How Do You Know You’re a Foodie?

I am not so picky when it comes to food, but I will talk for ten minutes about the last great burger I had and how it was on brioche with aged gruyere. Spending time with my grandparents and mom, I’ve just realized that we are a bunch of foodies. Everything is becoming clear! Of course!

But then, maybe everyone is? I mean, everyone on the planet, maybe even more so since the world of food writing opened up, and cooking on prime time became so hugely inspiring. People love to transform perhaps/otherwise mundane into a special, truly tasty thing. So we’re normal, I think…

Or is it natural that we collectively pour over Grandma’s new and ancient cook book collection? Beard, Bittman, Child, 1920s art deco delish and Moroccan tagine text. Breads and crusts, lots from Food and Wine. They are flipbooks of my grandmother’s coding, “V.G.” (very good), “next time use cilantro”, or “Ehh, not so great”. Turning pages, one finds loose dittos of Nigella’s pots de crème au chocolat or a lamb recipe, scrawled by a Greek local. We all come together and suddenly conversations about my aunt’s killer mushroom quiche recipe can fill a half-hour. I recognize each of our handwriting on these papers stuffed in books. The shelf is a portrait of cooking for a marriage, growing children, and hosting parties. This is usable art, science, and health. A foodie’s screenplay.

wpid-img_20141226_112717_1_1.jpg

wpid-img_20141226_111247_1.jpg

Is it natural to utterly pine for the juniper berries and star anise fish salting of a meal a year ago? To still dream of owning my own culinary torch, finishing Friday nights with the creamy custard and caramalized, candied lustre of crème brûlée? How about iron cookware, butcher blocks that make you hunger for lean cut of swirled beef? Or, ugh, to make my own vodka and infused oils. The list goes on…

Both my Grandma’s and my favorite places (NYC and Tokyo), it seems, are huge, high-end food affairs, namely Eataly and the Japanese depachika. (Here’s my article on the exotic place, a grand Japanese affair). When given a whole town of shopping, my mom and I spent our time smelling Tunisian cinnamon and Parisian blend spice blends.

Today Grandpa sharpened his good German knives. As he brought them over to his work space, he turned and said, “You’ve got to have good tools”. I think this is his motto for everything. Good tools, good ingredients, good hands. Good food.

Major arguments and quibbles are over the matters of coffee (roasting, grinding, spooning, and dripping), optimum ways to prep and cook the fish, and what may or may not be washed by hand. Tender conversations, the kind I’ll treasure and repeat to my children include tidbits about my Great-Grandfather, a bread baker, my Grandpa and how we began making bread as he couldn’t get his hands on any decent bread (must have been like Holsum and Wonder Bread, all those white, fluffy varieties forever banned from my home growing up).

boy trap

Vintage Image from The Society Papers’, Sociological Images,

Yes, I’d say the family has always enjoyed a certain degree of culture, no offense Ms. Boy Trap.

Ella wafts into the kitchen from the turntable in the living room while cousins laugh and chatter. “So if you go for oysters and I go for ersters”. Grandpa overseas with his particulars regarding the spinning, dressing, and tossing of greens. He’s always been proud to show us quality–the right way, which is naturally refined.

Grandma asks who else might want a cappuccino. It is all food, drink, and before you know it, happy hour. (We really, truly do happy hour here, daily). It is so fulfilling. Relaxing. Maybe being a foodie is being uptight sometimes for the anticipation of relaxing with a bowl of art in your hands. We all have our ticks and quirks, but in the end, dinner is great. Sometimes, superb.

One day I’ll get some yeast going for bread-making. I’ll make Grandma’s famous (one of us better copyright this thing soon) recipe. I’ll maybe (probably no way likely, really) be able to actualize Ms. Julia Child’s omelette flipping technique or her aspic. Some parts of cooking are a bit more realistic. Can you believe these family members of mine used to make calve’s brain? There is sophistication and there is “You probably should just go to med school. Now”. While I’ll probably never encase sausage, or kill and pluck my own chickens, I’m eager to dive-into cooking again, maybe use some of the same recipes with the “V.G.s” written in margins. And I don’t have to wait twenty years to start taking on their roles. I have my own kitchen, my own mouths to feed. My own desire to taste and try, hosting parties, and doling out soups for the sick and tired.

If this is the life–the code of foodies: to try and try and experiment and enjoy when I eat, then I’m in. This is the cozy environment, the generations of foodies, in which I belong.

Cheers & L’Chaim!

wpid-img_20141224_140622.jpg

wpid-img_20141224_093051.jpg

wpid-img_20141224_093403_1.jpg

The vintage payoff called cute!

 

 

Advertisements

The Thing With Freedom

Okay–serious piece here.

Serious alert (typed good-naturedly even after eating caramelized apple cake so don’t worry too much).

wpid-imag3459.jpg

Also here’s a little pic of my boy– scroll back up anytime for a look at this cutie pie.

Now I get all “Letters of Independence” on you meets “evening news”. Yeah, I know.

~~~

Freedom is a distinguishing factor of any place’s geography, right? Living abroad in Japan, I happen to be the most patriotic I have ever been in my life. I feel like America often takes hits. We are the ones often hated–the overweight, the cowboys marching in and trying to fix countries and cultures, trying to right wrongs. We are the ones I hear are both uptight and uneducated–silly, even.

But we have freedom, I say! We have the right to make movies about dictators, write to the editor, be the editor, stand on a corner with a jumbo sign. We are taught to raise our voice, to use our life even when it is uncomfortable for others—to stand-up for freedom and buck any system that presses its thumb on a people. There are countries where you cannot study if you are a woman, cannot go to a soccer game if you are a woman, cannot vote, cannot raise your voice in song, cannot be seen with hair down. Freedom, freedom, is America’s song. 

I so value the way America values the individual making the whole strong. We talk about things. Get to voice concern. Get to voice love and hate and stand-up to big wig corporations & the way things stay the same.

I am visiting home, visiting America now. I can breathe. Everything is bigger even if you’re not standing in a wide open space field shooting a country song. It’s good. It’s a wonderful feeling steering your monster cart all over a monstrous grocery store where two major aisles ask you what you want for breakfast cereal. It’s all wonderful, but below I write about a little five minutes where possibilities of violence—the friction of difference can rub together and maybe start a fire. 

wpid-img_20141220_152135.jpg

The thing with freedom is

it is public, handing out a flyer, singing from a loudspeaker

It lights a menorah of PVC from a crane,

alright, a cherry picker.

 

It incites

It calls out, requests

openness to hear

a time to witness

“Freedom is joy, no”?

 

Figure shouldering past

all black Afghan burqa

eyes on women I cannot see

black to the floor

crossing the road

when my mom doesn’t have that great peripheral vision.

wpid-img_20141221_215335.jpg

wpid-imag0751.jpg

I’ll be honest; freedom these days can scare me.

It is so alive, running alongside major news networks

even when power is down.

 

Freedom is you don’t have to look back

when you speak your mind

or plan your dress, right?

 

The orthodox boy two rows up

nothing yet to shave

great hat box picked-up in the Bronx.

He is visible to hate.

 

He is visible, is the thing, for anything

like even a pat

on the shoulder,

even a “Zei gazunt!” or an, “O, hey!”

wpid-img_20141218_225826.jpg

Freedom places the expectation

livewire mics

livewire actions

In everyone’s hands

Al Sharpton

Mayor De Blasio

Boys crying black white latino rage unfair not freedom blast that

and everyone on their Twitter feed.

 

Freedom is that–

you can walk through or around

a gathering or spectacle

and you can maybe speak back

publicly

or in private

conversation

as you look

down

and wonder

 

what

is

your hat?

Here, Away, & Words For It

So, you know, I am off in America, spending time with my Grandparents in PA. My Grandfather is doing a remarkable job as he ages with cancer. My husband back at our home in Tokyo, is parenting on his own. I am here, representing my whole Japan clan. It is a good trip, filled with every kind of salad & ice cream. I’m thinking that all the green will cancel-out the heavy cream…

Here, in Allentown, everything has a name, described in particulars, in depth, and with smart words. We do not just chase cat tails and obtuse words like “stuff”. Here, we ask questions. Here, you are allowed, prompted, no—expected, to think.

Welcome to my Grandparents’ home. Sit down, here, have some wine. There is going to be talking. Here, grab some Gouda. We have time before dinner at 6:30.

wpid-img_20141222_145937_1.jpg

How it worked growing up is that if you didn’t know a word, you’d look it up in a fat college dictionary. You could surely be corrected, but it’s good for toughening-up. If you don’t know something, you ask questions. Move forward. You converse. It’s nice. It’s called human. It’s called knowing where to put a spoon and where to place the fork.

Every article of interest, worthwhile, is read aloud in a solid voice or shared in summation without hesitation. Thinking creatures must breathe. We don’t have to flit. I think of my Grandfather directing plays, rooted on stage, name ironed-on back of chair.

Here, words are used well. We all stand upright, not stifling thought. “Speak your mind, young lady, and stop apologizing”! I’m still learning this, my education with paperbacks, tall spines, supple mouth. I learn to undo the constant sorrying. “Tell me, my dear darling, tell me what you are reading, where you’ve been, how things are, conditions, numbers, how it feels to not be in your normal bed. Tell me, do you like the stars?”

wpid-img_20141222_145657_1.jpg

wpid-img_20141221_153510.jpg

wpid-imag0705.jpg

I keep asking questions. Tell me of 60 Minutes, of real estate in Israel. Tell me of recipes, Borscht she could not replicate, dinner parties of yore. Tell me, dear Grandparents, of yellowed letters, spouses also cousins; tell me of colleagues, theatre departments, libraries, and the recycling cans.

Tell me over black coffee that you love having me here, even though I continue, in traces, to want to sponge the remainders of soups and cappuccino when I should simply fill and fill the dishwasher, and that’s it. “Stop with the washing”!

Read me, sing me your voice during youngest/only kid, NYC culture during wartime bonds, stock market swings, pressing records, traipsing around Europe, in love, picnic sweaters.

Tell me of concern, of love, when your best friend died or when your daughter ran off. Tell me over the perfect pie crust, how hard your father worked, how fine a runner, all the ambition balled up, and stretched in a girlish Great-Grandmother. Teach me of history. Of geography, recollection.

When you eloquently speak, teach me again, infinitum, about meeting your wife, of your commute–Long Island to PA, while I sit, post-Pilates, spine to tummy lounging on your Mid-Century couch reupholstered four times. I will hold onto my wine stem and not break the beat with an ill-timed sip. I will wash it later, by hand, while you dry.

wpid-img_20141219_134303_1.jpg   wpid-img_20141222_150105.jpg

I feel encompassed by care, flocked by rhododendron, aloes and jade, cactuses rioting in blooms, and that gargantuan amaryllis, a bit ostentatious if you are not accustomed to flowers or beauty or red in sunlight-stream. We talk over making the lamb–relationships take more than words, but motions in line with those words. Action is the crux, it seems.

It will be a whole lifetime of actions blooming even now, even here, in me, with me.

The continuance we need: long sips and shawls, cookies and cheese, crackers, cold chicken, & trips to the gym; seeing his misty blue eyes and wanting him to see we see him. Oh, emptying dishwashers we fill up again. A movie on pause. Plans to rest and discover tomorrow-errands and that which we could not fit into today. My, how you adore snowflakes made by my girl. Tomorrow we can do anything like feel stronger. We can catch a parade.

It will take many strong Herculean tries and a triple-dozen or so hugs. It will take a great many words to say just who you are beyond me.

Today, the Inevitable Good

Today, this afternoon, in a small classroom

flanked by chilly sun, the last of fall leaves, and a baseball field,

I took out a secret weapon of sorts.

 

They were rowdy, post-December-party,

post Monday, all day, after-the-weekend-fallout

of no-more-focus, but bouncy, wiry, zooming fatigue.

And they got me for literacy time.

 

I know. Not the best timing for 4 year old brains,

lips, teeth, tongue, high-top feet.

wpid-imag0624_1.jpg

wpid-imag0623.jpgIt took so many “shushes”, a slew of positive feedback,

and some great, dramatic, all is lost, maybe, siiiiiiiiiiiiiighs.

And crayons falling on the floor.

(I helped them along to add to the drama.

Sometimes 4 yr-olds like drama.

Maybe this is always).

 

Eventually, my aha…

RAFFI!

No one knew my guy,

the innocent bearded minstrel

of my WHOLE childhood and my sisters’

and now my own squirrelly, gorgeous kids!

 

No one knew my RAFFI,

who is the voice of children everywhere,

who got us thinking about Manuel and Rahim in Iran,

Gita in India,

Janet, Koji in Japan, and all those kids,

Baby Beluga and Everything Grows, babies, too,

I swear, this is how I learned about the world.

 

He was my One Light One Sun chorus to G-d,

my notion of inherent goodness,

to wit that could be sweet and kind,

the incandescent,

the loud

altogether in my living room cassette player,

in the shower, and on long trips,

to and from errand-trips in the blue Honda.

 

They were so silly; no way did they want slow songs.

Only the sillies.

Only the peanut butter song and You Gotta Sing.

Only great snaps and stomping breaths.

I, no, we, were saved.

Sometimes, you know, you gotta sing.

 

PS To my sister, to everyone: Raffi has a new album!

PSS I know I am my mother.

bide

Here’s a maybe similar post, more of an essay on umbrella strollers, libraries, and love. Oh, yeah, & CHERRIES!!! It’s all about a girl named Bidemi & what you do with when you’ve got pits. Or when life is, for that moment, the pits.

xoxo,

Melissalbum!

A Bit Beachy & Wild

It is quite marvelous
That in this, the sturdy start of December,
My daughter twisted, braided, tied up my hair
In a sweet microbraid she did herself.
She gave me two of them
And each, with bright elastic bands
Bought in a pack for 100 yen.
image

I didn’t want to undo them,
Fiddle with my hairdo
Before the shower,
But then
I forgot again,
And brushed each braidy bundle
To where, because of my way wavy hair,
Mist & spray from the shower,
I  have two conglomerate braidy dreadlocks
All teased
And just hanging out.
image

image

However much it hurts
And however much I do not,
Please no,
Want to take my now gnarled braids out,
It rather feels like I’m on vacation
In the Bahamas
With some salt water
And coconut scrub,
And maybe,
My beads fell out.

Except I tell you my whole head is now ratty
And sheesh
When do we ever have time
To make for pain.

Let’s just pretend I have these beachy waves
(under knit cap, next to gloves)
At the shore.

Work Party Working Out

I was at my work party,
the one with all these amazing
people
Who take me back
accept me
Except me
with smiles and hugs
and real coversation
image

(This was me, clattering down the hill to the train station to pick up my kids, post-party)

And it makes me so happy
Tearing up
At the thought of opportunity and belonging
And this is what is on the other side of the hill
When there are friends on the other side
Of all who have moved away.

image

image

And I meant to take out my camera
To snapshot
The setting sun watercolor
Diarama of Roppongi, Tokyo,
And all the good change—
Ginkgo, shadows, sunset blue pink
Swimming through melon and dramatic Champagne.

Day-new engagements,
Babies that smile and lift their own neck,
Cards and gifts and choking up
At the value of friends belonging with
Friends

All that to say,
I am glad to have found you,

My dear other, extraordinary half.
Getting there was all worth it.

It’s Just a Vagina, Tell Me the Word!

Yes, I know–the title. It has the word “vagina” in it. It’s just that I just walked in from the neighborhood doctor and the pharmacist and no one could tell me the word in Japanese for “vagina”. Not my girl’s school nurse, either, who offered the word, “oshiko“. Isn’t that “pee” or where one urinates from? What if a mom has to treat her little girl’s body for a possible yeast infection, not bladder? No one knew the word–not five professionals, in total.
image

My daughter did her best, suggesting “o chingching“, but that’s the word she learned at her Japanese preschool for “penis”. I’m glad I know that much. Imagine learning later that I said my daughter’s penis hurt? Jeez Louise.

It makes me wonder if people feel embarrassed saying it here. Is it taboo? I mean, I wasn’t asking for a sexual word in the context of sex. I asked as a parent for my girl. I asked the pharmacist who in turn, brought out her two sempais, or older “classmen”, her respected seniors. There they were, three female pharmacists, turning heads side-to-side, thinking, wondering, “mutsukashii“, how difficult.

I circled the area on a drawing of a person. I used my daughter’s name and said the Japanese I knew. I am also very good at pantomime. Life becomes a big cherade game when living overseas. Words not known become elaborate pantomimes. Yes, I literally grabbed myself. I said in Japanese, that there are different parts of the body, yes? I pointed and named, “atama (head), ashi (leg),…ba-ja-ii-na (you guessed it)”. No clue.

Finally, the eldest pharmacist wrote out an elaborate kanji (Chinese character) to name it.  Or maybe there was big confusion and she wrote out the malady. Seems to me, there is either a) no such word to name the very important body part b) people are too prude, or just too “feminine” to say it.

Am I being weird? See, this is why, at Eckerd Drugstore in the States, I want to buy five Vagisil creams, when I remember, that is. I’ve got nothing in the cabinets.

I haven’t even been able to properly find out the anatomical word in Japanese. Do I really want to wait until a proper emergency comes up to have to pantomime an issue to some dude at my local drugstore in northern Tokyo?

I’m not without technology; I have looked-up the word on Google Translate. It’s just this fear that Google has not supplied the appropriate word. Who wants to sound crass and uneducated when needing to help their little girl or their own body?

That is all for now.

PS I hate to have to switch pharmacies. I thought we were finally used to each other by now.

PSS My amazing Mom-in-Law came through. No shame in the game.

You neighbors of mine in Japan, here is your abridged dictionary, focusing on “gina”, as my pipsqueek daughter says:

vajina wa ちつ(膣)chi-tu .

labia wa 陰唇(いんしん)inshi-n  desu.
Also it is “mutsukashii”/difficult, because there are different ways to read the kanji. So yeah…we’ll all just point.

ちょっと、むつかしい はつおん ですから。

Love & good humor,

Mel