Nothing much ever happens around here, it’s as if I’m in Sherwood Forest while Robin and the guys are out doing B&Es. Yes, it’s been that kind of summer: one meal and then another meal, it’s dark, it’s light, it’s raining, it’s about to rain, it stopped raining, the sun’s out.
The bonus of boredom is that one has the opportunity to notice small changes that may hint at big things to come.
Why, just this morning–this very morning–I saw a bus driver, big fellow and no surprise there, wearing a captain’s cap with a metal badge in the center! Does this mean that formality will follow? Will other bus drivers follow his lead? Can we expect decorum to follow?
And then, just prior, on the first walk with the dogs of the day, I saw acorns on the sidewalk. We all know what that means! It’s not yet August, but acorns? Pretty soon it’ll be Christmas! Only 146 days to get that shopping done.
It’s Tuesday, which means it’s Sicilian dining at its best, a weekly event in most households around the world. What are you cooking tonight?
Here, following the usual lighting of the sparklers and exploding Roman candles, we’ll fire up the grill and toss onto the bars two small swordfish “steaks” that have of course been oiled with Canola and then rolled in bread crumbs. A few minutes on each side, salt, pepper, and lemon juice, and if they still need more heat into a 200 degree oven to finish. Slice into strips and place atop the pasta and simple tomato sauce you cooked while the grill was getting hot. We’re talking about 3/4 pound of fish for three people and about twenty minutes of labor. Hey, look, Sicily is about the pleasures of the kitchen and not standing over a stove.
After the Ron Carter performance last night, his second and mine as well, it was time to hit PARK for a quick Manhattan in a room filled with folks in their twenties. Everyone was drinking, no one was eating, and the guys were on the prowl in Thrift store clothing while the women gathered in groups of twos or threes looking as if they were about to hit the runway. It all looked a lot like a high school dance with alcohol served.
Sensible not to eat @ PARK though the drinks and day to day atmosphere are stellar. Here it was pan seared king salmon, bone in, 1/2 pound for two, served with risotto cooked in a miso broth and served with fresh chanterelles, English peas, and shucked corn kernels and grated Parmigiano.
Today it’s more of the same: Big eye tuna is on the menu, to be preceded by, “Consider the Fork,” a book about technology and food. The writer is Bee Wilson, whose essays in The London Review of Books I love for the precision of language, humor, and ability to rope in seemingly disparate elements that she observes shrewdly have affiliation. I’m a huge fan, too, of science. A comedian I heard recently noted that religion changes what it says based on scientific discoveries and not the other way around. That makes sense. I say if we are going to use religion to guide our experiences then we should cut to the chase and paint our bodies and chant to the stars.
The sun is shining and the skies are cerulean, and all that means is that the burden or task of writing is made more difficult unless one has an interior view as charming. Good luck with that.
Last night it was the estimable Ron Carter down the street and tonight it’s more of the same. Now there is a man with an interior view who expresses what he observes with great finesse. Inspiring.
I wish I could say the same about other stimuli in the environment.
Still, the car starts, the dogs bark, the feet move, and it’s possible to stand up straight, so why be greedy?
The small things matter, but to what extent?
Sometimes it’s best to leave well enough alone: To use as few words as possible or at least to acknowledge the spaces between. That’s a sort of interior view, in a way, and all the noise–the opinions, chiefly, the self aggrandizement that is implied by speaking up when no one frankly has asked to hear the tinny sound of that voice which can sound like a screech–becomes as flat as slate.
Inside, there’s a nothingness and that’s where things begin. It’s what the Japanese refer to as, “kanzume,” or placing the writer, “in a can.” The writer goes to a ryokan, an inn, and he or she must remain there until the book is done.
So Swann eats the madeleine and he’s off to the races: Memories, childhood and adolescence, flood the narrator and we have on our hands a long, tangled story that ends marvelously with the view that marrying Odette was a shock because she wasn’t even his type. The reader shares the breathless surprise. It’s fiction at its best because the reader has come to imagine the events as so real as to be shaken by them.
Nowadays, eating a madeleine and finding memories evoked seems on a pragmatic basis to be a slipshod exercise in pointless nostalgia. Why care about the past to the point that it serves any other purpose other than art? If the past is to be considered, that is, it ought to serve a function, and that function must be artistic creativity.
So when eating a madeleine I don’t think of earlier times: rather I consider its ingredients, why they were chosen, what they tell me about the origin of the cookie, what their percentages are in the cookie, who made the cookie, and how long cookies like it have been manufactured.
You can keep the past for all I care. Don’t look back.
Roasted a surprisingly adequate Misty Knolls chicken on Sunday night. This is a $15 bird that has enough meat on the bones to serve a couple of dinners and three lunches for two people at each meal, which means a breakdown of $1.50 per person. That’s a lot better than the $30 per person that some restaurants charge for a helping of this very chicken.
I ate the leg and thigh. Hence, the missing leg.
Speaking of food matters, I had a lovely, summer only dish yesterday at a noodle joint: Cold noodles with seaweed and steamed pork. Small, good portion. $10, good for the restaurant, and delicious.
Appetite in summer is shaped of course by stimuli in the environment.
So it’s lots of steaming and poaching and vegetables.
It was another marvelous day in Dudley Square: Sun shining, police sirens still, wary glances, struts, alienation, the only mysteries those from within. I mean the reality was obvious and–dare I say it?–grim or depressing. You try not working, you try waiting for that knock on the door.
The good news was my piece on rice in certain Asian cultures that appeared yesterday: http://foodthinkers.com/articles/rice-a-symbol-you-can-eat.
I’ll tell you: There are those who find their feelings and emotional life to be spellbinding and a source of endless fascination. Their feelings are a circumnavigation, both in terms of what they feel regarding their position in the world and how they connect to others. This means that they don’t differentiate adequately between themselves and others, and it leads to endless drama, which breaks up the boredom and despair of the implicit loneliness of a perspective based chiefly on self examination.
Then there are others who prefer to observe and remove themselves from situations: To see structures, like architecture, or take in the emotions and thoughts of what is around. That’s what the Japanese did in the late 19th century to avoid the rapaciousness of the West; they sent global missions to cherry pick the best and most advanced machinery, strategies, and military techniques. It was an unemotional task, and it was an ironic twist on passivity.
Knock, knock, knock.
Say what you like about “big city dining,” a lot can be said about the feisty towns where regulars determine the quality and consistency of delicious food. We’re talking about access to farms along the Hudson and farms in Vermont, an interest in satisfying hunger made worse by long winters and boredom and low wages, and a history of Italian-American families who adapted and stayed and brought with them a memory of flavors and abilities to recreate versions of them.
On Central Avenue, once the city’s main drag where shoppers lit into posh stores day and night, you’ll find, past the Check Cashing storefronts, Jack’s Diner: Best Club sandwiches around, and a crowd of the high and low.
Nearby is the city’s food Coop: Go past the overpriced fruit and vegetables to the poultry display to buy wonderful Vermont chickens and then drive over to “Oriental Market” or Shop Rite for everything else on your list.
In Troy, which has fallen, there is Dinosaur BBQ: Light years better than anything in the NE Region: Ribs, pulled pork, brisket, and terrific sides.
Return then to Albany: Architecture that recalls big city years.
It’s Saturday and you know what that means! One party after another, mayhem, the streets filled with people, and the smell of gin and other toxins in the air.
For me it’ll be a wild ride of a three hour documentary on Nicolae Ceausescu and lots of stretching.
It’s that time of year when my reading goes literally back and forth between dark books and books about abundance. Just finished, “Landscapes of the Metropolis of Death,” and next up is, “Crazy Rich Asians,” followed by a book on Italian fascism, and the cycle ends with, “Consider the Fork,” by Bee Wilson.
That and Italian-American week all week here.
That first cup of iced black Columbian coffee, accompanied by rye bread from Hi-Rise toasted to perfection and lathered with Amish butter sliced from a hunk, is just the right way to start the weekend. Well, that and last night’s visit from the estimable Nancy for a dinner of tiny pasta and Puy lentils beneath turkey and onion miso-infused meatloaf. Could it get any better? Could it?
Of course it could.
Lunch today with three editors from Niigata, a visit on Saturday to Dinosaur BBQ, and on Monday my article on the history and culture of rice in certain Asian societies appears online.