Memorial Day to you and Tara!


  2. I love rice. And like you, well, almost like you, I use Rice-A-Roni and Minute Rice…cheating all the way, I know. Still…they are both quick and they don’t taste half-bad.

    Have a great weekend!!


    1. That’s okay, whenever my mom has us over for dinner and rice is on the menu, I’m the designated rice cooker. Otherwise she’ll use Uncle Ben’s. Last time I checked, I don’t even have an Uncle Ben…


  3. One day my son’s Filipino friend was over and I was unloading groceries. He saw my tiny 750mg bag of rice and asked what everyone else was going eat. He went on to explain about the rice cooker that always has rice ready for rice emergencies and the 200lbs bags in storage for ‘just in case’.


  4. I own a rice cooker, but don’t use it for cooking rice. I cook oatmeal in it. It’s perfect for that task. I’ve never mastered the art of cooking rice. Too mushy, took sticky, too something always. Witnessed my second ever bar fight last night after having a delicious seafood dinner. I wasn’t involved, just an innocent by-stander. Looks to be an exciting Memorial Day weekend!


      1. damn near. pour in dry oatmeal add twice as much water. stir cook ’til done stir again. my cooker – a four cup Cuisinart – has an auto off, I don’t use the lid – it bubbles over.


  5. Dammit, I lost my whole post.

    Mother Nature clearly does live on the East Coast. Saturday it was cold and rainy and 40. Snowed in VT and in the Adirondacks. I had the heat on yesterday and Saturday. Its going to be 90 the end of the week – already put the AC’s in the windows (wish we had central air) and its going to suck. It was humid as hell last week too – needless to say, my allergies have been horrible this week.

    Also, a house on the beach sounds lovely. 🙂


  6. Ugh. I recently made a rice dish that I used to live on in college. I was in a hurry and our cupboards were low…

    Yah, NOT good. Will NOT be making it again for a very long time.


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