Last day of 2015. Just about gone in the Far East, hours to go here in the West. It’s been a busy year of shifting priorities both personally as well as elsewhere. As usual, nothing new about that. Form’s the same, content changes, it’s like knowing a person is delusional and leaving it at that rather than getting into the delusion.
Personally, I finished my book on Indian immigration to North America, and that’ll be out in April, 2016. Wrote numerous pieces about Japanese culture for a wide array of publications: Travel + Leisure, Gastronomica, The Boston Globe, Whisky Advocate, Beer Advocate, Robb Report, KarryOn. Wrote a booklet on the artisans of Ishikawa that will be published in April, 2016. Completed a solid draft of my book about family life. Got started a smidge on research for a book about the Plainfield race riots of 1967.
The dog is fine. The cat’s good.
Reading picked up to two books a week, and many were memorable, chiefly Ferrante, Knausgaard, and Houellebecq. As well as lots by Japanese novelists and cultural critics of Japan.
New seats for the Celtics. “Homeland” ended the season on a bittersweet note.
What am I looking forward to in 2016? More good books to read and write. A little jazz. Spring, of course.
Days between Christmas and New Year’s Day can have a timelessness, what with streets emptier than before or after the holidays, schedules disrupted and kids at home or away.
Today I’m home to write about race riots and artisans in a mountain village, and ostensibly nothing is commonly held true between the two.
The disorientation of these days helps a little with the writing because I can place myself in the observation rather than be distracted by routine demands or pleasures.
Whatever else happens, I’m filling up the hours with cooking, too: Black truffle risotto, fondue, fish, leg of Icelandic lamb.
It’s lovely though to feel as if I’m falling through time and space weightless.
I grew up celebrating Boxing Day. It was more festive for many, and public spaces were filled with the people who had had to work on Christmas day. Laughter was louder, movements more swift, it was a celebration of family, like Christmas, but it was also an opportunity to display oneself in public in ways which did not conform to the norms of work for the celebrants.
I’m working today, and then hoping to get some steals from post-Christmas clothing sales. My idea of retail up until now has been Amazon; I haven’t been inside a “real” store, other than those selling food, for months.
And tonight: Grilled Rhode Island herring, pan seared grey sole with black truffles, and linguine with black truffles.
Though, overall, it’d be nice too take to the streets and get loud.
Back in the day, we celebrated Christmas morning with an early breakfast and a walk along a stretch of beach. No exchange of presents, and the lunch or dinner that day was often at a hotel or one prepared for us.
These days it means a walk with the dog in a quiet neighborhood, and fried bacon with French toast followed by opening presents around the tree. Later in the day a good, slow dinner with turkey and a Riesling.
There’s a good op-ed by an unusual source in today’s NY Times about Christmas: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/25/opinion/the-christmas-revolution.html?ref=international&_r=0. In the op-ed, Wehner writes: “Because the Christmas story has been told so often for so long, it’s easy even for Christians to forget how revolutionary Jesus’ birth was. The idea that God would become human and dwell among us, in circumstances both humble and humiliating, shattered previous assumptions. It was through this story of divine enfleshment that much of our humanistic tradition was born.”
OK, so it’s a Western view and excludes other religious myths as well as the humanism implicit in the assuagement of suffering which comes from science, but it’s an interesting point that Wehner makes. (This is the one flaw; it’s unreasonable to say, “much of our humanistic tradition was born.”)
Meanwhile it’s time to fry the bacon.
Is it me? Or do the holidays this year lack a certain frisson? People seem glum. OK, there’s the nice person at the Parking Department who smiles when handing out permits; the clerk at the liquor store wishing everyone, “Merry Christmas”; the supervisor at the welfare office giving a colleague a gift; and, well-wishers who are Shinto, Buddhist, and Hindu sending me emails from India and Japan saying, “Merry Christmas!”
But is there something missing?
Could the guns, the anger, the attacks, the disparities be making many people feel, I don’t know, left out?
No way of knowing.
I did receive a lively CD from a co-worker in the welfare office in Roxbury of Christmas tunes sung by an array of folks, from James Brown and on up. That was nice.
And soon I’ll be off to buy oysters, sardines, and sole. That was to be for a truncated 7 Fishes dinner tonight, but then a Rohan duck arrived on Tuesday so it’ll be fowl tonight and fish on Boxing Day.
Something is clearly afoot or a-fin.
Shortest day of the year ahead, and then the cold, bare branches, frantic squirrels, skidding cars, etc. Fine, just fine. Mother Nature? No If’s, And’s, or But’s.
Compensation, such as it is, resides in nightly fires, single malt whiskies, and hearty meals, fish, fowl, meat, or veg.
Last night, pre-Carrie, that meant a cumin chicken dish using the rudiments of a cumin lamb dish recipe from The NY Times. The NYT recipe was very flawed; amount of oil was inaccurate, the cumin guidelines were wrong, etc. But if you see the mistakes and work around them? Wow: A good wok chicken dish singing with flavor. It helped a lot to use a “Green Circle” bird from D’Artagnan that was raised in Pennsylvania. No good ingredient the recipe just does not matter.
Tonight to mark the solstice there’s talk of going down to the river and painting our bodies, dancing naked around a bonfire, but why do the same thing every year?
Last night we drove around Somerville to see the Christmas lights. We started from Cambridge, and on Brattle Street passed by three palaces decked out. One had adorned trees and shrubs with lights, chiefly white; another had two Christmas trees visible from within; and, a third had lights strung along its walkway to the front door and then along the frames of the home’s windows.
But in Somerville the lights are at a whole other level. It’s like the fireworks display on the 4th of July. We saw about a dozen homes with beautiful, colorful bulbs, Santa and Mrs. Santa, Jesus, reindeers, a winged pig, elves, a huge American flag, and even the Eiffel tower.
The grand finale took place behind Inman Square, on the border of Cambridge, where about a half dozen homes around a small square or common had amazing and different displays. I had Christmas tunes on a Sirius channel and while Wayne Newton sang, followed by Frank Sinatra, we drove slowly past the homes until halting at a property in front of which was a manger with the three kings, Joseph, Mary, and the baby Jesus, around which, to the side, were Santa and Mrs. Santa.
Back home we grilled Julie’s farm fresh, grass fed steaks, opened a good Barolo, and toasted to the holidays.
Like many people, the Christmas songs pop into my head more and more each day, especially when I’m outside looking up at bare branches. And not just the words and melodies, but the message behind them. Look, I think religion is chiefly what’s held back science–and with it diminished suffering–but at times like these? Prince of Peace works.
Isaiah tells me that grey sole and Portuguese sardines are expected in time for the Feast of Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve. And ducks are arriving just in time for Christmas day. OK, OK, I know that’s not the message, but isn’t it good to mark a holiday with good friends and good food?
The best bet in all ways is to go online for everything: I’ll get fish, sure, but otherwise everything is a click, a wait, a knock at the door.
The first-rate food sites are all having big holiday sales, dunno why, but I’m in. Father’s Bacon (Kentucky), DeBragga, D’Artaganan, Snake River, Eataly. Local retail? Horse and buggy. Or sleigh.
It’s possible, and it’s easy, if you decide in advance what you want and plan to do, and choose the best options realizing that it’s a narrow range.
In Harvard Square, for example, last night we started at Park, which is a first rate bar that sells food, too. The crowd is a mix of races, genders, ages, and draws from schools, neighborhoods, and visitors. Your best bet here is to sit at the bar and order an old Raj gin martini. That brand goes for about $49 a bottle, but here a healthy pour is $14, which is a great deal. Skip the food. Skip the glasses by the wine, which are no less than $9 a glass and from producers you wouldn’t care about otherwise.
Dinner in Harvard Square ranges from upscale and stodgy; upscale and misguided Italian; upscale and bad Italian; a couple of places that sell paws and innards with so many ingredients you just know that a celebrity runs the kitchen; and, a full range of burger and pizza places. It’s like having your parents visit at college or eating in a dorm.
The one stand out is Night Market. This is a terrific, pan-Asian restaurant in a cellar on a side street, and you might as well be in a great izakaya or pub in Bangkok or Tokyo or Kyoto. We’re talking a cool room, great service, and delicious, small plates of grilled lamb and cumin meatballs, mushroom gyoza, dan-dan noodles, and rice with ground pork.
Pepe’s is opening in Chestnut Hill (Boston). That’s right, one of the very best pizzerias in the country opens on Wednesday, December 16th. The pizza, even if it is half as good as the original Pepe’s in New Haven, Connecticut, will be better than any pizzeria in Boston, by far, except for Galleria Umberto and Santarpio’s.
That’s the good news.
The bad news: Chestnut Hill. I mean, seriously? Who ever goes to Chestnut Hill? Land of a big shopping center, upscale knick-knack’s, and beautiful homes.
It’s an interesting choice for the now-franchise to open in Chestnut Hill. I guess the owners are after a well-heeled clientele. But won’t that group be more conscious of weight and cholesterol? Hard to imagine regulars among the CEO’s.
Personally, it’ll bring me to Chestnut Hill at least once over the next month, and then maybe once again in 2016. It’s not a part of town most people who live in the Boston area ever find themselves.
But pizza will bring us all a little closer…