For 15 years of my life I was a strict vegetarian, abiding by some vague notions centered around animal cruelty. Then, one night, about 12 years ago, sitting at one of Suzanne Goin’s restaurants, I saw a plate of jamon serrano whizzing by and I simply had to have it. Under the astonished eyes of my friends, I devoured the entire thing without batting an eyelid. And never looked back.
Trying to make sense of the world and life through food and words.
A pastry chef dissing sugar can come across as an oxymoron. But I have always been a pastry chef hell-bent on not using corn syrup, food coloring and on avoiding overly sweet and cloying creations. Since I left my job, I have been trying to wean myself off the need of reaching for something sweet (usually chocolate – even dark chocolate contains sugar) after every meal. Breakfast pastries are not part of my breakfast any longer (well, with the exception of Italy, where I cannot forego cappuccino and croissant) as the notorious sugar crash induced by such foods has become more noticeable as I age.
For most of my childhood, I hated Biafran children. I was always a picky eater and a skinny kid; all our family dinners were partaken at exactly 8 pm, with the tv set on in the background and my father silencing us if an item of interest (to him) appeared on the news. While I toyed with bits of meats and vegetables, my mother would invariably prod me with “Think of those African children. They have nothing to eat”. It should have shamed me into finishing my dinner but all it did was build resentment towards those protruding bellies and vacant stares. “If they are so hungry, why don’t they come get my meatballs” I would mutter to myself.
In the face smiling at me, a face I haven’t set eyes on in over 30 years, I can still see the sweet expression of the six-year old who used to hold my hand on the way back from school. My best friend through elementary and middle school is right there, at the center of her Facebook page, a life unspooled away from me: her son, her companion, her trips – mostly the happy occasions we like to share with the world.
The highlight of my brief stint working for a bookstore was seeing Gloria Steinem approach my register. She exuded poise, beauty and strength and I missed an opportunity to express my admiration; I took the stack of magazines she handed me (no, Ms. was not one of them) and I rang her up. I didn’t even address her in any particular way, either than “Hello, thank you and you are welcome” but I wonder how she would have reacted had I called her “ma’am”.
How do countries move beyond unspeakable atrocities? After World War II, the Nuremberg trials dealt with some of the Nazi criminals, allowing for a modicum of closure. In more recent times, countries plagued by civil wars have tended to adopt the South African model of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, created after the end of apartheid, in which perpetrators and victims come face to face; the former accept their responsibilities and the latter have an opportunity to voice their stories. Think of Rwanda and, to a certain extent, Bosnia.
Forgiveness is not always possible but it’s at the core of this process, devised so that former enemies but still citizens of the same country can move on and live side by side.
My citrus trees are on overdrive. When I moved to this house, nearly ten years ago, it was clear the previous owners were into growing their own fruit and vegetables, a task I would have gladly carried on were I not the most incompetent gardener and for the small matter of a very demanding job that left me no time to coddle zucchini and lettuce.
The vegetable enclosure was thus dismantled but the fruit trees managed to prosper in spite of me. I have not bought a lemon in ten years,and, right about now, the orange and mandarin trees, grown into adulthood, are providing me with an extra workout – it helps they are perched on an unforgiving hillside.
“Did you put the snakes away?” are the first words that blurt out of my mouth after the usual pleasantries.
“Yes, they are locked up in a room but you can see them if you want” the host volunteers.
“Oh god absolutely not”. Puzzled looks around me, mostly because I live in an area where snakes are as commonplace as grass, especially rattlers. So how am I managing, they are all thinking?
We are debating whether it would be wise to enter the chapel of Our Lady of Death and atone our sins. He wouldn’t go unless I went first and, teased by his mates in the background, we relinquish the opportunity of sitting in a garishly decorated booth, filled with sickeningly scented calla lilies.