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    And I’ll send you letters / And come to your house for tea

    It’s interesting that Alice should tag me with something food-related, given that my stomach is having more trouble than the rest of me adjusting back to life in the States. I’m not sure my answers will say much, but here they are.

    What’s your favourite table?

    My father made a beautiful oak trestle table for my parents’ dining room. (It is the table itself we’re talking about?)

    What would you have for your last supper?

    My mind would probably be too distracted for me to enjoy really good lamb or venison or beef, so I’ll say vegetable tempura, which is heavenly when the batter and frying oil are perfectly prepared.

    What’s your poison?

    My favorite whisky is probably Laphroaig 10. Not a particularly highfalutin choice, but the one I reach for most. I like them peaty.

    I do most of my drinking in merry, boisterous crowds, though, and I find that vodka and tonic (the well vodka wherever I am, unless it’s particularly nasty) is both tasty and non-staining when my arm gets jostled. I had a nail-biting near miss with a negroni the other night that I don’t care to repeat.

    I like wine, too, of course, but I’m no geeky oenophile, and I generally find that whatever group I’m in has at least one person who’s far more informed than I am, so I just go along with whatever he or she recommends we get.

    Name your three desert island ingredients.

    Peppercorns, sweet red bell peppers, unsalted butter.

    What would you put in Room 101?

    I guess it would be cheating to count strawberries, since I’m physically allergic to them.

    I find the texture of globe onions repellant, though assuming Julia’s like everyone else I know, she likes them and wouldn’t mind having to eat them in my place.

    Oh, and watermelon. I adore pink and green together, but I’m sorry–fruit should not be corky. (Don’t bother telling that good watermelon doesn’t have a corky texture. Yes, it does.)

    Which book gets you cooking?

    This may surprise some people, but in my case, Jane Brody’s Good Food Book. Yes, I think Brody’s too high-strung about nutrition and unproven dangers to health, but she genuinely seems to believe food should be enjoyed, and her approach in adapting recipes is often designed to bring the flavors of the star ingredients to the fore.

    What’s your dream dinner party line-up?

    I like large gatherings for parties, but not for dinner. Too many people makes lively shared conversation and pleasurably wicked confidences difficult, especially if several are new acquaintances.

    All of that is a roundabout way of saying I like dinner parties with close friends.

    What was your childhood teatime treat?

    The Pennsylvania Dutch make great sticky buns, with lots of nuts and moist yeasty cake and enough syrup to make the entire population of the Northeastern Seaboard diabetic.

    What was your most memorable meal?

    Hmm. Probably when I was eleven and we were visiting my Auntie June in England, because it was the first time I realized that my parents and family elders thought I was ready to start being introduced into the adult world in public. No, I wasn’t given a cigar and two glasses of port…just permission to order a main that came with artichokes and then after-dinner coffee. I like to think I still have my youthful energy, but I’m grateful I had the kind of family that still believed grown-up pleasures were something children should be taught to aspire to.

    What was your biggest food disaster?

    3 May 2001. Atsushi and I were giving a party over the Golden Week holiday for a few dozen friends in the afternoon. At about 10:00 a.m., I was julienning carrots for primavera sauce and lopped off the tip of my ring finger. I didn’t cut it off at the joint or anything, but there was blood everywhere. Emergency room, painkillers, huge bandage, stern admonition from doctor to keep hand elevated above heart for the rest of the day. Luckily, gay guys know how to pull together in a genuine catering emergency, so we had five or six friends who finished my prep while I tried to be useful with one hand and an addled brain.

    What’s the worst meal you’ve ever had?

    Let’s see. There was the Christmas dinner hosted by the owner of the bar that was kind of my local in Tokyo two years ago. It was oyster season, so the restaurant gave us its special ten-course oyster-themed prix fixe party menu. Have I mentioned that I can’t eat shellfish? There were oysters in everything: oyster miso soup, oyster stew, oysters au gratin, raw oysters on the half shell, grilled oysters–it was like the Spam episode in Month Python, only with oysters.

    I ended up snagging the two or three pieces of tuna and yellowtail sashimi that had found their way to the table, and then for the rest of the dinner subsisting on shochu and oolong tea and the occasional shiso leaf. When it was over, I collared my best friend and marched us to a little dining cafe in the middle of the gay district, where I demanded servings of their chicken karaage and steak-cut fries before they’d managed to get us sat down at a table.

    Who’s your food hero/food villain?

    My hero is whoever figured out that whipping cream turned it into whipped cream. My villain is the inventor of the no-taste tomato.

    Nigella or Delia?

    No offense to Nigella, but she’s always going on and on about how sloppy and casual and unstudied she is while cooking, and see how I made this lovely soufflé by just pitching some eggs and flour into a ramekin and shoving the lot into the oven without getting so much as a smudge on my cashmere twinset? Just wait for your friends to arrive, pluck the perfect complementary wine from your little wine cellar, and there–instant party!

    The problem is, a lot of cooking is engineering, and while it’s not as hard as running a nuclear reactor, it really isn’t as artless as all that. I haven’t seen anything Delia Smith has done in the last decade or so, but from what I’ve read and watched of her, she’s good at breaking down complex recipes into series of manageable steps and combinations of compatible ingredients.

    Vegetarians: genius or madness?

    Hold on–when I swallow this mouthful of steak, I’ll tell you.

    I don’t make a practice of passing judgment on other people’s dietary choices. I’ll only note that, IIRC, lack of milk and meat aren’t good for children’s early development.

    Fast food or fresh food?

    You will not get me to apologize for my once-weekly trip to Burger King for a Whopper w/ Cheese combo with the largest fries and Coke. There’s nothing quite like it to give you that pleasurable feeling of being at the very tippy-top of the food chain.

    If I eat that way every day, though, I start to feel clogged up and crave steamed vegetables and rice for a few meals. And as Alice said, some very quick meals are among the most wholesome and satisfying. I love buttery scrambled eggs on toast with some black pepper as a light dinner, and it takes ten minutes if that to prepare.

    Who would you most like to cook for?

    Uh…my mother cooked most meals I ate until I was eighteen, and my father worked to pay for the ingredients, so I guess it wouldn’t hurt to return the favor. I think they order in or eat out most of the time now, though.

    What would you cook to impress a date?

    I’m not sure “impressive” is what I’d aim for. It seems to me that a better precedent to be setting with date food is “luscious.” Maybe grill up lamb chops and rinse the pan with a glass of wine? And make some mashed potatoes, which are one of the best-tasting foods imaginable when fresh from the ricer and fortified with butter and cream.

    Make a wish.

    I wish for development of more and better GM crops, and for less sanctimony and skittishness on the part of governments about introducing them.

    5 Responses to “And I’ll send you letters / And come to your house for tea”

    1. Maria says:

      “…my stomach is having more trouble than the rest of me adjusting back to life in the States.” I think that may be a common adjustment issue, Sean. My dad lived in Thailand for six months in his early 20’s, and when he returned, American food, “felt like a rock in his stomach.” At least, according to my mom it did. I don’t think I’ve personally ever heard him describe it… It’s one of those family legends about how different cultures have different foods. :-)

    2. carolyn says:

      When I first moved in with Tom, I asked him if he had any cookbooks, and he pulled out a dog-eared copy of Jane Brody’s Good Food Book. I still make her Chicken Peanut Butter Soup at least once every couple weeks throughout the winter — it’s one of my favorites.

    3. Sean Kinsell says:

      I can see that, Maria. The food itself really is denser here. I think most of my problem still is portion sizes, though. (I think in Thailand you take food from communal platters, family style, too? Odd that I don’t remember. Anyway, it makes it easier just to take how much you want.)

      Carolyn, I love that soup! The thicker version of lentil soup is really good, too.

    4. Alice says:

      Glad you did this one! Nice idea about the chops, and I am very glad you do the burger thing too. Moderation uber alles, and all that.

    5. Sean Kinsell says:

      Thanks for the tag, Alice. It was fun to think about.

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