March 29, 2011

over well done stories

"Going into the diner, Lee and Carlos were a phalanx in themselves with their jackets and jeans and boots and belts, and I was proud to have been hungry. I ordered warrior food, and soon the waitress rendered up to me a plate of lacy-edged eggs with a hummock of potatoes and butter-stained toast, and to Lee and Carlos huge, aromatic burgers."
--"A Lesson in Traveling Light," Deborah Eisenberg
Every now and then, I like my eggs cooked over well, borderline burnt. Maybe it's because they make me think of my dad, who usually fries them in plenty of oil until the edges get crispy and lacy-edged.

Lacy-edged is a nice description for eggs, but I never thought I'd see the word "hummock" in the same sentence as "potatoes." Is it really crucial to the story? Maybe not, but it's fun. If you've never read any of Deborah Eisenberg's work, please do! I liked some of her stories so much that I forgive her for the few that I didn't like. She's also married to Wallace Shawn, playwright, voice of T-Rex in Toy Story, and — most importantly of all — the actor who portrays Blair's stepfather on Gossip Girl. Amazing.

March 23, 2011

cake therapy

Donald loved these hours himself, mostly because they seemed to dispel the oppression that stood unlifted over those years of his mother's life--and was there any reason why a lonely boy should rebel against the feeling of security that he found in the kitchen on a stormy night? She taught him how to make cookies and muffins and banana bread and, finally, a Lady Baltimore cake. It was sometimes after eleven o'clock when their work was done.
--"The Wrysons," John Cheever
Oh yes, it's true — baking is therapeutic. It makes you feel productive — and it can be extremely comforting to follow a formula that is more than likely to lead to a satisfying result, when life is either unpredictably spinning out of control or falling short of your expectations.

Lady Baltimore cake sounds delicious — it's made with lots of egg whites. It also has an interesting history, and perhaps literary origins! I also read somewhere that "Lord Baltimore" is a yellow version of this cake, made with egg yolks.

P.S. If you're plum out of eggs but in dire need of a little baking therapy, please click here to find a recipe for moist, eggless carrot cake, which I dedicate to Carson McCullers. :)

March 14, 2011

Express Noodles

"There was the smell of warm grass that day, all these years later she could still smell the warm grass." --The South, Colm Toibin
Ah, could I lay me down in this long grass
And close my eyes, and let the quiet wind
Blow over me--I am so tired, so tired
Of Passing pleasant places! All my life...
--"Journey," Edna St. Vincent Millay
Ever since I was small, I've had a recurring dream in which I'm lazing about in a field of sunny, warm grass. Between the rain and the cold, the closest I've gotten to a grass-like object of late is, sadly, a scallion.

To me, noodles and scallions go together like bread and butter. My first "real" job was at Panda Express, and the only item I still crave from time to time is their chow mein, which always had plenty of crunchy cabbage sprinkled throughout its perfectly cooked noodles. In the past, whenever I made it at home, the noodles never turned out right — they morphed into horrifically gloppy, unappetizing segments. Quite the travesty. I thought it was because I couldn't get my stove hot enough, but now I know why: I was using the wrong sort of noodles.

But then I discovered fresh lo mein noodles in the refrigerated section of the Asian supermarket. It was an epiphany, akin to realizing that the love of your life has been right under your nose all along. (OK, not quite that dramatic, but still.) It turns out that fresh noodles are much bouncier and more "Q" (a prized texture in Chinese cuisine. I really don't know how to translate it, texturally delicious). Another great thing about them: they cook in only 30–40 seconds! Truly express noodles. Recipe follows.

Chow Mein Express
*serves 3 hungry people
1 package fresh lo mein noodles
3 eggs
1 tomato, cut into wedges
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 a head of cabbage, chopped
1/2 onion, chopped
2 scallions, sliced or segmented
10-12 shrimp, cooked until just pink
1/2 bunch spinach, rinsed
2 handfuls of bean sprouts, rinsed and dried
Soy sauce, to taste
Sriracha sauce, to taste

Set a large pot of water on high heat. While you're waiting for that to come to a boil, beat the eggs in a bowl and scramble in a large skillet. Add in the tomato, garlic, cabbage, onion, and scallions and stir.

The water should be boiling by now. Plop in your fresh noodles and break them up a little with a pair of chopsticks. Keeping the stove on high heat, taste test a noodle after about 30 seconds. The noodle should taste done or nearly done. You want it to retain a little bounce, kind of like al dente but bouncy rather than firm. Al bounce? Ha.

Fish out the noodles and drain them. Run cold water over them if you're extra paranoid that you overcooked them. Add a drizzle of sesame oil if desired before transfering them into the skillet with the vegetables. Add the shrimp, spinach, and bean sprouts, and season with soy sauce and sriracha, if you like things spicy. Stir fry the spinach just wilts, and serve immediately.

March 3, 2011

xoxo, graham greene

Sinking deeply into a GG addiction. Not Gossip Girl...Graham Greene. This week, he not only taught me what a damson was, but also provided a much-needed reminder that any life we imagine outside of our own consciousness is purely that: imagined.
Ordinary life — the two hours in court on a perjury case — had the unreality of a country one is leaving for ever. One thinks, At this hour, in that village, these people I once knew are sitting down at table just as they did a year ago when I was there, but one is not convinced that any life goes on the same as ever outside the consciousness.
--The Heart of the Matter

"If indeed she had only been a stepmother to me, did I still want to place her ashes among my dahlias? While I washed up my lunch I was sorely tempted to wash out the urn as well into the sink. It would serve very well for the homemade jam which I was promising myself to make next year — a man in retirement must have his hobbies if he is not to age too fast — and the urn would have looked quite handsome on the tea table. It was a little sombre, but a sombre jar was well suited for damson jelly or for blackberry-and-apple jam."
--Travels With My Aunt
Travels With My Aunt is quite humorous. I wonder which takes more writing chops: comedy or tragedy? (I think comedy.) Shakespeare was a master of both. It's becoming clear to me that Greene was, too.