I thought it was winter, with the cold mornings and wet streets, except yesterday I shed my tights and walked about in lower Manhattan (in search of chocolates) with bare arms. Hot weather, we could almost say. Which brings me to cold meals, salads of various sorts, cold rice, cold noodles. The dish I discovered recently has eggplant and mango. The colors are vibrant, the flavor is on the sweet side, and the consistency is a combination of eggplant & mango moistness and the crispness of red onions & fresh herbs. I love this recipe because it achieves a delicate balance between fresh and fried, it is fancy enough for guests, comforting on a warm day, and can be prepared in advance.
 
Make sure to abundantly salt the eggplant, so as to counterbalance the sweetness of the sugary rice vinegar dressing.
 

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The last days have been grey and cold in New York, and every morning I seem to awaken to the sound of cars swishing down the street and lapping small waves onto the pavement. That’s when I know, early in the day, that there will be more rain, wind, gloomy weather. Despite my curtainless windows, my room is dark as winter’s night. Perhaps the ideal weather for writing, warming your hands with tea or simply hot water – it tastes better than cold in autumn – the climate one hopes for reading and writing. While my heater remains cold, and I’m layered in various items of clothing, I prefer to keep myself occupied. This is decidedly stewing weather.
 
There’s something quite magical about stews: I’ve heard that my Japanese grandmother, who preferred western cuisine, was famous for her pot-au-feu; my mother once recounted a wild boar stew she ate, cooked in a cauldron over hot embers, in a room so smoky that she could barely see her food; and when I’m feeling patient, when I’m having trouble writing, it’s easy to throw ingredients into a pot and feel a sense of purpose. There’s an element of wizardry, stones stewing in water until they turn into meat, and we rarely go wrong, no danger of overcooking or creating an ugly dish. Stew—it’s supposed to look like a mess and fall apart with the nudge of your spoon.
 

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Illustrations by Hugo Yoshikawa

There are all kinds of things one can add to a bowl of rice: butter, ketchup, vinegar, a sprinkle of fish sauce, salt, oil, and on, and on, and of course, soy sauce. I’ve seen dozens of people grasp a bottle of soy sauce, when faced with what they see as the bland bowl of white rice, and douse it until each grain is coated in dark brown liquid. Almost every household has soy sauce, from Japan to China to Europe to America. It sits beside the salt, vinegar and olive oil. In fact, we like to add it to all stir fries and anything vaguely Asian. What is soy sauce? It’s made from soybeans, wheat and salt; it’s salty and savory, sometimes even earthy.
 
I grew up on soy sauce: my mum added it to just about everything, though most of the time I could barely taste the hint of soy sauce hidden in a dish. At home we dipped steamed Chinese buns in a mixture of soy sauce and olive oil. The traditional balsamic was promptly substituted by soy sauce. Then I dipped all kinds of breads (baguette, whole grain chunks, even focaccia…) into the soy sauce and olive oil mixture, thinking this was the most natural combination.
 
Soy sauce was the secret ingredient in our tomato sauce, served over steaming spaghetti and topped with grated Parmesan. Soy sauce was added to almost all salad dressings. Stirred-in with watered down mayonnaise, or with oil and lemon juice, it added a flavor to our dressings that always left my friends licking their lips and asking for more.
 

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A contribution by Sarah Sahel
 
Many a time have I woken up to the exhilarating odor of the “crêpe beurre-sucre,” or butter-sugar crepe. In the absolute darkness of my Breton house’s first floor, I could faintly hear the clinking and clanking of dishes from the ground floor, where my grandmother was dancing around the stove. When I finally decided to wander out of my comforter, I braved both the tiled floor’s glacial cold and the general feeling of idleness that shrouded me, as if the oh-so-sweet and familiar aroma were guiding my steps. My grandmother smiled when she saw me, a little girl still half-asleep. She had me sit at the old oak-tree table and placed in front of me a circular plate with three crepes delicately folded into perfectly symmetrical triangles. It only took me a minute to devour them, following an order that my little mind thought strategic, keeping the best one for last. Everything had to be well melted and the butter-sugar balance perfectly in check. Sitting by my side, she looked at me appreciating her cooking with an air of bliss.
 

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City Table:


 
Lately I’ve been thinking more and more about the role our surroundings play in any particular food experience. Think about a pair of greasy Barbacoa tacos eaten on a parking curb in a hot Texas town, now imagine an early spring morning in the Appalachians gathering ramps and morels to scramble with eggs over a camp stove. These are two of my all time favorite dish/place combinations and ones that are, arguably, best left unswitched. The connection can be so strong that if I happened to be hiking, miles from the nearest highway, and was offered said tacos I just might smell car exhaust with each delicious bite. That’s what this series is about: not only the food we’re eating but where we happen to eat it and how profound an effect it can have on our experience. What other classic combinations can we think of?
 

MORE TABLES. . .



 
Musical Accompaniment:
 
The Smiths–Unloveable

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The Smiths–Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before

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Morrissey–Suedehead

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An excerpt from my illustrated novel The Woo:
 
Stop & Shop’s different at night. Desperate. Shouldn’t be here when not working. You couldn’t find a more pathetic way to spend your 20th birthday. Not telling anyone it’s today. I somehow thought I’d be famous by now. Who should really be famous is Justine.
 
Mark holds up two cantaloupes and says: “Nina’s melons!” Ryan throws an apple. It hits Mark’s arm. Nina Lowry? Nina Lanuto? Nina Vacarri? Mark starts juggling oranges and Justine pelts him with green grapes. I’m surprised to feel responsible, like I need people to behave. How do I behave around Ryan now? He acts like nothing happened so I do too, pretending I don’t notice every little thing. I don’t want to know. Nina Scarduzio?
 
Mark buys a gallon of water. Justine pockets a pack of Trident. Thank God Fran’s not on. I don’t know the checkout girl. Ryan smiles at her. She has fake nails. He has no discrimination. I’m starting to feel supremely stupid.