All posts by Erin Bond

Pause

Simona and I are no strangers to busy seasons, and this fall has proven to be yet another one for both of us. This time, however, instead of pushing ourselves, instead of letting ourselves get right to the edge–looking over, watching as pieces of the rock fall beneath us–we have decided to step back where we can. And, it is with sadness, that we had to realize the blog needed to go on pause. 

We need to make it through the semester. We need to rest and regroup and recharge. And then we will be back, hopefully more creative and more energetic, ready to cook and write some more.

Until then, happy eating.

Love.

Missing China

Four months ago, I left for China. Two months ago, I came home. But, in some ways, in many ways, I’m still not home yet. My body adapted long ago to the time zone I find myself in, but my heart hasn’t. My head hasn’t. My suitcases have long been empty, but I’m not emotionally unpacked. Part of me is still lagging behind in China, wandering like a ghost through the carefully manicured gardens, past the women selling steamed buns on the street early in the morning, past the man who rides his bike with his little dog in the front basket. I’m clinging to the days when monumental successes were simple things, as small as ordering a meal and then receiving the food I thought I was ordering. Bargaining for a lower price and winning. Eating a steamed pork bun while walking the tree-lined streets of campus, on my way somewhere, or nowhere. I long for that sweet respite, when everything was new, when everything was an adventure—at the grocery store I walked to almost every day we were in Nanjing, there were aisles and aisles of food I had never tasted. I wanted to eat all of it.

And there’s a beauty in existing in a place where people don’t speak your language. Your thoughts belong to you more than ever. You belong to yourself and no one else. You answer to no one, if for no other reason than you can’t.

But I am no longer there. Now the new semester is fully under way, and I have lovely classes with brilliant students, but there are days when I walk the halls of my building, not sure exactly where I am going. Though I’ve been teaching in the same four rooms for weeks now, I’ll be in the hallway on my way to class and will be suddenly struck with the thought that I might not be going to the right place.

I found myself in the library the other day, browsing through the cookbook section, until my finger traced the spine of a book I knew I had to have. Every Grain of Rice: Simple Chinese Home Cooking by Fuchsia Dunlop. In it were recipes to actual food we ate on a regular basis: the noodle soup we loved at the shop near campus. The spicy gong bao chicken we ate in Chengdu the day we saw the pandas. Eggs and tomatoes. Sichuanese green beans.

I’ve cooked a half dozen recipes from the book now, and I’m in love. It tastes like China. For the first time since coming back, I can say that about something: it tastes like China. There’s a thrill for me in this cooking, in the trips to the Asian markets in our small city, in boiling the noodles and testing for doneness, in frying eggs in the wok until they’re crispy on the outside and runny on the inside.

So far, one recipe, Hangzhou Breakfast Noodles, has been my favorite. The noodles are silky, the egg delightful, the sauce perfect. It’s comfort food, in the best sense of the phrase. It’s deeply satisfying, in a way I can’t fully explain. I hope you’ll make it and see for yourself.

I could eat this every day. I don’t know when I’ll be back on a plane bound for China, but in the meantime, I can eat the food and remind myself that it really happened, that I was really there, that I will be there again.

Hangzhou Breakfast Noodles
(Adapted from Every Grain of Rice by Fuchsia Dunlop)

Ingredients:

  • 4 spring onions, green parts only, sliced
  • 7 oz dried noodles
  • 4 Tbsp olive oil or other cooking oil (plus more for eggs)
  • 2 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 eggs
  • Chinkiang vinegar to taste

Directions:

Boil noodles until cooked to your liking (be careful not to overcook). Fry eggs in oil in a wok, leaving the yolks runny. Set aside.

Heat oil in a wok until very hot. Separate noodles into two bowls and top with green onions. The oil is hot enough when a few drops of it make the green onions sizzle. Drizzle oil over noodles and onions. Top with soy sauce. Add egg. Add Chinkiang vinegar to taste. 

Changing Seasons

I feel it happening, somewhere in my bones, the change from summer to fall. Summer is still roaring, the temperatures often above 90, the humidity frizzing my hair and causing makeup to weep off my face, the sun bright and baking. Somewhere, though, the seed of fall has cracked open. Maybe it’s the early morning air, the coolness that’s creeping in. Maybe it’s the beginning of a new semester: new faces, familiar faces, essays I’ve read and essays I’ve not yet read. I can feel it, the change that’s going to come. I’m savoring every moment of summer while it is still with me, but at the same time anticipating the crisp breezes and the smell of cinnamon and dead leaves drying on the lawn. Making pots of chili and baking apples and sitting outside with a hot cup of coffee and a book.

I also feel the change in a more symbolic sense.

There have been a few times in my life when I felt great life changes before they happened, when I knew something was coming before knowing just what, when I could tell something had altered inside of me, knowing that the alteration would eventually ripple its way outward. I remember coming back to Wilmington after my first trip to Congo in 2009. Everything felt shifted. Something in me was moving somewhere, and I wasn’t sure where. Friendships that had seemed vital to me lost something, felt increasingly more hollow. The church we felt was home felt less and less so. I felt unmoored.

In 2011, it was the month in San Francisco. I came home from that more centered in myself, more alive to my own internal being. Maybe it was the fog in the Inner Sunset, where I lived that month, maybe it was the fog that grayed everything out and gave me permission to be introspective, to be alone, to be quiet. Every time I took the N-Judah to downtown, I could almost tell you the exact street where the fog would lift and the sun would break through, and I still remember passing the bakery where that happened, and the park just past it; I stared out that train window and watched people play Frisbee with their dogs, the grass impossibly green, the sky impossibly blue, the houses pastel and perfect, and I knew life was delicious in ways I had never imagined.

When I came home from that month away, I had only a few months before we received Tom’s diagnosis. I would learn that life is painful in ways I couldn’t have imagined either.

Now, in 2014, after China, after those two months on the other side of the world, I am back home, and I am different yet again. I don’t think even I myself will understand it for a good, long time. I am more excited by things—by the blueness of the ocean, by the taste of eggplants. I am feeling bolder, feeling less apologetic for what I think and what I love. I am feeling decisive.

I have taken up cycling. My sister-in-law is training for the biking portion of a triathlon, and she’s letting me train with her. We get up early to ride a nearby neighborhood with wide paths snaking by houses we’ll never afford. The sun is buttery, beautiful at that time of day, and I breathe deeply as I work the bike, as I see what my legs can do, as I learn to balance myself and the bike. It feels good, it feels deeply good. Because I like the changes, I love every change I’ve made, and I feel more myself now than I ever have been in the past.

Last night, Jesse’s band played a show on a nearby island, and I stayed home and cooked and read and took a bubble bath. I made myself chapatis and baba ghanouj. I ate a peach that was sweeter and juicier than any I’ve had in a long time. The peach was a shocking color, so rich and so bright. The juice ran down my fingers, and I sat at our little kitchen table, eating alone, and I felt very happy.

Madhur Jaffrey’s Baba Ghanouj (Creamed Eggplant)
From World Vegetarian

 Ingredients:

1 large eggplant
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp salt

 

Directions:

 Prick eggplant with a fork and roast in a 450-degree oven until collapsing and very soft inside (mine took an hour). Peel and roughly chop the eggplant. Blend or process eggplant with olive oil, lemon juice, and salt, until creamy and smooth.