11 tagged with #food

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songs


i tune my bicycle the way i've tuned pianos, violins, guitars. there's a physicality, a rhythm, a sonorance that i need to understand. this front wheel is old enough to vote; dented rims compromise my braking ability, and the spokes freeze in place even as i rotate the nipples. i pluck each spoke and listen to the sound it makes, knowing by feel what is too tight or too loose. they snap with a startling pop when the most recent set of adjustments settle in.

wheels can be assessed for trueness in three reasonable ways: lateral centering of the rim (if you roll the wheel, does the rim seem to drift from left to right?), radial consistency (is the distance between each point on the rim and the center of the hub the same?), and dishing (is the rim centered on the axle?). guides that describe how to check trueness refer to spinning the wheel in place and checking for uneven scraping; over time, i've learned that this is an auditory cue, rather than a visual one.

i spent weekends one summer riding over to the shop, locking up my bike, and going straight to the stack of trashed wheels in the corner that no one would touch. the truing stands were unfortunately located in the middle of the workshop, so i had to learn to tune out the chatter of other mechanics and visitors if i wanted to have a productive wheel truing session at all. sometimes, i wore headphones to tune them out, keeping a finger against the calipers so i could feel the vibration that the scrape would make. i worked with my eyes closed; the spoke wrench fit into my palm so well that it felt like turning the nipples with my bare fingers. the wheel hummed as it spun, and i hummed back. each click of the calipers rang out through the hollow rims, a steady rhythm that cued to me exactly which spokes needed adjustment.

but when i learned to tune my piano, it was by taste, not sound. upper notes had three strings per key, middle notes had two; when the strings were not aligned perfectly with each other, my mouth felt uncomfortable, like tasting a rotten pistachio i didn't expect. i'd bring each string up, down, far past the correct point to taste the worst it can get, then ease it slowly into harmony with my tongue pressed against the roof of my mouth, tasting a cool, creamy smoothness when the notes were corrected.

my mother cooked fish once while i was trying to tune my piano, and the briny smells distracted me so much that i needed a piece of chocolate in my mouth to counteract the fish, and then hoped to taste the strings by leaning my cheek against the wood and feeling the vibrations through my cheekbones, wiggling the roof of my mouth, settling in my sinuses.

this is touch, maybe. this is sound and smell and taste. sometimes, i wonder, if i ever use my eyes for anything at all.

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15 April 2018 22:47


fish tales


i remember a day when my parents and i brought a white paint bucket and a fishing rod to the dam and strung worms on hooks and threw them into the water all day long, and caught nothing. i remember watching my father tie the worms in knots so they wouldn't fall off. i remember the dingy water that smelled like rotten fish.

we watched in disbelief as a group further down pulled fish after fish from the water, catfish that scraped the mud off the bottom of the lake and came up squirming. they'd always throw them back, until they noticed us staring. after a while, they started keeping the ones they caught in their cooler once they'd finished their lunch, and when they were leaving, they dumped the whole cooler-full into our bucket.

maybe we really did look hungry.

my mother made fish head soup, putting a cut, gape-mouthed, greyish face in my bowl so i would have the most nutritious parts. i didn't like seeing it.

once, a summer flood came and went so fast that the sides of the road were full of fish, still flopping. my father's baby brother was visiting us; he yelled for the car to stop, then jumped out and scooped fish into his shirt. 'fish soup for dinner, fish soup for dinner!' my father's family grew up on starvation rations during the great leap forward, and once tricked one of the other brothers into eating sheep droppings by first saying they were candy, then saying they were special medicine. i didn't know if picking half-dead fish from the muddy ditch was also a joke.

years later, i followed the farm dad around during his evening chores, and he pulled a bass from a bucket; it was still alive, but he needed to dress it for dinner. he cut into it on the chopping block next to the chicken shed, eying me over the wet ripping sounds that i was fascinated to listen to. 'i'm not sure your parents would want you seeing this,' he said.

'why not? we've had fish before.'

it was grilled whole, but i had to go home before it was time to eat.

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08 February 2018 21:59


neighborhood (part 2)


a woman in a flattened down jacket stumbles along the salted sidewalks in orthopaedic shoes; i put my hand over my heart and shake my head at her, sorry. i've seen her here for years. i've seen her here for as long as i've lived in this neighborhood.

the clerk at the liquor store leans against her checkout counter, eighteen minutes before closing, staring unblinkingly at the display of miniature bottles of jim beam. i wonder if there's going to be a pre-closing rush today. i'm only passing the window.

the entrance of this grocery store has always smelled like rotten vegetables, year-round. i have been in many other grocery stores, and i know that this is not the only way a grocery store can smell. do the regulars here know that, too? a pale man with a monstrous white beard reaches past me to paw through a display of countless different kinds of boxed macaroni and cheese, and i don't let myself spend much time thinking about what percentage of the items in the store are food and what percentage are food products.

it surprises me that there are cartons of egg dozens that almost cost five dollars; even on their small island, my parents can get eggs for under three dollars if they're lucky. the cheapest eggs here this week are still between one and two dollars, a number that sometimes seems preposterously high, and other times seem unreasonably low. i am grateful for a steady source of eggs.

the woman begging on the street crosses my path again. "sorry," i say out loud. "i'm sorry." i want to ask her: do you have a warm place to sleep tonight? but i am afraid, because i know she has persisted through this many winters, and worry that the question is patronizing. what i really want to ask is: are you alright? is there truly something i can do to help you? are you alone? what are your hopes?

we're all people, but sometimes i don't know how to talk to people. on my bad days, i hand out dollars; on my worst days, i've handed out twenties. i pay off my guilt for existing with more than the bare minimum of cash i need to survive, by passing off fistfuls of currency to anyone lucky enough to ask me during that moment. and i worry, then, too, if i could be more fair, if i could be more generous, if i could reach more bodies, if i could cause a greater amount of happiness.

and i have to satisfy myself with the reassurance that i'll never know the answers to these questions.

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06 February 2018 23:26


crackle


i cook by sound; my mother taught me that i'll know that the oil is hot enough because the tiny crescents of delicately sliced green onions would 'make noise'. they'd cry out from across the room that it was time to push them around, to release the chorus of pops. when the crackling subsided, i'd know that it was time to add in the egg. i'd judge whether or not i started too soon based on the bubbling the underside of the egg made; a wet gurgling indicated a good time, while a rapid sizzle ending in silence told me that the egg had instantly quenched the heat of the oil.

my mother trained me to listen for a quiet mumbling when the flatbread was ready to be flipped. the lid for the wok was opaque, so i couldn't judge it by sight. now, my lid is glass, and it's allowed me to be lazy and use my eyes instead of my ears. sometimes, it steams up so much that i can't see what i'm doing, and i have to remember what the wok sounded like when my mother told me it was time to open the lid, back when i was too small to see into it anyway.

if you open the lid too early, you let out the steam, you let out the pressure, and the dumplings deflate. the dumplings have to steam inside their skins, stretching outwards just enough to toughen up so that they give just right when your teeth cuts through them. they'll wrinkle a little as they cool. they'll still taste good, for sure, but they won't taste as good.

cooking is tactile. cooking is auditory. cooking is a lifetime of old memories and instincts and preferences that fade and change over the years. 'what?!' my mother would exclaim when seeing me add generous amounts of ginger power to the soup base. 'i never taught you to do that. who taught you to do that?' she'd protest, a little offended, but a little curious. i've lived places she hasn't. i've cooked with people she'd never met. i've been fed with palates that she avoided.

i was chastised through my childhood for being a picky eater, and returned to her kitchen as an adult who is rarely known to turn down strange food; i've discovered that she's the picky eater, and projected her disappointment in herself onto me.

this is okay; i can bring strange food to her little island and help her learn to eat it.

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31 January 2018 21:11


bachelor night cookies


steps to success:

  1. flip open the joy of cooking and confirm that you have enough butter to make oatmeal cookies
  2. realize that your butter is all in the freezer, so you have to set up an extremely slow double-boiler to soften them
  3. play with the dogsittee until you remember that your butter is probably melting in the wrappers
  4. put together the dry mix, but deviate from the spices based on what you want to finish from the ancient box of spices
  5. (grate. nutmeg. forever.)
  6. agonize over trying to pound the sugar, egg, and half-frozen/half-melted butter into something that you are ashamed to call 'blended' like the book asks for
  7. stand over the stove for a little more heat to melt the butter, damn it
  8. dump in the dry mix. remember, after getting a nice whiff of your overpowering spice mix, that you forgot the 'vanilla extract'
  9. (you haven't stocked vanilla extract in years when you realized whiskey is a fine substitute)
  10. the only whiskey left in the cabinet is a wee dram of 15 year macallan so you slosh in a wee wee dram
  11. mix, realizing you can keep working on breaking up butter chunks as you go
  12. dump in the last bit of oatmeal from the jar and go looking for the new bag of oatmeal
  13. fail to locate a new bag of oatmeal
  14. realize you're out of oatmeal
  15. add a cup of sunflower seeds instead
  16. bake two cookies to test
  17. decide that this is fine, but it's now almost midnight and you're tired, so you'll only make one more batch and stick the rest in the fridge
  18. as usual, get greedy with pan space and put them too close together
  19. watch in horror as half the cookies on this pan collapse and melt into each other
  20. when they're done baking, scrape them onto a plate in a big pile, because, let's be real, you're just going to eat this mess with a spoon for breakfast. in your oatmeal bowl. because you're out of oatmeal and have nothing else to eat for breakfast.

this, surprisingly, worked. i am not really a baker, though.

the full recipe

heat oven to 350F; prepare for 45ish cookies

flour mixture:

  • 1 3/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground anise

blend well in a large bowl:

  • 2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted, softened butter
  • 1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • a splash of your favorite whiskey/bourbon

stir in the flour mixture, then add:

  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1 cup roasted, unsalted sunflower seeds

on a greased cookie sheet, drop smallish spoonfuls about 2 inches apart. flatten, or not, at your whim. bake for about 9 minutes, or until golden brown all over. let stand for a few minutes to set, then remove to a plate for cooling.

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27 May 2017 23:49


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