Friday, December 5, 2008
Naughty and Nice
I like lists. Rather, I like to cross things off lists.
I used to have this habit of collecting other people's shopping lists that I'd find abandoned in carts, partially crossed off, or stuck to the floor of the local grocery store aisle. I'd pick them up at farmer's markets and shove them deep into my pockets. I'd see them at convenience stores in people's hands and read them, on the sly, sideways, eluding detection, catching "beer" and "cigarettes" before moving past them on my way to retrieving what was on my list, "Mike and Ikes" and "tp". These passing looks like small windows carved into their lives, or mine.
When I was a teenager I was a checker at the Grand Union, in Landing, New Jersey. I used to love to see what came across my belt and imagine the meals that would spring forth from the raw materials. The food spoke volumes about the people. Lots of frozen food, buffalo wings and cheap beer and you just knew there was a big t.v. and lots of couch time in that person's immediate future. Overweight women came through with their track suits, sneakers, bottled water and lean cuisines and I secretly rooted for them. My favorite type were the inconsistent ones. Piles upon piles of fresh fruit and vegetables, lean meats and then, a technicolor addition, hidden, rather poorly, beneath a banana is a lone box of Nerds. I loved these types because I am one of them, with my mostly healthy diet supplemented liberally with Donettes and Zours.
When I make a to-do list, it's like I'm throwing out a challenge to myself. I never make one with just a couple of things on it, because that would be far too easy. I think I purposely lengthen my lists just to see if I can possibly accomplish the job. I consider this to demonstrate ambitious tendencies, but my wine goddess thinks this reveals deep neuroses.
Show me a to-do list maker and I will show you one organized mofo who can't relax. Maybe I really, secretly, hate to-do lists.
But there are other kinds of lists. An old friend and I used to laugh at each other because we kept lists in the backs of our datebooks. We had been talking about which restaurants we wanted to check out and almost at the same moment, we pulled out our "restaurants to try" list at the back of our books. Rationalizing my behavior I might just say that it's because I have a terrible memory (true) but if I'm really honest I have to admit that lists are neat, orderly and appeal to my internal sense of order kicking chaos' ass (in between my ears if not in actuality).
Finding a fellow list-maker in each other made us giddy and then, of course, we had to compare notes. It was both embarrassing and liberating. We'd go back and forth sharing our little secret scribbles we kept hidden from the world. "I keep lists of movies I want to see," she said, "or books I want to read."
A different friend sent me a book as a present. It's called (straight-forward enough) To-Do List, from buying milk to finding a soul mate, what our lists reveal about us by Sasha Cagen. It's so entirely voyeuristic you will feel a little strange reading some guy's list of 10 ways he could be a better husband, or you may feel a little dirty reading another's list of what makes a perfect sexual mate and that is precisely why you now want to go read this book.
"I keep lists of my favorite movies and my favorite books," I told my friend, and then with my voice a bit lower, "and a list of my favorite foods". I'm not sure why this was embarrassing to reveal but it sort of was. It's not like it was a "who I've slept with" list or something (and oh, I've made those, giggling with friends over beers and comparing numbers or lack thereof). Truth is, those times when I lose perspective and feel cranky or worried or am just having a shitcrap day, it makes me feel better to look at my list of favorite foods. Call it my list "binkie" if you will. Nothing need be accomplished. Certainly nothing to cross off, unless your tastes change. This kind of list roots you in the moment, into your senses and is an antidote to the to-do list, which moves me through the world on hyper-drive, so goal-oriented I gobble up time, totally out of touch with the present, on a one-track course to crumpling up that piece of paper just so I can pull out a fresh one and start all over again.
The "favorite food" list is faded, worn and in a good life, has a smudge of some favorite food stuff like my well-loved cookbooks.
1. Matzo ball soup, stock made from scratch, matzo balls made with chicken fat. Eat early and often.
2. Braised short ribs, lots of time, lots of wine. They must fall to the plate in a heap of rich, meaty loveliness at the slightest prod of the fork tine.
3. A perfect hamachi hand roll, nori is crisp, rice is just slightly warm, lightly tart, lightly sweet, hamachi is in thick, unctuous slabs, wasabi is applied with a delicate hand, with just the smallest amount of soy so as to not overwhelm the delicate flavors of the fish.
4. A slice of New York cheese pizza, thin crispy crust a must, grease dribbling down chin a requirement.
5. Raspberries, off the bush, still warm from the sun, in little green baskets.
6. A New York bagel, with cream cheese, with Nova lox, with a tomato, with a squeeze of lemon and my grandmother smiling at me at the end of the table.
7. A bag of hot, tiny, powdered donuts from The Daily Dozen Co. known as the "little bastards" because no matter how many they make, they always sell out.
8. Oysters on the half shell, Pacifics from Jack's Fish Spot in the Pike Place Market, eaten on newspaper overlooking Puget Sound, or native Olympia oysters painstakingly shucked for just the smallest, most delicately sweet reward, or cluster oysters eaten in South Carolina with my family.
9. A New Jersey tomato eaten out of hand like an apple, like my grandfather did, with salt, standing in the garden one pace from whence it came.
10. A big steaming bowl of Khao Soy, a speciality of Chiang Mai, Thailand (delicate egg noodles in a rich, coconut, turmeric-colored curry broth with fried egg noodles on top, shallot, pickled cabbage and chicken or beef).