Hot Oakland morning

On very hot days, if I know I’m going to be spending a lot of time at home, I have a ritual. I get up early, boil a big pot of water, and throw in anything I have around that tastes good cold and boiled: eggs, potatoes, beets, green beans, shrimp, noodles, etc. I also make anything else to accompany these: sauces, salads. This way I can avoid a hot stove and unnecessary exertion during the hottest part of the day. I started doing this in LA, where I had a very hot kitchen and no air-conditioning in the apartment, and I did it again this morning, where I have a far cooler kitchen but still no A/C. They say it’s going to hit 96ºF today (35.5ºC).

I had intended to get through all this by 7:30, when the bakery opens, but I can see now that was an absurd hope. I woke late, at 7, drowsy and slow, but we had left the kitchen windows open and the outside air still felt like a cool fresh gift. Two hours later I had washed and prepped the sugar snap peas, the fava beans, the new potatoes, the spinach, the Wakefield cabbage, and a bit of cilantro and dill; I had made dashi and a dipping sauce and cooked the vegetables and a couple of eggs, and salted the cabbage, and put together a potato salad. Last night we cooked Napa cabbage and noodles and fish and shrimp, so we still had those, along with some leftover rice and poached chicken from a Chinese restaurant, and in the freezer I have a few pints of my first batches of homemade ice cream (vanilla bean, and dulce de leche). And there’s lemon juice and ice and simple syrup for lemonade. So I am all set.

At 9 I walked out to the bakery (in my Ghanaian dress from Kuukua. so airy on hot days). Much of Piedmont Avenue is in shade, so the walk was pleasant, though the sun was already strong and there was a bit of a rubbishy smell in the air, especially around the creamery. At La Farine I gave into the siren call of a chocolatine, but also got a baguette. I asked the man not to put it in a bag, and I wrapped a small cloth around it and carried it home like that. Sometimes in Paris we got baguettes like this, bagless, with only a little piece of paper for more sanitary carrying. I don’t know if it was the Ghanaian dress or the near-naked baguette, but I got more attention on my walk home; a white-bearded man carrying a battered Jazz for Dummies said “morning” as he passed by (common enough in the residential area, but not among the shops and restaurants), and a middle-aged woman in a flowered tank and a young warm-medium-skinned* man in restaurant whites both eyed my baguette as they walked past.

Here’s to staying cool.

Potato-egg-fava salad with dill


snap peas with garlic, oyster sauce, and sesame oil


teeny tiny amount of spinach with sesame oil, garlic, soy sauce, and sugar


noodle sauce with soy sauce, fish sauce, green onions, cilantro, and garlic


ling cod and prawns (the little black thing is a peppercorn)


salted radish, bought from a tub of them in a Chinatown market


Napa cabbage and Japanese noodles Erik cooked yesterday


salted cabbage — it drains for a few hours before being turned into coleslaw


bonito and kombu for making dashi


dashi (Japanese fish stock)



*At VONA we had discussions about whether it is offensive to describe the skin tones of people of color by using food terminology, as in “coffee-colored” or “cinnamon.” I can see why it might be offensive, but as a painter, I’m chagrined to confess I find it really difficult to find alternate words. The English language simply doesn’t have a great range of words for true-to-life (not crayon) colors, unless one refers to food, or to wood (mahogany, etc) — which I don’t think makes much more sense than using food words. Honestly, perhaps because I do paint, when I think about people’s skin or hair colors I think of how I would render them in pigments, but I can’t go around describing people’s faces as looking like burnt sienna with a hint of burnt umber and maybe a slight touch of indigo in the shadows. But I make the attempt at description because we Westerners see the default as white, and I like to point out diversity whenever possible, not just in ethnicity but in age, size, dress, etc. (And even within “white” — or any ethnicity — there is a huge range of hues.)

As a writer and artist it interests me to note what I observe about people when I pass them on the street. The lady in the flowered tank didn’t make much impression on me: why? Was she truly unremarkable looking, or did I simply code her as “white middle-aged lady” and ignore her on that basis, as society tells me middle-aged women should be ignored when they appear to be default class and ethnicity and not particularly lovely or fit or well-dressed? Why do I remember the man in the restaurant whites? Is it because he was younger and better looking, or because I identify with him as a person of color, or simply because his darker face against the white jacket presents a better and more eye-catching picture?

Anyway, obviously I need to be reading more writing by other POCs, to see how they describe ethnicity.