Aliza Wong grew up in Portland, Oregon, and when people ask, she still replies that she is from Oregon because, in fact, that is where she is from. By day, she is assistant professor of history at Texas Tech University, and at all times, she is the mother of a scarily intelligent five-year-old who asks all the questions you don’t want your child to ask just quite yet; the partner of a man who is too kind, too generous, and too stubborn for words; and a firm believer in the old-fashioned possibilities of utopia.
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There is a certain practiced beauty to the idea of ritual — the familiar movements, the age-old processes, the fluidity of repeated action. And while certainly this can quickly become automatic, thoughtless routine, what separates habit from ritual is the very deliberate nature of choosing to participate, to engage in the act of tradition.
As I see more of the world, become more impassioned about the humility of humanity, become more scandalized at the cruelty of inhumanity, it is these moments, these active, empowering moments of deciding to embrace elements of the past, of harnessing the strength of common familiarity, that draw me inward.
Continue reading Eating — and living — in Venice »
Like many Americans, I grew up with the ubiquitous spaghetti and meatballs. And because my parents are first-generation Chinese immigrants to the U.S., they made the dish with kind of a Chinese flair; after all, the Chinese did invent ketchup — and noodles. (My husband and I have interesting and often hilarious discussions about whether Marco Polo made it to China and how many food products he “borrowed” from China to make Italian when he got back home. But that’s a story for another time.)
As for my mom and dad’s dish, the meatballs had a little soy sauce, the tomato sauce veered toward sweet-and-sour, and we didn’t have cheese in the green canister to sprinkle on top, due to lactose intolerance. (I know it’s not really cheese, but my parents don’t do well even with the cheese product.)
Continue reading Signature sauce »
One of the things that brings me the most satisfaction in my life is watching my son eat. Like other mothers and fathers in the world, I think my son is beautiful. Brilliant. Hilariously funny. Good-hearted. Destined for greatness. My husband laughs at me as I enumerate the ways in which I adore my son, even though I know he agrees with me.
But whatever else my son is (and whether or not anyone else agrees with me), he is a good eater. And I am proud of him.
My husband is not a good eater. Or at least, he wasn’t. Maybe he was just more stubborn than my son, but until I met him, my husband was a very picky eater. He still is, but in relative terms, he has opened up his culinary vocabulary immensely.
Continue reading Eating life »
We live in a day and age when the longing for tradition and ritual, hope and change have become political buzzwords. At the same moment that we yearn for “simpler times,” we complicate our lives with multitasking, instant gratification, and cynicism.
On the one hand, we want to be responsible, to be green, to be locavores, to be healthy, happy, harmonious. On the other hand, we want to be connected, to have conveniences, to be hooked up, linked to, synced with. And my prediction is that as this election year moves forward, the confusion and conflation of what it means to be living in this nostalgic modern world will only become more clearly mottled.
Continue reading Politics and food »
My son, Luca, was excited to be in Beijing. Because as exciting as the walls and temples were, as thrilling as the acrobats and opera promised to be, Beijing meant one very important thing on his Chinese agenda: duck. And I had promised him that the duck in Beijing was the very best duck in the world.
Crisp, fat-glistening skin wrapped in paper-thin pancakes, moistened with the sweet tang and salty slurp of hoisin sauce, cut by the green-grass crunch of slivered green onion. And then later, succulent meat, sweating juice from the roasting temperatures, glistening with the fragrant natural oils of the bird, dark, sugar savoriness punctuated with a deep chew.
Continue reading Beijing duck »
My husband, son, and I spent 10 days in Beijing and Shanghai recently, walking, observing, exploring, breathing, tasting, watching. And I discovered that my little boy who is so shy in English is quite gregarious in Mandarin — repeating ni hao (how are you), xie xie (thank you), and zai jian (good bye) with much more zeal and enthusiasm than he ever has in West Texas.
I also learned that staring is not solely an act of aggression but can be an expression of curiosity, of friendship, of encounter. I found that there is stillness in traveling, that there is tranquility in constant movement, and that there is speed in calm. And I loved realizing all this with my son’s hand in mine, my husband beside me.
Continue reading ‘Have you eaten yet?’ »
When one of the former chairs of our department left us for greener pastures elsewhere, he sent us an email bidding his farewell. In it, he thanked the faculty for their work, he wished us well, and he gave us, as colleagues, only one piece of advice. The last line of his letter to us read: “Eat lunch together more often.”
Simple. Direct. To the point. And I have not been able to erase it from my mind since.
Eat lunch together more often. Seems such a basic directive. Too reductive. Trite even. And yet . . . Eat lunch together more often. What if it really were possible? What if it really were that simple? What if in the humble act of breaking bread together, in sharing a meal together, in sitting down and taking the time to eat together — what if in that most natural coming together, we truly did come together? If we took a breath together? If we shared a common repast? A common past. A common future. Eat lunch together more often.
Continue reading Eat lunch together »
I am a lucky mother. I have a work schedule that allows me to be at home when my son, Luca, returns from school; to volunteer in his classroom at least twice a week; and to join him, if I like, for the glorious 30 minutes of lunch time between 11:09 and 11:39 a.m.
Now, I don’t eat school lunch every day. I think it’s important for my son to learn to socialize with his kindergarten friends without his mother’s presence, and besides, the school-cafeteria smell takes me back to the bad old days of dodgeball and bathroom passes and No. 2 pencils (the horror!). But I’m able to dine with my son once every two weeks. And I always return having enjoyed the time with Luca, having gained new respect for his teachers, and having become a little more disheartened over the cafeteria situation.
Continue reading Cafeteria time »
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