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.