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8.14.2015


Fleeting Curry Sausage Salad
TABITHA BLANKENBILLER



Part 2 in a series where Tabitha Blankenbiller writes about and creates a legit literary recipe based on moments of universal agony or joy in a writer’s life. Humble pie, anyone? [Read Part 1.]


WRITING IS MAGIC.

If someone tries to tell you differently, he is peddling something. Probably a write-your-novel-in-three-weeks workshop.

No, it’s not magic alone. And all the magic in the universe isn’t going anywhere without putting in the hours (and hours) in the chair, fielding the rejection, tempering the weight gain and liver swells. That’s the process. But that indescribable, fleeting, unexpected, manic inspiration that opens something up in you that you never dreamed existed? That is magic.

I was lamenting an essay slog with a friend of mine, the way that a topic that had seemed so fresh and full of potential sagged on the page. Each word felt lifeless, stringing together into heavy, stinking cadaver sentences. Whole paragraph massacres.

“I know this doesn’t sound right,” she admitted, “but when I’m writing something good—really good—it’s so easy. It just happens. It all comes out, and I don’t have to do anything. I barely even have to revise it.”

“Me, too!” I said. Yes, I have to commit the time to writing it and to editing out my random garbled garbage, maybe tweaking the structure a smidge. But the story, it lilts. It feels effervescent on the page, and as I type, I don’t groan. I feel like I am strumming an instrument rather than plodding on a machine. I don’t ever know when that feeling is going to strike or why. It’s rarely on deadline. Not normally on whatever thing I think that I should be writing. I have to enjoy the moment when it arrives, try to make the most of it, then try not to despair too hard when it departs.

I can try to recreate the magic. I can try to force or beg or will it into being—make sure all of my favorite knickknacks are in their desk spots, switch from laptop to vintage Smith-Corona typewriter, play the Inception soundtrack softly in the background. My failure to manufacture a spark is more disappointing than its mere absence.

Which is a theme I find in my other beloved art form, cooking. Most nights when I come home from work, I’m not using a recipe. I have a carousel of techniques and standbys that I know by heart, and these rotate in and out of the kitchen. The whatever’s-in-the-fridge curry. The whatever’s-in-the-fridge pizza. They are normally fine, sometimes pretty good. Every so often, there is a rejection funneled straight into the garbage can, but this has become increasingly rare with unrelenting daily practice.

But then there’s a night—maybe once every few months, maybe several times in one mystical week—when the submishmash in my refrigerator inspires me. I run away with an idea, an odd combination of unlikely harmonizing flavors striking me into action. It’s like being on Chopped, when a basket of random crap and Ted Allen’s leering Warbly Parker grin give way to divinity.

The last time this happened was last week, when I was at my corporate-job desk trying to decide what would be for dinner. I was sick to death of chicken, of sandwiches, of things stuffed into pitas, and potato wedges baked in the oven. My imagination rifled through our freezer and came across the package of curry-flavored sausages I bought on a trip to Leavenworth, Washington. My German heart beats for a good sausage, and I’ll put up with all your low-hanging jokes to say so. The sunny turmeric-laced links reminded me of mangoes, the ones I’d gotten much better at peeling while living in the Southwest. Their sweetness, their ability to cool a muggy summer evening. I remembered the chicken sausage salad a friend of mine brought for lunch last week, how blessedly different from most tidy salads it was.

Curry sausage salad.

It came together as soon as I launched a Whole Foods cart on my lunch—banana chips for crunch, the in-store avocado tangy vinaigrette to temper the curry and mango sweetness. The guy at the cheese counter sold me a few tablespoons of artisanal corn nuts. “They’re for a salad,” I explained. He was intrigued.

The excitement over eating one of the best salads in my memory is the sadness with which I write down the recipe. I know I won’t have the curry sausage again for months, maybe ever. Mangoes are some of the most fickle fruits to find in prime condition. In-house dressings love to disappear. That dinner was a flawless plate, and now it’s gone. It’s the believing that the magic will return on another plate, that this one celestial feast will not be my last, that keeps me trudging forward in the kitchen, on the page, and in all tiny things in between.


FLEETING CURRY SAUSAGE SALAD

•1 package of curry sausage from Cured in Leavenworth (or something similar, if you’re not living in Eastern Washington right now)
•1 head romaine, torn and washed
•1 perfectly ripe mango, peeled and cut into chunks
•¼ cup dried banana chips
•3 tablespoons artisanal corn nuts (If you can’t find these, Marcona almonds would probably be the best bet.)
•1/3 cup feta cheese
•½ cup Whole Foods Avocado Dressing
•4 green onions, thinly sliced

Directions:

Grill sausage and allow to cool slightly before slicing into ½” pieces. Toss all ingredients together, season with pepper, and serve. Don’t come crying to me if it’s not the same.





TABITHA BLANKENBILLER is a Pacific University MFA graduate currently living in Portland, Oregon. Her essays have appeared in a number of journals, including The Rumpus, Barrelhouse, Hobart, Passages North, and Brevity. She also reviews books for Bustle and writes an ongoing series of Food Network fan fiction for The Mondegreen. For more of her work, visit tabithablankenbiller.com, and for a pithy good time, follow her on Twitter at @tabithablanken.


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