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.

Memories Are Made Of This.

Keith and I were supposed to spend last Saturday night at Eleven Madison Park, a favorite restaurant of ours in New York, but Irene threw a wrench in our plans.  Mayor Bloomberg shut down the city, and Eleven Madison Park followed suit.  I can’t say I blamed them, regardless of how much I had been looking forward to dinner.  The restaurant has never failed me in the past, and I know we would have had a spectacular meal.  I was able to get us last-minute back up reservations at Blue Hill at Stone Barns, but they too closed because of Irene.

So, reservationless on the eve of a hurricane, we stayed at home with my parents and ate reheated-in-the-microwave rotisserie chicken from Costco.  A few hours later, the power went out.

And that is how Keith and I celebrated our sixth wedding anniversary.

I am not the kind of girl who cares about anniversaries, or Valentine’s Day, or if my partner stays out late with The Guys.  Frankly, I don’t give a damn about any of it.

Does Keith love me?  Do we still enjoy each other’s company?  Are we happy?  Yes to all of the above.  Isn’t that all that matters?

Okay, take all of that in and then scrap a third of it.  I mean, sure: love, company, happiness… I want to go to there, and most of the time, I do go to there.  But my relationship with Keith moved so seamlessly from platonic to passionate that until we got married, neither of us had a clue as to when it was we actually got together.  It was springtime, we agree, when I was nineteen and Keith twenty-three, but that’s it.  Was it March?  Or May?  Or in between, in April?

This is my point precisely: we have no idea.  And that’s why finally having an anniversary meant something to me.  Valentine’s Day can get bent.  It has nothing to do with me.  But a certain day in August…

It’s just plain nice to have one day marked in Keith and my lives that celebrates us, even if most of the time I don’t think about it unless someone asks or if the end of summer looms.  I feel that with Keith I’m part of something special, and though we take care to appreciate each other often, it’s important to take a minute once in a great while to formally acknowledge it.  Often with cocktails.  So when August 27th does come around, I like stepping into a dress and a favorite pair of heels, sitting across from my husband in a thoughtfully decorated room, and drinking a French 75 while talking about absolutely nothing related to our wedding.

Which is why I was pissed off at Hurricane Irene.

Now about those chickens…

My dad is a horrible snob.  He’s opinionated, and he’s particular, and sometimes — let’s face it — he can be a little racist.  That said, he loves Costco rotisserie chicken.

This is alternately bizarre and hilarious to me because my dad scorns places like IHOP and Outback Steakhouse (though he does like the occasional Red Lobster).  My father likes Peter Luger, drinking oghi on warm summer days and talking about life in Beirut.  Most modern American things are worthless, or a disappointment.  Case in point: Burger King.

In the seventies, when my parents were still dating, they went to a fancy dinner that neither of them enjoyed very much.  As my father drove my mother back to her apartment, he spotted a Burger King.  Still hungry, he pulled into the drive-thru.  They each ate a Whopper in the car, parked in the lot.  Now when my father talks about Burger King, what he has to say is all past tense, what Burger King used to be like.  He pinches an inch of air with his index finger and thumb and says, “The burgers used to be thick, like this.  And the lettuce was crunchy, and green.  The tomatoes used to be so fresh the juice would come out of it!  Now the hamburgers are so thin, like paper.”

For my father, the memory of something is always far more delicious than the reality.  So I can’t help but wonder, what’s up with the chicken?

To be clear, I fully admit to sometimes cheating a recipe and using a store-bought bird rather than poaching or roasting my own.  When I do that though, I feel like such a culinary con man.  My mother raised me better than this, I think guiltily as I hide the chicken’s take-out container deep within the recycling bin.

Of all the social stigmas in the world, the ones we’ve associated with food have got to be the strangest.  I mean, we have a whole category called junkBut is there anything junky about a rotisserie chicken?  If there is, like Valentine’s Day, does it even matter?  They’re flavorful and nutritious, and my Republican dad loves them.  And when I think about the day that marks my sixth year married, what I’ll think about is this: eating chicken with our crybaby puppy tangling himself up in the now-tattered quilt I made for our bed over a decade ago, while my parents — once so disapproving of Keith — tease and cajole my husband to eat some more as they piled more white meat onto his still-full plate.

And, for me, that’s what’s up with the chickens.

* The most popular recording of “Memories Are Made Of This” is by Dean Martin, but I’m quite fond of Johnny Cash‘s.

Everything Has Changed.

Yesterday Keith and I drove to New York, where we are now and where we picked up our new puppy.  He’s a whippet, born April eighth. We’ve named him Fergus Henderson, after the chef at St. John in London, but we’re just calling him Fergus. (Whippets are English, the name Fergus is English…) Fergus Henderson is just too much of a mouthful, especially if you want to be smart and stick both Keith and my last names in there too.  That’s a lot to fit on an ID tag.

My dad won’t admit it, but he’s pretty enamored with Fergus. I don’t blame him, because this dog is pretty damn cute.  I’ll be posting a photo of him every day on a separate site called Fergus, At Your Service, though I’m sure I’ll be mentioning him on a fairly regular basis — we’ve now got a four-legged reason to stay in.  So get used to more writing about home-cooked meals rather than restaurant food.

You’ve been warned.

Everything Has Changed” by Lucinda Williams.

Sunday Sunday.

Keith and I just spent three weeks in Southeast Asia; during that time we were in Manila, Hanoi, Halong Bay, Siem Reap, Boracay and Hong Kong.  It was a lot of fun, but man — that’s a lot of stops to make when you’re something like fifteen time zones away from home, especially when you squeeze in additional Manila breaks between Siem Reap and Boracay, and then again Boracay and Hong Kong.  Even though we went to some pretty awesome places, the highlight of the trip — for me, anyway — was staying at my grandmother’s house.

The last time I was at my grandmother’s was five years ago, but before that it had been ten.  We used to visit with far more frequency, but traveling 8500+ miles gets more difficult when there are things like jobs and vacation time to consider.

My grandmother lives in the Makati portion of Manila, in a neighborhood called Bel-Air; she’s lived in the same house my whole life, on Solar Street.  I always thought that bit was particularly cool, not only as it’s alliterative but especially as other streets in the neighborhood have names like Galaxy, Jupiter, Aquarius, Asteroid, Polaris… Filipinos love a theme.

There’s something so pleasing about going back to a place from your childhood and finding it to be as you had last left it.  Of course there have been changes, the most notably the fact that my grandfather wasn’t there — he died in 2008 — but I was still so surprised and comforted that so much of it was the same.  Much of that feeling was because the entire upstairs of the house is literally as I remember it; my grandmother is quite fit, even at 83, but she has little reason to go to the second floor and lives almost exclusively on the ground level.  Still, the bedrooms I’d slept in as a child have the same décor as they did in the eighties; the same mini-fridge full of mango juice stands at the top of the stairs; the glass case on the landing still houses my grandmother’s playing card collection (from when airlines used to give out decks as part of the in-flight entertainment).

When I used to travel to the Philippines as a kid, I’d arrive during summer vacation in August or July. Those are the months of the American summer; in the Philippines, the season runs from mid-March through May, so my many cousins (there are almost thirty of us) were in school during the week.  The house in Bel-Air would be filled with family on Saturdays and Sundays.  The aunts and uncles — my titas and titos — would arrive, with my cousins and their yayas in tow.  Food would have been laid out on the long credenza in the dining room, fresh mangoes sliced onto platters, drinks lined up next to the bar sink… all waiting to be consumed.

My favorites were, and are, calamares cooked in their own ink.  And pan de sal, always pan de sal, with or without butter.

The eating takes all day, and when we show signs of slowing, the meriendas comes out.  In another word: snacks.  Snacks like peanuts boiled in their shells, sapin-sapin (sticky rice and coconut cake), ensaymadas (sweet rolls covered in grated cheese and granulated sugar), hopia (mung bean cakes) and chicharróns.

Merienda time is also mahjong time, when four of my aunts settle a card table in the air conditioning, lining up the tiles and engaging in a genteel form of trash talking over the swish and click of tiles sliding across the table and colliding into one another.  The game lasts all day, often into the night.  The aunts and grandmothers take turns at the table while the grandkids run a lopsided triangular loop from the TV to the park across the street to the meriendas and the husbands sit in the dining room with newspapers and coffee.

Not much has changed, except the kids that now watch a sleek flatscreen TV are my cousins’ children, the great-grandchildren, and the husbands now tap iPads alongside their sons instead of flapping newspaper pages alone.  The meals may vary from week to week depending on moods and trends in food, but the essence is still the same.  Sunday is still the busiest day of the seven.  I may not know what I’ll be up to in a few days, but I can definitely tell you what’s going on half a world away.  And if we were there, I know I’d be sitting on the sofa underneath the 3-D TV, iPad in hand, while Keith and my aunts swirl the mahjong tiles in the middle of the table, making the little ivory tablets swish and click, swish and click.  I can hear it in my head from here, a little whisper of what was, what is, what will be.

Sunday Sunday” by Blur.
Makati skyline image from mvdelrosario217’s flickr photostream.

Every Picture Tells a Story.

The image in my new header is from my first meal at Eleven Madison Park in 2009.  The image in my previous header is from my meal at La Alqueria in 2007. They were two very dissimilar meals, but both were equally impactful on my eating life, so it made perfect sense to have photographs from them featured so prominently on the page.  In both cases, I chose my color scheme and then found pictures from my travels that coordinated seamlessly.  I guess I’m lucky to have eaten not just some lovely food, but colorful food.

Every Picture Tells a Story” by Rod Stewart.