Thursday, November 28, 2002

It's all about food.

It's All About Food
The Longest Entry I'll ever write, with tons of links.

I got a job at Target. If all goes well, I start Monday.

It's Thanksgiving, and I'm in hiding.

I had planned to spend the holiday up in the mountains with Dustin, not because that's really where I wanted to be, but because he asked me to come visit and I judged that town would be the most out of the way I could get. The idea of spending a holiday weekend reading comic books tucked in somewhere warm and unbothered by much appealed to me at first, but the more I thought about the visit the more I realized I might get in the way of other events just under the surface up there in Morristown. It was better that I was left without a ride, with no way up into Appalachia this week.

My two weeks of oddness earlier in the month in Nashville put that town out of the question, not that I wanted to spend the holiday there anyway.

I had thought about going to Augusta to eat with some of my father's family, but I've had little contact with them since I moved back South.

I suppose I could have managed Brunswick if I really wanted too, but my Grandparents aren't very happy with me at the moment. I was the one who got the education, who was supposed to inspire everyone else to go to college. Instead I've moved back home and got a job in retail again - and they're at a loss with me suddenly. I've disproved their dearest-held beliefs about how blue-collar Americans are supposed to get ahead. This makes them rather cross with me.

I've been invited to eat in my aunt and uncle's neighborhood, and the idea is tempting. Instead I'm using them as a front. I've told everyone that's where I'm going, but I have no intention of actually attending. Hopefully everyone will assume I've eaten dinner with someone else, and I'm not going to disabuse them of the notion. I like Thanksgiving, but I just don't feel like the bother this year. I hate lying about where I'm going, but if people found out that I was *gasp* skipping a holiday, they'd freak out. Honestly, it's not depression, just that this feast would seem like an anticlimax after all the other good food I've had this year.

I've had Thanksgiving over and over again this year out of season, meals that make the Turkey and gathering today seem redundant. How could anything I had today compare with other meals I've eaten, the food that's passed over my tongue from friends and family at moments when they couldn't understand how important the meal was to me? No one understands how important the little feasts were to me, because I almost never get around to writing about them. I have a passion for food. Maybe I can explain it better by making a list.

Meals that I was thankful for in the past year:


Aral made Pad Thai for Tasha and I , or maybe it was Gretchen who was with us. Aral's cooking always knocked my socks off, and I probably would have lived my entire life without knowing good Pad Thai without her. She made everything herself but the noodles, and I could smell the cooking through the whole building when I came home in the afternoon. Noodles, bean sprouts, peanuts, cilantro, limes. Garlic in there somewhere, with fried tofu and ginger and soy sauce. The tastes so foreign and delicious jumped all over my tongue, made me eat almost more than I could bear, and yet were kinder to the stomach than many things less tasty. I would sit on the uncomfortable chair so that Aral and her guest had the couch, and we'd drink beers and concentrate on the very fine food while the guest talked about whatever. The living room was lavender and blue and teal, and Mr. Puck would hunt our water glasses. It took Aral all day to make her Pad Thai and when I left Boston, I left her my Wok because I couldn't bear to think of trying to cook in it after she had made her Pad Thai with what I now regarded as a holy instrument. Before I left, she taught me how to make fried tofu, but it's not even close to the same.


I had taken that job at Dunkin Donuts on the side - mostly because in addition to cash, the place provided me with a free meal a shift, croissant sandwiches I made myself with double helpings of bacon and ham. But that's not what I really remember February for.
I was dating James, and he took me to China town for my first Dim Sum. The foods were off a cart and at table manners of those around us quite different from anything I'd ever witnessed before. I had a fried scallop something, lighter than anything people from the South could fry, amazing. I was the only white person in the restaurant for a while. Later James took me to a bakery and I had lotus pastry for the first time, and when I asked how they made the filling, James said "They take pollen and do to it what bees do" I almost said "THEY PUKE IT UP!?!", but luckily I realized he meant that they sugar it. Close call, and you'll note that my reaction did not make me stop eating the pastry - lotus has become one of my favorite fillings.


Dustin and I spend one very odd night chasing affordable Middle Eastern cuisine around Boston with our electric-colored hair. We wind up at a place near Simmons, a place I also took Sara when she had been in town a few months before, a place I had eaten with Jennifer, with Ford, with Ryan, years ago. I marvel at how time laps one happening onto another, layering them so with memory quite accidentally as I eat what I always have, pork cured with apple cider vinegar, wrapped in flat bread with vegetables and a sauce. I have to pick out the raw tomatoes. It's called Schwarma, and it reminds me of other things when it's passing through my mouth. The meat is spicy sour chewy delicious. Outside it's cold and Dustin and I walk back through the night and it's odd to have his shape beside me, walking home this way as I always do, but not alone. Later in the trip I'll accidentally rub pepper oil into one of my eyes while trying to make what turns out to be an abysmal chilies rejenos. Well, what else can you expect from March?


Marching in DC, with very little sleep and nothing on my stomach but Luna bars and soda. Later my friends devour my emergency stash of protein I take on trips, eating my tuna and power bars and candy with nuts in it, but I'm so happy to see them I don't care. Sunday morning Kati, Dust, Michael, Will and I are in a car - wait, no that can't be right - how would we have all fit? Anyway, we ended up somewhere out in the Virginia countryside at an Asian bakery that morning. We have doughnuts and cookies of a superior quality, and I get a little bag of sesame seed balls filled with lotus. I give one to Kati and she says "that's altogether unlike anything else I've ever tasted" she likes it. I'm surrounded by friends and the smell of fresh bread. There are hugs and little cookies shaped like men. This is a feast too, just as good as any other. Later that day there's a much more formal Dim Sum in DC than in Boston. Mat, Emily, Devon and Erin are there, and the company is the feast here, much more important than the food. I haven't the heart to tell them about my bakery experience, I randomly still dream of the sesame balls.


Tea with Kati and Michael is better than the food at the Harvard faculty club. I also recall that we went to the Brown Sugar Café, which knocked their socks off.


I eat piles of food at my Grandfather's, but the best of all these things is the fried brim. You put the tail in your mouth to get the bones off, and the meat is so soft and flaky white and everything that is good and fresh and healthy in the world. My Grandmother takes me to Archie's, where I have eaten many times since I was very tiny. Archie's menu says: We are good. We are polite. But we are not fast. Also on this trip, Underdown takes me to Waffle House, and I swipe the menu for Aral, to show her I'm not making up the $0.99 egg sandwiches. Cairy and Michael and Molly with me, out drinking and restaurant hopping.


I eat the fabulous produce my Grandfather gave me, and then I exist on hummus and crackers, emptying my cabinets slowly and methodically. There's tea with Josh, and a walk where we poke at a dead squirrel with a stick. I boil peanuts in ninety-degree heat, and squish their delectable salty-warmness against the roof of my mouth like little pieces of heaven. It makes me feel like I'm eating the food of my childhood so I can crawl back into that skin again. I make one pie after another in my unemployed state, and Aral and I compete with our cooking to heights unimagined by folk with jobs. We get drunk and high on our states of laziness, and no one comes to call.


The world breaks open - and - dinner with Josh, dinner with Jennifer. Aral's unbirthday feast of Indian food with Sarah from Seattle, which gives me a proper goodbye to my favorite restaurant in that town. In Atlanta, a welcome back dinner of shrimp and everything else, perfect, unreachable by other mere things people dare to call "meals". Grilled foods again in my diet, because cooking is too hot to be done inside. Dragon Con stuck on at the end, a haze of alcohol and sweets and friends all around me again, surprised faces and hugs and party, party, party. Goddamn.


Nashville, where my father buys me barbecue, proper barbecue for me means pulled pork on a bun, smokey juicy sweet with cole slaw, bought from a dingy little grocer's deli. Cola, dill pickle flavored potato chips. I teach my sisters how to shop at the health food store, and I realize Sara is following me down this path of food association, eating her pomegranates and humus and odd foods for fun, taking a joy in rolling odd fruits and foreign delights around on her tongue as if they were gold. Well, maybe it’s genetic. Right before I leave there's La Siesta with Cairy.


A meal with Dustin's family where everything seems surreal to me, American cuisine viewed in fractal form from a month spent eating standing up in my parent's kitchen. Back in Georgia, I make too many cakes again, too many pies. This is the Southern response to grief, cooking, and I can't seem to stop myself. There's a real feast again though, at my Aunt and Uncle's neighbor's, where there's a pork roast so tender it falls apart in its own juices. There's cornbread and collard greens and creamed sweet white corn and lima beans. We eat all this in large shallow bowls where the juices can properly run together. There's red wine to go with all this and I nearly fall over, it's so good. It's one of the top meals of the year, and the house is full of children and family and everything seems right with the world for a few hours.


Now, at the end of the year, all these meals seem to mix together in my mind. If I could construct my own Thanksgiving table, it would have things from all these meals. A heaping wok of Pad Thai would sit quite happily next to the peach buns I had last week with Winn, and barbecue from my father could be eaten with the mango Lahssi Sarah from Seattle had in Boston. Tea from Cambridge with brim caught in a South Georgia creek , pork collards with Quesadillas, Schwarma with banana pudding and my mother's favorite brand of strawberry Popsicles. Fried okra and nan and pinwheel and doughnuts and the French Onion soup my aunt made all the way from scratch. Lemon pepper chicken with broccoli like I make for myself, and pork chops smothered in onions and peppers. Aral's fried tofu and Andrew's party treats. Thai and Mexican and Indian and Southern and Processed American with Italian pasta and French pastry. I am Thankful for all the things I have received this year, yes I am. I am even more thankful for the people I shared these meals with. Happy Holidays, everybody.

Thanksgiving 2000

Thanksgiving 2001

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