Entries from November 29th, 2011

Hong Kong in 23 hours

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

I took a trip last weekend to visit my friends in Hong Kong. There wasn’t time for much other than to meet their baby, devour some pumpkin pie, and catch up over breakfast. Still, it was plenty restorative. It’s nice to have old friends in new timezones. Happy belated Thanksgiving. Have one hell of a week.

to pho or not to pho?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

My list of foods never to consume in the company of a person I might hope to see again is short. Some might say alarmingly so. Besides ribs, everything else is pretty much fair game.

That list doubled last weekend with the addition of rice noodle soups.  Here’s the story.

It had been awhile since I’d had a bowl of pho, but it’d been even longer since I’d gone on a first date. The day started late and lazily, but even so, it was the sort of day that called for a nap. A big, warming bowl of noodles steeped in savory broth for dinner sounded like a bulls-eye. Also, I miss cilantro like I miss a mammoth slice of thin crust pizza. In other words, pho on a first date was my idea. (I should add that I didn’t exactly realize it was a first date until the day after it happened. Good thing, because I would have been more nervous by epic proportions). I sent him a message and told him of my idea. I asked if he’d like to join me. He did, and before I knew it, I was knee-deep in unfamiliar territory, and I didn’t know what to do about it. So, I talked. I drank two beers. When dinner was over, I looked down at the table to survey our damage. My bowl was almost full with noodles and totally void of broth. His, a shallow pool of beef stock in the bottom of an otherwise empty bowl.

In my mind, the experience is always the same. A cart is wheeled over and a hot bowl is set in front of me. I lean in and let the steam hit my face first. Inhale deeply. Add the bean sprouts and sliced jalapeños and stir to soften. A bit of cilantro, but not all at once. I like to eat it fresh and while it’s still green. Drop dots of chili sauce evenly around the bowl. Gingerly dip a spoon into the bowl of broth and taste it for heat. Add more chili sauce sometimes, sometimes not. Pluck the right amount of slippery noodles from the bowl, bring them forward and nibble off one clean line with the grace of a gazelle. I should say, this is how I used to imagine it. In reality, after last weekend I discovered the difference between the way I eat pho alone and the way I eat it with someone sitting across from me, especially if the person happens to be quite attractive and a regular chopstick virtuoso. In my exaggerated reality, if it’s just me, I’m less of a graceful gazelle and more of a caged chimpanzee eating a banana for the first time in weeks.

The next night, I went back to the same restaurant for what had become a sure-fire method of personal restoration a long time ago. And as it usually went whenever I’d gone out for pho in the past, I was alone.

The cart was wheeled over and the bowl set down in front of me. I inhaled, and I started to picture the absurd. Bean sprouts sticking from both corners of my mouth. Noodles hanging like a swinging curtain from my front teeth. Chopsticks catapulting involuntarily from my hands to the other side of the room. Was that really what I was afraid of? How did I know that I was about to enjoy that bowl of pho so much more than the one I’d attempted to eat the night before? I can’t think of a better way to catch up or to get to know someone than to eat together. When I realized that a food I love to eat regularly is one I’d rather eat alone, it made me think about what exactly it does for me that my favorite pastime of breaking bread with friends or strangers cannot.

Five years ago, I had never eaten alone outside of my apartment or an airport. Now, I’ve developed a ritual that I look forward to with no one’s company but my own. And that could very well change. For now, I think I’ll keep it just for me.

a whiskey soother

Sunday, November 6, 2011

On a cold day, almost nothing is better than a hot toddy. I’d put it in the same highly-acclaimed category as tom yum. Like the soup, a hot toddy will warm you from the inside, soothe you, and bring you back to center. It’s been known to cure an array of ailments, congestion and homesickness included. In other words, a hot toddy’s got it going on.

(A woman just walked down my street, passing below my bedroom window. I heard her voice first. She was singing with abandon, and I pulled up my blinds to get a better look. Her face was hidden under a purple umbrella, the clip-clop of her heels marking the beat of her song as her legs scissored out in front of her. She walked at the pace of a someone with places to go and people to see. I’m glad it’s warm enough to leave the windows open, but cold enough to drink hot tea and whiskey).

Maybe five years ago, my friend Matt and I were out in New York on a Saturday night. We were feeling fickle enough to hop from bar to bar despite the typical February temperatures, eating a little here and drinking a little there. It was so frigid that many bars were empty, which is rare for most nights in New York. Toward the end of the evening, on our way to the train, we ducked out of the cold and into one last low-lit spot, lured by the moody tabletop tea lights and the prospect of the perfect night cap to ease our commutes home. I ordered a hot toddy, probably for the sake of the name, and it turned out to be a winner.

To me, a good hot toddy means a lot of lemon, a little honey, the unmistakable taste of cinnamon, and a back note of whiskey.

Here’s how to recreate a really good version. In a mug, steep black tea with boiling hot water and a cinnamon stick. One minute does the trick. Take out the teabag and drizzle in a tablespoon of honey. Squeeze in half a lemon. Add an ounce of whiskey and stir.