Out of Sorts.

I was trying to come up with a clever title, but title-making is not a strength, and besides — being clever shouldn’t be an effort.  Either you are, or you aren’t.  In my case, sometimes I am and sometimes I aren’t.


I know I’ve been MIA for a while — that’s no secret — but I’m going to tell you why:  I’ve fallen out of love with food.  It’s not what you’re thinking.  A good recipe still sends me rushing to the kitchen, and a lovely dish set in front of me still makes me feel as bubbly as a glass of pêche lambic.  The first thing I think about when it comes to my book group is what we’re going to eat, and making my grocery list for the week is my favorite household chore.  The thing is, my body doesn’t agree with me.

Since February, I’ve been feeling sick — specifically I’ve been nauseous, I’ve been vomiting and I’ve been having crazy pain in my abdomen…  Basically, most things I’ve eaten have made me feel terrible.  And no, nothing ever tasted so amazing on the way down that it made up for how I oftentimes felt afterward.

I just found out last week that I have a nice little stomach bacteria called H.pylori, which medically really isn’t a big deal, but pretty much just sucks when you’re as into food as I am.  It also sucks if you’ve been taken out by this nice little stomach bacteria before,  which happened to be the last time you went to Spain, and  you spent the final four days of your trip lying in a sweaty ball entangled in the bedsheets of your Madrid hotel room while the antibiotics you’d been taking for the past ten days made you throw almost everything you’d eaten back up, and you begged your non-Spanish-speaking traveling companion to go out and explore the city and not stay cooped up with sweaty, puky you and he tried to make the most of it even though all he could ask for in Spanish was another glass of wine and the check, and in spite of the fact that it was raining buckets outside.  It also sucks if you’re scheduled to leave for Spain again in two weeks, and this time you’ve got reservations to elBulli.

I’ve been trying to cheer myself up by recognizing that at least H.pylori is pretty; this stain from a gastric biopsy is no Ross Bleckner*, but it’s still fascinating.

Having a solid diagnosis certainly makes me feel better, particularly after an eight-month-long upset stomach, countless tests and much bloodwork.  Now I’m just hoping I can love food with 100% of myself, bacteria-free stomach and all.  I mean, come on — we’ve got a trip to Barcelona to talk about!

*Here are my two favorite Bleckner’s, one of which is my telephone wallpaper: Conserved, Transcribed and The Arrangement of Things.

More On Paella.

I’ve just realized that when I wrote about my mother’s paella recipe, I didn’t mention my favorite thing about it: shrimp. This will sound strange, but regardless, here goes…

When I was younger, and she was cooking paella, my mother used to give me the task of dealing with shrimp. This meant that I would stand at the sink, dump a pound of shrimp into the colander I had propped up inside the stainless steel basin, and then promptly tear off their legs and maneuver their bodies and tails out of their shells. This was my favorite job in the kitchen. How I loved the strange and faint zipping noise their legs made, as I separated them from their cold, firm abdomens. I would give myself points for each tail I could coerce intact from its flimsy gray armor (how many points, I can’t tell you, since I would rack them up without counting). After I had made my way through the pile of bodies, I would rinse them under cold water, shake them dry and present them to my mother, who would unceremoniously dump the lot into the pot to cook and to redden.

For some reason, and this holds true to this day, whenever I clean shrimp, I always want to slip their stiff, petal-like tails into my mouth and bite down. I don’t know why. I’ve never done it, for sanitary reasons, and I haven’t the same compulsion for cooked tails. I can’t explain that one either.

Anyway, the photo above is of a nice little plate of paella Keith and I had at a tapas bar in the Albayzín district of Granada during a trip to Spain this past fall. As I recall, it was very good. No shrimp though.

Dreams + Neuroses.

For a long while, Keith and I have wanted to live abroad. I must say, particularly now that my friends Beth and Bob have done it, therefore making such a move seem like a more achievable reality, I am beginning to get anxious. Now, I should say, firstly, that we don’t have any set plans; regardless, I’ve still got my concerns. I’m not quite hyperventilating yet about the normal things, such as visas and finding an apartment and language barriers and the like. No, I’m instead nervous about how much fatter I’m going to get. I mean, come on! Let’s go through some of the world’s nations and their food:

  • Argentina: carne asado, chinchulines, dulce de membrillo, empanadas, fideos, locro, mate, medialunas, morcilla, sandwiches de miga.
  • Belgium: chocolates and pralines, frieten, greven broecker, lambic, mosselen-friet, stoemp, vlaamse stoofkarbonaden, waffles, waterzooi, witbier.
  • England and the UK in general: Cadburys, Maltesers and etc., curries, fish and chips, haggis, Montgomery’s cheddar, pasties, porters, Spotted Dick, Stilton, Welsh rarebit, Yorkshire pudding.
  • France: bouillabaisse, cassoulet, crêpes, croissants, gougères, mille-feuilles, pâté, pot au feu, ratatouille, Tomme de Savoie.
  • Germany: bratwurst, blutwurst, weißwürste and all other wursts, gingerbread, pickert, radler, schnitzel, schnüsch, spätzle, soßklopse, stollen, wiener rouladen.
  • Hong Kong and China: char siu baau, congee, dim sum, dumplings, fish balls, milk tea, paper-wrapped chiffon cakes, peking duck, red bean pudding, shao mai.
  • Italy: burrata, bicerin, ciccioli, fegatelli di maiale, latte dolce fritto, mortadella, osso buco, panettone, Piave, tortelli di zucca.
  • Japan: bento boxes, donburi, kushikatsu, mochi, ochazuke, onigiri, sashimi and sushi, soba, somen and udon noodles, takoyaki, zōsui.
  • Korea: bibimbap, bulgogi, ddeock, galbijjim, hobbang, hotteok, jabchae, kimbap, naeng-myeon, pajeon.
  • Spain: albóndigas, ajoblanco, croquetas, gazpacho, jamón ibérico, Idiazábal, paella, tapas and pintxos, tortilla española, migas.
  • The Netherlands: CHEESE.

Let’s face it: I’m doomed.

Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?

parismetrolargetif-3.jpg What are we doing here, sitting still, when we could be out there, running around and seeing all the things in the world that we have yet to see? As I’m typing this, I can’t help but think about all everything I’ve got to do tonight (buy new bobbins, cook dinner, work on some writing, figure out my Easter menu, organizing Keith’s birthday gifts) but really, what I want to do is hit the road. Does the romance and luster of running away ever fade?

I want to see Bonaire, I want to see Buenos Aires, I want to walk along the same streets my dad did when he was growing up, I want to go back to Vienna and find that amazing crêpe place around Stephansplatz, I want to see Bali at least one more time, I want to hang over the railing of a Star Ferry boat crossing Victoria Harbour from Kowloon to Hong Kong like I did when I was like ten except this time I don’t want to get sick.

Normally I get this feeling after I’ve been somewhere and have just begun the voyage home; I practically start itching to turn the car or the plane or the train around because I don’t want to go back. I’ll be looking forward being able to at last sleep in my own bed — truly my favorite place in the whole world — but then, next thing I know, I’ll start feeling desperate to go somewhere else. So why am I feeling the urge now, since my last trip was to Spain in November? It might have to do with the fact that this morning I woke up and just wanted to stay in bed. After all, why am I waking up in the same place morning after morning when I have yet to wake up in Lisbon, or in Santiago, or in Kyoto?

Then again, it’s not just about going places, it’s the intimate knowledge of a place — the desire to truly inhabit a destination — that I want. So here is an impromptu list of where I’d like to go and re-go (in orange), in alphabetical order as otherwise it will take me too long to prioritize. Did I miss anything?

  • Austin, Texas
  • Bali
  • Barcelona
  • Bath
  • Beijing
  • Beirut
  • Belgium
  • Bonaire
  • Bora Bora
  • Bordeaux
  • Bristol
  • Budapest
  • Buenos Aires
  • Cambridge, England
  • Chicago
  • Copenhagen
  • Cuba
  • Curaçao
  • Dog Island, Florida
  • Dover
  • Ecuador
  • Egypt
  • El Yunque
  • Fiji
  • Hong Kong
  • Iceland
  • Idaho
  • Jerez de la Frontera
  • Kenya
  • Kowloon
  • Krakow
  • Kyoto
  • Languedoc
  • London
  • Los Angeles
  • Manila
  • Minnesota
  • Montana
  • Montréal
  • Morocco
  • Moscow
  • New Orleans
  • New Zealand
  • Nova Scotia
  • Osaka
  • Oxford
  • Panama
  • Paris
  • Peru
  • Pittsburgh
  • Portland, Maine
  • Portland, Oregon
  • Portugal
  • Prague
  • Puerto Rico
  • Québec
  • San Francisco
  • Santiago
  • Savannah, Georgia
  • Scotland
  • Seattle
  • Shanghai
  • Singapore
  • South Africa
  • South Korea
  • Sweden
  • Taiwan
  • Thailand
  • The Cyclades
  • The Dalmatian Coast
  • The Dominican Republic
  • The Loire Valley
  • The Netherlands
  • The Rhône Valley
  • The Seychelles
  • Tokyo
  • Toronto
  • Venezuela
  • Vermont
  • Vienna
  • Vietnam
  • Wales