From the opening, jam-packed especially for a rainy Friday night:

Between all that Censusing, Chicago, & the CCC, this is about where I’m at right now:

If you’re one of my many neglected friends… you will see me, I promise, just as soon as I catch up on some sleep & wash at least the first layer of those dirty dishes piled in the sink.

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I’m still all disoriented from the election. Eggbeater comes closest to capturing how I’ve been feeling, though I’ve been perhaps a tad less weepy. Weirder still, then, to fly to Arizona—McCain country!—for the weekend to visit my dear old granny.

Fortunately, it’s pretty much all about food from the moment you set foot in her house.

Beauteous fresh turnip cake:

Even better, fried the next day:

Her real obsession is what our family calls rice buddies, aka Chinese tamales. She cranks them out at a fearsome rate, & we schlep home mass quantities of them every trip.

That blur is her hands wrapping up a bottle of chicken juice. No, not soup or broth or stock. It’s essence of chicken, what you get when you shut two chickens (cut up, skinned & de-fatted) in an enclosed ceramic pot, put that pot inside another pot full of water, & simmer it for 12 hours(!) until all the chicken liquid is released into the bottom of the inner pot & the bones crumble between your fingers.

Granny speaks about a hundred words of English & I speak even less Chinese, so our communication is 90% psychic & contextual—not so hard when the main topic is food! But when she saw Obama on the TV, she asked me, “Is he good?”

I turned to her & beamed, “Grandma, he’s very good.”

Satisfied, she nodded, “ok good” & settled back to watch some more. I sat there in baffled wonderment at being able to give her such strange, hopeful news.

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Look what you get if you do a search for “Chinese” in the New York Public Library’s Buttolph collection of menus!

DINNER TO GOVERNOR GOULS, LT. ... Digital ID: 472661. New York Public Library ORIENTAL DINNER MENU [held by]... Digital ID: 471895. New York Public Library

Just the tip o’ the iceberg.

& more fruit than I know what to do with, too…

[Fig varities (White Hanover, ... Digital ID: 1107603. New York Public Library [Pears (Catherine, Lemon, Late... Digital ID: 1107606. New York Public Library

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When is it a good idea to overdress your salad?

Answer: almost never. (If you want to skip the rant & cut to the exception, scroll down to the last paragraph.) Friends know that my already-opinionated tendencies get cranked up to 11 when it comes to the topic of dressing salad. To me, excess salad dressing speaks of an underlying contempt for the vegetables in the salad… & for all vegetables as a class. I’m not saying that every individual saladmaker who overdresses his salad holds vegetables in contempt; ignorance, inexperience or lack of attention are probably more often the true culprits. But even the most hapless newbie cook guessing wildly at how to dress a salad for the first time bases her guess on something, & this is where pernicious cultural tendencies come in to play.

I think we can agree that there is a strong meat & potatoes streak running through this country we call America, & many an American has been heard saying that they’d really rather not eat any veggies at all if they could help it. If they must, well, it’s better if they’re as un-veggie-like as possible: remember ketchup? (Okay, perhaps not the fairest example.) Add fat! Add protein! Add anything to mask, to distract from, to overwhelm the veggie nature of the veggies! How many times out there on the road have I ordered “salad” & ended up with a woeful handful of iceberg crushed under the weight of almost-solid dollops of thick dressing?


A good salad should be all about the vegetables. If you don’t like greens, go eat them fried in bacon fat or something; veggies shrink when they’re cooked, so you can get more of those annoyingly necessary vitamins in fewer bites. Also, a veggie that is not quite fresh enough to become (good) salad may often be very acceptable for (good) cooking; so then you should go ahead & cook the dang thing! (Don’t come crying to me that lettuce can’t be cooked. I’m Chinese.) All of this being the case, then, isn’t salad nothing more or less than a perfect opportunity to eat many, many wonderful mouthfuls of fresh raw veggies, thus prolonging & indulging the ecstatic enjoyment of same?

If so, why would you drown this good stuff in too much dressing? In a perfectly-dressed salad, the dressing should merely lubricate the lettuce. Visually it should appear not so much as a salad ingredient itself, but mainly as a shine on the surfaces of all the other ingredients. When you put lotion on your hands, do you leave drops & clumps of white opaque stuff visible all over your skin? I hope not. Use a small enough amount of dressing so that it barely films the leaves.

In order to accomplish this, you must be willing to toss your salad. I cannot emphasize this enough. Use a large bowl so that you have room to turn your salad over without dropping half of it outside the bowl. Put all your lettuce & stuff in this large bowl, then take a wee tiny bit of dressing & pour it over the top. It will look like it can’t possibly be enough. Have faith! Start lifting up big batches of salad from the sides of the bowl, dropping them in the middle. Pull salad from the bottom & put it on top. Move more-dressed stuff into contact with undressed stuff. The more lightly you want to dress your salad, the more tossing you have to do. It will be worth it. When the dressing is no longer discernable as a separate thing, & all parts of the salad are subtly glistening, you’re done.

Eat your salad!

If you get to the bottom of the salad bowl & there is a puddle of dressing there, you used too much dressing.

Except. There is always an exception, right?

Except when it’s high tomato season & there are dry-farmed Early Girls from Dirty Girl. Then, then you make yourself a salad that is mostly tomatoes (hold each tomato over the bowl as you cut it into chunks, so as to catch every drop of juice), a little bit o’ lettuce, a little bit o’ basil, & you pour on just a little too much dressing (olive oil, balsamic, salt & pepper). Why? Because as you eat your salad, the tomatoes will juice themselves all into the bottom of the bowl, & when you get down there, you will find the most divine puddle of tomato juice, seasoned with that bit of extra dressing, & you can plop a piece of sourdough toast in it & go swooning off to heaven. That’s why.

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I found Chinese Food Map through Jennifer 8 Lee’s blog & went clicking over there in a hurry. I feel so totally validated that none of the states I’ve visited for the Chinese Restaurant Project have any little suns on them, except for Georgia’s Atlanta cluster—& that doesn’t count, because I really went there for my cousin’s wedding.

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Please indulge me as I jump on the Thanksgiving bandwagon… people are giving me some very nice things. Plastic Lam dropped off a quart of lusciously custardy ginger ice cream she’d made with honey instead of sugar. Then the Astrological Yodeling Gardener said she had a couple pairs of ostrich cowboy boots to give me if they fit. So she came by—arriving early & compulsively weeding in front of our house while waiting for me to come home—& I fed her a dessert I composed out of Plastic Lam’s ice cream & Fuyu persimmon shavings sprinkled with Maldon sea salt & walnuts. (In case you can’t tell, I’m pretty pleased with myself for coming up with this one, & with Plastic Lam & her ice cream for inspiring it.)

Then Astrological Yodeling Gardener pulled out the boots, which turned out to be twin pairs except one had a beautiful wine-colored foot & the other was butterscotch. The identical brown tops sported a magnificent 8 rows of stitching. I tried on the wine ones & they fit like a good old-skool cowboy boot should: surprisingly comfy. (Why am I always surprised?) As for the butterscotch, I’ve never been much for wearing that color, & AYG said she wore those more anyway, so I said she should keep them & then we could be boot twins. Giggling over this idea, we sat at the kitchen table each wearing a pair & admiring them while she told how a friend had given them to her many years ago, & they were custom-made but her friend had back problems & couldn’t wear them anymore.

I asked who had made them, but AYG said she didn’t know. I pulled off a boot to look inside, & nearly fell over: Paul Bond! Dang, that shit is the real deal! I still can’t believe that I just got a pair of vintage ostrich Paul fucking Bonds handed to me, & they fit! That was yesterday & I’m still in shock. Thank you, Astrological Yodeling Gardener! I’m honored to be a Bond Girl with you! I sent her home with some of my granny’s famous sticky rice Chinese tamales (thanks Granny!), but I think we know who got the better end of the deal.

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Look, Eastern Bakery has a mooncake order form on the web now! But you still have to mail a check the old-fashioned way. I love it. They also have an oddly unlinked page explaining why theirs are superior to mooncakes from China.

I have this dilemma every year where I overenthusiastically buy a whole box of 4 mooncakes, & then like 2.5 of them end up going stale in the back of the fridge because the stuff is so dang rich—even if you invite friends over, everybody eats just a couple of slices. I guess a better tactic would be to go to the bakery itself & buy just 1 or 2, but that’s a bit of a slog for me, especially right now when it’s still hard for me to walk up & down hills. (Remember the pelvis? Well it’s the knee on the other side that hurts now, from all the compensating, aka weird moonwalking moves on one leg.)

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