27 November 2010

Southern Living

I just returned from Thanksgiving- this year, hosted by my older sister who has basically adopted Louisiana as her ancestral home. She's been there for years now, and has seamlessly transfused our original Yankee blood with a slow-burning southern warmth, from her charming circle of friends to the incredible regional food coming out of her kitchen.

As we sat on her porch, mincing herbs from the backyard garden for the grand meal, I made some Darjeeling to sustain us throughout the preparation. I kept trying to focus on the remaining tasks (chop the Brussels sprouts, peel the sweet potatoes, go stir the gravy) but my body started to relax in the sunshine and I ended up gazing lazily into the cups, marveling at how much stronger, cleaner the light was here than in New York.

The next day, I was treated to tea made for me, and I couldn't help but ease more into the place and the moment.

It was a deep, full-flavored Kagoshima sencha, expertly prepared- and a perfect accompaniment to as many leftovers and local specialties (baked cheese grits, fresh pecans and fragrant, sweet Satsuma oranges from the farmer's market) I could get down before the flight back.

I've made sencha countless times, and had it well-made for me more than once. But there was something so effortless, so easy in that day's gracious hospitality; with the soft light filtering through the Spanish moss that blanketed the live oaks outside, the moment absolutely absorbed me.

Thank you, south Louisiana. Y'all have reminded me how to savor.

10 November 2010

Hard to Swallow

I'm sick of food writing.

Why are food blogs- happy or unhappy- all alike? The self-referential, self-absorbed prose; the overpixelated hyper-macro photographs; the gushing exultation of formerly humble ingredients like the apple or whole-wheat flour.

The professional food media is little better. One recent review I read exalted a chef's on-site slaughter of a pig allegedly raised on hand-fed pears; another babbled about "thoughtfully sourced pork, lamb, and beef" and discussed a restaurant's atmosphere one evening "as if primed for a clever Tweet."

Can we please remove social media from food? It's on the level of blogging from the toilet. Yes, everyone eats (and expels)- that's even more reason to not immortalize it.

There are so many food publications and blogs in which you can feel the writers drooling over their dithyrambic creation and then, after a furtive glance to ensure no one is watching, fluff their hair a bit just so.

Antidotes do exist, however. Those food magazines, straight in the trash. A sunrise with a lone cup of yu hua, or rainflower, a round, soft, almost mossy Chinese green tea. And the blurry, unintelligible images and incredibly mundane comments on Pizza in the Streets. Pasta spirals with jarred sauce and canned parmesan cheese in a metal mixing bowl; Yuengling with a chipped plate of Entenmann's chocolate donuts (and is that a spoonful of peanut butter?); a half-eaten pretzel discarded on a dirty sidewalk. It's all here.

Clearly, I adore tea, and talking about it. I crave it like heroin. The taste always takes me by surprise, whether earthy or floral, grounding or transcendent, stimulating or soothing. But ultimately, it is just water and leaves.

It's still beautiful. Little more needs to be said.