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07

Jul

psychotherapy:

"Our wisdom is all mixed up with what we call our neurosis. Our brilliance, our juiciness, our spiciness, is all mixed up with our craziness and our confusion, and therefore it doesn’t do any any good to try to get rid of our so-called negative aspects, because in that process we also get rid of our basic wonderfulness."
—Pema Chodron

psychotherapy:

"Our wisdom is all mixed up with what we call our neurosis. Our brilliance, our juiciness, our spiciness, is all mixed up with our craziness and our confusion, and therefore it doesn’t do any any good to try to get rid of our so-called negative aspects, because in that process we also get rid of our basic wonderfulness."

—Pema Chodron

01

Jun

Eat chocolate shavings and honey and contemplate your next move.

Vanilla Stracciatella

Soon as the cup of gelato reaches my hands, my fingers are sticky. If it’s really good stuff, you can smell the fat riding on the cold whiff of air surrounding it. It’s melting already, and the sides are sliding down. I use the tiny shovel they give you, but instead of digging my way out, I burrow into a messier situation. One that leaves me licking at the corners of my mouth for traces of chocolate, or sugar, or anything. 

Scenes From A Cuban Restaurant

Fulbright.

Bright, full. All is calm, all is bright. 

She can’t get a job, even with her Fulbright. She’s probably overqualified. It’s because of her Master’s degree, and her Fulbright put together. She writes fiction. She’s a fiction writer. Why can’t she get a job?

Well, there are jobs. There’s the publishing house that pays $33,000 a year that demanded manuscripts be read outside of work hours. That’s definitely more than 40 hours a week, she says. 

I can’t possibly be earning much doing what I do?

No. 

Not much. 

It’s not what you know, I tell her. It’s who you know. Your professional network determines whether you sink or swim. If she’s interested in publishing houses, I say, let me know, because I know everyone.

That’s before she winced at the idea of 33 grand as starting pay for a person who’s never had a full-time job. 

She reckons she wouldn’t want a job like mine anyway, especially if she had to start as an unpaid intern. Can’t work for free, I guess. Or for money, apparently. 

I’ve moved to the other side of the table to simmer. I reckon there aren’t many jobs for story-writers.   

26

May

Montepulciano d’Abruzzo

We went out for dinner again. It was a little different, this time. He had been gone for ten days, a time period I would later make him count on his hands twice. It had felt much longer.

The menu was blessedly tiny and I thought about the last time I’d been in, nearly a year previous. He took control, ordering roasted peppers and  a brussels sprout and pancetta pie and wine in a burbling rush, even teasing a promise of tiramisu. I was so spellbound I forgot to order a drink of my own. I flipped the menu and chose something Italian that at the time I pronounced flawlessly but right now cannot remember.

We were deep into it by the time the peppers were half gone. He told me about some girl in the desert, and that’s when the flavors lost their color. The cheese was just salty, the peppers were just sweet, and I was swallowing around a lump in my throat. I took a sip of wine and it was just dry.

I made a half-assed attempt at communicating exactly why it was I didn’t want to hear about this particular encounter, this particular girl. It was a rush of things. Feeling second best, feeling asexual, feeling rejected, just feeling, feeling, feeling and it came out in tears I tried casually wiping away with a seriously stiff dinner napkin.

"Vivi. It’s unsettling how easy I can make you cry."

I was struggling for purchase, struggling for propriety as I noticed the waitress bring a pancetta pie over to the couple next to us. “I think that’s ours,” I said.

It wasn’t.

They had ordered an entire pie, each, and I watched him pull a face, the same exact one I’d probably would had I not been so concentrated on mopping up traces of facial leakage. I wondered who I was to him, and wondered why I was even wondering, and I saw his expression change as the question left my mouth.

I should have known I wouldn’t be getting the kinds of answers I needed. We are in two different spots, and as I raised my elbows to make room for the pizza that was ours, finally, I made a fist to indicate him, a planet, and waved my fingers around it to indicate me. Stars? 

I tried to explain how I saw him as this fulcrum, a focus point that I had to constantly adapt to to keep balance. He dismissed my argument by rejecting the entire concept. What balance? Why worry? It would be fine. 

It should be noted at this point that we were both devouring sooty, doughy slices of pancetta and roasted leaves. Fine.

Fine. Somehow. Without real maintenance. Without communication, with, instead, a mercurial person who reserved the right to be or do whatever he pleased. And I, who, for some reason, couldn’t do the same. I fought another lump in my throat with lumps of fior di latte.

"What if you disappear?"
"You don’t have to worry about that."
"Why wouldn’t I?" "What would be the difference between you doing as you please and you going as you please?"

I don’t think I said it that elegantly. But I definitely do remember dabbing tears away with sooty fingertips, trying to find an unstained bit of napkin. 

"Vivi. Come on." And I saw real concern.

The pie had been demolished, and I was picking at crusts on my plate. 

The conversation meandered away from the original topic, while our dishes were cleared and the check was brought and sent away. He paid. I felt I’d charged him.

I wiped my hands repeatedly, enjoying the black stains. The pie was grilled like summer, a thought he verbalized as it finished forming in my mind. Something he does that no longer stuns me. He said he’d been in my place many times, had his heart broken many times. But, with a smile and a wagging finger, that tears wouldn’t fool him.

I wanted to say my heart wasn’t broken. Instead, I said I wasn’t crying for him. I was crying for me. 

25

Apr

Anzac Biscuit

I first heard the word “desiccated” when reading food labels from Japan and Korea. Desiccated fish, desiccated seaweed. I would grimace and laugh at the same time. When I feel sick and useless, I think to myself “I am desiccated.” Just a crumply leaf. 

21

Apr

Shoestring Fries

Last night I had dinner with Q. 

It was good, as usual. Really good. We eat well together. I was coming up blank for a place to go, and then he sent me a Munchies clip from Vice on Walter’s & Walter Foods. Two dudes, one schlubbier than the other talking about wanting to market the kind of place you’d want to go right after work. Comfort food. Fried chicken, seafood stew. Shots of spoons going into pudding and forks cutting key lime pie. Back it up; I was sold at cioppino. 

We got there eventually, but it was a circuitous route. First we checked the Wythe, there was a line. We doubled back and walked to find a 30 minute wait. Funny how those details fade in the wake of a good meal.

Oysters, he chose.
"Can I tell you a secret? I’ve never had oysters."
He got one of each. I have now had oysters. Four of them. 

I flagged our girl down and got a plate of what turned out to be thin, excellently salty and crunchy fries. With mayonnaise to thick it had a skin on it. Fucking right. Moules et frittes is old hat. Oysters and fries, please.

I got catfish. He got fried chicken. Looked like half a chicken on a bed of mashed potatoes. Served with something called spicy honey. Anything honey, I’m curious about. I was right to be.

In that vein, we switched drinks (Czech beer and bourbon lemonade) and plates back and forth. There were chicken bones and honey drizzle everywhere. Maybe a stray black-eyed pea from my plate, but we were both diligent. 

It’s hard to be concerned or annoyed or worried when you’re so full.

20

Apr

Lunch.

Shred jicama with peeler into large plastic bowl. 

Mortar and pestle half a rough chopped jalapeno and smashed garlic clove with a glug of olive oil from a seltzer bottle. Sweat. Marvel at veins on hands. Make green paste.

Cut an avocado all around to the pit. Scoop out in spoonfuls; season jicama and avocado with salt and vinegar. How much? You tell me how much. Use hands, by the way, to season.

Scoop green paste out with fingers. Fling into bowl. Stir with hands, making sure to coat and separate jicama sheets.

Shove fingerfuls in mouth. Marvel at fruity garlic and green spice and starchy sweetness and creamy saltiness.

Think about how to make it better, next time.

19

Apr

Foodie Principles.

I enjoy living my life relatively free of bullshit. My desire to cut to the quick makes it easy for me to realize when something rubs me the wrong way.

"Foodie" is one of those things. My interpretation of a foodie, as I just explained to my boss, is someone who hears about food, then goes to eat it. Linear. They go in one direction.

Whereas I go every which way. I don’t go to a restaurant for one dish. I assume that if the pork buns are divine at one place, so must be the noodles. If a restaurant has reached my ears from the lips of colleagues I respect, it’s not because they can only make one thing well.

So I go, and I try. Like with Xi’an Famous Foods. I was told, many times over, by the same boss, that I MUST try the noodles with cumin and lamb. My mouth anticipated the wheaty chew of the hand-pulled noodles, with slightly dry pieces of lamb and too much cumin. I don’t mean objectively too much; my cumin tolerance isn’t very high. My brain had made the dish before I had tried it, and I had already decided it wasn’t my favorite thing.

But I went anyway. And I got the noodles. They were more or less what I had expected: not my favorite thing. But, being the eater I am, I also got soft tofu and something called Tiger Vegetables Salad. No one recommended them. But sitting here now, their memory is making my mouth water. And had I approached the situation the way a “foodie” would, I may never have tried them.

I’m aware a word’s definition changes slightly with each person using it. In its simplest sense, I can appreciate the concept of a foodie: someone who loves and appreciates food. Rarely, though, do I see anyone go off the map to find and taste the uncharted. That’s partially because we have great guides, but also because foodie is more a synonym for epicure, not adventurer. I prefer a little (or a lot) of the unknown in my food. Every new thing I taste, recommended or not, has built and refined my palate. It comes with special powers, like the ability to guess at a dish’s flavors, cook better in my own kitchen, and completely disregard the next table over ordering the exact dishes I saw broken down in an online review.

That makes it difficult to categorize myself, or explain why I wince at the use of the f-word. I’m less concerned with labels and terms than I am with the meal in front of me.

On Alexandra Guarnaschelli’s “Old School Comfort Food”

I was up til 2 am writing the feature for this, for Bake the Book. I don’t give that job enough of my time. It’s often an afterthought, or laid over my 9 to 5. Even now, I’m writing this post before everyone else arrives at the office. I’m fully aware of the width of my margins, and am taking full advantage.

Anyway.

I respect this book. Rarely do I read the introductions more than a cursory skim, to get a feel for what the point is. I tend to pick out the recipes I want to feature first, then go back and read about them, and the author, and (usually) the bakery or restaurant they are promoting. This time I did it like a reader. Page 1, let’s go, by the light of my computer screen. 

I’m glad I did. She has one hell of a story. It’s a challenge for me, when I get excited about a book and its food, to settle down and write a feature that doesn’t sound coddling or groupie-like. I’m perfectly aware that I may have totally sucked at this, save for maybe my last two book posts. I’m just highly susceptible and empathetic to the excitement, respect, passion, dedication, ego, creativity, indulgence, and sensuality that explode from food and the people who love it.