Why Obama Will Win: Secret Revealed!

OK, the phone rings, she answers it, we’re in rural Pennsylvania or Ohio or Virginia, where the gals have to deal with the more conservative spouses who would be really disappointed if they felt or knew that their wives voted differently than them.

That’s the case here and in countless homes.

So, within earshot of Mr. Control Freak, she says, “Oh, yes, my goodness, of course I’m voting for Romney, you betcha!”

This is the same person who has a close relationship with her daughters who, sexually active, ask her advice on birth control and abortion.  And the same one, close to her parents, who knows about their specific medical costs that will increase if Romney is elected.  She knows what medications they are taking, what their co-pays are, and what the deductible is.  He doesn’t.

But she lacks the authority to be honest in front of her husband so she says to the pollster she is voting for Romney while secretly she will, behind closed curtains, vote for Obama.

He returns his attention to the T.V. satisfied that there is no dissent in his house, and asks, “When’s dinner ready?”

“Soon,” she says, “soon.”

Monsoon Boston

It reminded me a great deal of being in Mashobra and Kerala with sheets of rain and high winds.  All that was missing, respectively, were bands of monkeys clutching apples to their gray breasts and  howling packs of stray dogs running on a sandy beach near huge waves.

Here it was two, large ornamental dogs, soon wet and dreary, trudging through puddles and over branches four times through the course of the day and night.

The setting provided just the right atmosphere needed to write about the resilience of Indians working in America.

But no curry here, no spices frying.

Just first-rate chicken soup and a blazing fire.

Today’s menu calls for spinach and cheese ravioli and steamed kohlrabi.  It’s that kind of day.

Notes from Underground

I am writing from the cellar, about twelve feet below street level, but I can still hear the high winds and the crash of boughs.  The two dogs dig restlessly against the compacted earth walls and floor and who am I to stop them?  Maybe they know something I don’t.  Change that to probably.  A way out?  Probably.

We stocked up on birds, fish, greens, dried fruits, chocolate bars, wine (white and red), and gin (Plymouth).  Last night I cooked a version of David Chang’s genius approach to chicken: Steam, cool in refrigerator for hours, and fry.  Bonus: The dripping chicken fat while steamed goes into water and with the backbone and neck already immersed?  Chicken soup, voila!

So that is tonight’s “Storm Special”: Chicken soup with matzoh balls, pan seared sea bass filet with an anise seed crust, and Indian eggplants in black bean sauce.  Sort of Mr. Markovitz meets Zhang Manyu by way of Ace Clay.

Meanwhile, the overarching theme inculcated by reading Nate Silver’s wonderful book, “The Signal and the Noise,” of which I am about halfway through, is the connections between things.  I love the way he finds some ties to be false, other ties true that were thought to be false.  In the chapter I am currently immersed in, he notes a rise in certain diagnoses, such as autism or flus, in relationship to the amount of news coverage provided to them.

Hold on.

There’s knocking on the cellar door, and it don’t sound friendly…



Stormy Monday

I’m listening to Etta James tear up the song in anticipation of the slated to be catastrophic hurricane or tornado that is poised to slam into the East Coast of North America.  Look, I like the Allman Brothers’ as much as the next person, but Etta?  Serious?  Listen to that woman howl, “Lord, have mercy!  Lord, have mercy on a poor child like me!”

She repeats the request and she means it: Both the cry for mercy as well as the “like me” part: In other words, she is not just talking about her own travails.

Which brings me to William Deresiewicz’s terrific op-ed in today’s NYT.  Summed up, he expresses his disappointment in a generation or two in the U.S. whose consciousness and sensibility have been raised and heightened by a newfound passion for food, but who fail to apply the new awarenesses to art and literature.

Well, of course, I concur.  The lack of context for food makes so much of the writing and discussion about it a severe self-indulgence that has no applicable meaning.

Personally?  And you did ask, food is both a relief from the conundrums and stress of history and trauma as well as a way to make contact with strangers.

I do wonder what folks without power and stranded due to the storm will do.  Will they choose organic milk?  Sustainable soy?  Non GMO tomatoes?

Oh, Etta!

“Lord, have mercy!  Lord, have mercy on a poor child like me!”



Rape, Murder, Mayhem, Snacks

So there I was in the basement of the Department of Transitional Assistance, a neologism worthy of Orwell, on my typical subterranean joint, listening to the poignant, distracting, horrifying, visceral narratives of the Down and Out.  It’s all very familiar territory: Why, just hours after taking body blows worthy of a boxer–mentally and emotionally speaking–I was on the phone talking to a blood relative about the segregation, round-ups, deportations, and murders he witnessed.

“I was friendly with the little girl who moved upstairs,” he said.  “Not her sister.  Anyhow, she and her father escaped the terror, but the police caught up with them and they were murdered.’

Oh, happy days!  Happy, happy days!

The last individual I saw at the DTA (Department of Transitional Assistance) tried to act in a way that he thought would convince me he was crazy: Mumbling, talking to himself, etc.  But when it came to his incarceration for manslaughter?  Clear as a bell!  I googled his name later and guess what I found?

Don’t ask.  But it was all there.

You realize, of course, that throughout the day there was not a snack in sight.

Later that evening, however, the Nigerian meal rescheduled, I pan seared a waygu burger and broiled Comte atop it.  Served with baby Yukons oven roasted and steamed baby squash, I almost felt normal again.

Close enough.


Dining Out and the End of Western Hegemony

I know, I’m reading your mind, right?  You woke up this morning and before tossing off the covers thought: What does it mean to dine in a world in which France no longer defines how food should look, taste, and be cooked?

Living in a town where Julia Child set the stage for decades of dreadful, unctuous, ill prepared food, where France still defines the snootsville tastes of the upper classes and those seeking affiliation with them, where gourmands know more about cheese than they do about how to roast a chicken, where…now where was I?

Ah, the good news!

I was about to tell you the good news.

In the past few months, a number of restaurants and markets have opened in Boston and Cambridge that showcase wonderful ramen and yakitori from Japan and good Italian food.  (Italian food is a poke in the eye of the French chefs and their Escoffier deluded followers who believe that you have to play with food to know it’s there.  In contrast to that delusion, Italian food is based on exacting principles that emphasize the seasonality, regionality, and freshness of fish, pasta, legumes, mushrooms, and vegetables, which, summed up, mean: Do as little to possible to the ingredient.)  Tomorrow night I’m off to Roslindale to try Nigerian food.

In NYC?  The lead story in today’s Food section is on dumplings.

Face it: Food is a way for culture to assert itself.

So as the West continues to have its authority added to or perhaps eroded by the big world, the flavors associated with great palates will continue to come into question.

Pass the edamame, please.



72 Hours of Madcap Fun in Bustling Cambridge, Massachusetts

It’s not that I’ve been away the past few days.  No, I was caught up in the wash and then the rinse cycles followed by a stint in the dryer.  I lost a sock, I found a sock, the days get shorter, and life goes by, to paraphrase Ezra, like a mouse rustling through the tall grass.

I’m on the final edits of the book on chefs.

The script for the wine movie.

A draft of a chapter for a book on Non Resident Indians.

Page by page, paragraph by paragraph, line by line, word by word of the book on race in the 1930s.

And on top of all that, it’s a huge weekend for white people here in Cambridge, MA: The Head of the Charles!  Blonds, women passing for blond, women trying to pass for blond.  SUVs with out of state plates driven by buff guys wearing colorful cotton sweaters with pink or orange caps, strutting like bantams, and sweet in the way that people with money are sweet.  You know: Polite, har har har, and so out of sync with their surroundings, in the way they moved, that it was as if nature ought to change rather than them.

Meanwhile, in the world of food:

Bittman calls for farming without chemicals and increased yields by rotation of crops.  Why, my goodness, why didn’t farmers think of that?


All Riled Up!

Not me.  I wish.  No, not much gets me agitated these days.  The roast, metaphorically speaking, is in the oven, the geese are circling rather than flying South, the freezer has a leg of lamb and a small rack of four ribs, and there’s gas in the car.

Oh, and my book is coming out.  Right, mark your calendars: 2/6/13.  Better yet, go to Amazon right now and buy 10 copies.  The receipts will make great stocking stuffers.

Back from buying books?


Take your time.  I’ll be here.

Even better or almost as good–how does one measure that?–as the book’s imminence is the revision or new start–that I know how to measure–of a book about the race wars of the 1930s.  Folks, I’m up to page 20!  The riots of 1938 are a few pages away, and can the incarcerations be more than a few weeks distance?  So exciting!   And when I take the already existing 200 pages and add the probable 50 to that and then the approximate 75 I have to write for the end to this book, why then we’re all set.

“All set?”  What a facile description of the depiction of horror.  But see?  Words fail us, which is part of Beckett’s greatness: His embrace of silence, its authority, its power, its unspoken presence.

OK, so this isn’t a description of the pea soup and curried chicken sausages I made last night with Brussels sprouts and kale micro greens, but it is one of my favorite quotes on earth.  (Martian quotes to follow.)

“What began as a personal grief was soon expanded to express the shared sorrow of the Russian people. As Anderson aptly puts it, Anna Akhmatova bears witness to the despair of every mother, wife, or friend. For example in ‘Instead of a Foreword,’ Akhmatova chronicles an exchange with another woman waiting for a prisoner’s release:

‘Can you describe this?’
And I said:
‘I can.’
Then something like a smile slipped across what once had been her face.”



Farm To Table: Lessons from the Thirties

In the years before my great-grandparents’ farm was taken over by Caucasians, big and small animals, well domesticated, roamed on fields or remained in stalls and wire cages.  No one anticipated the takeover: it’s never easy to picture the imagination of those lacking empathy.  Anyhow, no more eggs.

These days the marketing rage is “farm to table,” which, as Ripert & Bourdain note jokingly in their road show, is a very silly phrase.  Because food?  Food comes from farms.  Why not instead source the food from top purveyors?  I mean: Just because a farm produces food–organic, sustainable, “natural,” whatever–it does not mean it tastes good.  It may.  It may not.

I look around at a number of restaurants that I won’t name and I see what they are charging for food.  So much of their product is inferior to what’s available on the market.  You can buy first-rate poultry from D’Artaganan, Liberty, DeBragga; great beef from Snake River, Eataly, DeBragga, Lobel’s, Citarella, Allen Brothers; great lamb from Jamison, Whole Foods (only in September when they get it from Iceland); great fish from a variety of purveyors in cities; and, great fruits and vegetables from retailers who also are wholesalers.

So, what are the lessons?

1. As Toni Morrison noted in, “Beloved”: “There was no bad luck in the world but white people. ‘They don’t know when to stop,’ she said.”

2. Don’t bother to buy local or national.  Just buy the best you can afford.  It’s not complicated.

3.  “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.”  Chefs are important, but eat out fewer times at better places.  And learn to cook at home.


Food as Distraction

You may have known this already, but I didn’t, not until yesterday, not with so much conscious force.

OK, here’s the skinny:

I’m standing in an office, atelier level and sloping ceilings, and talking to a stranger, a director of HR, very pleasant individual, but there’s the normal discomfort when two people meet who don’t know one another to talk about money.  Suddenly, I start telling this person about my new book on chefs and restaurants.  We brighten, the conversation flows, food is discussed.

That got me to thinking: Here I am trying to write the next book.  It’s about race wars of the 1930s.  And, let me tell you, it’s a subject that is challenging to focus on.  Restless thoughts, bad thoughts on waking, bad thoughts before losing consciousness.

So between the descriptions of the withdrawal of civil rights, I pick up, “Japanese Farm Food,” by Nancy Singleton Hachisu, and it arrives, and it’s not just a physically beautiful object with great binding, it holds recipes for the food I love, chiefly Asian vegetables screaming with umami from miso you plaster on it (sparingly).

Back and forth: Death and decay, sugar snap peas with wasabi…