I have this fear that, waiting so long to write you, I open up a space between us.
And I worry that each day of silence grows it, makes it harder to stitch up. But I’m suspicious of talk, of apology–it only puts more of the ordinary between us–and anyway what we have here calls for a different kind of devotion. Let me only say, then, that when I wrote you last, I was, maybe we were, living under different weather.
“Perhaps the hardest thing about losing a lover is to watch the year repeat its days.”
That’s Anne Carson on loss. A quote for the first days of the new year. And if that quotation does not sing to you the kind of swaggering, obvious, the-past-is-the-past, dead, caput; the-future-is-now New Years zeitgeist we’ve all loved and trusted and grown bored with, or worse, wise to, well, you’re welcome.
“I can feel that other day running underneath this one like an old videotape.” My mother has been running through the tapes. Last year she lost a great love, the great love, her mother. There we were in January a year ago. Here we were. “On the 2nd you took a red eye to Chicago. The next day we took her to the hospital.” The year after is the freshest. Next year, we’ll say two Januaries ago, and we’ll feel emptier about it, somehow, maybe. The tape will play in fading colors. But still it will play, on and on.
Skin-on fatty pork simmered with ginger, soy sauce and rock sugar until the skin is supple and shiny and the meat falls apart. Before my grandmother died, we had this all the time. Now, less. Chinese women of her generation believed that eating a small hunk of pork fat each day was the secret to a long life. Chinese women of my mother’s generation believe in eating as little meat as possible, and fill in the gaps with French pastries. Go figure. Guess which view I have more sympathy for.
Can that possibly be rain? In Los Angeles? In October?
Around this time every year, the mountains circling my suburb catch fire. Our October rain is ash and ember. There’s a patch of white pines north and west of here that has not, for many years, lost its blackness, its burn. In 2008 a fire that started in the Santa Susana Mountains burned south and west until it blackened the tennis courts across the street from my parents’ house, where it stopped.
More than heat or wind or drought or earthquakes, fire is what I think about when I think about California. But today it’s raining, and this morning I lit a fire of my own with false wood, and from my greenhouse of an office I can look out and behold a likeness of winter.
Reader, I fear I’ve grown rusty in this business of writing you.
Twenty days. Yikes. To break such a silence begs a certain gravity of prose, doesn’t it, but I find myself in an easier mood this evening. I could tell you what I’ve been doing, that I’ve been going through old pictures. That I started raising fragrant herbs and lusty pink orchids and this vague, green indoor palm that I’m not so sure about. Or that I’ve been painting and lifting, drilling and dusting, watering and washing, been spending entire days on my hands and knees these three silent weeks.
Of all the aromatics, onions are by far the most unloved.
I think of garlic and the romance of its mythology, the widely-trumpeted healthfulness of carrots, the seductive, far-away aroma of ginger and scallions. But onions. At my university, boys eat onions raw as part of a hazing ritual. They eat onions joylessly to win access to an endless world of warm beer and tungsten-lit, stale-smelling halls. It is meant as a punishment, but I wonder which part. After all, to eat a raw onion would not be so punishing if the onion were sweet. I’ve seen a man pluck a Vidalia from the dirt and bite into it lustfully, calling it sweeter than an apple.
Sweeter, indeed. Cook an onion long enough and it will turn to candy. Cook it a little longer and it will melt completely away. But onions in their most conspicuous form are battered and fried, or else sliced thick and scattered over salads, a garish, inedible purple garnish. I know of at least two people who refuse to eat them. And no wonder. It’s easy to write off onions as a clumsy and pedestrian vegetable. Onions sometimes speak too loudly. But it is impossible to forget, once tasted, the sublimity of an onion well-tended and well-loved. Continue reading
Writing for the blog there’s this wall I hit, again and again, the roadblock to ever making a true record of my cooking.
It’s the problem of food photography. Bad pictures ruin good blogs. It’s just true. Because bad pictures, especially bad pictures of food, are an immediate sensual assault on the level of, well—forgive me—hardcore porn. Aggressively scatalogical, just plain nasty porn. (I’d argue here that the production and consumption of nasty XXX porn comes from the same impulse that produces and consumes nasty food porn, but I’m aware of my audience.)
This fact has pained me. It’s not that I can’t be bothered about pictures. I can. I am. It’s just that the foods I like best are, for the most part, pretty ugly. Brownish, yellowish curries. Black vinegar noodle soup. Stuff coated in fermented shrimp sauce. It’s all delicious, really, but no one needs to see that stuff. That stuff is private. Continue reading
Posted in All Posts, International Food, Sides, Soups & Stews, Vegetarian
Tagged canon, chickpeas, curry, digital SLR, Indian food, porn, ugly food
I feel like there’s a lot of mystery surrounding the preparation of Peking duck.
At most good Chinese restaurants you have to order it at least a day ahead if there’s any hope of getting it on your table. This has to do with the fact that there is a very narrow bridge of time in which the duck can be enjoyed as intended–that is, with supremely crispy skin and liquid fat.
So Chinese restaurants aren’t trying to annoy you when they ask exactly what time you will be enjoying your duck, they’re trying to protect your eating experience, which I think is great. No self-respecting Chinese cook would ever leave Peking duck just sitting around. In fact my mother had this spasm of annoyance with me when I interrupted her process to take these pictures. So if the photographs are not up to their usual standard, blame the perfectionism of an exquisite cook. Continue reading
Posted in All Posts, International Food, Meat, Seafood, Sides, Soups & Stews
Tagged Chinese BBQ, Chinese food, cucumbers, fish stew, inferiority complex, peking duck, whole shrimp