Even the Novelists Must Eat: Sunchokes in Cream & Greens with Cheese & Egg

Prepping (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I may have mentioned that I’m writing a novel. I thought I’d challenge myself and participate in the November national write a novel in a month thing. It’s painstaking. So far I have seventeen pages of what will undoubtedly be the next great American novel, and each paragraph is a tortuous crawl towards some enlightened end – that has as of yet not been revealed to me. I decided today that someone’s going to die, definitely. But maybe not until, like, page ninety. Which means I only have seventy more pages to fill with something that resembles plot. Even a goal of three pages a day is killing me. (And, do the math,  seventeen pages on November 9th equals clearly failing.)

When I write, I writhe. I sit in my desk chair with my sweatshirt hood pulled over my head and moan. I write a sentence, I delete it, I change the POV ten times, I do a series of gymnastic exercises in an effort to find a position in which I can write something I actually like. After every paragraph, I mumble, “Novels are haaaaaard,” and slump further in my chair before I can start another sentence.

I had to laugh today at the grocery store as I bought lunch for myself: two $1 frozen Celeste personal cheese pizza and a cherry Pepsi. I was still wearing my yoga pants, hoodie with the hood up, puff vest, and moccasins. I looked like a total dirty bum, and definitely not like the person who was writing what would (undoubtedly) be the next great American novel.

So I wrote and writhed and ate pizza and finished up seven (!) whole pages. When I was done, when I’d picked the person who was going to die and felt like there might be a story, I realized I was hungry. » Continue reading this post…

Those Onions Always Make Me Cry

Roasted potatoes and sauteed greens (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I had forgotten what real vegetables look like. I went to the Greenmarket in Union Square yesterday and walked past stalls where vendors, wrapped in balaclavas, parceled out apple slices and goat cheese on popsicle sticks, and every other stand sold hot cider. Walking through the Greenmarket is an exercise in maintaining your Zen, since everyone hustling in and out of stalls, vying for the biggest carrot. If you can keep breathing and let the crowd carry you instead of fighting through it, the market is wonderful.

I’ve gotten used to my Associated Supermarket on the corner and I’ve even started thinking, yeah, that’s some nice parsley. Maybe because compared to the bodegas where bunches of browning bananas and wilted bins of lettuce sit beside bags of chips and bouillon cubes collecting dust, Associated’s water-sprinkled produce glistens. Then I went to the Greenmarket and remembered what vegetables look like. And that they smell, even in brumal November. In the apple tent, giant lobes of jonagolds and pink ladys were musky perfume and there was a bunch of sage at one stall so fragrant I did a double-take just to close my eyes and smell. I found perfect red radishes, plump shallots and garden onions, goat cheese, greens, multi-hued fingerlings, sunchokes, tangy Kefir yogurt drink, and a spray of verdant flat-leaf parsley.

I carried the parsley in front of my face like a bouquet of flowers just to keep the fresh smell close.

Fresh parsley (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Cooking from the farmer’s market is like adding an extra layer of love to what you make, since someone has loved the rutabaga before it was a rutabaga. A farmer’s market fruit is loved in a way a supermarket fruit has never known. When you cook with loved food, there’s less work to do. Greens wilt themselves into your skillet, tomatoes only ask for a little salt, onions are ferocious and tender. » Continue reading this post…

Comfort Food and Pumpkin Things: Pasta with Tomato and Pumpkin

Pumpkin and tomato pasta (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I haven’t written about comfort food in a while. Although this is probably entirely untrue, since I was once accused of describing all foods as comfort foods, after which point I decided that food, for me, is comfort.

I wasn’t even going to make dinner tonight and just settle for the baguette with brie and a cappuccino that I snacked on a while ago while writing an article. But I got some bad news today, and bad news always makes me crave tomatoes. And, oh, the news is so tedious and repetitive (let’s just say it involves creepy crawlies…) that I don’t want to talk about it. But I do want to talk about this brilliant little tomato and pumpkin pasta.

We’ve been having a lot of fun with pumpkins here on Starr St. I bought a misshapen monstrosity at the grocery store the other night and scooped out all the flesh and Anette carved a very Matisse-esque design in the shell which lasted one whole candle-lit evening before the morning evinced a crumpled pumpkin looking like nothing so much as the old woman without teeth who sits on the stoop down the street. I made a pumpkin curry and pumpkin pie and roasted pumpkin seeds, and I still have enough pumpkin to last through the winter. One pumpkin is a lot of pumpkin.

Pumpkin monster (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

So tonight, I made a pasta sauce with pumpkin, whole peeled tomatoes, carrots, onions, garlic, oregano, basil, salt, and pepper. Served over angel hair pasta and topped with chunks of black peppercorn-encrusted creamy parmesan cheese.

Things are looking up already.

Pumpkin pasta (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Pasta with Tomato and Pumpkin

1/2 package dried pasta
1 yellow onion, diced
1 garlic clove, minced
2 carrots, chopped
3/4 cup cooked fresh pumpkin
1/2 can whole peeled tomatoes
1/2 tsp. dried basil
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
Salt & pepper, to taste
Grated parmesan

Set a large pot of salted water to boil. » Continue reading this post…

Where Manhattan Meets Dinner

Bread salad (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I can see Manhattan from my roof. There is the dazzling slope of the Chrysler Building, the geometric cascade of the Empire State, and further to the left, the spanned wires of the Williamsburg Bridge. I was going through a rough patch a while back, and my favorite place to sit was on the roof, staring over the rooftops of Brooklyn at the Manhattan skyline and thinking of all the other people who were struggling with me. Each light representing a life. I’d sit alone, cradling a plate of pasta or bread with jam, balancing a glass of wine on the rooftop, and be silent and breathe. There was one bad night, where I wanted nothing but stillness, that I made myself a bread salad to eat on the rooftop. I had some leftover, almost stale baguette, and there’s nothing I’d rather do with stale baguette than add cherry tomatoes, basil, cucumbers, garlic, olive oil, rice wine vinegar, salt, and pepper to it. I put in extra garlic. There are advantages to eating alone.

The roof is a good spot in times of peace, too. The skyline is stalwart whatever my case may be. There is the noise of the basketball games in the park, the ever present cacophony of sirens, planes, Latin music from the bodega on the corner. But underneath the calm of an unobstructed sky, the frenzy is at a comfortable remove. Tonight, I made a bread salad with French bread and plenty of garlic, even though I’m meeting people later. I took it up and watched the sun set.

Bread salad with olives (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

A composition (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

There’s a nook on the roof, a joint where the ledge covered in poorly spackled silver paint butts against the building’s edge. I sit here, my back against the wall, my feet propped up, gazing at the skyline as tacky and beautiful as a velvet painting. » Continue reading this post…

Another Reason to Love Bushwick or Surprise, the Post Office is Not so Bad

Pork bbq kebabs (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Besides the fact that the L train just wasn’t running this weekend (I’m sorry, New York City, what were you thinking?), I keep finding more reasons to love my new hood. These are the last warm days of the year, and now that the park has reopened post a sweeping up of the fallen trees and debris from the tornados, there is a comfortable amount of foot traffic strolling past my still open windows to remind me that I should go outside and eat ice cream, dammit, before the city is covered in an interminable blanket of snow, slush, misery, and fur-lined parkas.

I had the day off on Friday, and as any self-respecting masochistic New Yorker would do, I worked. Three loads of laundry, picking up mail from the old apartment and the shoes I’d had re-soled, scrubbing the bathroom, cleaning out the pantry, and gathering up the energy for a trip to the post office. The post office is unfortunate, like a theme park without any fun at the end of the lines. And in Bushwick, the post offices are especially bad. At my old Bushwick post office, I used to put aside an hour for a trip, because no matter how many people were in line – fifteen or five – the wait was one hour. Always. One hour.

So a trip to the post office requires reserves of zen-like patience and at least one and a half good books.

I gathered my packages. I gathered my books and my patience and set out to find my new post office. As I passed the Jefferson stop, where the train was spitting out commuters lucky enough to come home before 11:30 at night when the train would just. stop. running, I paused at the rich, charred smell of barbequing meat. » Continue reading this post…

Frühstück and Vespern: Friedel’s Fleischsalat

Laugenbretzel (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

My verbal skills are now thoroughly mangled. I’m thinking in three languages, navigating through two cultures, and working my way through something like six time zones. So I’m confused, mostly. All I can say for certain is that my family is keeping me regularly caffeinated and fed (and caffeinated) and that they forgive me for whatever errors my German may contain.

Since joining up with them in the rural south of Germany, I’ve been playing a fun game called, “Can I Say This in Schwäbisch,” in which I say a sentence out loud and then in my head try to sound it out in the garbled southern dialect (the aforementioned third language) my family speaks. Say: Meine Sprache ist ganz durch einander. Think: Moi Sprach ist hey. The result is that I speak a very strange German: either correct, crisp high-German pronunciation with a rolling Southern inflection or the reverse – as if an inhabitant from the Pacific northwest were to cleanly articulate the sentence, “That ain’t nohow the way to go ‘bout it.”

As I speak and eat my way through the week, I’m working out a theory that culturally, the difference between Americans and Germans is a principle of curves and edges. Lets assume that we evolve angularly against our environments in order to navigate them, that in the yin-yang of the universe, there must always be a balance between curves and lines. In this sense, the Americans are outwardly round and inwardly straight and the Germans are outwardly straight and inwardly round.

Pretend I’m not totally jet-lagged and work with me. American culture is loud and big and comfortable. Americans are easy to get to know, are chatty and open. Advertising is seductive and billboards are filled with colors, scripted font, pictures, and sequins. Yet Americans themselves are inwardly direct and goal-oriented, good at general friendships but wary of vulnerability, in relationships less earnest than flippant. » Continue reading this post…

Christening: Chickpea Curry & Failproof Rice

The new kitchen (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Finally, a beginning.

Last night, I was talking with my roommate about the bedbugs. It’s still almost shameful to say, even though they are an epidemic in New York – apparently the whole country. The people I tell, I laugh and say, Oh, it’s fine, I’m just spending a fortune in laundry. But the bedbugs have brought out the worst in us. They have robbed us of our time and stolen our sanity. We bicker over little things and act selfishly because we can’t think otherwise. But mostly, we haven’t made our new apartment home. And somehow, it’s worse to expresses these fears than to suffer them in silence. But now you know.

We were in the kitchen, and I don’t remember why, but I wanted to know the secrets of making rice. My attempts always leave a thin burned layer of grains stuck to the bottom of the pot. I think of them as sacrificial grains.

Eulas started telling me his method for cooking rice – water to just cover the rice, cooked to boiling, heat turned low and covered while the steam works. Then Sarah – I’ve perfected my rice recipe. You need lots of time, at least 45 minutes. We debated rice cooking methods, discussed the merit of steam, water to rice ratios, pot types, rice types, and lids for half an hour. As the last few words were said, we began to separate; silence pushing us back to our rooms. We could make rice now, Sarah said. I’ll make beans, Eulas said, and with relief we drew together again in the kitchen.

Rice in the pot (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

We cooked and talked – about something, I don’t even remember – as the music of cars and neighborhood children clashed outside our window. The redolent smell of cumin and pepper and the kitchen’s warm lights. » Continue reading this post…

Not Cooking

Empty plate (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

There is a point where what you don’t cook means something too. Every day at work on my lunch break, the hectic rush to Starbucks, the deli, money spent. Two weeks into moving and I still can’t make myself at home in the long kitchen – so new and full of stainless steel, without character or enough space to chop onions. The fridge is smaller than me, there is no order to a glutted smash of plastic bags, yogurts, mustard, glittering cherry tomatoes in clear cases. Yesterday I threw away spring onions, cilantro, lettuce, and cucumbers. Forgotten in there. Mom says, try Paxil. But what I need is to christen the kitchen and to write again. I miss those anchors of sanity.

What is there in cooking that saves me? Stability: the heft of a knife handle in my hand, the rhythmic grind of the blade rubbing salt into a garlic clove. Creativity: the unexpected sour hit of feta on spinach wilted in bacon grease. Safety: fried eggs. Escape: a pinch of berbere spice. Comfort: pasta and basil, chorizo. My eyes closed, eating tacos.

I am fearless in the kitchen. A mistake is almost always fixable and sometimes leads to something better than what I had in mind. I try to approach life this way – the best things unfold before me despite my efforts. When I cook, it reminds me of the goodness of a greater plan. When I don’t cook, I forget. And I worry, about success and failure, jobs, getting a roommate, making phone calls, painting, finding time for yoga – as if I were picking apart the goodness of a whole orange and eating only pith.

Then I remember the soup I froze for bad times. Tuscan bean soup, thick with potato and butternut squash, smooth, sweet carrots cut through with the bitterness of kale. » Continue reading this post…

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