28 January, 2010

Salinger and spinach

Oh, it's hard to get old! My daughter has reached an age I can remember BEING. I watch her struggling with homework, getting excited about drama auditions, running home with a friend to decide what to wear to a party, getting her first hairdryer and curling iron! And I remember. I don't think I was anywhere near as accomplished, self-confident or worldly as she is. But I was there. It's not that I miss it, but I am a bit envious of all that she has before her. As much as I'd like to relive her baby- and childhood, I'd like to relive my own life, only do it MUCH smarter. And maybe that's what I dream of, for her.

But we all have to be teenagers, with all the glory and pain that that entails. And to underscore my minor melancholy, today the world lost J.D. Salinger. I'll admit it: I thought he had been dead already. But even so, it is sad to think of a world deprived of his genius. It's been years since I even thought of him, but my teenage years, the years Avery has just on the horizon, were enormously brightened by his words. Not "The Catcher in the Rye," that classic that we were all meant to read,
but "Franny and Zooey," and "For Esme, With Love and Squalor." These rich, upper-crusty, introspective, dysfunctional, wonderful Glasses, these New Yorkers with their smart, snappy dialogue and a sort of American Nancy Mitford family life...

Esme. I can't find my copy tonight, which saddens me. When I was in high school, not an era of magical success for me, I nevertheless had one particularly intelligent friend who handed me a copy of "Esme," in "The Nine Stories," and he said, "This girl is you." How flattering and wonderful was that, to be compared to a fictional heroine of epic inspirational proportions. This friend and I have corresponded tonight, reminiscing about those young, sweet selves we were. How completely odd to think we're older than our parents were, then, when we were teenagers.

And Avery told me tonight that one of her favorite series of books, "A Series of Unfortunate Events" by Lemony Snicket, contains many hidden references to J.D. Salinger! The orphans are adopted by Jerome (the "J" in JD is for "Jerome"!) Squalor and his wife Esme! The magic continues.

I was, of course, painfully influenced in my adolescent writing by Salinger's innovative way of italicizing only part of a word, according to how important that part was! My stories became ever more infused with tiresome Salinger-esque characters, smoking cigarettes down to where they burned the smoker's fingers, whining about alienation! But even to this day I remember being compared to Esme, and my teenage self wakes up for a moment.

I love watching Avery feverishly writing her stories, and objecting to bedtime because "I get my best ideas for writing when it's nighttime, and then I have to go to sleep!" It's as if I'm looking in a fuzzy mirror, seeing my childhood self in my green-flowered bedroom, upstairs in the house where my parents still live, hearing the television with "The Six-Million-Dollar Man" in the living room below, as I tirelessly wrote at my desk. Those stories are still somewhere in my childhood closet, I'm sure. My mother never throws away anything that anyone might ever want, bless her heart.

Well, I grew up. But I still love my words, so I suppose my youthful, heart-pounding inspiration by the reclusive Salinger still holds sway.

Grown up. Yes. And as such, these days, most of my creativity goes into what we eat! Today John and I hopped the Tube to take a trip to Piccadilly to run some errands, and while there popped in to Kulu-kulu for a sushi lunch. Fish, yes, plenty of omega-3, but almost my favorite dish is the chilled steamed spinach with a sesame dressing. And you know what? You can make it at home.

Chilled Steamed Spinach with Sesame
(serves 2)

1/2 lb baby spinach, washed

3 tbsps soy sauce
1 1/2 tbsps sesame oil
2 tbsps peanut oil
6 tbsps tahini
3/4 tsp sugar
1 tsp honey
1 clove finely minced garlic

sesame seeds to sprinkle (1/2 tsp?)

Boil water in a large saucepan and plunge spinach in it. Boil, stirring, for 1 minute, then pour into a colander and rinse with COLD water. Now, squeeze the spinach for an impossible-seeming time, as more and more water is released from it. Expect just one handful of spinach left after squeezing. Seriously.

Chill spinach for at least an hour. Meanwhile, mix all dressing ingredients together very thoroughly.

When ready to serve, bring spinach out of the fridge and form into a log, then cut in half to form two servings, and drizzle with dressing (just a little, save the rest). Sprinkle with sesame seeds.


There will be lots of extra dressing. You can use it for two dishes I can think of right off the top of my head, either of which would be lovely right alongside the spinach, if you don't mind similar flavors in two dishes. With some steamed rice, you're good to go for dinner.

Sesame Salmon
(serves 2)

2 salmon fillets
dressing as above

Place the salmon fillets in an ovenproof dish and pour dressing over. Flip the fillets so both sides are coated. Bake at 200C, 425F for 25 minutes. Done.

Sesame Aubergine (Eggplant)
(serves 2)

1 medium eggplant
dressing as above

Dice the aubergine in 1-inch pieces (skin on). Scatter in an oven-proof dish, then pour dressing over and toss. Bake at 200C, 425F for 15 minutes, then turn oven down to 120C, 240F for a further 20 minutes. Toss again and serve.


These are contradictory dishes: vegetable and yet rich, spare and yet complex, cheap and yet luxurious.

It's that sort of yes/no, joyous/suffering, full/empty sort of contradiction that makes the best dish, whether it's on a plate, served up at dinner, or between the covers of a novel on a shelf, or in the life of an almost-grownup, teetering between goofy and elegant. I'm celebrating them all tonight.


Just a Plane Ride Away said...

Kristen, I feel exactly the same way about my daughter--she is so much more accomplished than I was at her age. And I remember that age rather well (unfortunately, LOL!).

I saw an article yesterday that speculated whether JD Salinger kept unpublished manuscripts in his safe. I guess we'll find out soon.

Kristen In London said...

Plane Ride, something comes to mind about Nabokov with this Salinger story: didn't a court just give permission to have published several things that Nabokov specifically banned from publication in his will? I think that's wrong, actually, much as I'd like to see a new Salinger piece... but maybe he didn't say they shouldn't be, just wanted to wait till after death?

Shelley Ross said...

How odd....I just rescued my copy of Franny & Zooey from the attic last week and put it on my bedside table to reread.
I'm with Avery--The Series of Unfortunate Events is WONDERFUL! I hope you'll read it...I read it while nursing my kids and we listened to the audiobooks (some read by Tim Curry) in the car years later. Loads of fun! Here's to our particularly intelligent high school friend for hipping us to J.D. and the Glasses!

Kristen In London said...

Shelley: what a joy to find you again! Yes, we shared that particularly intelligent friend and so many memories of him and our lives then... great fun! Avery introduced me to the Series of Unfortunate Events and I can't believe he's written nothing since. Is that true??

Bee said...

I'm so glad that you wrote about Salinger. When I saw his face on The Independent that day I felt that he deserved a good tribute -- and this was one I could thoroughly identify with. He is the patron literary saint of adolescents, no? Maybe we should start a Facebook Group (my 15 year old says that they are all the rage) called Women Who Secretly Thought They Were a Bit Esme-ish.

He always swore he would never publish anything else, but I hope that he's squirreled away some gems.

Kristen In London said...

Bee, you make me laugh! My 13-year-old seems to do nothing on Facebook but join groups. I love your idea. We want to start one called People Who Get a Kick Out of Telling Who's a Tourist in London Because They Step Out of the Way Of Buses Turning Corners. A bit of an esoteric group, true...

I bet a lot of us who like each other's blogs were... Esme in high school.