Sunday, January 24, 2010

munching on the mundane

It wasn't quite early when I got up this morning, although it felt so after a shallow rest. I managed to get clean and out the door in 20 minutes, to meet a friend with whom I shared a pleasant and hearty breakfast at the Colossal Cafe. I went for the special, biscuits and gravy--is it the idea that compels me, or is it the gravy?--and found them to be almost exactly everything that the dish should be (anywhere other than the Seward Cafe, of course, where the B&G Deluxe is beyond compare)...biscuits light and fluffy, gravy made with what seemed to be chipped beef and just a touch of sour cream with a sprinkling of herbs, thick but still smooth, rich but not fatty, even light almost, served up in a nice bowl. We sat a table just inside the door of the tiny place--the seating area is probably only 8x15' or so--and although we had to suffer an occasional rush of cold air, we managed somehow not to be unseated for a good hour and a half or more. With a well-brewed cup of coffee (I like it strong, but I've been disappointed lately by "overbrewed" cups at places where one might expect better) and some good conversation, it was a nice way to start the day. Not the cheapest around but I left feeling satisfied, with enough energy to see me through what turned out to be a fairly long day, out and about, picking up this and that in anticipation of Paris.

This trip is shaping up to be an expensive affair already, which has me feeling a bit at odds with my prudence. Flying off to Paris, of all places... My hope had been to get away for some time alone in canyon country after I got through the house-buying act, or to undertake an ascetic practice of self- and home-improvements this winter, not run abroad to a cosmopolitan city and spend my life savings on fleeting pleasures. The money I've spent on my plane ticket might have equipped my kitchen beyond my modest dreams, and what I'll spend on food there, I can hardly imagine...

I stopped by the co-op on my way home today, to pick up a few essentials, and it occurred to me that many of the things I regard as such are not really typical American fare. Organic brown basmati rice, for example, or shiitake mushrooms. Locally crafted goat-cheese and crusty artisan breads. I suppose there are plenty of Americans who travel to France and have never tasted a French cheese, or (is it possible?) stood in the presence of a Monet, or heard of Edith Piaf. Some of those people might be content to go to TGI Fridays Paris (just down the street from Hotel Touriste) but I am a discriminating eater even in this modest metropolis where above-average fare of all origins abounds, and I'll be damned if I'm going to show up in gay Paris, home of haute cuisine, neighbor to my ancestral roots in Alsace-Lorraine, and drop in just any old place for a bite. No no.

I'm not after a "fine" dining experience. I don't intend to spend more on a meal than I would on a pair of shoes (which may not be saying all that much...could I be a closet fashionista?); nor am I the sort who would eschew (ha ha) a humble meal at any random hole-in-the-wall, but I have to admit that my standards for what I put into my mouth, crush between my teeth, take down, digest, absorb and become are fairly high. There's a reason I don't eat foods that are doused in poison, or killed in a filthy manner, or crafted without any care whatsoever, for consumption by the masses (or massive). It just doesn't make any sense to me to eat, unless it's going to do something Good for You. To do otherwise, to me, is not only unhealthy and unwise but is potentially sickening and--if I might go so far--Life Changing (in that food actually gives people life...). Like having sex with a prostitute, or eating half a bag of Doritos in one sitting, not that I've done either of those things.

(Okay, so sure, it's not always going to be good. Then it should at least be interesting. Like that apple stand we stopped at on the way home, where the slightly crazed owner shared some feelings about his life's professions: one part apple peddler--with his brother, who had this stupid idea of shellacking the pumpkins, "as if there's not enough to do around here"--and one part director, of the funeral home next door--between that and the polka music on rotation, all day, every day, "truly, there are days when I wish for death, hahaha...". We bought a few apples and so-so pastries. Worthwhile, is maybe what I'm getting at...)

Last stop for the afternoon was United Noodles, to stock the pantry for curry, noodle soup, fried rice, pad thai... I was squatting at the fish sauce, trying to remember if it's the one with two crabs or three, when from behind I heard my name, and turned to see my sister. Had I gotten her message? No. About meeting her there? What? She and the rest of the book club--mostly extended family members--were on a field trip. Serendipity, or just chance? We browsed for food items of the Asian Persuasion and then went for dinner at the Vietnamese gem Quang, over on "Eat Street". My bowl of soup was at least a quart and a half full of about a half pound of broccoli, another of tofu, and as much again of egg noodles, with other veg; I don't think I could have made the same, for what I paid for it, and even though I ate my fill, what's left is still more than a meal for me. Dessert was my sister's suggestion but my choice, and it turned out to be a strange one: gooey rice dumplings with a salty bean paste inside, resting in a bowlful of coconut-ginger syrup and sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds. Fascinating, if not delicious (also probably the main factor
contributing to the sense of sad and empty loneliness that came over me upon returning home, to no one, with only the cheap sound of my new monitor-cum-television to keep me company...Playoffs, whoopdee doo!...but you see I mean about Life Changing...?).

Inspired by two bags of groceries and thoughts of the future as well as hopes of dispelling laziness, I decided tonight to take down the plastic sheets that have been covering the kitchen, keeping me out of my cupboards and from enjoying a clean, tidy space in which to prepare food. It still feels a bit dirty, not mine, not quite right somehow, like something more is missing than the pots and pans, but it does look better. My intent had been to make a red curry this evening, to eat for the week, but it's been a longish day (for a Sunday) and, as anxious as I am to plan my culinary stumble through Paris, I think I'm going to have leftovers for lunch tomorrow and let those restaurant guides rest for tonight. Maybe there's something good on TV...

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