Eat | Read with Kristen Iskandrian
What I’ve been eating:
It’s like “enough with the soup, Kristen!”, but the best thing I ate this week was homemade Tom Kha Gai soup, a riff on a Cook Smarts recipe (great meal plan subscription service, btw). I never do not feel like eating Thai food, and this is the first Thai dish I’ve made that actually tastes (granted, my Thai food credentials are probably dubious) authentic—possibly better than takeout. You start with some neutral oil in a pot, then add lemongrass, ginger, and garlic, followed by chopped up chicken that has been briefly marinated in fish sauce, and when the chicken is mostly cooked, you dump in mushrooms and matchstick carrots, or some other combo of vegetables that works in a soup like this—thinly sliced peppers, zucchini, or whole green beans, for example. After a few minutes, you drown everything in coconut milk, chicken stock, a bit of brown sugar, and some more fish sauce, bring it to a boil, and then simmer briefly—ten minutes max. Finish it with bean sprouts, lime juice, cilantro, a few jalapeno rings if you’re bold, and if you’re me, more cilantro. People who think cilantro tastes gross/like soap: I don’t understand you.
What I’ve been reading:
I didn’t set out to make this week Asian-themed, but coincidences are everywhere if you look. I’m in the middle of Preparation for the Next Life by Atticus Lish, and it is as breathtaking as everyone is saying. I don’t quite know how to put it, but this is a book that feels as though it were perfectly wrought in a sedate fit of cool, collected magic, then laid in a vault somewhere, just waiting for the right person—Gian! who could be better?—to find it. Not every book has an aura. This one does. I was curious about what Gordon Lish’s son could do, I’ll admit it—but immediately after I began reading this book, I forgot all about him. I forgot about everything but the characters, and the places, so stark and gritty and then in a flash, so beautiful, like one of those time-lapse videos of a changing sky. I like this interview, particularly the final question, about Lish’s own job history. The depiction of labor is a big part of what makes the work, in my view, exceptional. Plenty of books I love are nebulae in the existential galaxy. This one deals with the big themes—otherness, violence, degradation, alienation, and certainly love—by eschewing the giant metaphor trap in favor of palpating the narrowest details.
She wanted a Shamrock Shake, and he bought one for her. He asked her how her job was going.
Anbu jiuban. It means you do the job like this: She imitated making a step with her foot, then another.
By the steps, she said. The tape she used to fix her shoes was coming out the heels.
He asked her if she wanted anything else, and she said no, she had more than enough already. She took a suck of her mint green shake and her cheeks hollowed and she smiled.
They were sitting under the No Loitering sign on the second floor where people came with their plastic bags to sit for hours and it smelled like BO. A young black junkie was sleeping with his mouth open in the corner, his yellow teeth showing. Pop music was playing softly. The bathroom door was token-operated, but the mechanism was broken, so you could use it.