Monday, August 29, 2016

Possibly the best sandwich known to man.

Dear America,

Last week, I found myself in need of a 'main dish' to bring to a pot luck. I also found myself in need of something that would not require me to apply heat to food, since it's hot, America, it's hot, still, as it is still summertime, despite the fact that the community college teachers are back to work, the swimming pools are about the close, the days of perfect tomatoes and corn and peaches are, while upon us, numbered. Summer is almost over--kind of already is over--and yet it is still hot. Not that I'm whining. At least, I'm not whining more than I usually whine. Although really, who can verify that? What are the metrics? I ask you.

I considered my main dish options. Is tabbouleh a main dish? Is fattoush? They would be at my house. But I feared that, for purposes of the pot luck, they would be considered salads, because, in fact, they are salads. I was just about to venture down the road of the salad-main dish, prepared to make my argument (because that's a time-honored tradition at pot lucks, right? arguing over whether something is categorically a main dish or a salad or a side or an adornment or a garnish or whatever?) that a salad can be a main dish. But then, the idea of sandwiches came upon me and the debate was transformed.

Sandwiches, America, are a main dish. I submit to you the hamburger: clearly an item that is central to a plate. Accompanied, perhaps, by potato salad, or potato chips, or french fried potatoes--something something potato, in other words--and perhaps a pickle, and maybe adornments such as a sliced tomato or a leaf of lettuce or perhaps a slice of cheese. A hamburger is a sandwich, ergo a sandwich is a main dish.

Obviously, I would not be schlepping hamburgers in a  covered dish to a pot luck. But I could, perhaps, make the kind of sandwich that is built upon the baguette, and sliced into sections, a classic dish for a French picnic, such as Pan Bagnat, aka the Nicoise Sandwich, aka the French Fancy Tuna Sandwich of Glory. Also: a caprese sandwich. So two baguettes' worth of main dish sandwichery.

The pan bagnat is a wonderful thing. I had never made one before but I had a memory of a vegetarian version from the first The Vegetarian Epicure. Basically it involved stuffing a bunch of delicious stuff into the halves of a baguette with loads of olive oil, then pressing the sandwich firmly so that the stuff and the bread became intimately acquainted and not too fall-y apart-y. (That's a pipe dream, by the way, but anyway:). I Googled (as you do) 'Nicoise Sandwich,' the sandwich of the Niceans, hahaha, no: the southern French people who live in Nice, and found a glory of a recipe.

Dramatic reenactment of my sandwich
It was not so tidy as this one, but it 
also was juicier. I'm surmising.
One key factor: oil. All the oil. The bread will be madly oily and everything else with it: oily, too. That's a great thing, since oil carries the flavor and brings the bread into discourse with its destiny, which is to absorb and be the vehicle for all the sandwich's goodness.

So: the goodness: you take two kinds of onion, super thinly sliced, then add salt and pepper and olive oil and vinegar to it, and then you squish all of it together with your hands. For five minutes. Per the instructions: 'Do not rush this part.' Yes, I got all meditative with the onions, the oil, the salt, the pepper, the vinegar whilst all of it moved through my fingers and around the bowl.

A million minutes, or five, I guess, later, you take the oil-packed tuna--do not substitute your sad water-packed tuna!--and mix that into the whole situation, along with a squeeze of lemon juice, since lemon juice makes everything monumentally better.

Let me tell you, America, that tuna-onion-oil plus flavorings was already happening, as in, you'd want to eat it straight from the bowl. But wait: it gets better.

You sliced the baguette lengthwise. You open it up. You layer leaves of lettuce on one side, then slice tomatoes on top of that. It helps a lot if the tomatoes are amazing, as in, you picked them from your own vines or you bought them from the farmers market that very morning. The latter was the case for me. Then, you spread the tuna-onion situation on the tomatoes--by 'spread,' I mean 'dollop and gingerly edge outward'--and top that with: (a) slices of freshly hard boiled egg, (b) a strewing of sliced scallion, and (c) slices of radish.

If you happen to have Nicoise olives, you can also strew these. The recipe says that the olives can be 'pitted or not.' Hey, Nicoisians: I submit to you that an olive pit is not a nice addition to a sandwich. As I did not have Nicoise olives, I used a lovely olive tapenade, and spread it on the other length of baguette. Then, I put the olive-y baguette half on the tuna half, carefully, and wrapped the whole shebang in waxed paper and foil so that it could consult its own soul in a private hour, aka marinate in its own juices.

When I unwrapped this sandwich at the potluck to the tune of a great swarming of yellow jackets--yet another of the glories of summer--it was perfectly delicious and fresh tasting. Because it's supposed to marinate, it also can keep for a couple of days if you pack it and keep it cold. In fact, I just ate the last of this sandwich for my own workaday lunch, and it was still splendid.

Sandwiches, America! I salute them at the end of a summer and recommend this one to you, along with good wishes that the last ears of corn you buy be sweet, that your tomatoes be juicy, and that the remaining watermelons of August open with a promising crack.


Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Day the first: an orientation.

It begins, the beginning of the academic year, in the middle of a week which already feels long. To wit:

  • Sunday, when we drove home from Idaho. Does this count? Didn't we go to Idaho for the fun of it? Does driving home on a Sunday count, legitimately, as a part of a long week? I'm not saying I'm being a grownup about it, okay? I'm saying that driving home from a vacation, just like flying home across the Atlantic and practically a whole continent after spending a blissful nine days in Scotland, is the worst, and it categorically inaugurates everything that comes after it as 'long.' 
  • Whew, so much whining after a vacation!
  • Monday: meeting meeting meeting. Meeting! Even with friends: meeting x 4 = math, which is the worst.
  • Tuesday: MEE E E E e e e ting. So much meeting.
  • Wednesday: the first day. After which come Thursday and Friday, with their iffy qualities and also: more meetings.

allow me to illustrate.
Well, just so you know that my whining game is legit. Because it is LEGIT.

I had a good writing summer. June and July, I wrote a poem or revised a poem every day. Adding that to the poems I wrote in April (the cruelest month), I have about 90 poems happening. Add to that: my current manuscript was a finalist twice and a semifinalist once in national book competitions. And now summer is over, and said manuscript is done being a finalist, which, no matter how many pep talks you give yourself, or how many times you remind yourself of encouraging things that your writer friends have said, you have to pick yourself up from it, frankly. It feels a little bit like failure.

This helps.  To wit:
And indeed, when I came to the U.S. to become a poet, and when my first book was rejected by the first three publishers I sent it to – FC2, Coffee House, and Wesleyan University Press, as I recall – I was undaunted.  And when my third book took nine years, over 20 revisions and 4 cycles of rejections before it came out, I never thought that this was wrong. It’s not that I thought that my writing was so great and that all I needed was to keep putting it out there until I’d reach the occult threshold of the 76th attempt, but rather, that I came to believe in duration. How a narrative becomes itself in time. How cycles of dormancy and expression are weirdly nutritive. How failure itself becomes a site of possibility: an aperture for chance; for the conditions of the work to arrive in a different time to the one in which it was begun. I learned to continue, to keep moving forward, to keep writing, whether the outcome of that writing was visible – perceptible – or not. I learned how to re-write my work with as much passion and joy and curiosity as I had given to the writing of it. I even invented a chant: Re-writing is writing. Writing is re-writing.

Yep: "cycles of dormancy and expression are weirdly nutritive....failure itself becomes a site of possibility: an aperture for chance; for the conditions of the work to arrive in a different time to the one in which it was begun."

I hope you noticed that I linked to Bhanu Kapi's commencement address. I block-quoted from it. And then I quoted from the block quote. I'm trying to reorient myself. Not a bad thing for a person to do at the beginning of the semester.

In other news, there are practically no vegetables in my house. Not to mention not much of anything else, what with all our travel travel travel (and the subsequent meeting meeting meeting). So once I conclude this orientation session--orienting you to my new semester, since no students showed up for this actual orientation session IRL--I am going to work out, and then buy some broccoli.

It's going to be great. Everything--the writing, the nutritive failure, the semester, the workout, the broccoli. Maybe especially the broccoli though, which is itself super-nutritive.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Waking and dreaming in Idaho.

First, I'm definitely not getting enough sleep. Chalk that up to jet lag, but also the early morning dog, and also jet lag, and the argument my body makes, rather insistently, when I'm in this sleep deprivation mode, that everything is terrible and it will never get better and why WHY is that damned dog coming to our room so [expletive] early in the morning?

Bruiser, expressing his wish to travel to Idaho with us
by climbing into the passenger's seat.

Second, yesterday, I gave a getting-ready-for-school meeting the slip, leaving it midstream, to hightail it out of Salt Lake for the north, aka Idaho. Nothing against the meeting. It was a great meeting. It's just that we had a date with Idaho.

Was I tired whilst we drove? Yes, I certainly was. Did that sense of the persistent terrible tag along, like a sad little cloud? Sure it did. Still, as we drove the Mesa Falls loop to evade probably terrible road work, saw the Tetons over there in the distance, fields white with wheat, then lodge pole pine and aspen interspersing in a thickening forest, that sad little cloud seemed smaller. That voice less strident.

Thirdly, this place never fails me.

I still woke up way too early this morning (see: jet lag). I have a poem to write, and that's what woke me up. Well, that and some achiness (hey, spell check: achiness is not Chinese!). As I lay there in the dark, paying attention to my breath, I felt, rather than thought, the injunction: Steady now. And the poem began to articulate its own edges, and I kept breathing (as you do), and more came to me. So I got up at 5:45 a.m., and started to write.

The naps here are unparalleled. That's fourth.

Also? Early morning light. And early morning toast.

Friday, August 05, 2016

We're here we're here we're here.

We arrived in Aberdeen after the usual bearable, but only just, trains-Atlantic flight, and a long-ish layover in Charles de Gaulle airport. Somehow, seeing these faces makes pretty much everything else disappear. After dinner, we walked by the canal and the river in the rain. Picked raspberries from bushes along the car park. The fireweed, which is my favorite, bloomed everywhere. We intend to live it up while we're here. It's been a crazy summer. Living it up seems like the only rational response.


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