Monday, October 27, 2008

New York

I took an early morning train to New York last Wednesday. I was in the city for only a few day. They were crisp, fall days that reminded me how much I miss it.

I stayed with my little brother, Ben, who wears suits everyday and took me out for pizza, prosciutto, and wine at Mario Batali’s casual restaurant, Otto. I walked around Prospect Park in Brooklyn and, later, paused for cappuccino in a warm West Village cafĂ©. I window-shopped, pressed into crowded subway cars, and perched on a stool at a bar with friends. I sat in a leather chair at a small paper-scented bookstore, reading food magazines before a more business-oriented meeting nearby. A plum tart, split in two with a plastic spoon at Patisserie Claude, tasted of sweet cream and powdered sugar.

I had dinner at Barbuto on Thursday with a couple of friends with whom I often used to cook. A pumpkin bruschetta and linguini laced with swiss chard and garlic spoke to fall. Afterward I met my brother and his girlfriend at an odd little wine bar that projected its menu onto the tabletop from a motion sensor lodged in the ceiling.

It was New York but it wasn’t. It was cool and calm, filled with good food and a lot of walking. But it was quick and nothing feels very real for two days that flew by.

Last night, back in Boston, I cooked for my family. I wanted something that felt like fall and, perhaps, a bit like New York. I made a bronzed set of pork shops, served over a cabbage and apple slaw. I saw the recipe on The Cooking Loft, a Food Network show with chef Alex Guarnaschelli. I met her once, when I was reporting for a story last year in New York. She and I sat in the dark front room of her restaurant, Butter, and spoke of being a woman and a chef in the city.

“It’s like “Rocky”,” she had said with a laugh. “You have to get up and drink the egg yolks. Every day I drink the egg yolks.”

This recipe, however, was quite easy.

Stovetop Pork Chops with Cabbage and Apples

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
2 teaspoons caraway seeds
2 teaspoons crushed coriander seeds
2 small heads savoy cabbage, cored and thinly sliced
1 tablespoon salt

2 teaspoons white pepper
2 knobs fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1 teaspoon dry ginger
1 14oz can whole, peeled tomatoes
1 poblano pepper, cored, seeded, and cut into thin slices
3 tablespoons chopped cilantro
4 pork loin chops (bone-on)
1 teaspoon paprika
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 green apples, cored, halved, and cut into small slices

2 teaspoons red wine vinegar

-Melt 2 tablespoons butter over medium heat, and toast the cumin, caraway, and coriander seeds for 30 seconds. Add the cabbage, and toss to coat. Season with salt and white pepper. Cook for 10 – 15 minutes, stirring often.

-Add fresh ginger, dry ginger, tomatoes, and poblano pepper and stir to blend. Cook 5 to 8 minutes, until tender. Add cilantro and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat and keep warm while cooking pork.

-Sprinkle pork chops with salt, pepper and paprika. Heat large skillet, and pour in oil. When the oil begins to smoke slightly, add the pork, arranged in a single layer. Brown on first side 2 to 3 minutes. Turn and brown on the other side for an additional 2 – 3 minutes. Reduce the heat and cook 5 to 6 minutes and then turn and finish up with a further 5 to 6 minutes of cooking time. Season again, lightly with salt and pepper.

-Heat the cabbage, add the apple slice and red wine vinegar. Arrange the pork on top of the cabbage in a dish or on a plate, and serve.

Sunday, October 19, 2008


It is Sunday afternoon and I am sitting at my kitchen table. I’m drinking tea and eating one of the many apples I picked yesterday at an orchard in Harvard, Massachusetts. A big pot of chili is bubbling on the stove; cornbread spackled in sage just emerged from the oven.

I am unemployed and therefore my boxes of books and pots and pans are all stacked in the basement of my family’s home in Boston, where I am pausing while I figure out what comes next. I have time, which both scares and inspires me. I am writing a bit and cooking a lot.

Even within my few week without a job, however, I realized something: I like deadlines. I like the pressure and the excitement that comes with an endpoint. I like the concrete. And so I am making a schedule and my intentions known: I will write for this blog every week. I will post on or by Monday evening. And look, I’m already way ahead of schedule.

In other news, this is a watermelon grown in the garden where I used to live in Point Reyes, California. It perched on the seat of my car as I drove across the country. I ate it in Ann Arbor with Becca, late on a Sunday morning standing at her kitchen counter. It was small and sweet. I have never seen such large watermelon seeds.

Friday, October 17, 2008


I left California early on a misty Monday morning. I left with a car full of books and clothes. A pumpkin, given to me by my landlord, perched on the front passenger seat. I left with both anxiety and excitement; I’m not quite sure what will come next.

I spent the next four days driving across the country alone. I passed through the Sierra Nevada mountains and Iowa’s rolling fields; I skirted the Great Salt Lake and Great Lakes. I didn’t find much good food, but plenty of scenery.

I arrived in Ann Arbor on Friday afternoon, bleary eyed and antsy. Becca, who I have known since our first week of college, met me after she finished work and we commenced what would be a restful weekend with a glass of wine.

Over the next couple of days we went on many walks – to the farmer’s market, along the river, to the bar. On Sunday, our morning stroll took us to a tea store in downtown Ann Arbor. There, the walls were stacked with rows of metal tins. Each held a different type of tea and their labels ranged from the familiar (Earl Grey) to foreign (Ayurveda Kapha).

The man behind the counter was passionate and verbose. He had a delightfully waxed mustache, a monocle dangling from a chain around his neck, and gave us an impromptu lesson on the spice and herb of all sorts of tea.

During the lecture, he held scoops of tea leaves beneath our noses. One at a time, Becca and I inhaled.

I was surprised by how much I could smell. Not only could I smell each tea held beneath my nose, I found that I could detect subtleties. I could pick out the rose in the Victorian Earl Grey. I could smell the orange in the Royal Grey. The peppermint tea nearly bowled me over. It was cold and deep. I couldn’t help but smile.

I remembered the first few months after the accident, in the fall of 2005, when I spent my time lying in bed at my mother’s house. I was recovering from a broken pelvis, open knee surgery, and the scull fracture that caused my loss of smell. Every morning my mom would bring me a mug of tea, sometimes laced with milk and sugar and sometimes just plain. She would ask me if I could tell what kind it was. I would inhale, willing myself to register something, anything. But there was nothing – just the wetness of the steam, the sharp heat of the mug. I could smell nothing; I could taste nothing. It may have well been hot water.

“Jasmine?” I would guess. “English Breakfast?”

But last week there was no question. I could smell the cardamom, the licorice and the lemon.

Towards the end of our lesson, Becca and I smelled a sweet variety of Rooibush tea. I inhaled over the scoop. The first whiff – burnt sugar, caramel – immediately conjured the hard black countertop at a tea shop in Providence where I used to go my freshman year of college. I went there all the time to read, to talk, and to drink Creme de la Earl Grey, a sweet brew that held blended blue flowers and a twist of cream. The similar scent in Ann Arbor sent me straight back – the uncomfortable stools, the constant cold draft sneaking through their large windows, the way going to college made me feel for the first time like I belonged.

Though I know much about the visceral memories that a single scent can conjure – I have them; I want them; I've read as much as I can get my hands on about them – they never cease to shock me with their suddenness and strength. And it made me think, standing there in that tea house last weekend, about how much I may have lost living for for those years without smell. Would I feel differently about those scent-less years if they had odor attached? Would my memories be stronger? Would they be different?

I was shaken from my reverie by the tea man, asking if I'd like to buy anything to take home with me. I thought about the Rooibush, and the way it hints at both caramel and my past. But then decided to go for a Chai instead. Might as well start fresh.