I probably should eat. It’s almost one in the afternoon here in Bangkok. Instead, I’ve fed myself with water and Gabrielle Hamilton’s “Rome” and “Hunger” episodes in The Mind of a Chef. My stomach was not rumbling, but my mouth watered at the sight of the Prune chef-and-owner putting sardines on slices of avocado and dressing the glistening pieces of fish with red onion, herbs, fried almonds, and the oil and sherry vinegar marinade they were soaking in. The woman eats like me in so many ways. Yet I’m not half as tough as her, have never lived in New York City, never lived in a house that ran out of shampoo or let me go hungry, never been left alone in the kitchen growing up, never eaten egg on a roll on the stoop with prostitutes, never liked smoking so never looked cool smoking. And yet we both find comfort in many of the same things: canned sardines, egg on a roll (with melted cheese and crispy bacon), anchovies and garlic, runny eggs, pasta, food with “strong personalities” or, as she calls the puntarelle salad in Rome, “highly opinionated.” That kind of unabashed and assertive flavor reminds me of my father’s salad dressing and the way I ate growing up, the way I still eat today.
Hamilton’s penchant for heavy breakfasts and lukewarm feeling towards lunch reminds me of Sascha who says he’s never liked or really eaten lunch. Breakfast at his family home means four, five kinds of bread, even more variety of cold cuts, a few types of cheese, jam, and fruit. Who needs lunch after a breakfast table like that? Actually, who needs lunch after a greasy American breakfast?
Watching Hamilton take the audience through Rome, I wanted to make the city my and Sascha’s city. We share a love for Italian cuisine. We have talked about wanting to explore more of Rome. It would be nice to make it our special city.
Watching the Rome episode also made me want to learn Italian. I don’t think the language has ever been on my list of languages to learn, but since I’ve been in deeper touch with my food-loving side, the desire to learn Italian has been tugging at me gently. Perhaps I can learn it through names of food and cooking terms. Become fluent in that first before basic greetings and grammar.
I have been eating badly since I arrived back on Wednesday evening. As soon as I opened the door to my studio apartment, my eyes spotted a plastic bag on the kitchen counter, and I was reminded of the two bags of chips I had bought for my class’s writing exercise. Only three were needed, so I took the remaining two home. I wasn’t even hungry, but I finished them anyway that evening before going to bed. I wonder whether it’s my weakness for chips or just the need to fill myself with comfort, or both, to cool down from the stress of a long air travel. I sometimes eat chips when I’m stressed, especially late at night when work is not done and hunger comes knocking once more.
I just ate—two pieces of toast with peanut butter and banana slices.
I am coming back to cooking slowly. Last night, even though I have not done any grocery shopping since I got back and my fridge is empty, I made my go-to spaghetti garlic dish—fast, easy, delicious, and comforting. This time, I sprinkled ground red pepper and capers on top, which I had never done before. There was some grated parmesan left, so I was liberal with it. And later, when all the pasta had been eaten, I sat there, eating the rest of the cheese in the bag with my hands like it were chips.
Slowly, my kitchen is lighting back up again. Last night the stove, this afternoon the toaster. This evening, maybe the stove again for pork chops and the oven for some roasted vegetables.
Featured image by Angelina Litvin from Unsplash