some thoughts on cooking

On April 2, 2019, I poached an egg, a feat I haven’t managed since. I don’t know where I’m going wrong. The water temperature? The size of the pan? What the fuck is a saucepan? I grew up thinking that a “pan” was shallow and a “pot” was deep. Do other people actually know how large their skillets are? Should I get a tape measure out the next time I go to make a frittata and if I do, do I measure from rim to rim or just the flat part? Was there a point at which a pan became a skillet and a small pot became a saucepan, or was a pan always a small pot and I just never learned because I studied bell hooks but never home ec? Cooking blogs imply no skillet is larger than 12 inches, but am I really only five skillets tall? That’s humbling.

I find it very hard to slice things. I know I’m supposed to be doing something special with my fingers so that I don’t cut them off, but I can’t hold the thing I’m slicing down if I’m curling my fingers into nubs. The Meryl Streep onion-slicing montage in “Julie & Julia,” a movie I watched once eleven years ago, haunts me.

The first time I used a corkscrew, I was 22 and trying to cook chicken cacciatore and I had to call my dad for advice while the peppers seared onto the pan. I guess that’s what you get for spending your college days drinking bottom-shelf vodka from a plastic bottle. Nowadays, I can usually get the cork at least half out before it falls in.

Grocery shopping is hard when you are the cart. Every couple of weeks I trudge home with half a liter of olive oil and four cans of beans in the Dagny Dover backpack I bought to look chic at the airport, dreaming of Costco and a car with a trunk.

I feel the same way about cooking that I do about Skee-Ball in that it brings me tremendous joy and accomplishment when it works out, but I could really live without other people watching me flail until I get the ball in the hole, manage to flip the pancake, etc. It’s inconvenient that you can’t very well ask your live-in partner to turn around while you fumble at dicing a squash, much like you can’t expect everyone else waiting for Friday night karaoke at the Alligator Lounge to turn around while you fling a Skee-Ball off the track. (A quick nod to everyone who’s going to Slack me after they read this to tell me they had no idea I had such strong feelings about Skee-Ball. I contain multitudes!)

Are Alison Roman’s recipes actually good, or have we all just groupthinked ourselves into believing they are?

(I understand there was a recent Twitter controversy that had something to do with Marie Kondo and Chrissy Teigen, who I thought was married to the CEO of T-Mobile until I realized that John Legend hadn’t made a career pivot. I don’t have the wherewithal to keep up with Woke Twitter, so this is a hot take based purely on my opinion that her recipes are oily and unbalanced.)

I’m afraid to buy a mandoline.

What’s the over/under on whether I’m actually washing my dishes properly? (Related: Last weekend I Googled “how to mop.”)

By the time I went to stock up on pantry staples, Buywholefoodsonline.co.uk was out of quinoa and barley, so I went for a kilogram of amaranth. Turns out that’s a lot of amaranth! Also turns out that amaranth is not something you want to put in your bougie lunchtime salad! I think also that my amaranth might be regenerating itself in the bin. I take a cup out to make a sort of paste-y spiritual cousin to oatmeal and I swear the next time I check in there’s as much amaranth as there was before. I’ll never be done with it. Anyway, I found a recipe for amaranth with caramelized bananas that called for so much oil that before I knew it I was shallow-frying, which I’d avoided because I’m afraid of spitting oil. (As a reminder, I’m afraid of everything.) It was the most accomplished I’ve felt in years.

Related: Smoke alarms! Can’t live with ’em, can’t live without ’em!

I come from a family of ambitious cooks. My mother makes multi-course meals for ten when we kids come to visit. My dad likes nothing better than to get up at two to start a brisket on his Big Green Egg, bonus points if it’s below freezing. My sister and her husband roast a whole pig in their backyard during the non-pandemic years. The other week my sister put my brother-in-law making a Negroni on Instagram Live — he also had some bones to pick with Stanley Tucci’s version — and I tried to convince them to do the Bo Ssam next. They thought I was joking, but I’m making up for a childhood of refusing to let my mother teach me to do anything.

I once had a boyfriend who sent me a treatise on how to buy “proper” olive oil. (Very Ina.) I toast him every time I buy the £3.50 liter at Tesco. I have gotten prissy about grating my own cheese, though.

Cooking blogs: Mostly a scam? Discuss.

insult and quarantinjury

The other week I read some WSJ puff piece about how locked-down Americans doing burpees for the first time keep spraining their ankles. I rolled my eyes at all the bumbling idiots, like I’m not someone who once tweaked my neck so badly shampooing my hair that I couldn’t turn my head for a week, and then promptly burned my arm dumping a loaf of bread from an oven-hot pan, sliced my finger open with serrated knife, and stress-fractured my foot trying to jog for the first time in months.

All the while I have my hackles up for any sign of the creeping crud. I’ve Googled “covid or allergies” one zillion times (it’s always allergies) since March. More recently I’ve gotten into antibodies, and the other day I spent more than zero minutes trying to remember whether I’d had a cold in January or February. I didn’t — at least not according to my WhatsApps with my mother, where I register all of my complaints about my physical health and flight delays for unconditional sympathy (thanks, Mom) — but I did have a nasty bout of food poisoning. Did I Google “covid or food poisoning”? Yes. Did we have covid that January night when my fiancé and I woke up at 2 A.M. and then vomited for the next sixteen hours straight? No. Not only do I not have antibodies, but it’s still my fault for not washing the spinach properly before I stirred it into the curry.

Twelve years of ballet taught me to listen to my body well. I was always kind of a wet noodle of a dancer, which was good and bad; I was fluid and sinuous, but I never could get my weight out of my heels. And I always had a pulled groin, shin splints, mysterious hip pain, a bad foot, whatever. I learned to tell when something was about to go wrong so I could baby it. I did a whole Nutcracker season one year with my shins wrapped in Ace bandages. Now when my problem-child hamstring — the one I pulled a few years back walking wrong (wet noodle!) — acts up I listen to my Internet yoga teacher telling me to “put away my ego” and bend my knees in my forward fold.

(From my bent-knee forward fold, I think mournfully back on when I took ballet six days a week and had a perfect arabesque. Now I am Old Mother Hubbard.)

I know also when I’m about to be ill. Maybe my head feels an ounce heavier or I can feel a telltale pinch at the back of my nose. When I was still a performer and the cold inevitably began to creep on the week before the show, this was when I’d panic and start chugging a lot of water. (I maintain that Emergen-C is a scam.)

Lately I’ve felt similarly frantic when I feel the stirrings of illness. London is in full and verdant bloom, and every time I leave the house I return with a little sniffle. Then it subsides and I feel briefly sad that I didn’t get the virus, because in all likelihood if I got it I’d get better. I fantasize about being impervious and boarding a plane home to see my family, and then I feel irresponsible for daring to want to catch it, like I’m one of those mothers you hear about throwing chicken-pox parties.

I like that I have so much knowledge of and control over my body. Obviously, that was where the whole anorexia thing came from a few years back, but it’s not always so insidious. It’s helpful that I know (okay, knew, whatever, in my head I’m still a prima ballerina) to Ace-bandage my legs before I hop around on a poorly sprung stage six nights a week for a month. Even if I couldn’t stave off a cold, I knew how it would progress and how to hot-water-and-lemon it until I could sing passably.

I’m unaccustomed to a threat that I can’t steps one-two-and-three into submission, and one that has implications beyond my own body. A mask isn’t a knee brace, and my sprained ankles weren’t contagious. Lately I feel more like a time bomb, and with a world shrunk to the size of an apartment, it’s hard to see outside of what I can feel. (Especially when what I feel is searing pain because I bounced a loaf pan fresh from a 450-degree oven off of my bare arm!)

i love the passing of time

Captain’s Log: I finished a 30-day yoga challenge and I’m about to finish an 8-week indoor cycling challenge, but somehow it’s only been 50 days since I visited a restaurant but a solid 18 months since I last saw a dentist. I keep throwing out bargains like “Let the pandemic recede and I’ll never wait three years to get a Pap smear again,” but the universe hasn’t bitten yet.

Herein follows some disjointed thoughts on time, written on a day when I’m at least two days over my maximum days-without-shampooing:

There’s only one Punxsutawney Phil

My least favorite meme of the current moment is people constantly referencing “Groundhog Day.” Not because we hardly need to be reminded that it’s still preposterous that even a younger Bill Murray could have landed Andie MacDowell (let alone Scarlett Johansson, but I’ll save “Lost in Translation” for when I’m ready to interrogate my feelings about manic pixie dream girls), but because people keep referring to it as “Groundhogs Day.” It’s unclear whether they think there’s more than one groundhog or that the day belongs to the groundhog, but either way, it grinds my gears like seeing an ampersand in the middle of a sentence. (Do you people call it “Martin Luther King’s Day”? “Christ’smas”?)

Saganaki > sagacity

Last year, I went to Greece, and I also got really into Ted Chiang. I’ve never been especially into either classics or sci-fi. I made a horrifying bust of Athena in 1998 — I vaguely remember using straight pins to attach yarn to a head-shaped Styrofoam wig stand — and then I forgot about antiquity for two decades.

In Greece I paid more attention to the cheese than the history, but somewhere on the label for an ancient shard of pottery or something I saw a reference to the notion of “kairos,” one of those untranslatables that roughly equates to “the proper time for action.” Kairos contrasts with “chronos,” or linear time. It resonated and then I promptly forgot what it actually meant and decided it meant time as an amorphous blob sans relativity, in which things happen irrespective of what other things happen.

Ted Chiang is a science-fiction author and if you haven’t read him yet, you’re missing out. He’s published two collections of short stories, including the one on which the movie “Arrival” was based. Every one of his stories is like “Arrival”: You think you’re in for a smart science caper and for a few winking pages he indulges you, and then suddenly you’re weeping and reconsidering your place in the universe. That, over and over again, for three hundred pages. It’s brutal.

Several of his stories touch on time and on the idea of time as something that doesn’t proceed as we perceive it. Kind of an erudite “Jeremy Bearimy” (if you know, you know). The point is less to pull time-travel gotchas — nobody swoops in on a hippogriff to rescue a wrongly accused wizard outlaw, etc. — and more to ask what you do when fate is the devil you know.

I feel ambivalent about speculative fiction. I mostly find it futile to read about other people’s preposterous ideas of the future, although it feels silly to say that from here in the middle of a pandemic during which we entertain ourselves by beaming our faces into one another’s homes. I have trouble psyching myself up to read about the multiverse when for every Ted Chiang there are ten godforsaken versions of Helen Schulman’s Come With Me, a book I hated so much that I read it, put it out of my mind, read it again, and only realized when I went to rage-rate it one star on Goodreads that I’d wasted not, say, four but eight solid hours of my life on it. (Was that Groundhog Day? The elusive “i” in the Bearimy?)

I usually walk away from speculative fiction wondering what the point is. Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about time — because I’ve been thinking a lot about death, and about routine — and in doing so keep drifting back to the other versions of time that I’ve encountered in my reading and travels. I mentioned a few weeks back that I keep finding myself looking for a deus ex machina and I think that might be part of it: I’m trying to gird myself for the possibility of a loved one’s death by thinking of how death matters less if you don’t experience time linearly. Which seems, as I said, pointless, since the only humans who don’t experience time linearly are the ones who exist only in speculative fiction, both “speculative” and “fiction” being operative words. Except that here we are in a pandemic during which we entertain ourselves by beaming our faces into one another’s homes.

I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling 22

Yesterday I went jogging for the first time in about a century and passed through a garden that lies on my commute if I walk in that’s bloomed riotously since the last time I did so, some 60 days ago. Unlike everyone kvetching about “Groundhogs” Day, I’ve been kind of basking in how time has flattened. I like going to the grocery store on a Tuesday morning and lying in on Thursday.

I don’t think “kairos” is intended to mean “saying fuck-it to the lunch bell and eating your big kale salad at a quarter to noon or two P.M. because that’s when you’re hungry,” but there’s something refreshingly primal about getting off the hamster wheel of commuting and lunch at noon. A decade ago when I was staring down the barrel of having to pick a career I felt deep, existential dread at the idea of an office job. I worked retail during my first year out of college and I loved to run errands on weekday mornings. I felt like a lady of leisure.

Lately I feel like I’ve looped back onto my early-twentysomething self. Video calls with college classmates and reply-all threads with community theatre casts, grocery shopping on weekday mornings, and a consuming focus on the present because the future is opaque. That sounds more zen than it feels. I can’t plan, so I’m not trying; I can’t progress, but time marches on. Allegedly.