Fear. Anger. Hunger. They all sit, Gollum-like, in the pit of your stomach, clawing at the sides and hissing bile. Wretched, debilitating and nauseating, each selfishly demands the resolute attention of your senses, cells and synapses. Combine the three and you’re basically a hyena. And they all make you do stupid, regrettable things. Like punching someone, or eating a whole box of uncooked dry spaghetti, or weeping quietly and uncontrollably on the bus. In fairness, the dastardly trio can also inspire greatness in their victims: resourcefulness, momentum and mettle.
There are good surprises and bad surprises, duh. Good: finding 20 clams in the back pocket of your jeans. Bad: sniffing out a blackened banana in the bottom of your bag. Good: your favourite person arranging for your second-favourite singer to serenade you in a park. Bad: your cat not greeting you at the door cause she’s curled up under your bed, asleep forever. Good: presents. Bad: an expired gift card. Good: a whopping bunch of flowers. Bad: gastro.
Perfect in every way… but his last name is Hitler. Do I have to take his name? Yes, you’re Mrs Adam Hitler. I just couldn’t. Perfect in every way… but he’s a heroin dealer. Does he sell it, like, hand it to the junkie, or is he just the boss? He’s the leader of a cartel, super-rich, Colombian. Is he a good dancer? Continue reading
My earliest cooking memory is of baking a cake with my mum, a cake that contained her dad. The lemon and poppy seed was a popular kuchen in the mid-to-late 80s and seemed an easy, and innocuous, choice for the junior baker. Unless you are, as I was then, a small child who refers affectionately to her dead grandfather as ‘Poppy’.
I remember crying as I watched my dad’s figure grow smaller out the window of the coach that took us from his home back to my mum’s. Even if I hadn’t grasped how long it might be until I saw him again, or exactly how nauseating the coach ride would be, or that my brother would vomit (Fanta and a vegetable pastie) on my feet in the last twenty minutes of the journey – seeing the tears in his eyes was enough to set me off. Years later, at the airport as he moved to the other side of the world with his new children, I had to swallow hard to keep my heart and anger down. I couldn’t bear to see them excited at their new life without me, or the tears in my dad’s eyes. Again. So I tossed a ‘bye’ over my shoulder as I walked away. The first time I fell in love I told him in the dark, so I wouldn’t have to see the look in his eyes. He didn’t say it back to me but I said it again anyway, because I knew that I did and had faith that he would. Months later, at the airport saying bon voyage, I hugged him on tippy toes and said ‘I love you’ again, this time into his neck. He squeezed me tighter and repeated the same three words back, for the first time, then went away for three months. Years later, at Ashfield BBQ Korean Restaurant, over bibimbap (me) and sizzling spicy chicken (him), I can look him square in the eye, like with no other person in the world. The bibimbap is a fine balance of its components – garlicky marinated beef, sesame-scented bean sprouts, gochujang, carrot, shitake mushrooms and zucchini, all with a sunnyside egg hat, over white rice. I feebly attempt to pick up every last grain with my chopsticks before reverting to the strangely oversized, and accordingly efficient, spoon. The spicy chicken is the same he orders every visit; the routine gives me confidence that it is good. We sit and eat, picking over the complimentary kimchi and other fermented sides. I want to remind him of the three words he’s said thousands of times in our years together; freely, happily, sweetly and earnestly. I want to hear them again now, and see them in his eyes. I want to whisper them to him with the same faith I had the first time. I want to visit Ashfield BBQ Korean Restaurant with the same regularity he does, but sharing a meal isn’t regular anymore. K-Pop enthusiastically sings and dances its way across the wall-mounted TV set, songs that seem familiar but are in Korean and never could be. Being forced to say goodbye to someone you love is not fair. But maybe it’s a blessing that the soundtrack to my heart breaking is in a language that I don’t understand and won’t remember.
We are what we eat, and what we eat is kind of who we are. A hand of bananas, rib of celery, ear of corn, head of lettuce, mango cheek, heel of bread, kidney bean, artichoke heart, potato eye, a thumb of ginger. And all that we have in common with food becomes more apparent when you consider drunken tofu, sweet and sour pork and the genius that is jerk chicken. We eat when we’re lonely, happy, depressed, in love, hysterical and anxious. I’ve plonked myself down in a chair at the Happy Chef restaurant many times, but am yet to find the Lonely Café, filled, as it would be, with multiple tables for one. Food attaches itself to memories, recalling the best and worst moments without prejudice. The croissant you devour on your first trip to Paris; the meal you bring back up the first time you get drunk; a birthday cake baked by the love of your life; the first dinner you ate together in silence. The amorphous fried pork/steamed prawn/spring roll/duck pancake/chicken feet/mango pancake/sticky rice of Yum Cha is tied up in knots with memories of my favourite people, knockout conversations and best times. My first Yum Cha was at Marigold, with my oldest friend and her father, who has since passed away. He chose wisely, laughed loudly and if I didn’t love every morsel as I do, I’d love it because of that experience alone. I’ve over-ordered, and finished it all, with a new friend who matched me bite-for-bite without judgment or complaint. Then sat with her at the exact same table months later as we both pretended to exercise restraint. I joined in the family feast of my very best friend as she celebrated a special, and secret, milestone. All in that same red-carpeted, white-clothed, gilt-edged, cavernous dining room, with its steaming, rickety trolleys and the irritable ladies pushing them. But I’ll eat Yum Cha anywhere and have eaten no better than the post-flight feast on my first trip to Perth, to celebrate a pal’s engagement. On a lonely Sunday I drive to see an old mate, meet her brand new son, and go out for lunch. We met at work where almost the first words she spoke to me were, ‘I’m not worried, you’re a good writer.’ Those seven words that keep me writing, even on the worst days. Before she was pregnant she’d let me finish anything she was too full to eat; when she was pregnant the scraps and seconds stopped. Now, at her local Grand Lotus Chinese Restaurant, with her tiny, perfect, five-week-young boy asleep in his pram, we sit down for Yum Cha. She orders tea for us both; I order chive and scallop dumplings, pork dim sum, prawn dumplings, Chinese greens, BBQ pork buns, sticky rice, mango pudding and mango pancake ($48.20). For us both. The chow here is hot and fresh, the service brisk and the room small enough to ensure your dumplings don’t circle the floor for an hour. Just like all of our lunches before, she listens to my woes, bolsters my spirits, makes me laugh til I snort and pushes the last prize in the steamer to my side of the table. She’s wise and honest, whip-smart and piss-in-your-pants funny. She is a compassionate listener, the least judgmental advice-giver and now, an outstanding mother. As if there was ever any doubt. Grand Lotus Chinese Restaurant is a fair name, but I’ll always remember this place as Dynamite Friend Yum Cha.
My lacklustre high school career is most memorable for the mornings I’d turn up, say hi to my friends and have them silently turn their backs to me. Bitches. Defeated, I’d retrace my steps, catching two buses home and taking to my room. Away from it all I found comfort in books and a bigoted eating plan. It started with orange foods only, then white foods only, frozen peas, pineapple rings, then the next thing, and the next – always with the same narrow focus. I was lonely and isolated, but at my own hand, which felt like a victory. Half my life later I have no time for bitches and bristle at the suggestion of food restrictions. Half my life later and my world started to tip on its axis again; all the good pooling on the low side and me stuck clinging to the high side, unable to let go. But this time my friends didn’t turn away from me and I embraced an equal opportunity, all-inclusive, enthusiastically excessive approach to eating. After work one night, over a redemptive bowl of Pho, I met a girl who orbited just a couple of degrees outside my social sphere. She had blonde hair, a big grin, a tiny, determined dog and before I even realised we were friends, she was calling me on a Saturday morning to invite me to breakfast. Hip to both my reluctance to leave bed and habitual avoidance of social situations she’d cleverly make the call from outside my house, leaving little room for me to wriggle free with an excuse. She also fast understood the intense lure of breakfast. She knew when to push me and at exactly what point I’d pull away – we became firm friends. Then she moved to New York, on the side of my world where all the good was pooling. We were reunited when I visited her new city, where she gave up her life/work/friends/babes/running/sleep to hunt down hot dogs, ramen, burgers, bagels, amusement parks, cookies and squirrels with me. Mid-way through my stay, snazzy in our Sunday best and with a humid breeze at our backs, we wait on the street for a table at Tartine. The shoebox-sized bistro, cuddled by a corner in the West Village, knocks out home-style French fare from its matchbox-sized kitchen. We order French green lentil salad with feta, roasted red pepper, crispy shallots and lemon dressing ($10), that is tangy, cool and mealy, and has us scraping the plate with duelling forks. My pal rules that the spicy chicken with guacamole and French fries ($18) is ‘fucking incredible, dude’ and my grilled sirloin steak with red wine Bordelaise sauce and French fries ($24) is heart-red rare, rich and bang on. The room is small enough to enjoy snippets of NYC dinner conversation, sing Happy Birthday with the next table over and eat from your friend’s plate while she watches the world go by. We pay the bill (cash only) and walk home past the darkened, quiet shops on Bleecker, through the ghostly, night-still parks with their sleepy hydrangeas and across the vast city blocks, sometimes chatting and sometimes not. She lives on the other side of the world now, a life that is full and wild and spirited and young and not at all convenient for breakfast on the weekend. Still, even from all the way over there, in the haze of her fun, she’ll send me regular messages to make sure I’m ok. And even if I’m not ok at the time, those messages make me so.
The adventures you take are a result of your choice. You are responsible because you choose. After you make your choice, follow the instructions to see what happens next. If you like, chicken, waffles, wood panelling, fake plants, mission-brown vinyl and neon lights, skip to the next paragraph. If you like the idea of me driving around and round LA with a crazy cab driver until we run out of gas (close to 5327 hours in a Prius), you’re really quite mean.
On Pico Blvd in Hollywood, immortalised in song by the Notorious B.I.G. (R.I.P.) and visited by luminaries including Snoop Lion (nee Dogg) and Barack Obama, Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles has been serving Southern food since 1975. If you’d like to read what happened when I ate fried chicken, skip to the next paragraph. If you’d like to read what happened when I ate waffles, also skip to the next paragraph.
‘I’ll have the Carol C. Special ($8.95), thank you.’ Our food arrives faster than the time it took to decide what to order. In front of me: one golden, pocked waffle, the size of my face; one generous, DD chicken breast, encrusted in a deep-fried, honey-coloured crumb; one ramekin of maple syrup; one orb of whipped butter. Fried chicken doesn’t want to be dry, and Roscoe’s isn’t; the waffle is fluffy and has the savoury flavour of flour and the enslaving flavour of frying. I force the butterball into the pits of the waffle, cut my chicken in to pieces and upend the syrup over the whole lot. The sticky chicken mess is a little bit sweet, salty and greasy – a whole lot magnificent. If you’d like to read about me eating Roscoe’s world famous mac & cheese ($4.90), continue to the next paragraph. If you’d rather not, skip the next paragraph.
The mac & cheese at Roscoe’s is world famous. And good. It certainly ain’t your gourmet three-cheese Rockpool Bar & Grill sitchayshun, but it’s better cause it tastes like your mum made it. Creamy, mildly cheesy and with macaroni that could be made of pasta or… anything really, it’s a bowl full of rich, goopy happiness.
If you’d like to read about me succumbing to one of the seven deadly sins, skip to the next paragraph. If you’d like to read of anaphylaxis at Roscoe’s, skip ahead to the penultimate paragraph. If you’d like to revel in my triumphant completion of a blood pressure and cholesterol-spiking meal and my successful indulgence in at least three of the seven deadly sins, skip ahead to the last paragraph.
I am finished. Greed has gotten the best of me.
My tongue feels thick and dry, there is darkness. I am finished.
The people love me and respect me, but the priests grow sullen and angry. They dislike me because I have taken away their power. Too bad for them, I think. The people count. Not a bad accomplishment for a struggling writer.
Inspiration, and endings, taken from Choose Your Own Adventure 11: Mystery of the Maya, by R.A. Montgomery
When I was a kid, my mum’s friend Judy Pinn made an old pair of scissors disappear. On reflection I realise she made us turn around and close our eyes plenty long enough to slip them under the rug, or drop them in a pot plant, but at the time it felt like magic. Yeats once said, ‘the world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.’ True story. Like anchovies and choko and okra and oysters. GOB Bluth once said, ‘What’s this? A stuffy office meeting? Perhaps it’s time for some Office Magic.’ And what’s Office Magic? ‘Sometimes it’s as simple as turning 10:30 in the morning into… lunch time!’ True story. And, as Yeats and Bluth would no doubt agree, some things are undeniably magical: tempering chocolate, cacio e pepe, popping candy and poached eggs. On a still NYC evening we wander from Ave B to dinner at WD-50, on Clinton Street. The dining room is unassuming, relaxed and comfortable; we sit at a table by the kitchen and each order the seven-course tasting menu, ‘From the Vault’ ($90). Between the amuse bouche and our first course of beef tongue with cherry-miso, quinoa fries and king oyster (the tongue is sliced fine; rich and livery) conversation swings from dumplings being made of stolen dead bodies, to a passenger dying mid-way through a long-haul flight, and something to do with opera singer Rita Hunter and a deep fryer. Edamame gazpacho with peekytoe crab, pomegranate and pickled ramp is sweet, cool and mellow. David Bowie croons his Space Oddity, we hum along. Service is paced to let us relish and rave after each dish, the next appearing before we have time to wonder. Monkfish with red pepper oatmeal, black olive mochi and turnip silences the table – the fish perfectly seasoned, the mochi a sticky, fried, twisted tater-tot. The smoked duck with parsnip ‘ricotta’, cocoa nibs and black vinegar is full-caps fantastic. I can’t remember why, but my notes read: DUCK!! We savour the unimaginable passionfruit ‘tart’ with sesame, Argan oil and meringue and it’s clear that Wylie Dufresne is some kind of crazy conjurer and WD-50 heady under his spell. Our waiter, originally from Namibia, enthusiastically describes each course. He is warm and interested and when we ask his favourite dish he rattles off a list before offering, matter-of-factly and without bitterness, ‘I try to make up for the many days I went hungry’. Then he beams again and shows us to the door, wishing us a good evening and fun vacation. Out on the street, debating a hot dog chaser, it occurs that I’m beyond lucky to have never gone without food – and what’s beyond luck? Magic.
At my eighth birthday party I hid in a tree after a girl mocked me because my nostrils flared when I laughed. At my tenth birthday party my friends had to be collected early when I broke out in hives because I was overwhelmed. At my eleventh birthday party the wafer fence on my Women’s Weekly Children’s Birthday Cake Book swimming pool cake was too close to the candles and set on fire, so I ran away and hid. At my fifteenth birthday party the pig piñata I made out of a papier-mâché covered balloon, to impress my fifteen year old friends, was kicked to smithereens on the floor. On my sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth birthdays I sat waiting by the phone for a call that never came. For my twenty-sixth birthday, I went for dinner at Bodega. We sat in the window and ate pumpkin empanadas, corn tamale, fried cauliflower, silverbeet and chickpea salad, and the banana split. The service was genuine, the food was glorious and the night ended in contentment and stretchy pants. And no visit to Bodega ever falls short; being made to feel welcome, taken care of and part of the family, then leaving stuffed to the gills. I’ve sat outside on the street two hot days before Christmas, sharing a cheese platter that smelled of feet and toasting the season with friends, escaped from a boring party to hang out, eat and talk shit about the boring party, celebrated with old friends and minded my manners with new friends – all in the company of that glorious food. At Bodega’s seventh birthday, on an icy August night, they presented eleven of their iconic dishes: morcilla with apple and radish salad (2006); bacalao stuffed piquillo peppers with salsa verde (2006); steamed milk bun, BBQ tongue, crab and salsa golf (2012 – 13); hiramasa fish fingers on charred toast, cuttlesfish ceviche and mojama (2007 – 13); scallops and morcilla with braised cabbage, pickled cauliflower and tahini sandwich (2009 – 13); buttermilk pancake, salt cod, 62˚ egg and smoked maple butter (2012 – 13); pork and sweetbread cabbage rolls with verjus, muscat grapes and olives (2008); fried cauliflower, silverbeet and chickpea salad (2006 – 2012); Suffolk lamb, eggplant and “Kenjisan” roasted miso paste (2009); chocolate yogo, Earl Grey tea ice cream and Dulce de Leche (2007); the banana split (2007 – 13). The service is still genuine, the food still glorious and the night ended with a lady relieving herself on the floor outside the bathroom – proof that even the best birthday party can end badly, but you’ll always leave Bodega contented.