Archive for the ‘Social Commentary’ Category

Fall Homage, In Memoriam: Pumpkin Soup

Pumpkin Soup (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Well, I’ve done it. I’ve bathed my laptop in liquids one too many times and I have killed it. Killed it dead. Marley was dead: to begin with, as my dear, dear Dickens said. And it’s getting to be that season anyway, though the weather is unseasonably warm here in Berlin. I took a long bike ride today, partly because the weather was so nice – and partly because I had to go to O2 to see if they could get the internet to work on this wonderful computer my dear friend Elisabeth has lent me – they can’t.

So, my laptop, my love is dead. My internet does not exist. I am shut off and out of the world. And here’s a secret. When, after two hours, the nice man at O2 told me the internet wasn’t going to work, I cursed the heavens silently, first, and then I felt – relief.  Although I don’t know if that is exactly the right word. There should be a word that means something in between resignation and freedom. So don’t tell anyone, but I don’t think I’m upset to be shut off and out the world. I can feel my brain blossoming.

Of course, the only thing to do the night I broke my laptop was to leave the apartment. To find my way to a champagne party whose address I wasn’t quite sure of since the internet had failed before I could plot my meticulous way across the city. To leave the scene of horror, half-sopped liquid still puddled on the floor, and go to meet people and drink champagne with berries and talk it out and then go dance it out. I know nothing more cathartic than hip hop and sweat. But the next day, my first day, waking up to a laptop pried open and drying on a chair, battery expunged (I learned that much from the first time I dropped a drink in the keyboard…), I didn’t know what to do. » Continue reading this post...

My Life Without an Appendix: Pasta with Fennel & Onions

Alone in the apartment (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

It’s not so bad, really, to live without an appendix. It was nice, sometimes, to take walks with my appendix, to run errands with my appendix, even to have lunch with my appendix. But it wasn’t really until my appendix was gone, that I realized what it was to miss my appendix. I took walks, I ran errands, I ate lunch, and yet, I felt a hole, an appendix-shaped hole, right where my appendix used to be. It’s been a few months now, since my appendix was taken from me, and I feel a little solace, looking at the three small scars on my belly where at least something was given to me in exchange. I’ve grown to like those little scars, to like them almost more than I liked my appendix, since when I had it with me, I didn’t pay much attention to my appendix at all.

I’m alone in Berlin now. It’s strange how, when there were people in the apartment, all I wanted was to be alone and quiet and now, when I’m alone and it’s quiet, all I want is someone else.

This morning, I sent my mother off to the airport at six, and fell back into a cautious sleep. When I woke up, the apartment was already a different place. It was more silent, heavier; I was afraid of the sound of my voice. I’d never paid attention to my mother’s breath, but now that it wasn’t there, I knew what it was to miss her.

I am not comparing my mother to my appendix. How grotesque. I’m only saying that we often spend more time clacking after what we don’t have rather than listening for the presence of the things that are with us. Our lives are in a flux of having and not having and almost always, what we have we will at some point lose. » Continue reading this post...

Doomsday Dinner: Sweet Potato & Collard Tacos

Tacos with sweet potato and collards (Eat me. Drink Me.)

I figured I’d go out with a bang. Something simple and celebratory that said, “Good food is a good life” and “I’m really tired from work” at the same time. It was time to dig through the pantry for cans unopened, vegetables unused, ideas unexplored. I found harissa. I thought: cinnamon, sweet potato, collards.

I played Adele very loud at the inconvenience of my neighbors. I sang along even louder. I thought, I have yoga-d, I have showered, and now I am cooking in the warm light of my kitchen. This is as ready as I’ll ever be to meet the hereafter. Assuming the hereafter is upon us in the next twenty minutes.

I remembered that when I was doing yoga, the rooster crowing at five in the afternoon was a sign. A frantic and unheeded sign. But now, with the sweet potatoes softening in a bed of onion, garlic, cumin, harissa, and cinnamon, I remembered also that the rooster starts to crow at three in the morning and crows, like sick clockwork, seven times in a row every nineteen minutes apart, until late in the afternoon. And by the end of the day his crows are like death throes, implausibly persisting croaks. And before, I had felt the rain to be ominous, wet foretaste of horror.

Now, it brought a cool evening breeze through the window and a calming patter. I remembered that I like rain.

I snapped open a bottle of Weihenstephaner, my right now favorite wheat beer. The apocalypse postponed itself, I think to give me time to really taste crisp wheat and honey, blue sky, the remembrance of bananas. I remembered that I don’t like bananas.

Two tortillas grilled on the gas stove’s open flame. Collards just simmering into a spicy tomato-laced harissa sauce. Crumbled feta. Everything wrapped in the tortilla. » Continue reading this post...

Kneading is a Homophone

Freshly rolled fettucini (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

The dough speaks into your hands. It begs for touch, begs to be pressed and squeezed until the rocking of your hands is just the rhythm of breathing. It bends into your fingers, almost sighs as it twists into shape. Like a pliable lover, the dough responds to the guided pressure of a palm or the fingertips’ gentlest roll. The hands feel when the dough is done; the soft and elastic transition from disparate pieces to one yielding whole. The moment is indescribable, intuitive. And when the dough is done, you gently cover it and let it rest, somewhere safe and warm.

Last night, I rolled out dough for pasta. I heard my roommate say my name. “Are you ok?” she asked and pulled me back into the room. I felt my face loosen from its consternated knit and the rhythmic pounding of my hands slow to slackness. My knuckles rested casually on the dough, the touch a reminder of presence, and I laughed.

“I was somewhere else,” I said, and she laughed too. She went back to her phone conversation, and I began to roll out the dough again, but it was colder – stiffer, as if the break had ruined some fluid climax. As if it wanted forgiveness from my hands.

I’ve been kneading bread, pizza, pasta – and as my hands work into dough, I understand it’s just a metaphor for that other word, that I am needing, too – gentleness, patience, touch.

A friend of mine said, “My gift to the world is smiling.” And I realized, we don’t project nearly enough love into the world, especially in New York, where the train you need to take is always imminent, the line too long and slow, time too divided. Maybe that’s why I’m kneading. It’s nothing but time and some muscle, like love displaced into food, though for me, food is always love. » Continue reading this post...

Resolutions and Assorted Thoughts on Salt and Things

Chipped venison (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

It’s been a minute. I’ve missed you. I never told you about Thanksgiving or Christmas or New Years and all the magnificent food I cooked and holiday observations I made. I didn’t write about the Greek Meatballs or the Fancy Vegas Dinner, the Skirmish with Lamb Marrow, or the Million Clove Dinner Party. I took a few pictures, but not enough. I let my errands run me. But now I find myself wedged into a MegaBus seat with no WiFi, my copy of Fear and Loathing (plus commentary) finished, fifteen minute nap done (and besides, I told myself I wouldn’t nap this time), and I think it’s time to write a little. It’s part of my New Years Resolution, I guess – to write more. That, and to actually remove the makeup from my face before I go to bed, keep my toenails painted, and use my Crockpot more often. And to be generally nicer.

I’m on my way back to New York from a weekend visiting one of my oldest friends (by which I mean, we have been friends since the age of four) in State College, PA. It’s a snowy drive, and the big windows are streaked with salt spray, which makes the view grim. I feel especially sorry for the people who have been riding this WiFi-less bus since Pittsburgh.

Although it looks, at least, like everyone else’s seat reclines.

We’re pulling into a travel station, and I’m tempted to get a hot dog. Nothing as extravagant, of course, as the hot dogs my friend said she used to get at Hoss’, where they’d carve her name into the unlucky wiener. These are weird moods of mine.

It could be being back in Pennsylvania, where, growing up, a special meal out was at Applebee’s and something super fancy got celebrated at the Olive Garden. » Continue reading this post...

Dinner Stroll: Fettuccine with Chicken-Liver Sauce

Chinatown, New York (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Our apartment’s fire alarm is hyper-reactive, erupting into warning cries at just the intimation of heat. This means that when I cook, I spend almost as much time running back and forth between the two alarms with a long wooden stick and disengaging them with a well-aimed prod, as I do standing in front of the stove.

I do a lot of walking in New York in general, so the fire alarm situation is nothing out of the ordinary. The other night, I met a friend for dinner after work. We were meeting at 6:15 and I was done with work at 5 – so rather than wait around uptown, I walked the thirty or so blocks from SoHo to 6th and 20th. I like to walk casually but with purpose, separating myself from the throng on the city streets. Everyone is stressed in New York, even the tourists, who must somehow subconsciously feed off everyone else’s frantic energy. To set yourself apart from this and still be in it is an almost elevated feeling of peace, like every commercial where there’s that one guy standing there while the rest of the world blurs by like water.

Uptown, New York (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I like the introspection that comes along with walking – the mind’s mimesis of wandering feet.

And especially walking in New York, I have these moments where I thrill that I live here. It’s a very special moment, to know where you are going, to know that after you leave your bank on Broadway and 10th, you can wander generally South and left (I actually do all my directions this way; I’ve mastered North and South, but I find East and West a little elusive), and you can pick up a bottle of cheap wine at the Broadway Liquor Warehouse, check on a new milk frother at Sur la Table and finally end up at your favorite pasta shop on Grand and Mulberry for fresh egg fettuccine and next door, a slab of Sicilian black pepper cheese. » 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...

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...