August 29, 2008

Soup dumpling, anyone?

I can't believe I didn't know what a "soup dumpling" was until a few months ago. I've been eating them for years, I just never knew they were called that. Well, a soup dumpling by any other name would taste as juicy...if it's the right one, that is.

This one's from Shanghai Cafe on Mott Street in Manhattan Chinatown. Best soup dumplings I've had in the city, and one of the tastiest I've had in my life, as well.


Unless you have X-ray vision, you probably can't see the juice inside this pork and crab soup dumpling, but it's in there, all right. Oh yeah. Delicious broth and juicy meat filling encased in a thick but not-too-thick skin. Forget babies, ask the stork to bring these little bundles of joy instead! You can eat them without going to jail, like this woman, who was found guilty of microwaving her baby, burning her to death. This is why some people shouldn't have children. But everyone should try a soup dumpling at some point in their lives.

August 23, 2008

You say tomato, I say tom-ah-to

Sometimes I forget that tomatoes don't just come in red–they can also be green, yellow, orange, or anywhere in between. These beauties to the left were at the Green Market in Union Square last weekend. As I photographed them in awe, the woman next to me looked at me with a bemused expression on her face, nudging me, "They're beautiful, aren't they?" It's universal, I think, to stop and look at tomatoes when they're this beautiful and ripe. They are the star produce of summer, defying categorization as fruit or vegetable to most. To me, they seem to be both.

Speaking of fruits, I guess I've been a little obsessed with Banana Yoshimoto lately. A couple days ago I finished Goodbye, Tsugumi sitting on a chair inside a branch of the New York Public Library. It was just that good. Anyway, here's another quote from the first book of hers I ever read, Kitchen:

"I was not afraid of burns or scars; I didn't suffer from sleepless nights. Every day I thrilled with pleasure at the challenges tomorrow would bring. Memorizing the recipe, I would make carrot cakes that included a bit of my soul. At the supermarket I would stare at a bright red tomato, loving it for dear life. Having known such joy, there was no going back."
-from Kitchen, by Banana Yoshimoto

So all it takes sometimes is a bright red tomato to remind you of the joy in life. Or a bright green one, or a bright orange one. I certainly felt reminded of the vibrancy of life as I was staring at those cheerful tomatoes at the Green Market through my little Canon lens...

August 22, 2008

katsudon

When reading, it's inevitable that you'll encounter a well-crafted description of a dish that sounds so delicious, you immediately want to put down your book and:
a.) run out and buy the dish,
or
b.) look it up online and salivate over its jpeg photo.

This very thing happened to me as I was reading Banana Yoshimoto's Kitchen for the second time (it's a quick read). I started lusting after the katsudon she was talking about, a dish I had never heard about (but now was dying to try):
"You may say it's because I was starving, but remember, this is my profession. This katsudon, encountered almost by accident, was made with unusual skill, I must say. Good quality meat, excellent broth, the eggs and onions handled beautifully, the rice with just the right degree of firmness to hold up in the broth–it was flawless. Then I remember having heard Sensei mention this place: 'It's a pity we don't have time for it,' she had said. What luck! And then I thought, ah, if only Yuichi were here. I impulsively said to the counterman, 'Can this be made to go? Would you make me another one, please?'"
Something that translates across all cultures is the link between food and love. When you eat something and enjoy it that much, don't you just want to order a box to go, so you can share it with your own Yuichi?

August 17, 2008

The hard-boiled egg (part 3)

The word on the street is that most, if not all, of the nutrients in an egg are located in its yolk. If the photo at left were, say, a metaphor for an egg, would every yellow book be more nutritious for the mind? OK, probably not, but the Paris Review Interviews are pretty educational. And the theory was worth a stab. Or perhaps I should say, worth a crack? Ha, ha.

The hard-boiled egg (part 2)

The egg holds a special place in my heart. It is something I eat almost every day. Why? Because it's versatile. You can hard boil, soft boil, poach, fry or scramble it, but you can also separate the yolk and white to make custards and meringues. I've been known to make a few egg sandwiches in my day (see photo at right).

This particular creation is a veggie chick'n patty with a fried egg slapped inside a toasted English muffin. Pretty self-explanatory, but here are some tips:

*Use "extra crispy" English muffins.
*Break the yolk while frying it; it distributes the yolk across the egg white so that you won't get attacked by a thick bite of yolk in the middle of your sandwich. (Note: it also helps expand the size of the egg so it will come out the sides of the muffin, giving you the impression that you're having a sandwich fit for the gods.)
*Cheese!
*Substitute your favorite brand of veggie burger.

Meanwhile, others might like to prepare their eggs exactly the same way every day. Please accept the following literary evidence:
"He made his breakfast, which was as usual two slices of brown toast, a boiled egg and tea. He did not hear Eugene, and supposed he had gone out earlier. While he ate he remembered a feeling he had had in the back yard while he was holding the bird and thinking of the chiffon-hatted lady and the field of mustard and his parents..."
-Walking on Water, Alice Munro

It's a passage like this that reminds me why Alice Munro is such a master of short stories. She writes about people whose actions are ordinary, and whose stories touch us in spite of and because of this fact.

See how she ties the act of eating to the act of reminiscence amid a perfunctory moment at the breakfast table? The chiffon-hatted lady, the field of mustard...these things may not seem to directly relate to food, but the words "chiffon"' and "mustard" certainly do. Not to mention, the color of mustard leads one to think of the color of an egg yolk. The subtle ways in which the sentences refer to former thoughts in the character's mind without forcing these references–that's why I read stories. It's a whole new way of looking at the thinking process, as well as the human experience.

Perhaps we've all settled down to a normal breakfast (perhaps of tea and toast and eggs, too), and reflected upon memories while eating that breakfast. We relate to this man's reminiscence, though we may not have shared his specific memories, sharing instead the sensation of remembering something in the middle of a routine action. Instantly we are connected to that character.

August 9, 2008

The hard-boiled egg (part 1)

I've long held the belief that a good writer is one who is able to reaffirm what I already know: the existence of an undeniable connection between food and words. Preparing, serving, sharing and eating food...translating these routine actions into words that contribute to a significant story rather than bore us with their details – this, I take to be a testament of good writing. To me, a novel is not a novel without food. And so when I come across a passage that leaves me breathless with its ability to take a simple action like eating and make it into something glorious, it reminds me once again why certain stories are worth reading.

Take this passage from Margaret Atwood's The Blind Assassin:

"Is there a cheese sandwich left?
She rummages in the paper bag. No, she says, but there's a hard-boiled egg. She's never been this happy before. Everything is fresh again, still to be enacted.
Just what the doctor ordered, he says. A bottle of lemonade, a hard-boiled egg, and Thou. He rolls the egg between his palms, cracking the shell, then peeling it away. She watches his mouth, the jaw, the teeth.
Beside me singing in the public park, she says. Here's the salt for it.
Thanks. You remembered everything."

This not only made me want to try a new method of peeling hard-boiled eggs, it reminded me that prose can be so good that I can read it more than once and remain inspired by its message.

And few words of flirtation, I think, are more charming than these: "Just what the doctor ordered. A bottle of lemonade, a hard-boiled egg, and Thou."