Eat | Read with Kristen Iskandrian & Amy McDaniel
In this space, we’re going to tell you what we’ve been reading and what we’ve been eating, and we’re going to ask other people what they’ve been reading and eating, and we might, from time to time, include a recipe or a meditation or a grocery list. On most days, the only thing I like more than food is books, and on other days, the only thing I like more than books is food. But on all days, I ingest a lot of words and a lot of calories. We at Real Pants are eager to explore the wide and always-changing intersection where we find ourselves ever-hungry, never full.
What we’ve been eating: Kristen
It has been a strange week. My mom is in the hospital following a fairly dramatic metabolic dustup with her new leukemia treatment, I have a bad cold, and the days have been gray and wet and consistently colder than what my phone says. I’ve cooked a fair amount of comfort food, but haven’t eaten much of it, subsisting mostly on the odd ends of things. Comfort food is more of a comfort in its making than in the eating, for me, anyway. So rather than presenting you with a steaming tureen of mushy something-or-other, I thought I’d rewind a couple of weeks to something crisper and brighter. Brian and I had a great meal and very satisfying night out at one of our favorites, Chez Fonfon, where I ordered, after a nice cocktail and several shared starters, the shrimp and avocado salad with sauce rémoulade. I’m grinning as I type this, because my friend Jennie and I have this fun habit of trying to place salads in their respective eras, based solely on our own memories—the craisin/goat cheese combo, for example, is 1994 to the max—and I’m thinking how I meant to tell her that by description alone, the Fonfon salad sounded like something you’d order on a cruise, from the fancy restaurant, in 1988—but 1988-fancy is of course not what I got, nor was it what I expected, not really. Still, it’s always fun when a straightforward or throwback dish surprises you, and this one did. Dainty and crunchy and pretty (watermelon radishes!), but also dense and hearty, it was neither fussy nor overdone. I will probably have to stop myself from writing too many posts about salads, because I have a lifelong, deep bordering-on-weird affection for them, so I’ll keep it brief for now and say that this one was perfect. It’s nice when a thing can just be perfect.
What we’ve been reading: Kristen
I read much like I ate this week—standing up, wandering, in intervals between checking my phone for mom news. I finished The Changeling. In The New Yorker I read an essay about the sociologist Howard Becker and his ideas about deviance. In the same New Yorker I tried to read fiction by Robert Coover and failed. I hid from my children in the bathroom to finish Patricia Lockwood’s Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals, which I’d started just after Christmas (it was a present). Hiding from Children in the Bathroom to Finish It is a pretty high rating in my book-ranking system. I especially liked “He Marries the Stuffed-Owl Exhibit” and “The Hypno-Domme Speaks, and Speaks and Speaks.”
What we’ve been eating: Amy
Today, I ate from boxes. At lunch, I ate from a bento box. Clockwise, in a boxy spiral, the compartments held: iceberg salad with ginger dressing; 4 pieces of California roll, mound of rice, 4 shumai, serving chicken teriyaki, tiny mound of wasabi aside tiny pile of pickled ginger. At dinner, I ordered a Korean box. There were no compartments, or else there was one compartment. Clockwise, in a boxy spiral, the components were: pickled daikon, kimchi, mound of rice, two narrow filets of sweet mackerel, sweet potato tempura, tempura sauce.
My mother’s lunch (beef yakisoba) took much longer to arrive than my bento box, so I shared shumai, California roll, teriyaki, and salad with her, in exactly the way that I would have shared bits of my lunch from my lunch box (okay, it was a bag, it was a kind of insulated bag with black straps) with other kids who had cafeteria lunch. It’s the same because today, I shared with my mother so that I could feel okay about eating when she had nothing of her own, and in third grade, I couldn’t peacefully eat my peanut butter and apple butter sandwich and my, I don’t know, Twix bar, until I’d given into whoever was asking and asking and asking for some of it. In third grade, it seemed like a stupid accident that other kids didn’t have lunches carefully packed by their mothers, but had to eat cafeteria lunch instead. It didn’t occur to me that there were real, serious reasons why we had such different lunches, and that I wasn’t the victim here, having to share.
Compartments and boxes in my reading, too: JUST MERCY by Bryan Stevenson has big boxes of sadness and tiny boxes of hope, but they are all stacked within one another, and locked together. Stevenson is the great-grandson of slaves,and a first-rate writer. Mostly, though, he is this tireless (though he admits to much exhaustion) fighter for those who are wrongly convicted, or sentenced to death, or imprisoned too young, or all of these. When people talk about racism, it tends to go one of two ways: anecdotes and instances that can be boxed up, isolated, so that we can say, “There it is, that’s racism,” or, “There he is, that’s the racist.” Or, there are the discussions of systemic racism, institutional violence, inextricable from our racist history. These are abstracted from the moments, the people, the examples. Damningly, JUST MERCY does both. All the moments pile up, relentless. Any one of them can make you weep, and all the small (huge) victories Stevenson and his team achieve–a hundred convicts spared the death penalty by their efforts, a mother cleared of the baseless charge that she killed her newborn–can make you hope. But there isn’t just one; there’s the whole pile, and the thread between them–the legacy of slavery, of Reconstruction and lynching, of Jim Crow, the living reality of the mass incarceration and forced labor of black men. When you look at all of it together, the system and the institution become real. They are not abstract. They are made of people.