Eat Me. Drink Me.

Why We Eat. Why We Drink. Why We Write.

Month: February, 2012

A Fish Out of Water Springs Back In

by lyzpfister

I wonder if I can run some water over it, I said, as I held the fish in my hand.

Then I realized what I’d said.

And truthfully, I can’t say for certain whether I said this or thought this, since, living alone, one develops a lingual fluidity. Since there’s no one there to hear what you say except yourself, the words you say aloud and the words that stay inside your head reach exactly the same audience. Which means, you may quietly slip into insanity without noticing that it’s happened.

I often find myself speaking out loud as I’m unchaining my bike in my building’s courtyard. The courtyard is a gray space between my apartment, where it’s ok to talk to myself, and the outside world – where it’s not. There, in that small patch of stone and weeds and rows of bikes which in winter always look a bit brittle, it’s as though a switch flips in my mind, one that says, hey, it’s not ok to talk to yourself out loud anymore. Of course, I usually say that sentence out loud. It’s followed by: Um, you just said that out loud. Then: Wait, you just said that out loud too. Followed by: Ok, you really need to stop talking to yourself out loud. Ad infinitum.

I’m hoping to curb this habit now that I’m a working woman once again (isn’t that a lovely phrase?). Every day, from 9-6, I sit inside a neo-industrial building near Checkpoint Charlie and write advertisements for a company’s online marketing department. Then I bike home and write more. (Perhaps the slip into insanity has already occurred?)

What’s nice about actually going to work – versus schlepping myself to a coffee shop for five hours where I pretend to write – is that it forces me to interact with people for a large portion of my day, where I apparently fulfill an unmeasured daily public communication quota which prevents me from talking to myself. Bonus.

What’s also nice about work is that cooking once again becomes a way to unwind, instead of just something to do to fill my long and empty days. (This is a melodramatic – I’ve actually slipped into a comfortable Berlin lifestyle. I guess what I really mean is, when I don’t work, I waste a lot of time. Which is, I think, a euphemism for I play a lot of spider solitaire.)

I ran my fish under cold water. I don’t know what kind of fish it was – fish species never made it to my German vocabulary list – but it was smaller, silvery-brown with black speckles and a soft, white underbelly.

It had little fish eyes and a little fish mouth which reminded me of my elementary school cafeteria lady. Like the Gestapo, she’d patrol up and down our neat, seated child-rows on the cafeteria floor and every so often would point to her sour mouth and say, It takes twice as many muscles to frown as to smile. Look what you kids have done to me.

I roasted the fish simply, with tomatoes, lemon, garlic, and fennel, lots of olive oil and cracked black pepper. While it roasted, I thought quietly to myself, like most sane people do, read a bit, wrote a bit, did the dishes. And it was nice to know that the things I did were done because they had to be done in the two hours I had between the end of my work day and going out to meet someone in the evening. Schedules. I love them.

Though really, I’m not sure how long I’ll love this being busy thing. When I’m not, I say I miss it. When I am, I only want a break. It’s all that green grass. Yet, somehow I manage to make it work – there is only one of me and what I have done is what I have done and what I didn’t do mostly doesn’t matter since it wasn’t what I chose to do.

For now, I’ll be content with the productive bursts I feel in my few free hours, enjoy the experience of sitting in front of the oven, watching a fish roast, watching tomatoes and lemons leech juice. And of course, taking my leftovers to work and knowing my lunch is by far the best.

Roast Fish with Tomatoes, Lemon, and Fennel

Finely chop 3-4 tomatoes (depending on size), ½ of a yellow onion, and 2 cloves of garlic. Add a healthy splash of olive oil, ½ lemon’s worth of juice, salt, and pepper. Stir to combine. I made this faux-bruschetta the day before, which I think really allowed the flavors to intensify. But I don’t think you have to do that if you don’t have time. Preheat the oven to 410* F. Place 1 whole fish (scaled and gutted) in the center of a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and rub with salt and cracked black pepper. Stuff the fish’s cavity with the tomato mixture and spoon the remaining mix on top of the fish. Nestle some coarsely chopped fennel around the fish and garnish with fennel fronds and lemon slices. Roast for about 30 minutes total, flipping at the 20-minute mark, until the flesh is white and the tomatoes have sunk into little, shriveled knobs.

The Appropriate Emoticon for a Butchered Chicken is :o

by lyzpfister

Cutting up a whole chicken always seems to involve dangling it by some appendage. Grip the chicken firmly by the leg and lift it in the air as you slice your knife into the jointGrab the wing and pull it away from the body… Holding the chicken by one leg, place the tip of your knife…

It makes me sad for the chickens – not that they’re dead, but that in death, they must weather the ignominy of me ungraciously hefting them into the air by their prickled-skinned legs and hacking away as their naked little chicken bodies twirl away from the tip of my knife…

I will admit: I am an ungainly chicken partitioner. Don’t tell anyone, but sometimes I dig out the lower piece of breast with my fingers because I can’t figure out how to get a knife into that strange curved dip of bone. I can never remember where the drumstick ends and the thigh begins or whether there’s a better way to cut along the ribs. And then there’s all that dangling.

I try to do my butchering in secret, so that no one else must see the shame of what is really all that the connotation of the word butchering implies. I like to have my guests walk into the kitchen with the pan of Nepali chicken curry contentedly bubbling like the La Brea Tar Pits on the stove. The dinosaur extinction scene is just too painful to watch.

Speaking of pain, I’ve been thinking about emoticons recently, and how I think they’re a necessary function of modern communication. For a long time, I was resistant to using them, and I think I’m still a bit of a prude. My faces never sport noses, or stick their tongue out, and though I sometimes use the winky-face, I find it vaguely pornographic…

I had placed emoticons in the same category as “LOL” or “OMG” or “ROFLMAO” (I mean, OMG, what a string of letters – it takes me longer to work out what that means than to dissect a chicken) without thinking about the function they play in communication. Two important factors in modern communication (primarily text, chat, and some emails) are speed and truncation. You need to get the point across as quickly and succinctly as possible. With one parenthetical flourish, an emoticon imparts an emotional tenor which would otherwise have to be expressed in a sentence or two. For instance, Can’t make it tonight, I have the flu, the cats have attached themselves to my upper thigh, and Gregor Samsa just turned into a giant cockroach, but I really really love you and we should definitely hang out later this week becomes Can’t make it tonight : (

You might say, it’s just lazy, not to explain how Gregor Samsa ended up in your living room. Partly, it’s a matter of phone bills. Mostly, it’s a matter of medium. A text is not a letter. A text is a means to make plans, convey brief bursts of emotion, find each other in a crowd. A chat is quick communication – you don’t have hours to formulate your thoughts, nor do you have a person in front of you whose facial expressions you can read or whose vocal intonation you can hear. Without the ability to analyze a person, emoticons become necessary in order to quickly convey sarcasm, sadness, glee, humor, etc. without losing the conversation’s thread.

Using emoticons is not lazy, but a skill. It takes finesse to know which pieces of speech are necessary and which can be replaced. In fractions of seconds, we take entire sentences, dissect them, and reassemble them so that they fit within a character-limited space. Of course, I doubt many people think about this process, especially many of the generation born with a cell phone stuck in their little baby fists. I can see how on some level, if you’ve never learned to communicate in complete sentences in the first place, there’s nothing behind an emoticon but a vapid, blank space.

I’ve been told my conversations are discursive. As I sit here wondering how I’m going to get from emoticons back to chopped up chickens, I’m wondering if this habit of mine might need to be curtailed.

But listen. Communication, whether written or spoken, involves arrangement and rearrangement. Our brains are processing how to say what we end up saying all the time – and depending on the medium we choose, recombining the same message in different ways.

Think of a whole chicken as a segment of meaning. Your medium is Nepali chicken curry and your limitation is the size of a frying pan. So you cut the whole chicken apart into pieces and reassemble it so it fits snugly in the pan. It might have lost something (it’s dignity at the tip of my knife…) along the way, but its all still chicken – though in a format suited to the purpose. And emoticons in this analogy? I suppose you could say that’s the human touch – the way you puzzle the chicken pieces together, tucking wings under thighs, filling in the gaps so that the chicken still feels whole.

TTYL : )

Bulgarian Crepe Tacos

by lyzpfister

The beauty of leftovers is that they allow for the most unusual of cultural combinations. See, for instance, Bulgarian crepe tacos.

If, like me, you made too many Bulgarian meatballs (see last post), never fear, you don’t need to eat Bulgarian meatballs three days in a row – you, too, can pretend you’re Sarah Palin, confusing Bulgaria for France and France for Mexico. Sweet, beautiful, cultural cacophony.

Crumble leftover Bulgarian meatballs in their tomato sauce into a skillet and heat. Add a chopped carrot to the tomato and cucumber salad. Cut up some cheese (I found a fingernail piece of hot chili gouda). Find some lettuce. Put the sour cream on the table – you should still have some leftover from the sour cream/lemon/garlic/cilantro sauce. And make crepes. Flour, milk, and egg, thrown together in some measure until the dough is the consistency of a runny nose. I’m sorry, I know that’s unappetizing – but it’s winter, it’s a pervasive problem, and it’s the only comparison I can think of right now.

So wonderful. So easy to throw together. Like the joy of eating those Bulgarian meatballs for the first time. Resist making a bad Madonna pun. Eat another taco to keep from talking.