Thursday, August 19, 2010

Eau de Grapefruit, Wild Tigers and the Poetics of Round Space

Grapefruit, coming to get you
This story begins with grapefruit, as all good stories do.
Joanne Mariner, outside her round house, newly renovated
A temporary neighbor, Manhattanite Joanne Mariner, current director of a terrorism/counter-terrorism program at Human Rights Watch and former resident of Topanga Canyon, lived nearby this summer and we got to know each other through a mutual friend.
For many years, she was involved with the man who wrote "Blade Runner."
This brilliant movie changed me. Perhaps it is my cinematic fulcrum. That they met in Topanga, in the 80s, when both were living in the wild canyon, the screenwriter tall and rough-hewn handsome driving his Porsche roadster, she bareback on her pony, gives an added lustre and mystery to Joanne. If it weren't rude and obsessive, I'd want to ask her to paint every moment of that love affair, every conversation, every passionate moment, every adventure.
Tooth-puller, Djemma-el-Fna, Marrakesh
She is also an avid traveler, as am I (when I can afford or finagle it somehow!), so we talked a lot about places we'd been, about rosewater, mouth-watering dates and tooth pullers in the marketplaces of Morocco, about decadent fallen maharajahs and tigers in India.
Joanne told a story about hiking recently in upstate New York, alone, hearing a crash in the brush and wanting to see a deer, cutting through dense foliage to reach the cute deer and then...seeing instead the mammoth bristling head and back of a standing black bear, feeling instantly panicked, adrenalized, and, without thinking, sprinting through what on later inspection seemed to be impenetrable brush.
"You're supposed to stay still. But I couldn't. I could feel how fast he would be when he saw me, how powerful. I felt like prey for the first time in my life."
For my fortieth birthday, I wanted to go somewhere I was afraid of going. I chose India.
India scared me in part because I'm a hypochondriac. Just the thought of the bacterial content of the Ganges River makes me break out in hives. If someone sneezes during a movie, I move to the other side of the theater. When I travel to exotic places, I see a special travel doctor, inoculate against dengue fever, buffalo rash, flesh-eating virus, you name it.
A former lover had told me about seeing people so deformed in the streets of India, like Spider Boy, whose torso and arms were normal but whose legs stretched higher than his head into the dust-filled air, and he moved like a spider, begging. I wanted to see things like that. I wanted to see sadhus, and sacred cows, and feel the press of a billion people against my skin. Break open my mind and vision. Never mind the false shelter of an ashram. We had those in Malibu. Give me chaos. Give me freaks. If I could find stillness there, and not explode, then...Because India is so huge, I chose to focus the experience by seeking tigers and death. I'd never seen death before, up close, so I planned to visit Varanasi. How could I write if I knew so little?
If I could, I would work to save wildlife as a career so I thought I'd seek one animal and learn what there was about this beast, write about it, so I charted the national parks near New Delhi, determined to see at least one tiger -- no mean feat. Tigers are disappearing daily, thanks to the Chinese insatiable appetite for tiger parts, the funded poaching, the desire to achieve virility at any cost. Yet I did, finally, see a tiger in the wild in the last of the three parks, Bandhavgahr, from atop an elephant in a dangerously lurching loosely bound palanquin. A mother, and three cubs. More fearsome and transfixing than anything I've ever seen. Forget art, forget music, forget the mediated world. Give me the sight of a tiger in its habitat. Then, as we lumbered away, one cub broke from his mother and stalked, gracefully and leisurely padding, his brilliant eyes fixed on mine, studying my weaknesses, and though he was many feet away, and below...I felt like nothing more than a tasty piece of meat swaying up there on a dinner tray for a tiger. That, too, was my one time feeling like wild animal prey. A sensation that still humbles, still courses through and breeds a respectful, reverential stance toward Nature I'd never felt before. We spoke of these things as we sat on my deck, at the edge of wilderness.
"You have only one house visible from your deck. That's crazy," she said.
I imagine she was seeing the skyscrapers of her longtime home in the heart of New York. "And the stars. I've got to remember to look at the stars while I'm here. You can't see them in New York."
Hollywood Blvd. after 1994 Northridge Earthquake, around corner from my then apartment
"You can't see them in town here, either. I remember the only time I saw them was after the earthquake in 1994 when I was living in Little Armenia near Fountain and Normandie. The city screamed with the sound of falling bricks and a thousand car alarms, and the stars blazed. It was strangely beautiful, even when people left their houses and walked down the streets, dazed, wrapped in their bedclothes."
We stared at the stars, and at the house glowing on the hill. I thought about Gaston Bachelard's book The Poetics of Space, about the connection between refuge and intimacy. "We are hypnotized by solitude, hypnotized by the gaze of the solitary house; and the tie that binds us is so strong that we begin to dream of nothing but a solitary house in the night. O licht im schlafenden Haus! (O light in the sleeping house!)" What was I really hungry for?
Jane Morris, seated from The Spiral Staircase blog of writer Sarah Deming
"My house is right near that one," she said, and I could tell she was in revery though she was private about it, and we didn't know each other all that well yet. Joanne was staying in the house up on Tuna Canyon where she spent some formative young years.
Those idyllic years included riding her pony all around the canyon, unsupervised; pony trips to nearby pools or creeks for skinnydipping or to the then-hopping market square filled w/incense makers, candle makers, dreamcatchers, tie-dye artisans, dealers, drifters and other flowering creatures; rides to the mind-blowingly lavish Moonfire Temple spread perched atop Tuna Canyon where Lewis "Moonfire" Marvin, Green Stamp billionaire, built his home.
This included a geodesic dome, trailers, an open air pavilion once used for rollerskating, and random religious artifacts.
 From this eccentric perch, Lewis watched over his menagerie, which included exotics.
Joanne remembers a llama, but she especially recalls the camel. This camel would stare balefully at Joanne, chew and stare, and seemed constantly in a bad mood. One day, when she was driving back into the canyon from Malibu, she saw a strange shape crumpled in the middle of Topanga Canyon Boulevard. It was the camel, his hump jutting into the median, his nobby legs shattered. He'd fallen from the cliff above after being chased by another animal. Probably the llama. They'd never hit it off. Or maybe the camel had never felt at home on that windswept mesa, far from his native dunes.
Not so long ago, I was walking up the steep hill to my home and passed a slender young redheaded man, barechested, laughing uproariously as he lay in the middle of the road. I figured he was happy, tripping. I stepped around. Later I learned this was one of the sons of Lewis "Moonfire."
Iconic Topanga house, formerly a watertower
The Mariner house is round. I meant to ask her what it was like to live in a round house, whether the shape affected her somehow, informed her state of mind, but I didn't get a chance before she left town. It used to be a watertower. Joanne's mother rents it out and Joanne chose to be a good daughter and oversee renovation. Actually, resuscitation. It seems the previous owners allowed their cats and dogs to urinate and defectate inside the house. This is Topanga. This is America. There abound many weirdos.
Terry Zwigoff's "Crumb" documentary poster
For me, the stellar documentary "Crumb" about comic genius R. Crumb and his wacky family depicts the America I know, features the families I recognize. We attract them in the canyon. The lost ones, the seekers, the sub-dwellers, the rich and deluded, the rich and enlightened, the artists, the dreamers. The progressive young families, the aging horny divorcees, the sometimes fallen-into-obscurity rockers, the bald German endurance equestrians/fortunetellers, the paranoid thespians, the rustic-minded, the neo-hippies, the altered-state fanatics. Perhaps this woman with hydroponic breasts was a porn star fallen upon bad times. Perhaps she was a meth-addled failed veterinarian from Pacoima. What we do know is that the house hygiene took a turn for the worse after her construction worker husband left her and rent payments stopped.
One day the Polish construction worker fixing Joanne's house brought a sackful of grapefruit fresh-plucked from his own tree.

"He's crushing on you," I said, but Joanne demurred.

"You can have them, " she said. "I hate grapefruit. Maybe you can invent something to make using grapefruit."
A challenge! A menu inspired by grapefruit! Without seeing the grapefruit in question, I began researching grapefruit recipes. First stop was bug Chef Maili. When she mentioned a grapefruit-avocado salad with candied fennel, I couldn't stop hounding her. But instead she sent me a grapefruit cake recipe from the legendary long-gone Brown Derby restaurant. Here it is: Brown Derby Grapefruit Cake.
I loved the whimsical architecture, a style particular to California designed to attract drivers to stop. Frank Sinatra and Lucille Ball frequented the restaurant, along with a slew of stars like Cary Grant;
Clark Gable proposed to Carol Lombard in booth #5.
Most of these "roadside vernacular" architectural treasures are gone. Our City of the Queen of Angels has a habit of forgetting, a penchant for erasing herself. I couldn't resist adding that cake to the menu. Hopefully some of the spirit of the original Brown Derby would return.
Then Joanne brought over the grapefruit. My heart sank. They were few, and they were puny. Their skin seemed sickly yellow, pockmarked. Somehow the fruit did not inspire.
Chef Maili's Grapefruit-Candied Fennel Salad:  Photo by Elizabeth Messina
And yet, the fantasy of grapefruit already had me in its citrus grip. I would find other grapefruit. Who can explain inspiration, or question once it's taken root? Your job as a writer, as a cook, as someone seizing life, is to follow. To stalk.
Chef Maili making veal lamb crust (Photo:  Lauren Mann)
Once again, I tracked down the ever-busy Maili. This time, even though she'd never written up the recipe (she has hundreds she invented and hasn't had time to document!), she banged out a quick recipe for candying fennel which follows:

make a simple syrup (one-to-one sugar and water). sauce baby fennel or larger pieces of regular fennel with a pinch of salt.  but you want a "chunk" of fennel as opposed to thin slices. saute in hot pan, olive oil and pinch of salt.  turn down heat after first minute.  then add simple syrup.  in this case you are going to also add orange juice or blood orange juice or grapefruit juice since that is taste of this salad.  (when I make a lemon fennel viniagrette for the early summer salad I do with warm apricots and cherries). the candied fennel will taste great on its own but then you can use drippings in pan in your vinaigrette.
She also told me how to alter her basic balsamic vinaigrette recipe Chef Maili's Balsamic Vinaigrette (subsitute blood orange-avocado oil), and sent a photo of the perfectly executed salad which she'd invented for an intimate Jimmy Choo event in 2006 (see above). The ingredients:  candied fennel, segmented grapefruit, sliced avocado, grilled lobster, mixed baby greens, blood orange-avocado vinaigrette. I was hooked. Wouldn't you be? Even a pale rendition might delight.
No way was I going to attempt lobster. Not only do I have a history with lobster rooted in the family Cape Cod home I have not visited in many years -- story TK -- but this was overload! Too many new things in one day. Who knew cooking was so time-consuming? I asked Maili if there were substitutes. Crab or shrimp. I had shrimp. The jumbo, tail-on type from Trader Joe's Maili had suggested for the Triple Citrus Tiger Prawn w/Thai Chili Sauce recipe. No grill though. I figured pan sear in olive oil with a pinch of salt. Focus on the rest. Just figuring out and preparing the candied fennel and vinaigrette would be enough. On top of the cake!
I'd never made a cake. Nor a vinaigrette. The search for ingredients began. Found plump ruby red grapefruit, mixed baby greens and avocado at Vons. As for fennel, I stood in front of this section of the produce for some time. I studied the labels, the vegetables. Which was bok choy, which the other? And was anise fennel? I forgot. Finally, I asked the produce guy. He looked at me funny, pointed out the fennel and said Good luck like he thought I needed it.
Tartar warrior
Since he seemed so knowledgeable, I asked him where to find cream of tartar too. He pointed me back in the direction of the baked goods aisle where I'd already wandered aimlessly -- but gave me a clue that it was in a small container. That's when I finally saw it in spices. Who knew? All I knew from tartar was tartar sauce for fish and Tartar warriors.
The Brown Derby recipe called for sifted cake flour. Found Arthur's cake flour at Whole Foods on Lincoln. They seem to have everything. No wonder Top Chef competitors shop there. I also found the Pacifica Culinaria blood orange-avocado oil.
Cicciolina campaigning in Piazza Navona, circa 1987
Anything that calls for blood oranges suited me. Ever since I lived in Rome, from 1987-1989, during the time when porn star Cicciolina ran for mayor and campaigned by strutting topless around the Piazza Navona with a parade following her, I was obsessed with blood oranges.
Arancia Rossa, blood oranges
They were one of the first new mind-blowing tastes I encountered in a city I would eat my way through in the following two years and return to the States with high cholesterol.
Campo dei Fiori market, Rome
I remember buying them from the farmers market in Campo dei Fiori, every Saturday I think it was (or no, was it every day?!), skirting the brooding statue of Giordano Bruno, avoiding always-wasted Beat poet Gregory Corso who was not yet drunk in the gutter as he would be later that afternoon once he'd genially accosted as many women and girls as he could. I remember peeling the orange and wondering at the blood-red flesh, the edible sunset in my hands.

There remained the matter of a sifter. I hit Sur La Table on Wilshire, found a sifter. As I pulled the sifter trigger, I remembered operating one of these when I was a kid. For what, I don't know. But the action alone transported me. I also bought a cake pan. Though the recipe called for a 10", they only had 9" size. I figured I had what I needed.
At home, the adventure continued. I realized that, though I have more comfort than when I entered the kitchen this past June, I am more afraid of the kitchen than I was of traveling to India. So tapping into that fear and adrenaline is actually invigorating (for someone like me who loves a thrill). Today, I began with the cake. Something daunting. Sifting felt rhythmic, like banging a tambourine on the beat. Though the trigger kept sticking -- probably because I was pumping it like it was a grip strengthener not a kitchen gadget -- the flour, baking soda, salt and sugar sifting through soon transfixed me.
When I looked at it from another angle, the effect was strangely holy. Not only did the light filter through the falling flour as if it were a shaft of light stabbing a dark cave, but as I sifted, I felt as if I were experiencing the eternally spilling sands of time. Yet rather than feeling anxiety, I felt calm. In the presence of something larger -- except all I was doing was awkwardly sifting cake flour.
Jesus tortilla from Luke Ford's (ir-)reverent site
Maybe I am just hungry for the sacred, and I'm the type who'd see Jesus in a tortilla if I believed in Jesus. One reason travel rouses me is that I find connection to the sacred somehow easier in other countries, other cultures. Or I did. Why does the food taste better abroad? Why does life seem sweeter? Maybe that's one reason this new venture's bringing so much unbidden, unexpected joy. I'm summoning delights into my own home, and sharing them with others. Opening the doors. Perhaps one part of this cooking journey connects to finding the sacred, teasing out the life force of one's own hearth. Creating a hut that glows in the darkness.

Watched a vid per Maili's suggestion on how to segment citrus. Still working on it, but this one made it possible, even though I didn't get rid of all the pith. Chef Higgins Demonstrates How to Peel and Segment Grapefruit

Shot other pics of cake-in-process, but suffice to say -- I messed up by using that groovy motorized handmixer for the batter. Maili's voice was in my head, reminding me not to overmix any batter with baking soda or it would affect the rising -- but I zeroed in on "blend until smooth" in the recipe. So while the cake came out beautifully -- it hadn't risen as much as it should. Still, I was proud. As you would be with, say, a three-legged dog who gamely dashes to catch a frisbee.
Then I realized I had to place this cake on a cooling rack. What rack? Quickly I Googled substitutes for cake racks. The oven was hot so couldn't pull a rack from there. That left the fridge. I yanked a rack, piled all the food in one spot, and set it up outside so I could invert that ol' cake of mine.
On to frosting. Frosting did work well with the powerful handmixer. Got it all nice and fluffy. However, hadn't thought about the problems one could encounter with a still-wet sifter. When I poured the powdered sugar in, and pumped, it seemed to disappear -- but there was no holy column of sugar pouring forth.
Maybe I was hallucinating? Where was it going? This is when Top Chef came in handy. Since I'm competitive and confess sometimes I watch reality shows like Project Runway and Top Chef where competitors are fierce, and talented, and I want to see whose personality and character will triumph -- I guess I've absorbed the one constant basic question:  Did you taste it? I would not make that mistake. So I tasted the cream cheese frosting, and true enough, it wasn't sweet. At that point I dumped clumpy powdered sugar into the frosting and blended it like mad. Think it worked, 'cuz I couldn't stop licking the mixer thingies. What're they called? Never mind.
The cake was still cooling, so now it was time for fennel. As soon as I removed the fennel, I was struck by its shape.

Somehow it looked like an organ, a Mexican corazon with pulsing ventricles like you see on the loteria cards, only green. I stood it on the deck railing and mused. When I posted this fennel pic on my Facebook profile, along with a swooning praise of it in its rough then candied form, it garnered 20 odd responses.
One woman, the bewitching award-winning poet Amelia Ponomarova, grew so inspired by fennel she dug into its history. Here is a small sampling of her lovely and literary discoveries:  "When Prometheus stole fire from the gods, he hid it in the hollow fennel stalk...the staff Dionysus and Bacchus carry is made of fennel...and there's a crucifix carved from one piece of Mexican fennel in the Cathedral of Toledo." Perhaps the Cult of Fennel is in the works. We shall be meeting on yon mesa-top amidst the ghosts of camels, llamas and other Moonfire creatures. Stay tuned.
Forgot vinaigrette! Stood the fennel on the cutting board, then broke out the blender (which still terrifies me), measured and poured in reduced balsamic vinegar (have to learn to reduce on my own -- costs way too much), mustard, bit of sugar, salt, then poured the precious (read:  costly) blood orange-avocado oil. Checked the recipe again and realized -- I wasn't s'posed to pour in oil! You're supposed to slowly pour it through the hole on top of the blender so the mixture emulsifies. (What does that mean? Some kind of transformation, no doubt).
This is where the scientific miraculous comes in. For me. I poured the oil into another bowl -- and was able to do so because they oil and vinegar stayed separated! Amazing! Mistake corrected. So I blended the first bunch of ingredients, slowly added the oil -- and voila, it emulsifed. Turned a rich chocolaty color. Silky texture. As I tasted the vinaigrette I heard footsteps. But I didn't move. Because in my mouth was sacrament. Was something I'd unsheath my sword and fight for -- it was that delicious. That rich. That otherworldly.
"Liquid gold," I whispered to myself, in awe.

Then my taster/dinner guest arrived.
Janet Graham lives one canyon over. A talented psychotherapist and beautiful writer, Janet had just taken a year-long book-writing workshop with me. During that year, I'd tried to feed my writers. I'd gotten into a routine (rut) -- we started the 10-4 workshop day with coffee, Trader Joe's heated Mexican quiches, Pain Rustique with grapes and cheese, pre-mixed pre-washed bagged spinach and cranberry salad also from Trader Joe's (dressing and toppings included), warmed-up turkey cutlets from the Whole Foods case, and finished with prosecco garnished with fresh raspberries. In other words, no cooking and certainly no cooking from scratch. Janet -- an outstanding cook herself -- was my go-to person for cooking issues. When I wanted to make sure the bread was heated, I called to her. And so forth.
"You always seemed so nervous," Janet said. She didn't see any sign of this inner cook blossoming during the past year. "You seemed completely anxious and out of your element in the kitchen. You got this look on your face, like you weren't having any fun at all. And now look at you. It's incredible!"

When she arrived, I was still staring at the fennel trying to decide how to cut it.

"Quarter it," she suggested. That worked.
Janet brought wine, ingredients for an appetizer, homegrown lemons and a perfect rose from her own garden.

"How bizarre! Did you read my recent blog post about farmers markets and the Palisades Park rose garden?" I asked.
"No. I just wanted you to have this. It's perfect. The beautiful thing about roses is they're sublime, then they fade and die so quickly. It adds to the perfection."
Meals were fleeting, too. The Japanese chef Hirohisu Koyama says, "A cook is above all a craftsman who produces something ephemeral and it is because of this idea of fragility that cooking, in this sense, transcends all existing art forms." Even mucking around as I am, I sense those possibilities and saw them being created by Chef Maili.
Gaudi dragon vertebrae, Barcelona
As I prepared the fennel for sauteeing then candying, Janet prepared an additional appetizer -- a Barcelona recipe she'd learned from a friend which included proscuitto, artichoke, olive oil, salt, garlic and shaved Reggiano parmesan.
"I'm sloppy when I cook," she said, "more intuitive," as she snipped the proscuitto up into bits with a scissors while the whole mess was spitting and erupting in a hot pan. Janet Scissor Hands. I didn't even know you could that. She looked so comfortable cooking, in her element. Next crappy electric burner over, I stirred the fennel, wondering if it really would candify.
When the prosciutto finished, Janet showed me how to bend back the artichoke leaves and snap them, until reaching the heart. Then she sliced and dropped them into a marinade of garlic and olive oil.
After they cooked, she swirled the bits onto a plate, shaved parmesan over it then we ate with our hands. Fast. It was divine by way of Barcelona.
The fennel did finally candify! Filled the kitchen with its irresistible scent.
Frosted the cake. Balanced it on a stepladder. (Told you the kitchen was small). Plated the salads.
 Then we feasted, we feasted. Talked and feasted, feasted and talked.
Drained the wine, demolished the salads, sampled the cake (though the cake was a bit dense, it was tasty, and the frosting refreshed, the grapefruit sections provided a pleasant bitter kick to balance the sweet).
The rose perfumed my room for days, until it bowed its head, dropped its petals and moved on. Some of the grapefruit remain, so I inhale them now. As I cradle the fragrant grapefruit in my hands, I think about how it must have felt to grow up in a round house, with curved walls always surrounding you.
I learn from a study recounted at that the powerful scent of grapefruit casts a spell over men. When they inhale the smell, they think the woman they're seeing is three to six years younger. Like beer goggles.
I learn grapefruit hails from Barbados, that it is called citrus x paradisi. Each day, I prepare Grapefruit-Candied Fennel salad redux -- trying it out with the shrimp cold, with other modifications. Here is a plate from today:
Now I've got to get ready for fellow memoirist Sue Shapiro's first L.A. speed shrinking event this evening. I'm going to drop a grapefruit in my bag, see what happens...
If I can cook, anyone can!



  1. Rachel, I love the richness of your words, you draw me in, I am very much enjoying your cooking blog. The things you are making and Chef Maili and her recipes are just amazing.

    And I really definitely need this blood orange avocado oil (just went to... the website and saw all of them!) I used to grow fennel, in fact I just saw it growing all along PCH last weekend on my way to Malibu. Long ago I used to have a pot bellied pig named Hamlet and he loved fennel tea. So I grew it to make it for him. I grew a lot of herbs, and I loved being able to identify them from the smell, from the shape of the leaves. I remember teaching my own niece this when she was small..and one day we were driving near her home and she was looking out the window and saw a hill someone had landscaped with Rosemary. And she was so mad, she said "look at all of that growing..and no one knows all this dinner is waiting to be made!"

    You know what's so true, like in your blog about Janet showing you how to get to the artichoke heart? These are things my family never did, so in turn I never really learned..and it really makes you realize, cooking is friends teaching and laughing and learning together. It's really a magical thing. And I am loving all you are learning.


  2. i forgot to tell you that i used a milder vinegar, not balsamic, when I made the vinaigrette. I didn't know if I should write that on the blog or just tell you? I either used champagne vinegar or rice wine vinegar because the whole thing is so much lighter and more subtle flavors and I thought heavy balsamic would kill that. but I can also see a balsamic glazed grapefruit being good too. I just think balsamic too strong for candied fennel.

    truly your are making me realize how much there is to explain.

    and CAKES DO NEED A LOT OF MIXING. Cakes are their own unique cooking method. everything must be at room temperature. (unlike pie where you want all your ingredients very very cold!) it is only quick breads, pancakes and muffins that having baking soda that you don't want to overmix. Cakes you DO want to mix well for volume.

    I know this must be making you crazy and you wonder how you will ever remember it all. I remember when I first started gardening in North Carolina. i'd gardened of course with my mother in CA but everything grows in CA, for the most part you don't have to worry as much about what to plant where plus my mom knew what she was doing and I was just following directions. But in NC it was our first house so I was buying the plants. Certain needed full-shade, some partial shade, some wanted acidic soil, some did well under the pine trees. the more I read the more overwhelmed I got thinking that I would never remember all of these rules about each individual plant. But through trial and error I did learn. hostas died in the burning sun and thrived in the shade, etc. could write about each plant.

    But you can see why culinary arts is a two-year degree and baking arts is its own separate two-year degree. Neither of which i have of course! I just have on-the-job knowledge and gut feelings about what will be good together. But I learn something new everyday about cooking and food and that is why i love it. Things that keep your mind and spirit and happiness engaged are while you are creating temporary art, nourishing yourself and learning something new.

    Great job!! you are so deeply into this! Wonderful!

  3. What a masterpiece of a literary essay -- masquerading as a blog post. I so love all the places you take us, Tuna Canyon, Moonfire, Cicciolina campaigning in Rome where: "I remember peeling the orange and wondering at the blood-red flesh, the edible sunset in my hands."

    Brava Rachel! Thank you for the nourishing beauty

    I keep re and re-reading this because it takes my breath away:

    The rose perfumed my room for days, until it bowed its head, dropped its petals and moved on. Some of the grapefruit remain, so I inhale them now. As I cradle the fragrant grapefruit in my hands, I think about how it must have felt to grow up in a round house, with curved walls always surrounding you.

    I loved learning this:
    Hirohisu Koyama says, "A cook is above all a craftsman who produces something ephemeral and it is because of this idea of fragility that cooking, in this sense, transcends all existing art forms."

    Te above is so beautiful to think about, and in some oblique way it reminds me a lot of one of my favorite quotes about music, by Daniel Barenboim:

    “When playing music, it is possible to achieve a unique state of peace, partly due to the fact that one can control, through sound, the relationship between life and death.” He adds, “Since every note produced by a human being has a human quality, there is a feeling of death with the end of each one, and through that experience there is a transcendence of all the emotions that these notes can have in their short lives; in a way, one is in direct contact with timelessness.”

  4. I love that I had the honor of showing Rachel Resnick how to get to the heart of an artichoke. What role reversal! It was a splendid evening from start to finish although i must admit the invite did not portend such an exquisite unfolding as it came late in the day and i wondered, Rachel? my beloved writing coach, cooking? Not so long ago she was insanely insecure about a loaf of bread she'd popped into the oven to warm up for the writing group's lunch. "Janet," she yelled. Feeling the immediacy of her voice I ran from porch to kitchen where i found her looking uncharacteristically forlorn. "Is the bread done?" She asked nervously looking almost innocent. I had never seen this side of her before. "Squeeze it," I suggested secretly thrilled that she was depending on me for something. "See if the center is hot." She ripped open the bag of ready made salad from Trader Joe's and poured it into a wooden bowl. "Can you do it?" she asked. I reckoned she had no interest in cooking. "I'm not domestic," she claimed. I opened the oven door and squeezed the hot loaf of crusty bread feeling a bit of shame about my own domesticity. You can imagine what a delight it was for me to be in the kitchen with Rachel once again, cooking together this time around, deepening our bond. And now, reading about it is almost as delicious as the mouth watering tastes that came out of Rachel's kitchen on our grapefruit night.