This began as a search for content. Not someone else’s. My own.
I was under pressure from the two ladies at the social media agency. They were my friends’ capable daughters, and when I hired them I naively thought the deal was this: they download my bank of food photos from my restaurants in Bali, add them to the ones they would take, post on a contractually agreed upon schedule in some clever, fan-building way, and, most importantly leave me alone.
“But we have fans now, and they expect something for their enthusiasm,” the ladies explained, a few months into our contract. They pitched a weekly contest that would require little of me, and only a little knowledge of our restaurants by the fans. Please, go ahead. Reward their loyalty with free meals.
A blissfully quiet period ensued where I was able to live and work unvexed by the gluttonous appetite of the new media landscape. But then the ladies were back, like a rash. This time they wanted recipes, with no regard for the inconvenient fact that restaurant quantities are by the bucketful, and in metric to boot. I assured them I would convert the formulas so my American followers would be able to prepare them at home.
“And could you write a little story for each recipe. We need to start a conversation,” they tossed in, like rosemary.
I don’t know where they got the ensuing advice to “reveal myself”. It sounded like they’d had a covert tete a tete with my writing instructors in Greenwich Village. More dauntingly, it sounded like work. Ongoing work, because as Mila and Soma grew animated about the fan-building they could scaffold around these stories, I realized, without a little dread, that what this sweetly conspiring duo was asking me to commit to was something my literary agent had been urging me to do for years. They wanted me to start a blog.
Here’s a thing about smiling, emphatic daughters, especially when they are not your own: you can’t say no. These particular daughters grew giddy as they assured me of course fans would want to learn how a born and bred New Yorker who arrived with a backpack in Bali for a month ended up staying a generation. Of course they would want her Balinese mother-in-law’s tip for the most lusciously caramelized fried bananas on planet earth. Of course they would read about a recipe that both pleases my Brahmin ancestors and placates the menacing ghost in my garden. They pitched so many cool ideas about my life that I began to believe I led an interesting one.
“And if you get tired of writing about your life, write about seasons,” they advised.
Seasonings? That’s easy in the Spice Islands.
“Not seasonings,” they corrected me. “Seasons. Everyone loves seasonal cooking tips.”
Ladies, I hate to break it to you, but apart from the burst of fruit that arrives each October, there’s not much seasonal cuisine at eight degrees south of the equator. We have small heads of cauliflower when it’s rainy, and big plump heads of cauliflower when it’s dry. Apart from scary molten lava, I can’t name anything that lies dormant underground, biding its time like a crocus or a wild ramp sounding the mysteries of the soil in search of the sign that it’s safe to emerge into spring.
I’ve developed some pretty sensitive tropical sounding equipment of my own, by the way, that can detect in the cadence of a slapping coconut frond, or in the ever so slightly shorter days, that Bali’s turn for winter is approaching. Yes, it’s a relief to know the cooling Australian trade winds will soon be here. But I’m not going to lie. Pining for the late, lingering light seems normal for this ramp-pickling, maple sap-boiling, pea-pureeing, rhubarb-stewing, strawberry-anticipating, spring-loving creature from the north.
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I didn’t know what to expect when my husband and I recently booked a last-minute trip to Angkor Wat.
I’d done zero research on the place. I can’t even explain to you why I was suddenly so keen to go, given reports I’d gleaned over the years about the intense heat that blazes across the Cambodian plain, and my general aversion to sweating. The cuisine, my stock-and-trade excuse for going just about anywhere, wasn’t the draw either, though it did end up luring me into a kitchen because I seriously cannot help myself.
This is an obligatory post.
How could I possibly let an August in the Northeast go by without commenting on tomatoes? No, not beefsteak tomatoes. Are you crazy? I mean heirloom tomatoes. Vine-ripened heirloom tomatoes from a farm stand, or an urban greenmarket, or a friend’s garden on Long Island. Or, wait, better yet, heirloom cherry tomatoes from a friend’s rooftop garden in Brooklyn. Yes, that’s it: vine-ripened-heirloom-hipster-miniature-multicolored-multishaped tomatoes.
Oh, I feel so with it!
And I feel so wistful.
As I sit here and figure out why the mixed feelings, I’m the first to admit I love heirloom tomatoes, for their flavor, for their whimsy, for how their ascent in popularity flouts the imperative of uniformity that defines industrial agriculture. I love that their riot of color, festooned only with olive oil, salt, pepper, and basil, is all the decoration a table needs. I love the fact that seeds for these funny-looking beauts are sometimes sold out, and love that it reveals how enthusiastically we want to feed ourselves, and with what. Minus the failed harvests and primitive dentistry, I too yearn for a Jeffersonian kind of world where everyone has space and time to grow food, and saving seeds doesn’t invite a battle against a multinational in federal court.
This may be hard to swallow, but there’s a bite in the air in Bali these days, even at sea level (where I am writing now), but especially if you dine at sunset on a pavilion floating off the shore of volcanic Lake Batur, the sun plummeting behind the crater at tropical-disappearing-act pace, rescinding its ambient warmth and leaving you to huddle under your hoodie and wonder when on earth your waiter will get back with your grilled tilapia and hot rice. Read more…
In which our gluttonous heroine reveals her brief (somewhat plagiarized) compendium of places to eat in the United States of America
You probably think it was all fun and games to come up with this list, but professional eating is no joke. Ask my scale.
Or my liver, for that matter. The poor thing’s been yanked from its day job of sifting out the occasional toxin in my mostly plant-food diet, and indentured into two months of heavy purging as I’ve sampled, nibbled, munched, scarfed, drunk, and downright gorged my way through the plant and animal kingdoms in seven of America’s great eating cities. Read more…