Coming Home.

This is what I remember.

My mother making paella — from where I stand on a stool at the sink I can see the wooden spoon she’s using is stained yellow from the saffron. I’m tearing the legs and shells off of the frozen shrimp she will cook and stir into the pot. My hands burn from their cold flesh but it is oddly pleasing work, and their multiple slender legs make a strange and faint zipping noise as I separate them from their frosty, firm abdomens. I reward myself for each tail I coerce intact from its flimsy gray armor, and don’t realize I’ve been given this task to keep me busy, and quiet.

Tomatoes from the garden gathered in a wooden basket and placed before me. I grasp at them clumsily before they are washed, diced and tossed with feta cheese, herbs and olive oil, and then scooped up with pita bread.

Pan de sal, palm-sized rounds of bread dusted with grainy cornmeal and spread with rapidly-melting butter, brought to me on a hand-painted plate by one of my grandmother’s maids, along with a cardboard box of mango juice. Fried baby cuttlefish the length of my index finger, but much thinner and consumed whole — bones, head, tail. After eating them with my cousins in Manila, I clamor for it, but my mother only cooks the little fish for me once, when my father is out of the house; he hates smell.

Leaves of lox and slabs of cream cheese bookended by bagels from H&H, so salty and thick behind the teeth that talking is impossible. Ful, chick peas and fava beans warmed on the stove and spooned into a bowl before getting mixed with mashed garlic, lemon juice, parsley and olive oil. Honey Nut Cheerios and Rice Crispies, crunched with as little milk as possible so the round O’s and puffed rice still snap with each bite. Eggs scrambled with the sujuk my father hangs inside a wooden frame lined with mesh; it looks like a rabbit hutch, but nothing has ever lived in it but sausages drying.

Dolma, stuffed with rice and ground beef, the leftover orange oily broth of which my mother ladles into a mug for me to drink after dinner. Hummos whirled in the food processor with more and more lemon, garlic and tahini added until my father is satisfied. It’s that or mutabbal, which I dislike. Boureg, sheets of phyllo layered with shredded cheese, parsley and red pepper, flaky on the first day and reinflated in the toaster oven on the next. Tray after tray of baklava and Lebanese pastries, and separating each crumbly tier with my tongue. I suck at its rose-scented sweetness with as much strength as I can before finally chewing.

Spaghetti with meat sauce, my Armenian grandmother’s recipe, full of glistening sautéed onions. I plaster it with so much Kraft Parmesan that it resembles the surface of the moon more than a plate of pasta and I don’t care that it feels grainy. More strands of spaghetti, Filipino-style, sweetened with sugar and ketchup and cooked with sliced hot dogs and Spam.

Baloney sandwiches on white bread or lunch rolls, carried to our table in the dining hall on brown plastic trays. I am scared of the meatloaf, which I have neither seen nor eaten before. Breyer’s Cookies and Cream, chunks chiseled off with spoons while sitting on commercial-grade dormitory carpet next to my roommate, who is eating maraschino cherries direct from the jar. Rum and Cokes, obscenely syrupy, sipped nervously from red Solo cups from the corners of parties.

Wilted triangles of pizza oozing neon drizzles of oil onto flimsy napkins. Pasta salad drenched in bottled Italian dressing and tossed with cubed cheese, tomatoes and olives. We pretend we made it all from scratch and finish the leftovers in front of the open fridge. Wonder Bread toast, blanketed with butter and Smucker’s while still warm, so that together they melt into the crunchy top. Corn fritters we fry on the battered stove and dip into a puddle of maple syrup, leaving sticky trails across the counter.

California rolls, the first sushi my best friend tries, and I convince her to place the entire circle in her mouth even though she’ll struggle to chew it. Char siu baau buns, startlingly tangy inside puffy dough, shared with my mother’s father in countless Chinese restaurants and Chinatowns around the world; I carry this memory with me like a creased photograph kept in my wallet, and pull it out often in the days after his death. Chicken B’stilla, simultaneously savory and sweet, drenched in a yogurt and mint sauce I greedily lap up even though mint makes me think of being a child and ill, and of the strong teas my father brewed for me from the plants he tended in old wine barrels in the backyard. Aloo mutter in a room with tangerine-colored walls on Mass Ave, and the man I will marry in six years winks at me across the table.

Rib-eye steaks cooked medium-rare and eaten off of plates balanced on our knees. We don’t have a dining room, let alone a dining room table. Onions sweated for hours until they caramelize; I stir their gilded ropes into majedera, a mixture of lentils and bulgur, or cluster them across the crust of a goat cheese and sun-dried tomato pizza I will later adorn with an herb chiffonade. Whole split chicken breasts, garlic and lemon slices slipped beneath the fatty ivory skin that will turn crisp and blush gold within the heat of the oven. Butter cookies flavored with mahleb, powder ground from the pits of sour cherries, baked in my new kitchen following the recipe my father’s mother dictated to mine decades before she quietly dies at age eighty-eight in a Los Angeles nursing home that smells of copper and Lysol.

Sausages, sauerkraut and beer underneath the green and white striped awning of a tent on the Rhine. Lechón, the suckling pig I can’t eat without thinking about the sound the animal makes when a knife is plunged into its throat, something I heard for the first and only time when I was ten. Croque-monsieurs on the Pont Neuf, the wind threatening to loosen the scarf from my neck. Fruit-flavored margaritas on D’Aguilar Street; I’m panting in the Hong Kong heat and the tequila goes straight to my head. Cornish pasties and licking crumbs from my fingers in the shadow of Bath Abbey at Christmastime. Squat foil-capped bottles of Yakult, sweetened fermented milk purchased from a 7-Eleven in Seoul. Durian stinking up the car in a Bangkok traffic jam, though later as I eat its sweet and tender flesh, I’ll forget I breathed through my mouth for an hour and nursed a stench-induced headache.

A candied shell enclosing a dollop of sugared olive oil alongside a kumquat skin holding its flesh turned into sorbet. Breaded cubes of liquefied foie gras placed on the tongue whole, then made to explode by the pressure of my mouth closing. Wintermint and vanilla ice cream coerced by science into a pliable rope, knotted and twisted into a cool, icy coil that I cut into with a fork. A Stonehenge of roasted bones upright on a white plate, its marrow shiny and bright under overhead lights before I smooth it across craggy planes of toast, decorate it with verdant parsley leaves and dot it with coarse gray sea salt. And chocolate chip cookies, either straight from the oven or out of a bright blue package that noisily crinkles at my touch, served with a glass of milk to bring me home again.

Coming Home” by Leon Bridges.
Advertisements

After an Absence, Some Thoughts.

We were at home, painting the house, slopping primer all over the wooden trim and ourselves, when our phones just started going off.  Some people would say that our phones “exploded,” but after today’s events that phrase just doesn’t seem right.  Keith’s office overlooks the finish line, and his colleagues were under the impression that he had been in Copley Square when the bombs were detonated.  He wasn’t, but still his phone kept on ringing and buzzing, and alerting him that people cared.

I am a New Yorker, born and bred. Up until this point, I’ve allowed Boston a sliver of space in my heart because it raised the man I love. Still, “I’m not from here,” I’ve said. I’ve bemoaned giving up my New York license. I’ve called its people provincial. I’ve scorned its awkward and archaic laws. I’ve derided its class system. I’ve begrudged the bagels.

Today, I’m telling all of you that I’m from Boston. I’m from here, and I’m mad. I’m mad and confused and troubled and upset and pissed off. I’m frustrated with the breathless affect of the news media. I’m sick thinking of all the athletes who were running for a cause, or for a charity, or a for purpose that didn’t include hate or fear or pain or terror. I’m shaking with anger because I need someone to explain to me the point of this.

Something that has really struck me about these events is not how much people hate and want to hurt, but how much people love and want to help.  The Red Cross website was inundated for hours with people trying to glean information on when and how and where to donate blood.  Residents across the Boston Metro Area and beyond are opening their homes to strangers stranded in a maimed city.

This is what’s important to remember: in times of terror, there are moments of triumph, and those moments are made by people.

A Place Called Home.

Here I am now, at home.  I love traveling, and I love going places, and even though I’ve been to Asia more times than I can count, each trip is still amazing and fun and exciting.  That said, I’m glad to be home, sitting on my pouf with my laptop while Bethenny Ever After… is on On-Demand.  (Don’t judge.)

I do admittedly feel that clichéd thing about time fly fly flying but that’s how the trip felt for me: it went by so fast and intense that it’s almost hard to imagine the details of it at all.  I mean, we were in Boracay a week ago, perspiring and getting absolutely gnawed to death by mosquitoes, and now it’s a bit chilly in my apartment and something like 57° outside and sunny, but in a way that makes you want to sit in it as opposed to hide from it, which is what it was certainly like in Asia, particularly for the easily-sunburned Keith.

Speaking of Keith… what a lovely man, what an outstanding individual.  I’ve been sick as a pike since Tuesday and he’s been handling it (read: me) incredibly well.  I arrived in Hong Kong on Monday with a tickle in my throat, and by the time Tuesday rolled around I had run out of medicine and was taking these Chinese herbal pills called Zomoxyl, which smelled like nothing else I have ever experienced.  It had ingredients in it such as herba androgrphitis (40%), herba taraxaci (20%), herba violae (20%), radix scutellarine (10%) and glycyrrhiza uralensis (10%).  The best part was the little English-and-Cantonese write-up that came inside.  I would have scanned it, but it was just too ridiculous and it’s much if I just tell you about it.  Let’s just say that there was a bald eagle, with a waving-in-the-wind American flag behind it, and a star-bedazzled olive branch framing the whole thing.  Here are some highlights of what Zomoxyl supposedly treats:

  • upper respiratory tract infections like otitis media;
  • lower respiratory tract infections like lung abscess, empyema and bronchiectasis;
  • dental infections;
  • skin and soft tissue infections like cellulites and impetigo;
  • genitourinary (?!) tract infections like pyelonephritis, cystitis, bacteriuria, acute prostatitis and gonorrhoea;
  • bone and joint infections like ostemyelitis;
  • and “severe systemic infections” like gynaecological infections, pureperal sepsis, septicaemia, peritonitis, intra-abdominal spesis, menigitis, typhoid and paratyphoid fever.

I kept all the spelling from Zomoxyl sheet as is.

I should never get sick again after fourteen of those capsules, instead of coughing my way across Causeway Bay and Tsim Sha Tsui and Victoria Harbour and spitting up funky chartreuse phlegm and trying to walk around in crazy heat and humidity with a congested heavy head that felt like it was slowly going to cave in.  And when I say crazy heat and humidity, I mean the kind where standing still outdoors makes sweat drip down your boobs and your back.  I can’t figure out which is worse, sweat dripping down the front or the back, when neither is preferable.

What I should do now is some laundry and make a grocery list for my empty home, but what I really want to do is take a nap.  More later, I suppose.

Oh, and the vomiting — I’ve been vomiting since Wednesday.  I stayed in bed until noon while Keith bought some tea and stocked up on table tennis gear, then vomited up my Michelin-starred lunch, my water the next morning at the hotel and at the airport, and then who-knows-what on the plane several times and then more at JFK…  Why couldn’t I have gotten sick in Manila, when I was almost always surrounded by a surgeon, a pediatrician and a med student, instead of by Chinese pharmacists with whom communication was a true adventure?  This eagle-loving, USA-emblazoned Zomoxyl better clear up everything that ever has or ever will be wrong with me medically ever.

And now, laundry!

A Place Called Home” by PJ Harvey.

Belgian Graffiti.

I love graffiti, always have.  I remember riding in the backseat on the way to my father’s New York City office and sitting up straighter when we passed my favorite tags along the Henry Hudson.  I’d count how many times I’d see them spray painted on brick walls, cement underpasses and in between windows, and that number would glow behind my eyes until I went to bed that night.

New York is different these days, tidied up, and graffiti isn’t a common sight in Boston.  Europe, on the other hand, is teeming with street art, and I make a point of documenting what I see wherever I go.  Keith, I think, gets a bit frustrated with me, as I can tend to wander off down miscellaneous alleyways with only the most perfunctory of hold on for a second‘s, and then spend a good few minutes angling my camera this way and that.  The things we do for love, right?*

Click on the picture below for a slideshow of graffiti I photographed in Antwerp, Brussels and Ghent — unsurprisingly, there was no graffiti to be found in Bruges, but considering that the city center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, even the teensiest tag would be instantly rubbed away.

Graffiti in Ghent, Belgium

* I’ll leave it to you to determine if I mean Keith’s love of me, or my love of graffiti.

Café Round-Up: Boston Common Coffee Company.

Who: Boston Common Coffee Company
Where: North End, Boston
When: Three and a half hours spanning early morning to just before lunchtime.
Ordered: Toasted onion bagel with lox and plain cream cheese, and a medium coffee for $6.20
Info: An utterly ridiculous amount of tables and chairs, though a slightly cluttered/cramped layout; the chairs seem awfully close to each other. Surprising amount of foot traffic, including many babies and lapdogs, but everyone seems to know everybody else; there’s a very neighborhoody vibe.  Bright and sunny, thanks to ceiling-height windows, but it’s awfully cold near the door. Comfy-looking sofa and armchairs next to a woodburning stove and an interesting panino selection — if I didn’t have a lunch date elsewhere, I’d certainly  take a break from writing to also order the “Sal”: prosciutto, Fontina, roasted red peppers and a fig spread. Next time though. Also: free wireless.
Conclusion: A cozy spot off of Hanover Street that probably gets packed with tourists on the weekend.

Boston Common Coffee Company
97 Salem Street
Boston, Massachusetts 02113
617.725.0040
bostoncommoncoffee.com

Boston Common Coffee Co, on Urbanspoon

Café Round-Up: Flat Black Coffee Company.

Who: Flat Black Coffee Company
Where: Financial District, Boston
When: Two and a half hours early on a weekday afternoon, beginning at lunchtime.
Ordered: Iced vanilla latte as sweet as pudding for $3.83
Info: Nice big windows on two walls, counters running along the length of them with saddle stools tucked underneath.  Aside from a pair of businesspeople sitting in glossy crimson chairs and having a tête-à-tête over coffee, I am the only other patron so I have my pick of seats and sockets, the latter of which there are an impressive amount.  Surprisingly loud considering how empty it is — samba-ish world music playing at practically full volume whilst employees chatter amongst themselves.  Even with my headphones plugged in and my iTunes on the highest I’ve set it yet, I can hear a steady bass rhythm and the baristas’ conversation over both my typing and The Meadowlands.  Supposedly free Internet, but my laptop doesn’t want to connect.  Most likely I am doing something wrong.
Conclusion: Not for those averse to tribal beats.

Flat Black Coffee Company
50 Broad Street
Boston, Massachusetts 02109
617.951.1440
flatblackcoffeecompany.com

Flat Black Coffee Company on Urbanspoon

Coming Soon… Boston Area Café Round-Ups.

My laptop and I have been spending a lot of time in cafés together lately, taking up as little space as possible and clickety clickety clickety-ing our little hearts out. It may be cliché, but I recently remembered how much my writing and I both thrive in an atmosphere like this.  The steady hum of the surrounding conversations, the robotic ticking of the registers’ printers, the continual current of people fluttering past, mugs chinking and clinking against plates and spoons, the rich smell of freshly-ground coffee — all of these things help me write.

The sad truth, however, is that not all cafés are equal. Since I’ve been popping into so many lately, I figured I should share my findings. I’ll be summarizing my thoughts on some of Boston’s independent coffeehouses and cafés* here once a week. I won’t pretend that I’m familiar with them all, so if you have a particular favorite, let me know.  I’m always interested in finding a new writing/coffee-drinking spot, so please drop me a line in the comments…

* I’ll focus exclusively on independently-owned businesses, but a few nationals might sneak in.