Saturday, May 7, 2011


Once again I’m writing here while sitting in an airport, this time JFK. I’m on my way back to Toronto from the James Beard Cookbook and Broadcasting and Journalism Awards that took place last night. It was, as always, a treat to see people I haven’t been face-to-face with for awhile. And it’s also a pleasure to have a little time in New York to get reminded of other worlds. This time I got swallowed up by the Metropolitan Museum. They have out-of-town memberships, which means that for $50 I can come and go as I please any time I’m in the city.

This trip I headed first to the Alexander MacQueen exhibit, stunning in its inventiveness and wild imagination, as well as its beauty...I hadn’t really understood what a conceptual artist he was. After that I stumbled on the Frank Stella drawings retrospective. In tall small rooms there were large black painted squares, transforming the room each time, altogether trippy and powerful., especially in combination. The impressionist modern Europe rooms I came to next were such a contrast, rich and warm, Berthe Morissette’s couple of paintings gleaming treasures, Manet Monet Sisley, all astonishing, ending with the drunkenness of Van Gogh.

It was time for an airing. Up onto the roof I went, where there are Robert Caro sculptures sharp-edged in the clear air and sun of a perfect early May day, the trees greening in the park below and the city skyline like an imagined landscape.

I wandered down then to see the Cezanne cardplayers, on its last week. It’s a small show about the cardplayer theme not just in Cezanne’s work but by others as well. The chance to compare similar paintings, usually hung in museums far from each other, and to see them side by side in temporary intimacy, is such a privilege.

Back out on the sidewalk under the leafing trees I headed up to the Guggenheim. The Art Gallery of Ontario has a complementary membership arrangement with the Guggenheim, so I was given a member’s ticket and could ramble up the spiral ramp, looking at the show of 1920 to 1918 works from the museum’s collection. I felt no pressure to see it all. When I’d reached my limit (fairly soon, because of all the time I’d spent at the Met), I strolled back down and out the door.

The next stop was at Kitchen Arts & Letters, storied cookbook store on Lexington between 93 and 94. I bought the fat and wonderful new Oaxaca book by Diana Kennedy, a book full of treasures lovingly unearthed and explained in words and photos and recipes. The book won Cookbook of the Year last night, for it is outstanding and remarkable. I can’t wait to try some of the recipes.

But in the meantime I’m heading back to the Burma book saltmine! I saw my editor Ann Bramson while I was here, and she was, as always, so encouraging and positive “I can’t wait to see the Burma book”... How lovely to have that good energy coming from her! Now it’s just up to me to do the subject justice and give her a good book to shape and edit.

I got to spend today in Brooklyn, along Atlantic Avenue and the side streets around: Court, Smith, Henry. Very beautiful and also very interesting to see the gentrification and changes in the neighbourhood. I hadn’t been to Atlantic Avenue for over ten years. Shocking how time flies... and how hard it is to get out of Manhattan!

Of course I had to eat some Yemeni food. The Yemen cafe has moved to an upstairs spot two doors away from where it was and in its place is another Yemeni restaurant called Hadramaut (after the region in southeast Yemen). I was there with Andrea Weigl, who was game to try anything and everything. The television was on, showing footage of the ongoing struggles for democracy in Yemen, and then talking heads. There were men in the cafe eating and watching the TV, but no women apart from us. We ordered Salta, a hot lamb stew with frothy fenugreek sauce in it (there’s a recipe for it in Flatbreads and Flavors, completely yummy). It came with two huge fresh tandoor breads, a clear soup and salad. We also ordered malokiah, cooked jute leaves, which came fresh-tasting and green and silky (some would say slimy), a nice complement to the lamb.

For a “dessert” we ordered a dish I’d never had, “Fatteh Date” it said on the menu (which should really have been fatteh tamar, tamar being date in Arabic). I know of fatteh as a layered savory bread dish, with chicken or legumes layaered with bread; this was described on the menu as a mixture of bread and honey and date. When it came it wasn’t torn bits of flatbread but instead a kind of semolina or coarse bulgur cooked with honey and date, not very sweet, and really delish. It had a slightly chewy texture, and looked like a semolina halwah that had crumbled a little.

Has anyone eaten this elsewhere? Highly recommended.

Usually at JFK while I wait for my Toronto flight I sit at the bar at the corner by the gate and have a draft beer. There’s often an interesting conversation or two to be had with other solitary travellers. But tonight with a bright sky outside and a load of Yemeni food in me, I don’t think I feel like a beer, or anything else to eat or drink. So I’ll just sit here and read my book. Or perhaps it’s time to do a little more editing on the Burma book, maybe on the soups chapter? All right, here I go!

PS The Conservatives and horrible Stephen Harper won a mjority; the compensation is that the NDP have over 100 seats - a first, and a wild swing. Now home and able to connect and post this... Lovely to come home to homemade chicken soup and rice, and DOm and Tashi and a friend, all cosy.

1 comment:

Cori said...

I also can't wait to read your Burma book. I'm a Vancouver writer and am working on my second book, a memoir about being married to a Burmese man. Over 15 years of marriage, I have learned to absolutely love Burmese food but I can't say I've improved in the area of cooking it. I've tried over the years in visits to Rangoon to visit his mother to sit and learn but for some reason, it never tastes the same coming from my Canadian kitchen. My husband is going to love me when I get your book and start cooking. Wish I had the enthusiasm of your editor behind me too - my journey with this memoir has been a discouraging one, in part because of the difficulties writing about Burma.