Patatje Flip & JUMBLE

Jumble is a collection of food-themed personal essays from first, second and third-generation migrants, edited by the team at rip publishing – Zoya Patel, Farz Edraki and Yasmin Masri. It includes stories from Rafael Kabo, Adam Ridwan and Yen Eriksen. It’s beautifully produced, and has a foreword by Benjamin Law.

It also includes the story, reproduced below, from me. All stories in this collection are accompanied by a recipe for their dish. The recipe that goes with my story is simple: potato chips. Jimmy’s satay sauce. Whole-egg mayo. Job done.
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I can’t even pronounce it correctly. Every time I try, the vowels slip around in my mouth and come out mangled. The memory of patatje flip lives in the failure of my speech, and in the taste I have for something that isn’t actually a real dish.

“Patatje flip”.

Patatje flip is potato fries with thick mayonnaise and a peanut satay sauce. Nightly, Dad would come up with new variations on sauce combinations, which never quite resulted in what he was searching for. His sauce-mixing experiments fascinated and entertained me, and I felt a kind of kinship in our search for The Sauce.

For 26 years I have watched Dad attempt to recreate those sauces at the dinner table. A Dutch table features condiments proudly in the middle, and whatever else might appear, mayonnaise is never missed. Not the sweet, runny commercial mayonnaise Australians favour, but thick, whole-egg mayo. The kind that peaks on the plate and dries clear if left on un-rinsed dishes overnight.

Jimmy Paste is an Asian, fish-based peanut satay sauce. The closest Dad got to patatje flip was to combine Jimmy paste with whole-egg mayonnaise. The two sauces would sit side-by-side, with a little ooze section in the middle where the two touched. The mixing was done by chip, picking up a little of both sauces from the swirl of satay and mayo.

Lord of the Fries was a revelation. Their fries are fries, and nothing particularly special, but their sauce selections are the stuff of magic. I took Dad and introduced him to the Asian fries, which combine Belgian mayo with satay sauce. This is it, by another name! I thought.

Dad chewed and tilted his head from side to side for a while.

“They’re nice.”

“Are they it?” I asked with a smile in my voice, because I was so sure that I’d given my father a connection with his homeland – so sure that I’d found the end-point to all the sauce-mixing and searching.

“Nup.”

I realise now that even if I did find the right sauces for patatje flip, this isn’t what Dad’s looking for.

I can point to all kinds of Dutch food as evidence of my heritage. The only member of my family born in Australia, and the only one who’s never been to Holland, I have still inherited Dad’s foreign palate.

Mayonnaise belongs on: steak, chicken, fish… all protein, really. And chips, steamed vegetables, or salads. And anything that doesn’t have a strong flavour of its own. And some things that do. My brother went through a thing with mint slice biscuits and mayonnaise.

I felt personally affronted and outraged when Gloria Jean’s introduced their “Coffee topper”. That’s not a coffee topper; that’s a stroopwafel.

How novel is apple sauce as a condiment? It’s not. That’s appelmous, which is similar to mayonnaise as a Dutch condiment that’s appropriate on everything.

Dad’s experiments with recreating pataatje flip weren’t the only thing he experimented with. He also bought a heap of large sandwich presses (like, you’d be able to do four sandwiches at a time if you wanted), and created stroopwafels which were much more cinnamon-y than the packet ones, and lacked the distinctive waffle print. At least with stroopwafels I had tasted the real thing, and I could judge that these were not the same.

I haven’t tasted the original versions of much of the Dutch food that I know and love. My palate is full of weird impostors; even if you gave me real patatje flip, I probably wouldn’t enjoy it. I’d rather Jimmy and mayo.

Then there’s the food that I don’t know the origin of. There are some confirmed strange foods – salty, fatty herring, chocolate sprinkles that are eaten on toast for breakfast, liquorice that tastes more like salt than like sugar. But there are also foods that could be blamed on my father’s weird, nation-less palate. Fresh strawberries on sandwiches (must be very, very fresh bread). Leftover rice microwaved with brown sugar and butter to make pudding. Lashings of butter and a thick layer of brown sugar on sandwiches after lunch, like a dessert sandwich.

Are these Dutch foods? Are they foods anywhere?

Chips with Jimmy paste and whole-egg mayo is not patatje flip. But they are my patatje flip, and they are the thing I picture when those words are spoken. They’re not the thing Dad pictures, and Jimmy and mayo are never ‘it’, just an attempt to go back. My father’s failed attempts at recreating the foods that remind him of where he comes from are my memories of home.


With many thanks to the Jumble team for their fantastic work on this publication. You can purchase a copy of Jumble here.

This piece is also part of my Honours work, which is about food and memory, particularly within my family.

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What’s Making Me Happy

I’m still alive, and I am engaging. The longer I am away from this blog, the bigger a deal it seems to post anything here. It’s like when I forget to cut my fringe for ages, and then when it gets to the point that I can’t deny how badly my hair is dangling in my eyes, I can’t do it. I’ve lost my nerve.

Anyway, I’m still here. I am engaging. These are the things I have been engaging with – a tiny, curated slice of my life.
 
The extract of Lena Dunham’s book, which appeared on The New Yorker last week. 
 
- I recently read Ronnie Scott’s Salad Days and loved it. He writes lyrically (beautiful, punch-to-the-gut nonfiction) about whether we can really ever justify our consumption of incredibly expensive food. A few notes from my reading (and notes on my WIP on food and memory, hence this is what the notes lean towards) here.
 
- And this dance made me cry – I still find it surprising every time I watch it. A clearer but incomplete version is here
 
- Today I reached 26,000 words of Honours work, and finished my first draft of both exegesis and creative components. Let the redrafting begin! 
 
- Finally, I’m happy about Austin Kleon’s book Show Your Work. In it, he encourages creative people to share their work. No matter what it is. And so here I am, showing. These are the things that are driving me right now. 
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#MWF14 is here!

The program for the 2014 Melbourne Writers Festival has been released, and it’s a good one.

DAVE EGGERS!
ROBYN DAVIDSON!
HELEN GARNER!
…etc.

The program represents Australian writers at various stages in their careers, from national gems to new kids on the block, as well as bringing some fantastic international writers to our city. This year’s MWF program also involves audiences in exciting ways, making the most of technologies and good old fashions chats. This program also gives people who aren’t in Melbourne proper some great opportunities to hook into the festival life. There are also plenty of free events, for students like me.

A huge congratulations to the whole MWF team for putting out such a balanced, inspired and exciting program.

Festival times are usually pretty hectic times, and I plan to be soaking it all up. Here are a few of my picks, one from each day of the festival:

21st August, 6:30pm -
Helen Garner’s presenting this year’s opening address. I’ve seen her open other things, and she speaks well. She’s both ridiculously famous and very warm, which is a unique and winning combination. I can’t wait to see her speak again.

22nd August, 1pm – 
As a writer of personal essays and memoir, I’m pretty self-involved. MY INTERESTING LIFE! ‘Selfie Culture’ brings Ronnie Scott and Anne Manne together to talk about the inward-looking trend.

23rd August, 11:30am -
Ruth Reichl, the food writer, is known and loved for her food memoirs which detail her foodish experiences from childhood to her editorship of Gourmet magazine and beyond. Earlier this year, Reichl published her first novel, Delicious.

24th August, 5:30pm -
Super-short storeis are hard to do, and Oliver Mol and Angela Meyer are both great at it. I can’t wait to see them in conversation.

25th August, 7:30pm – 
Do you remember the first time? A brilliant group of writers share stories of first at the Toff in Town.

26th August, 6:30pm – 
The DIY food movement pares back all the packeted shit and manufactured ease, in favour of a connection with real, actual food. Alla Wolf-Tasker and Phillippa Grogan, and wine and canapes.

27th August, 7pm – 
One of the many events that leave the city square is the poetry slam with Maxine Beneba Clarke at the Caroline Springs Library. She’s a treat, do yourself a favour and go.

28th August, 8:30pm – 
Maria Popova at Brain Pickings is an absolute champion, who achieves much with very little. Her commitment to amazing content is so admirable, and she always posts worthwhile and interesting stories. She’ll also be talking to Jason Steger at an event called ‘Why I Read’ on 29th August.

29th August, 2:30pm -
The Rereaders are recording live!

30th August, 2:30pm – 
Luke Ryan makes me laugh. Elizabeth Flux makes me feel like I’m not doing enough. Both these people are fantastic, and they’ll be answering questions like “How did you get where you are?”

31st August, 6:00pm -
DAVE EGGERS! The founder of McSweeney’s and author of the much-loved genre-bending A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius returns to Melbourne to deliver the closing address for #MWF14.

 

I’m also really looking forward to the ‘On Board Book Club’, where MWF encourages us to put down our phones and pick up our books, providing reading recommendations for the duration of the festival. I also look forward to ‘Memory Makes Us’, a collaborative live-writing event in the Atrium at Fed Square.

This isn’t an exhaustive list. Please do chase up other events that I’m really excited for including events with Nic Low, Alissa Nutting, Philip Hensher, Benjamin & Michelle Law, James Ley, Omar Musa, Chris Flynn and Eli Glasman. And more. I actually just can’t express how excited I am about all this, and not a little overwhelmed by it all. Main, take-home message: DAVE EGGERS!

Happy booking, I hope to see you around the festival!

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5 Books I Wish I Could Read Again for the First Time

As a bookseller, I love it when people elect to take my recommendations of any of the following books. I love it because every time I pick up that book, I remember the electric feeling I got the first time I read it. I also remember how these books somehow changed things. All of these books are 5/5-star books for me. Today I pay homage to books that I wish I could pick up and read for the first time again. Each of these books changed my perspective on what is permitted on a page; they are all written beautifully; they all signalled a change in how I thought.

the-secret-history-popular-penguins

1. The Secret History by Donna Tartt

The most common reason people wish they could read a book for the first time again is the plot twists. This is why everyone wishes they could read Fight Club again, and un-learn the secret about Tyler Durden. The Secret History is a brilliant campus novel involving all sorts of suspense and intrigue. A group of students welcome a new fellow to the fold, but all is not as it seems. The group accidentally murder a man (this is in the first line, so, you know – not really a spoiler) and the after-effects of that act touch each of them differently. I wish I could read this for the first time again because I wish I couldn’t see the plot twists coming. In fact, it’s written so grippingly that I believe that if I had time to get through this tome again I’d still be surprised by how it all pans out.

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2. Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney

“You are not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this at this time of the morning” – that’s the first line of Bright Lights Big City.
This is the first book that I read written successfully in second person – a perspective which changes the “I” of the story into “you”. When it’s done wrong, this style can feel clunky or accusatory. When it’s done right… it’s Bright Lights, Big City. The surprising writing style makes this book a delight to sink in to.

House of leaves

3. House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

I was asked the other day what book had scared me the most. I’m not really a reader of scary books, as I deal badly with horror. Horror films see my covering my eyes or blocking my ears. My over-active imagination means that whatever horror I see or read stays with me, disrupting my sleep or the way I move around the house or in darkened spaces. House of Leaves appealed to me for its interesting use of space on the page – multiple storylines run on the same page, and Danielewski does a great job of mimicking the feeling of the content by playing with page space. The story is about a house whose internal dimensions are larger that its external dimensions – which, when you think about it, is impossible. The house’s inhabitants find a way in to the extra space, and decide to explore it. As they do, the space expands. This book is a ‘documentation’ of what they find. And it’s absolutely terrifying. I’m not sure whether this one is necessarily to be read for the first time; perhaps just one I’d really like to re-read. And one I want everyone else in the world to read so we can all compare notes of how scared we got.

reality hunger

4. Reality Hunger by David Shields

This book changed things for me. Its topic is collage and nonfiction. Shields questions all the regular Post-Modern concerns: who owns a story, what is originality, what makes something ‘real’? He examines the line between fiction and nonfiction, shooting at this target in a million different ways. The really nifty thing about this is that Shields loves collage, and has made this book entirely out of unattributed quotes from other people. Some words are his, most belong to other people. But it’s the new way of putting all these thoughts together that means that Shields says something new. As I read this book, I felt a bursting open of some kind of gate within my framework of thinking. It re-routed my thinking, in a way that encouraged playfulness toward new ideas.

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5. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers

Another book that changed how I thought things worked – AHWOSG is a book that straddles fiction and nonfiction. It uses a tonne of what Eggers calls “scaffolding” (footnotes and breaking of the fourth wall). Where I thought fiction had to be written in a detached style, and utterly removed from life, Eggers here has turned his life into a novel. A memoir with all the relevant playfulness and elaborations that are permitted in a novel.

 

What books do you wish you could read for the first time again?

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Happenings, publishings

It’s so strange having no time for anything (ever) but still managing to get a few things published.

Tincture Journal, the brain-child of Sydney-based editor Daniel Young, is up to its sixth issue. It’s a lovely online publication which agrees with any format of eReader you prefer, and contains high quality writing. I’m chuffed to be published alongside Tiggy Johnson in this issue. My poem is about the anatomy museum at Melbourne University, and how horrific bodies can be.

I’ve also got a piece in the forthcoming collection (hard copy and digital), Jumble. This project, started by Canberran babes Yasmin Masri, Farz Edraki and Zoya Patel, brings together recipes and memoirs by first, second and third-generation migrants under the age of 35. My piece is about watching my dad mix sauces for patatje flip (Dutch fries and mayo/satay sauce) using Australian ingredients. Jumble is crowd-funding its production and payment for contributors; if you’d like a copy, your donation can get you one.

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Progress and Panic

(Recreated from my Honours blog, just letting you all know I’m still alive)

I’ve been doing the work. I haven’t skipped any set readings, and am working on-topic reading into my available time more and more. I’ve started writing vignettes for the creative component of my work. I’d like to have read more, of course, but I’m plodding along at a realistic pace and doing the best I can. I’m not dangerously behind.

The fact that I’m working into a void scares the shit out of me. While I’m working, I’m not working to a known end-point, and I’m surprised at how confronted I am by this. I am making work, and I don’t know what it is, and this makes me panic. It’s a new way of working, and I need to constantly remind myself that it’s alright. I will end up with a thing, and because I’m doing the work it will be a considered and good thing. Breathe.

Rebecca Solnit’s A Field Guide to Getting Lost is helping with this. In it, she talks about how “lost”ness allows us to see things in new ways, and keeps us open to the strangeness of life. The question (raised by Socrates, repeated by Solnit) is “How will you go about finding that thing the nature of which is totally unknown to you?” – and that’s really the question I’m faced with now. In Research Strategies on Tuesday we talked about Ross Gibson’s model of research, which involves letting the intuitive side work hand-in-hand with the analytical side, without prizing one over the other. This is a possible (well, necessary) research method. Another is raised by Solnit, and which is my working model currently – “…to calculate on the unforseen is perhaps exactly the paradoxical operation that life most requires of us.”

She talks about captives and explorers becoming “lost”, and returning as different people, undergoing those deep “transitions whereby you cease to be who you were.” In a way, similar to Gibson’s requirement that good research and art “causes surprising transformations.”

“The important thing is that the doors are left open,” Solnit says.

Read an essay called “L by Pam Rasmussen. It’s about so many things that I can’t quite pick the through-line, but it contains a particularly good exploration of her family’s two Easter celebrations (“Regular” Easter and Orthodox Easter). Memory, right throughout the essay, is tied to the body. The sound of the L train, the smells and tastes of Easter, bodily awareness when the L train tackles a particular curve on its route. I find this coming up in my own writing. Memories of by grandparents lives in the tart bite of raspberries, on the edges of my tongue as their flavour fades.

Similes and metaphors often refer to food, while writing about actual food is written using language about bodies and sex.

(Her uncles retire after Orthodox Easter to discuss highlights from the meal):
“Like lovers, they sighed over memories of each dish – that pastichio as alluring as a sea siren, those snowy mounds of kourabethia plump and white as breasts, those olives dark as Maria Callas’s eyes (they were all in love with her), that feta as firm as a woman’s derriere. It was as much poetry as it was sex education to me…”

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Looking Forward

I went to Adelaide and looked up:

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I also looked inward. Robert Adamson gets how my writing brain works: “Every time I finish a poem I think it’s a miracle. Will I ever write another one?” 

Now, looking forward. Honours started on Monday. 

The question, as it stands: “How can the personal essay form illuminate how memory inflects our relationship to food?”

I love the word “inflects” in this question. An inflection is a pitch thing. When I was working in call centres (yeah, did that), we’d talk about “upward inflections,” that annoying way that Australians raise the tone of their voice toward the end of sentences, turning everything into a question. Those who did this did it unconsciously, it’s just an accidental part of speech. And that’s how I feel about what memory does to my relationship with certain foods. They’re loaded with memory, and so I’m looking at things through a prism of sorts. There’s an inflection in the way that I view foods, and that’s tied up with memory.

Of the pile of books I was so kindly loaned, I’ve started with Ruth Reichl’s Tender at the Bone: Growing up at the Table. It’s comprised of shorter essays, in which Reichl looks at the different ways that she’s used food throughout her life. It’s not what I’m aiming to do, but I love the way that Reichl uses foods as shorthand for character traits (her grandmother’s cook Alice, for example, makes an apple pie to avoid discussing painful topics, because she’s just the kind of person who’d do that), and also that she recognizes that food isn’t just one thing. It’s functional, and not just for sustenance. It’s social glue, it’s emotional reward or punishment, it’s milestone marker, it’s memory trigger, it’s a source of power and cultural capital. It’s so much more than fuel, and Reichl explores that well through her essays.

I have to blog my honours experience, mainly as a way of tracking my work and thought processes. I had the option of using this blog, or of putting those entries on a separate site. I’ve elected to use the blog attached to the Consilience Lab site – ie, the site attached to my course. I want the clout attached to my work that comes with having the URL attached to a university (yep, SEOs rate that). I also don’t want to bore LGWABP readers with every single thing that’ll be posted on there – I imagine that some of it will be quite dry or not particularly relevant. So, things that are relevant or remotely interesting will land on both blogs. The aim of LGWABP has always been to track my work and discoveries, and I don’t want my honours year to be silent on here. It’s an important part of my journey.

Now, to construct a meaningful library search.

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An Attempt is Everything

“It all means little, all the painting, sculpture, drawing, writing … it all has its place and nothing more. An attempt is everything. How marvellous!” – Alberto Giacometti.

Make the attempt.

This is today’s prompt from Monica Wood’s gorgeous, helpful little bible, The Pocket Muse. There is a stack of writing prompt books on the left-hand side of my writing desk, and they teeter. I cycle through these books – I do a different exercise each day, I use the words in these books as a way in to my writing, or to provide a new angle on my thoughts. Often the trick to writing an interesting, engaging, outward-looking piece lies in finding the right lens through which to view the content, and these books help me do that.

This morning I received a call from the program director of the Honours program I’m starting next week (holy hell, next week!), asking if I’d be at orientation and checking that I know where I need to go for it. I picked up the letter I received last week and double-check the address. The buildings of RMIT are familiar to me, but room numbers and wings get lost in the between-semester fog of my brain. I assured the program director that I’d find it, and see him then. This thing is real.

Last week, I had coffee with a kind and incomparably thoughtful food-loving friend. I’d shared with her the exciting news that I’d found an area of study for my Honours work – I’ll be writing about food. As a fantastic foodie, she provided me with a reading list. I now have in my possession the bag that she used to transport materials while writing her own thesis. I feel lucky to have it, for however short a time it takes me to get through the books it contains.

It’s a dark blue-green, the same kind of dark that stylish suede sofas are, and it’s lined with colourful printed silk. It’s so well-loved that one handle is torn and starting to fray. It’s a strong bag though, and it carries things that are useful to me. The bag itself is a reassurance that thesis-writing can be done. Honours and Masters courses can be completed. I’ll need to invest in a bag like this for my own material-toting.

(Current tote bag choices include Sookie Stackhouse final book promo, Text Classic promo, MWF/Dymocks promo and RMIT graduation bag. I might have to find something less overtly promotional.)

I’ve been trying to think my way into a question, considering things with my brain. However, today’s writing prompt quote has reminded me to try something different: writing my way into a question. This method has proven useful before. There’s a point where you over-research or over-think, until the idea loses its appeal. Instead, writing into the magic of what you’re passionate about means that you stumble upon what needs to be researched as road-blocks to your words. You write a bit, then encounter a road-block, then research, then write it in. Repeat ad infinitum.

So I’ve been writing about what it is about food that interests me, trying to write into any contradictions or uncomfortable parts of that story.

This tandem approach works best for me: reading and writing and reading and writing and eating a lot and writing. It’s the increased amount of doing in this approach that does it – and the changing nature of the doing at all times. It’s an attempt, a constant and unending and uninhibited attempt, and that is everything.

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Preparing for the Unpreparable

The start of the year always seems to go much the same way. A lull, some planning, and then I’m flung into it face-first, whether I feel prepared or not. This year is the same as every other in that sense.

Of course, sometimes I have the luxury of preparation, or at least the luxury of knowing that I CAN be prepared if I feel inclined or have the time. What I’m facing right now is a pretty intense mixture of things I can and cannot prepare for. Being a major control-freak, I’m trying to make plans, whether it’s actually possible or not.

Coming up on the 22nd of February, I’ll be bonkers and doing an all-nighter for the Digital Writers/Emerging Writers Festival event, “The Book of the Night”. For this all-night event, twelve writers (I am one of them) are being challenged to write a book within a night. To do this, the night is broken into twelve 1-hour shifts. Each writer gets a brief update on where the book is up to, then sits down and does their thing for an hour. The Wheeler Centre will be open to the public, so anyone can swing past and suggest a plot twist or a new character. It’ll be loads of fun, very interactive and new. It will also be streamed online, so if you can’t sleep or if you’re not able to make it into the city for the event, you can join in from the comfort of your couch, using the #dwf14 hashtag.

Also, it’s a little bit scary – usually before things go out into the world, they undergo some pretty serious edits. The first edit usually involves printing the thing out before screwing it up and throwing it at my wall because it’s no good. That’s not an option for The Book of the Night. So, training has involved the following:

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These are hastily-prepared flash cards. I put a timer on, and I open Monica Wood’s The Pocket Muse to a random page for my starting point. Every few minutes, or whenever I start to think I might need to stop for a second, I turn over a card. Whatever is on that card (“Music”, “A phone call”, “Fear”, “Mouse!”) gets worked into the story-in-progress. This is the closest thing I can think of to what may or may not happen on the night. 

My attempt to train for the untrainable, to prepare for the unpreparable, is proving productive if nothing else. I don’t know whether I’m getting any better at writing for a whole hour straight, or any more comfortable with the idea of unedited work being accessible by the masses, but I am creating strange and wonderful things. 

Also, by the time my 5am slot rolls around, I should be suitably over-tired and delirious. This can only be a good thing.

Another thing I’m doing as part of the Digital Writers’ Festival is this panel on writers collectives and place, with Geoff from Writers Bloc and various folks from Scissors Paper Pen, Twitch, and Stilts. You don’t even have to leave your house, and this one is on before your bed-time AND after your wake-up time.

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Programpalooza

This week sees the release of THREE awesome programs, so get your diaries out and start scheduling in some literary stimulation.

Yesterday the Wheeler Centre released its first program of 2014, and it’s a doozy! I’ve got myself tickets for Alison Bechdel after reading and loving her Are You My Mother? last year. Rachel Kushner is recommended to me a lot, so I’ll be cramming in a book of hers before the event. Alain de Botton was fabulous last time he came to speak about Religion for Atheists, and his new book (out today) The News looks great, so his talk should be great too. There’s some great series in this program, including one on art, and another on female sexuality. Basically I’ve got two tickets to many, many things and this guarantees brain food and friends for the near future at least (“Anyone want to come to…?”)

Today the Digital Writers’ Festival released their program too. They also got online to answer questions from Twitter, and demonstrate the technology being used for the panels throughout the festival: it’s damn impressive stuff. The program casts a wide net, and includes guests from all over the world, practicing all sorts of amazing digital stuff. Like the EWF model, it seems like a good balance of ‘how’ and ‘why’ events. The festival’s program is mainly free, and all available online. This means that you can get amongst it no matter where you are.

The program for the Adelaide Writers Week has been launched today too, which is part of the Adelaide Festival in late February-early March. A list of authors has been out for a while, but a program and tickets have not been. We’re thinking of trekking over there for a few days before I start Honours (like literally, the couple of days before), during the weekend that sees the Artists’ Week and the Writers’ Week overlap, so I’m looking forward to seeing whether it’s a goer or not.

The next program I’m waiting for is You Are Here, who are releasing their program in late February. Their sneak-peek looks fantastic.

Go look and plan your brain food!

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