A new place

Tonight I’m writing you from somewhere different.

I moved to a place on the water. “I think you can make a real home here,” my mother said, stepping in, weighted down with boxes. I felt the dark wood moldings and breathed in the lake, a salt-dusted almost-sea smell, and agreed.

Now the place has some furniture in it, and I’ve stacked its shelves with what little I own, and it still feels like something borrowed. You can hear the waves in every room. You sleep to their pull, wake to their breaking. It gives new meaning to the thing we say about sadness, that it feels like living underwater. The waves, it turns out, don’t sound so different from under water than from three floors above it.

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Grilled Winter Pear Salad

So it’s winter, apparently,

and the Christmas songs are playing, and somewhere in the country it’s snowing thickly, dreamily, but here in Los Angeles it’s sunny and warmish and breezy, so I say–Christmas who?–looks like grilling weather. I have spent every Christmas in memory out here in the sunshine, and every year around this time I begin to suspect that I’m being robbed of something essential, essential to the inner life maybe, and to call that thing snow would be too easy, wouldn’t it?

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Summer Bean Salad

Salad is good. But what’s this prickle of shame I feel when I say it?

I want to show you food that wets the tongue, that tickles the groin. Rich, lush, ecstatic food. And I know that this may not be it, that it’s hard to do belly cartwheels for a garden salad. Still, I love them, and like any stubborn affair of the heart, it troubles me a little. Because for me–and maybe not only for me–salad seems a fairly potent symbol for the failure of female desire.

Did that come out of left field? Sorry reader. I know you don’t just write sentences like that, not about salad, and then you certainly don’t leave them like that, orphaned at the end of a paragraph. Except on days like this. Finesse-less days. I mean hungry days.

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On Figs

Six months ago I wrote a totally failed piece about fruit and sex, a kind of meditation on the sensuous qualities of oranges, mangoes, pomegranates, etc.

It was fun to write because it gave me permission to use words that weaken the knees: juice, skin, pulp, flesh, pluck, lick, suck. A terrible essay, I realize now–embarassingly bad, written to please only the writer–but it remains a fairly accurate portrait of how I feel about fruit.

Fruit in general and figs particularly. When I was writing the bad fruit essay I decided that figs are the sexiest fruit to eat. It’s in the grotesqueness of their appearance: the bruised purple skin, the pink flesh, the green stems leaking punishing white sap. Then you taste it: the yielding texture, the almost aggressive sweetness, a subtle savor of dirt and earth, reminding you where it comes from, all of it.

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Endive, Apple, Mâche

Then there’s the warm weather.

It’s been beautiful for three days. There’s a part of me that thinks, something’s gotta give, right? But people on the street are smiling at nothing in particular. Grinning at dogs, beaming at, like, infants and bare branches and unbloomed tulips. I even saw the pan-handler in front of Potbelly’s get some love.

And walking to the bookstore today I got whistled at for the first time in… for the first time in a long time. I’m telling you. Weather.

Weather that brings about a change in my taste, my desires. This is right about when I start waxing poetic about crispy, fresh, vegetable-y things. Not that I couldn’t totally kill a juicy undercooked burger right now, but in general I’ve been thinking about something else. Continue reading

The Perfect Caesar

I’ve spent a lot of time, maybe too much, trying to figure out how to do this one thing absolutely right.

But I hesitate to say “too much.” How much time is too much time to spend perfecting something that ought to be perfected? I wonder about this, because I’ve been making various grades of mediocre caesar salads for a few years now. Always different, always imperfect in some new way. Always galvanizing some new flawed approach.

And as far as salads go, this is the one I need–and I use that word purposefully, need–to get right. This salad needs to soar. Because it is so frequently botched, so misunderstood, so canned and thoughtlessly thrown together, and its elements, every one of them, deeply perverted in their commonest forms: lumpy, congealed milky white dressing from a bottle; bagged, oversalted croutons; pre-shredded, flavorless Parmesan cheese; and carelessly torn Romaine lettuce.

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Scallop, Egg, Orange, Endive

Today I did something I haven’t done in a long time.

I ruined some really good food. Or an idea of good food. I had this great recipe lined up. Seared scallops with orange saffron cream. While the sauce was going on the stove I started to arrange the photographs, the still lifes, like I do. For the first time ever I got to play around with my dad’s fancy digital camera. And…I got carried away. So that when I finally remembered the sauce, finally checked on it, it had…broken.

And when I say broken I mean this sauce was devastated. Unsalvageable. This is what happens when you ignore sauce. You leave butter and cream unwatched on the stove for too long and it will overheat. And when a fatty sauce overheats it de-emulsifies; it separates into its basic elements, grease and protein, and you’re left with chunks of milk curd floating like pond scum in liquefied butter. When this happens, you throw it away. There’s no saving it, no going back. I had to figure out something else. Continue reading