Over Apple Risotto
I have been standing at the stove for some 20 minutes, staring out the window. What I am cooking, I don’t even know, and it probably doesn’t matter..
The upright piano was leaning on the ramp of the Uhaul. Next to it, the small, dark haired female sat, feet over the side of the truck bed, elbows on knees, chin in hands. To the other side, a tall man with shaggy hair, hands on knees looking defeated. They have been attempting, single handedly, to push the baby grand piano up the ramp into the Uhaul..
Maybe it started when I first walked past their front door. Right as I approached to pass, it opened and I was immediately engulfed in a cloud of weed smoke. My nostrils burned and my eyes began to water. After that, I noticed the same concentrated stench would creep through the vents and in the open windows of my apartment like The Fog. The worst being in my bathroom, so strong was the smell that my guests often suspected me of taking up the drug for recreational purposes.
Too often the ghostly odour was accompanied by the most extreme lung hacking from downstairs. So weak was the insulation between our apartments, I could often be woken from slumber by the coughing fits. The lung hacking was then always followed by the thick sounds of vomiting.
My glorious Sunday mornings, languidly waking to a fresh new day, suddenly interrupted by the hack hack hack, puuuuuuuuke from downstairs.
But I think worse than that, was the music. Nearly always poorly played, electric toned keyboard music. And though it could be done, I struggled to pull a familiar tune from the clash of notes played. Never once did I hear any notes played on the very real piano I had no idea they were in possession of.
Occasionally at night, as I would just be settling into bed, I could suddenly hear off key singing from directly below me. As though in an attempt to haunt me from my well deserved slumber. The singing was usually accompanied by their joint giggling.
The brief respites came when they would play tasteful, easy jazz on the stereo. From Frank Sinatra to Ella Fitzgerald type tunes for hours on end. But nightmare became reality when they began what sounded like the beginnings of a garage band. No sooner would I return home from a hard day of work, that the click click click, of the drum sticks would start.
Thankfully this phase did not last long..
And oddly, I recall a radio story I had once heard about a woman so wildly enthralled and equally appalled by her new neighbors across the street. Unabashedly, open curtain type neighbors. They had pushed their bed up against the window. She couldn’t believe it, and yet, she couldn’t stop watching them. She became a member of their lives via her obsessive voyeurism. Them being intimate, them eating breakfast together, everything. They were young, and beautiful, and in love.
Then one day she realized she hadn’t seen them in a while. Then when they came back, they looked very different. The woman looked heavier, the man thinner, weaker. He was bald. It took them a while to realize this was the same young, beautiful couple as before. The bed that had been pushed against the window, was replaced by a hospital bed.
It is strange how your first impressions can be one thing, when all the while there is a different story playing out in real life.
And for a moment, I can see it..
A young woman who grew up wanting to create music. A young man, in love, follows her to music school. They pack up grandma’s baby grand piano and the keyboard she’s had since childhood, and move to a small, 1 bedroom, downstairs apartment close to campus. Close enough for her to walk to school each morning, and back each afternoon.
It is difficult studies, but she works hard. Mornings he is left alone. He wakes with horrible nausea. The only thing that settles him is marijuana. He smokes it until he is taken by severe coughing fits. He coughs so hard some mornings he eventually vomits. He smokes religiously to feel stable. Until she returns home to tell him about her day, to play him the music she is studying in class.
Most days he feels strong, young. But when he has had a really hard day, she will sing him to bed. She sings off key, but he still loves it.
This is not the real story. They are simply weed smoking college kids. Each day I would exit my car next to theirs. Inside dangled old concert passes from the rear view mirror, the cup holder with its never changing large soda cup from Sarku, full of cigarette butts. Car that hardly ever went anywhere.
I must have lost focus, because I look up and the piano is successfully ensconced within the Uhaul truck. This is when it really dons on me, my downstairs neighbors are finally moving..
I’ve never really been a fan of lentils. So I thought I’d embark on a Journey of Lentils Challenge.
I tried to be diverse in my recipe choices to get a real rounded picture of lentils.
For the most part, the dishes were great. Just the couple times I made a cooking error..
Masoor Dal – India
Red Lentil Curry
Misir Wot – Ethiopia
Spiced Red Lentils
Fakes – Greece
Greek Lentil Soup
Mercimek Corbasi – Turkey
Turkish Lentil Soup
Poteje se Lentejas – Cuba
Cuban Lentil Soup
Mshosh – Armenia
Armenian Lentil Salad
What I discovered?
Lentils really aren’t too bad. Biggest lesson? Cook your lentils in broth. The couple times I straight cooked them in water, the dishes tasted like poop. Not literally… but it seemed that after cooking them in water, there was no real way to impart the lentils with strong flavor. And yes, I made this mistake on the curry, and I am fairly certain the curry shouldn’t taste bland.
I ended up only using Green and Red lentils. Though I have used Yellow once, and Black, which I actually like quite a bit.
(I also ended up making Persian Pomegranate Soup in the middle of this whole challenge. In honour of finishing the book Pomegranate Soup. It utilizes Yellow Lentils.)
When I turned 5, my mother finally allowed me to watch the work of The Women. She would wake me long before the sun rose. I would crawl out of bed, sleep still clinging to my eyes. We would travel deep into the forests on our lands. The trees were thick and no moonlight could penetrate through them. But mother had traveled this path since she, herself, was 5. Grasping my tiny hand in her warm one, she’d guide me over rocks and roots and around tree trunks, thick with age, never allowing me to lose my footing. Until eventually, we would break through the trees upon a wide clearing, filled with the women of our tribe. Each holding up an intricate circle, filled with a spider web design, laden with feathers and beads.
The Dream Catchers.
I had always assumed that what we did was make believe, false hope for those who dream. The first time I saw it, I thought I must be dreaming myself.
As the sun began to warm the sky, I watched the women, each one holding up a Dream Catcher, their long fingers dancing in front of each, drawing out invisible strands from their centers. I could almost see the ghostly threads drifting in the air, off each finger, like spider silk. And as the sky grew brighter, I stared harder, the threads becoming more visible, twinkling in the growing light. And suddenly there, on the end of each strand is something. Like some dark and leggy bug, clinging to the Dream Catchers, pulled away by the threads, by The Women.
There are hundreds of them. Nightmare creatures.
I watched my mother as she worked, drawing the small bugs closer to her face, staring intently at each as though she would devour them. And then as the sun came to crest the horizon and cast deeply into my eyes, I was blinded for a moment.
I wiped the tears from my eyes, trying to refocus. But The Women were done. Each leggy bug vanquished in a beam of sunlight. The silky strands were gone. Only the feathers dangling in the gentle breeze of morning..
I had a record breaking 3 racist comments towards me within 24 hours. All different people. One patient refusing my care until I proved to him I could speak fluent English. And I understand this is a burden I must bear for being born Asian. But it is not something I can help, I didn’t ask for my genes to be this way, and it is not something I can do anything to change. I can’t lose weight, or put on weight, or dye my hair, or cut my hair in order to change how people will see me.
But the most disheartening thing, is when people tell me to “get over it.” I joke a lot about when people are racist towards me, and someone once pointed out to me that that is another burden I am putting on myself. I can’t recall the exact term used for it, but I have conditioned myself, as an Asian-American, to make light of my pain to make other people more comfortable with it.
What the fuck is that all about?
My heart hurts extra because I go to my friends and colleagues, 90% of which are White American, and some of them actually tell me to, look who I am dealing with, why am I surprised? Why am I surprised? Because I am dealing with Americans, and because I am dark skinned and they are white skinned and they have no idea what it feels like to have someone automatically just see that I am different. Before even asking me what my name is, or bother to let me say, Good Morning. They have never experienced someone stop and actually walk the other direction after seeing them.
And this is what it means when someone says, someone of colour must work twice, three times as hard to be an American.
And I hate to bring the added adopted factor into this, but they also have no idea what it is like to feel like an outsider it America, and have the added burden of knowing that even though I am an American citizen and only know what it is to be an American, were I ever to “go back to where I came from,” because I am an American, I would be just as much an outsider in Korea. It will not make sense to an American, but Koreans would see it on me. The way I dress, the way I hold myself, the way I gesture. Before even asking what my name is, or allow me to say, Good Morning. So where am I supposed to feel like I belong?
I shouldn’t have to feel like an outsider in my own country. I am not saying that I need people to get up in arms when someone exhibits racism towards me. I am not saying that people need to paint their skin and walk around in my shoes to fully understand my plight. But I shouldn’t have to deal with anyone telling me to, “get past the racist comments.”
About now, the leaves of the tree outside my window would be full and green. The Whispering Bells. Not its real name, but the name that came to me for the sound the leaves would make in the spring breeze.
My tree is no more. I remember the day I heard the small hand held chainsaws rip through her limbs. She was already asleep for the year and could let out no cry of protest. I watched the young men carelessly throw her hacked branches into the bed of a beat up truck. I cried for her.
Today, there is only the light tinkle of my wind chimes. Singing out for their duet partner. But no answer comes.
In the distance, across the street and through some more trees, under the shade darkened awning of their abode, a lone piano player. From a distance, I hear them playing The Beatles’s Yesterday..
With Sorrel Pesto
My Weird Tuna Pita. Tuna with chopped Pickle, Rosemary, and Chives, and Horseradish and Mayo. With Spinach dressed in Lemon Juice and cracked Pepper.
Plum Sauce with Soy and 5-Spice glazed Chicken, over Coconut Rice
Spaghetti with simple Olive Oil Garlic Tomato Sauce with a little Heavy Cream and lots of Basil
…He got distracted by the grass. So I cracked open a beer and pulled up a chair…
Lately, I have been very into this area that I realized is pretty much the old Silk Road. I have always loved Tibet and old Persia and Arabia. And I have always loved the strong flavors of this Central Asia area. So I decided to map out the Silk Road, and do a food journey along it.
It was not my best food tour. The possibility exists that I really was not cooking these dishes properly, but to my surprise, I found them to be extremely bland!
Also, because I am a single person following a recipe I cobble together, I ended up with huge portions. Many leftovers ended up requiring, though grossly inaccurate, flavor mending. (For instance, the soup got a healthy portion of coconut milk and chilli to make it more enjoyable..)
But, here it is:
Xian – Central China
Xian Cumin Lamb
(The only truly flavor packed meal)
Kashgar – Western China
Kyrgystan Apple Cake
(A weird mistake. I am not sure how my wires got crossed during research, but this recipe does not actually come from Kashgar…)
Pamirs – Tajikistan
Lagman, Uzbek Beef Soup
Merv – Turkmenistan
Turkmen Chicken Plov, Pilaf
Baghdad – Iraq
Damascus – Syria
Fatet Djaj, Chicken Platter
Tyre – Lebanon
Mujadara, Lentils and Rice
(I like to try and go out at one point of my culinary tours, eat a meal someone else has cooked, probably better than me. But due to our current state of affairs, I settled for going out and buying from the store. I added some Yogurt, Mint, and Fried Onions, and it was pretty yummy.)
I also paid a little homage to Marco Polo. (I tried so hard to read his book, but just didn’t find it an enjoyable read 😞)
A version of a Pasta I ate at a restaurant called Bella Italia.
Penne with Dark Meat Chicken and Scallion, in Plum Sauce.
And a recipe by Julia Child called Spaghetti Marco Polo.
Spaghetti, Chopped Olives, Roasted Red Peppers, Toasted Walnuts, Parsley, and Basil.
I don’t honestly know a lot about the Silk Road. I just have found myself drawn to the cultures that it travels through. So the possibility if my inaccuracy is high. But I thought I’d share the tour anyway.
I work in a Behavioral Health unit. The psych unit of the hospital. We get alot of patients, from major mental crisises, to unmanageable depression. The object is to help someone out of their crisis and hope they don’t have to come back.
But there will always be the patients who come back. The ones who count on us to help them, the ones who need us.
Because of that, there are patients that we get to know. We see them when they are at their worst, and we nurture them back to stability. We come to love them, in our way.
In a way, they begin to become like old friends. And each time I discharge them, I give a kick in the pants, and tell them I better not see them round these parts again… And then I give them a hug, and tell them that seriously, we will always be here if they need… And then they are gone.
And days go by, and weeks, and months. For most people, it is, out of sight out of mind. The doors of our unit revolve too quickly to dwell. But for those who have the softest parts of my heart, I imagine I haven’t seen them because they are doing so well in the world. I don’t let my mind imagine the worst.
But sometimes it happens. We live in a small town. And when I happen upon the news article declairing one of my most special patients dead… a piece of my heart breaks away.
There are downsides to every situation, but this is the very worst part of my job. Everybody dies, it is something a hospital is very familiar with, but when one of my patients dies, it cuts me as a failing.
Why didn’t you come to us for help?
I am not a doctor. I’m not even a nurse. I am the person who gets you coffee, who sets up and cleans the shower, the person who wakes you up in the morning, the person who tells you that the sun is out and if you’re not quick, you’ll miss it! I can’t take away your problems, or your pain. All I can do is offer my hand when you’ve fallen, and try my damnedest to help you remember how to smile.
And today, I pushed myself to get up, to go out and see the sun, to smile… because I would never be able to do that for you again. I smiled, because I would never see you smile again..