Sunday, May 22, 2011
No, we weren't ready to order yet, but, yes, we would like two glasses of rice water while we waited. She recommended the mole, carnitas and chili relleno and then retreated back into the kitchen. This was just what I needed after the last few weeks. A chance to relax in an unpretentious atmosphere and finally make some announcements. I sighed and opened my menu which featured a map of the region of Michoacan.
After consulting hers for a moment, my mentor commented, "They all sound good." Closing her menu she suggested, "Why not try all three?"
"Alright," I agreed as I sipped the sweet, milky agua fresca through a straw.
"So you've decided to go to grad school?" she asked, playing with the last piece of cilantro left in the bowl where the carrots had been.
"Yep. I have finally made a decision. Grad school it is..."
"What about your writing?"
"Well, I'll do that too. There's no reason I can't do that too."
When the food arrived the conversation halted. We turned our full attention to the platters in front of us. I started with a fork-full of the glistening, burnt-red mole. It was sweeter than other moles I had had and more redolent of cinnamon and allspice. The rich complex sauce bathed the lowly chicken elevating it to something higher.
The carnitas was no disappointment either, slow cooked pieces of pork with a spicy relish. Then there were the tortillas. Oh, the tortillas... Hand made and pipping hot their sweet, doughy faces blistered from the hot skillet. We nearly forgot about the chili relleno and had to force ourselves to try it. When we tasted the way the fire roasted pepper, complimented the deep fried exterior we were glad we did.
We were both stuffed, but nodded in defeat at the offer of a thick slab of flan. It wasn't like any that I had ever tasted before, so rich and creamy. We spooned up the cool, custard with its thin, caramel sauce sighing with every bite. "Coffee?" asked the waitress as she removed the empty plate. Waving away her offer, we quickly beat our retreat before we could be tempted by anything else. Yes, the cantina was out of the way, but I was certain that, the next time I was passing through, I would be back.
As this is fast becoming a food blog, I will make attempts to steer myself in a more literary direction in future. I should caution, however, that there is no guarantee that intellect will win out over the grumblings of my stomach...
Sunday, May 1, 2011
The weekend in Vancouver B.C. had been a relaxing, change of pace and a good chance to do some serious thinking. Dim sum seemed like the ideal breakfast before the long drive back to reality. "Are you ready to order?" asked a passing waiter.
"Yes," we chorused, shyly offering up our card.
"Is this how we're supposed to fill it out?" asked my mentor.
"You're supposed to fill in how many you want," he told us. Then sighed, "Don't worry, I'll do it." Within minutes the dishes started to arrive. I lifted the lid to the pot of soup and inhaled the savory, piquant steam, before dishing out portions into our little, white bowls. Between soothing spoonfuls of soup, floating with bamboo shoots, egg and tofu, I mused, "It must be nice to be one of those people who just know what they want to do in life."
Three steaming, bamboo baskets arrived at our table and a waitress removed the lids to reveal plump shrimp dumplings with crimped edges, pork shu mai covered with little, orange fish eggs and beef shu mai with scallions and a murky, brown dipping sauce. Putting down my porcelain spoon, I picked up my chopsticks and scanned the table. I picked up one of the shrimp dumplings and bit into it. It was perfectly cooked, the rice wrapper al dente and the pieces of pink shrimp seasoned just enough to highlight their delicate flavor. It didn't even need any dipping sauce. "I think I will try to defer grad school until next year," I announced. "This doesn't seem like the right time."
She nodded, "If that's what you think is best." We each plucked up a pork shu mai and popped them into our mouths.
"Mmm..." I sighed. "This is the best shu mai I have ever tasted." My mentor agreed emphatically. We each tasted another just to make sure. Another steaming basket arrived at our table. Inside were packets of rice and meat wrapped in banana leaves. We pried the leaves back using our chopsticks to reveal the shiny interior. It was still too hot to eat and we had to blow on it before digging into the sticky rice with our chopsticks. "There's no reason why I can't work and write in my spare time, right?"
"Right," she agreed, munching on a beef shu mai.
"Maybe it doesn't have to be a choice."
The group of young Chinese girls next to us were delicately eating filled crepes with the aid of their soup spoons and chopsticks. "That looks good," said my mentor. "Let's order those." I sighed, full after my last piece of beef shu mai. "Maybe I could eat just one," I said, pouring us each another cup of piping hot Jasmine tea. The crepes arrived, tender yellow pillows, filled with fresh whipped cream and a slice of fresh mango. It was the perfect finish, light and exotic and not too sweet. Somehow I found room for two of the filled crepes before pushing back from the table.
It would be a long drive back in the rain, but I felt fortified and satisfied with my decision. "It might be worth the six hour round trip drive again just for the dim sum," I joked, as we made our way out to the car.
"We could do it in a day trip," laughed my mentor, feeling sleepy and content.
Thursday, April 7, 2011
The light in the little Greek taverna was low. Overhead strings of garlic and whorls of sausages dangled precariously as the other diners hovered greedily over their plates. I twirled my glass of retsina, the resin comfortably coating my throat. "It's not that you don't have talent," she said. "It's just that you use too many words. You need to pare it down get to the essence of what you are trying to say." I nodded and dug my fork into the clay pot for another bite of stewed lamb and orzo. "You're right," I conceded.
My mentor stabbed the last of the tightly wrapped dolmades. She munched for a moment and then sighed. "You use too many adjectives. Too much alliteration. You can't have three adjectives in a row." I shook my head. "I know, I know." A ruckus broke out in the kitchen and we were both distracted as two old men swaggered into the room, waving their hands and calling out loudly to the waitress. They took the table next to ours and the girl quickly brought them a bottle of wine and two glasses. One of the men stood and asked if he could borrow our vacant chair. Flipping her curls, my mentor batted her eyes and demurely told him to, "go ahead."
Her eyebrows knitted as she consulted the wine menu for the third time, before pushing it aside. "You must find the essence..." she told me. Then after a pause, "find the perfume... the perfume in each paragraph." I smiled, remarking the irony in her choice of words. As I forked up the last layer of baklava, sticky with honey, I resolved that I would try to. Why not? It couldn't hurt to try. I drained the last of my sweetened coffee leaving behind a tablespoon or more of heavy sediment.
On the way out the door the two men stopped their wild gesturing for a moment to wink at us as we passed their table. At any other time I might have laughed at their theatrical leering, but not tonight. Tonight I took it as a friendly gesture. A wish of luck and maybe even a portend of good things to come.
Sunday, March 27, 2011
There are many differences of course; his book is about shark tracking while mine is about one girl’s personal journey in 1930’s Paris. Nonetheless, the name is taken. On the one hand, I want to think up another name. On the other hand, I want to stick with it because I like it so much and the likelihood of my book ever getting published is slim to none. I should mention that I grudgingly read some of the other “Bird of Passage” and found it to be surprisingly good. E.K. King really sucked me in.
Ah well, maybe he deserves the name. Sigh. In fact, I may even pick-up a copy next time I find myself in a bookstore. Since I am on the topic of names, I think it also prudent to mention that this blog was named long before Sarah Palin ever entered the American public consciousness…
Friday, March 25, 2011
The second is a story that I started to write in Peace Corps. The idea is fully formed and I have already written the end, but the story is only about 95 pages right now. There are parts that need to be flushed out and, while I have them in my head, I just need to write them down. I usually find that if I talk about an idea in too much detail, my urge to write it down can sometimes fizzle. Right now I am keeping the remaining scenes safely bottled up in my head.
I have been thinking about the third story (no name yet) a lot lately and working on developing the main character. I have been asking myself all kinds of questions about the person, so that I really know who they are and how they would react in different situations. This is a technique that I haven't used before, but that I am finding very useful. I am toying with the idea of forming it into a short story that I could later develop into something longer. This way I could submit it to some writing contests while I am working on finishing the full-length version.
Now that I have started blogging about writing and what I plan to write, I guess I better get to it and actually do some writing!
Saturday, March 12, 2011
Now my writing typically happens in halting bursts of creative energy, often overshadowed by long periods of neglect. The main reason for this disregard (some might even say avoidance) is the other side of my life. The “type A,” career oriented side, that doesn’t really take the arts all that seriously. Sure, art can be beautiful, but where is the real value? How does an imagined story make a lasting, positive impact in the world? How does it compare to the certainty of that next paycheck, that 401k or the pursuit of higher education?
The life of a writer seems like an almost unfathomable risk to someone like me, a born planner who likes to evaluate risk. Sure, I enjoy an adventure as much as the next person. I haven’t exactly led the most conventional of lives up until this point, but this is different. This is stepping out into the unknown Not to mention the fact that I have a healthy dose of that most human of emotions… fear of failure.
As a literary dilettante, with my own batch of insecure hang-ups, it takes a lot for me to put myself out there and open myself up to criticism. To me, writing has always been a deeply personal thing… my way to work out my troubles and express myself in a safe way. This being said, I know that sharing my work with others is inherently necessary and that honest, constructive critique can only serve to make me better.
So here I stand, attempting to reconcile to the two sides of myself; the serious career woman with the artistic dreamer. It is a battle of “type A” vs. “type Arty.” Who will win out in the end…?
Wednesday, March 5, 2008
Peace Corps wants to implement some changes for future volunteers in my program and there was a lot of discussion about how those changes will be implemented in this country. They want to make the program more sustainable by having us work less on our own and more with our Moldovan counterparts. It will be a difficult transition, but a very good one and I hope for the best for the next group of volunteers.
I am planning on spending the remaining few days of vacation at my site. It will be nice to relax for a few days and sleep in. A group of five volunteers will be coming to visit me in my town on Saturday and we are all going to hang out, cook American food and watch movies. It should be a lot of fun.
Next weekend is the Model United Nations competition and I will be travelling to the capital for three days with my team to help out with the conference. It should be a really interesting weekend. The weekend after that I will also be away helping to judge the national English competition. It is an event hosted by the Moldovan Ministry of education, but they have requested Peace Corps' help.
On March 1st we celebrated Martisor here. It is a celebration that heralds the beginning of spring according to the old calendar. People pin little red and white corsages on one another for luck. On Saturday we will also be celebrating International Women's Day. The Moldovans insist that this holiday is international, but only really seems to be celebrated in former Soviet countries.
The weather is starting to warm up and the song birds have returned. I am only making a fire every other day now instead of everyday which is a big relief. It seems like I burn a small tree every evening. It is a very time consuming and inefficient way to heat. I am counting the days till the end of the school year now and looking forward to the summer. I am also keeping busy trying to find funding for computers in my school and trying to organize a trash collection program in my town. These are two projects that I would really like to finish before the end of my Peace Corps service. I hope that all is well back home, only about four and a half months left to go!