November 11, 2011 § Leave a comment
I’m too wrung out today to write anything at length — there’s a fledgling headache rattling around behind my eyes and in my sinus cavities that is going to metastasize into a full-on brain-clamp the moment I leave work, I just know it — but here’s some scrumptious travel writing that I don’t want to lose if I can help it.
“In Cantonese cooking, nothing edible is sacred. It reflects an old Chinese mercilessness towards their surroundings. Every part of every animal- pig stomach, lynx breast, whole bamboo rats and salamanders – is consumed. No Hindu cows or Muslim pigs escape into immunity by taboo. It is the cuisine of the very poor, driven to tortuous invention. Most Chinese still eat only fourteen pounds of meat a year, and many survive at little above subsistence level. In the rowdy, proletarian Wild Game Restaurant, I interrogated the waitress for anything I could bear to eat. But she incanted remorselessly from the menu: Steamed Cat, Braised Guinea Pig (whole) with Mashed Shrimps, Grainy Dog Meat with Chilli and Scallion in Soya Sauce, Shredded Cat Thick Soup, Fried Grainy Mud-puppy (‘It’s a fish,’ she said) with Olive Kernels, Braised Python with Mushrooms …. If I wanted the Steamed Mountain Turtle, she said, I’d have to wait an hour. And Bear’s Paws, she regretted, were off. I had turned suddenly vegetarian. I played for time by ordering python broth, then glanced furtively round at the main courses on nearby tables, hoping for escape; but their occupants were bent over opaque stews where dappled fragments floated anonymously. Around us the windows were glazed with pretty pictures of the animals concerned : deer and cats wearing necklaces. The waitress tried to be helpful. ‘What about Dog Meat Ready to be Cooked Earthen Pot over Charcoal Stove on Table?’ I guessed in desperation: ‘It’s too expensive.’ ‘Then I recommend Braised Wildcat.’ ‘Well…’ I glanced at a domestic tabby squatting on the veranda beside me. The waitress followed my gaze. ‘It’s not that.’ She tried to explain it. It had nothing to do with real cats, she said. She wrote down the Chinese character for it, which I couldn’t read. In the end, hoping that it was a fancy name for something innocuous, I heard myself say: ‘One braised wildcat, please.’
But the soup was a meal in itself. It came in a python-sized bowl, and beneath its brown liquid lurked sediment of what appeared to be white chicken meat. It tasted fishy. The darker flecks might been skin. I excused myself by reflecting that pythons (although I had never known one) were less endearing than lambs, which I had eaten often. The tabby had squirmed under my table. It looked scrawny but dangerously edible. In fact I had the impression that almost everything bere was in peril. When somebody brought a warm flannel for my I was half prepared to munch it. What else was nutritional, I wondered? The mosquitoes? The curtains? It occurred to me that should I fall from the fourth-floor stair-well. The cat was still under my table when its braised compatriot arrived. I lifted the lid to reveal a mahogany-coloured flotsam of mushrooms and indistinguishable flesh. A pair of fragile ribs floated accusingly on the surface. I ate the mushrooms first, with relief, but even they were suffused by the dark, gamey tang of whatever-it-was. The meat was full of delicate, friable bones. I did not know if my faint nausea arose from the thing’s richness or from my mind. Several times my chopsticks hit rounded, meat- encircled fragments, like miniature rolling-pins, which resembled legs. I smuggled them to the cat under the table, as a melancholy atonement. “You don’t like your wildcat?’ The waitress was peering into the bowl, disappointed. ‘I’m rather full.’ I smiled feebly, picking the python out of my teeth. But she seemed to understand my diffidence, and stooped down to sketch me an exonerating picture of the whatever-it-was. She drew what looked like the illustration of an Edward lear Limerick : a lugubrious, four-legged ellipse, with a face either cross or upset. But it was too late : I had already eaten it. And when later I showed an English-speaking Cantonese the word she had written, he translated it “elephant-cat” or “cat-fox”, and shook his head, nonplussed.”
— Behind the Wall, by Colin Thubron
October 18, 2011 § Leave a comment
1. You guys! I made the first ever donations in my life as a working class adult!
- 50$ to Elizabeth Warren’s election campaign: Do you see this woman? Do you see her smacking around U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Timmy Geithner? Laying down an impassioned, inspiring defense of taxation and redistributive justice? Rustling up three million dollars in third quarter donations to Scott Brown’s one? This Vanity Fair profile is a great article about her specifically and the special interests coalition massing against her in general.
- 50$ to 89.3 KPCC Southern California Public Radio: I don’t know how many times I have turned on my car radio and felt my eyes begin to tear in abject gratitude that one radio station out the scores in Southern California is produced by people with brains. Everything else just brings my teeth together, it’s so vapid. /humorless pedant
2. Interview with Northwestern law lady is set for November 7th. Puking with nervousness already. As I was saying to a friend, how am I supposed to talk about my passion for PI and my outrage at the appalling income inequality in this country to a partner at the sixth largest corporate law firm in the country? Sheeeee-yit.
3. Now that all us fannish folk are moving on and up, it’s very odd to think that we still have this common background. “Hey, remember when we spent our youths writing fanfic about soccer players and effeminate Korean popstars? And now we’re doctors, lawyers, epidemiologists, professors, and nationally-famous journalists with four-digit twitter followings?” I mean really. It’s delightful and also jarring.
5. Notes on various books I’ve been reading: Barbara Demmick’s Nothing to Envy robbed me of an entire night’s sleep. After reading the first parts of it I laid in bed for about six hours, feeling aghast that such a regime still exists in the world today. Grim, grim, grim. This book affirms my fervent belief in capitalism and the right of man to free enterprise — tempered by the understanding, of course, that government still has the responsibility of regulating industry and minimizing the costs of capitalism (cf. Karl Polanyi’s Great Transformation). Particularly horrific details: “Kim Jong-il and his father are men too,” a classmate tells one of Demmick’s protagonists, after she (the protagonist) has her looks and grades evaluated by visiting party officials, and was judged unfit to be taken away to live in compounds around the country, where the government was rumored to keep other young girls to whom Kim Jong-il presumably dispensed his favors. Teachers exhorting six, seven year old students to “be grateful for the patronage of their great leader” while the students were starving to death. People picking individual rice grains out of mud to cook and eat.
I also reread Dillard’s The Writing Life and was both encouraged and discouraged to find that all of her neuroses can quite correctly be diagnosed as identical to mine. Now I’m working through the Portable Dorothy Parker and feeling wowed. Parker writes this incredible, stinging dialogue — I imagine sparring with her in real time was like being whipped, incessantly, with a willow switch — and there’s all this other great stuff too, astute commentary, world-enlivening detail, horrible snivelling characters, devastating irony. She is, however, something that I constantly have to take a break from, because the density of the writing and the personality traits that typify her characters tire me out. Unfortunately, Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace is much less compelling.
6. Three-year anniversary! D’awwwwww.
The itinerary in Chicago, which I’m leaving for this Saturday: Second City showing on Saturday night, a belated birthday dinner somewhere or other, a Blackhawks game on Tuesday evening with E., and a showing of 50/50 during one of the in-between time slots.
A creature of distinguished cuteness made itself known to me yesterday night.
“I’m always pretty warm because I’m a sock” — Mr. Sock, 11:36PM, 10/17/11
To the best person I know.
7. Additional reading: How Friends Ruin Memory: the Social Conformity Effect (Wired). A Dirty Business: New York City’s top prosecutor takes on Wall Street crime (the New Yorker on the Galleon Case–thrilling reading). Massachusetts Tries to Reign in its Health Care Costs (New York Times).
August 16, 2011 § Leave a comment
The meanest brownie recipe that I’ve ever sunk teeth into is a corker that calls for a pound of butter to be poured into a pound and a half of chocolate. A brownie whipped from a batch like this one has the heft and solidity of a marble slab and can probably be used to knock people unconscious before being carved up and set out on a nice china saucer and eaten with great lipsmacking satisfaction as an apres dinner treat. I halve the butter to two sticks — the original recipe called for a pound of butter, what? — and usually put one or one and a half cups of chopped walnuts. Lacking walnuts, pecans will also work in a pinch.
Ina Garten’s Outrageous Brownies
makes 20 large brownies
1/2 pound unsalted butter, or two sticks / 8 ounces
1 pound plus 12 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
6 ounces unsweetened chocolate
6 extra-large eggs
3 tablespoons instant coffee granules
2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups sugar
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups chopped walnuts
Melt butter, the first pound of semisweet chocolate, and the unsweetened chocolate over simmering water. Do not cover. Stir but do not beat together eggs, coffee, vanilla, and sugar. Stir the warm chocolate goo into the egg mixture and allow to cool to room temperature.
Sift 1 cup flour, baking powder, and salt. Add this to the cooled chocolate mix. Toss walnuts and 12 ounces of chocolate chips with 1/4 cup flour, then add this too.
Pour into baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes at 350 degrees. Take out and rap smartly. Pop back in and bake for another 15 minutes.
Retract before brownies become miserably burnt. Wait for it to cool in fridge. When done, pounce.