we are all migrants through time. (hamid, 209)
when i think about scrambling eggs, i think about the first girl group i loved, k-pop trio, s.e.s.
s.e.s was managed by sm entertainment, arguably korea’s largest talent management company, and, for a very brief time in the 90s, sm’s thing was to create albums with narrative tracks interspersed between the songs. most of the narrations were forgettable (and it’s a form sm never tried again), but one of the narratives on s.e.s’ third studio album, love, was titled “scramble.”
it was, surprise surprise, about scrambling eggs. the only thing i remember from it is to whisk your eggs in a clear glass bowl.
in a city swollen by refugees but still mostly at peace, or at least not yet openly at war, a young man met a young woman in a classroom and did not speak to her. for many days. his name was saeed and her name was nadia and he had a beard, not a full beard, more a studiously maintained stubble, and she was always clad from the tips of her toes to the bottom of her jugular notch in a flowing black robe. back then people continued to enjoy the luxury of wearing more or less what they wanted to wear, clothing and hair wise, within certain bounds of course, and so these choices meant something.
it might seem odd that in cities teetering at the edge of the abyss young people still go to class — in this case an evening class on corporate identity and product branding — but that is the way of things, with cities as with life, for one moment we are puttering about our errands as usual and the next we are dying, and our eternally impending ending does not put a stop to our transient beginnings and middles until the instant when it does. (hamid, 3-4)
last week brought two disparate books. one was moshin hamid’s much-lauded exit west (riverhead, 2017), and the other chef barbara lynch’s out of line (atria, 2017), one of my personally most anticipated books of the year. i read them mostly at the same time, during the same week, so i decided i’d talk about them both here, despite the fact that they share little commonality..
starting with the hamid — exit west is an Important Book, capital-I, capital-B, and it reads like one. i don’t mean that hamid seems to have set out to write an Important Book, but the prescience of the novel and its clear connection to current events inevitably have made it so, maybe more than hamid intended — or, also, exactly to the extent that he did.
we follow saeed and nadia, a couple who meet in an evening class and start to get to know each other. they aren’t quite dating, not quite an item, when militarized violence begins to take over their city, bringing an end to everything normal and ultimately causing them to flee their home for the west. there’s an element of magic realism to exit west, as transit is done through doors — if you can find the right door (and there is an entire industry set up around these doors), you can walk through and find yourself in another part of the world.
ultimately, exit west reminds us that refugees are human beings. it reminds us that refugees are people who often led lives similar to those we live here in the west; they went to school, went to work, used social media, hung out in cafes, fell in love, smoked pot, got in trouble for staying out all night. refugees are people whose lives were disrupted by conflict, by violence, by war, and they are people who have fled their homes, risking their lives to cross borders and bodies of water with nothing, for nothing but safety and the ability to live their own lives.
i appreciated that hamid doesn’t simply try to inspire sympathy for refugees by presenting them only in the most positive light. instead, he takes us into their conflicts, into ways that refugees, too, flock amongst their own and draw lines between themselves and others, and he shows us the brazenness that is often required for survival — the ability to lay claim to a space that is not yours, to intrude, to demand the right to exist. he shows us that that is human. he shows us that, fundamentally, we are not all that different.
my method of scrambling eggs has gotten lazier over time. in the beginning, years ago when i started cooking eggs, i’d take greater care, whisking my eggs in a nice [clear glass] bowl, adding some cream or water, and making a little show of scrambling them up.
that was then, this is now, and, today, i start with a small saucepan — the higher walls trap steam, which produces fluffier eggs. i add a pat of butter to my cold saucepan, then set that on the lowest possible heat, leaving the butter to melt as slowly as possible so it doesn’t lose all its water content. when the butter is all melted and starting to make noises at me, i turn the heat up to medium-high and crack my eggs directly into my saucepan and add a pinch of salt.
yeah, fuck those clear glass bowls.
for fifty-plus years, i lived within seven minutes of southie, the place where i was born: where i learned to lie, steal and fight; to take any dare and to tell anyone to fuck off; to rise above cement, piercing sharps, and newspapers damp with vinegar; to throw off the terror of hissing pipes, clammy darkness, and the stench of piss; to be staunch in friendship and values and ferocious in effort; to cook, awakening my senses, and then to create; to be open to all the possibilities of life, since, when you come from nothing, you have everything to gain.
so now my radius has expanded, beyond seven minutes, to maybe an hour, depending on traffic. i’m living proof that you don’t have to go far, or ever lose sight of where you come from, to discover and embrace the whole wide world. (lynch, 271)
one of the things i love about chef memoirs and cookbooks is that they can’t help but be full of heart — they are, by nature, love stories.
they’re testimonies to passion, too, not the frou frou romanticized bullshit version of passion touted by modern culture, but the deep-in-your-bones, take-over-your-life kind of obsessive, driven passion that leads someone to spend a ridiculous number of hours a day on the line for shit pay, to cobble together all her savings only to spend it on traveling and eating, to miss weddings and holidays and big personal life events because she has to work.
there’s a part of me that viscerally responds to this because i fucking love it, reading about, talking to, being around people who have that thing they love and are driven by and work their asses off for, especially when it’s to do with food. i can’t get enough of it.
and then there is also this — that my takeaway from chef memoirs is that these people, these chefs who have gone on to illustrious careers, didn’t make it there simply on their brilliance and hard work. they got there because of people.
this isn’t to diminish doggedness and perseverance and intuition in any way, but, in any creative field, hard work is a given, as is a certain measure of natural talent. ultimately, it’s the people who get you places, people who see a special something in you and take a chance on you, people who invest — financially and/or emotionally — in you, people who encourage you and believe in you and give you the feedback and criticism you need to keep being the best version of yourself you can be.
barbara lynch’s story gets right at this. today, she’s a big-name, james beard-award-winning chef and restauranteur, 7 restaurants and a catering company to her name, but she came from nothing. born and raised in south boston, she built herself from the ground up, working her ass off and clawing her way into her dreams, but she didn’t do it alone. there was the home ec teacher who insisted on letting her repeat the class so she’d stay in school. there were the chefs who hired her despite her inexperience; there were the investors who backed her financially; and there were her friends, the ones who might have thought she was reaching for the stars but stood by her and have been there for her through the years.
what i particularly love is that lynch doesn’t take any of that for granted and is dedicated to returning all that support back into the culinary scene in boston. she’s committed to education, not interested in simply running kitchens that cooks move through but in creating spaces where chefs can be nurtured, can grow into their skills, and can learn to fly. she’s committed, too, to boston, to maintaining a food industry and culture that encourages innovation and helps homegrown talent and gives them space to expand, so boston, as a city, can grow.
basically, my takeaway from out of line is that barbara lynch is one fucking badass.
i love that, seeing young chefs really shine. sometimes, they’ve been learning and then there’s a sudden breakthrough moment, when they crush it. in others, like kristen [kish], there’s a certain magic or inborn skill, which they just need a chance to express. either way, these are the times when it’s thrilling to be a mentor. (lynch, 196)
this is what i envy — i don’t envy people their careers. i don’t envy people their successes, and i don’t envy people their books or writing styles or voices. i can grow my own career; i can find my own success; and i have my own voice, my own style, my own stories to tell.
what i envy people are people.
i envy people their partners, their support systems, their people with whom to do life. i envy people their mentors. i envy them their guiding lights, their packs. i envy people, people.
this isn’t to dismiss the people in my life who are and have been and continue to be amazing and supportive because i’m lucky to have incredible, generous people who support me and care for me. it doesn’t negate the fact that i do wish i had more community, though, that, sometimes, i wonder if my social group might look different, might be stronger in certain ways had i gone for that MFA (which, to be honest, i didn’t — and still don’t — want). it doesn’t negate the fact that i wish i had more people in my life with whom to share the things i love.
and here’s this, too — i know that this envy stems a lot from insecurity and fear. like, i can go around saying that i’m a writer, i’m working on a book, but i carry my fair share of imposter’s syndrome, that i’m not really a writer until i’ve been published, until i have an agent, until i have a book deal. i’m not really a writer until someone says i am, until someone in publishing is sitting squarely in my corner and vouching for me. it’s stupid, and it’s bullshit, but it’s there.
and, then, there is the personal fear, that belief that i am too broken to be loved or wanted or known in that “until death do us part, in sickness and in health” sort of way. it’s hard to believe that anyone would look at me with my suicidal depression and anxiety and ADHD and type 2 and think that i am someone worth taking a risk on, worth investing a future in — and, because i do not see myself as someone worth that risk, i look at other relationships in want and envy and feel that emptiness in my own life and wonder if i will feel like this forever.
this envy is not something i’m proud of, and it’s something i actively work constantly to quell. i remind myself that this is stupid, it’s bullshit, there’s no rationale for this. i remind myself that, if someone were to use my mental health as a reason not to work with me or be with me, then that professional or personal partnership is likely one i didn't want, anyway. i remind myself that i have great people in my life, people who may not be physically in los angeles but spread across the continent and around the world, but people who care for me and want for me and love me.
sometimes, though, a book like out of line comes around at a time when i’m feeling particularly vulnerable and alone, stranded in a city i hate, where i know very few people, have no close friends, and have no community, and it simultaneously inspires me and hits me where it hurts. i actually had to put out of line down for a few days because, one, lynch has this way of describing food that made me so annoyingly hungry and, two, it was compounding all my loneliness and homesickness and reminding me of the things i want and would love to have — a mentor, a guiding force of some kind, someone to take my hand and say, “hey, you’re doing okay; you haven’t fucked everything up.”
because, despite fully believing that we need to rely on ourselves first instead of seeking external affirmation, i have to admit — sometimes, we all need that kind of validation in our lives. we all need to know we belong somewhere.
what i appreciated most about out of line is lynch's lack of self-consciousness. lynch isn’t concerned with making a defense of her life or the decisions she’s made along the way, and she’s not writing these things down to impart some deep, moral wisdom — she’s not here to judge you for your shitty life decisions. she’s telling stories from her life, and they’re oftentimes hilarious, always full of heart and life and vigor. there’s a gleefulness running through the book, too, a happy, contented nostalgia tinged with the sober awareness that maybe things weren’t all madcap hilarity, that maybe things could have been, should have been different — there shouldn’t have been so much reckless drinking and drugging; there shouldn’t have been sexual violence and abandonment; there shouldn’t have been so much loss.
lynch isn’t one to linger, though, isn’t one to prettify shit or dramatize them, and what she offers in her memoir is the matter-of-fact kind of wisdom that comes from retrospect, from having lived through the years, fighting her way through every step of the way. things didn’t come easy to her, and she had a fair number of limitations to overcome — ADD, dyslexia, depression amongst them — but she never took “no” for an answer and found her own way through.
and i loved this so much about out of line — that lynch has delivered us a book full of frank honesty, hilarious bluntness, a tendency just to say what she wants to say, no bullshit, no pretenses, no apologies. it’s refreshing to see, a woman who is who she is, who is proud of who she is and where she comes from and who she is still becoming. she isn’t perfect, but no one is, and that’s okay because she’s trying and fighting. most of all, she is a woman who models what she believes and is giving back what she has received, trying to be to others who others have been for her, and she is a helluva woman, indeed.
amazingly, there were investors willing to gamble on my dream. i remember meeting the first one face-to-face. i was so anxious that i practically dissociated from my body, circling it like a soul in a near-death experience. hard as i tried, i couldn’t work up my usual fuck it, i’ll figure it out attitude. this wasn’t like bullshitting a cruise-ship captain to get a job. it was much more intimate, exposing my heart — my deepest, most private vision of my own future — to a judge who would decide it it was worthy.
my whole life i’d had to fight — to teach myself, to achieve, to prove what i could do, to overcome a million doubts and fears, including my own. now, someone had given my skills and accomplishments a definite value, in dollars. that degree of respect stunned me, touching me at level deeper than any glowing review or award. it granted me a professional stature that i had hardly dared to envision for myself. (lynch, 148-9)
when it comes to scrambling eggs, i find that a rice scooper works best. i keep the heat on medium-high and get scrambling with my rice scooper, not frantically or hurriedly but gently, giving the eggs a few turns, flipping them onto themselves. i like my eggs soft-scrambled, so i turn the heat off when they’re just set and no longer runny but still look wet and shiny, which doesn’t take long at all, a few minutes at most. i give them one more turn with the rice scooper off the heat before piling the eggs on a slice of buttered toast and eat them immediately with a cup of strong, hot coffee.
that’s my lazy version.
if you’re feeling more ambitious and want heavenly eggs, here’s the 45-minute version from out of line. i haven’t tried it yet, but i will this weekend. as it goes, the only thing i’ve been cooking since my type 2 diagnosis are eggs.
one of the dishes [marchesa] mastered was scrambled eggs a l’escoffier, which is a forty-five minute process. you melt butter in a pan over low heat, then just perfume it with a clove of garlic speared on the tines of a fork. after whisking the eggs lightly in a bowl, you very gently pour them into the pan and let them set. every ten or fifteen minutes, you walk by and give them a tiny nudge with a rubber spatula until they’re done, more heavenly and creamy than any scrambled eggs you’ve ever eaten. (lynch, 218)