Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 157

Hi.

Coffee: Maxwell House Master Blend, Office Coffee

I cooked a curry but really it was just some stuff I had lying around. An onion, two tomatoes, garbanzo beans, a healthy heaping of cardamom and turmeric. At first I had the burners too high so some of the onions caramelized, only they didn’t stop getting sweeter and burned black onto the pan. Too much of a good thing.

In the end, my makeshift curry matched the mood of the day: hot and scattered, but overall alright.

I talked to a guy who’d lost his job a few years ago. The company he worked for went under and out went his life savings. Since then he’s been building back up, and now he runs a few small businesses. He told me the worst decision he’d ever made was to do just one thing.

Later, I talked to a woman who’s just starting out. New job, new paycheck, looking for a way to build credit. She comes to me with a couple friends. I’ve met them all before, they move in a unit, they complement each other. Anyway, she’s got bigger dreams than I can help her with, but we have a long conversation about putting plans in motion, and she never stops being optimistic as she leaves for the door.

When I ate the curry, I couldn’t help picking out the different parts. I’d spear an onion or scoop a tomato. I had it all over rice. It was red and white and yellow, bits of green from some leftover edamame that snuck. I liked the colors. They looked good together, a complicated life.

For a moment, or a second, the pinched expressions of the cynical, world-weary, throat-cutting, miserable bastards we’ve all had to become disappears, when we’re confronted with something as simple as a plate of food.

Anthony Bourdain, Kitchen Confidential

Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 140

Hi.

Coffee: House Drip, Fiesta Ole Mexican Restaurant; the coffee came in a cup with three creams on the side; I’m always thrown off when restaurants give you those tiny plastic cups without you asking – like you expected this, you were owed; dreams of deep reefs gone white from sun bleach, starved fish nibbling the thin plastic sand; comfort is predicated on waste; oh, and the coffee tasted good, but not as good as I was expecting

I took my father out for a belated birthday lunch at Fiesta Ole. It’s a Mexican restaurant halfway between Durham and Chapel Hill and it used to belong to a family of restaurants called ‘Torerros’. The name changed but the menu didn’t, same big bright plates and large portions, and we all enjoyed our food.

The building was bright on the outside and dim in the middle, two stories, though the second was gutted so you could see the rafters. The booths were small but spacious and the place smelled like a fresh coat of wax. It was busy. Lots of people eating, a good sign. The way the light slipped out of the kitchen made me feel like I was being transported, a big black barge, high waters, the kind of cabin that takes you somewhere, drops you off, and leaves without looking back.

It was good to see my family. We talked like we used to. They told stories about different uncles. When the food came, we ate together and the boisterous dining hall got quieter, like the steam was a blanket, and we were making a fort from it, and this space was only for us.

Currently Reading: Queen, Suzanne Crain Miller

Support Relief for Family Suffering at the Border  – RAICES DONATION CAMPAIGN

The tone of the repartee was familiar, as was the subject matter, a strangely comfortable background music to most of my waking hours over the last two decades or so – and I realised that, my God… I’ve been listening to the same conversation for twenty-five years!

Anthony Bourdain, Kitchen Confidential

Coffee Log, Day 214

Hi.

Coffee: French Roast, Trader Joe’s Brand

I talked to a friend who said if he had more money the only change he’d make is that he’d travel more. I talked to a retired divorcee who’s selling Triangle property to move to an aluminum cabin he built for himself in Alaska. I talked to my mother who said she’d like to see Vienna someday and my father who said if he ever got to go to Korea the first thing he’d visit is the DMZ. In college, I paid two grand to study dead cultures in Greece; in 2014, I paid about the same to teach in Japan.

Why do we try so hard to get some place where we aren’t recognized? Is it privilege? Restlessness? The wide-eyed pastures of American culture? When you look in the mirror and see pajamas, a button down, no bags packed in the periphery, where does the stress come from, the shame, the disappointment?

So many posted pictures of places you barely recognize, showing off other peoples’ lives like they’re your own. Spend one more minute alone in your own bedroom and you’ll have to reckon with what you’ve made of yourself. You only stick around when the money’s gone, only pay attention to the street of premium parking lots where there used to be someone’s backyard if you can’t afford the next ticket out of town.

Currently Reading: Autumn, Ali Smith; Cherry, Nico Walker

Support Relief for Family Suffering at the BorderRAICES DONATION CAMPAIGN

“Maybe that’s enlightenment enough: to know that there is no final resting place of the mind; no moment of smug clarity. Perhaps wisdom…is realizing how small I am, and unwise, and how far I have yet to go.” – Anthony Bourdain

IMG_1688

Coffee Log, Day 145

Hi.

Coffee: India Extra Bold Roast, Cafe Crema; the most expensive cup of average coffee I’ve had.

I’m getting pretty good at stir-fry. It only took two years.

Today I got the heat right, the onions clear but crunchy, tofu golden. I learned a trick: marinate your oil. I tossed garlic and chili flakes for thirty seconds in sunflower oil; the garlic pop-cracked like bullwhips and then the apartment smelled so good.

I talked to a coworker today about going vegetarian and I talked to my cousin about the same thing yesterday. My coworker was real worried about my protein intake. My cousin was real worried about the privilege behind the choice.

They’re both right – I’ve had days where I didn’t eat anything hearty; I’ve gone to bed feeling faint. But those days are rare because tofu’s plentiful around here. But in Crossett, Arkansas where my cousin grew up? Or the stern brick apartments where my students grew up? Or hell, any of the apartments around me made home by vibrant families, two-year old sets of new teeth and new smiles that can’t make a dollar, can’t provide for themselves…

The cheapest food I can think off is a giant sack of rice from the Korean grocery but you have to have the mental capital to know that. To the exhausted, poor, overworked American purple hearts, it’s more likely your head goes to white bread, 25 cent chicken ramen, dollar menus at the fast food joint.

There’s privilege in affording to choose vegetarianism, even more in the energy to make that choice.

Currently Reading: LaRose, Louise Erdrich

Support Relief for Family Suffering at the BorderRAICES DONATION CAMPAIGN

“Vegetarians, and their Hezbollah-like splinter faction, the vegans … are the enemy of everything good and decent in the human spirit.” – Anthony Bourdain, Kitchen Confidential

IMG_1399

Coffee Log, Day 129

Hi.

Coffee: Fair Trade Ethiopian Medium Dark, Harris Teeter Brand

I spell ‘summer’ a little different: c-u-c-u-m-b-e-r. At five I watched ‘My Neighbor Totoro.’ Satsuki and Mei made cucumbers look like everything you could want. Icebergs in an Arabian heatwave; solace, your first love’s fingers.

I bought two English and chopped them up. There’s a site I recommend, omnivorescookbook.com. Following Maggie Zhu, I made a sauce with rice vinegar. Tossed, sauced, I tasted twelth grade, eighth grade, second. I remembered cooking meatloaf with my mother; chili with my dad. He just turned 70. A big year. Happy birthday Dad.

Food’s intimate. Bourdain knew that. The hot plates and summer sweat evaporate drama from your pores, you can’t hide anything. Some notable meals: S made Kraft macaroni and introduced me to reality television. TT gets La Fiesta with me every time he’s in town. In Fukuoka, around 11, I ate pig guts dipped in stomach bile, MI laughed, I learned her language for the night. A stirred deer-meat in her spaghetti and we watched horror movies, felt a little less horror on the couch together. M mixed mushrooms in everything, even the late Spring sunlight, a hot kitchen caught in hair, curtains, shirts, skin, portabella flesh.

My fingers smell like salt and garlic. You could spin an Aegean cruise out of me. I’m ten feet above the blue water, watching Miyazaki, hearing Mei’s teeth, cucumber – click click! – cooking until the sweat slips out, un-hidden, all of you right beside me.

Currently Reading:

History of Wolves, Emily Fridlund (2017 Man Booker Prize Shortlist) (FINISHED!!! Unforgettable; will post a review this weekend)

Support Relief for Family Suffering at the BorderRAICES DONATION CAMPAIGN

“Is your cucumber bitter? Throw it away. Are there briars in your path? Turn aside. That is enough. Do not go on and say, “Why were things of this sort ever brought into this world?”” – Marcus Aurelius

IMG_1302

Coffee Log, Day 108

Hi.

On a dark March evening in 2013, lying beside a sleeping woman with whom I’d been collaboratively ruining two lives – mine and hers – I was strung out, lit up, crying, and inspired as the hot blue TV played the Hokkaido episode of No Reservations. Anthony Bourdain was sipping soup. The soup was prepared with fish sperm. Absurdly removed from my nook in North Carolina, that scene confirmed my decision that – no matter where I was or who I was with in a year – I’d follow up on a lead to teach English in Japan. In 2014, I did just that. All that is to say: Anthony Bourdain helped me save myself.

So it was a little disorienting that he hung himself last night in a French hotel.

I went to lunch at China Chef for the third time today. It was less crowded but still full of shift workers. The lady at the counter knew my name, my order, I sat at my awkward window table below a CRT blaring Fox News. I watched cars drive by and ate a good meal. Bourdain would have disapproved of the dish – tofu, no meat – but I think he would have appreciated the restaurant. A mom&pop run by immigrants. Food that connected me to another culture and to my own. I found myself over and over in the hot rice, thick sauce, bubbling-crisp spring roll – this was every tiny Chinese diner I grew up visiting with my Dad. Like my last couple visits, I was the only white face. I felt wonderfully alone and wonderfully together.

Anthony Bourdain was the best thing going for white America. He found a voice in hardship, empathy in privilege. He had power but used it to lift those without it. He wasn’t good, wasn’t perfect, or even all that nice, but he kept his eyes open and ears ready and tongue watering for whatever disagreed with him. He grew. Watch A Cook’s Tour, then watch Parts Unknown. He knew that America looks best when she’s bursting full of language, flavor, culture, color. He knew he’d lived thirty years of advantage so he spent the next thirty traveling the world to understand – and ultimately extend to others – that advantage. He didn’t have a message, an agenda, other than to approach the world on its own terms, however frightening or strange it might seem. He spoke love to the simplest places and cut wickedly at those with corrupting power.

Anthony Bourdain was the best thing going for white America. He was an example of how to be both honest and good. Last night, he hung himself in a French hotel.

I’ve gotta say: what you did was pretty selfish, Bourdain. You probably knew that – you had a hundred dark horses running through your thoughts – but knowledge doesn’t absolve so I have to call you out. There’s no strength in running and no matter how weak you are there’s always enough strength to go on. Take it from me – I grew up in a family of brinksmanship; I’ve flirted with the edge on windy nights. But there’s no justice to bowing out early.

People still need you. Your family surely does. Every immigrant cook in an American kitchen needs you to keep giving their powerful voices a platform. America needs you, especially now as her most dangerous demons bubble up like indigestion. And, like a million other writers, artists, scoundrels, addicts, vagabonds, low-down honest persons just trying to get by, I need you. It was a bad, nasty thing you did last night. It hurt us all; it will for a while.

But I guess I’ll take a page from your book: just this once – inspired by the open way you met the lowest, weakest, roughest hearts exactly where they were, no judgment, just open ears and appreciation – I’ll forgive you.

I don’t know which hell or heaven has you, Bourdain, but make sure you’re too much for them to handle.

“Night falls – like a fat man tripping over his shoelaces.” – Anthony Bourdain

IMG_1221