Sunday, September 27, 2009

Lily Eats

In emergence, October

“How might we be able to see which foods were selected by taste and which by necessity?”

--Alan P. Outram, Food: The History of Taste

The night I cooked all the plants in our house and drank white wine. Chickpeas, crisp roadside romaine, a pale tomato, a half-pepper, tough white onions. All of it in olive oil and paprika and black pepper, with shredded carrot on top beginning to rot. It wasn’t my wine, it was Chelsea’s, and it wasn’t my pepper but my father’s, and I paused every other bite to wonder—if my brother who had already been to jail would now go to prison, if just having a pineapple was enough to constitute dessert, or if I needed to actually cut it up. The food, so clean it was almost bland, and the wine could have been anything. I had just spent one hundred dollars on a good knife, which was the exact price I had decided a good knife would be, and it was so close to winter I was ready to mince the ends of the table, my bedsheets, more onions.

I had been in the habit of eating alone, which means not really eating but feeding while doing something to neglect how human one is. Like crying all over the table, if that embarrasses you. Usually I read. First I had tried with a cookbook: scanning vegan po’ boy recipes for new flavors, or love, or trochees. Then some book I had long associated with the autumn—about orphans and apples and how many life spans can outlast one author if they’re really trying. Then I couldn’t read, couldn’t even eat really, which was rare for dinner and I was no closer to full. Chelsea ate from rust-colored pottery in the next room, and shifted around piles of laundry, and at the plate said, “This is good,” even though it wasn’t, but she was right.

If I were going to ever be full I would have moved to it by now. The glass of wine was low and moist, and I gnawed at the end of a carrot-head. I hadn’t made love in so long that I slept with my windows shut and my own body barely a novelty. I was eating, and so would survive. I was eating, and so knew as little as I could about survival. Later, I would be hungry again, rouse my bed and make a fuss about almonds and women, the seasoned cast-iron, the fence that feeds us all with a good view of our neighbor’s yard. Yes, this will be green grass. Yes my bed deep and metal, and the function of bread far away. Yes how we dream.

The fall had been winter not long before, and I had hardly noticed when it birthed and birthed. But here was squash to the table, and new pumpkin, and my mother again, grim, again bailing water from my brother’s boat. On a pile of work clothes and straight dialogue and work, pancakes. If there were chickpeas to tell if I was coming out of pleasure or need. If there were chickpeas and there were.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Adrian Eats

Autumnal Equinox

It was Sunday, almost a year ago now, when Greg showed up for dinner. Sweeney and I were busy erecting fly traps around the apartment with a combination of sugar water and resin. The flies had seemingly moved in permanently, and thirty of them sat slurping the water with their proboscuises on our kitchen counter. I abandoned the task to take out the trash, but as I made my way toward the dumpster, a box-edge from inside the sack tore into my leg, mid-step. I left a trail of blood to our front door, and panting, said, "I don't know what happened." Sweeney ran to the store to get Band-Aids and I was sure he'd get Raid, too, though I was still banking on the sugar water. Flies buzzed around me in the silence of the empty apartment. The season was just beginning to cool, and I stood on the patio, letting my wound air. Then I remembered the laundry: it was soaking wet in a washing machine, and the laundr-o-mat closed at four o'clock on Sundays. So bleeding, ran across the street and started shoveling the wet laundry into a basket. "Your shit was done a long time ago," the laundress said, closing up shop. "I know," I said. "I'm sorry." A few other ladies in there who had been laughing before I walked in, were solemn now, scowling at me. "I'm sorry," I said again, using my bloody leg to open the door.

By the time Greg arrived, I had propped a large two-by-four between the walls sandwiching our patio, and was hanging the wet clothes over it. It was cold, but the mosquitoes were still out, and I was getting bitten like crazy. Greg's face in the gate: "Hey!" he said. "What are you doing?" I let him in and eventually Sweeney returned and my leg stopped bleeding. We sat at our table drinking tea, talking about Thoreau, and a number of domestic things I can't remember: a plan to make pumpkin soup, an oyster night. Greg had baked a loaf of bread that day, had been doing so in fact every Sunday since July (it was October) whether there was an occasion or not. We ate his round, brown bread in slices with butter. Without telling them I went quietly inside to make dinner.

Whole grain rotini cooked in lentil stew, cayenne and black peppers, so that the pasta was heavy, sloppy, brown. Red and yellow bell peppers, onions, sauteed, HI heat. Fried yellow squash, and jar of cold pumpkin butter to finish up the bread with.

Dark was really beginning to settle. My leg wound would definitely scar. I brought the pots and bowls of food outside, and though the men were surprised, we ate as casually as siblings. Halloween was approaching, and we'd hung cobweb on our gate the day before. Ray Ray, another neighborhood friend, came by on his bicycle, tooting it's horn. He saw us eating, fingered the cob web: "This place sure has gotten old..." We let him in, and he stayed for a while, telling us about his enormous mangoes from the farmers market, how he won't drink tea if its too hot to cold the cup. A Commedia dell'Arte clown, who's as much of a purist as he is a jester. Eventually he left, howling and caroling away on his bike. Darkness was complete.

Sweeney, Greg, and I decided we would do this every Sunday until the end of spring. We would imagine a meal. Merge our ingredients. Greg would make bread. It would still be warm from the oven. We would eat outside until it got too cold. In this way we would somehow avoid the winter, but of course we did not.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Lily Eats

A few in skin

How eating an onion you become unreadable: A skin ensconcing
sea, and once done, back to the sky--
Your mouth a meeting-place,
and the hot chemicals of your mind.
You were eating
when we met, and so untreatable
in the usual ways. By my hand,
I counted three hearts in the room
where you, and I, and the onion

One, that all living things

are in love, two, that they don't wish
to escape, three

That accepting this, they dine.
So now it is the steel moon
and refusal to starve
and all its following stars for you,
shrouded by your own body
on an alone porch, with your feet
swung high above the garden.
"Some people," you say
"are still eating in twos," so
with an onion you become unmistakeable.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Adrian Eats

“BREAKFAST is the only meal of the day that I tend to view with the same traditionalized reverence that most people associate with lunch and dinner. I like to eat breakfast alone, and almost never before noon; anybody with a terminally jangled lifestyle needs at least one psychic anchor every twenty-four hours… the food factor should always be massive: four Bloody Marys, two grapefruit, a pot of coffee, Rangoon crepes, a half-pound of either sausage, bacon, or corned-beef hash with diced chiles, a Spanish omelet or eggs Benedict, a quart of milk, a chopped lemon for random seasoning, and something like a slice ofkey lime pie, two margaritas, and six lines of the best cocaine for dessert… Right, and there should also be two or three newspapers, all mail and messages, two telephones, two notebooks for planning the next twenty-four house and at least one source of good music…”
- Hunter S. Thompson

There is a common bond between egg and potato. Indeed, their fates are divided, as it is possible that one would someday walk if incubation weren’t interrupted, while the other, left alone, would only continue brooding in the dark, its eyes pressed to the mulch. But if not for their shape, then their secrecy, does their union become apparent. “Probably one of the most private things in the world is an egg until it is broken,” says M.F.K. Fisher in Alphabet for Gourmets. And the potato, equally pallid and blank, requires an unearthing as violent as the cracking of a shell, and a reluctance just as innocent. They deserve to share a plate, then, especially in the service of breakfast. Not for health, as coupled they lack most nutritional tenets, but for the secrets they relinquish in digestion. And the secrets are many, and so are the mornings: so this is how Lily and I first ate.

In Bed-Stuy there was only one good cup of coffee, a cafĂ© called Choice on Lafayette and Grand, where you had to stand in a long noisy line, only to have your order pitched at you by the angry Francophones behind the register. I caught Lily leaving Choice one day with a hot cup in her hand. Deeply-browed, shaved head, great posture; we’d hardly spoken before, but her taste in establishments was enough. And she, or I, insisted we dine there together the following Saturday, and we did: displayed behind glass while we waited to place our orders were little, glossy tarts, pastel-blue macaroons, chocolate twists, filbert-and-crumb crusted salmon cobbler, platters of cooked vegetables tossed in a cool, vinegar salad, and plump, orangey croissants. Lily ordered the quiche-of-the-day (let’s say broccoli, mushroom and Swiss) and I, the spinach omelet with sweet cream and spiced potatoes, served atop hydroponic lettuce in a pastry box. We got an Americano each and ate from our laps on a bench outside. “Oh, God,” I said, taking a bite and again, “Oh, God.” Lily chewed graciously and we needed not mince words. This was every Saturday thereafter, and maybe the first time either of us had truly eaten since moving to the city.

There was a small, gray room at the end of our residence hall that smelled like the inside of a State Park bathroom, equipped with four electric burners and a filmy basin. It looked out onto a parking lot, from which we viewed a number of apartment fires over the year. We only ever had enough money to buy the same things when we made dinner together, which we began doing after that first Saturday: quinoa, a bag of spinach or a can of Indian spiced Saag, a carton of curried lentil broth, garlic, some bread, egg-in-a-hole, and the same canister of table salt we used through the first year and applied by pouring directly into our palms and rubbing the grains into the hot pan. Sometimes we had a pat of butter, and later my mother sent me a box of spices by post but she forgot the turmeric which was the most important one. It was not that we were poor—we were two floors apart in student housing—we sat on the floor and ate from our bowls because we wanted to. On weekday mornings, we’d make oatmeal the way my boss at the organic grocery up the street had instructed:

Radhames’ Special Oatmeal
1 Cup water
½ Cup whole milk 2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 Cup rolled oats 1 tsp. vanilla extract, salt
Bring water to boil in a small sauce pan. Add salt, 1 tsp. cinnamon, and vanilla extract. Stir gently. Add more if you want. The man himself would insist,“It’s all about the timing.” When bubbles start to form, pour in milk. Bring to boil again. Stir, slowly now. Add oats, turn heat to Lo and let sit for 5 minutes with a tight lid. Add rest of cinnamon at the end, and any nuts or dried fruit (just a raisin, a walnut or two), dislodge with a fork, twirl around and salt to taste. It should be rich and seeped with flavor. It should be obvious that it was cooked in a broth of love.

The morning after Lily quit smoking, as a consolation prize, we got up early to by tamales from a woman who sold them out of a shopping cart on Myrtle Avenue. It was drizzling, but a poncho had been fastened over the steaming husks, and we bought three. When fall came, there were the apple cider doughnuts at the farmers markets, the splurge on a fresh, brown egg or two; the weekend we visitedBaltimoreand D.C. and ate nothing but fancy Italian antipasti. Plus theice cream place on St. Marks with flavors like sesame and corn (we both ordered pistachio); and the innumerable faces outside the common kitchen, with our meager ingredients; and all of us studying literature. One night, Lily and I ran into the two quietest girls in our class on the street, and the four of us decided to get drinks. The quiet girls and I shared a pitcher of Bud, but for Lily, glass after glass of Jameson, and we grew louder. We shared a window sill that faced the table, and were carried off be each other, the girls in our wake. We laughed all the way back to her room and watched Shirley Templemovies and woke up in the morning—the most beautiful, rich November morning streaming through the thermal windows and I woke up in her bed and asked if she’d go on a walk with me. Arm in arm she read to me from Diane DiPrima’s Dinners and Nightmares, which she’d been carrying around in her coat pocket since I met her, and we knew something about food, and feeding, and the written instruction and seduction of such, and we knew something about New York City, the toasted alleys and gutted charms, and by the blessing of being nineteen, holding the conviction, all evidence to the contrary not withstanding, that nothing quite like this had ever happened to anyone else.

M.F.K Fisher says she writes about food because “like everyone else, she is hungry,” but also because at the center of all physical hungers are the psychic ones, too, and thus, necessarily, the consummation of them. It does not create the tension, but sharpens both personal and historical tension where it already exists. And it is a lens that Lily and I are looking through often. Lily the potato, and I, the egg.

Lily Eats

That she says, "Most of the tenet nutrients are missing"--because if you set an egg & a potato before some people they'd tell you they had everything they need. Not just as far as food, but general life-things. That if you've got eggs and potatoes, well, you've got that covered--& must have invited some of the good gods to your hearth. The next step is cleaning out the gutters and waiting hard for spring. We agreed for as long as we could about eggs, and for Brooklyn ate them, before one of us yelled something about health, and the other started talking about blackstrap molasses.

She came to see me in Baltimore, or we went together. It was playing nice: like how D.H. Lawrence calls an orgasm a crisis when really it means death. The hand making the food is sometimes only as important as the hand, sometimes the food. The sum-of-all-parts nights are what we call meals out loud. Chicken legs full of glass because Adrian shattered the too-hot baking dish by setting it in a too-wet sink, her hair piled on top of her head. Her sweetie who I almost call her husband drinking a beer behind her, reading with both hands, and an argument about Africa, and the culture, not art, of writing. Later we walked without him, and talked about our two cities like they were very different. Our two brothers who, since they had survived, might as well be discussed.

So we ate in the long row--how buses award three seats to the people willing to sit all the way in the back, next to the bathroom. And windowless smells like a latrine, surrounded by our own schoolbooks, becoming caught up, ate food from Baltimore--focacia, and hand-stuffed cannoli we had made with my father, listening to Judy Collins. Fontinella cheese and sun-dried tomatoes plumped in oil--food we would never seek out, but nonetheless ate well together. And no table, our commonalities the tunnel, and the dinner. We ate for so long and with such zeal that we couldn't remember which of us had introduced the other to caring about this stuff, that our homework was finished by the time the bus stopped, that we believed I was actually on my way back to New York. SO that "the nutritional tenets were missing," can she be surprised?, supposing we dined so well we left them behind, a cross marking the point of impact somewhere on the turnpike.