“Look at me. Even though I’m safe, back in my comfortable home, I’m still acting like a refugee–scavenging, foraging, guarding my small space, waiting out the end of the war.
I’m going to survive, I know that. Someday I will talk about this calmly and insightfully. And for a good many years after that, I will go about my days, washing and dressing and caring for this body, but only out of obligation, out of the prolonged obligation to stay alive–I want to say ‘for the kids,’ but I know that even were I childless, I would keep surviving, keep eating and drinking, going on. These actions will filibuster my mortal end, which I will be permitted to achieve only when my body gives out.” –Sea Wife (Amity Gaige)
Hello! It’s been a long time, longer than I ever anticipated. And believe me when I say that a small part of me wonders if I even remember how to do this, but the timing somehow feels right (and a dear friend–Stephen, this is for you–recently expressed the wish that I blog again), so here I am.
As it turns out, I never really expected to stop blogging; it just happened. A blog post on my to-do list would get pushed further and further to the bottom and, by the time I would find a pocket of time in which to sit down and think, the idea for the post no longer seemed relevant (here’s looking at you pickled pears, but maybe this fall, you’ll finally get your moment). It also didn’t help that, if you remember where we left off–and, if not, I’m happy to remind you: we had just moved to Oregon and, after two weeks of madly unpacking and getting things in order, were en route to Greece–after we got back from our trip, I was swept up by all the practical concerns that one has to contend with after a big move. These are the things you take for granted when you live in one place for a long time, but figuring out doctors, dentists, the best place to buy a couch, how and where to make friends, finding a job all suddenly seemed so much more important than sitting down and writing about food. Or life. Or whatever this blog is ostensibly about.
And then, as time passed by and life again achieved a predictable rhythm that ought to have allowed for blogging, there was the small fact that the Greek and I were expecting, at long last, a baby–in this case, a baby girl. The pregnancy for the most part was uneventful, save for my superstition and my unfortunate attempt to pass the much hated glucose tolerance test, which led to my spending my 36th birthday learning how to prick myself with a lancet and getting my very own glucometer (I was ultimately fine, but it was a revelatory period in my life). By the time she arrived, three days and a few hours past my due date, it seemed like blogging, much like showering, reading a book, cooking dinner with Netflix on in the background, and leaving the house in a timely fashion, would all become things, if not exactly of the distant past, then certainly things that would have to be done during baby naps or post-baby bedtime, when you are all too ready to pass out yourself. But here we are, almost 11 months after her arrival, and things that long felt impossible have again become possible (okay, I haven’t showered yet today, but, as a parent, or even just a human, you must pick and choose your pleasures).
All of that said, I don’t know that I’m 100% certain that I know what I want this space to be anymore. Looking back, I would say that, as much as this was a food blog, it was also a literature (literary?), travel, and ideas blog, so there’s no need to pigeonhole (or, god forbid, brand) myself. I will go where the inspiration takes me. I will say that I no longer will be posting recipes from cookbooks, at least not without express permission of the publisher and/or author (I have, in the past, attempted to reach out to people to ask for this permission and did not always receive a response. I have always attributed the recipe to the developer/writer), but that’s okay. I have my own ideas and recipes, in as much as recipes can be said to belong to anybody. We’ll see what happens, which feels like the most either I or the world can promise these days. The goal is to try to write at least once a week, but I also think two posts per month would be ample. This post is my simple attempt to wade back into this long abandoned world and to let you see what has been keeping me going in these strange and exhausting Covid-19 times.
Currently, that something is Michelle Obama’s Becoming, which I am enjoying, but also can’t help but think now seems like a relic from another world. I also suspect that Obama is holding back on multiple fronts and that we’re getting only a glossed-over view of her (political) life: her already well known public persona with a few never revealed tidbits (miscarriage, IVF, couples therapy). The book, both incredibly well written and necessary, creates a narrative that overwhelmingly celebrates President Obama’s (and their) legacy, which, while compelling, is not what I find myself most interested in as I am reading. When she writes about how her mother told her later in life that every spring she used to fantasize about divorcing her father or how she was torn between her work and her desire to be a mother to her daughters, these are the moments that make you (or me, at least) stop and marvel. I lived through the politics, which is perhaps why the rehashing of the ugliness (albeit from the “they go low, we go high” viewpoint) feels like it weighs down her story, even if, at some point, it becomes the story. Even though I have less than 100 pages to go (I will confess that about 100 pages in, I had to stop to read some fiction, Amity Gaige’s masterful Sea Wife, mainly because I am 100% Team Fiction, but also because an e-book library hold was going to expire if I didn’t act on it.), I did read some criticism of the memoir and I think that Yiyun Li was spot on: it could have asked more of us.
I started the lockdown with pure escapism (the Percy Jackson series), but quickly moved onto “more serious” literature. One of the best things I have read this year is Susan Choi’s Trust Exercise, which demands everything from you as a reader as it plays with the very idea of autofiction and the ownership of a story. By the end, you are left wondering what in the world happened or if it (the truth, in so far as there exists one) even matters, but the story’s willingness to linger in the grey zone is what makes it endlessly fascinating, even if the first 80+ pages feel as heavy as the Houston summer in which it begins.
Because I read Trust Exercise and then Sea Wife, I was excited to see–again when I was pondering the ending of the latter and trying to find an insightful online discussion about it–that Susan Choi interviewed Amity Gaige for The Millions.
While it probably seems like I do a lot of reading–and, oddly enough, I do read more now than I did while I was working 8:30-5:30 (horrible hours; in addition to everything else it has taken away from us, may the pandemic destroy the 40-hour workweek)–I’ve also fully given myself over to the charms of audiobooks. While finishing my Terra Shawl, which I would call my accomplishment of the year thus far, I revisited Jane Eyre through the masterful reading of Thandie Newton and also listened to Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale, which was hard to tear oneself away from, even if the historical research was a bit wanting. I’m also a huge fan these days of the Criminal Podcast.
It’s hard to find time to bake these days, but the one thing I’ve really given myself over to in 2020 is, like the rest of America, sourdough bread baking! I’ve gone through bread-baking stages in the past, but since February, I’ve consistently been making either simple country wheat boules or, as of late, experimenting with my starter through the many blog posts of Artisan Bryan, whose book I am eagerly hoping will come back in stock soon. His Cinnamon Raisin (or Fig, in my case) was excellent, and with his tutorials, I even felt brave enough to try Sourdough Cinnamon Rolls, which definitely were a twist on the traditional overly sweet breakfast staple.
I also, as somebody who has decided to feed my baby what we eat (I was influenced by an NPR article about an Indian toddler who happily snacked on spicy pickles, as well as my own picky history as an eater), spend a lot of my time these days making or thinking about dinner (clearly, the more things change, the more they stay the same). My two favorite cookbooks of the year, and the ones I keep coming back to, are 1) Joe Yonan’s Cool Beans because, in adulthood, I discovered how amazingly versatile beans are, and 2) Melissa Clark’s Dining in French, which was my birthday present from the Greek. If you can believe it, my birthday is in mid-May, and I, a mother of an almost 11-month-old child, have already made five or six things from the book, including the cover recipe, the Asparagus Tart. It really is as delectable as it looks, as well as simple, which I myself doubted despite Melissa’s promise in the recipe’s headnote (the Campari Cake was a winner, too).
If I have found one thing to be eternally soothing during the pandemic, it has been keeping my hands (and mind) busy. I taught myself to knit back when we moved here and also (re)learned to crochet that same fall; ever since then, I have had a project on my needles. With the birthday money my grandma sent me, I couldn’t resist buying myself a kit with Little Lionhead Knits, a pattern and stitch marker from Lost & Fawned, and a quilted bag from Knitting Nellie, which I had long coveted. I had no idea the bag would have a pig on it, but I clearly managed to snag the bag that was meant for me.
I’m sure most of you heard about the Alison Roman controversy back in May. In short, the whole thing was stupid, as is much of what appears on the internet (present content potentially included), but also tasteless and hypocritical (again, as is the general way of the internet), but what I think a lot of people failed to consider is that we expect too much of the people we put on pedestals (in the case of Roman, she herself, with her hashtags, multiple interviews and heavy social media use, invited this). I’m not giving her a free pass for the things she said and I do think that they smacked of her privilege, but at the end of the day, she cooks tasty and interesting things and writes about them. She is not a food historian, a traditionalist or purist, or somebody who should be seen as the last word on any topic (I mean, think about it: would you go to a podiatrist if you had a funny looking mole?). Am I trying to say she should stay in her lane? Not necessarily. It’s more that the expectation that people must be perfect to be employable is unrealistic. And also that she, as a cook, is culturally appropriating other cuisines. For example, I’ve seen comments that say she is whitewashing ingredients and that her stew is basically a curry because it uses coconut milk, turmeric and ginger, but, and you can call me crazy, it doesn’t taste like a curry to me. The real questions are, in this day and age, do I, a white person, get to say that, and also who, if anybody, owns these ingredients and is allowed to write about them. It’s an interesting question and certainly there are no easy answers here (that said, I do think people should be able to be inspired by and to write about other cuisines), but this Eater article seemed a good starting point for exploring the issue.
A peripheral topic to this one is that of cancel culture. Personally, I’m opposed to it, mainly because it’s inherently hypocritical (who among us is without sin?), but also because it fosters a mob mentality, especially in the Great Age of the Internet. I am no conservative, nor, for the record, do I have any allegiance to or see the need for Confederate monuments, but I do find the desire to ban Huckleberry Finn, as well as the recent uproar over Paw Patrol, to be more than a little unnecessary. If the world really is, in a matter of speaking, burning, should we not set our sights on more pressing matters…? Maybe the next potential pandemic (please let it not be so) or…the increasing threat of mosquitoes, which may very well eventually sicken or kill us all?
On that optimistic note, I’m going to close here; I will add that it has taken me about four days to manage to sit down and actually finish this post. This isn’t great, but fortunately I do think I can do better. In any case, I certainly hope so. I recently read an interview with the wonderful Taffy Brodesser-Akner about how she managed to write her first novel and was very motivated by her advice: 500 words a day from Monday to Thursday and editing on Friday. Voila. You even get a weekend! While that is a beautiful fantasy, there are a gazillion other things to be done around here– masks to be sewn, books to be read, a baby to be minded, socks to be knitted, clothes to be washed, and food to be prepared–but, hey, we all have our lot in life and, at one point or another, we have to choose to say “yes” to ourselves.