An Empty Room

This week I have been craving the food of another season.

Spaghetti with yolk and cheese. Spicy, buttery Indian. Braised short rib stew. Oxtail. Rice and beans. Warm food. Stewy food. Gut-satisfying brown food. Food that fills in the empty spaces and puts us to sleep.

It is hot again for everybody. Dewy skin, wet sheets, happy basil, watermelon. Huge insects attach themselves to my window screen and chirp the deafening song of the season. But oh. Come August, summer starts to lose its wonder for me. This is how it ends: at the close of the season, we find ourselves pining for the next one. That is, unless our luck has run out. Then we pine for one that’s already passed.

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Pizza Margherita

In an essay I’ve read several times this summer, Joan Didion suggests, as an antidote to crying, putting your head in a brown paper grocery bag.

Now, I have not yet attempted this–I’m skeptical of any purported cure for weeping–but I have learned the importance of habits like these, small disciplines that force perspective and teach character. “It is difficult in the extreme,” she writes, “to continue fancying oneself Cathy in Wuthering Heights with one’s head in a Food Fair bag.” Brown paper bags: for the sweats, a very hot shower. For anxiety, a cold one. For an attack of mid-day tiredness, not a nap, but a punishing run. For heart-sickness, I wish I knew.

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Something Green, Something Blue

These past couple weeks I’ve done nothing but write and sleep and eat, though you’ll notice I haven’t been posting much here.

An explanation: for the first time in my life, I am swamped in writing that’s one hundred percent non-recreational. At work, it’s been marketing plans and positioning statements and web copy. At home, it’s papers on, like, Foucault and Victorian sexuality and Chicago lit. It’s all kind of random, and kind of a lot. I don’t want to complain. These things need to get done, and I have to do them… but enter reason number two for my bloggy silence, now broken: There’s frankly been a tremendous sadness coloring everything I’ve had to write, everything I’ve had to do, these past two weeks.   Continue reading

Pretty Ugly Things

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

Why Fusion Sucks

I have some complicated, maybe irrational feelings about fusion cooking.

My first response is not to trust it. The worst restaurants in Evanston are these doglike, pandering places that label themselves Pan-Asian or Pan-World, that will give their customers practically anything they want however they want it. One place, opened recently, serves chicken drenched in sauces from all over the globe, kind of: Thai peanut, Italian Alfredo, Japanese teriyaki. Customers can choose one, or choose all. The philosophy is have it your way. The result is that nobody leaves happy.

With these trendy new places the word fusion is code for “We’re willing to make it if you’re willing to buy it.” And more often than not, “Please think we’re cool.” Naturally this is bad for the form. And despite the worldly, progressive sheen of the word, I think it masks a certain kind of fear. It’s the fear of serving food that’s simple, food that rejects gimmick, fear of saying to the precious customer, “our food is good enough the way it is.” Continue reading

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

Steakhouse Broiled Tomatoes

broiled tomatoes with blue cheese

Now, it has come to my attention that a lot of people don’t like tomatoes.

The complaints vary. Raw tomatoes are slimy. Cooked tomatoes are mushy. I once heard someone say that tomatoes have an identity crisis—they’re not sweet enough to be eaten as a fruit, and not savory enough to be used as a vegetable. Fair enough, I suppose. If you’re eating nasty tomatoes. But I think life is too short to eat anything nasty, and nasty tomatoes especially. Because tomatoes are wonderful, and taste wonderful.

Plus, their health benefits don’t suck. Like other berries (yes, they are berries) tomatoes—especially cooked tomatoes—contain the most powerful natural antioxidants. Eating tomatoes can decrease the risk of skin cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer. Scientists are beginning to link tomatoes’ cancer-fighting powers to lycopene, the chemical pigment that makes tomatoes red. Tomatoes are also believed to prevent heart disease. They are also a good source of vitamins A and C. Among other things. Continue reading