December 31, 2008

the year dwindles.

"And I, perhaps, walking away from the church door, would have something now of the same anonymous arrested look -- captured, as the saying goes, in the picture; serving to show, merely, by human contrast, the dimensions of buildings, to date the photograph unwittingly with my clothes and hair; somebody purloined from a crowd to act as an example. The light itself had dwindled to the joyless sepia of an old photograph."
--Shirley Hazzard, The Bay of Noon

December 24, 2008

OMC: Only mildly competent

A few weeks ago, I missed out on the chance to see Michael Cunningham at the Hammer. Finals week + author events = a choice between regret and guilt. My choice brought regret.

But the good thing is that I have his novel, The Hours, right here. I haven't read it in years, but curious to see if he was still as good a writer as I remembered, I found this passage in which Cunningham imagines a typical Virginia Woolf workday.
She will write for an hour or so, then eat something. Not eating is a vice, a drug of sorts -- with her stomach empty she feels quick and clean, clearheaded, ready for a fight. She sips her coffee, sets it down, stretches her arms. This is one of the most singular experiences, waking on what feels like a good day, preparing to work but not yet actually embarked. At this moment there are infinite possibilities, whole hours ahead. Her mind hums.
It's interesting how one author interprets another of his kind. He envisions his predecessor as someone who works on an empty stomach. Which makes sense, since she ends up offing herself, doesn't it? If having an empty stomach makes you feel powerful, isn't there something wrong with you? Doesn't that just define the term "eating disorder" right there?

Just a little farther down the page, is a passage that makes it all worth it. If anything, The Hours is worth reading just for this:
Writing in that state is the most profound satisfaction she knows, but her access to it comes and goes without warning. She may pick up her pen and follow it with her hand as it moves across the paper; she may pick up her pen and find that she's merely herself, a woman in a housecoat holding a pen, afraid and uncertain, only mildly competent, with no idea about where to begin or what to write.

She picks up her pen.

Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.
I am quite sure that I love Michael Cunningham for writing this. Only mildly competent. Definitely not a phrase that pertains to either of these novelists.

December 17, 2008

Hot donut love

That look! It was then she understood how dough feels when it is plunged into boiling oil. The heat that invaded her body was so real she was afraid she would start to bubble -- her face, her stomach, her head, her breasts -- like batter.
--Like Water for Chocolate
Hot passionate lust ... it sure leaves the body bubbling like a doughnut in hot oil.

December 14, 2008

I think I might just like Eggers for the Egg.

One of my favorite parts from AHWOSG:
"All such foods, those containing more than two or three ingredients mixed together indiscriminately, including all sandwiches except salami, are not chewed, but eschewed."
I'm currently rereading the book and seeing if it is indeed true that the older you get, the more Eggers sounds like a whiny and arrogant brat, and less like a young, brazen genius. So far it's not the "staggering genius" I remember it being back when I was 17, but it's still pretty darn good. I'll be 21 in ten days. I guess I can't be that old yet, if I still enjoy this book...

December 8, 2008

To eat dried oats, or not to eat dried oats?

I cannot draw a cart, nor eat dried oats.
If it be man's work, I'll do't.
--King Lear

Uh-oh. I've eaten dried oats. Does that make me a horse? Maybe? Neigh-be? Neigh it is.

December 7, 2008

Can you count the number of sprinkles?

Flip through any anthology of what are considered the "best" short stories of the last decade or so, and you'll inevitably run across the name Alice Munro.

I don't know how to put my finger on what she does, or how she does it; I just know that we could all learn from the abundance of details she throws at us in each of her stories. And luckily for a fatty like me, those details are bound to include food every now and then...
Would you like to know how I am informed of your death? I go into the faculty kitchen, to make myself a cup of coffee before my ten o'clock class. Dodie Charles who is always baking something has brought a cherry pound cake. (The thing we old pros know about, in these fantasies, is the importance of detail, solidity; yes, a cherry pound cake.) It is wrapped in waxed paper and then in a newspaper. The Globe and Mail, not the local paper, that I would have seen. Looking idly at this week-old paper ... Only then do I realize. Your name. The city where you lived and died. A heart attack, that will do."
- From the story Tell Me Yes or No, by Alice Munro
I bolded the portion that I particularly like about this passage; I like to think that Alice is being self-reflective here, or at least talking to budding young writer-wannabes.

Maybe she's calling herself an old pro who knows enough to include the detail of cherry pound cake --
not just cake,
not just pound cake,
but cherry pound cake.

And this cherry pound cake is in waxed paper and newspaper...not just any newspaper, but a local paper the narrator wouldn't normally be reading.
And reading the fine print of that paper, is what gets her somewhere.

Somewhere. And wouldn't we like to go somewhere?

Here's to counting sprinkles, or reading the details (and maybe writing them sometimes, too)! Characters have interesting lives because they discern details that lead them to circumstances we can't even begin to imagine for ourselves; instead, we are those who seek them vicariously through literature.

December 1, 2008

amaretti, white as snow patrol

*From Caffe Roma in NYC's Little Italy

the day breaks
apart in our hands

November 26, 2008

(Cold)playing it cool, sans words

As much as I pore over certain passages in books, as much as I melt inside at well-worded sentences, I have to admit that in certain situations, words can't even begin to compete with the power of music.

Case in point, saw Coldplay perform at the Anaheim Honda Center last night. And needless to say - it was amazing.

And it was all yellow.

Last night was the first time I thought about just how crucial the wordless parts of their most popular songs really are.

No matter what language you speak, you can relate to the opening of "Politik," the sparsely worded "Life in Technicolor" that they opened with, or the epic backnotes to the second part of "Fix You." And as much as I love words, the wordless backbones of Coldplay songs are what make them such a universally appealing band.

Case studies:
1. The woman next to me belting out the oh-oh-oh-OH-oh-oh from "Viva la Vida," hands cupped to her mouth, her exhalations traveling so energetically over to my nose, that, though recovering from sickness, I was still able to detect beer on her breath.

2. The 20-something guy standing outside after it was over, yelling out the same chorus of oh-oh-oh-OH-oh-oh in the pouring rain.

A first:
As Chris Martin was playing "The Hardest Part" he messed up and almost submitted to profanity but laughed it off with the rest of us. We all still thought he was perfect. And Apple and Moses were saved from hearing their father say the F word on stage. was a close one.

Listening to the lyrics of this song, I realized it could very well apply to a number of situations. Swallowing tomato juice? Or perhaps a cup of harsh black coffee? Sour milk? All difficult things to do. Something tells me he meant it metaphorically, not literally, but it's still fun to imagine the scenarios that could have inspired such lyrics.
I could feel it go down
Bittersweet, I could taste in my mouth
Silver lining the cloud
Oh, I, I wish that I could work it out.
Oh, Chris Martin. A poet in his own right. Or maybe just ran into one too many foul drinks along the way.

November 25, 2008

The grapes (of wrath) that bind foodies together

Finally! Someone else recognizes that John Steinbeck is a master of conveying what it's like to be tortured with hunger pains and downing grease wherever you can get it. In Dubious Battle is another good place to find such scenes.
"Cesar Chavez appealed to my sense of justice, stirred from reading The Grapes of Wrath. It was one of my favorite books for its descriptions of dust, greasy food, and soulful characters.
The biscuits were 'high' and 'bulbous'; Ma Joad '[lifted] ... curling slices of pork from the frying pan.' I found myself charmed by Tom Joad, a good man in spite of the years he'd done in prison.
I felt his hunger when he came back from a day of picking peaches and shouted, 'Leave me at her,' while reaching for his dinner plate. The way he wolfed down his three hamburger patties and white bread with drippings drizzled on top.
'Got any more?' he asked Ma."
--Bich Minh Nguyen, Stealing Buddha's Dinner
Makes me want to curl up with East of Eden and some drippings right now. I love Steinbeck.

November 24, 2008

Oh Henry! Oh. what a downer.

Talk about depressing -- I was reading the O. Henry Prize Stories (1997), and came across this:
"You could go out of doors. The blueness of the sky, the brightness of the sun, the freshness of a tree would greet you, but in the end you would only have to go back somewhere to sleep. And that would not be beautiful; it would be where you lived. So beauty seemed a dangerous, foreign, and irrelevant idea. She turned for solace, not to it, but to the nature of enclosure. Everything in her life strained toward the ideal of separations: how to keep the horror of her parents' life from everything that could be called her life."
--Mary Gordon, City Life
Imagine replacing all beauty with enclosures and separations. The world would be a prison.

November 22, 2008

marshmallow madness

Don't these stuffed animals look just like marshmallows? So cute, you could just eat them up!

If only we could say the same of people. When humans act extra cutesy, you don't have the option of eating them up. Because then you'd be ostracized and/or prosecuted for your cannibalistic actions.

November 18, 2008

knish = delish

Several months ago, I stumbled upon the word "knish" and have been fascinated ever since.

What is a knish? Besides being fun to say, it's also steamy and delicious.

It's a pillowy potato creation (sometimes with vegetables inside), hot and wrapped in foil. People sell them on street carts in Manhattan ($3 is a bit steep but I say, well worth the investment, especially if you split it with a willing party).

Apparently knish bakeries exist. This particular knishery (it even warrants its own Wikipedia entry) was but a hop and a skip away from Katz's Delicatessan.

Mmm pastrami followed by potato heaven.

November 11, 2008

Sweet mother of fruit tarts!

The layer of cold custard peeking out from under the fruit is the best part.

This delicious "dainty" tasted like it was bathed in Heaven's misty sugarfalls (for this, I think, is what is in heaven, if it exists), but it's actually from Coral Tree Cafe. My only regret? That I wasn't gutsy enough to order my omelet in a cheeky manner (F*U*N*E*X?).

But if you aren't around Brentwood, you can still read about William Beckford's interpretation of food heaven in Vathek:
In the first of these were tables continually covered with the most exquisite dainties; which were supplied both by night and by day, according to their constant consumption; whilst the most delicious wines and the choicest cordials flowed forth from a hundred fountains that were never exhausted. This palace was called The Eternal or unsatiating Banquet.
Sounds kind of cool. I think I'm going to start calling things "dainties" now. Anyone listening? I'd like a plate of dainties dusted with powdered sugar, please.

November 9, 2008

lay your eyes on these babies.

Instead of sharing her cookies, she hoarded them; and rightfully so.

Those cookies were good. They were from Paulette.

The first time I made pavlova, I used a recipe by the self-proclaimed domestic goddess, Nigella Lawson. She put passion fruit on top of hers, but I ate mine plain. Crackly and dry on the outside, yet wonderfully chewy on the inside, I was in love at first bite.

No matter that I didn't have parchment paper; I used wax paper and it was fine. No matter that I didn't have cream of tartar; the egg whites whipped right up in my stand mixer.

Everything was perfect that day. If you ever want to make something that sounds impressive and tastes phenomenal, opt for pavlova. The only piece of advice I have to offer is to let the egg whites come to room temperature before beating into peaks, especially if you're cream-of-tartar-less, like me. I've never used it in my life.

November 8, 2008

Once you pop...

You just can't stop...reading.

"When Christmas rolled around we had a real tree with lights and a star. My sister and I had no idea what the word Christmas meant; to us it was, and remained for years, glitter and gifts. We had to put together the pieces of America that came to us through television, song lyrics, Meijer Thrifty Acres, and our father, coming home from work each day with a new kind of candy in his pocket."
--Bich Minh Nguyen

Christmas was always just glitter and gifts to my heathen (or oblivious-to-religion) childhood self, too. And just like her dad, mine liked bringing home treats for my sister and me, sometimes cookies wrapped in napkins. They must have left crumbs in his pockets.

I like the way she describes Pringles: "So delicate, breaking into salty shards on our tongues." I also thought that their trademark canisters made them the most elegant chips. I enjoyed stacking my Pringles and eating them sometimes in twos, sometimes in threes, sometimes half of a single one at a time if I wanted to make them last. While sour cream and onion (green) was my mom's favorite, and my dad happily munched on the barbeque (burgundy/purple), I liked the original flavor because it was red...I liked them all, really, but maybe just because I associated them with the movies we watched on weekend nights sitting on our old L-shaped Levitz couch.

Even now, any Pringle I eat still reminds me of Silence of the Lambs. Either we watched that movie a lot, or I was too young to see Anthony Hopkins do those sorts of things (or both) -- but to this day, I don't know if I could watch The Remains of the Day without cringing, even though it's one of my favorite books.

November 7, 2008

Flossing through love-hate relationships

Sweet forbidden kernels,
how my teeth adore to abhor thee.

A core theme

"And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden; But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it..." (Genesis: 2-3).

How much literature has been shaped by words like these? There simply wouldn't have been a story if Adam and Eve hadn't eaten the forbidden fruit.

November 6, 2008

Food for thought

In case it wasn't explicit enough, this blog is devoted to indulging in two ideas that instill happiness in me: Rilke and food. The following quote by Rilke himself is perfectly suited to what I'm all about:
Who shows a child as he really is? ... Who makes his death out of gray bread, which hardens – or leaves it there inside his round mouth, jagged as the core of a sweet apple? ... Murderers are easy to understand. But this: that one can contain death, the hole of death, even before life has begun, can hold it to one's heart gently, and not refuse to go on living, is inexpressible.

-- from Rainer Maria Rilke's Fourth Elegy
We all hold death to our hearts gently; death is all around us and we come in contact with it every day. From the moment we are born we begin stepping closer to death...and that is inexpressible even to someone as gifted with the written word as Rilke.

Comparing death to a useless shell of food – an apple core, or a hard piece of bread – is genius. Death is not the entire opposite of life, rather the two haunt one another, and are dependent on one another to exist.

November 4, 2008

I see red.

But not tonight.

The time has come to shed light on the forgotten corners (and colors) of the world:

October 25, 2008

Everything in moderation.

Too much of a sweet thing, whether it's pastries or love, is just plain bad. Per usual, Shakespeare said it best:
Enough, no more. 'Tis not so sweet as it was before. - Orsino, Twelfth Night
The idea that sugar pleases best in moderation never really resonated with me until this afternoon, when I made green bean dessert soup with tapioca pearls. I was too greedy with the sugar, adding spoon after spoon of the white crystals which mesmerized me as they melted into the bubbling pot of beans.
The idea that even sweetness can sicken you so much that it's not as "sweet as it was before"... now there's a paradox that makes sense to cavity victims. In this case, I just added more water and it tasted fine.
Asian green bean dessert soup with tapioca pearls
2 parts green beans
sugar to taste
1 part miniature tapioca pearls (amount also flexible)
1. Bring green beans and water to boil, then turn down heat to medium and let simmer uncovered for 45 to 50 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add more water if needed (you just need enough to cover the beans so they can cook).

2. When green beans have burst open and water level has declined, add sugar to taste (remember: you can always add more). The green beans should be mushy and tender, not hard on the inside.

3. Add tapioca pearls. I used multicolored ones for a festive effect, but any sort will do, as long as they are tiny. Simmer until the tapioca pearls develop a clear layer, about 10 minutes. You may have to add more water in these stages, depending on how dry or wet you want your soup to be.

Dig in, and when adding the sugar, don't hesitate to take Orsino's cue and say, "Enough, no more." You won't regret it.

October 19, 2008

Your choice.

Ramen #1:

Ramen #2*

Believe it or not, these are photos of the
same bowl of ramen. I just used different camera settings.

How much does our visual perception of a dish flavor our mental perception of its taste?

Taking that second picture made me extra excited to consume its contents, even though in real life, it looked like picture #1. I changed the camera setting to "fluorescent." So...not hungry for what's in front of you? Try photographing it under different settings. It may just stir up some rumblings in your tummy.

If only we could shift the dial as easily in our minds. Then we could probably eat boiled spinach or unsweetened bran flakes, or something else disgustingly healthy, and not mind a bit!

*The pictured dish was made from a Nissin Choice Ramen package (my first time trying one, and I was pleasantly surprised that though non-fried, it was just as tasty as its full-fat kin). I threw in some frozen broccoli, an egg for good measure, and voila! Dinner was born -- then promptly eaten, making me feel somewhat like Saturn, who ate his child, too...if anyone's seen the famous painting by Well, perhaps it's for the best. I like to think I wasn't quite as barbaric as he was, but then again, I did proceed to tear into that ramen like no tomorrow.

All in all, I must say, if you want a quick 'n easy formula to get stomach-happy, it's: Egg(s) + ramen. You just can't go wrong.

October 16, 2008


"Thou know'st we work by wit and not by witchcraft, and wit depends on dilatory time ... Though other things grow fair against the sun, yet fruits that blossom first will first be ripe." - Iago, Shakespeare's Othello.
'wichcraft in Bryant Park wasn't as good as I expected. I guess I just have to admire Tom Colicchio for his status as head judge on Top Chef, and not for his sandwich chain (because heaven knows I can't afford to eat at Craft).

Wax on, wax off...and into the mouth

The fruit pictured is waxy and beautifully colored, like a candle, but entirely edible. It tastes like a jujube (which tastes like a not-so-sweet apple). Not too appetizing of a description, but accurate.

I tried and tried not to think of fragrant candles when I was biting into it. Amazing that things that look inedible can actually be edible. Does the inedible appearance influence my judgment of its taste, making it less delicious than it would have been in a blind taste test? If candles didn't exist, would I have thought it was inedible?

October 15, 2008

Skimp on the skimming

What if you just skimmed the surface of a story, and in doing so, only happened to absorb the bad parts? It'd be the equivalent of skimming the surface of your coffee. Too much cream, not enough substance.

October 12, 2008

Butter my words

They say that everything is better with butter. But do the virtues of this cholesterol-ridden, deliciously aromatic fat apply even to literature? Read on:
La Fleur had brought the little print of butter upon a currant leaf; and as the morning was warm, and he had a good step to bring it, he had begg'd a sheet of waste paper to put betwixt the currant leaf and his hand ...
When I had finish'd the butter, I threw the currant leaf out of the window, and was going to do the same by the waste paper--but stopping to read a line first, and that drawing me on to a second and third--I thought it better worth; so I shut the window, and drawing a chair up to it, I sat down to read it.
--Laurence Sterne, A Sentimental Journey
Ah, to be able to write something so captivating, it reads well even when stained with butter!

Of course, for every good writer we discover, there are a bunch of bad ones we don't think about. Jonathan Swift used to poke fun at written (albeit published) material that was bad enough to be recycled into toilet paper. Now is that a sad picture, or what? It's one thing to be stained with butter, but to be tainted with human excrement? That's gotta hurt any writer's pride.

October 8, 2008

Did you ever know...

...that you're my gyro?

Yes, you are. Well, you were. You delicious gyro, you. I still get misty-tongued thinking back on that afternoon - the afternoon of the gyro with hot sauce, the diet coke from Subway, the walk through Greenwich Village. Altogether, a very pleasant summer day.

The more I miss New York, the more I think back on E.B. White's essay, "Here is New York." Behold one of my favorite excerpts (which I later was delighted to discover was chosen to be a Train of Thought poster on the subway):
"Third, there is the New York of the person who was born somewhere else and came to New York in quest of something. Of these trembling cities the greatest is the last--the city of final destination, the city that is a goal. It is this third city that accounts for New York’s high strung disposition, its poetical deportment, its dedication to the arts, and its incomparable achievements."
New York, you're my gyro and my hero.

October 7, 2008

"Remember me when I'm famous, my sweet!"

Someone I love very much once wrote this in my Lion King autograph booklet underneath her signature. "My sweet" is a term of endearment that should be used more often, methinks.

Speaking of sweet, Edmund Burke's A Philosophical Enquiry notes that several languages--including French, Latin and Italian--have just one word to describe both soft and sweet.

Linking linguistics to thought process, we might conclude that sweetness and relaxation are connected. Now, this confuses me. Just look at the kids who get hopped up on sugar at the candy store.

Sweetness invigorates me rather than relaxes me. But then again, that's just me, the girl who used to steal sugar packets from restaurants so she could consume them later when no one else was around. After years of such activities, I've probably built up an immunity to the so-called "relaxing" qualities of sugar.

September 27, 2008's bad for the wit?

I've eaten three burgers over the past two days. Coincidentally, I also have been assigned to read Shakespeare's Twelfth Night. What do these two statements have in common? Read below.

In a conversation between the fools Sir Toby and Sir Andrew, Sir Andrew says,
"Methinks sometimes I have no more wit than a Christian or an ordinary man has. But I am a great eater of beef, and I believe that does harm to my wit." (Act 1, sc. 3)
Beef does harm to the wit? If Sir Andrew is to be trusted, that would mean my wit has decreased significantly. Hmm...maybe my waistline has increased proportionally to the decrease in my wit. Hopefully not. It could just be that Sir Andrew doesn't know what he's talking about. That's probably it. Whew! I've still got a hamburger patty in the fridge with my name written all over it.

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


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,
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.)
*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."