Tag Archives: soup

“What the World. Needs Now. Is…”

Doing 80 on the 405, at midnight.

The Valley is glistening behind me, at a safe enough distance:  It’s pretty, like a flat lake with reflecting stars.  Kinda like in the old country.  So, naturally:  I prefer not finding myself on that side of the hill.

The Mulholland Drive Bridge ahead is a mess.  Even in the dark, the demolition site looms like a war zone — or a film set for yet another apocalyptic flick, gratuitous with violence.  What it doesn’t resemble, though, is the hopeful vision by LA-LA’s officials that it’s meant to be:  For the sake of easing our commute.  Oh, but how many delays this vision has cost us already!  And how many more to come!  (Thanks for looking out there!)

But at least, at nighttime, it’s safe to roll down the windows:  The dust of the daytime construction has long settled.

And at midnight — we are all moving.  We are trying speeds otherwise impossible, in the daytime.

Yes.  We’re moving.  We’re going.

Ow!  But not so fast!  Nearing Sunset, several pairs of standing construction lights give warnings of another mess ahead.  I’m in the right lane, at this point, mostly out of habit:  On this stretch of the road, I prefer sacrificing a few numbers on my speed dial in the name of changing my mind — and getting the fuck off this fucking freeway, at the very next exit!  Here:  I prefer to have a choice.  So, at least until Wilshire West, I hang to the right.  And I slow down.

The truck next to me seems to be having troubles staying in his lane.  Its aluminum trailer with no written indications of its product, origin or destination, keeps swaying across the neon line and into my lane.  I swear at him, back up and loom just a few meters behind — and to the most right.  As soon as this curve in the road straightens out, I’m thinking, I’ll zoom past the wheeled monster whose driver must be delirious with the lack of sleep.  Because I keep thinking:  Only the most hardened of us take on these jobs.  And in their own way — they are the most heroic.

For nearly a mile, I hang back;  and when I finally pass him, I watch myself skip a few breaths at the sensation of being way too close to the concrete freeway divider, to my right.  But, oh, how trilling it is — to be moving again!

Ow!  But not so fast!  Soon enough, I notice a yellow construction tank leading the traffic in the left lane.

“What the hell are these things called anyway?” I think of the clunky machinery of that exhausted yellow color, the sight of which on any road in LA-LA usually means bad news:  Closed lanes, “Road Work Ahead”; indifferent construction workers, dust clouds; and a cop car with a bored rookie.

And the crawl!  Alas, the crawl of traffic!  The crawl of time, in LA-LA!

“Fuck it!” I think.  “I’ll just call it ‘a tank’.”  And this tank is crawling in the left lane, with a flashing yellow arrow threatening us into yielding.

But still:  We are all moving, at midnight!  We’re going!

Yes!

The road narrows.  We’ve long passed Mulholland.  And I can no longer see the glistening Valley behind me.  It’s kinda like the old country, but slightly more brutal — in the daytime.  So, naturally:  I prefer not finding myself, on that side of the hill.

“What could they be possibly constructing at this hour of the night?!” I think.

By now, I’m balancing somewhere in between 60 and 70, but still:  I’m moving!  We — are moving.

I’m feeling overwhelmingly grateful.  And there is no cure for that.

I’m heading home.

It’s been a long day.  I’ve hustled, I’ve freelanced.  I’ve driven all over this city.  I’ve crawled in its traffic, chalking up the wasted time — to an investment in my dreams.  And when most civilians have called it a day and taken their place in the crawling drudgery of the 405, heading home, I’ve left to spend my night in the company of artists.  For hours, we’ve played, tonight; and we’ve cried.

And we’ve felt ourselves moving.  Yes:  We’ve found ourselves living!

So, yes:  I’m feeling overwhelmingly grateful.  And there is no cure for that.

By now, I’m doing 80 on the 405, at midnight.

Heading home.

I get off a few exits before mine.  Thinking:  I’m gonna cook at home.

Yes!

Ow!  But now so fast!  The roads are ridiculous, here:  empty at this hour, but always bumpy.  I start speeding again.  I’m alone, with an exception of other adrenaline addicts, in their German cars.  I’m sure they too have had to hustle, today.  But now:  They are moving.

We — are moving.

The autumnal selection of vegetables at the market snaps me into yet another degree of inspiration:  It’s gonna be one of those creamy, hearty soups that can heal a soul, or a broken heart — or to bring back my love.  To bring him back home.  The day is long gone, but I’m still feeling overwhelmingly grateful.  So, I’ll just carry it into the next day.

I load up my car.  Speed home.  Start up the chopping, the sizzling, the simmering.  I substitute.  I improvise.  I think of my love.  I think — of my loves, from earlier in the day.

And for the first time, I slow down.  Because it’s already the very next day.  And even though, I’ve carried my gratitude into it, I’d much rather start it up slowly.

I’m moving, slowly.  And I’m living, well.

Well:  I’m living!

“You Give Yourself To This: The Longest Day… You Give It All Away.”

Every other night, after a rehearsal in Hollyweird, when driving by a local market with a display of pumpkins and straw upfront, I swing my car into its parking lot and begin wandering aimlessly along the aisles.

And I don’t really know what I’m looking for:  Sometimes, I pick up the discounted apples and try to detect the smell of the gardens from which they’ve been gathered.  Would those gardens be from somewhere up north:  From the latitude that keeps teasing me with dreams of my future home?  Or would they come from the East Coast, where the dreams of my former home have long been put to rest?

Most of the time, these perfect looking apples have been shined with some waxy substance, and the smell is long gone.  Still, I insist on trying the next batch.

And then, there are the pears!  They are starting to come in different colors, these days, and in various degrees of graininess.  And that texture:  It is unmistakable in desserts!  And they are best accompanied with some slowly simmered ganache or a fuss-deserving caramel.  Lazily, they glisten on top of paper-thin crepes, like slivers of amber from the coast of my very former home, on the Baltic Sea.  And they smell — like Indian Summer and bedtime stories, in the countryside.

Ooh, corn!  It’s white and super sugary this season!  I grabbed a whole batch the other night:  “10 for 2”.  How ever have I forgotten about the existence of corn, for this entire year?  Sometimes, it’s as yellow as the petals of sunflowers.  That type — is a bit denser, and it doesn’t fall apart in stews.  But this white creation should be nibbled on, after dinner, instead of a handful of honey roasted nuts.

This time of year, mushrooms take over at least half of an aisle, at the market.  The portabellas are always de-stemmed and tamed into some styrofoam and plastic containers.  But once unleashed — they are each bigger than my palm.  The baby bellas, despite being the most regular visitors all throughout the year, are especially juicy these days; and the criminis always remind me of the bellas’ darker-skinned cousins.

And what in the world are these?  They’re tiny and come in a clump, with a common root still attached.

I study the grains of soil caught in between each miniature creature; and I remember the thrill I felt if ever finding a generous gathering like this, in a forest of my most original home, left behind so long ago.

I wouldn’t call upon the help of other gatherers, back then.  Quietly, I would kneel onto the mossy ground, that chewed and slurped underneath my rubber boots; and I would twist my finds out of the soil, by their common stem.  (That’s the secret with mushrooms:  It’s best to twist them out.  That way, the fragile web of their roots doesn’t get destroyed.)

And the best part about such a find is that, most likely, there are more of these creatures around:  For they’re rarely solitary.  And so, I would continue kneeling, scanning the ground for more hidden caps.  With my heart racing, I would whisper to every tiny creature I would locate under a leaf:

“Come here,  you lil’ munchkin!”

And I would imagine some forest gnomes scowling at me from branches:  Those mushroom caps were meant to be their hats.  (Don’t you know:  Gnome are very dapper dressers!)

The black trumpets — always freak me out a little.  How can these things possibly be eatable?  They look like dog ears!

And the oyster mushrooms — I prefer them dried.

An entire basket of loose shiitakes attacked my nose with a whiff of moss.  These creatures are leathery.  They’re the earthiest and meatiest of them all.  There is a whole other flavor profile assigned to mushrooms in Japanese cuisine:  Umami.  Savory.  Earthy.  Incomparable to anything else, really.

And they caressed my palette with memories of my people’s home — from the very original homeland, on the Pacific coast.

“What a treasure!” I thought the other day, rushing home to make a stew.

No, no, no!  Actually, it should be a soup.

Yes, definitely, a soup!

A soup that could fill my current home — with the aromas of all of my former homes, and all the homes to come.

“There Is ALWAYS Something Cookin’!”

It started like a typical talk last night.  Because that was the only reasonable thing to do, with my dad’s people:  To be typical. Because the question of “What would people think?” — always dictated the choices of his family.

When I resumed my weekly phone calls to Motha Russia, two years ago, I expected heightened stakes for a while.  After all, I haven’t been home in sixteen years!

And for the first couple of months of these telephoned conversations — with the family — things were indeed thrilling:  Someone was getting married.  Someone had passed away years ago.  This person was now a high ranking government official; and that one — had succumbed to full-range alcoholism.  Most of our shared excitement came from other people’s tragic tales:  immigration, disappearance, cancer, suicide.  And because Motha Russia always has had such stories in plentitude, we seemed to never run out of things to discuss.

So, for hours, dad and I would talk about other people:

“And how is Marinka, P?” I would ask him about my archenemy from high school, and that would spur another hour of gossip:  Someone was pregnant.  Someone was getting a divorce.  This person had left for Moscow.  That one — never returned from Chechnya.

But when it came to our own family, things weren’t discussed; not in any depth that revealed family secrets.  Nothing that would divert us — from being typical.  Surely, we talked about our distant relatives:  someone was cheating on his wife; another someone was graduating from medical school.  But the people in the immediate family — were not the topic for deep digging.

It was initially established by P:  He would answer the questions about his family living in the Urals with stubborn vagueness.

I could hardly remember my last visit to that middle section of Russia.  I was a teenager and bored out of my mind, on that trip.  Because just like the geography of the area itself, the common characteristic of my father’s people was an overall commitment to order and calm.  Every single one of them was always existing in the middle:  Not really subversive in any way and never disobedient.  They were — typical.

And the orderly flow of their daily events was dictated by the family’s matriarch:

Breakfast at 0700 hours.  Work at 0900.  Women cleaned the house and cooked — men left for the fields.  Bathhouse was ready by 1800 hours.  Dinner by 1900.

Having been a city-child my entire life, I was an immediate handful for my father’s mom:

“Why is she going to the library every day?” she scolded P in that passive-aggressive manner that was meant to be overheard, by me.  “What would people think?!” Because the question of “What would people think?” — always dictated the choices in his family.

So:  We walked our cows to the feeding fields by 0600 hours.  Attended Sunday church by 0800.

And, last night, it started like a typical talk:

“What are you doing right now?” P began our routine, after the initial pleasantries were gotten out of the way.

“I’m cooking,” I answered.

I was holding my cellphone with my left shoulder and running a colander full of spinach under the water.  An entire head of garlic was waiting to be peeled.  He would have heard my kitchen noises anyway.  So, I didn’t lie.  And I didn’t stop cooking.  Because I assumed:  P would have preferred for me to have a typical night anyway.

“You’re cooking?  At 2300 hours?” (P — is an army man.  He still talks in military time, so typical of his generation.)

“Yep,” I said.  “I’m cooking from scratch.”

I braced myself:  I expected him to start talking about the diversion from my typical sleeping schedule; or the noises with which I was disturbing my neighbors.  (In which case:  “What would people think?”  Right?!)

But P — chuckled.  “What are you making?”

“Soup,” I answered.  I preferred not to elaborate, as to not give away too much ammunition for dad’s later scolding:  I was a child of an army man, and I typically don’t run my mouth much.

But then, I reiterated, while gloating a bit:

“I’m making soup — from scratch!”

“I know you are,” P got serious on me.  “You always made me things from scratch.”

He would proceed to tell me that even as a teenager, I was the cook of the family.  Oh, how it bothered his mother — the matriarch — he told me, when I competently took over making his breakfasts, in the Urals!

“Why is she crowding me out of my kitchen?‘ your grandma told me,” he said last night.

I chuckled.  Yes, I chuckled with my typical close-lipped laughter:  so typical of my generation of army brats.  So typical — of my father’s child.

“But in all truth,” P continued, “I always preferred your cooking — over my mom’s.”

God damn!  THAT — was untypical!  The family’s matriarch was being shaken off her throne; and her son was now conspiring with a woman who was anything but typical, for her entire life.  

“What would people think?!” I thought.

But then, feeling encouraged, gloating even more, as a woman proud of all her self-taught talents, I carried on cooking, last night:  Mincing the roasted peppers; adding spices to the mixture of red, brown and wild rice.

P was into it:

“And when do you add salt?” he inquired.

“Never!” I said, in my matriarchal voice.  “In my kitchen — I use lemon!”

P chuckled.  Yes, he chuckled with his typical close-lipped laughter.  But I knew:  He was choking back his tears.

Due to the untypical turn of events in his family’s history, I grew up in an untypical fashion:  On a whole different continent, one hemisphere removed from him and his people.  I had become a woman on my own terms.  And somehow, despite being extremely untypical, in my father’s eyes — I was absolutely perfect:

I was a good woman — so typical of my father’s child.

And I was the best cook — in the family:  How untypical!

“Mama’s Lil’ Baby Loves Shortenin’, Shortenin’: Mama’s Lil’ Baby Loves Shortenin’ Bread!”

It was a long and sleepful night…

That’s right:  I said “sleepful”.

It was a long and sleepful night, for a change!

And I do love to sleep so!

To this day, motha often pontificates on my possible genetic relation to polar bears.  Because I don’t just sleep:  I hibernate.  And once awoken, it is better for others to keep a safe distance until I get that first cup of coffee, in me.

Over the years, motha and I have figured out how to maneuver around each other, after I stumble into her kitchen, barefoot, in search of my caffeine fix:  We prefer to have at least a town, in between us.  It’s just better that way.  Because two stubborn, moody Russian broads unleashing their wild hair and temperament at each other — never makes for a safe situation.

So, instead, motha leaves me cryptic notes on her counter, next to the pot with burnt coffee on its bottom; and she gets the hell out of her house (about a town away):

“Went to store.  Fear to wake you.”

Or:

“Call me when you go.”

So, okay:  I do love to sleep so!

But it is always a pretty rare occasion for me to pack the mandatory 8-hour gap of rest into a night.  Because there is seemingly never enough hours in my day; and after hour of writing and tending to business, after my rituals of fitness and nourishment, I tend to retire to bed quite reluctantly.  There, I arm-wrestle with the ghosts of my nightmares first; then, I eventually drift off to sleep.

When the alarm goes off at an ungodly hour (because there is seemingly never enough hours in my night), I yank its cord out of the wall and try to nap for a bit.  But before I pass the hour at which I would start calling myself “a sloth”, I leap out of bed and stumble out into my kitchen, barefoot, in search of my caffeine fix.  The thoughts of the day flood in with the first inhale of it, and I’m off:  Chasing the hours, of which there is seemingly never enough in my day.

And I’ve heard of the luxury others entertain when they decide to spend an entire day in bed.  In order for me to do that, I must be deathly sick.  If not, the town is better be going through an apocalypse.

And every single time I’ve entertained the idea of a vacation this year:

“Ah, shit!  I gotta write in the morning!” I would think immediately after, and that idea would be put to rest.

Because there is seemingly never enough hours in my day — and just way too much work to do, in my life!

But today, it was a long and sleepful night.  And before I leapt out of my bed right at the hour at which I would start calling myself “a sloth”, I wondered:

“How ever did I manage to get ten hours of rest?”

Let’s see:  Yesterday, I wrote and I tended to business, as usual.  There were rituals of fitness and nourishment, punctuated with more writing and more business.  I’ve even managed to repack my bags and reshuffle my joint.

But right around the time when I would normally freak out about seemingly never having enough hours in my day, instead of brewing myself another pot of coffee —

I cooked!

I made a meal, for a change.

After a late-night run through a park with maple trees that haven’t yet changed their leaves — but surely seemed to be entertaining it — I decided it was time for fall.  And with fall, it was time for pots of magical thick stews with flavors of the world whispered through a whiff of exotic spices.  And although it wasn’t time to change the clocks yet, it was time — to change the pace.

So, I ran back home and I started a pot:

The eggplant was caramelized first.  The trick there was to be patient:  to give it time.  Fussing with it would ruin the slowly forming crust.  Eggplant is a vegetarian’s stake, and it demands specificity.  Because there seemingly may not be enough hours in the day, but in cooking — it is always about the time.  With time, last night, my patience paid off:  And soon enough the joint was filled with aromas of meatiness and slowness.

The red peppers were caramelized next, married with the sizzling garlic a few minutes later.  And there is nothing more domestic — than the smell of sauteed garlic:  My joint was beginning to smell like home.

The spices went in next:  cumin, coriander, yellow curry, cayenne pepper and sesame seeds.  With spices, one must move quickly.  Because if the mind drifts off — they burn and lose their magic.  By then, my nose had adjusted to the unleashed aromas of the fall, and I had forgotten that I never started that last pot of coffee of the day.  Instead, I was tending to my spices, fully present and perfectly patient.

By the time the rest of the vegetables and liquids joined the stew, I was beginning to dream of cooking by a campfire, on some Moroccan adventure, with all of my comrades napping in surrounding tents.  They would wake, of course, to the smell of slowness and patience — to the smell of home; a world of difference away from the aromas of caffeine.

And I thought of all the future meals I had yet to make in the slower hours of the upcoming winter; of all the pots of magical thick stews with flavors of the world narrated through the whispers of new spices that I had yet to learn to cook.  And I thought:  There is still so much time, in my life!

According to my recipe, the stew would taste much better the next day.  So, I retired to bed quite willingly last night, looking forward to the new flavors — and to waking up in a joint that smelled more like home.

According to my recipe, the stew would taste much better the next day.

And it does.