You’d think that a gathering with food to discuss topics regarding food would be a sure thing for me – Book on food? Deal me in! Shared food? Of course! Uh, not so quick says “EIHH” (aka Extreme Introvert and Happy Homebody).
Okay, I have to mention that this was only my second time attending Slow Food Book Club. And I should also mention that my first time attending was 3-4 years ago so this might as well have been my first time. My cheerily expressed, “Hello!” upon arrival was met with more than one confused, blank look (I’m sure from the lack of recognition). However, the looks were quickly followed with multiple welcoming responses and inquiries. It reminded me of my first time attending – how welcoming other members were back then, even the woman who later revealed herself to be a bit overzealous (I learned to be wary of strangers who proclaim loudly to the group they won’t eat anything unless they know it’s vegetarian and organic and spout fanaticism about the CEO of Chipotle). As I unpacked the food I brought, I was welcomed even more by those around me. Hey, you really can’t go wrong with sashimi! Tuna. Yellowtail. Two kinds of salmon. Can’t forget the soy sauce, wasabi and pickled ginger, yup. I even supplied chopsticks and little dishes to make the soy sauce-wasabi slurry. Excited voices expressed their joy. Yay, me!
With a love of all things culinary, it’s no wonder I’d pick a culinary book club. I used to belong to two, having attended each one once a few weeks apart. Sadly, the other one, The Food Literacy Book Club, disbanded due to a lack of funds. This one, Slow Food Book Club, continued to thrive while I dropped out of sight for the time being.
This month’s selection was Bento Box in the Heartland: My Japanese Girlhood in Whitebread America by Linda Furiya. I made more of an effort to read the book this time and got halfway through. I related to this woman growing up feeling like a “stranger in a strange land” (thank you, Robert Heinlein!). Being a (mostly) culturally-Asian, USA-born woman, I felt compelled to push myself to attend this particular gathering. If nothing else, I figured I could provide firsthand experience as an “alien” American.
Just as the last book club meeting I attended went, we proceeded to eat dinner first then also engaged in discussing the book. Since the book theme was Japanese, several of us brought dishes Japanese or Asian in realm. Along with the sashimi I brought, there were a couple of noodle dishes, Asian crackers and a green salad dressed in an Asian-inspired salad dressing (sesame or something along those lines, I believe). Sticking with the book theme isn’t a requirement for culinary options so there was also some standard fare, such as bread, cake, vanilla ice cream, fresh berries and what appeared to be a caprese salad but with some tasty-looking chunks of meat added.
As we settled into eating, we dissected the book. Now, before I left home, I assured Gabriel I’d return by 8pm as I figured I’d leave early and the gathering was scheduled to be over by 8pm. It was getting to be later and later as Gabriel pondered what happened to his highly introverted wife.
Yeah, no on leaving early. It was amazing to me how the conversation flowed and how much I enjoyed myself. Our discussion hummed along so well that I lost my one slim opportunity to share my own Asian experience growing up in Southern California. Oh, well! I doubt me adding that I, too, grew up with a rice cooker in our household and frequently ate unfamiliar Asian dishes would’ve contributed all that much to the conversation. I could’ve mentioned how my parents also traveled 1.5-2 hours round trip to visit Asian markets in downtown LA as that was where the closest market they had in order to find items such as the pig blood needed for dinuguan – a Filipino stew of pork cooked in a sauce of blood, vinegar and spices (don’t knock it without trying it; it’s actually pretty good). I recall the careful placing of the large Styrofoam cups that contained the fresh blood – my parents setting them down on the floor in front of our seats in the family station wagon (yes, a disaster waiting to happen…and it did). The first few times they did that, they managed to gamble with fate and win. The last time I remember them doing that, just as we’d gotten home and were exiting the car, my numbskull of a sister kicked over one of the containers, laying waste to the precious pig blood. If my memory serves correctly, that was the last time Mom made dinuguan. A lot of time, money and planning went into making that journey to downtown LA and back again to our home in the San Fernando Valley, just as it did for the author and her parents.
As the discussion organically shifted to tangential topics, we found ourselves talking about history in our area, including the dark shame that is Japanese internment. Our host, an admitted activist, had a copy of a letter from a gentleman she knew who was in high school during that time just south of where we were, and he could clearly recall watching his Japanese friends and their families get sent away.
On to brighter things, we learned what six books made the cut for the following year’s reading. I was happy to find that most of the books I voted for made it but not so thrilled to learn a work of fiction was included. Hey, I don’t hate fiction; I really don’t. However, if I wanted to read fiction, I would’ve joined a different book club. Also, other than the title including the word “recipe,” I don’t know what connection there is to food. HOWEVER, I haven’t read the book so I could be quite wrong and find many allusions to food after all.
As we hummed along, we lost track of time and, eventually, one member announced she needed to meet some houseguests of hers so we all departed en masse. After I made the trek back to my car, I checked the time, finding we’d finished 45 minutes later than planned. The first line of a W.H. Auden poem goes through my head, “Stop all the clocks; cut off the telephone” as I realized we were so engrossed, no one was distracted by their electronic devices (my own phone was across the room in my purse, as I suspect many others were). Driving home, I (sorta) heard the voice of Willie Nelson, except he was singing, “You were Auden on my mind…you were Auden on my mind.” Looking forward to the next gathering!
#kakainna #slowfoodsacramento #socalval