Introducing a New Series: Our States, Our People, Our Food

Image borrowed from this Clickhole article.

Lately, I’ve been finding myself feeling great despair about the state of affairs in this country. With so much violence against our black and brown brothers and sisters and transwomen and men, ridiculous anti-immigrant and anti-woman presidential candidates, and the complacency around rape culture, to name only a few things, I have been actively trying to remember what I love about this place. Since this blog has been really helpful in guiding me through some of my issues around anxiety and insecurity (public vulnerability is pretty rad), I thought I could do something similarly transformative (for me). Therefore, I’m starting a new and long-term series that will highlight a community in each state, and focus on the resilient and diverse people who make up this nation great. Each entry will go through a select community living in a state, provide a brief and interesting history of that group in that locale, and highlight a dish related to them, which I will have cooked and eaten. Per example, for the state of Alabama I’d like to delve into the history of Africatown’s people (a community formed after a wealthy businessman brought the last known ship filled with captured Africans to the United States on a $100,000 even though the trans-Atlantic slave trade had been outlawed for more than fifty years), and cook something with Ghanian influence.

As somewhat of a nerd(!), I am very much looking forward to the process of researching each state’s communities and its histories of migrants and indigenous people. While some may view this series as somewhat tedious and didactic, I very much believe it will reinvigorate my sense of joy when thinking about this nation. Learning a little about how people have come to be part of strong communities will be a small act of love.

Though I’m trying to be more flexible with my own goals, I’m hoping to publish two of these entries per month. I will continue to post my “regular” stuff, but thought it would be fun to intersperse this series throughout the blog. I probably won’t start this until mid-September, since my husband’s amazing parents will be visiting from Italy. But,  be prepared for some geeky fun, exploration of foods, and a whole lot of love for this country’s diversity!

Initial Exposure

There is an array of amazing work articulating the ways in which the body can/should be understood as a site of knowledge, desire, pleasure, and resistance. Many posit that power and oppression are inscribed onto our bodies, but that we can use our corporeality to resist violence and attain psychic agency. I promise not to quote Michel Foucault or Judith Butler in my inaugural blog post, but I will say this: as someone who has internalized ugliness and beauty, self-loathing and confidence, cultural shame and pride, my body has been both my enemy and my saving grace. And, by extension, my creation and consumption of food has become an important element in disassembling and understanding these dichotomies.

Hello! I’m Yejin, author of this cooking blog and the far-too-exposed-and-vulnerable word-vomit above. I’m a lot of things that are sure to be boring, if listed. What I’m not is a bonafide chef or cook. I don’t make many fancy things, and I don’t always use proper techniques. But I really love to cook and eat. As someone who doesn’t really understand how to have a hobby (without incorporating unachievable expectations of vaguely ‘winning’ something), cooking is the closest thing to an enjoyable activity that I’ve got (unless binge-watching TV counts). Though, to be fair, eating something delicious is kind of akin to my mouth winning a prize, no? You’ll get to know that I’m a pretty high-strung, anxious, and obsessive person, but I’ve found a way to direct these somewhat maniacal energies into something tasty: a weekly menu of meals. Yay for my belly!

Actually, the paragraph above is too reductive. I love cooking, not just because it is a kind of pressure valve. I love the process of preparation, because I can literally categorize everything neatly into boxes (my obsession with categorization and compartmentalization is not always relevant or helpful, in life). I love watching the transformation of a dish’s ingredients. I love being catapulted into a memory by a simple smell. Maybe more important, I adore eating. Food is so fucking amazing. Sometimes, my body doesn’t know how to handle such pleasure, and it produces tears. TEARS. My body can be so dramatic.

This is how I generally feel about food.

This is generally how I feel about food. It excites me.

So, at least to start, I’m going to post two entries per week: the first will share my week’s menu, along with an explanation of why and how I decided on those meals; the second will feature one particular dish and recipe, and I’ll write about the stuff it brings up, for me. It is totally possible that the format and content of the blog will change (AH!), so please bear with me as I figure it out. If any of you have suggestions on better ways to present the schedule of meals or anything else, please let me know! I’m nothing if not willing to improve myself and the stuff I do.

Without further ado, here’s a list of this week’s meals:

  • Broiled salmon filets + jasmine rice + sauteed bok choy in garlic sauce
  • Spaghetti aglio e olio + arugula salad with roasted asparagus, fennel, toasted pine nuts, shaved grana in lemon vinaigrette
  • Marinated steak burritos (in the style of Chipotle – it’s ok to judge me)
  • Penne alla puttanesca + arugula salad with roasted asparagus, fennel, toasted pine nuts, shaved grana in lemon vinaigrette
  • Paprika chicken stew + jasmine rice + arugula salad with roasted asparagus, fennel, toasted pine nuts, shaved grana in lemon vinaigrette
  • Sriracha and soy sauce baked tofu + jasmine rice + gai lan (chinese broccoli) in oyster sauce
  • Margherita pizza + white pizza with speck and sliced onion

I’ll wait to explain my meal selection process for entry #3, since this one’s already long enough to make your eyes cross. Coming up: Recipe for paprika chicken stew + memories of mother.

Before I let you go, I wanted to end the post with this: you’ll learn that I’m simultaneously a person of control and excess. A product of my anxiety, I try to control every element of my life. I am a chronic worrier and over-preparer, and have no idea how people improvise anything (I may have married a jazz musician just to figure that out). Yet, all that control is systematically dismantled and then re-fueled by my excess of feelings, thoughts, and desires. All this to say: I already love you in excess. Thanks for taking part in my journey!