Saturday, May 26, 2007


A few weeks back, the Princess (remember her? Probably not; no one was reading this blog back then. Back to the Cast of Characters with you!) and I were on the bus to the library. I had started talking, why I don't know, about lizards.

lizard on rock

"I don't yike yizards," the Princess said. She hasn't yet mastered the [l] phoneme, although she is much better with [r] than most three-year-olds. (Linguistically, they're related. It's been a long time since freshman linguistics, so I can't tell you more than that, but I'm right.) The problem is, this is addictive. After a while you start asking her if she wants orange juice or yemonade, or telling her that the yibrary is two blocks away. "Yike" for "like" has become a common substitution in the house, if one is trying to be particularly cute or make a point.

"Why don't you like lizards?" I asked.

"They are scary and yucky and they taste bad," she said.

They taste bad?

The Wife and I just listened to a fascinating episode of Radio Lab while driving around Miami earlier this week. Radio Lab is an excellent combination of geekery and good audio production, made at WNYC, our hometown NPR, and available--for free--through iTunes and probably various other means of obtaining podcasts. Anyway, they were talking about the notion of the self, and how humans come to have it, and one of the things they talked about was how we have the ability to come up with abstract concepts. So we can look at a red thing, and understand red as separate from the other properties of it. We can put elements together--for instance, we can see a bird, and see a baby, and imagine a winged baby, a cherub.

I wonder if this isn't how we imagine food. We are able to assign qualities to it, in advance of tasting it. When someone says something tastes like cloves, I can imagine it, to a limited extent, because I can separate out the "clove-taste" element of a clove, as separate from the shape, the texture, the unpleasant sensation of biting down on one unexpectedly in your pumpkin pie, the way they feel when you push them into an orange. If someone tells me that a new food is bitter, or sweet, or floral, then I can think of it, and I know what it tastes like, maybe, a little.

How does the Princess know lizards taste bad?

What qualities is she able to assign to them, from her understanding of lizards? She has only seen them on television, and at the children's museum. Is it the smell? The fact that they are scaly? The fact that she is a little frightened of them?

camoflage lizard

Me? I don't know what lizards taste like. Everyone says chicken, but I think that's a lack of imagination. What I do know is I love the little lizards that seem to be everywhere I look right about now. I first saw a wild lizard the first time I went to France; they lay sunning themselves on the deck near the pool, just like we did. They are all over Florida, fast ones, ones with brown heads and black bodies and ones with speckles and even some green ones. They make this place seem magical. I love to watch them scurry away from our footsteps, to see them become still and hope I don't see them.

I yike yizards. Someday, I'll have to convince the Princess.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

I Got Married.

I guess she really is The Wife now, huh?

(That's me doing the dipping, and her laughing and desperately hoping my first act of marriage is not to drop her, on the roof of our reception space in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.)

The wedding was last Saturday, and it was fabulous. There were friends. There was family. There were explosions of drama--exes meeting, crazy relatives being crazy, lost cabs, flowergirl fits, etc. There were freight elevator rides, walks along the Brooklyn waterfront, and a solid hour of silence and singing and me crying the entire. freaking. time.

Oh yeah. And there was cake.

The blue things: cupcakes from Crumbs. The orange things up front: sweets from Sukhadia's. The assorted things in bowls--chocolate covered raisins, Lindt truffles, etc. The white thing up front: a gluten-free buttercream-iced vanilla cake (I let her pick) from Mr. Ritts in Philadelphia, where our family is from.

The food decision that the Wife and I made that defined the entire wedding for us was the decision to have all the food be vegetarian and gluten free. As I talked about in my ontology of eating post, we both have very good, very different reasons for eating the way we do. I have a strong ethical conviction that eating meat is bad (and she shares it partially), and she has a strong ethical conviction that eating gluten is bad for her (and I share it totally, for her). So there wasn't any meat laying around, although there was some cheese, since I still eat it; there wasn't any gluten served except in the form of cupcakes for the guests. (A gluten-free wedding cake was just too darn expensive.)

The problem is that no one liked this decision but us. My mother-in-law kept asking what we would serve the guests who don't want to eat gluten-free. An aunt of mine let us know that, since we asked for dietary restrictions, several of my family members eat meat, "though they'd be OK with fish."

God forbid if they knew that we almost served vegan cupcakes. (We did get a dozen from 'Snice for our vegan guests, and almost used them for all the cupcakes...but the vanilla ones looked healthy, and we knew that would scare someone off.)

Before the wedding, I wrote out a little list of what I wanted our wedding food to be about, in declining order of importance. It went like this:
  • Pleasure. I want the food to rock. I want it to be amazing. I want to eat so much my dress breaks from the strain of all of it. I want leftovers.
  • Politics. I want to not kill any animals for my wedding. I want what we eat to be as sustainably sourced as possible. I want Long Island wine and upstate goat cheese.
  • Convenience. I want not to have to deal with how it gets to the reception space. I want someone else to serve it so none of my bridesmaids have to.
  • Making People With No Sense Of Taste Who Are Scared Of Food Happy.

And you know what? We did it, in declining order of importance. Most of the food came from Tiffinwallah, which is the newest branch of the masterpiece that is Chennai Garden. The wine came from Vintage New York, which only stocks local wines, and the flowers (though not the goat cheese, sadly) came from the Greenmarket. All of it got delivered, and we hired a staffing agency to serve it to us.

And we ordered a goddamn gluten-free vegetarian lasagna and a bunch of roasted potatoes from Fairway for everyone scared of food. Because I may be pissed, but I can't hate them entirely.

So we ate fantastically, and in celebration. I spilled curry on my dress and we have about a million bottles of Standing Stone Riesling and San Pelligrino and very decent $8 sparkling wine waiting for us at home. We danced with each other, with our fathers and mothers (and even one grandfather) and wore fabulous dresses and did I mention I cried?

And you know, I think we convinced our families in the end. At the rehersal dinner, my dad turned to me as he ate his spare ribs and said, "It was very nice of you to allow your guests to have meat tonight." And he meant it. (The best part? The Wife and I had just chosen the restaurant. Dad was footing the bill.)

This is how we teach our politics. We live joyfully in them. We bring our spirits prayerfully or powerfully or however we are moved, and we are models for how we live the world we want. You want to convince people gay weddings are not Teh Evil? You send them to one, where they can witness two people joining together and see what is there at the base of it. (And we got married using vows from the 17th century, 'promising with Divine Assistance to be unto thee a loving and faithful wife.' Suck on that.) You want people to begin to eat a less dead-animal-filled diet? Fill them up on sukhi bhaji and grilled asparagus. You want to teach people how to party? Just party, man.

People keep saying things to us or our parents like, "It was the best wedding I've ever been to." "Now I really want to get married." "Quaker weddings are so amazing." Maybe they say this to all brides, I don't know. But I feel like this is a kernal of some change we have sent out into the universe, and I think I can watch it grow.

(All photos in this post copyright Closed Circle Photo. The photographer is not only a brilliant, brilliant lady, but a close personal friend AND my ex-girlfriend so don't touch her stuff. I mean it.)

Monday, May 07, 2007

three meals from the brink

Apparently I'm doing threes lately.

Look, my wedding is on Saturday. (Note to self: EEEEEEK!) Over the course of this week, I'm going to blog about it a lot--about my bachelorette party, about the catering decisions, and of course about all the fun femme details. And then when it's done, I'm pretty sure I'll blog from my honeymoon road trip from Key West to Savannah. (Got ideas for good veggie or GF places along A1A? We'll be needing them.)

But for right now, a brief look into my life...and dinners.

Dinner #1. Sous-Chef.

I'm the A-chef in the house. I cook a lot, I cook impulsively, and I'm bossy as hell. So when it's me and the Boy in the kitchen, I'm in charge. Chop this, I say. Get me that. No, finer. Do we have any of this? Stir the pot, I have to mix something. And he's good natured about it, and an excellent sous chef.

But I am le crazy right now. To the max. And so I'm letting the Boy take his turn as A-chef, every once in a while. And if he's smart, he picks the one cuisine where he is the acknowledged master: Mexican food. (Really, I don't think that's fair. Just because I don't have a food-professional Mexican grandma to call doesn't make me bad at cooking Mexican food. Hmph.)

There is something satisfying about being a sous. You aren't responsible for anything other than your single task. You cook the thing, you make it right, you don't screw it up. There's no big picture. Being a sous chef is about being in the moment, and letting everything else fade away.

chile relleño, rice and beans, chèvre
Chile relleño; arroz y frijoles; queso de cabra (that's chèvre for most of us)

The chile is stuffed with textured vegetable protein (we buy a bulk GF version at our food coop) rehydrated in tomato juice, sauteed tomato, and chopped ricotta salata, battered in beaten egg whites and cornstarch, and shallow-fried. The beans are pintos, which are more authentic than black beans for most Mexican cuisine, and they are sauteed with cooked rice, chopped shallots, and cilantro. The chèvre is just because who doesn't love chèvre?

2. Dinner #2. Peace

I live with a celiac. I know stomach distress. And I had it. The work. The pressure. Knowing everything I had to do between then and the wedding: the two papers, the problem sets for statistics, the interview for next semester's TA job. Learning how to walk in heels, doing seating arrangements, making sure someone can deliver the Indian food, getting to the Greenmarket to order the flowers. My digestive track gave out on me. Fix us, Emily, it said.

shoes, books, snap peas
Wedding shoes; homework; dinner

It's steamed white basmati rice, steamed snow peas, and wheat-free tamari with garlic and ginger. It was filling, and calming.

I'm doing other things to try to keep my body going over this next stressful patch. I'm hitting the probiotics hard: yogurt, kombucha, and these fabulous candy bars with lactobacillus in them that they sell at Whole Foods. I'm also cutting out uncultured dairy nearly entirely; like most human beings, I'm at least a little lactose intolerant, and I don't want to give my body anything additional to deal with.

Dinner #3. Impulse.

I walked in the door from class. I was in a good mood, cheerful about the impending wedding, the fact that it wasn't quite dark yet, and being done with a little more work. My Wife looks up at me from our couch, smiles, and says, "I just watched Alton make macaroni and cheese. Can we have it for dinner?"

I was in a good mood. "Sure," I said.

I then noticed that we were nearly out of, well, food. So I sent the Wife to the Yemeni bodega down the street for a half-gallon of milk (W: "The guy at the store thought I was you. Although I should know what to say to what he said." Me: "What did he say?" W: "Kay hai? Something like that?" "كيف حالك؟" "Yeah, that." "You say بحر.") and went through the cheese drawer. Turns out we had some really old gruyère and a little bit of cheddar. We also used up our last bag of Tinkyada spirals on it; I couldn't make extra like I usually do.

mac and cheese
Gruyère Mac and Cheese

This is actually a simplified version of my regular recipe. Boil pasta in one pot. Meanwhile, melt 2 tbsp butter in a large saucier, sauce pan, or something big enough to hold all that pasta once it is boiled. Add 2 tbsp cornstarch (wheat flour is ok, if you do that sort of thing). Let it brown slightly. Pour in...some milk. I didn't measure. About half a half-gallon, whatever that is. Whisk. Once it starts thickening, add a whole bunch of diced or shredded or crumbled gruyère and whatever other cheese you have in the house that won't taste nasty with it. When the cheese is melted through, dump the pasta into the sauce. Turn the heat off, stir, and pour the whole thing into a casserole. Run it under the broiler until the top looks crispety-crunchety. Makes many fewer servings than you would think, because everyone takes seconds. In fact, it's so good the blogger forgot to document it before she took her own serving.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Eating in Solidarity

This is the most banal post you could imagine in support of the immigration demonstrations today, but I had to write something. As anyone who has sniffed at my politics even briefly could probably guess, I fully support the right of undocumented immigrants to legalize their status without criminal prosecution. But I spent today in the library writing papers (incidentally, about migration), instead of out on the streets, so this is my food-blog gesture of solidary.

We eat the way we do because of migration.

Without migrants, South Asia wouldn't have alu gobi.
Without migrants, Britain wouldn't have chicken tikka masala.

Without migrants, Ireland wouldn't have colcannon.
Without migrants, America wouldn't have Guinness.

Without migrants, Italy wouldn't have tomato sauce or polenta.
Without migrants, America wouldn't have pizza.

Without migrants, Thailand wouldn't have sriracha.
Without migrants, America wouldn't have pad thai.

Without migrants, there would be no latkes on the Hanukkah table.
Without migrants, there would be no Hanukkah tables in the US.

Without migrants, Mexico might never have developed the wheat flour tortilla.
Without migrants, I wouldn't be writing this while eating guacamole soft tacos and salsa verde.

All migrations are not the same. But all migrations carry food with them. And if you like to eat, you damn well better like migration.

So come on. Stop deporting mothers with infants. Stop deporting teenagers to countries they don't remember and don't want to see yet. Stop breaking apart communities in the service of a policy goal which will never be met.

We live in a country of immigrants, and we eat the bounty of that every day. So we should be greatful, and we should be happy, and we should always be hungry.