April 24, 2010

Meat and potatoes

"I would gladly have eaten the potatoes and let the meat alone, but having got a large piece of the latter on to my plate, I could not be so impolite as to leave it; so, after many awkward and unsuccessful attempts to cut it with the knife, or tear it with the fork, or pull it asunder between them, sensible that the awful lady was a spectator to the whole transaction, I at last desperately grasped the knife and fork in my fists, like a child of two years old, and fell to work with all the little strength I possessed. But this needed some apology – with a feeble attempt at a laugh, I said, 'My hands are so benumbed with the cold that I can scarcely handle my knife and fork.'


'I daresay you would find it cold,' replied she with a cool, immutable gravity that did not serve to reassure me."
--Agnes Grey, Anne Bronte
Poor Agnes. She wouldn't have had this problem if she were served a nicely roasted chicken drumstick like the one pictured above – one of my favorite versions of meat and potatoes; no knife required.

April 21, 2010

13 going on old

"Certain moments in life are in another tense: they are going to become. And only when you get to that other tense do they reveal to you what they were and what they meant, and then you know that one moment is responsible for everything that came afterwards and you think, if only I had understood what was going to happen and prevented it..."
--The Way I Found Her, Rose Tremain
Thus ends the Part One of this coming-of-age novel. At one point, the 13-year-old narrator, Lewis, describes one woman's laugh as "the kind of laugh you imagine women having long ago, before they realized they were an oppressed category of people." That, in turn, made me laugh.

In the narration, there are times when you can definitely tell that Lewis is a young teenage male, but then there are also times when he sounds like a middle-aged woman. It's a bit confusing. I suppose if I were a writer, I'd have a hard time speaking in the voice of (a) a 13-year-old, and (b) a boy. I suppose Ms. Tremain does a pretty good job considering the challenges involved.

April 15, 2010

I'm lichen the mums

"A young girl, a Chinese or Vietnamese girl, slight as a child in her pale-green uniform, but with painted lips and cheeks, was coming along the corridor, pushing a cart. On the cart were paper cups and plastic containers of orange and grape juice. 'Juice time,' the girl was calling, in her pleasant and indifferent singsong. 'Juice time. Orange. Grape. Juice.' She took no notice of David and Stella, but they let go of each other and resumed walking. David did feel a slight, very slight, discomfort at being seen by such a young and pretty girl in the embrace of Stella. It was not an important feeling--it simply brushed him and passed--but Stella, as he held the door open for her, said 'Never mind, David. I could be your sister. You could be comforting your sister. Older sister.'"
--Alice Munro, "Lichen"
Ay. Poor Stella. David thinks he's too good for her, but she's obviously the one with the more evolved mind. She understands his thoughts, and she graciously accepts him for who he is -- the kind of man who would feel embarrassed of being associated with her simply because she is no longer young and pretty like the juice girl.

Juice girl. Asian juice girl. Asian juice time = Tea time? I'll do you one better: chrysanthemum tea time. Yes. Here I sit with my freshly brewed chrysanthemum tea made from dried chrysanthemums. Mmm...can't get any better than petals suspended in hot, golden liquid. Why am I using funny words to describe my tea? Earlier today I was reading a recipe on The Guardian website, even though I'd be way too lazy to convert the grams into cups and such - but that's beside the point. One of the ingredients was "golden syrup" and I thought for the umpteenth time how magical it must be to live in the U.K. What is golden syrup anyway? I don't know, but I want some. Immediately.

April 12, 2010

Pudding's Progress

"He thinks he remembers Violet coming for supper, as she sometimes did, bringing with her a pudding, which she set outside in the snow to keep cool. (None of the farmhouses had a refrigerator in those days.) Then it snowed, and the snow covered the pudding dish, which sank from sight. Dane remembers Violet tramping around in the snowy yard after dark, calling, 'Pudding, pudding, here pudding!' as if it were a dog. Himself laughing immoderately, and his mother and father laughing in the doorway, and Violet elaborating the performance, stopping to whistle."
--Alice Munro, "A Queer Streak"
Ah, how I wish I had some pudding chilling in the snow. Better yet, I wish I had a dog to call Pudding. Alice Munro's collection of stories, The Progress of Love, is a quite satisfying read. I had been hoping for quite some time to find a book that would consume me with the loveliness of its words. This is a short story collection that does just that, leaving me to desire nothing so much as an iced tea to keep me tied to this world while sinking temporarily, ecstatically, into another.

April 8, 2010

Beans? Sweet!

It's funny how sugar can change things so. I don't really care for beans in savory form (i.e. burritos, chili) – but sweeten them up, and that's a whole other story. Maybe it's the Asian in me, but I can never get enough of beans in dessert form. And one of the easiest ways to consume them is in the form of a sweet soup, often eaten at the end of a meal.
The other night, I made a big batch of red (azuki) and green (mung) bean dessert soup. If you make this soup with just green beans, it'll be faster. The red beans take longer to get soft and mushy because they're bigger.

Basically just wash the beans and put enough water to cover by about 2 inches or so (no need to be too precise, as you can always add water later). Bring to a boil and then simmer until the beans burst and get tender. It should take about an hour or thereabouts. Add sugar/honey/sweetener to taste. 

This time around, I decided to make some glutinous rice balls, too. They're really easy: Just take some mochiko (sweet rice) flour, add enough hot water until it forms a dough that's easy to roll into balls. If you have too much water, it will be too sticky to handle. In that case, just add more mochiko. Boil in water until they float, and let simmer for a few minutes. They taste great with the beans because they're chewy and starchy, while the beans are coarse and sweet. Sort of like deconstructed mochi.

Well, there you have it. A delicious Chinese dessert awaits your taste buds. And it's even full of fiber, no?

 

April 5, 2010

My First Flannery

"'Lemme just have a piece of theter cake yonder,' he said, pointing to a half of pink and yellow cake on a round glass stand. 'I think I got something to do. I got to be going. Set it up there right next to him,' he said, indicating the customer reading the newspaper. He slide over the stools and began reading the outside sheet of the man's paper. While he ate the cake he read and felt himself surge with kindness and courage and strength."
--Wise Blood, Flannery O'Connor
My first brush with Flannery O'Connor's work was a bit like eating cheesecake. I didn't enjoy it all that much, but seeing that I was stuck on the subway and there was no other dessert around, I begrudgingly ate it up, struck by its details more than usual as I stewed in my dislike.

This bit about the cake (above) is just about the sole bright spot in the fumbling ugliness of "religious investigation" this book is said to be. Her prose is technically flawless, which is disturbing enough in itself. But even more disturbing is how very consuming it is, for such a bleak story. I couldn't stop submitting myself to its pain. Kind of like that guy on 42nd street who shouts into a portable microphone about Jesus and redemption every single day. If you ever actually stop to listen, you may find yourself horrifically entranced. Reading this book is a little bit like that, I think.