Sunday, September 30, 2012

Memoir - Rough Draft

I woke up to the slanted ceiling staring back at me, only inches from my face. Turning over in the small twin bed, I saw my younger brother tangled in the flowered sheets that my mother slept in when she visited as a kid. The room smelled like old carpet, a musty, yet comforting scent of grandparents, or in my case, great-grandparents. Thinking back to the house on Wisner Street, where my grandfather grew up, where my mother spent countless days, and where my brother and I got to come as a mini vacation from the family cottage that was just outside of town, my memoires are absorbed by food.  
Smells of bacon and pancakes would drift up to the bedroom, enticing us from our sleep. Slowly we crawled down the steep stairs through the dining room and into the kitchen. Homemade Italian Christmas bread would already toasted and butters as my great-grandmother stood in the middle of the small kitchen - her small kitchen - making breakfast for us. It had become a ritual, a routine, when we came to visit. She stood in a long blue robe, faded from years of being worn each morning, white hair perfectly curled, as she leaned over the yellowed white Formica countertops. Steam rose from her cup as she poured herself a cup of Folders. Her toast sat on a small plate she has had since the 60s accompanied by a red-lidded jar of J.I.F. After she took sips of her dark black brew, she moved on to applying an even, almost perfect later of peanut butter on the golden brown toast while I would sit watching her like she was doing magic. Those two smells, the earthy coffee and nutty scent filled the small, bright room. 
My great-grandmother was a baker. That was her hobby. Her specialty, banana bread, but she would never disappoint with her shortcakes, brownies, and cookies of all types. This is how I remember her. I never remember eating food at her house that wasn’t sweet. I must have gotten my sweet tooth from her. Thankfully, the recipes have been passed down to my grandmother and now to my mom and me. Even so, they still don’t taste as good as her creations did. Knowing her, I’m almost positive she added something to the batter that she never wrote down, leaving me now at a loss.
I’d sit watching her prepare our breakfast on a stool propped against the wall, out of the way, as I wait for my Strawberry Poptarts to be toasted to their own golden brown perfection. My brother sat at the table, feet kicking, his legs too short to touch the floor waiting for his Lucky Charms. Beams of light shone down on the floor. Dust flew through the light like a quiet snowstorm. The windows may have had a bit of dirt on them, but that didn’t obstruct my view of the backyard garden where my great-grandfather stood watering and weeding the garden before it got too hot. I moved from my perch to the table where she had set her plate across from my brother’s and mine.
Breakfast was a time not only to consume fresh fruit cut up in milk or left over shortcakes, but also a place where my family plans the day. I never cared what she had planned for the day, as long as we were allowed to get Dairy Queen as some point during the day. Normally, she’d teach me how to play canasta or we’d pull out the board games she had used for decades. My favorites were Sorry! And Rummikub. I think the Sorry! board got to the point of falling apart and we resorted to taping the fold so that it didn’t split. My great-grandmother and I would play games for hours, and when we got tired of them, she turned on the television to the Game Show Network (GSN) and we watched anything and everything.
At some point, around lunch, my parents came over to eat lunch. They brought hamburgers and chips with a watermelon, a perfect summer lunch. While my dad helped my great-grandfather with whatever needed to be fixed that day, my little brother in tow, the ladies would go into the kitchen to start lunch. For me, burgers were a staple item, mustard, ketchup, and pickles were all I needed to complete the sandwich. That would not seem like enough now, as I love lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and avocado as well. But back then everything was simple and wonderful. The smell of the grill is synonymous with summer in my mind. Describing charcoal is close to impossible. It is unique in the since that when you smell it, you instantly know that the food coming off the grill will have a hint of it converted into flavor.
            I wish I could go back to that house. Those summers were filled with magic. Grapes that were so firm, they burst with a crunch. Sweet corn on the cob doused in butter with hamburgers and hotdogs over the old charcoal grill with fresh vegetable from the garden. Trips to DQ almost everyday with games of mini golf on steaming hot days. I wish I could go back to visit that old house where steps creaked and the house shook in the summer wind and see my great-grandparents again, hear their voices. Looking back, my love for turning on GSN disappeared when my great-grandmother died. I just can’t appreciate them as much when she isn’t sitting by my trying to answer the questions before the contestants do. As much as I wish I could relive these memories, I can’t. These people are gone, the house was sold years ago, the garden is gone, and many of these once delicious foods are not a part of my diet anymore. Things change and life changes, but at least I have the memories. I am a product of these people and of these foods.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Food is GREAT: Britian

Gordon Ramsey & Thomas Keller, as well as other chefs, talk about why British food is great. Check it out.

Here is another one. Makes me want to take a field trip.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Class 9/27 - "A Cook's Tour"

I took a lot at some of Bourdain’s videos from “A Cook’s Tour” and feel in love with his whole journey than I already was. I was fascinated by his encounter with the Geishas. As he mentioned in his videos, I was also someone who until recently had known them only as “call girls” which is not the case. “Geishas are basically professional hostesses. They’re women who have dedicated their lives to the traditional Japanese art. This is highbrow service.” There was something quite magical about the whole entire experience that he had; the atmosphere, the food, the music, and the rules and guidelines he had to follow.
            Then watching his video of his trip to Puebla, I almost started drooling on my computer. The food he was eating was so fresh and his experience, so native compared to what I have experienced when I visit Mexico (which is to be expected when staying in a five-star hotel).
            I feel as if he is a bit more positive in his show than he is in the book, which is to be expected. This book felt more like a confession on sorts, which I enjoyed. We, as readers, got a look into what he was thinking when he encountered these people and foods.
            As for his descriptions on Gordon Ramsey, that was spot on. This man demands the best from his chefs and will not anything but perfection. Having watched Hell’s Kitchen and Master Chef, he exudes the high-intensity personality that Bourdain mentions in his book.
            Bourdain describes Thomas Keller as a “quiet, surprisingly modest man” which is was I saw in the show, but it was more of his creativity and love for food that surprised me when I witnessed him on my screen (243). It wasn’t that Bourdain failed to mention this, but he was just SO absolutely passionate about his food and took the time to make sure everything was perfect that it caught me off guard. Here is a chef who has 85 or more people at his disposal every time he is working, and he wants to be such a huge part of the operation. It is inspiring.
            Overall, I loved this book and cannot wait to check out his other ones.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Reading Response 4 - "A Cook's Tour"

“I’ve learned something on the road. I doesn’t do to waste. Even here – I use everything” (274).

This was the last phrase of Bourdain’s book “A Cook’s Tour” really struck me not only because it was the end, but also because of how direct and powerful it was. To me, there can be two different interpretations of this, the surface level and the deeper meaning. What can be taken at face value from this statement is that what Bourdain learned through his experiences traveling around the world to find the ‘perfect meal’ is that people should use everything when preparing a meal. As much as I’d like to settle for this simplistic answer, I feel as though there is much more going on.
Here is a man who has spent a large part of his life battling an addiction to drugs and probably feels as though he missed out on a lot of experiences because of that, yet he has gotten past those struggles and is now able to have the life he wanted. While he was writing this final chapter, he was with his wife on vacation in the French West Indies, realizing the simple pleasures in life are the most important. It is about living in the moment.
            I have gone through phases in my own life where is has been one giant pity party. Months have gone by where the majority of my time is spent letting something small take over my life, making me believe that my life will never recover, rather than being grateful for my health, my family, my mental sanity, and enjoying the present moment and what it has to offer. I am really cautious about getting into these things I call ruts because it is hard to get out of them, but if I consciously try to make a mental note of the little things in life, I end up being a happier person overall.
While reading that last word of wisdom from Bourdain, I couldn’t help but smile. Sure, this guy knows he can be an asshole, is arrogant and at some points rude, but he is able to recognize how lucky he is, where he comes from and what power comes along with being who he is. This book is not only a showcase of different countries, cultures, lifestyles, and ultimately food, but one man’s journey to find a ‘perfect meal’ that leads him to a bit of self appreciation and self realization.
I truly believe that in order to lead a happy, healthy life, one needs to recognize the small things in life that make them happy. It is too easy to get caught up in the business of everyday life and forget to look around and see what is going on. For Bourdain, this trip was able to give a chance to get up close and personal with all different types of people and lifestyles. It really is about living in the moment and never wasting what precious time we have.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Reading Response 3 - "A Cook's Tour"

Around middle school, my class started using National Geographic for reading material and all sorts of class projects and discussions. This is what got me addicted. I saw all of these amazing pictures of places that seemed to come right out of a storybook and come to find out, these landscapes and people actually existed.
            Because of this amazing publication my dream job was to become a photographer for National Geographic. I thought that if I could master the art of photography then I too would be able to capture the magic that this world has to offer. That dream has gone down the drain since I realized that I do not have the amazing talent needed for the job, but Anthony Bourdain has sparked a new flame in my heart. He may possibly have a more amazing job then the photographers. He gets paid to travel around the world tasting food in search of the perfect meal. Can you find anything better than that? I can’t.
             To me, food is the essence of culture. It is what brings people together. There is a bonding experience when people come together over a shared meal. Bourdain is able to have countless experiences with the people he meets along his journey. When I was headed to South Korea, I was lucky enough to sit by a college student on her way back to China for summer break and an elementary kid visiting his grandparents in Korea for a few weeks. Both had taken this flight before and knew the routine, which was comforting to a 15-year-old on not only her first transcontinental flight, but also my first flight alone. We received a few meals on the 14 hour-long flight and I was already ready to get the full Korean cultural experience. Having a choice between some sort of turkey meal and a Korean dish, I opted for the second. I had absolutely no idea what to do when the flight attendant brought me a steaming bowl of noodles covered in bean sprouts, carrots, shallots, and beef. Accompanying this, she also handed me a packet of red sauce and chopsticks. I also got asked if I would like a fork which I quickly accepted thinking I was too far in over my head already and I hadn’t even gotten to my destination. Thankfully, my two new friends were more than willing to help me out. With my fork in hand – the chopsticks were just not even an option at this point, being too overwhelming – I ended up devouring my meal.
            When ever I think back to that flight, I don’t remember the cramped legs, or multiple movies watched or even how I’m sure I went crazy for a moment or two thinking I would never get off that plane. No, I remember the laughs of my companions as I ate my pizza pocket snack, spilling the red sauce all over my tray table, or how I could handle the heat of that little, seemingly innocent packet of red sauce I doused my noodles in.
            Who wouldn’t want to have these experiences all over the world with all sorts of people? I know I would not mind that at all.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Reading Response 2 - "Stealing Buddha's Dinner"

I am going to be “that kid” right now: I really, really like Asian food. Not too be politically incorrect, but this is how I group any type of food that comes from Asia. Over the past decade, I have been exposed to all sorts of oriental dishes – both authentic and Americanized – enjoying almost everything I have tasted.  There is nothing more delicious than a big ol’ plate of fried rice, some egg rolls, and egg drop soup. I’m all for sushi, Korean BBQ, spring rolls, dumplings, and the list can goes on. I have had some pretty traditional Asian meals growing up with a few close friends, one who was Japanese and one who was Korean, who would invite me over for meals. The summer after my freshman year I also had the opportunity to travel to Korea to visit the one friend for three weeks, being able to experience a whole new level of Korean and other various Asian cuisines.
            Even though I am so lucky to have had these experiences and have a varied palate, at the end of the day, nothing beats my families cooking. My mom’s crisp apple pie, goulash, and salsa, or my grandma’s banana bread, potpie, and homemade strawberry shortcakes will always be chosen over bibimbap, even if it is homemade.
At the end of “Stealing Buddha’s Dinner,” Bich comes to realize that the “realness” she had been searching for throughout her childhood was the life that she had in her own house. Even though she may not have had what all her seemingly “perfect” American friends had, she had something unique to her own culture and life. “In truth, everything that was real lay right in front of me” which to me shows that she was finally came to terms with her childhood (247). That is what growing up is all about, coming to accept yourself as you are.
Not only do I think this change in perspective had to do with Bich maturing with age, but also with her trip to Vietnam. For years I have wanted to visit the countries of my ancestors to see where I have come from. There is something about being in that authentic atmosphere that makes one appreciate their heritage. I’m sure there are many people who may not agree with me just based on their history, but in my experience, as people get older, the come to truly value who they are and where the come from.
By also learning what it was like to come to America as a refugee from her father and other relative’s perspective having visited Vietnam, I believe that Bich recognized how the foods that were cooked in her household, weren’t just food, but a way of life that her family was trying to recreate in a different place. Home is a place where you can be yourself and none of her family wanted to live in a place that they felt uncomfortable or awkward. That is why there was such an emphasis on keeping both the Vietnam and Mexican culture alive.