Tuesday, July 31, 2018

A Hermeneutics of Food

Food should be delicious.
Food should feed at least two of your three hungers (mouth, belly, heart).
Food should avoid being precious.
Food should avoid trying to be something it isn't: vegan hotdogs, for example, just should not.

Food should be made to eat quickly, standing up over the sink.
Food should be made to eat while driving, or riding on public transit, or pushing a stroller.
Food should be made to eat while sitting at a restaurant while four teenagers or college students hover nearby with water carafes and table brushes.
Food should be made to eat at dusk, after the sun sets into the water, and the grill is hot and everyone is just a little drunk.
Food should be made to eat at a desk, which you hate.
Food should be made to eat at a table for two on a vacation that has been in the works for over a year.

Food should be made to seduce, to impress.

Food should be made by women, but men-chefs get all the attention.
Food should be made by cooking school instructors who themselves were taught by old men, so that everyone who is anyone is still learning mother sauces as if anyone wants them.
Food should be made by your mother, so pay attention when she's in the kitchen, because her food will form the spine of your memories and when she's gone you will grieve her by grieving her potato salad.
Food should be made by your father, who will try to put pickled banana peppers on dishes they have no business being.
Food should be made by apprentice chefs who work long, long hours and who live in small, empty-fridge apartments.
Food should be made by people who do not give one single fuck about what they're cooking, but need to pay their rent.
Food should be made by eccentrics who live on Patagonian islands and cook like angels for groups of four.
Food should be made by immigrants who came here to have a better life and who know what the hell they're doing so just show them once and leave them alone, Martin

Food should allow you to recall other fine moments in your life.
Food should allow itself to be forgotten.
Food should be simple.

Food should be consumed on a melamine table off a paper plate while sipping from a plastic straw.
Food should be eaten languorously, like a cat who is playing peekaboo with a can of tuna.
Food should be scarfed down without ever looking at it, never taking your eyes off a smart phone. 

Food should loosen your chest and allow you to breath easier.
Food should quicken your pulse.
Food should make your shoulders stronger, from kneading and pushing and stirring and whisking.
Food should make your belly softer.
Food should cut across your tongue with a lash of acid, followed by a blurt of fat, each balancing the other out.

Food should not be too hot. It can sometimes be too cold.
Food should not be a challenge to those eating it. (I see you, lobsters.)
Food should not make the eater feel bad or stupid, in the case of "not getting it" when it comes to chefs with Opinions About How Food Is Done.
Food should be a mix of all foods, from all places.
Food should be sacred and separate, according to passport and time zone.
Food should be prepared according to the eater's religious deferences.
Food should tell you when it contains insects.

Food should be taken home from a farmer's market and cooked that same day.
Food should be packed up in boxes when you move houses.
Food should be forgotten in the fridge until it liquifies and is awful.
Food should be purchased in a hurry from a chain grocery store while you try to head off a tantrum from your toddler.
Food should be eaten only with good wine or filtered water.
Food should be eaten only after at least one beer.
Food should never be eaten with a beverage.
Food should always be eaten with a beverage.

Food should avoid making you feel silly when you eat it.
Food should not be fancy just for the sake of being fancy.
Food should not be low-brow just to prove a point about fanciness.
Food should not avoid its own truth.
Food should try to be plain, unless it is very fancy, in which case it should just go ahead and be fancy.

Food should be delicious. It should be simple, unless it's impossible to make simply, in which case it should be extravagant. It should be seasonal and fresh. It should make your body feel good; if not your body, then your heart, or your mind. It should be familiar, unless it is truly the first time the dish has been prepared in human history, in which case it should be sublime. It should be a real part of your day, but feel free to ignore it in favour of more pressing matters. It should be delicious, though. Don't eat it if it's not delicious.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Sagittarius at Gunpoint



I have this theory about memories and moving. It goes like this: when you stay in one place as a kid, you're connected to your past in a way that people who moved around a lot aren't. You can walk past a park and say, "That's where we went sledding every winter," or "That's where Dan's brother knocked his own teeth out with a bottle rocket." You grow up with the same group of people: elementary school, middle school, high school, bachelor parties, first communions, whatever. Your parents are friends with the same people they went to school with. There's a web. When you're a kid, it's invisible. When you're a teenager, it's stifling. But when you're an adult, it's reassuring to know that you can, kind of, go back to the same old haunts. I know, I know: change is the only constant. But even when they rip out the bank where you opened your first account and replace it with an A&W, you can still remember the bank.

I moved five times before I turned thirteen. My dad worked for IBM, so we would relocate, stay in a place for a few years—three, three and a half—and then he would get promoted so we would pick up and move somewhere else. It was never just down the road: we moved from Toyko to Calgary, from Ottawa to Victoria. I went to five different schools before I started high school.

On paper, this is glamorous. "Oh, you lived in Japan. You were a child model. You rode elephants in Thailand and spent Christmas in Hawai'i. Must have been amazing." And I'm sure it was! I have mementos of those experiences, like a little Thai outfit that I will one day stuff my own child into, or a tee shirt from 1985 with a whole travel itinerary applied in iron-on felt letters down the back: Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia. But I don't actually remember much about that time in my life. I was too young, and everything was too transient. Nothing is truly foreign to a young kid, because everything is happening for the first time—there's no context that says, "whoa, this is unusual!" because every damn thing is out of context. Childhood is literally creating context. (Exhibit A: we took an infant to see the Chihuly exhibit at the ROM and I was blown away and he was like, "Oh, more colourful shapes, like the rest of the world.")

I don't remember the bedroom I had when I was ten. I don't remember my teacher. I don't remember what our dining room looked like, or if we had a basement, or what the bathrooms were like. I remember snippets: getting a rug in the shape of a teddy bear and setting up camp, lamp and all, in my closet in Calgary, only to be told it was a fire risk; leaving a Japanese lesson having learned the word for octopus (tako), and thinking, "I'm never going to need to know that one" (never thinking that one day I'd greedily eat takoyaki on ramen dates in my thirties); taking the bus to my first date in Victoria (I saw the Fran Drescher vehicle The Beautician and the Beast, with Little Frank); my sister's second birthday party at my grandparent's cottage; ice skating at the Calgary Olympic Stadium; sitting in the car and eating McDonald's pancakes before skating on the Rideau Canal, my newborn brother's bellybutton stump and how gross it was. I barely remember any friends; I remember a handful of moments, with vague sketches of buildings or people in the background. Without that constant reiteration of this-is-where-that-happened, memories don't stay. I sometimes think about what it would be like to show up at our house in Tokyo and ask to take a look around. Would I remember things then?

I don't know that my parents ever thought of any one place as their "forever home." They had both come from small southwestern Ontario towns; as a family, we never discussed going back to either of them as any kind of "homeland." My mother's parents had been living near the Bruce Peninsula for a few generations, but my father's parents had escaped post-war Poland with zero fucks given. We've never visited, never been in touch with family over there. That side vanished into the forward-thinking ether. Our nuclear family was our whole world, for most of my life: aunts and uncles and grandparents lived a flight or a ten-hour drive away. Every few years, friends and teachers and neighbours would be in the rearview mirror. Aside from my family, I don't know anyone who's known me since I was a kid. Even as the world was big, our web was small.

If you're up at all on your star signs, you might be familiar with the idea that Sagittarians are natural travelers. We yearn for the road, wanting to see the world, never feeling settled in one place, never wanting to. But what if that's forced upon you? Would it be as fun? As urgent? Frankly, I'm a terrible Sagittarius: I'm rarely optimistic, change bums me out, and extroversion makes me sweaty. But the travel thing has always made me curious. If I chose it, would I love it?

The driving force of my adulthood has been finding home. It propelled me into relationships, and made my biological clock deafening. It has been seeking the place where I feel most myself, most human, and finding that most everywhere comes up short. (As I write these words, it occurs to me that the geographical cure for whatever is wrong with me was never going to work, because feeling outside is an issue with my insides; but, certainly, a sense of being from somewhere in particular might have helped define some edges.) Being nomadic in my childhood, keen on escape in my teen years, and evicted in my thirties, has given some broad strokes of why this particular concept might have eluded me. And honestly, I don't know that I'll ever be "from somewhere;" Stratford is the closest, and it feels good to be back; I'm still keenly aware of the history people have with each other here, stretching back to pre-K and sometimes earlier.

My main memories of childhood are of airports and flights. I remember a sunrise over the cloud cover during a red-eye back from somewhere far. I remember TVs suspended above seats, every screen playing the same movie, cheap headphones given out by stewardesses. I remember the different music channels we would tune into, and how the children's channel would loop every 90 minutes; on a fifteen-hour flight between Chicago and Narita, you could hear Peter and the Wolf ten times. I remember the in-flight meals, delivered on greige plates, the excitement of getting a whole can of ginger ale to myself, the little fake salads and gravies that were not the right colour. I remember how loud the toilets were when they flushed, and how thrilling the moving sidewalks were. I get knocked sideways by sense memories, like the particular smell of a jetway, or of a hotel with a pool.

And it's not like I feel robbed of anything, because I'm sure the experiences I had were valuable and formative, if not exactly seared into my conscious understanding of myself. But I also wish that I knew where capital-H home is for me, truly. Is it Stratford, where I went to high school? I've moved back, and it feels a bit like I'm pretending at rootedness. Is it Sauble Beach, our seasonal home since forever, but only during the summer months? Is it any of the other places, or somewhere further back? Would my Polish great-aunties welcome me? (Doubtful, if their surly New World counterparts are any indication.) I feel most alive when I'm on the edge of a great wind, usually next to a large body of water, with all the ions in the air. I've never lived there, but I've felt that wind, and it feels like it unlocks part of me I didn't know existed. Can I live in a gust of wind? Can I bring my toddler and husband?

Once, during a move, a hotel clerk tried some small talk and asked me where I was from. I didn't understand the question—we were moving towns, so technically, we were homeless, but the idea of being "from somewhere" was also just not something I had internalized. "Toronto," I answered, even thought I hadn't been there in years, and didn't know anything about it; I had been born there, so I was from there, right? She peppered me with questions about what I liked to do in the city, and I stared at her, blank-faced, because I wasn't really from there at all. I wasn't from anywhere, in that moment. And that is something I remember.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Anthony Bourdain Taught Me How To Eat


 Anthony Bourdain taught me how to eat. He taught a lot of people how to cook, how to travel, what to order in a restaurant, what to pay attention to—the feeling of barbecue sauce dripping down your chin, the sound of peanut shells cracking open under your fingers, the smells of meats (all kinds of meats) roasting or braising or grilling or steaming, the sound of a thousand people screaming in a city street or a thousand mosquitoes buzzing in a forest grove, the taste of damn near everything—but he taught me how to eat.

When I was eighteen, I worked in a hole-in-the-wall noodle shop manned by twenty-something year old cooks and chefs: half-papered cooking academy drop-outs who thought they knew better than their teachers, and who decided to open a little nineteen-seat joint to prove it. It was half Tampopo and half Kids: sociopaths saucing noodles at 6 PM and drinking shots at 9:30. It was 2002, and Bourdain had recently published Kitchen Confidential (the cover photo showing him and two unnamed associates posing with kitchen knives the size and attitude of machetes) and A Cook's Tour (the cover image of him, in some unnamed Asian country, camo tank and half-smirk on display). Everyone in the restaurant had read them, and most had taken the Gospel of Anthony to heart, which was: eat good food, see the world, and be as macho as you can. Bourdain knew he was putting on a persona—he says in the introduction of A Cook's Tour that he wants to see the world, and hopes it looks like the movies—but for precocious chefs in small towns, Bourdain was an avatar of all they might be one day: smoky, smart, gnawing on roasted duck on the floor of a Vietnamese fishing hut.

Perhaps most of all, Bourdain represented a certain kind of authentic man. He certainly curated his experiences to be tough, what with the drinking and the drugs and the travel. He wanted to get in there, see things not from the window of a tour bus, but from the back of a sampan. Cooking, which is often fussy and perfectionist, wasn't really his calling. He wanted to be a war correspondent, with the front lines on the edges of the kitchen. He offered a path into the world that was informed by adventure and great food, not necessarily in that order. I still remember a daily special that our cook created: mango and lightly grilled octopus served wrapped in udon noodles and nori, a bastard's version of sushi, and easily one of the top three things I've eaten in my life. That dish would never had been made if the cook hadn't said, "Fuck it, I've been reading about Bourdain in Japan."

One of my favourite things about Bourdain was that he ain't no snob. He insisted that international street food be taken seriously as a culinary tradition, which, for a guy who came up in relatively posh rooms, bucked the norm. He opposed the insistence that only French food could be serious, and, with his books and television shows, showed viewers at home the plethora of unfamiliar, weird, confusing, and downright unpalatable eating there was to be had. Some of it was stunt food, for sure, but a lot of it was just saying, "Hey, chuckleheads, get a load of this pho." I really believe that reading Bourdain in 2002, before moving to Toronto and before getting my feet wet with David Chang or Munchies, opened me up to what was out there. It taught me that you can eat basically anything, anywhere, and have it be meaningful.

Because Bourdain was passionate and erudite and raw and sexy, because he was well-traveled and a halfheartedly reformed drug addict and an accomplished cook, because he could write 3000 words on, basically, "I went for dinner at this place," he was a hero to a lot of us young food-minded folks. His space was unabashedly male—there were not a lot of women in his books, like, at all—but it was also about all the damage that he had inflicted on his body and his psyche, and that he had lived to tell about. He was a survivor, saying, "Hey, follow me. I made it. You might too."

In later years, I stayed away from his media presence, because I was worried that he was like an album I had listened to too much freshman year: would it hold up if I went back and spun it again? But I always loved encountering him in the wild. I read his articles in Lucky Peach. When his partner came out against Harvey Weinstein, Bourdain was there by her side. His support for her complicated his macho persona: it was her fight, and he was in her corner. It felt grown-up, to be there but not in the centre of the frame.

And then, of course, he died this morning. I wonder if those young punks who staffed that hole-in-the-wall had a bad time hearing about it. They followed a lot of his same path: drugs, disappearing into other jobs, running out of money or good luck before their thirtieth birthday. He was what winning looked like, what getting out alive could be. Suicide is a haunting thing—questions about what went wrong, and how, and why—and it's scary, because maybe you or me hold the seeds of it in our own imperfect little hearts. It seems like something we're powerless against, because we don't see the dark heart of it, creeping up and around and inside; we see the outside, where people fake feeling okay for one more day, until they don't.

I am so, so grateful to Anthony Bourdain for teaching me what it is to eat. Taking my time, considering my options. Treating highbrow like lowbrow and vice versa. To have a brotherhood of cooks, a community of people who look to food to answer questions: how am I creative? How do I express myself? What do I bring to this millennia-long conversation about how we nourish ourselves? To go in search of deliciousness in unexpected places, of adventure, of hope. Because that's what eating great food is, really: it's the hope that somewhere in the meal, you'll taste something you've truly never tasted before.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Things That Happened in 2017

2017, in a nutshell
January: Our kid turned one and Trump was installed, drywall-like, into the White House and we marched in the streets and we also got our eviction notice. January kind of set the tone in a lot of ways, y'know? The Women's March was good and made me feel like that anger and fear were put somewhere; I think it's telling that the year that started with the Women's March ended with #MeToo. I know I certainly did a lot of processing this year around feminism and what it means to be a woman in this world.

February: We went to a "play-in" at City Hall to protest the high price of child care in the city; I doubt the protest did much, but we got our picture in the paper and I felt a bit like I was trying to cash some of the cheques the Women's March wrote. NS and I went to the Beaver Valley while Mike stayed home to work, and we watched Abstract on Netflix and I thought about going back to school for design. We started house-hunting for a new place to live.

March: NS learned to walk the week that we packed up our place, and it felt like our life was falling into the ocean. We didn't have a new house lined up; we saw dozens that were somewhere on the continuum from "pretty nice" to "literal murder basement," and applied to a few, but nothing was rolling our way. I felt so manic and crazy at this point in the year. Our friends kept us afloat with food and wild-staring-eyes coffees, and I love them to the moon and back for this; but March 31 rolled around and we had no new house. The utter terror of being homeless with a toddler is difficult to put into words; it ripped our marriage up and made me yearn to flee the city into somewhere, anywhere, that felt like it wanted us. The big news story this month was how Toronto housing market was incandescent, and it really felt like we were among the victims of, like, a wildfire or a flash flood.

April: We moved into my in-laws place, where I spent a lot of the month being consumed with rage about how nice their house is (so nice!) and how shitty the apartments we could afford were (so shitty!). I took a lot of baths and went for a lot of walks. I visited my parents in Sauble Beach, where condors perched along the ridge of their barn roof.

May: We got a new place! Yay! Yay? We moved all out stuff in on May 1 and didn't actually move ourselves in until mid-month, because the amount of stuff we had was so much bigger than the amount of space. I was an absolutely rage-tyrant to my husband and there was a lot of blaming going on, which left a big boot print on an already tender relationship. I'm ashamed now of how much anger I allowed to intrude into our marriage. Our house continues to be too small for us, but I have several tiny corners that I've made my own, and sometimes daydream about the day we pack it all up for the Next New Thing. However, in May, we were still unpacking, and I was still absolutely engorged with shitbag feelings, and things were Not Very Good.

June: June was the month that our neighbour went berserk on a semi-regular basis, which was terrifying and sometimes hilarious (like when he got arrested wearing nothing but a pink towel), and which added cement to my hunch that our new address was terrible. Real talk: even though we felt safe (mostly, although I did have this recurring daymare about him trying to break into our apartment to rob it and discovering me alone with a baby), the reality of living next to someone who was a domestic abuser, drug addict, bungler of B&E attempts, and general filthy-mouthed nuisance, was a spiritual drag. Trying to decide if I should call the regular police line or 911 was a real fun time; listening to him scream and kick out windows was a real fun time; watching the cops pull up, again, was a real fun time. He left on July 1, and it sort of felt like the moment you christen a ship with champagne; except in our case, the bottle was full of asparagus pee.

July: DRAG RACE ON NETFLIX. Changed my life, seriously.

August: We house-sat for two weeks and visited my parents for two weeks, so it felt a lot like being on vacation. I learned how to give a dog eye drops. There was a partial eclipse. I threw my best friend a surprise bachelorette (with a lot of input and assists from friends near and far). There was racial upheaval in the USA. I made jam for the first time. I read The Argonauts. We talked a lot about Game of Thrones. August felt like a patchwork month, stitched together out of nothing much. Being in transition between places felt almost normal, except that the homes we were in weren't our home.

September: We celebrated three years of marriage by going to Momofuku and falling in love with it. (Ginger Scallion Noodles, hello). We also went to the Drake Commissary and for fancy gelato, and slept in, and frankly, I think that date saved us a little. It feels like it's been a tough, low-connection year, and sometimes a little splurge can be a real balm. I said to someone not that long ago that sometimes, I just want to feel expensive. You know? Like, all my clothes are bought new and not from Costco and my skin looks like it has Sephora lotions slathered on it, and I feel like I have the means to care for myself in a thoughtful way? Like that. So a date devoted to just the two of us, where money wasn't really an issue, felt like such a GD luxury.

October: I went through this really intense two-week period of wanting to move to Port Elgin and open a noodle shop. I even wrote a business plan. On the other side of those two weeks I came to understand that I have no real idea what I'm doing, and for now, because of various factors, we're tethered to Toronto. This is a not-very-affirming drag. But on Halloween, NS sat in a fire truck and we still talk about it.

November: Work ramped up to a degree where I basically skipped my birthday this year. But! We went to the Beaver Valley and started learning how to play Dungeons and Dragons, and man, that was fun. I had a bit of a meltdown due to proximity to some expired friendships, and I'm trying to figure out what to do with those feelings—I don't feel like reconciliation is the right move, but neither is trying to stuff my emotions down a well. And I don't really know what the middle ground is! Mainly I'm trying to come to terms with the idea that other folks—who I used to know and love!—think of me as a villain. And trying to figure out if I can sit in that comfortably, or if there's anything to be done. ANYWAY, FEELINGS, GOD. Sometimes, I'm so grateful for the billion hours of therapy I've had since I was 18; I would be even more of a basket case without them. As it stands, my basket is roughly $400-corporate-gift-sized, which, like me, is filled with expensive jams.

December: I did a bunch of work for a new client. I felt rather competent in my job, which was a terrific feeling. We watched Moana on the daily, and I felt rather less competent as a parent, but hey—this is a bit of a fallow season when it comes to maternal energy. Winter is really tough with a toddler; the snowsuiting alone crushes my soul, and that's before I even have to haul an ice-covered stroller up a flight of stairs, negotiate mittens, figure out snacks, try to pick a destination that will kill a morning but preferably doesn't involve de-/re-snowsuiting, find a TTC route that doesn't involve passing through Bloor-Yonge Station, and so on. Also, I have a terrible cough!

And, of course, this little month-by-month roundup doesn't really capture how bonkers this year was. Being evicted is one of those life-defining moments that made me realize that I wanted to change my life. I no longer felt safe, like the world was my oyster, like anything was possible. It was the same feeling that intruded after my sister was sick, after my dad's surgery, after NS's birth. I wanted to retreat, redesign, recalibrate, realign. I wanted to feel like the universe might care about our little family; and if not the universe, at least the GTHA housing market. But alas, the signs don't point in that direction.

But it also doesn't capture some of the sweetest parts of the year. I deepened my friendship with my mom-friend bestie through weekly bagel dates and playground hangouts; I watched NS transform from baby to walking, talking toddler; I spent many hours with my sister watching Flight of the Conchords and talking about relationships; I spent most Tuesday mornings with my husband, chatting in "our" coffeeshop; I texted my mom a thousand times; I got to see my dad bloom back into health; I read the New Yorker every week; I helped friends move; friends helped us. Even if the universe is like [shrug emoji] at our everyday life, there are people in our world who care very much; they were the sustenance of 2017.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Fall Sweater Horoscope


 ARIES: You're in a song-lyric phases, aren't you? One of those seasons when every song on the radio is about you, exposing your secret heart, no matter if it's Leonard Cohen or Justin Bieber. When all you want to do is drive somewhere alone, belting out songs at the top of your lungs, palming away tears or letting out those primal yips and howls that threaten to erupt morning to night. You know what, Aries? Do it. Get in your car and turn up the Top 40 and borrow the words to feel your feelings.
Recommended sweater: cardigan

GEMINI: The world needs more queeroes. We need more drag stars, more lipstick femmes, more dirty knees and torn fishnets. We need more rock stars who fuck their fans, more trans liberators, more random acts of affection between friends. We need less toxic masculinity and emotional labour. We need more glitter and more tenderness, more butch bears and more leather. We need the fringes, because that's where things really start to sway. Do you have enough fringe in your closet, Gemini?
Recommended sweater:
crop turtleneck

TAURUS: You always make me think of muscle cars! To me, Taurus is the most macho sign in the zodiac, a real emblem of butchness and posturing. I think of Brando in his silly hat. I think of McQueen from Cars. I think of cigarettes dangling from the edges of lips, scraped knuckles, whiskey straight and slammed back. Anyway, this is all to say: don't be a cartoon version of a person, a paper-doll outline of a 1950s detective, or a 1980s Aquanet secretary or a 2017 Tumblr gender nerd. Give yourself dimension and shadow. Don't pose.
Recommended sweater: fisherman

CANCER: I read an interview with Rashida Jones recently, where she talked about the difference between feminism (the goal of lifting up women within a patriarchal capitalist society) and the feminine. And I was like, "YEAH!" but then I realized I didn't really know where to go from there. I love being feminine, and being queerishly femme—interrogating what it is to be female in relation to both men and other women, in both a capitalist system and edging outside it. Cancers have a great gift for empathy; your goal this fall should be to channel that intuition into channels where the waters are murky.
Recommended sweater:
angora waist-warmer

LEO: Tap into your feline side this fall and stop working so hard. Cats sleep like ten thousand hours a year (Ed: not true?), and they also give zero fucks about other people's feelings (Ed: confirmed), so maybe it's time for you start gazing out the window in a tawny, "ask me again about the Edson file, Carl, I DARE YOU" manner, and then slowly pick the steak out of your teeth with a credit card before falling asleep at your desk. And if your current job doesn't allow for this, pivot until you find one that does.
Recommended sweater: sweatshirt with a cat's face on it

VIRGO: Last month, The Knife released their Live at Terminal 5 concert video, rife with weird instruments and highly choreographed dance routines. It's unclear, from watching the video, who exactly is in the brother-sister duo of the The Knife and who's doing support; the idea is that everyone would meld together into one cohesive entity. No backup singers, no stars. The world could stand a little less hierarchy, which makes me ask: are you upholding these less-awesome power structures, Virgo? Do you share your limelight?
Recommended sweater: sparklegoth capelet

LIBRA: Every time I think about Libras, I think of candles and altars, animal skulls and feathers. I think of my old friend the Libra, who had the most beautiful green eyes and who smoked like a chimney. I think of broken hearts and velvet ribbons—tactile gifts we give ourselves to heal and mend, to remind ourselves of old wounds. I think of how hard it is to be kind to those who have hurt us, and how fucking important is it that we try anyway.
Recommended sweater: Pendleton blanket wrapped just so

SCORPIO: Did you know that scar tissue is sticky? It binds together layers of our bodies—skin, the underlying muscles and fats, fascia and organs—into a mess of connection. This connection, which isn't really how our bodies want to work, causes pain and other side effects. Physiotherapists recommend scar massage, a process of poking and prodding these over-enmeshed areas to loosen the connections and work towards better health. It's a metaphor, Scorpio: don't let yourself become too connected, too enmeshed. Keep some layers in your life.
Recommended sweater:
Fair Isle

SAGITTARIUS: Can we talk about Winona Ryder in Stranger Things? Can we talk about how affirming it is that this messy, shaky, edgy, unbelieved character—who is so yelly and jittery for most of the show—is, by the final episode, whispering soothing salvations into our heroine's ear? And can we talk about how mothers have it so hard? To be jittery and jumpy is antithetical to the Earth Mama ethos; it's off-putting and not calming. But there she is, doing her mom job, despite being a total mess, and it made me feel SO MUCH BETTER about all the times I feel like my blood has been replace with carbonated iced coffee and I still manage to pull it together for my kid. It's possible. Thanks, Winona. I needed that.
Recommended sweater: v-neck cashmere blend

CAPRICORN: A short list of things I don't understand: why men get all the props in modern art; how I'm supposed to feel about Yayoi Kasura's infinite rooms (claustrophobic? agoraphobic? both?); how people who live in Toronto afford international vacations; what is included in an all-inclusive resort; how transfers work with TTC Presto cards; how vaping is "not smoking"; why I'm so puffy all the time. A quick Google search could probably clear about half of these, but I kind of like living with a little bit of mystery in my life. How comfortable are you with the unknown, Capricorn? Do you fight the compulsion to know every answer?
Recommended sweater: the one your ex left at your house two years ago

AQUARIUS: I've been thinking about manifestos a lot lately. What's the difference between a manifesto, and say, an artist's statement? A list of demands? An explanation? A poem? A manifesto feels to me both grandly self-indulgent and the act of carving out space in the cosmos, claiming space, demanding to be counted. For women and femmes, this act is not self-indulgent at all, but a moment of violence against the status quo. You may not be a woman or a femme, Aquarius, but I hope you count them as part of you allies and your inner circle. Read their manifestos. Stitch them on a flag and fly them from your rooftop.
Recommended sweater: oversized cotton blend with holes at the hem and the thumbs

PISCES: Many years ago, I went out for Nuit Blanche and ended up at OCAD very early in the morning. Wandering the pillars of the school, I came across their student exhibits—paintings, drawings, and a curious section devoted to the "curatorial" students. One corner was heaped with images of the Virgin Mary: candles, paintings, icons, sculptures, mannequins dressed in blue, so on and so on. I remember feeling a bit affronted, because, to me, curation has less to do with whole-hog collecting and more to do with editing: the careful inclusion of what matters, and fuck the rest. But maybe I'm wrong, my fishy friend. Maybe it's not about what gets put in, but what gets left out. After all, you can't have everything. Where would you put it?
Recommended sweater:
cable-knit

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Lucky Peach (Or: How I Learned To Be Myself and Eat)


Back when I was eighteen and becoming myself, I got a job at a Cool Restaurant. Or, what passes for a Cool Restaurant in a small town, and to a teenager, and to a person who has mostly read about Cool Things rather than experiencing them in person. It was a watershed moment, a summer of hangovers and weird sex, secret cigarettes and making five hundred tax-free dollars a week with no real expenses other than magazines and fun clothes. It was the last hurrah of high school and the first wobbly steps into adulthood, a summer where a Cool Job meant getting invited places I had no business going, and being too emotionally uncoordinated to know I didn't belong. 

It was a hole-in-the-wall joint that served eight or so dishes, not including daily specials, all of Asian extraction, cooked and served by white people who had read Hot Sour Salty Sweet and who were offering a bit of that Thai/Vietnamese/Japanese profile in our small Ontario town. When I say it was small, I meant it: six tables of two outside on the sidewalk, bar seating for six more inside. The walls were orange and green, the bathrooms decorated with a former server's photos from a trip through Southeast Asia. There was a big bottle of fermenting kimchi on the counter; in my protozoan foodie state, I avoided it assiduously. I waited tables, made smoothies, peeled carrots for fresh juices, ran the dishwasher, took takeout orders, and handled money. It wasn't my first job, but it was the first where I made real bank, where I could wear whatever I wanted, where I could name-drop it and people would say, I love that place!

Working at a Cool Restaurant had its perks. I was able to keep tabs on some of the most exciting boys from high school, who otherwise would have been distant figures at basement shows, house parties to which I was only peripherally invited, and 'zine launches. I started talking to adult men—the ones who worked in the kitchen and who dated the other late-teen and early-twenties girls who worked with me—and discovered that they were fuck-ups, nice guys, and destroying angels. They were more assured of themselves than the guys I had gone to school with, more confident in their opinions, but still underneath it all, they were the same basic animal as the boys I already knew. One wore wool socks and Chelsea boots and soft twill cargo shorts and cooked with his flames spiking to the ceiling; one listened to punk music and work black baseball caps and was kind and unbelievably handsome; one was skinny and slithery and funny and mean. They all invited their friends to come visit them at work, so there was a hall of mirrors of guys like them, but a little different. I don't know if I was too awkward, too young, or not pretty enough—all three might be true—but I was able to eavesdrop while they drank beer and listened to hip-hop music and scrubbed the grill, and I mopped the floor and cha-chinged the final count of sales. On a good day, fifteen years ago, we could move a thousand bucks worth of noodles in a night, and everyone would get a Tiger beer on the house.

My boss lent me his copy of Kitchen Confidential. I read it, and understood that the fuck-you spirit of Anthony Bourdain skittered off the page into everything those guys did. My small town has a prestigious cooking school; we have more than our fair share of swish restaurants and mid-20s guys who know about mother sauces and who wear foam shoes and drink too much. There is romance in cooking—at least, there is if you're a man, not some schlumpy home-cook woman—and what Bourdain taught me was that there's a yang to that yin. Cooking school dropouts and self-styled renegades can open restaurants too. With his travel book, A Cook's Tour, I learned that everywhere has a Cool Restaurant, but sometimes it's a better choice to eat in the shitty-looking diner, or the ma-and-pa pho joint, or the restaurant in the city's revolving tower. Cool can be on the move. Cool can be Formica tables and chipped bowls, or perfect soft-and-crunchy salad rolls from some unassuming local chain, or the fucking "sharing plates" at the hip new place in town. (Side note: a pox on sharing plates. Just serve me an appetizer or a main, not some five-bite platter that satisfies nothing and no one.)

Since moving to the big city fifteen years ago,  I've eaten in a number of nice restaurants and a bunch of Cool Restaurants, and they've ranged from fine to outstanding. But there's a certain punk spirit that's MIA, a middle finger that's quietly folded down. I think it has to do with where your weird comes from.

In a city, you can tap into a vein of weirdness, no matter what weirdness you're after. Get yourself to the right city, and you can find your people: goth sparklebunnies, jockey standup comedians, gay ballerinos, anarchotrans youth, whatever. Activists, artists, cooks, writers, musicians, fashionistas—the subcultures that make a city pennies compared to, say, its banking sector, but that indelibly flavour a place's broth. In a city, it's simmering along, ready for folks to find it. In a small town, you have to cook that scene up from scratch. You have to fill in some blanks—read about it and then muddle your way through a DIY version, watch a video on the internet, make do with whatever weirdos and losers you find along the way. You learn it from cookbooks, from travelogues, from homemade darkrooms, from crystalline tarot-card hippie girls, from drug dealers, from the nerds in your class who have taught themselves how to clone a Moog on their laptop, the beautiful girls who are comfortable with muse status, the sneaky ones who eavesdrop and write about it fifteen years later.

All of this is to say that when I found out that Lucky Peach, the culinary magazine, was closing down, I got to thinking about Cool Jobs in Cool Restaurants and how much that particular Cool Job impressed on me about food. I ration each issue of Lucky Peach; if I don't, I'm overwhelmed by the sheer amount of content (fuck, there are so many words in each issue!), and I'm overwhelmed by so many foodie feelings. I don't cook for a living—I never have, and I probably never will—but I like thinking about food. Lucky Peach takes food seriously, but also makes fun of it a little. They give the recipes but also the stories: inspirations, context, emotion. The magazine gives the strip-mall restaurant, the home cook, and the Cool Job place equal credit: good food can come from anywhere, be anything.

Food, along with fashion, is, I think, one of the great self-definers we can make for ourselves. The type of food we get nostalgic for, that we challenge ourselves with, that we reach for in moments of celebration or grief, the type of food we travel around the world to eat? There are a million ways food defines a life—the feeling of being in your parent's kitchen late at night, the food you ate at your wedding, the first meal after you gave birth, the only things that tasted good to your dying mother, the restaurant where your partner proposed, the snacks you pack in your carry-on luggage, the things you drank on patios in your twenties and in your sixties, the things you taught yourself how to cook, the flavours you love, the things you hate, the millions of bites that you took over a lifetime—it's all just as much who you are as your job or your clothes, your family or your hometown.

I have no idea where any of the folks who worked with me are now. I have heard that one went to prison and then rehab; I have heard that one married the owner of the local sex shop; I have heard that one went on tour with his band (and I have a vague memory of running into him at a sweaty basement punk show not so long ago). I don't know if any of them remember me—I doubt it, there was a rotating cast of pretty, mouthy young things behind the counter, and I was neither the mouthiest or the prettiest. I grew up with parents who had traveled extensively in Asia, and who could cook tonkatsu at home, or roll up maki on a Saturday night. I grew up with the same food as my Cool Job served, and then I got to serve it myself, and now when I'm nostalgic for that summer, or my childhood, or myself, I eat that food. I miss those weirdos, and my old, half-formed self, and the feeling of possibility that comes from the unending summer, the unopened magazine, the freshly cooked plate. I hope something comes up to replace Lucky Peach; we need that awestruck, educated, madly-in-love approach to food, refreshed quarterly.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Evicted

Evicted is getting a hand-written form under your door, unsurprisingly because your superintendent told you it was coming, but reading the crumpled pages for clues for what your life will be like now. Evicted is cinderblock walls and freight elevators up to a storage unit that is four degree Celsius, we're all shivering in April as we load in box after box after box. Evicted is passing your upstairs neighbour without saying hello, because they get to stay in their home and you're out like last night's pizza box. Evicted is wondering if there was anything you can go, how much fight you can fight, that little brainworm that wonders if this, despite paying your rent on time and never blasting your music and being generally pleasant, is somehow your fault. Evicted is house-hunting in a city with a 1.4% vacancy rate, where the average rent went up by $300 in 2016, where we've applied for three houses and gotten none of them. 

Evicted is also walking through your apartment, the apartment that was your son's first home, where he learned to eat and sit up and crawl and say his first words, where your husband would snuggle with a sleeping newborn while he watched horror movies and you slept, where there were dozens of sink baths and the baby's first Halloween, his first Christmas, his birth day and his first birthday, where you laboured in the shower and in the living room and over two interminable nights, where you meet this person who is now in your bloodstream, and evicted is weeping because you have to close the door on those spaces and never see them again.

Evicted is fighting with your husband because we don't know where to go, where to live, how to live, and because there is no union in your wants, there is wanting in your union. Evicted is dancing in your mother-in-law's kitchen, swinging the baby over your head with a smile on your face and then bursting into tears as you spin him low, because while her house is beautiful, it's not your home. Evicted is resenting her beige walls, not because they're beige, but because you don't have any walls of your own.

Evicted is grief, the loss of a home, a house, an address. Evicted is suspending magazine subscriptions and using your in-laws as a mailing address. It's suitcases on the floor, lined up and lids neatly flipped down so things look tidy. It's a milk crate that doubles as a bedside table, and a pile of things—books, cards, an iPod, a jar full of markers—that make you feel safe. Evicted is not knowing where you packed the library books.

Evicted is anger, rage, frustration, hopelessness. It's low morale and wild mood swings. It's spending rent money on things that might make you feel okay, because when you're staying with your in-laws, you don't have to pay rent, so it feels like there's some windfall. Evicted is thinking about ways to pay them back for a month (maybe more, hold your breath) of free lodgings. Evicted is hearing the baby cry in the middle of the night and getting out of bed as fast as you can, because you don't want to disturb everyone's sleep. It's whisper-fighting, it's long silences, it's sleeping on opposite sides of your double mattress. It's undereye bags and eye twitches. It's long walks to get out of the house. It's cooking in someone else's kitchen, keeping everything so clean, so neat, please don't notice we're here, please don't be mad at the space we're taking up.

Evicted is an unexpected rush of shame, of embarrassment. It's another thing in a line of things—sick parents, bad births—that make you wonder, "Is this a bad time, or do I have a bad life?" It's wondering if you have done something to deserve this, and if so, how to reverse it. It's trying to remember if you've stolen stones from scared burial grounds, and if so, which ones. It's thinking about how you will talk to your son about why you had to leave his first home. It's being blessed that people took us—him—in. It's an emotion so loud and unshaped, roaring and buffeting the inside of your head, that it deafens you everything else, joy especially. It is trying to figure out how this story ends, and not having an answer.

Evicted is more than storage units, more than boxes, more than crashing at the in-laws, more than moving. It is fear. It is heartbreak. It is rage.