Tag: food

impermanence

I fell asleep one night in the middle of reading a paragraph I didn’t want to let go of. I wrote down mono no aware, so that I’d remember it the next day. The Japanese phrase (an empathy towards the inevitable passing of all things), reminds us to maintain awareness of impermanence: the first rule of life is that nothing lasts forever. The power of spring and autumn lies in their transience. I’ve been writing letters to my body, thanking it for being my home. Life isn’t easy on the body, but here it is still, steadfast. Still providing me a home. Knees are amazing.

***

We plan to meet at the farmer’s market. It’ll be… pretty early, he tries to warn me. I am relieved when I reach the top of the stairs coming out of the subway station: blue skies.

He teaches me about selecting oyster mushrooms, gives me leaves of sweet spinach to taste even as I glance at the vendor, wondering if it’s okay to just walk around tasting things.

“Don’t worry so much. Just put it in your mouth,” his eyes crinkle knowingly. Even in my thirties, I still haven’t gotten over double entendres. I vow that I never will. Apples, potatoes — Yukon gold. He balances the sourdough on the top of my head, and I laugh. It’s just warm enough that I don’t mind being outside, but still cold enough for him to ask me if I want apple cider. Of course I want apple cider.

When he chops vegetables, it sounds like that time he improvised on the djembe. I tell him I’m in a meeting, but I watch him out of the corner of my eye as he slices through the apple and tastes it. The Q train rumbles underneath us so that it feels like we’re suspended in the sky or in a secret cellar underground; one of the two. I write scattered notes about it. I don’t want to forget.

Some things that I tasted, I forget. I can’t remember the name of the apple, but I have never been able to find the same kind since. But other things I tasted, I can’t forget if I tried.

After we slather homemade jam on the sourdough and eat all the apple mash, his brown eyes grow soft. We’re sort of dancing around a subject, and to pass the time he talks about how much he admires the work I’ve done.

“What about you? Look what you can do with an apple.” I put more jam in my mouth.

“Well. It’s just food,” he says, his tone bordering on something between discontent and hunger.

For the sake of avoiding other topics, we debate the importance of technology versus food for a while, and he gets up to give me a cookbook from his shelf. His hand is tracing circles on my hand, and I close my eyes. I take the stance that a chef would be more coveted than a technical project manager in the event of an apocalypse, but in the end there is a larger point I am making about the importance of food.

Mono no aware,” I mutter at some point.

“What?” he asks.

“It’s nothing, I’ll tell you later.”

Ferran Adrià said, “Painting, music, movies, sculpture, theater, everything — we can survive without it. You have to eat, or else you die. Food is the only obligatory emotion.”

***

Poetry books are stacked across my desk because I’m recording poems for friends. This evening I recorded and sent this one to M., who requested something about reclaiming power. It’s by Ada Limón.

Instructions on Not Giving Up

More than the fuchsia funnels breaking out
of the crabapple tree, more than the neighbor’s
almost obscene display of cherry limbs shoving
their cotton candy-colored blossoms to the slate
sky of Spring rains, it’s the greening of the trees
that really gets to me. When all the shock of white
and taffy, the world’s baubles and trinkets, leave
the pavement strewn with the confetti of aftermath,
the leaves come. Patient, plodding, a green skin
growing over whatever winter did to us, a return
to the strange idea of continuous living despite
the mess of us, the hurt, the empty. Fine then,
I’ll take it, the tree seems to say, a new slick leaf
unfurling like a fist to an open palm, I’ll take it all.

***

That aphorism they say about April showers: now that I live somewhere with seasons, I can finally confirm that it’s true. The blooms fall all around me whenever I walk in the rain. I am already contemplating this year’s roaming battles: both emotional and physical. I am contemplating last year’s abundance, the tenderness, the growth from the tender places, the stagnancy, the struggle. The clouds that passed overhead and then cleared up. It’s not organized, it’s never been. I tidy and tidy, like Marie Kondo tells me to, but somehow it still feels so messy. How do I embrace all this uncertainty? Is it ok to be so affected? Are havens meant to be temporary? Aren’t our bodies, also? I’m lazy on the grass, staring up at the blossoming trees. The light from the sunset spreads so quickly, and leaves so steadfastly. C. writes, “Bad things, like all things, are just a type of light.” Well, then. I’ll take it, with open palms. I’ll take it all.

“you are beautiful”

The pressure of social norms seems to increase in the digital age. Social media places a new pressure on everyone to remain forever photogenic, forever young, forever thin and fit, forever wrinkle-free. While eating Instagrammable food.

The trope of “doing it for the ‘gram” has become an inescapable religion with impossible, Sisyphean expectations. We watch the stories of already-thin women lamenting that they are “so behind” in their Coachella diets, and other people proudly starving themselves before Burning Man (a festival ironically born out of radical inclusion). When women don’t eat, it is criticized as anorexia; when men don’t eat, it is lauded as “biohacking.”

With all the messaging about “wellness” and “clean eating” and “intermittent fasting,” do you really even know how or what to eat anymore?

Taffy Brodesser-Akner writes:

About two years ago, I decided to yield to what every statistic I knew was telling me and stop trying to lose weight at all. I decided to stop dieting, but when I did, I realized I couldn’t. I didn’t know what or how to eat. I couldn’t fathom planning my food without thinking first about its ability to help or hinder a weight-loss effort.

Do you feel pleasure at sitting down to a meal? Would you feel healthier anticipation about a trip if you didn’t worry so much about how your body looked?

Are we exhausted now by what we’ve defined as beauty?

Megan Nolan writes:

It has seemed to take up so much of my life, being desperate to not only be acceptable to look at, but also beautiful, exceptional, enchanting. What might I have experienced if I had not been trying to claw my way toward beauty? What things might I have thought, feelings might I have felt, if that space were freed up inside of myself?

What would it have been like to pass that mirror in my hometown, and to see myself — on the way to the library, or a party with friends, or a walk in the park — and simply feel glad that I was able to do those things, that I have a body that allows me to? What would it have been like not to look at it at all?

Taiwanese beef noodle soup showdown in Houston

On a winter day in Houston, we decided on a whim to do a Taiwanese beef noodle soup (牛肉麵) showdown at some of the popular restaurants in Chinatown. My friends are hungry to hear the results, and it’s more complex than just one clear winner (like most good things in life). So I’ll describe the various restaurants’ 牛肉麵 in more detail.

Tainan Bistro

Tainan Bistro is an always-bustling casual eatery. You can order snacks at the counter, or have a sit-down meal. We ordered the two different types of beef noodle soup.

  • The “House Special” beef noodle soup has a more savory/salty taste to the broth, and the beef is sliced thinly.
  • The regular beef noodle soup is sweeter and includes the traditional pickled veggies in the broth. The beef is cut in large chunks as is usually found in traditional beef noodle soup.

We could tell that the noodles themselves were definitely cooked from a package rather than handmade; so while they were cooked decently, they just didn’t taste as good as handmade noodles. The broth is not bad, but overall not the most compelling one we tasted.

***

I Ping

9888 Bellaire Blvd #138, Houston, TX 77036

I Ping Bakery changed owners recently and currently, in addition to a selection of Taiwanese baked goods, they offer a limited menu of entrees. They have a traditional beef noodle soup and a Szechuan style (spicy) beef noodle soup. We tried the Taiwanese 红烧牛肉面. Out of the restaurants we tried this was the only place that offered handmade noodles, and they make a whopping obvious difference. The noodles were the perfect texture, and I could have kept adding noodles in (I had to pace myself for the long haul). Unfortunately, the broth was thin and less complex, or else I think this bowl would have become my favorite. We enjoyed the bok choy. I think this would be a good option for someone who wants to eat less salt. Alas, I didn’t find the broth interesting enough to put this at #1.

***

San Dong Noodle House

9938 Bellaire Blvd, Houston, TX 77036

San Dong is the OG. This was my childhood favorite restaurant for 红烧牛肉面, and honestly I confirmed that it is still my favorite overall. In the early years, they had a huge noodle-pulling machine in the back of the kitchen and I loved watching them make their own noodles. The restaurant has since expanded from their hole-in-the-wall location, but the soup still packs an intense flavor-filled punch. I think this broth achieves the ideal umami, though the cooked spinach made it a touch more bitter than the normal bok choy that everyone else uses. There were plenty of pickled mustard greens, and the beef was super tender. I wish we would have remembered to ask for the thick noodles.

***

Star Snow Ice and Teriyaki (Star Snow)

9889 Bellaire Blvd Houston, TX 77036

During my high school years, Star Snow Ice was the PLACE TO BE. All of my friends were getting their shaved ice and boba milk tea from here. We’ve always been curious about their beef noodle soup because I hear varying amounts of praise. This bowl is the one I felt most “meh” about, despite nice touches like a sprig of cilantro on top. The noodles were so-so, and the broth was a little too sour. This one probably fell to last place, honestly.

***

Verdict

So, how did we eat so many bowls of beef noodle soup? We split every bowl 5 ways! Overall, I would suggest going to San Dong for beef noodle soup, and ask for the thick noodles. If you’re craving handmade noodles and you’re less concerned with having the traditionally intense and complex broth, then go to I Ping Bakery.

Take this all with a grain of salt (heh). We were just looking for a fun family adventure during the holidays, and there were many things on the menus that we didn’t have time (nor tummy space) to try.

Happy slurp slurp slurp!