March 29, 2010

Mustard Madness

"Wrapped up like an expensive gift in her emerald batik caftan, her purple and gold sari or some wheat-colored housedress straight out of Peyton Place (for this comparison you had to pretend you didn't see the cigarette burn at the hip), on Sunday afternoons, Hannah entertained, in the old-fashioned, European sense of the word. Even now, I don't understand how she managed to prepare those extravagant dinners in her tiny mustard-yellow kitchen -- Turkish lamb chops ('with mint sauce'), Thai steak ('with ginger-infused potatoes'), beef noodle soup ('Authentic Pho Bo'), on one less successful occasion, a goose ('with cranberry rub and sage carrot fries')."
--Special Topics in Calamity Physics, Marisha Pessl
My second go-around with this book, and its narration is just as lively and impressive as I remember. Every page is dotted and spotted (perhaps even besotted) with literary allusions, pop references, and original similes. If you were to check up every single reference, it would take you forever to finish this book. Thankfully, for those of us who haven't read every notable book ever written since the written language has been around, it's still a great read (albeit probably on a lower level). Even if you don't understand half of the references, you will no doubt find yourself captivated by Pessl's command over lay language.

Moving on to other "topics," I wonder, would cooking in a mustard yellow kitchen like Hannah's make someone crave mustard more or less? I have been in a very "mustardy" mood lately. I think it all started with a knish I had on the street; the best part of said knish was the spicy mustard. I stuck some mustard in tomorrow's breakfast-for-lunch burrito, which includes: eggs, tomatoes, turkey sausage, sauteed cabbage, white rice, onions, scallions, baby bella mushrooms...and Trader Joe's aioli garlic mustard. Yum, I hope?

March 24, 2010

Butterfish a la Steinbeck

"I wish you could have tasted the way my mother fried butterfish. She used to take an old-fashioned cast-iron skillet--and the fish, it had to be very fresh and very carefully trimmed. She'd make a batter with brown toasted crumbs--bread crumbs, not cracker crumbs--and she'd put a whole tablespoon--no, two tablespoonfuls--of Worcestershire sauce in a beaten egg. I think that was the secret."
--The Wayward Bus, John Steinbeck

Steinbeck, quite the fiction and recipe writer. Reminds me a little of katsu style. Yum.

March 23, 2010

Queer dinner

Dickon grinned.

"My dinner's easy to carry about with me," he said. "Mother always lets me put a bit o' somethin' in my pocket."

He picked up his coat from the grass and brought out of a pocket a lumpy little bundle tied up in a quite clean, coarse, blue and white handkerchief. It held two thick pieces of bread with a slice of something laid between them.

"It's oftenest naught but bread," he said, "but I've got a fine slice o' fat bacon with it today."

Mary thought it looked a queer dinner, but he seemed ready to enjoy it.

--The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett
Mmm, fat slice o' bacon? Sign me up. Is it just me, or are bundles of food made all the more scrumptious by their less-than-perfect packaging? Children's books always seem to have the simplest but tastiest goodies, often bundled in handkerchiefs like Dickon's, all the better for taking along on adventures of the magical kind.

March 21, 2010

Spoon-fed love

"Aliette leaves her wheelchair in the foyer and begins to walk, even though the pain seems unbearable when she is tired. She loves the food she loathed before, for the flesh it gives her. She eats marbled steaks, half-inch layers of butter on her bread. She walks to the stores on Madison, leaning against a wall when she needs to, and returns, victorious, with bags. On one of her outings, she meets her father coming home for lunch. As she calls to him, and runs clumsily the last five steps, his eyes fill. His fleshy face grows pink, and the lines under his mouth deepen.
'Oh,' he says, nearly weeping and holding out his arms. 'My little girl is back.'"
--"L. DeBard and Aliette," Lauren Groff
What food would you choose to eat if you had to fatten up while recovering from polio? Doughnuts would rank higher much than marbled steaks on my list. Probably not as nutritious, though. Doughnuts: They're what's for dinner.

Last night, I did not have doughnuts for dinner (sad), but I did eat in Chinatown. At one point, I overheard a dad nudging his rather sour-faced 8-year-oldish son into line at Chinatown Ice Cream Factory. " have to try. It's supposed to be the BEST." The idea that parents want to give their children "the best" tugs a little at my heart. This kid was stupid for complaining about getting ice cream, in my opinion. Free ice cream? What's there to think about? Yet I was one of those kids, when it came to other stuff. So, most likely, were you.

Children. They complain, whine, and pout while their parents labor on their behalf. And then they have the nerve to grudgingly open their mouths to taste the ice cream their parents bought for them. Lately, I find myself constantly marveling at the difficulties of child rearing and the countless ways in which children are oblivious to their parents' efforts. When we grow up we may gradually realize the selflessness of parenthood, but that's just the tip of the iceberg until we go through the process ourselves. The immensity of what it means to be a parent washes over me each time I catch the Jasons of the world in action.

March 10, 2010

Sandwiches of Discontent

Reading The Winter of Our Discontent makes me feel discontent about my self-made sandwiches. The ones Ethan Cawley makes just sound so much better.
"Behind the counter he cut four fat slices of rye bread and buttered them liberally. He slid open the cold doors and picked out two slices of processed Swiss cheese and three slices of ham. 'Lettuce and cheese,' he said, 'lettuce and cheese. When a man marries he lives in the trees.' He mortared the top slices of bread with mayonnaise from a jar, pressed the lids down on the sandwiches, and trimmed the bits of lettuce and ham fat from the edges. Now a carton of milk and a square of waxed paper for wrapping. He was folding the ends of the paper neatly when a key rattled in the front door and Marullo came in, wide as a bear and sack-chested so that his arms seemed short and stood out from his body."
--The Winter of Our Discontent, John Steinbeck
I don't think I've ever savored rye bread (granted, I don't eat it all that much), but this book is making me crave it intensely.

Why don't we all make our sandwiches on fat slices of rye (buttered, too -- how lovely, how old-fashioned, how down-home American!), trim the edges, and wrap them romantically in a neat square of waxed paper? Sure beats dumping them into plastic "sandwich bags."