Currently: February 2020
categories: currently, unquiet things
I hate looking at my face in photos that other people have taken of me.
It’s hard to articulate why you think your best angles are your best angles, because quite frankly when we look at ourselves, I’m fairly certain that all we see are our flaws. (If you’ve evolved beyond this, I tip my hat to you.) My weak chin, massive forehead, my wonky tooth, my squinty, asymmetric eyes, my weird albino mole, and conversely, that dark splotchy sun-spot–I have been evaluating, assessing, and critiquing these problems with my gargoyle face in photos for …well. My entire life.
Our friends, however, aren’t as intimately familiar with how hideous we believe that we are; they don’t examine our repulsive facial topographies in the mirror every day (they’ve got their own faces to deal with, I imagine) and since they probably think we’re decent-enough looking humans, they are not as circumspect and calculated as we are in capturing our own portraits on film. I am certain that anyone who has ever been tagged in a friend’s Facebook photo looking like a chubby, inbred goblin is mortifyingly familiar with this oversight on the part of our friends, and this is why I think we need consent forms and NDAS and binding contracts promising that they will never ever ever tag us in a photo on Facebook unless we have pre-approved said photo. In my opinion, there is no betrayal quite so heinous as being marked as yourself by a “friend” in a particularly ugly photo.
Anyway, I had some author photos taken last weekend. I tried not to be too critical of them afterward; they were shot by my brother in law and I think he did a great job! He made me feel comfortable, and I knew I wasn’t going to wind up looking like anyone else other than me. (I am terrified of getting my makeup done, because, as part of the process, I may be given those terrible fuzzy caterpillar Instagram eyebrows; I am so scared of this that I wore exactly zero makeup in these photos except for some tinted moisturizer. My eyebrows may be non-existent, but at least they are not Eugene Levy-levels of lepidopteran larvae hovering above my eyeballs.) These photos came out looking exactly like me, for better or worse. But the one above is my absolute favorite. “Cackling into the void,” a friend of mine captioned it. And I don’t think anything captures me better than just laughing at how scared and ugly I feel all the time. It’s kinda hilarious. And sad. But mostly funny!
One thing that -mostly- never makes me feel sad or scared or ugly though, is spending time in the kitchen. (Just don’t ask me about the time I had the “brown rice risotto meltdown”! It was just last week. Too soon.)
Last year, thanks to the recipe and encouragement of dear Sonya, I tried my hand at making gravlax; this year, I thought…why not make the bagels and cream cheese to accompany it?
This time around I went with Brad Leone’s gravlax recipe from this episode of It’s Alive. I left out the turmeric because that just seemed…a little weird. The peppercorns and coriander seeds smelled so beautiful; sharp and fresh and floral and a bit citrusy, and I wish I could wear the glittering finery of this salt and sugar sprinkle half as well as this little slab of salmon!
Did I feel the slightest bit of trepidation contemplating the creation of homemade bagels? Maybe. But even bad bagels had the promise of being pretty freaking amazing, and please indulge me when I tell you that these were not bad bagels. Were they perfect? Lordy. No.
Were they a lot of work? Like maybe a thousand times the effort of going to Bagel King? Yes, they were. Were they probably twice as expensive? Yes, they probably were.
Were they absolutely worth the mess and the effort? Oh yes. And they were even more delicious knowing that I made the dough, I kneaded the dough, I shaped and boiled and I baked the dough, and I had a hand in nearly 100% of the processes that brought these wee bagel bebes into existence. I didn’t grow the grains and grind them into flour. And that was a pre-packaged everything bagel seasoning (it needs more salt!) But other than that…I did it. And that feels pretty amazing.
The bagel recipe is from Joshua Weissman, and I chose it because he wasn’t adding extra ingredients like malt extract and vital wheat gluten. Those might have made the end product tastier, but I didn’t feel like futzing around with them. The cream cheese is really more of a “cream cheese-like spread” and the recipe is from Chef John of Foodwishes. I really dig how he compares the cheesecloth marks on the spread to the pattern that fishnet stockings make on the flesh of someone’s leg. I think the world needs some erotic foody fanfiction from Chef John, but maybe that’s just me, hee hee.
Since we are on the topic of food (and if we’re not, let me bring it back to what’s really important here) I’d like to tell you about this soup.
We were low on stores and I didn’t want to do any extra shopping. I had a really excellent chicken stock I’d made from the remnants of this chicken recipe, a handful of old vegetables, and two half-full bags of dried baby lima beans. I am not sure why I had two bags, and why there was an equal amount of beans missing from both, but I suppose that shall remain a kitchen mystery. I soaked the beans in some cold water for a few hours, and then I chopped and sauteed two celery stalks and two carrots with three cloves of garlic, minced, in a splodge of olive oil. I would have added onions, but I had none, so subbed in a hefty tablespoon of onion powder, along with some salt and pepper. I added the soaked beans and stirred them around with the veggies for a few minutes or until everything looks friendly with each other and smells lovely and then I added several cups of broth and a bay leaf or two. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until the beans are as tender as you like and the soup starts to thicken up a bit.
I used to hate bean soup as a kid, but I think this one is better than the one my grandmother used to make me eat. It was actually quite delicious. Sorry Mawga!
RE: my Stephen King project (here’s a link to a spreadsheet if you are interested! It’s…a bad spreadsheet. Spreadsheets are not my thing.)
So far in 2019 I have read The Institute, The Dead Zone, and The Outsider; I have watched Pet Sematary (2019), IT Chapter Two, In The Tall Grass, Doctor Sleep. I am currently watching The Outsider television series, listening to The Dark Half, and reading The Gunslinger.
Of course, I am reading other things, too, alongside this Stephen King madness, but still…I think I am making progress!
Aoi Birdland says
Everything looks so wonderful! And what is it about beans? I remember sobbing uncontrollably as a child because my mother wanted me to eat baked beans.
S. Elizabeth says
Right?! Bean soup is AWFUL when you're in your first decade but somehow as the decades piles up it becomes more than a bowl of beans. I think our collected childhood memories (even memories of how we hated it) add a strange and wonderful seasoning to what is otherwise a pretty humble and unexciting dish.
ericka eckles says
Mmmm those recipes sound so good but no where near so amazing as that photo of you with your Pre-Raphelite locks. I totally understand issues with having your photo taken, for years I would go out of my way to avoid being near anyones camera, but then once I learnt to knit I think I was so chuffed and proud of what I'd managed with sticks and string that I wanted to show that yes, I made this... I fairly recently found up an old photo booth snapshot taken for a train pass, and I couldn't believe how lovely I looked at 21 though at the time I hated my face so maybe looking back at me now when I'm in my sixties or seventies I'll think "hmmm, not too bad at all" xx (also it is so exciting about the author photos)
S. Elizabeth says
And these locks are minus the eight inches of hair I just had chopped off, last month, too! Thank you so much for the kind words :)
And yes, I find myself looking at photos from years ago and thinking wow...you weren't nearly as hideous as you remember yourself being! And I remind myself to look at present-me with the eyes of future-me. I am not sure if it works but it's worth at least thinking about...
Your kitchen witchery is admirable. "After all you are the undisputed Merv of being a food perv". That is my favorite recent pic of you as well. I love it. Soup fulfills some void in my soul like no other thing. It's weird but I'm leaning into it.
I'm incredibly psyched about your new book project! Also, the photo looks lovely! I can empathize, all too well, about having a very iffy relationship with portraits. Even though I have been writing for several years now, I actually have never had a proper author's photo taken. Weird. Also, the food adventure is as riveting looking as it looks delicious.
liz t says
I watched the youtube video of that cream cheese and his voice is so great! "this is not something you do because its cheaper, or easier, or because it's quicker. It's actually, like, the opposite of those things." Gotta love that candor.
S. Elizabeth says
HA! YES! I love Chef John so much. He's got that certain goofy sense of humor that I love so much and I actually think it's the most attractive quality in the world <3
Ahh I love your author photo!! You look so happy, kinda like the void is just absolutely delighting you :). All the food looks amazing too!!
S. Elizabeth says
Thank you! It is a really delightful photo! I'd love it if that was the one that they'd go for, but I have a feeling it's probably not going to be. Ah, well! I love that it exists, anyway.