Welcome to the start of 2017. I’ll spare you the usual rant either for or against New Year’s resolutions because Yoda pretty much covered it all with “Do, or do not. There is no try.” Short and sweet, kind of like Yoda himself (and just to be clear, I’m talking puppet-Yoda, not CGI-Yoda; don’t get me started).
The place of first EATING AUTHORS guest year goes to Alexander Jablokov, a brilliant writer I’d never met prior to a quiet Sunday last June in New Mexico when I spent what seemed like hours searching an airport for him, racing up and down escalators, accosting innocent travelers in baggage claim, and annoying airline personnel, all while Rick Wilber kept circling the airport in his rental car and running afoul of the parking police. Eventually, we found Alex and drove off to a week long writing retreat, which is where I learned just how talented an author Alex is, both in terms of his own work, and his ability to provide critical insights into others’ fiction as well.
So, naturally, I invited him to drop by and talk about food.
LMS: Welcome, Alex. Ring in the new year for us and reveal your most memorable meal.
AJ: Now, we’re writers here, and, of course, worried about self-presentation: how does this meal I’m about to tell you about reinforce my platform? Is liking pickled eggs (an old Chicago bar staple) or deep-fried pickles (currently a bar staple here in Boston) consistent with the somewhat snobbish persona I’ve established?
An exotic foreign location suits, as does a local one, as long as it is long-established as a genuine neighborhood place, unspoiled by commercial considerations (long-established places of course never care about making money, authenticity doesn’t have to pay rent). And usually you want interesting (read: status-enhancing) company. A bon mot with that beignet? Of course!
Or should it be degrading and depressing (in an “I was down and out but now I am successful and you are reading my blog post” kind of way)? Shooting cans of Pringles, for example? “Memorable” doesn’t necessary mean “I’d do that again”.
So don’t believe anything a writer tells you. Not even this one. We are calculating little weasels, all of us.
But I sense Lawrence shifting irritably in his seat, worried that the wrong Alexander Jablokov has wandered into his parlor. There is no right one, Lawrence! I’m actually the best of the lot. But, okay: food.
Several careers ago I was a graduate student at the Thayer School of Engineering, number sick, overworked…and late getting my degree. I had taken a job down in Boston, sure I would be done with my thesis in time to go to work and start making money.
I wasn’t. There was still an immense amount of research to get done, and many drafts of the thesis to write. As a result I had to commute from Boston to Hanover, New Hampshire every weekend that fall and winter to work on my project. All my friends had graduated too, so some weekends I had nowhere to stay. I took my tent and camped out at the end of an unplowed road in the woods.
I had two treats during this period. One was reading all the Martin Beck novels by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, recently issued in English. These are Swedish police procedurals written in the 60s and 70s. I read them on the bus, while eating and…instead of working. But I bet you already guessed that part.
The other treat was eating Sunday breakfast at Lou’s. Back then I could manage a lot more food with a lot less effect on my body than now, so I would get eggs over easy, white toast, bacon, still the breakfast I favor.
And then I would finish with a donut. It was a pure circle, plain.
I tend to get distracted by foods that are too busy. I don’t like a lot of different things in my ice cream, I prefer plain bagels, and while I’ve flirted with various fancy vermouth competitors in my Manhattan, like the trendy Carpano Antica, regular red vermouth is what I go back to (Dolin, if you’re pouring).
So that crunchy on the outside, soft and crumbly on the inside, mathematically precise circle was, and remains, the perfect donut for me. And I am not even a big fan of donuts. At least, donuts other than those. There were several that winter, I’m sure, but all are now just one single perfect donut in my memory.
My project involved the Abel Transform, an integral transform for analyzing radially symmetric objects (like an optical fiber or a donut), so that nightmarish math also worked its way into my culinary choices. That is, in retrospect, perverse, but realizing that does not make me like those donuts any less.
I did get my degree and was able to stay down in Boston on the weekends. The end of an era.
Thanks, Alex. Somewhere, beyond the fire and around a bend in Plato’s cave, there is the perfect donut of which all others are mere shadows. I’m thinking it’s a cruller
Next Monday: Another author and another meal!
Tags: Eating Authors