Guest post: On Momofuku bo ssam!

Tonight’s post brought to you by the lovely Ana Schwartz, a good friend, colleague, and fellow blogger. You can find her at http://paleontographist.tumblr.com, where she muses about going paleo (for 30 days), being a writer, and the relationship between food and text. Thanks for such a thoughtful, delicious, caring post, Ana!

There will be no photos of her magnificent bo ssam from last month. Camera phone? In the purse. Yeah, on the sofa. In the corner, where it remained all night. And good riddance. Neither will you find here a verbal recreation of the sights and smells and tastes, even the sounds of the feast. Obviously words fail, but that’s not the reason to avoid them.

Truly, there does exist meaning in the wish to want to memorialize that evening at the end of May, when Kelly cooked for her friends some pork shoulder, following David Chang’s recipe in the Momofuku cookbook. Her loving labor, first of all, let’s not overlook. It took Kelly an entire day—an entire day—to cook the damn thing. She’d been wanting to cook it for months, if not years. Moreover, there was much to celebrate at the dinner. Not the smallest reason to congregate was to say goodbye, together, to a long year and to exorcise its memories before they become ghosts. You know it: a good meal can do that. There were some new guests, some rare guests. And it was also springtime. Oh, the evening was bright, late, and warm. See, even in explaining reasons to celebrate, description and memorialization sneaks in.

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Organization; or, Kitchen systems

A few times a year, my random internet browsing brings me to the world of productivity or “life-hack” websites, which are at once completely awful and compulsively seductive. Reading them is like walking around a megastore or department store without knowing exactly what you want, with all the bright lights, lack of clocks, and circuitous routes calculated to get you stuck in an endless purgatory of desire.

I should say, of course, that I believe it’s important to be self-conscious about how you structure your work day. Part of being in grad school is figuring all that out, attending to what you need to actually get things done and in a way that is as “productive” and “pleasurable” as possible, and so that it doesn’t expand to take up every hour of your day. I put these adjectives in quotation marks because of the tendency to fetishize them, i.e., the mandate to “love your work” or the fantasy that we can turn ourselves into efficient, frictionless workbots. So for those of you who, like me, happen to stumble into the realm of lifehacking –which sounds kind of gross, right? like a cat with a hairball or a violent dismembering of life?–and want to make it not a total waste of braintime, I’d advise only spending a few minutes browsing these sites. The first ten or so minutes are usually the best, letting you pick up a few nuggets here and there before your brain glazes over. For there are some useful suggestions out there, I think — and if anything, they get you thinking about your practices of everyday life.

This time, it got me thinking about how this might apply to cooking, a really important practice in my life that means so many things to me and in so many different ways over time. It is, or has been:

  • a total release from the demands of my worklife
  • a period of concentrated play akin to meditation
  • work. just….work.
  • seasonal
  • a social activity
  • a solitary activity
  • something I want to fastidiously document
  • something I want to do and then relinquish, immediately
  • an indulgence
  • a discipline
  • at times, completely avoided or forgotten
  • economical
  • $$$$
  • fun! satisfying!
  • self-defining

And many more things.

Today, I want to discuss a few habits that have stuck with me for awhile when it comes to cooking, or at least for a bit before I discarded them in favor of other practices. This is just a glimpse into how one home cook processes the wealth of information out there about food, recipes, books, techniques, and restaurants. (Disclaimer: this is more a post for myself than any form of advice!)

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