don’t be a hard rock when you know you are a gem. – lauren hill
As soon as I learned to walk, I used my legs to chase my father down our driveway. It was our morning ritual. I would beg him to take me to the coffee shop, where we would sit and sip those sweet and strong chicory roasts, heavy with milky sugar. The men population in Saigon was impressed with my tolerance for the drink, but my father knew I was there as a guardian of his marriage. It was during those young years that I grew to love the jolt of caffeine in the early hours of mornings but it didn’t dawn on me that I was a poor bandage for his lifetime of unrequited love – not until I tried it on myself.
Last week, I woke up from manic dreams of my father, who I haven’t seen or spoken to in years. I had my usual coffee of chicory and condensed milk at my desk. Then the news hit me: he had a stroke. It was the second in his life. Since then, I’ve been locked in my room, paralyzed with mild spouts of agoraphobia. Yesterday, I filed my taxes. Today, I bought some eggs. Mostly, I just sit and watch the movement of photons across my walls. They’ve been entering through the windows of my impenetrable fortress, laying light across the chair, the bed, and the floor. The same floor where I’ve been tracing emptiness with small, repetitive steps. I ran a marathon in my room between waves of nausea and tears, watering my garden of self-empowerment, a proud, visible cage of ribs that surrounds a fist-sized heart. My voice have been repeating the phrase: you have to go see your dad.
Instead, I cleaned my closet. I swept my floor, I took out all of the shoes, I de-cluttered my own mess, and then I took rags and wiped all of the bunnies off of the electrical pipes. I did all of the laundry. All of this, in the span of one day. Then I went back to watching those photons make their way from our star, the sun, in an eternity of eight earth minutes as the heavenly bodies moved and eclipsed each other beyond our fog-shrouded city. I measured gravity, I resisted the forces of magnetism, but I couldn’t quantify my own bloody heart.
In the midst of familial grief, I also dug myself deeper into self-isolation. A cavern of a room that only I am now living, alone, for the first time in four years. My breakup is hard, but it’s just another stone I’ve carved, a missing piece to the bastion I’ve constructed: thick, heavy, bulwarks surrounded by a moat as deep as the Pacific. In reality, I’m just a basket holding water. I’m on the other side of that wall, learning to swim.
If you ask, I will say that I know I am not an island. I need connections, relationships, love. I know this, my heart knows this. My brain does not. While I peck out these words at my keyboard, it’s probably scheming to use it to further isolate my tenuous existence from you, dear reader. I spent the majority of my infancy left to myself, why do I need a blog or even readers? I created this space for myself… right?
I was told that I was taken to the hospital once as a baby. The diagnosis? Not enough food, the doctor said. I had passed out. No one knew. During the first five years of my life, my mother would leave home repeatedly and then my father did too, but only to look for her, without success. I’m told. I would spend this time with my grandmother, who would dutifully feed her grandchildren with food she purchased at the city’s markets. She would bring me one ripe tomato from each trip, which I ate like one does an apple as I watched her butcher chickens. She would slit its throat, holding the wound over a bowl to collect the dripping blood. Once this was over, she would steam the blood. The chicken would then go into a cauldron of boiling water to expedite the removal of feathers. Then, came the cutting… you get the idea.
It’s hard to tell a five year old the meaning of divorce or the distance across the planet away from the chaos of a developing a broken home, but eventually, my infant self was having butchery nightmares about my family similar to the fate of the chickens I ate. Metaphorically, it was a lot more accurate than I had hoped. That’s probably why, eventually, I would choose to eat tomatoes, rather than chickens.
And now, it’s almost tomato season again. I have a box of smoky, sundried tomatoes waiting for a recipe idea, a litany of distractions, and a lot of thinking to avoid. This season, I’d like to think that I will teach my heart to sing, to find the sound of my voice in the presence of friends, to make bridges rather than burning them. Perhaps, even to get real therapy, and not just the green, edible ones I have here. For today, though, a simple idea without too much emotional or physical investments: raw mushrooms, sunchokes, tarragon, and chive oil. I hope it brings you just a glimmer of the meteoric joy of falling stars, and not the eclipsing, bloody shadows of planetary alignments. Maybe next time, we can talk about Peggy.
I love this stuff. I have some right now, and it’s perfect on some room-temperature goat cheese on a bed of airy, crispy crackers. You can spread it on pizza or even eat it straight if you’re brave.
1 bundle of chives, chopped finely
3 oz olive oil
+ Using a food processor, puree olive oil and chives until very smooth. Allow to sit,meld overnight in the fridge. If you are a stickler for texture, strain it with a mesh sieve before serving.
Mushroom, Sunchoke, Tarragon Salad
This salad is a combination of sweet crispy sunchokes and tender, tart and salty mushrooms – the chive oil makes it extra savoury and the tarragon is grassy, fresh. This is enough for one… or maybe two if you’re eating another dish. The mushroom needs time to “cook” in its salty acid bath, so do that in advance while you prep the other stuff for you meal.
Warning: it is well known that eating sunchokes, especially raw ones, will make you gassy. Since I am hanging out by myself this week, it’s a safe bet, but if you don’t want the stigma, you might want to invest in sweet radishes or something even sweeter/crunchier like pears.
1 lemon, juice
1 ts salt
5 small king trumpet mushrooms or 2 large ones (I haven’t tried this with any other types, but I think regular white mushrooms or baby bellas would work ok…)
1 sunchoke, peeled
~20 tarragon leaves
1 TB chive oil (recipe above, allow to come to room temperature)
+ Prepare the mushrooms by slicing them into 1/4″ pieces. Then, marinade them in the lemon juice and salt for approximately 30 minutes. Doing so removes the water so you can drain them – save the lemon/salt for the sunchokes. This makes them tender without actually cooking them – like ceviche! After your mushrooms are tender and soft, drain them, saving the soaking juices, and put the mushrooms in a colander to continue draining. If you don’t do this, the mushrooms will weep water and you will get a soup in the middle of eating your salad.
+ To the lemon/salt brine, add a handful of ice and some water. Then, thinly shave the sunchokes using a mandolin or vegetable peeler. Toss these into the water and allow to sit for about 10 minutes. This makes them crispy and the saltiness makes the sweetness of the chokes even more noticeable.
+ To serve, drain the sunchokes and toss them with the mushrooms, tarragon, and oil. Be sure to separate the sunchokes and spread them out as they tend to stick together into clumps. Serve immediately.