Monthly Archives: March 2008

go back forward

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Homesickness as I experience it is a dull sort of ache that is easy to forget when there’s a more immediate sensation, but which will always and eventually settle back in. It falls into the general category of melancholia, but is one of the least debilitating members of that emotional genus. It’s like the ache you get after being tattooed, which is quite a pleasurable and edgy sensation. You feel satisfied – you chose this, this was intentional, and it’s with you now forever and the ache is just part of it and you don’t judge it like some sort of negative externality. It’s a part of the whole thing and the whole thing is good, is motion, is construction.

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I have noticed that homesickness does not specify a single home but an idea of home, of home as a concept. To me there is a looseness in the word ‘home’ and even more in the question ‘where are you from?’ At what point in the chain of geographical references invoked by the term ‘home’ is an actual origin identified? de Botton gives his analysis of Flaubert’s attitude toward origins and nationalities in The Art of Travel – he was ‘as much Chinese as French’ – and the question ‘where are you from?’ was one of affinity, not necessity. For those with mulitple affinities, or an affinity to motion, ‘home’ is a funny brown colour like the one you got when you mixed all of the finger paints together.

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A flavour, a scent, a song, a book, a line from a television show, a peculiar turn in the weather, an image, the specific sound of a specific key in a specific lock – these things send me into this almost endless and entirely circuitous sequence of invocations that have composed my homedoing. ‘This weather tastes like London‘ seems like a rational thing to say. Each place is a gateway to another place, and I build this web of places in the world and my way of building it is entirely unique. This is what home looks like – it’s always weaving in and out of itself and stopping at places it has already been and attempting to reproduce itself. And thus the general blur; the muddy brown colour.

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Homesickness is a reminder and it tows with it gratitude, self-reliance, and affirmation. Leaving can be a sort of masochism, but one that, if indulged with discretion, can sting in all the right places and serve as a refresher for what you’ve endured and what you’ve brought upon yourself. Homesickness, like the leaving thing itself, is for me a sign of forward motion. Turning over and over the past in order to make it functional for the present, going back to be here to go forward. I choose to be Homesick, because it’s the only way I know what’s home.

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xo
bs

Please click the images to see them sized properly – I cannot figure out how to get it not to crop them or how to size them for the margins in the template. If anyone has help, I will give you food in exchange.

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culinary therapy

In my inagural xobs post, I predicted most of the content here would be about sex and snacks. Save for the one directly below, that has not occurred. I promise some dirty talk at some point, but at the moment I am most motivated to talk about snacks.

Since I’ve moved into this palace of magic that is my new house, its functional kitchen appliances have been quite seductive to me. I choose to spend most of my house time in the kitchen. I know what the fuck’s going on in there, which is more than I can say about the rest of the house, and for that matter, much of my life. In the kitchen I am the most responsible for my own needs and I can create with only my own personal parameters and tastes in mind. The camera (my camera) was doing that before, but since it’s gone, I’m consuming way more calories and getting some of my tummy back. I can’t help it if Paula Deen loves butter, and if Paula Deen loves butter, so must I.

I’ve not really been breaking any new ground in the kitchen since I started hanging out in there – no soufflés, no tartiflette, no cornish hens stuffed with paté. I’ve been doing what’s comfortable and what’s been missed. I’m re-adapting some recipes that I’ve used in past lives for this whole new thing I’m doing now. I’m revisiting a lot of things that have been central in my life before – when I found cooking in Liverpool that’s how I survived (and got fatter). So it’s all a way of surviving in this moment, and the food I eat is a big part of what my survival looks (tastes) like, and the fact that I cook it looks to me as though I’m surviving on my own terms.

Most of the time I’m spending in the kitchen has been about baking. I guess I love the slow alchemy of baking, the way you turn something like mush into something like magic. It’s sort of a meditation in and of itself – it doesn’t have the high-speed intensity of a lot of stovetop cooking and it’s just something you have to pace and reserve a bit of time for. And it’s very photogenic.

The recipes I’ve been using are mostly ones that have been passed on to me. When I gloated about my baking prowess to my father recently, he remarked, ‘it’s in the Sheets genes’. I hadn’t really considered that before, and I’m not inclined to connect with my family in that ‘genetic personality’ stuff, mostly because I don’t know most of them. But then I look at my recipe book, and see how many of the things I like to bake for other people are Sheets family recipes. My grandad was the baker in my dad’s house, and though I remember very little about him, I do recall that he just made ginger snaps and snickerdoodles as just a daily recreational activity. My mom paid for so many of our Christmases by baking and selling cookies to her friends and their friends. And she could bake on a budget – we’d have a cookie backstock even when we were broke. When she and my dad split he pinched a lot of the recipes and is now making them Devo Dan-style and emailing the recipes to me. I wonder how much I would find out about a family I really know little about if I went through some recipe books.

So there’s also all of this history and these personal connections in baking, and I guess that’s what’s making it so useful to me now as a coping mechanism. Yesterday things were shit – my bike was damaged and I got a parking ticket and work was shit and I felt poor and cranky – so I baked for four hours using pumpkins I had grown myself. Today people will eat that stuff and tell me nice things about it and I’ll tell them that the cinnamon came all the way from Pittsburgh and from somewhere ever further away before that. And my mom’s recipe for pumpkin roll, which my dad calls ‘Guaranteed BEST Pumpkin Rolls by Sheets Family (puts other imitators to shame.)’ will have travelled to another continent and won the hearts of many and I’ll get rich and buy you a pony.

Of course it is making me insane not to photograph the things that are happening in my kitchen – I could do it with a shitty camera but it breaks my heart even more to see things like this not given their justice in imagery, so I just don’t do it to avoid that disappointment. But trust me, it’s pretty.

So, how do you do culinary therapy? How do you share it? Why does it work? Can I have a picture? I’d love to see what you’ve made. Take some photos of what you’ve created and email them to me – I’ll start a flickr set of the stuff we eat. It’ll be fun. And it’ll give me something to upload while the pie is in the oven.

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Matiatia’s orange, almond meal, and chocolate ganache tiny cupcakes

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bs rendition of Amory’s sweet potato pie

xo
bs

things america got right

I’m the sort of American who apologises. Fast food culture, Fox news, consumer distribution of the Hummer – on behalf of my countrymen, I am sorry. But there are a few things America got right, and the Food Network is one of them. Nowhere else can you watch so many attractive people eating. Except maybe at Boogaloos in the Mission.

Kat and I used to fall asleep each night to Alton Brown, and I can’t tell you the number of times I had filthy, sordid dreams about him in which his glasses got all smudged and his sterile cooking surface defiled. There is something about watching someone cook, and then watching them eat what they’ve cooked, or watching someone talk to the person who cooked the thing that they’re eating (Rachel Ray, I’m looking at fantasising about you), that automatically invokes sex to me. I’m quite sure that eating is almost the same thing as fucking – the beignettes at The Commoner were a sort of shag in and of themselves – and to me watching someone fuck is often better than doing the fucking myself. So it’s only appropriate that watching Giada de Laurentiis slice into a watermelon with her eyes lifted to the camera whilst wearing a low-cut top can be viewed as a sort of porn.

There’s also this thing where you feel like your friends are sharing recipes with you. When you’re swapping recipes, you know who you’d go after for advice on a roast, and who you’d speak to about avocado gelati – and often they are not the same person. The Food Network’s website lets you look at about 30 different recipes for banana bread, and you know that Emeril‘s is going to sit in your stomach like a rock and that Paula Deen‘s is going to call for three sticks of butter, and so you decide which friend’s banana bread you would be more inclined to like. (In this case I’d probably go with Deen’s Southern Baptist Drag Queen take on things. Also, I think her sons are sleeping together.)

My newfound domesticity, which mostly hangs out in the kitchen, has sent me to foodnetwork.com almost daily, and I love the satisfaction of seeing something you would never come up with yourself in an ingredients list. It invokes that ‘oh, you!’ expression towards the author of the recipe, and creates this sort of intimacy that occurs when you share the alimentary with other people – even on the mass scale that exists with the Food Network’s expansive reach in the world of mainstream food media. It also makes culinary exploration more accessible to those who can benefit from it most – the suburban housewife, meat-and-three-(frozen)-veg chefs out there who will buy anything Emeril tells them to. Sometimes the man on the teevee tells you the right thing to do.

Only in American could celebrity chefdom expand into a mass-multimedia conglomerate like the Food Network, and to that I say ‘fuck yeah’. It’s also the only place where Mark Summers could still find work. But I think the very greatest thing about the Food Network is that it paves the way for some media-savvy, d.i.y., market-going, tech-geek foodies to start their own alt.food.network…don’t act like you wouldn’t get into your best apron for it.