You might need to become a member of the Artichoke Aficionados Club?
Or join a 12-Step Program: Artichokes Anonymous?
There’s been a disturbing trend toward autosarcophagy here at Artichoke Heart Headquarters, what with the advent of artichoke season and all. Sometimes I like to steam up a couple in the vegetable steamer for a light dinner. I dip the leaves in Miracle Whip Lite, into which I mix in gourmet green curry spice. I love how the artichokes keep one busy for awhile with the pleasure of eating . . . it takes time to peel off each leaf, and scrape of the soft nutty rind of flesh with one’s teeth. I love how the flavor’s complicated and difficult to pin down: Is it nutty? Is it bitter? Is it sweet?
I re-upped my artichoke stash at the grocery store yesterday, and in typical small-town fashion, the contents of my grocery cart were fodder for scrutiny and commentary.
“What are these?” the cashier asks.
“Artichokes,” I reply.
“How do you eat them?”
I explain, but avoid getting all Antonia’s Line about it.
“That’s weird,” the cashier says. “That’s really, really weird.”
Yes, maybe weird . . . but delicious. All you have to do is to steer clear of the thorns, which are readily apparent. Because of their thorniness.
* * *
My father still does all of his writing on an Olivetti Studio manual typewriter. Sometimes I mock him for being a Luddite. Sometimes I have to order him typewriter ribbons from eBay. Amusingly, his typewriter is now considered somewhat of a collectible vintage antique.
I learned how to type (and write) on a manual typewriter. I admit, there is something highly satisfying about writing and having the sound of one’s writing bear a vague resemblance to artillery fire. It makes one feel busy, and as if one is producing something terribly noisy and important.
I periodically switch things up in terms of writing tools when I feel that I’m getting potentially complacent or lazy. Sometimes I worry that it’s almost too easy to word process. You can go in and change one word here, and one word there, and poke at it from what occasionally feels like maybe too much of a distance. When I draft by hand, it feels more connected/visceral. More deliberate. When I type, the process of revision really means to re-vision. Every single word has to be retyped, and therefore reconsidered and redeliberated. The same with every line break. Goldsmithery. Hammerplating.
With that in mind, please meet the most recent soon-to-be acquisition at Artichoke Heart’s House of Wayward Cats & Co. This is the Olivetti Valentine, designed by Ettore Sottsass in 1969. (I found it for a song! Well, okay, maybe not quite a song . . . more like a recitative and aria . . . but it usually goes for an entire opera). Not only is it a typewriter that nostalgically evokes my own literary roots — a back to the source kind of thing — but it is also a Design Icon!
Featured on page 245 of Landmarks of Twentieth-Century Design: An Illustrated Handbook, by Kathrynn Hiesinger & George Marcus, the description contained therein reads as follows: “Having used color and referential shapes to humanize the office equipment he had designed for Olivetti since 1957, Ettore Sottsass, Jr. further personalized it with the Valentine typewriter he designed with Perry A. King for use at home. Rejecting the cool efficient image of Olivetti’s earlier portable models, he conceived a typewriter that would visually suggest an alternate context and be appreciated less for its function than for its novel design–of orange-red molded plastic accented by two yellow buttons on the ribbon spools (“like the two eyes of a robot”). It was made, he said, “for use any place except in an office, so as not to remind anyone of monotonous working hours, but rather to keep amateur poets company on quiet Sundays in the country or to provide a highly colored object on a table in a studio apartment. An anti-machine machine, built around the commonest mass-produced mechanism, the works inside any typewriter, it may also seem to be an unpretentious toy.”
What could be better than that?
Lately, I’ve been fickle about apples–every week declaring another variety my current favorite. A few weeks back it was the Cameo. Before that the Pink Lady. Last week it was Braeburns. And Galas, to me, taste like flower petals. Now, though, I’m in love with the Pacific Rose. They are honeyed and crisp and big and pinky-red and round and well . . . just so darn pretty.
And then there’s the fishnet bag full of Clementines. So bright and juicy, small and sweet. Their thin, sunripe skins making my hands fragrant.
* * *
Last week I read fiction at NSU in Abber Dabber, SD and visited with my dear friend P. at her charming new house. It was fun to read and talk about the music school stories, and gossip about my characters behind their backs. All in all, a great trip.
* * *
In the wake of the recent Shower Curtain Mauling by Crazed and Ferocious Beastlets, I was forced to go shower curtain shopping. I found the curtain depicted below (which is fabric, and hopefully therefore less gnawable) on clearance at Target, but it’s just not, well . . . doing it for me.
I confess, that I tend to have unreasonably high expectations from a shower curtain. I want it to coordinate with my towelage and my bath mattage. I need it to complement the claw foot bathtub, but I’d like for it to be modern at the same time. I want it to brighten up the room. I want it to be a little bit of a surprise. I want it to be aesthetically pleasing, but not take itself too seriously. (What’s worse than a pretentious shower curtain, yes?) I want a touch of whimsy, but I don’t want the shower curtain to be goofy, because the shower curtain’s visible from most of the rooms in the apartment. So it also needs to function organically within the apartment-at-large. And, as if this order weren’t already tall enough, the shower curtain apparently now needs to be gnaw-resistant.
So here are the current candidates under consideration. I’m leaning toward Option #1 (Geisha kitsch! On the shower curtain!) vs. Option #2 (Entomologically correct butterflies! On the shower curtain!), but perhaps you, oh blogosphere, would like to cast your vote in the Who Wants to be Artichoke Heart’s House of Wayward Cats’ Next Shower Curtain Primaries?
* * *
Look closely. Here is the vet-assistant-with-no-pants toy that Yuki likes to prop up against the futon pillows in the middle of the night for me to find in the morning. Because she’s funny that way.
Yuki has named the vet-assistant-with-no-pants toy shortmark. Because she’s just funny that way, too.
* * *
Also? I’m considering moving my headquarters over to WordPress.
That is all.
I’m rushing around today because I’m a No-Goodnik and a Procrastinator. (Is it me, or does the word procrastination always sound just a little bit naughty, like some sort of specialty fetish?) But a few quick snippets:
First of all, I would like to confess that I’m obsessed with artichokes. So much so, that one of my secret desires it to someday attend the Castroville Artichoke Festival. The Agro-Art involving artichokes, in particular, would be worth the trip.
You should also probably know that I occasionally like to visit the Artichoke Advisory Board webpage. Is it wrong that I sometimes fantasize about being made an honorary member of the Artichoke Advisory Board? I particularly like to check in on the Artichoke News link. I mean, how can one resist a headline such as: “California Artichokes Basking in Cool Summer Days for a Season of Great Summer and Fall Fun”? It’s fucking hypnotic . . . I’m telling you.
And finally (I love this): the heartichoke.
UPDATE TO PUMPKIN UPDATE
Behold the glory of the irrationally- and hugely-coveted Albino Pumpkin! It’s albino-ness, in tandem with its pumpkin-ness, have left me beside myself with happiness. When I snagged it out of the parking-lot pumpkin display at the Hy-Vee this week, I wandered through the aisles in a blissful haze (which, okay, may have been partially exacerbated by general lack of sleep and aggressive over-caffeination), and I wanted to hold up my Albino Pumpkin and show it off to passers-by: See? Look at my Albino Pumpkin. Isn’t it marvelous? But I didn’t. Because that would have been dorky.
So I’ll just post pictures of my Albino Pumpkin for everyone to admire on the internet, instead. (Which, realistically, may even escalate the Dorkage Factor, I realize, but you know what? Too fucking bad!)
Thoughtful readers have kindly taken the time to notice that The Bean Bean has plumped up rather nicely from the tiny, sickly smidge of an abandoned kitten that he was upon his arrival at the Artichoke Heart House. He was so tiny and wispy and frail that I nicknamed him The Beansprout, which later became The Bean Bean. Of course, now that he’s filling out so nicely, perhaps he’s turning into a veritable Garbanzo Bean?
I know, I know . . . I’ve been Cat and Pumpkin Blogging for three straight entries now. What can I say? The semester’s been kicking me in the ass a little bit these past few weeks. Which seems to cause, well . . . obsessive Cat and Pumpkin Blogging.
Having since learned that the Albino Pumpkins referenced below are also tasty, I was bound and determined to Get Me Some of That the next time I stopped by the grocery store. Sadly, though, all the Albino Pumpkins were gone today! Needless to say, I am bitterly, bitterly disappointed. Even a little bit depressed, to tell the truth.
As I write this, Yuki and The Bean Bean are leisurely circling around the apartment, idly playing with rubber super balls. This is how they play: they carry around the balls in their mouths and wander around with these disconcertingly large balls in their jaws. Periodically, they drop the balls on the floor, so that they bounce, and their heads bobble up and down as they track the waning bounce of the ball. When the balls are through bouncing, they pick them back up in their mouths and wander around some more. There is something oddly hypnotic about the sound of rubber bouncing against the hardwood floors.
All throughout the day today there were ladybugs thumbtacked to the ceilings and studding the window panes. I find their carcasses limning the sills and floorboards of the apartment, floating in the kitchen drain. They have a sharp, fresh scent–like grass clippings, only with the hint of something more bitter. I wonder where they all go at night?
It’s an achingly beautiful, sun-dappled October day, particularly in contrast to some of the gray, damp days here earlier this week. On Thursday, after being overcast throughout much of the day, night was tucked in with a soft, cool sheet of threadbare fog. Today, though, is perfect.
Somehow, over the course of the week, there’s been a Domestic Breakdown that’s taken place behind my back. A coup d’etat bringing to power a new regime of Domestic Sluttiness has seemingly transpired. Furthermore, all efforts at Domestic Reconaissance have been rapidly shot down by guerilla sniper fire.
In short, it’s really revolting and I feel as though I really ought to do something about it, but I’m not going to until I get a satisfactory chunk of writing done today. Unless, of course, it’s too revolting for me to be able to write (a distinct possibility, in fact), in which case I’ll have to get on it right away.
After being sleep-deprived all week, I feel a lot more sane and a lot more capable now that I’ve had two nights of solid eight-hour sleep. Well, okay, “solid” is an exaggeration. There’s usually a point in the night (usually around 4:00 or 5:00 a.m.) where The Bean Bean insists on vigorously grooming my head, frantically pawing through my hair like a gerbil on a treadmill, and/or obsessively gnawing on my scalp and hair. When this becomes too disruptive, I sometimes have to put The Bean Bean out of the room. When this happens, he rounds up all of the fat crinkly cat toys and, one by one, shoves them underneath the slat below the bedroom door as Compensatory Offerings. I can hear their fat crinkly cat toy bodies crinkling and crunching away as he pushes them through. After he’s slid one underneath the door, he puts his head low to the ground, and mournfully peers in at me from underneath the door. I can see his eyes glowing in the small space of the slat while he looks at me. By the time morning arrives, there’s a row of crinkly toys lined up in front of my bedroom door.
When I was at the grocery store the other night, I saw an employee pulling on large blankets over the pumpkin display out front, as if to tuck them all in and keep them warm for the night. I also noticed that in the midst of the orange pumpkins there were three large albino pumpkins. They were white, with an oddly bluish undertone.
Secretly, I desperately, desperately covet one of these albino pumpkins for my very own.
There have been all sorts of wacky hijinks and shenanigans going on over at Fragments from Floyd, leading up to the fact that Fred has given everyone a writing assignment, and is, furthermore, collecting assignments over at Fragments. It should also be noted that Fred’s being kind of a scary hardass about this, and isn’t allowing anyone to claim that their Dog has Eaten their Hard Drive, etc. The writing assignment is as follows:
Is there a food or dish that you detested as a child that you like as an adult? Can you pinpoint the moment when you gave that food a second chance? How, in general, has your sense of taste changed? Think about the kinds of words that we use to describe taste — sweet, sour, tangy, spicy.
As a child, the presence of individual artichokes on the dinner table always seemed to me to be somewhat of a personal affront. There would be three of them — one artichoke placed smack dab in the center of each of our dinner plates — presented as the evening’s entree, with dollops of Mayonnaise (or, to be more accurate, Miracle Whip), for dipping, served to the side in delicate Japanese rice bowls. My mother would cook them up in her newly-aquired pressure cooker, which at that time seemed like the most “Space Age” and Jetson-esque of home kitchen appliances. I didn’t get it. I was being made to eat what was obviously a thistle. There were thorns, sharp thorns, on the end of each leaf and the process of scraping off a thin rime of flesh from each leaf with one’s teeth certainly didn’t seem to me to yield, even cumulatively, anything that even remotely qualified as actual sustenance.
And like I said, I didn’t get it. Did we have to eat overgrown thistles for dinner because we were poor? (My mother certainly made a big production of frequently noting how my piano lessons and ballet lessons were were practically bankrupting them, although from a more adult perspective, I don’t quite see how this would be entirely possible.) I would go on to resentfully contemplate my classmates joyously eating Happy Meals at McDonalds like the families on T.V. commercials . . . I myself had never eaten a Happy Meal nor actually been to a McDonalds, so I was not only inextricably convinced that this was what everyone else was doing for dinner but that they were happy doing it.
And it would begin to seem that the artichokes were yet another way by which my parents were foisting their eccentricities upon me . . . making me stranger and weirder than I already was to start with, and thus opening me up to further childhood ridicule. I mean, wasn’t it bad enough that I was always taking flack for being half-Japanese, overly brainy, hopelessly geeky, and inappropriately attached to my best friend to the extent that I was constantly being called a lesbian? Not to mention the fact that I had to wear orthopedic shoes, weirdly unfashionable glasses due to extreme myopia (my father picked the glass frames out of a catalogue . . . he said they were “cute” . . . and quite frankly, I think they reminded him of the glasses the Japanese girls who worked as typists at Camp Ojima in the 1950’s were wearing) and, sin of sins, highwater pants during an era of bell bottoms, due to the fact that my mother always sewed my pants way too short because she was constantly worried that I would “trip and fall” otherwise.
This was a time in my life when, more than anything else, I thought that I just wanted to be normal, for a change, whatever that meant . . . normal enough to “pass,” at any rate, and my parents weren’t helping. And while the artichokes were not, gastronomically speaking, all that revolting (even though the part about artichokes being a thistle, and the attendant bunches of thistle down seemed somewhat outre to me) it was what the artichokes represented that I found particularly troublesome. (Admittedly, though, I used to find Miracle Whip profoundly distasteful. The combination of a sour/tangy vinegar taste with more of a sweet/creamy flavor and texture just seemed wrong . . . upsetting, unnatural, and wrong).
Artichoke Night at our house would inevitably bring out my mother’s whimsy, dreamy, philosophical side. Sooner or later, amongst the carnage of tooth-marked leaves and thistle fluff, she would be moved to ask, “Who you think was first person who going to eat an artichoke? Do you think maybe they starving somewhere and there’s nothing else to eat, so they going to try it?” She might also go on to add, “This is so-called ‘finger food.’ This good diet food because take so long to eat that get bored and lose interest after awhile so not so hungry.” (My mother’s dinner table hypothesizing also included observing which item on the plate everyone would eat first at Thanksgiving and basing large-scale characterizations and preferences on this selection. “See! I guess right! You always eat stuffing first thing! I can tell what you like by what you eat first. You just like your American grandma.” And did she mean that she knew what kind of a person I was like by what I was eating first, or that she could tell what my favorite food was? But here’s the thing . . . on a given plate, I never eat my favorite food first . . . I start off with my least favorite, and progressively work my way up to the item that I think is the most delicious, saving the best for last. So the question is . . . did my mother think that stuffing was my favorite food, or my least favorite food at Thanksgiving?)
Over the years I have become comfortable with my own strangeness, my Otherness, and have come to understand that normalcy is an illusion, and a delusion . . . that the emotional, psychological, political, and spiritual costs of attempting to attain this illusion/delusion are very, very high. Particularly if one is a bi-racial, lesbian womyn. It seems significant that all of my favorite foods of the vegetal variety these days are a bit off-the-beaten-track: artichokes, brussel sprouts, okra, to name a few.
About a year ago I was in the local grocery store, browsing through the vegetable section, when I saw the small display of early spring artichokes. Although I had eaten pickled artichoke hearts, or ordered any number of dishes that incorporated artichoke hearts with much relish over the years, I hadn’t actually eaten an entire artichoke since I left my parents’ house. They were strangely and compellingly beautiful, and I hungered for them. I went home and consulted The Joy of Cooking to figure out how to cook an artichoke, since I didn’t have a pressure cooker and really had no concept how to prepare them otherwise. Then I immediately procured a vegetable steamer off eBay, and a week later I was eating artichokes for dinner again, and found that they had become a reminder of home . . . a Comfort Food.
There is a wonderful movie called Antonia’s Line, in which one of the central women characters asks the pretty schoolteacher who has come over to tutor her gifted daughter, “Have you ever eaten an artichoke?” She then goes on to explain that the artichoke is considered a great delicacy, that the leaves can be dipped in a vinaigrette, and as she describes how to eat an artichoke, it soon becomes clear that the sensuality of her description has turned into the language of seduction . . . the women fall in love. It is a hilarious scene, and also unspeakably sexy. And yes, in addition to being a Comfort Food, perhaps the aritchoke is also an unexpectedly erotic vegetable, as well. It is, after all, not only a thistle, but also a flower. Consider scraping off the delicate, nutty-flavored meat of the petals with your teeth as you pluck them off, one by one. Consider the hidden inner layer of flimsy purple petals, delicate and translucent as tissue paper. Consider the soft sticky clumps of pale gold fur that protect the heart. And yes, the heart . . . there is the soft, green, creamy heart.