Hearth

I don't remember what this is called.

A work in progress: one of the last meals Mom ever made. I’d gotten…whatever this is because I thought it looked cool. She thought I was an idiot.

Mom never cooked with measuring cups, or really any tools that told her how much of anything she was using. And diligently, I’ve more or less inherited her style.

My brother-in-law took me grocery shopping on Saturday. We spent 200 USD and the fridge at this apartment was full for the first time I can remember. He seemed astounded by it all but, admittedly, it was at my instigation. This was the way I used to live: shopping happened every couple of weeks and it was for a family of five. A full house, if you will.

I guess I forget that now it’s just the three of us, and we’ve been eating most of our meals outside the home.

Which means I usually eat garbage. While it’s something you think you’re aware of, it struck home again that eating and eating well are such a privilege: food and time are both money.

But I’ve been fortunate enough to have the time lately, and, thanks to my sister’s job, have the purchasing power to buy soybean paste and fresh noodles, fruit and dark greens.

So I’ve been trying to remember what I know (knew?) about cooking. Like I said, I’ve inherited my mother’s style, but I can’t actually remember all that she taught me. And by that I don’t mean just her recipes or any specific dishes, but the things that I learned without her speaking: how her kitchen varied wildly from efficient to scatterbrained; how we used to eat burned meat because she was checking her email and not the stove.

I do wish I remembered more of her recipes. Not really the fancy stuff, but the simple things I sort of vaguely recall from when I was a kid and she’d make dinner for us after coming home from work. She never showed me these things really: there was always time. It wasn’t like either of us were going anywhere.

Strangely, even though I associate most of the cooking with Mom, I think my sister and I learned more specific things from Dad. Mom didn’t suffer fools in her kitchen, but Dad enjoyed teaching us: it meant he didn’t actually have to do any of the foot work. Instead, he could direct us around while we did all the chopping and stirring. That was probably actually the ideal food prep experience for him.

So it’s Dad I remember whenever I make fried rice, following his orders as he (figuratively) stands behind my shoulder and advises me on how much oyster sauce I should use. For Mom it’s more a measure of capturing her spirit. She was an infinitely pragmatic cook: always adapting to circumstance and incorporating new tricks. And even when she found a recipe, she never followed it exactly.

So I’ve been trying to find Mom while I have a fridge full of things to practice on and two or three other people who are forced to eat my results. So far, it’s going well. Most meals have been frankensteined from what I remember and a quick glance online to see what other people are doing. Using this method, I’m proud to report that I have not accidentally perpetrated a poisoning.

I’m sure, at least, that my parents would be proud of that much.

(Mexican) Food for Thought

No, I promise you this is not turning into a food blog (and because I know several friends of mine actually have food blogs: there is nothing wrong with a food blog, I’d just be very bad at keeping one) but meals are worth mentioning occasionally. Especially since we so often break bread with our friends. Or, in this case, tortillas.

La Esquina: the Corner deli that can’t really be described as a corner deli

I have literally spent the summer living down the street from this place and it always piqued my interest. Problematically, I’ve always been too poor to try it, but hey: in a few days I’ll be back in Jersey and I’ll probably never live around the corner from it again. Carpe diem may as well apply to restaurants if you use it to justify anything at all in your life.

Eating out front. Warning: view contains Agent Smith

Eating out front. Warning: view contains Agent Smith

Agent Smith and the Laurasaur indulged me in my fancy, and we made a fine trio in the outdoor dining area. The evening was deceptively cool: you could almost forget that New York City is, in fact, a circle of Hell in the summer months. And the food itself made a decent excuse to gather.

There’s nothing quite like sharing a meal with friends. I am by no means a food critic, but everyone agreed that the yucca fries were quite palatable. We even broke the final piece into three, so as to limit any guilt one might feel for being the rat bastard who steals the last fry. That said, not all stealing feels wrong. There is no greater pleasure than snatching bites from another’s plate, as long as the said other returns the favor.

Oh, stealing and looting: such are the true hallmarks of friendship. And conversation, I suppose. Speaking a common (metaphorical) tongue is so important. This isn’t limited to, or commonly even delineated by, a shared spoken language but often has to do with gesture and allusion: an entire culture of verbal and non-verbal cues that build context.

How fortunate we are to meet each other, as friends. To share enough cultural context that we may find a halfway point when we talk about dance crazes or after school shows and know what the other actually means. To make running jokes about non-Euclidean geometry and how, because of it, clouds drive us insane.

And it’s almost awe-inspiring to think of the very act of communication it takes just to make an H.P. Lovecraft joke. It isn’t just that we’re forming words, those emissaries that vibrate their way through the air, it’s that on the other side the listener receives the whole idea of the thing—the shape of concept. It’s this that we pass to one another, and not just the words themselves.

This is the true power of language, and it’s not even something that we ever think about when we’re actually communicating with each other. To think: to tell a potty joke you’re using the same means your ancestors did to share ideas across empires—to create the ties to build the empires themselves.

And what goes on between any group of friends is more than a handful of casual words or gestures. Communication is so much more substantial than that: it exists almost tangibly, and it’s comparable the carne and the chile and the mole and the fritas we passed around. The food, the language, the mores and the cultural references: these make our common tongue.