My forever-lack of a cardinal virtue, a lack I’ve contended with all my life. I’ve been in the ring with it and knocked it out even after it’s had me on the ropes. But every now and then I find myself face to face with the architect of my frustrations, the shadow that follows me on my brightest days.
I lack, and have always lacked, patience.
And so, when I decided to make some egg salad—egg salad! Of all things!—and found myself unable to sit idly by for ten excruciating minutes without prodding, poking, peeling, pretty much playing the perpetual pugilist to patience, I realized that I had been trying to stifle it. For the last two months I’ve tried to conquer patience—and eggs, for that matter—with brute force.
And all I got was a disappointingly undercooked egg, lethargically spilling out of its membrane and onto my cutting board, destined for the trash can.
This isn’t a new phenomenon. If I had to pinpoint a place where it started I’d say it was the labor and delivery floor of the children’s hospital where I was born. That room was so stuffy and mechanical, I had to get out stat. I wept and screamed indefatigably to make sure my parents knew I needed to escape. And when I did, I became impatient to walk, stumbling over and over until I finally put one foot in front of another—and promptly fell to my knees. And then did whatever toddlers do. Toddle, I guess.
There were cuter moments of impatience, I suppose. I stayed up past the babysitter’s jurisdiction to make sure I got the glimpse of my parents I was owed after their return from some dinner. I pestered my mother with questions—specifically, when could I eat miso soup again (my favorite dish from fourth grade to this day)—and scavenged the house for flashlights so that I could read a chapter of a book that simply couldn’t wait until dawn.
But these innocuous manifestations of my impatience don’t hold a candle to the mundanity that I find myself rushing for now. I find myself yearning for a faster-melting snow. I want the trees to blossom sooner. On rainy days I want the sun and when it shines I want the sound of rain so much I find a multi-hour loop of it to lull me to sleep.
But when I cook, I become a demon of impatience. Baking was never for me, and I think this is why. When I see something in a pan, I hear it demand to be messed with. I can only let something sit and simmer or sear when I have another task to immediately attend to. As water boils, I chop my veg. When the pasta cooks, I heat up my sauce. Sounds okay, right? That is until my restlessness inspires me to zhuzh up a sauce with all-too much cayenne pepper, to the point where any sane person would call it inedible, but my pride says otherwise.
This isn’t to diminish the fact that sometimes this works in my favor. Boredom is the root of all creative endeavors, after all. And sometimes the secret ingredient finds its way into my dinner in those moments where I lean against the kitchen counter.
…But not enough to justify the truly egregious mistakes I’ve made due to a simple lack of patience. Here’s the play-by-play:
I wait for the egg to boil. I set a timer for 8 minutes—knowing I’ll take it out at 7, obviously, and eventually taking it out at 6. Erstwhile I prepare a few wholly unnecessary additions to egg salad. Finely chopped celery and carrots? Fine. Rice vinegar to the mayo? More questionable, but we can let it slide. …Tabasco? I had to draw the line. There comes a point in life where you can’t, in good ethic and faith, add more ingredients to egg salad and still call it egg salad.
I realized this and forced myself to stop. I lasted 30 seconds before I took the egg out prematurely.
This is where I’m contractually obligated to say that I didn’t technically boil the egg. Rather, I boiled the water, turned off the burner and then let the egg sit there for about 6 minutes, all told. I did this because I read somewhere that it led to a “better boiled egg.” But that relates to a different sin of mine, overcomplication, one rife with anecdotes that might merit its own story.
Regardless, when it came time to evict the boiled egg from its shell, it wasn’t even close to cooked. It was a half-poached egg, guts spilling all over my cutting board. Certainly not something you could make egg salad out of.
I felt rage towards this avian product of hate. Betrayal by egg. But in that swelling of frustration in my gut, I came to accept the hardest truth of cooking and perhaps that of the human condition.
In a year where so much has been so frustratingly unpredictable, we’ve entered a period and an environment of relative stability. The grass is covered in a heavy blanket of snow, the sun has become a reclusive monk in the monastery of the sky, and our social circles have shrunk to where they more resemble social specks.
But I, in this period of frigid confinement, have found a nice routine. I invariably get up and make my coffee to drink with a Trader Joe’s mini biscotti, and I invariably make myself some dinnertime Franken-meal grounded by rice, udon, or ramen.
So, in commemoration of the boring and the not-so-bad, I’ve compiled ten of my favorite food-themed songs of the moment. They range from the despondent to the blithely pleasant, much like life itself in this cursed decade. Enjoy in the morning, at night, or anytime in between.
One More Cup of Coffee for the Road- Bob Dylan
We all make our daily trudges to the valley below. The titular cup of coffee represents, to me, a respite before the weight we carry makes its load known to us. A quotidian struggle that we shrug off with stoically downturned eyes, faces buried in scarves and parkas. Enjoy that last cup before you go, my friends.
Banana Pancakes – Jack Johnson
If Dylan’s song is Wednesday at 8 a.m., Jack Johnson’s ode to the iconic breakfast is a lazy Sunday morning. Johnson knows that his song is nothing other than the backdrop to the spectacle of light hitting the fresh pancakes, a supporting actor in the performance we give to others and ourselves when we go through the work of making pancakes. It’s cheesy, it’s glorious, it’s replete with contentment.
Agua De Beber – Astrud Gilberto (or Antonio Carlos Jobim)
The grooviest melody on this list —and possibly of all time?— is reserved for a song dedicated to the most boring way of caring for yourself: Drink water. Beneath the melody that has squatters rights to your head, though, is a song about the importance of opening your heart. The act of vulnerability and opening yourself to the love of others is, as Jobim and Gilberto imply, a thing just as crucial and strangely quotidian as the act of drinking water itself. And just like drinking water, we so often forget to do it, going days without it until we’re too parched to ignore it. Wherever you are reading this, make sure to stay hydrated. Drink some water.
People Eating Fruit – Caribou
What does the color green sound like? In my opinion, it’s the gentle beep-boops of this song, a verdant song that, when coupled with a glance out of the window, becomes an ode to the beauty of mundanity. The way someone’s hair bounces when they walk, the way the bare trees cast a spiderweb of shadows on the snow, the beautiful geometry of the buildings we walk by every day. Or, someone peeling and eating a fruit, enjoying the bounty of the natural world for everything it has to offer.
Bittersweet – Lianne La Havas
The most direct way that food and taste relate to the human experience, at least on this playlist. Beyond Lianne La Havas’ effortless oscillation between the bitter and sweet sensation of a goodbye that hasn’t fully happened yet, the song is like biting into a square of 90% dark chocolate. Powerful, distinctive in its flavors, it’ll leave a gorgeous tapestry of taste in your mouth.
The Chocolate Conquistadors – BadBadNotGood and MF DOOM
One of the last songs MF DOOM recorded before his passing earlier this year, this song seamlessly combines BBNG’s signature jazzy odysseys with Doom’s ever-intricate flurry of internal and multisyllabic rhymes. It’s two artists working overtime to provide us with a 7-minute jazz analysis of colonialism. The title, itself a reclamation, references chocolate’s fraught history as the product of conquest in the Americas. Though not at all about food, it reminds us that food history is everywhere, inevitably.
Coconut – Harry Nilsson
Coconut Schmoconut. That’s what Harry Nilsson would’ve said about it, anyways.
Tasty Cakes – Idris Muhammad
What do you mean this song isn’t about food?
Savoy Truffle – The Beatles
A mystery: What’s George Harrison’s goal here? Ostensibly, this is a song about various fancy desserts. But then he hits you with, “You might not feel it now / But when the pain cuts through / You’re going to know and how / The sweat is going to fill your head / When it becomes too much / You’re going to shout aloud.” Is this the hangover after so many motley desserts? Is it a damnation of the gentry that takes these sweets for granted? Or is it just a nifty little tune?
What’s in a quarantine? Is it a chance to enjoy the minutiae or is it the swing of a sledgehammer on our passions and hearts? Like the Savoy Truffle, it’s both and it’s neither. Maybe it’s, as Wikipedia says, just about Eric Clapton’s fondness for chocolate.
Live on. Drink your coffee and eat your chocolate. Everything is changing.
Maybe it was Eddie Money shouting Take. Me. Home. TONIGHT. on the speakers, or the clinking of metal spatulas on a 4-person griddle. Maybe it was the abundance of green vinyl booths in the absence of tables, or the cafeteria trays whereon the jocular line cooks with slicked-back hair will place your chosen sandwich.
Was it the Reuben I ordered, a fortress of crisp, dark rye bread housing the precarious load of sauerkraut, pastrami, Swiss cheese and Thousand Island dressing that, for some reason, reminded me of When Harry Met Sally? Or, maybe it was the absolute lack of signage denoting a pandemic that made me feel, for a brief and beautiful meal, that I wasn’t in 2020 but in 1989.
I, of course, wasn’t alive in the ‘80s. All I have to go off of are the action movies my father’s shown me and a recent revival of ‘80s nostalgia. The sleek boxiness of an ’88 Quattro, big windbreakers and even bigger hair, and optimism—that sweet, sweet optimism. To feel on top of the world, Reuben in hand, is a unique elation. So, it didn’t surprise me at all to learn that Jim’s Deli, a Brighton cultural institution, was opened by brothers Jim and Nick Tziavas in 1985.
Jim, fittingly, is the first person you see upon entering. He’ll take a break from slicing some steak, pouring some pancakes, or building a burger and ask what he can get for you. You’ll say anything from eggs and bacon to a Pu pu platter, and he’ll oblige.
You wait, and as you in your patience look around the restaurant, you’ll see a large mural depicting old Brighton, with a pair of anachronous train tracks rolling down the middle. The road to Jim’s was long and flanked by history turned nostalgic as time floats lazily by. Your thoughts are interrupted by Jim calling out the name of whatever you ordered, and you put it on your green tray and make your way to the register.
Nick Tziavas is probably the last person you’ll interact with during your lunchtime odyssey. He’ll ask if you want anything to drink—coffee, soda, water, tea—and he’ll give it to you in an opaque pebbled tumbler, red, the kind you only see at a restaurant. You’ll find a booth that fits your preference and mood: by the window, closer to the kitchen, by the line, by the mural. You’ll carry your abundance there, sit down with your sandwich and fries and single pickle. The low winter sunlight streams in through the window, casting a sharp angular shadow on your adjacent wall. You take in the warmth from all around you, and take a bite. That was my experience, anyways.
There was a brief feeling, somewhere after the last bite of the first half of the Reuben, where Every Breath You Take by The Police was playing, and I felt excited for the future. It wasn’t the foreboding, COVID-abundant winter, or the special, Dustin Hoffman-type terror of graduation. I had the other half of the Reuben and my pickle to finish, and I felt genuinely happy about the small joys that were yet to come.
I was able to abstract this feeling into my whole life on the walk back. With the synth-fueled optimism of Rick Springfield and Laura Branigan coursing through my veins alongside the Thousand Island dressing, I felt energized for the trials ahead.
The Jim’s Deli experience is a beloved one because it’s the feeling of a pat on the back. It’s the feeling of reward after a tribulation passed, and the feeling of invigoration that comes from reaching a view on your journey upwards.
Jim and Nick are restaurateurs indebted to the era in which they began, an era home to much of the over-the-top optimism that we need nowadays. Some may call it kitsch, some may even call it camp; I’ll call it the feeling of doing 80 in your red Chevy Camaro, not a care in the world, on the road towards your uncertainly happy future, Eddie Money blasting carelessly on the radio.
The calendar, my phone, and all other tools of chronological measurement said it was a Saturday. But how was I to know? Days pass in a somnambulatory haze, the spontaneity drained out of them, the closest thing to look forward to being either my lunch or Thanksgiving, I guess.
Still, I awoke on Saturday, September 19, to a cloud of charcoal smoke that seemed less like the emissions from a grill and rather like a shroud in which a distant friend has surreptitiously returned. As my head cleared, I began noticing more and more elements of the jovial enterprise: the din of a SoundCloud mashup of pop songs blasted on a small JBL speaker, bafflingly styled Boston College apparel, and most tellingly, red Solo cups—at 10:30 a.m.
It was game day, baby, and the kids were tailgating.
I had heard the rumors, we all had, of those socially starved students about to erupt in a burst of White Claw from the volcanic Mods where they’ve been building up steam. I feared the calamity too much to involve myself. These students were playing cornhole—cornhole!—and when the law strikes down, there’ll be hell to pay; I wouldn’t be caught dead in that crossfire.
I hesitantly put on my slippers and sweater and clomped down the stairs, daring to peek out of my kitchen window toward the yard it faces, where four housing units find their back entrances and four more their front ones. I did the math—six students per Mod, four Mods plus another four if it got rowdy. My still-groggy fingers punched it into the calculator, and I immediately felt a shiver: 48 students.
I don’t think I’ve seen 48 people since March.
I decided to step outside and scope out the situation, only to find myself immediately flanked by police. The batons and handcuffs seemed to engorge as I imagined the repercussions for this gathering. What would set it off? Maybe it’d be a burning hamburger patty from a negligent grill-master. Maybe someone would forget to transfer their beverage into an unmarked container. And even if they did manage to evade the cops, who’s to say they wouldn’t meet their demise at the vindictive vigilante next door? The eyes, they were on us. On me. I scurried back inside, into my safe haven, ahem, my family unit, and watched from a distance as these students raged and raged against the dying of the light.
I could only ask myself why. Why these students, ostensibly smart enough to have made it to their senior year, would risk it all for a football game. I put myself in their shoes ten times over and couldn’t think of a justification for this jeopardy.
Until I realized I didn’t need to.
They were following protocol—pushing it, but following it. All of them were masked, there were no more than 16 there total, and, between the intermittent gale and the fact that they’ve all likely fraternized before, I came to realize that to impinge upon this event would be juvenile, callous, and above all else, useless.
The cops seemed to have noticed as much, oscillating between the boredom of obligation and the hint of a nostalgic smile. Common sense would dictate that this early morning pseudo-bacchanal was: a) not the first time these students have congregated, and b) relatively harmless.
I say relatively because in an absolutist world, this event would have sent them all to the gulag. It seems, though, that as we go on and on in this new world, growing ever more distant and isolated, the value of coming together over 10:30 a.m. hot dogs and beer rises. It really isn’t much—take a trip to the same day two years ago and you’ll see—but it’s enough. And it’s what they need.
I asked one of the attendees why they decided to go all out. “We were still abiding by the 12-person max rule…we still had the community feel.” It was that simple.
Did this tailgate signify the promise of normalities to come? Or was it a coup de grâce for one of the many forms of social interaction we took so deeply for granted? Only time will tell if students’ resolve will allow for future facsimiles of a normal college life, or if the changes are irrevocable.
As of writing this, all future tailgates are nominally banned. But something tells me that the early morning grilling and boozing will, like a hedonistic cockroach, find a way to outlive annihilation.
Here’s a sentiment contrary to much of what we’ve published here on Gusto: “Not every problem can be fixed with food.” So spake the sagacious A.J. Soprano on a show concerned chiefly with three things: capitalism, sin, and baked ziti. Spoilers ahead for The Sopranos.
Italian-American food can seem so pervasive in stories about the Mafia because its story is emblematic of the American immigrant experience. The wave of Italian immigration into the U.S. at the end of the 19th century forced an entire culture to adapt to what was readily available—that is to say processed meats, larger portions. A trace of the true self exists in the false self. Got any macaroni and gravy?
The mob, on the other side of the same coin, is the much-mythologized story of an illicit economy that operates under the economic rules of capitalism but above its moral ones. Instead of memos and conferences, you have sit-downs and coercion at gunpoint. Instead of layoffs, you have “whackings.” The explicit violence of the mob reveals the implicit violence in any capitalistic society; instead of winners and losers, you have the alive and the dead. There’s nothing but brutality. Inequity. Pain. Above all else, absurdity.
How do we escape the guilt we all feel from this implicit violence we know exists in our daily lives? Well, therapy, obviously. But Tony Soprano, boss of the Soprano crime family, after seven years of therapy, goes nowhere. He can’t break out of his indulgent lifestyle and the violence that permits it, even though the show gives him seven seasons of chances to do so.
Tony binges. A glutton through and through, he binges on alcohol, drugs, sex, and more than anything else, food. Because food, as wonderful as it is for bringing us closer to others, is not the answer to the problem of personal responsibility. Instead, we hide from our true problems behind it.
At the end of season one, Tony talks to his family at Artie Bucco’s restaurant during a scene so idyllic I thought it was a dream sequence; he tells them, “Someday soon, you’re gonna have families of your own, and if you’re lucky, you’ll remember the little moments like this, that were good.” The entire conceit of the show is encapsulated in this moment. Tony set Artie’s restaurant on fire earlier in the season and is now proselytizing the sanctity of family.
Or consider the season finale, which took place at a dinner table. What the food and the dinner table represent, namely family connection and commitment to the people close to us, are ultimately just the necessary setting for what is a completely disinterested future. Tony lives, Tony dies, Tony grows angel wings and soars out of Holsten’s, it doesn’t matter. The universe slouches forwards and the answers to our questions about it all, unfortunately, do not lie in the onion rings (best in the state!).
That’s the blessing and the curse of food writing; you can find the poetry in even the smallest things, the meaning in all the morsels and mealtime conversations, but you never get closer to changing. The great lie of any type of analysis is that it is an end in itself. It is a stop on the journey, the destination is something far greater. Fail to acknowledge this, and you remain like Tony at the end of the series, drenched in guilt and absolving yourself through psychotherapy and family.
If you think religion is the way out, think again. Father Phil, a character who literally stands as a mouthpiece for God, uses the innocent façade of food to masquerade his deeply repressed sexual feelings for the women in his life. Carmela even calls him out on it!
Food in The Sopranos eventually comes to represent the gluttony of the everyday American, be it the literal indulgence in plates of “fat and nitrates,” as Meadow puts it, or the psychological absolution of guilt by masquerading one’s shadow aspect as an innocent acolyte of tradition. Food, like religion, is not our ticket out of guilt in the modern world, as much as we’d like to pretend it is.
This might seem like an overly cynical take, but The Sopranos is an overtly cynical show, one that spends seven seasons telling us, in Emily VanDerWerff’s words, that “though people can change, most are unwilling.”
So, what’s the way out of this endless cycle of self-justification? The “stagmire,” as Little Carmine would have it? The answer might be in Little Miss Sunshine.
Gabagool is the trigger for many of Tony’s panic attacks, which Melfi connects to Marcel Proust’s madeleine from his tome In Search of Lost Time, where a bite of the cookie releases in him a torrent of memories. Little Miss Sunshine, the movie playing during Silvio’s last appearance in the hospital, references both Proust’s and Nietzsche’s belief that true change only happens through suffering. Regarding Proust, Steve Carrell’s character says, “…he gets down to the end of his life, and he looks back and decides that all those years he suffered, those were the best years of his life, ’cause they made him who he was. All those years he was happy? You know, total waste. Didn’t learn a thing.”
Paul Dano’s character is a Perspectives student who reads Nietzsche for the first time and decides that no one understands him, tortured soul that he is. Tellingly, Nietzsche was unapologetically pro-suffering. The Nietzschean Übermensch is the person who can find meaning and growth in the suffering, thereby not only overcoming the pain of life but evolving because of it. And since society is relentlessly evolving, it behooves us to change with it.
Many, many characters on The Sopranos suffer. Angie Bonpensiero suffers not only the complete and abrupt unknowing of Big Pussy’s fate (sound familiar?), but she suffers the indignity of continued harassment by Tony and embarrassment in front of Carmela. In one scene, she’s seen giving out samples at the grocery store. Carm finds this embarrassing for Angie, but it can also be seen as Angie shedding that behind which she hides her full potential, as she literally gives away food. It is after this that we see her evolve into one of the most high-functioning people on the show. She takes this suffering and reinvents herself, fundamentally changing and rising above Carmela especially, whose own addiction to Tony’s lifestyle makes her resent Angie all the more.
Because while Tony represents the outward violence and brutality of capitalism, Carmela represents those of us addicted to its indulgent lifestyle, stuck in the tension of hatred towards it and dependence on it, frustrated and longing for an escape we can never find. Even worse, Meadow and A.J. represent future generations, by which creator David Chase seems to tell us that there simply is no easy escape from the cycle, whether you’re a college dropout or a Columbia grad.
Suffering is the only true way out of this vicious cycle of indulgence that only seems to beget more guilt and self-loathing, because it is the only thing that fundamentally changes us. Ultimately, you can’t control what happens in this world, and pain is going to come your way. How are you going to create meaning from this pain? Are you going to retreat to drugs, like Christopher? Are you going to indulge your machismo and violent tendencies instead of owning up to yourself and making a change, like Melfi gives Tony so many chances to do?
Suffering is something we must embrace and not shy away from. If The Sopranos is about people who want to change but can’t, one hypothesis Chase gives as to why they fail is because they don’t fully acknowledge their suffering. They cover it up, chiefly through food.
Tony and Melfi’s therapy ends with her realizing that someone like Tony will not only refuse to grow and learn from therapy, but will use the lessons learned in therapy to improve his illegal actions. The same can be said about food and what it means to us. If we want to grow and change, food can promote that and bring us closer to ourselves and to other people. But if we have no desire to because we’re comfortable in our old ways, we will use food as both sword and shield; it becomes at once the absolver and the indulgence. I wish someone would write 95 theses about this.
Food is a wonderful thing, and it can help us find meaning in our suffering. When Artie Bucco, after six seasons of humiliation and denigration by Tony and the Mafia (they stuck his hand in a pot of boiling marinara!), finds himself with burns on his dominant hand and an ego torn to shreds, he finds his meaning again through a recipe for rabbit from his father. It’s a powerful scene, because it’s Artie finally being honest with himself and facing the future in the best way he can. As Hemingway wrote, “a man can be destroyed but not defeated.”
The fatal flaw of so many characters on The Sopranos is their belief that they are defeated when they’re not even destroyed. Maybe the way out of this self-pity lies in the Ojibwe saying that makes its way to Tony’s hospital room in season 6A.
The world is bigger than us. Food can represent that enormity, the beauty of nature and our ultimate subordination to it, and can reveal in us the ability for goodness and concordance that we all have inside of us. But we have to stop hiding behind our myopic view of it.
Only when we are honest with ourselves can we find the uninhibited beauty in what we eat.
Will you be indifferent?
POSTSCRIPT: So what, no fuckin’ ziti now?
My take on The Ending
As we’ve discussed above, The Sopranos is full of people who talk a lot about changing, but who don’t. Instead they believe. Believe in God, believe in themselves, believe in others, you name it. I don’t think Chase is a proponent of atheism, but I do believe he’s interested in the idea of how to act in a post-God world — by which I mean a world whose people have to make their own meaning since industrialization shattered the omnipotent notion we had of religion.
The song goes, “don’t stop believing,” but Chase ends it after “don’t stop.” Abruptly. Because the idea isn’t to believe anymore. It’s to do. Don’t stop, that powerful imperative from one of the most iconic American songs, is a call to action.
Showrunners are like gods. They create and control lives, the choices people make, will manifest occurrences that can be punitive or merciful, and exist in a mode of time that is separate and more infinite than that of the characters in a TV series. Chase sets up all sorts of possibilities for Tony’s fate and then cuts us off in an attempt to clue us into how it feels to have your God be killed. That’s why it’s so visceral.
But he tells us, in his final words, “don’t stop.” Not believing, but being. Because ultimately it isn’t our beliefs that make us who we are, it’s our actions, how we conduct our being in our every waking moment.
When confronted with the indifference of the world, don’t stop.
I did some math. He must’ve been about 80, 85 years old, which means he must’ve been born between ’35 and ’40. That makes him too young for World War II, and fifteen years old at the start of the Korean war. They didn’t ship 15-year-olds to war, did they? The next closest war was Vietnam, and that went on for 20 years, so he could’ve deployed anywhere between his 15th and 35th year.
I decided, then, that he must’ve been between 15 and 35 years old when he lost his legs. Probably in his early twenties.
Meanwhile, it’s the summer after my freshman year of college, I’m 18, and I spend my time driving for DoorDash. I leave my house at around 4 p.m., wait for my phone to give me an order, and then do its bidding. I drive to sushi places, pizza parlors, burger joints, ice cream salons, taquerias, Chipotle, Thai restaurants, noodle shops, and, occasionally, McDonald’s. I park, unplug my phone from the aux cord, head in, and ask for any take-out orders. I see couples on dates, men eating alone, high-schoolers socializing. I hear the rustle of silverware over the loud hum of voices, and, if I’m lucky, I get to see what’s going on in the kitchen.
The cooks are playing insouciantly with fire, clanging stainless steel pans on the gas ranges, flipping sautéed dishes in the air with reckless abandon. God, they make it look easy. Then, the host will come out with a plastic bag tied up with a knot on top, and I leave the cacophony of life for the confines of my 2011 Honda Fit, a small red car that should look cooler than it ever does. I turn the engine on, put on “Your Cover’s Blown” by Belle and Sebastian, and make my way to someone’s home.
They might live in the hills, or they might live by the highway, but they get their food delivered to them by a dejected college student all the same. Regardless, I dash to the door, knock, and hand the person their food. DoorDash, the great equalizer. I came to learn that the name that appears on the app is practically meaningless. Curmudgeonry, misanthropy, bonhomie, and vivacity know no names.
I repeat that sequence some ten or fifteen times. Drive, enter, wait, leave, drive, knock, smile, leave, drive, and so on. Sometimes someone is visibly drunk, or abnormally nice, and it stays with me for the next delivery or two. At this point, with nothing clear in the future, I graciously accept an iota of kindness wherever I can find it, like a dog scavenging for a lost treat. Somewhere between an overlong time behind the wheel directly related to a singalong session in the haven of my Honda, I decide to go home, where I heat up some leftovers, and after having spent so little time with so many people, I sink into the couch and let the day wash over me. It’s not a bad life. It feeds something in me, my curiosity, my extroversion, my restlessness. But, I’m still hungry.
One evening, I take an order from Curry Up Now, a local chain offering decent Indian street food (on an admittedly flawed scale, if Trader Joe’s frozen Tikka masala is a one, which is underrating it, and Zareen’s is a ten, Curry Up Now is about a six) sometimes in the form of gimmicky mashups like naan pizza. I pick up the order without a hitch, but when I see I have to deliver it to Louis at the local Veterans Affairs, my heart sinks a bit. It’s far, and the food won’t be as fresh when I get there, so I feel disappointed at the faceless Louis on my phone for even ordering something for himself so inconvenient to begin with.
I make my way over and get lost. I pride myself on having a decent sense of direction, but the VA and its 40 parking lots constitute some sort of perverted labyrinth, where buildings have numbers but aren’t numbered, and there’s nothing to distinguish them. I’m supposed to go to X but I have no idea how to get there. I call Louis through the app, but he won’t pick up. I send texts and texts, and I get radio silence. Am I getting left on read by someone I’m delivering food to? So, I sit in the parking lot, alone and hungry, calling DoorDash service to find the quickest way to eat this meal without repercussions. They tell me to wait 30 minutes, and if I hear nothing after that, the meal is mine. I put on a podcast and let the countdown begin.
The food, now certainly cold, is filling my car with the aroma of saag paneer, garlic naan, and samosas. Just as the timer is going to run out, and I can treat myself to a Dionysian feast inside the prison that is my 2011 Honda Fit, I get a text from Louis. It’s frantic and apologetic and quickly guides me to his location. It was surprisingly easy to find.
I enter the sterile hall whose walls are decorated with war memorabilia and find myself among seniors, nurses and administrators. And right there is Louis, who sees my bag, calls my name, and makes his way over in his wheelchair. Louis is old, Black, and has no legs. He is probably hungry too, yet he still treats the petulant child who was about to eat his saag paneer with kindness.
“Is it good?” He asks me. “I haven’t tried this place yet.”
This is the twenty-third installment in Mucho Gusto, a recipe initiative by and for students to help connect us through food in times of isolation. If you’ve got a recipe you think would make a great addition, reach out to us!
Make if you have: Beef, vegetables, rice
La génération éperdue, and a Japanese Curry Recipe
One hundred years ago, the world was also changing. After weeks happening in decades, decades had finally decided to happen in weeks. A world war, a pandemic, and a new world order inspired the generation that took up residence in Paris and began their artistically unhinged lifestyle. It burned bright and fast, suffused with the knowledge that tomorrow is never a certainty. They became known as the lost generation.
It’s too early to tell if our current situation will be as effective an artistic catalyst. But what is for certain is that there are times where the world seems more certain and times where it does not, and we live in the latter.
It was already tough for us. We’re the generation that serves as the lab rats for everything from vapes to Snapchat to distance learning. Our experience is more valuable to society as a set of data, statistics detailing how our socializing is decreasing and anxiety is skyrocketing. All the while we’re expected to live a double consciousness, inhabiting an illusory world where we signal a work ethic that we adopt out of fear of falling behind in our cohort. Our true passions serve as the coal that fuels the fire of “the grind.” At least previous generations didn’t pretend that their work was anything other than that.
Not to mention the cataclysms we deal with on a weekly basis. One week it’s a planet on fire, the next it’s the casual proclamation of the death of 100,000 humans. And even when things aren’t rapturous, we make them out to be, because we know no other way to rationalize them. Things we see can’t be unimportant because that would imply that to most of the world, our lives are just as unimportant.
On top of all of that, we saw any concrete future we had to hold on to dissolve in front of our eyes, like an Alkaseltzer in a glass of water.
Add an “e” to the front of the French word for lost and you get éperdue, meaning “distraught.” From the lost generation you get the distraught generation. La génération éperdue. Full disclosure, I didn’t come up with that. I am not clever enough and also my French is not that good—it’s a compilation album by Yves Simon. But I still find it poignant, even if only for all the angst present in that phrase. But like, did I mention that the WHO predicts a mental health crisis pandemic as a direct cause of our respiratory health pandemic?
We’re just as lost as Hemingway and his lot. All of our plans for the future are variations of the sundry journeys he and his friends and lovers took. Reading him at this moment is a bit cathartic if only how nice it is to see someone else just meandering through life.
My Hemingway moment came to me in a plate of Japanese curry. It was noon, and the night before ended at 5am on the hunt for the evasive Uber that would take us through the streets of Paris to our homestays. We woke up surprisingly lucid and decided to go to Pontochoux, an 8-seat restaurant in Oberkampf that was suggested to me by Max, a kid from my Rhetoric class who swore he was from London even though he had an American accent and went to UChicago.
The meal itself was a summation of all the ephemera that defined my time abroad. A careless saunter through the streets where the biggest problem never went beyond the question of where to eat. Late Uber rides to a nice bed in a good neighborhood. The most perilous situation was that time we doubled up on a Lime scooter and zipped alongside the canal to get home quicker in the rain.
I feel as lost now as I did then, the chief difference being that I don’t have access to good Japanese curry now. I also don’t have access to my friends, or any place to meet up with them. Sometimes, though, I just miss the curry. I miss how it simultaneously solved all of my problems. It wasn’t just curing my hangover, it was curing all loneliness I carried with me. So naturally I tried to recreate that.
I used Adam Liaw’s recipe. I didn’t have some of the ingredients and it made a difference so I’m going to include those which I didn’t use too. You start by taking a large hunk of beef that’s good for stewing (chuck roast works well). Count for about a third of a pound per person, and cut it into bite size cubes. Salt and pepper those chunks and put them in a pot of water so the water rises about an inch above the meat, and boil it. Once it’s at a boil, reduce it to a simmer, and skim off any scum that rises. Simmer them for about an hour, hour and a half.
While this is going, prep your vegetables. You can use anything that’s good for stewing, I used baby carrots (because we had no normal carrots), Brussels sprouts and broccoli, but I would use some potato or parsnip as well as some onions and mushrooms. Make it so you have roughly twice the amount of vegetables as meat.
When the meat is tender, dump your vegetables into the boiling water and let those cook for 15-20 minutes, or as long as they need to be cooked through. While they boil, you’re going to make a roux. This is the base for many many sauces and acts as a thickening agent. You do this by melting three tablespoons of butter in a pot and adding to that an equal amount of flour, and mixing it until the lumps are gone and the raw flour has cooked off. At this point you’re going to add your curry powder and continue mixing.
Now you’re going to add in some of the stock you’ve been making with your meat and vegetables, one ladleful at a time, mixing after each ladleful to make sure all lumps are gone. Once you get the consistency you want, add in your seasonings, which are one grated apple, and one tablespoon of ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, and soy sauce each. Once seasoned, transfer all your meat and vegetables into the curry sauce.
Coat the meat and vegetables in the sauce, and serve it over rice. This will taste great with yogurt, parsley, pickled onions, sesame seeds, or anything else you like on top.
This is the thirteenth installment in Mucho Gusto, a recipe initiative by and for students to help connect us through food in times of isolation. If you’ve got a recipe you think would make a great addition, reach out to us!
Make if you have: Pork Butt, Time, Tortillas
I served this at a super bowl party and it slapped. It’s easy, delicious, and teaches you the fundamentals of braising without much work.
3 lbs Pork Butt (bone in or not doesn’t matter – the bone adds nutrients but is a hassle so, up to you)
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tbsp paprika
5 cloves of garlic
1 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
4 slices of orange peel (optional)
Salt and pepper
Tortillas, onions and cilantro for serving.
Start by taking a big, hefty pork butt (also called pork shoulder or Boston butt, shout out Boston), and if you’re trying to figure out how much to buy, get about a half pound per person. Play butcher and cut your pork into 1-inch cubes. Put those chunks into a pot.
Roughly chop two onions, and throw that into the pot as well. Optionally at this point, take some orange peel (half- to a full-orange’s worth, depending on your taste), and throw that in the pot too. Oh, smash about 4 garlic cloves and throw those in there too. Sprinkle about a tablespoon’s worth of ground cumin and paprika into the pot, and add maybe a teaspoon of cayenne if you like it spicy. And never forget a hefty pinch of salt and maybe 6 good twists of black pepper, but don’t overdo it now, you can always add salt in later.
Fill the pot with water to the point where the water is just barely covering everything, and bring it up to a boil. A lot of scum is going to rise to the top, and while it’s perfectly safe, we like a clear braise, so feel free to scoop that off and toss it down the sink. Once it’s up to a boil, turn down your heat and simmer that for about 2-3 hours, no lid.
When almost all of the water has evaporated and the pork is cooked through and super soft, take out your pork with tongs and put it on a baking sheet or a casserole dish. Take two forks and shred apart all that meat, and drizzle it with a healthy amount, but definitely not all, of your delicious braising liquid. That stuff is liquid gold, it has all the nutrients and fat that was rendered out in your cooking time, and it’ll crisp up your pork nicely.
Broil that in an oven until it’s crispy on top, and then serve it on a warm tortilla, heated over an open flame obviously. For toppings, only finely chopped white onion and cilantro are allowed. And Trader Joe’s Salsa Verde.
Happy Cinco de Mayo, and remember, it commemorates the Battle of Puebla which was fought against the French forces when they came to imperialize in 1862—not Mexican independence. That’s September 16. Viva Mexico!
At Gusto, our mission is to connect people through stories about food. And it’s easier than ever to give in to the dread of isolation and forget that we are still part of a community. That’s why we’re starting #MuchoGusto, a recipe campaign where we want to hear what you’re cooking and build a collective cookbook that anyone can access.
It’s never been more important to be able to feed yourself. With #MuchoGusto, we’re going to be compiling recipes from our editors, staff, and from you, and we’ll feature it all on our Instagram page and website starting this Monday (April 6, 2020). If you have a recipe you’d like to share, DM us or email firstname.lastname@example.org to get it published .
Eventually we hope to have a collection of diverse recipes that anyone can access. For now, remember to keep cooking, eating, and being well.
How a BC alum created a new kind of cider for a new kind of world
Jake Mazar’s favorite apple is the Roxbury Russet. It’s a greyish, greenish apple, with a leathery skin. You’d expect it to be sour, but it’s sweet. Not an artificially engineered kind of sweet that Dole and Driscoll’s may dream of, but instead a soft, weathered sweetness. Another admirer of the Roxbury Russet is Nathaniel Hawthorne, who, in The House of the Seven Gables wrote, “But I suppose I am like a Roxbury Russet, – a great deal the better, the longer I can be kept.” Nathaniel Hawthorne was definitely a cider drinker.
Jake Mazar, CSOM ’08, decided to start a cidery after growing disillusioned with work in the consulting field. Together with childhood friend (and current Head Cider-maker) Soham Bhatt, who had been working in the biotech industry, he started Artifact Cider. “Something was lacking, and I wanted to do something on my own terms…we had a keen love of cider, something we’d been drinking for a long time, talking about for a long time. Soham started making some at his house in his garage, one thing led to another and slowly we decided to open up a company… and it’s kind of taken off from there.”
It begins, Mazar explains, with locally sourced apples. Once the blend is chosen and the apples are picked, the process begins to resemble that of wine-making. The fruit is crushed, pressed, and its juices begin to ferment, either with added yeast or with naturally occurring yeasts. It’s fermented for anywhere between a few weeks to a few months, and then aged until it is ready to be carbonated, canned or kegged, and finally consumed.
Given apple picking’s cultural ubiquity, it’s no surprise that cider culture has begun to reemerge in the Northeast. Due in no small part to the craft beer boom, where many have begun to shirk the Anheuser-Busch beverages in favor of locally-produced, small-batch brews, where cider has enjoyed a rebirth in the last ten years. As Mazar puts it,
“We’re interested not only what’s been done before, we’re interested in what can be done, what’s possible. Reinvention.”
And what serves as a better example of staying true to one’s roots while reinventing oneself than an apple itself? The Roxbury Russet has been in the Northeast for close to 400 years now, and it still manages to find new life every time it’s picked off the orchard, fermented for a bottle of cider, or regrown in a Massachusetts orchard.
Artifact’s name lends a bit of poignancy to this sentiment as well. Sure, the likes of John and Sam Adams might have enjoyed a Roxbury Russet some 250 years ago. They might even have had a glass or two of cider from those apples at the local taverns, taking gulps between discussing the merits of liberalism. So while cider, and the distinctly Northeastern apples that it can be made from, all serve as treasures of our past, they also remind us to look towards the future. I don’t think the Adams’ would have minded a blend of apples in their cider.
Although hard cider still makes up a mere 1% of the alcohol industry, the proliferation of cideries around the United States indicates that it’s not a flash in the pan, and has lasting value. Simply put, if cider can last 400 harsh New England winters, one could assume with confidence that it’s here to stay.
Artifact Cider can be found at Chansky’s Super Market and Gimbel’s Liquors.