Verbagram, the Grilled Cheese Edition: A Tall Tale*

The Daily Life Text

Verbagram: (n.) A thingamajibber in which I make up for my crap food photography by telling you a story about the food in question.

A few months ago, this happened:

Don’t quite understand it?
It’s okay. It has taken me lo! all these months to process it myself.
Here is what happened.
We went to our local brewery for the first of their Food Truck Fridays, which is, yes, when food truck arrives at brewery. The truck that week was the Grilled Cheese Truck. It was late getting there and late setting up, which is why Mr. Gooddirt had something like two and a half strong beers before he got into line.
Presumably the ABV contributed to some kind of food-related myopia, because when he delivered our food to the table he dropped off two normal grilled cheese sandwiches, one for me, and one for my friend, and an order of tater tots, and then he weaved a little and said, “Be Right Back,” and then he came back with another two handfuls of grilled cheese.
Well. I thought it was two handfuls of grilled cheese. Basically it was two grilled cheese sandwiches, each stuffed with mac and cheese, and slapped together. The whole thing was glued together by another layer of mac and cheese and more pulled pork.
The woman who is sitting next to Mr. Gooddirt is most likely laughing because she can’t believe he is trying to explain the thing to her and eat it all at the same time.
Also, it arrived in two containers and weighed about as much as a brick.
The next morning Mr. Gooddirt smelled like bacon and could not roll over onto his belly.
True story.
*Not really very tall. In fact, just normal height.

Verbagram 4, A Haiku, and other stuff

The Daily Life Text

Falafel, so plain
Until fried in surprise form,
Cooked like a doughnut.


In other news, I am headed off this weekend to what promises to be a most rewarding writing retreat. Aside from the great editors and agents I’ll get to meet, I’ll also get to finally meet a person I’ve already worked with and spoken to on the telephone, the fantastic Ami Hendrickson. Two other writers I know are going, as well, and the whole thing is masterminded by an editor I know via my MFA program, Melissa Manlove.
I can’t wait. Except for the enormous pile of work I have to do before I take off on Friday morning. Yuck!
Okay. More later.

Verbagram 3

The Daily Life Text

Today in southern California, it’s brisk with a stiff breeze. If I closed my eyes I could imagine myself back in a New York fall again.
The mountains are really busy, making a ton of clouds, which in turn are busy dumping snow on the mountains.
The sun, trying to keep pace with the clouds and the stiff breeze, disappears and reappears when it can. At the moment it’s grey out in my front yard, while in my backyard there’s plenty of blue sky.
Days like this drag me right back to Aix-en-Provence, where I spent the first month of a semester studying abroad. It was our immersive month, where we’d speak French as much as we could before diving headlong into an attempt to live a life in Paris. We arrived in January, just ahead of the mistral season, which rivals our Santa Ana winds here. My roommate Julia and I sometimes ran together in the dark mornings, getting up at five, jogging for half an hour and then scrambling to get ready in time to make the three-mile walk to our campus.
We lived in a room that I’d later learn was pretty much the size of a bedroom in Manhattan, my later home, and our host mother was a single woman with one child and an unruly boyfriend who smoked like gangbusters. It was nearly intolerable, but I’ll always remember our month there with fondness, if only because it was the first time we were truly, truly self-sufficient. Julia and I parsed the directions to school ourselves and fed ourselves in the morning with madeleines dunked in milky black tea that we served in massive cafe-au-lait bowls.
While our host mother slept off another late night with her boyfriend, Julia and I ate by the one weak light in the kitchen, struggled into our coats, grabbed our bags, and stepped out into the brisk early morning. It was always just getting light as we walked out of the apartment, and I remember watching the tops of the cypress trees move as they fought the wind.
The other thing I remember is the clemetines we ate each morning on our way to school. We each always grabbed three, cramming them into our pockets and eating them on the way to school. We put the peels back into our pockets until we could pass a garbage can.
By the end of our month there, my fingers would regularly find white strands of dessicated pith in the seams of my coat pockets, and I imagined my hands smelled like orange at any given time.
Of course, by the time I’d moved to Paris, it was warm enough to not need my winter coat. I bet, if I dragged out that coat today, it might still smell like orange peel and a brisk winter in Aix-en-Provence.
Funny how the brain works. Early this morning, as I was writing a letter to a friend, I was thinking about how much I missed the morning post that came in Paris. Letters. First thing in the morning, with some crusty toast and more millky tea and the fresh butter and jam that went around and around the table on the tea cart my geriatric host parents used…

Verbagram 2, the Raw Fish edition

The Daily Life Text

Our good friend Tim came to visit. We had a packed weekend that somehow managed to include some downtime on our couch and four episodes of American Horror Story, before it jumped the shark. It was fantastic.

It also gave us an excuse to go visit Cousin Richard at his incredible sushi joint. And that gave me an excuse to think about another food-based Verbagram. Because, you know what? I am sick of people describing sushi-grade fish as “like butter.” People. That’s disgusting. Seriously, would you ever eat a stick of butter? Or a pat, by itself? This description makes no sense to me.


Sometimes, you eat something and it tastes like the place it came from. By this I do not mean that when you eat a piece of steak, it tastes like a barnyard smells. I mean that sometimes you eat something and you get an evocation, an impression. Piece of steak, again: Big, open fields, as far as the eye can see. The occasional tree, and a few lone cows, standing here and there, with a bird of prey streaking across the sky. See? Steak tastes of largesse, of generosity, and even maybe of excess, depending on whether or not you get the crumbled blue cheese on top.

Take sushi: The texture: creamy, practically, even though the fish is arguably solid, sitting there on its rice. It yields to the bite easily; maybe because it’s ribboned with fat, if you’re eating a nice piece of salmon. Or maybe, if it’s yellowtail, just because that’s the way a good fresh fish should be.

You don’t get any flavor at all, really, in that first bite. If anything, the vapors of wasabi and fine rice vinegar are the first to hit your palate; and then, finally, an absurdly clean finish, a little bit like you’ve rinsed with really cold seawater.

Your salmon should evoke the day you spent on the banks of a river in Maine, with the early-summer sunlight dappling the current. And your tuna will take you back to the day you spent on a party boat in Brooklyn. Your uni will remind you, briefly, of the time you got washing-machined by the wave you weren’t expecting, that afternoon in Rhode Island.

For Grier, a photo. Because you requested it.

Instagram Rebellion

The Daily Life Text

…Okay, I have a confession. I’ve never used Instagram. And I’ve never had even the slightest urge to. Partly this is down to the fact that I know I take crap pictures. Also, I have no desire to make my crap photos look like more than they actually are, which is … crap photos.

I haven’t given this too much thought, except this weekend I had the following Twitter exchange:


gooddirt: After incredible pea, poached egg, and crostini lunch @littledoms, have terrible craving for smashed peas!


littledoms: @gooddirt attach pic next time. Yum!

See, here’s the thing, okay? Even more than taking crap photos and passing them off as “vintage” or whatever, I hate amateur food photography. It makes me squirm to see folks taking pictures of their food at a restaurant. I don’t understand it, however I might appreciate the results, or “like” them on facebook or retweet them, or whatever.

So I have an idea and a challenge for myself: Each time I come across a dish I like, I will, instead of taking a photo of it, take a verbal snapshot of it. That is, I will write a little ditty describing the dish. I will post the results at my Tumblr as well as here, starting with the aforementioned Little Dom’s dish, above. Here it is:

From a purely literary standpoint, there was no music to it. Even the manager of the joint couldn’t be assed to dress it up: “It sounds really weird,” she said, grimacing apologetically. “It’s peas, poached egg, and pea tendrils on crostini.”

“Hell,” I thought. “Sounds just ugly enough to be right.”

“Right” it was, like a dame in heels and seamed stockings, or coffee, black. The “pea tendrils” were wilted into the crevices of the crostini, much as the yolk from the poached egg sank into those same crevices, and the peas were smashed enough that they fit neatly over the fork tines after you’d loaded the thing with egg, bread, and veg.

For an old hand like me, sustenance could be an art form. But when flavors work well, quotidian matters like “art” disappear.