Saturday, December 3, 2011

Lily Eats

What I've Been Eating

Kale sauteed with sesame oil and red pepper flakes, toast with olive taupenade and avocado, dal from a can when it’s last minute and I’ve been reading about Indian cooking all day in a novel. I am hungry for what the main character eats as he grieves for his father. Pad See Ew from a restaurant that—from the outside—looks too dark to be true. Shepherd’s pie with lentils instead of lamb, cooked in the long afternoon before a show in our apartment. I mashed the potatoes with a whisk and said, “You know, this is fitting, because wherever I’ve lived, I’ve made this for my favorite people.” I didn’t realize it until I said it but it’s true, it’s a total tribe food. One of the members of a band set to play that night quietly came up to me and told me it was a relief to eat something grounding, because they’d been on tour and one of the most disconcerting aspects was “eating garbage.” All my life I think this will be one of my favorite sights: people waking on futons and coming in from the cold and eating all at different times, standing around, something hot.

Polenta with butternut squash, fig compote, and caramelized onions with my father, talking about family or architecture or the divine coincidence that always seems to color his life. Lamb stew with him near the Inner Harbor, in a restaurant whose windows he once repaired. He got a Guinness which reminded me of Adrian referencing “the milkshake of beers,” which in turn, reminded me of the afternoon she, Sweeney, Lyndel and I split steaks and talked about what it means to be able to write a sentence. Drunk well before dark, practically able to watch the grass grow at Pratt, that spring was so lush.

Sal and I made “magic bars” one afternoon, modeled after the ones at a cafe down the street, layering coconut, smashed graham crackers, chocolate chips and evaporated milk. Talking about variations. Talking about food with unattractive names: Dump cake. Garbage soup. Later, I re-read parts of Dinners and Nightmares and cringed for the thousandth time at the name “menstrual pudding” applied to a tomato-potato dish. I ordered two raw oysters at the dark wooden bar where Dave tends bar and had my feelings about them confirmed—It’s not the taste of oysters I like, necessarily, with which I’m actually always somewhat repulsed. Rather, they give me a dizzy, elevated feeling in my stomach and my head. It’s like taking a big mouthful of the sea and falling in love at the same time and trying to hold it all in.

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Friday, November 25, 2011

Lily Eats

The year that I walked in on my love with another woman and I didn't want to taste a bit of turkey. In my hysterics I started to cook egg-in-a-hole, one for each of my friends, and I didn't stop until I could be calm again. They played Twister and watched a movie about Sparta while I cooked in Morgan's big, wooden kitchen, the kind perfect for wearing socks. The year that I left Baltimore and came back and made twiced-baked potatoes for everyone in Sam's living room, took Polaroids of pretty girls with a glass of whiskey in one hand and a glass of wine in the other. The years I got motion sickness just from seeing my family. It was supposed to be a potluck, so Ben cut up tiny cross-sections of a Snickers bar, impaling each one on a toothpick. Allie was already a vegetarian but brought homemade pigs-in-a-blanket. The year that I got bronchitis and stayed vegan and stayed home and didn't want to celebrate anyone's holiday. I invited my father over and I pulled my bed out to the living room because I couldn't stand staying in my own space any longer. "I just wonder what people did before antibiotics," I told him, trying to justify several months of relying on herbal remedies and eschewing conventional medicine. "They died a lot," he said, and within the week I'd gone to a doctor, gotten a prescription, and cleared up the lungs that had been wet for two months. Still I felt I had proven something to myself, perhaps just by virtue of being alive at the end of it.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Lily Eats

How To Eat Partly

"One of the saving graces of the less-monied people of the world has always been, theoretically, that they were forced to eat more unadulterated, less dishonest food than the rich-bitches."
--M.F.K. Fisher, How To Cook A Wolf

That is to say, what people have when they don't have money is friends, and what Adrian once referred to as "the tricks." That an onion can be baked and eaten alone, as a grit-restoring main course. That food assumes a kind of comrade's magic and lasts longer when shared. That you can subsist on certain things that would make anyone else feel malnourished and inhuman, and that you don't need nearly so much of those things other people require just to make it through the day.

For you it is nearly always a case of remembering that what you love (and have always loved) is real peasant food. The same lentil soup that's been on the stove your entire life, with whatever almost-rancid booze you happen to have thrown in for the last five minutes of cooking. The rice and beans with one onion split in half and cooked two drastically different ways. So that half of them are still as spicy as if they were raw, and the other half are nearly candy. Egg-in-a-hole, or egg-in-a-basket, the real pleasure of which is fried bread. You can smell the olive oil in your hair as you walk in the metered November wind to class. Spaghetti squash with hot peppers and the last tomatoes of the season. Vegetable stock with egg-drops and pasta, chickpeas and kale.

There are always more tricks. Visit your friend while he's tending bar on the night that you decide it's got to be red meat or starvation--he can't give you a free meal but he'll keep you in wine while you wait, and you'll be so bolstered that you'll decide it's worth the cost. Know when it has to be red meat, or has to be a raw oyster, or has to be a bowl of broccoli. Know when you can accept substitutes and when you must have what you're craving, or else your blood will stage a mutiny against you. Visit your friend at the farmer's market, and accept the excess produce her employers weigh her down with weekly: Brussel sprouts and apples and kale and fresh sage.

If you buy your roommate a pack of cigarettes one night, have him pay you back in veggie burgers. Your survival lies, as it always has, with the people around you. Remember that wine can be a fine meal if you want to feed your nerves instead of your stomach. Remember that it feels good to be full and good to be hungry. Know when you've exhausted something seemingly virtuous, like oatmeal, and allow yourself as many eggs as you need in its stead. Remember that to cook when it's cold out is as warm as you can be.

Sit in traffic for one hour waiting to eat falafel with your mother in your childhood house. Curl up in her bed and watch Home For The Holidays. She'll laugh uncomfortably when you tell her that Robert Downey, Jr. listed black tar heroin as the main contributor to his relaxation while making the film. You accidentally remind her that you weren't speaking to one another at Christmastime last year. We all have ways of ringing in the holiday season. After you eat, you ask her to teach you how to blow-dry your hair. Mainly because you are twenty-two and don't know how, and worry that if your car breaks down on the way home your hair will freeze. It's supposed to get below thirty degrees tonight, she helps you dry it and you get frustrated with how little it seems like you. You tell her you feel like an entrant in a pageant. Once, in New York, Robby saw you wearing make-up and said, "You look fine. Just like any other woman running for President."

Everything is honest about this food. The falafel is cold and your mother hates hot sauce and the kale shrinks so much in the soup that you think you should have added twice as much. The smell of the oil stays with you all through a lecture on The Taming of The Shrew, like a man's cologne does after a hug. You think that after all, staying alive is nothing more than taming one seeming beast after another. Your mother shrugs when you say you hate your manicured hair, and sends you off with two pans of brownies for your roommates, as though she knows which battles are the ones worth fighting. When to give into your peasant mind, and mind your essentials.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Lily Eats

What Adrian and I Ate Where

French crullers on the Brooklyn Bridge. We had taken my brother to Chinatown to catch his bus back to Baltimore and I was on the brink of something-missing-something so we decided to walk back to Pratt instead of taking the train. We talked about the writing program and our bi-coastal families with all the familiar roles--robbery, congenial fathers, drug addiction we could always understand but never possess. Apple cider donuts while we looked over hydroponic lettuces and dyed wool in the Union Square farmer's market. Gin martinis with lemon zest while Sweeney slept in the next room. A lobster roll in Red Hook, Brooklyn, not Red Hook, New York, with a view of the Statue of Liberty the tour buses never get. Onions baked in foil with goat cheese.

One summer she and Robert were in Oregon on a farm when Noah was living in his tent near Eugene, so I flew out and we all slept in the farm house for a week. When Noah had to leave again to go back to work, I started to cry and Adrian and I walked to get ice cream cones. That night we watched Twin Peaks and I was afraid to go to sleep, with all of open Oregon outside of the window. Green-bean casserole in New York when Sam and I were breaking up. Avocado smashed on melba toast with cumin while she read my tarot cards. Oatmeal with fried eggs on top in the Pratt dorm kitchens. Oh, I am the king of hot cereal! her boss, Rhadames, had told her when she asked for a good oats recipe working one afternoon at the natural-foods store. Once I moved back to Baltimore, I would write to her whenever I had a new oatmeal recipe or a new flame--try this with pumpkin, Adrian I think I'm in love again, try it with blackstrap molasses if you're feeling down, salt the oats but add blueberries to cook just a little at the end.

The night she put a hot pan of chicken straight into a wet sink from the oven and the glass shattered and so we had beer for dinner instead. We were arguing with Sweeney about Africa and Walter Benjamin and writing that lasts. Americanos at the Cafe Pick-Me-Up on the first night I felt I was starting to understand New York. We had already stayed at one coffee shop until it closed that night, we were in St. Mark's and had no intention yet of getting home. Vegan carrot cake our professor drunkenly insisted on buying for us at an end-of-term reading. Frittatas and baked apples and creole-seasoned chickpeas at potlucks in all kinds of cities.

A five-course raw-foods meal in New York when she got engaged--we both got dressed up in her clothes in front of her fiancee, who stayed home to eat fried chicken and drink juice out of the carton. The kind of meal that makes you say things you didn't even know you thought, things that you thought all along. You're the most beautiful woman in the world was one that came out just as I meant it, raw butternut squash soup with sage cream, a white wine from somewhere in Argentina. Our ultimate food date on the heels of her setting an ultimate kind of date with Sweeney: pink cheeks with the wine and the January weather and above all feeling fancy in a way not many people can, and no one can very often. A meal that clocked in at three hours but felt like it'd been incubating for four years.

Or meals that never counted as meals: Almond biscotti eaten on a hill in Fort Greene park while we wondered what in our lives could possibly stay together, and what was coming apart at its darling seams. Leftover salmon cakes. Bodega coffee that Adrian swore the clerk flavored perfectly, when what she really meant was very milky and very sweet. Cannoli that we made with my father in his old kitchen listening to Judy Collins, eaten later in the back of a bus back to New York. With Genoa salami, fontinella, olives cured in oil till they wrinkle, focaccia with dried tomatoes and rosemary baked into its face. We ate while the east coast (which could have been the world) was rushing by.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Lily Eats

"Drink!" he cried out. "Drink, eat!" And he roared with joy.*

To live with seven people after living alone--You must remember how people eat together, that people eat together. Maybe it's this instinct that's been driving me to cook pot after pot of soup on the hottest days. Soup feeds people. Lentils monastery style--with carrots, diced tomatoes and onions, a splash of cheap red wine which Sal, Amanda and I drank the remainder of. Amanda emptied out her "food bag," and we ate a plate of hors d'oeuvre: cheese, tomatoes, green grapes, apple slices. The soup was eaten as people filtered in, in spite of the heat. Then vegetable soup in cumin-seasoned stock. Chili with cinnamon and coriander in addition to all the usual spices, chili that in spite of its ornate bite, takes only a half an hour to make, from start to finish. Egg-drop soup in "no-chicken" stock which Dave swore was standard-issue Campbell's--kale, pink beans, parmesan.

I keep trying to offer food to Adam but I've yet to make anything that doesn't have beans in it, which he says he just can't eat. Onions, too. He said, It's terrible, they're things that everyone cooks with, peels clementines, Brent nodded along and said, I know what you mean, that's how I feel about fruit. I squinted, looking for some food I don't like and the only thing I could come up with is raw onions. It's not just the taste, which reminds me of a body growing sickly in the sun. They give me a headache when I eat them, and no one believed me except (I think it was) Chelsea, who said, Certain foods do that to me. Milk, does.

Val brought her canvas bags of produce and we went to Justin's house and cooked bean soup with kale in home-jarred chicken stock. She let a ham hock fall off the bone in the center of it, I added a lot of oregano. We listened to the A-side of a Fats Domino record and were both too afraid we'd break Justin's fancy turntable if we tried to flip the record. So we waited for him to do it and the soup was delicious and it was too hot for any of us to eat so we drank gin instead.

Breakfast as always with Dave. In six or seven years of dating-cum-friendship, walks in the park, fine dining in our cheap clothes, free drinks, free rides, and now being roommates, we have always eaten breakfast. I've caught his obsession with eggs in the morning, though "morning" is a term that means something different to the two of us. Eggs, though, are a way of reclaiming power, I want to feel like I woke up running. Things have been good but hard; I want a lot of energy reserves and then I want to use them all. "Every time I've ever been really heartbroken," I told Val, "I've started running. It's happened three times." I remember Noah saying something about tiring oneself out as a method of self-preservation. Your weary body keeps your head intact.

As soon as the first cold night of any year nestles itself between two hot days, I get sick. This time, I eat pad thai and drink coconut-tofu soup, fishing out huge chunks of broccoli with my fingers. My father insists that I cannot eat at home, he wants to buy me dinner since I just started classes today. I joke that it's my tenth year of college, and he says, "That doesn't matter," and can't help but tell the man at the Thai carry-out that it's his daughter's first day of school. We sit in the park by the Washington Monument and I think about how Donna's restaurant burned down and once I got hot chocolate there and watched them light the monument at Christmas and I tell my father that it's everyone's responsibility, their own heartbreak. "To hell with that," he says. "I'll break his legs." We walk back slowly, he gives me half a bottle of wine, I go home and don't drink it but instead make twig tea and fall asleep while it's still mostly too hot to drink. I reheat it on the stove at three AM and Dave walks into the kitchen, offers me some whiskey in much the same way my father offered to break a man's legs. I remember reading Stacie's "Cures for Love," and think, cures for a cold are not so different. Think, everyone has their remedies, everyone is fixed somehow, thank god for cold nights and for colds. They give people a chance to care for each other, pause, say, I really hope you aren't getting sick, would you like some, get some sleep.

*from M.F.K. Fisher's Serve it Forth.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Lily Eats

A hurricane is always a lady but that doesn't mean we can't be

Dear Adrian,

The real question is not--Should we be hunkering down?--but rather, What does hunkering down mean to us? I like to think that any disaster (personal or global) can be navigated the way M.F.K. Fisher would have dealt with it. Which is to say, grimly but beautifully.

What I have purchased: A bar of Newman's dark chocolate, a can of dal (the same kind sold at the Karrot), two small bottles of water, a larger bottle of wine, organic cotton tampons, banana chips--I agonized over a jar of artichoke hearts and ultimately decided against them not because they were unnecessary, but because I don't have any good bread to eat with them. The man at the liquor store let me charge the wine even though there's usually a minimum limit for credit cards. Everyone is feeling unusual.

I also filled two pitchers with tap water, got some bubble-wrap to stuff below my window where it doesn't-quite-close, boiled six eggs--and called again upon Mary Frances Kennedy for guidance (this time at the stove, where she's probably more comfortable being consulted): Bring eggs and water all to a boil at once, then immediately remove from heat and let the eggs cool completely in the water. Let everything rise and fall together, as everything will do outside whether we are prepared or frightened or arrogant or not. Better to be arrogant then, but cook the eggs anyhow. Hunter S. Thompson said, "Call on God, but row away from the rocks."

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Lily Eats

Breakfasts, in memoriam: Starting with school--Cheerios. Cream of wheat intentionally neglected to breed lumps. Blueberry danish till the boys pointed out on the bus they turned my teeth blue. Sour cream donuts. Bacon, egg, and smoked mozzarella sandwiches on crusted Italian bread. Almond croissants with hot chocolate in a wooden booth at the Pratt dining hall--early, too early for anyone else to be awake. Whole-wheat everything bagels with jalapeno cream cheese. Tamales from the woman with no permit who sold them out of a blue cooler on Myrtle Avenue. Pecan swirls six to a plastic tray split with my father. Eggs for the entire summer with Dave. White fish and wild mushrooms and tamari-roasted broccoli tucked back at Sam's parents. Chocolate cake with applesauce and Alix. Noah used to drink green juice in the morning to counteract the previous night's whiskey, I just ate toast. Cinnamon sugar donuts with sheets of crystallized cinnamon from a bakery in Linthicum, by Molly's where the vines took over the house until the neighbors stopped complaining. Her plants were taller than her self. Oatmeal with bananas or pumpkin or blackstrap molasses that fall I read that molasses was good for junkies AND anemics because it bolsters your blood and makes you sturdier. I felt happy, but it was too sweet. Granola, vanilla soymilk, and frozen wild blueberries when we decided we would all quit soon and should eat as much for free as possible. Things Adrian and I cooked together, always barefoot, always two steps to the side of each other, Sherry's raw muesli at the smooth wooden table, giggling, ready to jump on her bike. The time Sweeney and I talked and I didn't disagree with him necessarily and we both put hot sauce over everything. Things I ate because Hunter S. Thompson did and I had no idea how to be sixteen. Lazy-man pancakes the morning after parties in high school, which was basically pancake batter with apples or chocolate chips scrambled in a pan. It was delicious, and it fed all of us, and we had no desires yet to exceed that.