The unbearable decadence of napping

I took a 2-hour nap today: middle of the day, middle of the week. When I woke up, it was noon.  Noon! I don’t mean to make this a long version of a Facebook status update, and I realize that this would not really be news for many of you except that:

1) I have two young daughters (who were in the care of others today–and I apologize to those with small children reading this post, for whom the 2-hour midday nap sounds inexcusably decadent);

2) I have typically hated naps, even when I was a baby, my mom says; until I had my daughters, I considered naps a waste of time when one could be productive;

3) I can’t remember the last time I took a nap that long;

4) opening my eyes to the brief bright sunlight through our blinds, I realized that I may have been wrong about naps.

Clearly, it’s taking me a while to slow down from the school year, and clearly, I need time to do it. I’ll be back soon. I haven’t forgotten.

P.S. For those who love poetry and novels together–or for those who want to study narrative second-person voice–you might check out Nicholson Baker’s novel The Anthologist. Hilarious, poignant novel about an aging poet who’s trying vainly to write the introduction to an anthology of poems that rhyme. I’ve described it to friends as Prufrock and Project Runway. Among the figures and entities which appear frequently: writer’s block,  the staff of the New Yorker, Louise Bogan and Theodore Roethke, Sara Teasdale, Billy Collins, a chin-up bar, iambic pentameter, and a dog named (wait for it) Smacko. I laughed out loud several times.

Summer skies

"Summer Sky," Mara Morea

I’ve finished my faculty seminar on Suzan-Lori Parks, and while it was a wonderful experience, I am so happy it’s over. Summer’s here!

For the teacher, summer’s often the happy ending to the work year, a time to relax, release, and renew. These last few summers have been packed with so much: two summers of adjusting to the births of my daughters (now almost-5 and 2 years old, babies born in late June and late May, respectively); one summer of moving to our current house; one summer of preparing for a large review. Now that I think of it, this is the first summer that I’ve had in five years where I don’t have a large project planned for myself, personal or professional, which is exciting and a little scary.  Oh, right, there’s this blog.

I expect that I’ll be posting more regularly with the conclusion of the seminar. I still don’t have more MFA structure in mind just yet, but the commitment to more regular posts should help. I’m looking forward to that structure in itself, along with the exhilaration and possibility that summer always brings me. There must be something about the clarity, the openness, and the light of the summer sky.

  • Summer means summer reading, summer fruit: I can’t decide which one I like better. Knowing how much I love both, that says a lot.
  • Summer means beach picnics, bubble-blowing parties in the backyard, picking our cherry tomatoes and basil for dinner panzanella, the metallic humming and clicking of the canner heating on the stove, the vibrant colors and communities of farmer’s markets. (I live within five miles of three farmer’s markets and sometimes can’t believe my luck. Hmmm: I grew up next to a farmer’s market, the famous Denio’s Market in Roseville, California. I sense a post coming.)
  • Summer means time to browse through used bookstores and thrift stores. In both places, it’s all about the pleasure of the unexpected find, the willingness and imagination to give something old a new life. (yet another post?)
  • And this summer, I’m looking forward to learning how to sew: my mom’s just bought me my first sewing machine.
  • Summer means wonderfully long to-do lists with an equally long amount of compassion if I don’t check off every item on the list.

To reflect a bit on this first month of the blog, I have loved rethinking and reseeing the world as a writer. I’ve been excited to think about upcoming assignments for this space. (Other genre possibilities: book review, opinion piece, collage essay.) Being in the seminar for the past two and a half weeks, I’ve remembered how much I love being a student. While I need some time to relax and release, at the same time I can’t wait to carry that energy into the summer.

Summer: where the sunset clouds are Maxfield-Parrish-pink against the smoky blue sky. Where my girls are twirling in the grass and the sunshine, their skirts lifting lightly.

A small postscript: just found out that my friend R tried the adobo recipe and her kids liked it! I’m thrilled. Anyone else tried it? I’d love to know if the recipe itself needs tweaking, for those who love or need specific directions.

Assignment #3, draft 3.5 (Chicken adobo)

Chicken adobo, for my mama

(I have written this essay for my mom. If you’ve been reading this blog from the beginning, somewhere down the page you may have picked up that I’m half Japanese American—not to mention the Japanese word “kiku” above. But I’m also half Filipina American, and throughout my life I haven’t written very much about that part of my heritage. I want to write more about that omission, perhaps another time.

Before I go any farther, you should know that this essay is not one of those nostalgic tributes to my mom’s cooking. I mean no disrespect to my mom’s cooking; it’s just that there are a million tributes-to-mom’s-cooking, which are bunny-multiplying on the Internet as I type. And despite the bunny metaphor, I mean no disrespect there, either.  A few weeks ago, I surprised myself by confessing to a friend that I’m constantly auditioning to be a food writer. See exhibits #3-355: the majority of my Facebook status updates.

So, insert a literal and metaphoric gulp here.  And a nod to the food. This piece is a dress rehearsal for that audition. )

I wonder if Filipino cuisine is one that slips through the “all-Asians/Asian foods look alike” cracks. Lumpia’s a close cousin to Chinese eggrolls; pancit dresses an awful lot like chow mein, maybe with a few more vegetable accessories. You can find lechon (roast pig) in Asian grocery stores with a butcher counter, but you might never order it there by using that word. There may be other forms of confusion at work, as well. Spain occupied the Philippines for a long time, so one of the latter nation’s main languages, Tagalog, bears a close resemblance to Spanish. Adobo is Spanish for sauce, and so there are a number of “adobo-style” seasonings and marinades in the “Hispanic” sections of supermarkets. If you like spicy Mexican food, you may have bought a can of chipotles in adobo sauce. I bought my first can of those a few years ago and was genuinely confused by the contents.

I know there are lots of societal and cultural reasons why Filipino food hasn’t caught on in the culinary American mainstream, the way sushi has. And as a picky-eater-turned-foodie (don’t laugh! I know I’m not the only one), I have to confess that I’m still learning to appreciate Filipino food, partly for my Filipina mom.

To eat certain foods with my mom is a way to bond with her: sipping from a cold watermelon on an oven-hot Sacramento summer afternoon; wiping our fingers after eating chunks of lechon from a styrofoam takeout box; scraping the last of a hot fudge sundae from the glass dishes at Leatherby’s, our longtime ice cream parlor. While my mom and I are close, and we love trips to both thrift stores and Asian grocery stores, we’re not always on the same page about food. I love most fruit, for example, but I don’t like watermelon, my mom’s favorite fruit. And when I lived in the Bay Area, I used to take my mom to visit her favorite Filipino cafeteria-style restaurant chain, Goldilocks. And none of the food at Goldilocks looked terribly appealing, to be honest. I felt a little bad that I didn’t want to eat more of it, to make my mom happy.

Growing up, most of the time I saw Filipino food at my grandma’s house, or at parties with her friends. My mom cooked a little bit of it at home, but not very often. Either way, I never ate very much of it. I was too picky, and for that picky child, Filipino food was far too weird. In my defense, here’s one memory that turned me off of most Filipino food for a long time. My grandma had made dinuguan, a dish with a dark, thick, muddy sauce. Maybe my grandma knew how much I loved chocolate, so she told me it was “chocolate meat.”

Dinuguan is made with, um, pig’s blood, which is what turns the sauce so dark. It is spicy and garlicky, from what I have heard. Maybe I’d like it now. But chocolate meat, it is not. (Lesson learned: when I practice “creative food labeling” for my almost-5-year old daughter, I try to make sure the label will mostly fit her expectations. Spanakopita today? I called it “spinach pie.” She loved it. At least for today.)

Adobo, however, is the national dish of the Philippines, and with good reason. It is chicken, or pork, or sometimes both, stewed in a sauce that’s a little sweet and very garlicky, peppery and vinegary. I love the audacity and scale of the butcher paper recipe at the Filipino place (Oriental Market) across from Seattle’s Pike Place Market, which begins by calling for “6 whole chickens.” However, I think it may be difficult to make adobo on a large scale and make it taste good. The rendered fat from the meat can be overwhelming and unmanageable, but the sauce needs to be really strong, not watered down. I have seen adobo swimming in too much grease in the chafing dishes of Filipino restaurants. I can’t blame someone who’s tasted it at a restaurant before and not liked it.

But if you’re not vegetarian, and have never made this dish before, I want you to make Filipino chicken adobo. (If you are vegetarian and have made it heroically past the dinuguan, apologies: I’ve conferred unscientifically with a vegetarian Filipino friend, and we agreed that tofu adobo is just not the same. In fact, I think we agreed that tofu adobo is just plain wrong.)  Because now that I can make chicken adobo at home, my culinary Pinay heart will return to marinate in its garlicky vinegary peppery sauce, for always.

You too can make it at home, and it can become one of your weeknight go-to dishes, as it is for me. Picture it! You can 1) bring home some chicken; 2) start your rice cooker; 3) use seven pantry staples to make the sauce in one pot, 4) throw in the chicken, and 5) wait, paying your bills or doing the dishes, for about an hour. College students, or anyone who likes simple home cooking with vibrant flavors, should love this dish.

And my mom? She used to make chicken adobo when I was growing up, too. It’s probably one of the 2 Filipino dishes I ate. Funny, though: I think she likes my version better now. (“You add sugar to yours?” she asked, sipping from the cooking spoon a few years ago.) I’m learning to cook and like more Filipino foods, Mom, a dish at a time. Salamat for teaching me to love my daughters abundantly and generously. Here’s my recipe.

Chicken Adobo

Liberally adapted from, ahem, The Garlic Lovers’ Cookbook (Gilroy Garlic Festival)

I’d tried to make adobo on my own for years after I moved away from home, but the sauce proportions never seemed quite right (garlic: soy sauce: sugar: vinegar, etc). Adapting this recipe did the trick. So if you read carefully, you’ll see that the sauce is everything in this dish. I like it pretty strong.

Some regions in the Philippines use coconut milk, though I’ve never tried that version. Most descriptions I’ve found agree that adobo is a personalized taste, which means that it’s very much about the adobo you grew up with, rather than, say, the adobo you adopted through peer pressure. What you have here might not be the most authentic version, then, but it’s my personal taste. You should feel free to adapt it to your palate.

This recipe makes just enough sauce for the amount of meat mentioned. However, I like to double the sauce ingredients so I have enough to serve over rice. Four secrets that I’ve discovered, through tragic trial and error:

  1. Do not let the chicken boil, because then the meat will be tough.
  2. Do not cover the pot; otherwise, the steam will drip back into the sauce and it will taste watered down. You don’t want the sauce to reduce into caramel (although I did that by accident recently, and it wasn’t all that bad!), but you do want it to retain its strong flavor. This is another reason why I like to double the proportions.
  3. More apologies to the vegetarians: you really need some chicken fat for the right flavor. (Remember the Age of Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts? I made adobo during that Age, and they just don’t do the trick. “What’s missing?” I asked my Filipina roommate, one night. We mused for a while, and then nodded in unison: “Fat.”) I like to use chicken thighs, or a mix of thighs and drumsticks. Either way, make sure that some of the meat has some skin on it, and don’t trim away all of the fat.
  4. If you are really unhappy with the amount of chicken fat in the dish, you can make it, let it sit overnight, and then skim and discard the fat off the top.
  5. You can serve adobo over hot white rice, which is how it’s typically served. I like to serve it with a mixture of white rice and quinoa, both thrown into my rice cooker. So, before you start the adobo, start by cooking your grain of choice.

Ingredients:

  • 3 lbs chicken (dark/light meat combo, or just dark, with skin) OR pork, cut into 2” cubes (Honestly, I’ve never tried the pork, I love the chicken version so much. And yes, if you used pork, it would be called pork adobo.)
  • 3-5 cloves fresh garlic, minced
  • Fresh ground black pepper to taste (start with about 1 tbsp), or 15 whole black peppercorns
  • 1 bay leaf (optional)
  • ½ cup cider vinegar (or a mix of cider vinegar and white vinegar, whatever’s handy)
  • 6 tbsp soy sauce (I use Kikkoman low-sodium soy sauce)*
  • 2 tbsp sugar (white or brown), or a bit more to taste

Method:

Put all ingredients into a pot and simmer, gently bubbling but not boiling, for about an hour. Check occasionally to make sure that each piece of chicken has its turn in the sauce. When the meat is beginning to pull away from the bones, it is probably finished. My husband, who’s deathly afraid of raw chicken (get it?), would want me to advise you to double-check the chicken near the bone and make sure that the meat is cooked.

*The entire dish can be made gluten-free with gluten-free tamari instead of soy sauce.

Writing takes ego

So…what do you do when you’ve been introduced at a party by your cool popular friend?

If you’re like me, you duck your head, stare at the ground, and smile nervously: “Um, hi, everyone.” That’s me today. I’m so grateful to Shauna for urging me to start a blog, and chances are, if you’re reading this now, you’re here because of Shauna. (Or you’re one of my Facebook friends. Oh, and hi, Mom.) Welcome, each and every one.

But it does leave a certain amount of expectation: your friend’s cool, so you must be cool, too. Oh, the pressure.

I’ll be trying on different genres here (food writing’s up soon!), and I’ve got a number of blog assignments lined up. But for now the most comfortable genre, the one which gets me typing the fastest, is this one: the reflective, the notes-towards-my-memoir-project, the musings about this new writing life.

I’ve decided to write through the fear, and not apologize for this experimental space. I toyed with writing a separate entry about the first assignment. As in: “OK, yeah, I don’t think it worked, and here’s how, and I’m sorry that what you came for isn’t here, and ….”. This apology, of trying to speak for the work, is a no-no in writing workshops. I can see why.

Sounds like I’m back to some of my old writing neuroses, if not some of my old personality neuroses. This doesn’t mean that I won’t revisit that first assignment, and perhaps even post draft #6 of the poem, but as I retrain myself to think as a writer, I have wondered about my fear of writing. In my case I don’t think that fear is about writer’s block, or the inability to say something.

See, I used to apologize for myself ALL the time. You can ask my high school friends, my husband who I’ve known for more than half my life. I was Insanely Insecure Girl (IIG), the one who needed lots of ego uplift.
“Do these pants look terrible on me? I’m sorry.”
“I’m sorry I keep asking, but will I EVER find someone to love?”
If you met me about twenty years ago, I might not have met your eyes for longer than a second. Maybe two.

I didn’t realize how hard this trait was on my friends until I made friends with another IIG later on. Having to talk her up all the time was exhausting, to tell you the truth.
“No, those pants look really great on you.”
“Yes, you’ll find someone to love.”
And of course I did support her, and I did so sincerely. But I recognized some of myself in her, and tried to stop some of that insanity in myself, the incessant self-questioning and the hypercritical apology.

Happily, I’ve got both good pants AND the most wonderful person to love now. Not to equate the two. You know what I mean.

So this insecurity might have something to do with my latest theory: that writing, creative or argumentative —indeed, creating art at all—takes ego. By “ego,” I mean the belief I am Someone with Something Important to Say that Someone Else Would Want to Hear. And twenty years ago, ten years ago, perhaps even five years ago, it was hard for me to find that sense of ego.

[insert pause for soothing of a toddler nightmare. OK. Back to it]

Don’t believe me? Here’s a test: see all of those parenthetical phrases in my posts? They’re a stylistic tic. My dissertation reading group convinced me that I need to use parentheses less. (Doh! I’m still working on it, guys.) I adore parenthetical phrases, probably because of my first reading of this novel. And while I adore parenthetical phrases and their possibilities for multiple layered voices, sometimes the parentheticals represent me, trying to duck under my own words.

Now you see why I used that party analogy at the beginning of the post. I’ve been that girl.

Now I know I needed that kind of belief in myself in order to develop fully as a scholar, as a teacher, as a writer. And (gulp) now it’s here.

Anne Lamott on parenting and writing

More later–with my first assignment!–but here’s my inspiration for the day.

It’s from the wonderful, hilariously comforting Anne Lamott, writing about her “Letter to a pregnant friend”:

“I couldn’t actually think of anything specific to share with her on pregnancy and parenting that didn’t also apply to writing — after all, both are elective courses in Earth School, and not things that everyone needs to do in order to feel fulfilled. But if you insist on doing either, you start where you are, and you let yourself do it poorly, you study the work of people you admire, and after some time, you’ll get better, and be insane for shorter periods of time.”

Kiku-girl

About Tamiko: The Professional Version

Tamiko Nimura is a Sansei/Pinay writer and editor, originally from Northern California and now living in the Pacific Northwest. As a professor in English and African American Studies, she taught classes in writing, humanities, and multicultural American literature for the last seven years. Her writing has appeared or will appear in The San Francisco Chronicle, Kartika Review, the Rafu Shimpo, and Crosscurrents Literary Journal. Last summer, her book proposal reached finalist status in the SheWrites.com “Passion Project” nonfiction contest. She received degrees in English from UC Berkeley (BA) and from the University of Washington (MA, PhD). She has received awards from the Ford Foundation, the University of Iowa, the Asia Pacific Fund, the University of Washington, and the National Japanese American Citizens League (JACL).

She now works on memoir, personal essay, and food writing here.

About Kikugirl: The Backstory

My parents swear that I learned to read when I was 18 months old. That’s about 6 months younger than my youngest daughter, and I can barely picture it. (“I have a tape!” my mom insisted, a couple of years ago.)

Nevertheless, whenever I began to read, however I began to read, I haven’t stopped. The written word is, for me, like breathing, like water, like sunlight: elemental, essential, lifegiving, lifesaving. Even during my busiest and worst moments and years, I have always carved out a few minutes for a few pages of pleasure reading, every day. (I am sad that not many people do this, but that’s for another time.)

Given this love of reading, and my relatively early start, it may have been inevitable that I was my dad’s dinner party trick.

Early one Saturday morning in the 1970s, we were playing with that white magnetic letter board, with the red plastic frame and those kid-party-balloon colored letters. We spelled other words, I’m sure: cat, and maybe paper, and maybe house. But the word he asked me to memorize (how old was I, anyway?!) was a long word. I have no idea if my dad meant to pick a word this long, just for the sheer silly challenge of it all.

(Does this help us to figure out his reasoning?–later, when we traveled to visit family friends, he’d trot out a college textbook, and ask me to read a paragraph out loud, even if I had no idea what it meant. I’m sure there’s a poem in there somewhere.)

And yes, this was the word: chrysanthemum.

I learned to say it-spell it quickly, as if it were its own poem: c-h-r-y-s-a-n-t-h-e-m-u-m. Except that with the dashes in between, it actually looks even longer, and I always said it out loud very, very quickly: “ceeaitcharaiessayen [breath] teeaitcheeemyoumum.” Amazed laughter, a sonic memory that my cousins still use to tease me.

The chrysanthemum was one of my dad’s favorite flowers. I’ve always known it as a thing of beauty, for the green glass vase at the center of the dinner table. I’ve also known it as an edible flower, since we used the greens in making sukiyaki.

My dad died when I was ten. I don’t know how anyone processes the death of a parent at a young age. And I have come to realize that there are many worse ways to lose a parent–through abuse, for example, or prolonged neglect–but losing my dad is one of the losses that has defined my life. So there will certainly be more about him here. The chrysanthemum has been the flower that I associate most with my dad, and if I ever visit his grave, it is the flower that I will bring to honor his memory.

The Japanese word for chrysanthemum is kiku. When I chose my very first e-mail name, a hotmail account way-back-when (so 90’s!), I chose kikugirl.

I’ll use this blog as I ask my students to use the writing process itself: I’ll be writing to discover, rather than simply writing to record. I’ll be writing about what brings light and color to my life, including my family, the written word, food, friends, and those who work for social justice. I am about to re-enter the writing life. If you asked me what I was going to be when I was little, then a teenager, then even a college student, I would have said “writer.” I haven’t written creatively, even creatively nonfictively, in some years. And sometime this year I am going to re-open the manila envelope with my dad’s book manuscript, which I haven’t read since I was in fifth grade, some twenty-odd years ago. I know that this will be an amazing and difficult year of change and transformation for me.

Thank you for being here.