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Interlude: A Travelogue ✈️
What I ate on my way to, during, and from my first IRL academic event.
I didn’t want the problem of eating in an airport, so I planned a breakfast burrito. I made the tortilla dough and left it to rest; scrambled a couple of eggs with onion and a lone tomato rolling around the fridge. Zhug was going to provide zing. Then the small propane gas tank powering our stove ran out, and while I put in a valiant effort to make a tortilla on a panini press, it didn’t result in anything edible. The next morning, ready to head to the airport at 5:30 am, I even forgot the small bowl of figs, dates, and walnuts I’d prepared because I hadn’t booked my own flight and thus my boarding pass lacked a TSA Precheck logo. There was no time for a long security line. And so, airport food.
My long-planned “On Creativity” was on the to-do list for this week, but between finishing up the semester with my culinary tourism students, preparing for the “Stealing Recipes?” symposium at Indiana University, and trying to deal with wildly complicated taxes, I simply… could not. After weeks, months, of considering this essay, I wasn’t gonna fumble the execution. And so let me tell you about my trip to Bloomington, Indiana.
I landed for a short layover in Charlotte, North Carolina, at lunchtime. Terminal D was quite swanky, but since I’d never been to this airport before, I wanted to find my gate in C. It wasn’t big enough to warrant this; I could’ve enjoyed the swank. Instead, I ended up at Bad Daddy’s Burger Bar, because it was packed and had a “local” stamp—this seemed as promising as it could get.
The name doesn’t suggest vegetarian friendliness, but I love a challenge and fried pickles, the only menu item I noted from afar. They serve Impossible burgers, which aren’t my thing, so I ordered a salad without chicken (there were no salads without chicken on the menu) that came with a 1/2 cup of chipotle ranch the kitchen blessedly left on the side. The fried pickles, alas, never materialized; the server thought I ordered truffle fries, which I can forgive because I guess I have those vibes, and I said I’d eat them rather than let them go to waste. (I’ll admit here to not coming close to finishing the food or my beer—I’d wanted an Asheville brewery’s IPA; the keg had kicked so I got a gigantic can of Sierra Nevada’s hazy IPA; I don’t want to talk to anyone about my taste in beer. I’m happy to talk about how I was carded at age 37!)
Everything at this place came with ranch, a food foreign to me that I believe must be good because it’s composed of good things, yet being myself… I’ll admit to only being wowed by the Superiority Burger tahini ranch. I invite ranch insight from those for whom it’s a culturally appropriate food.
Eating at an airport is a real art, as well as a real struggle. It’s such a fascinating concept, because we’ve agreed as a society that it’s a place where money, nutrition, and time of day don’t matter—anything is possible!—but the options are so often so bad that one cannot really take advantage of this. Is this American puritan culture at work? You may seek gustatory pleasure with impunity only in the very spaces where pleasure is most difficult to access. This is my vegetarian experience, at least.
(When my husband and I flew back from JFK to San Juan the week prior, we tried the Paris Cafe from Jean-Georges at TWA Hotel, and because it was edible and presented well in a lovely space, we were over the moon.)
I got a cold brew before standing like a goof at the gate for my Indianapolis flight. There was a real lack of seating situation while waiting for both my flights, and my hopes of dealing with university emails were dashed.
I arrived to the hotel in Bloomington at 4:10 p.m. to see across the street, in the backyard, there’s a gaggle of shirtless seemingly teenage boys who must be students. Various houses, I notice, are strewn with groups of shirtless boys, bikini’d girls—so this is college!
My body and mind needed rest, so I rested a bit before I peeled myself from the bed to go find some dinner. I didn’t know where to go: various spots around the center of downtown were hopping already right after 5 pm—should I follow the crowds? Instead, I went to a nearly empty restaurant around the main square. It did what I needed it to do, and I found myself grateful not to be here to try to know anything about restaurants. I go back and forth (longtime readers will have noticed) on how much I care about restaurants, and right now I’m at a moment of indifference.
I meet Ariana Gunderson for a beer (La Chouffe! I was carded again!) at the Runcible Spoon; she’s the brilliant Indiana University PhD student in anthropology who has brought me here along with the also-brilliant Anny Gaul, University of Maryland professor and cultural historian of food and gender in the Maghrib and Mashriq, and Sucharita Kanjial, an anthropologist who is about to start a professorship at Bard College. I am the non-academic of this cohort. Ariana and I discuss recipes, yet I feel a telltale creeping of intense allergies that I worry will affect me the next day, when I am both doing a two-hour recipe development workshop and presenting on the subject of recipe theft.
In the middle of the night, I indeed awaken completely clogged. Luckily, after the Atlanta fiasco of June 2022, I’ve gotten a prescription from my allergist for a powerful nasal spray that I am to bring whenever I go somewhere new. I’ve not used it yet, but the time is now. It’s disgusting and bitter down my throat, but like magic, I’m cleared. Unfortunately, the fatigue and brain fog that accompany these moments of extreme sinus irritation do not also disappear.
But I get my ass up in the morning and I dress in my favorite Mara Hoffman jumpsuit for the day (it’s the Agatha in olive green, if you’d like to seek it out). We walk to the food institute’s office, which is in a converted duplex so quite cozy, and begin to form my mise en place for the experiment I’ll be conducting that day for everyone: testing homemade versus store-bought oat milk in a lemon olive oil cake. Those in attendance ask throughout my demonstration whatever questions they have about the work of recipe development, while I try to explain my practice as best I can while also baking two versions of a cake. It’s so nice to be in the company of smart people who care about food, who are as interested as me in looking at such a seemingly minute but (as we found) significant change in a recipe. I’ll write about the findings in the future.
We eat lunch and go on to do our presentations and panel, which happen concurrently on Zoom (I recognized some names). Anny Gaul went first, and I took so many notes—she has a wonderful generosity and genuine excitement in her work, and she gives me so much to think about regarding my own interest in how nationalism influences our understandings of cuisines. I went next, and was likely beet red—I read about how domestic writing and independent publishing are changing recipe writing from the formulaic ways of big publications (which can’t be copyrighted, which, in our economic context, devalues recipes and the labor of their creation) to a more personal voice (which can be). I’ll publish this as a newsletter when I polish it up!
Next, Sucharita Kanjilal presented on “lost recipes” among content creators in India—truly fascinating to consider the cultural capital of neoliberal “representation” in “elite transnational consumption.” Ariana Gunderson went last, presenting with such verve (I’m 10,000 years old, apparently, with that word choice) on how intellectual property law affects recipes. She made legal intricacies compelling—a marvel!
Our Q&A allowed me time to talk about my favorite domestic TikToker (including dipping into my very readily accessible bridge and tunnel accent for an impression), @leahscucina, as well as mention some new thoughts on how adults without kids (like myself) are reconceptualizing the labor of the home as it intersects with our creative/professional labor. (I also consider whether I should get a PhD in food studies so that I can have some dedicated time to catch up on my academic reading or continue with my gleaning practice. I would like a W2.)
Then I, fully depleted and nearly defeated by pollen, retired to the hotel (Grant Street Inn—quaint! Lovely!) for a couple of hours in bed before dinner. I am in one of those places in life where I simply need to stare at a ceiling for a while after talking a lot.
Our celebratory dinner happened at the absolutely fabulous Small Favors, a tiny and chic natural wine bar and restaurant with a very abundant vegan and vegetarian menu. Vegetable-forward will never go out of style! Asparagus, hearts of palm ceviche, fried saltines, my first taste of pimento cheese, a spicy carrot dip, a buckwheat waffle with damson plum jam—the list goes on. We began with the Yetti & the Kokonut pet-nat and moved on to a Milan Nestarec light red, Youngster. (I did a predictable, “Oh, I love his wines!” point at the bottle list.) Because Ariana is a regular here, we also got off-menu pours of fino sherry from PM Spirits that I will be seeking out for home consumption as soon as possible. (I am, clearly, not indifferent to this restaurant.)
The alcohol helped with my sinus inflammation (or so I believe) and I went to bed and slept through the night, finally, but didn’t peel myself out of bed until about 10 a.m. on Saturday, just in time for complimentary hotel coffee and one last walk around downtown Bloomington. I popped into a bookstore and bought Julia Skinner’s Our Fermented Lives, and then popped into coffeehouse and juice bar Soma, which has fabulous ’90s vibes and wonderful carrot-ginger juice. It was a big party weekend for the Hoosiers, so the kids were all hungover.
The juice and the coffee and all the staring and scrolling resulted in a couple of actual ideas emerging into my brain, which I appreciate. I wrote down two possible essay topics and one recipe skeleton.
All us visitors got a ride to the Indianapolis airport, where I ate Shake Shack (not a habit—my second time ever) and was accidentally served my shroom burger with a meat patty. This, weirdly, made me shake? I quaked with horror!!! I brought it back up and they replaced it; another vegetarian behind me got nervous and reminded them he, too, didn’t want any meat. This vegetarian response of absolute visceral terror to being served meat is one I will dig into.
There will be another layover in Charlotte, in that swanky terminal D, and who knows what wonders await me? I won’t be drinking a martini, I don’t think, because I would prefer to wait to arrive home and relax with a good one—in bed with my husband and Benny (our dog, for those who don’t know), no more travel on the immediate horizon, but oh so much work to be done… I do love my job, though. I’m grateful for that assurance.
Addendum: I got a Bloody Mary at the Charlotte airport because my flight home was delayed two hours. I used the time to build this newsletter.
This Friday’s From the Kitchen dispatch for paid subscribers will include a recipe for arroz con jackfruit—a take on arroz con pollo with, you guessed it, jackfruit. A fun vegan time for all! See the recipe index for all recipes available to paid subscribers.
Last Friday, I announced the return of the podcast to paid subscribers on a monthly basis. I will be running excerpts from interviews on Mondays, but full audio will only go to paid folks. The first four guests will be Abi Balingit, author of Mayumu: Filipino American Desserts Remixed; Abra Berens, author of Pulp: A Practical Guide to Cooking with Fruit; Rick Easton and Melissa McCart, authors of Bread and How to Eat It; and Hetty Lui McKinnon author of Tenderheart: A Cookbook About Vegetables and Unbreakable Family Bonds.
Friday dispatches will include now, on a monthly basis: One From the Desk Recommends… collection of links; one From the Kitchen Podcast; one recipe; and one essay or discussion thread on an aspect of the cooking life.
I’d love to share this first review of my forthcoming book No Meat Required: The Cultural History and Culinary Future of Plant-Based Eating at Cameron Steele’s fabulous Interruptions newsletter.
I think…I’ll start offering No Meat Required as Venusian call-to-action, philosophical and practical. It’s also rooted in deliciousness; it doesn’t scoff at aesthetic.
I’m reading Alex Ketchum’s Ingredients for Revolution: A History of American Feminist Restaurants, Cafes, and Coffeehouses in preparation for an event we’re doing together (via Zoom) for Archestratus, the fabulous shop in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. I’m wildly excited to talk about the overlaps in our work: when vegetarianism becomes feminist, and whether there’s an obligation to vegetarianism among feminists.
I cannot wait to get back into my kitchen for a sustained period of time.