A Look Forward

Three.  Weeks.  Left.

AND THEN A CAREFREE SUMMER OF FROLICKING IN FLOWERY FIELDS AND SIPPING DAQUIRIS POOLSIDE.

Except ha ha ha, I lied.

I'll be working 40 hour weeks with my current employer, becoming a boss at Russian, and rowing in Chicago with Lincoln Park Boat Club.  I'll be staying at my dad's apartment in the suburbs, and commuting into work with him.  I get to learn how to drive stick (!!!).  And I am determined to make jams and pickles this summer.  It will happen.

I also plan to do a lunch-box series, where I post about my brown-bag lunch for the day.  Probably not every day, but a couple times a week maybe, depending on how ambitious I am.  I thought this would be a nice thing to do because a) it'll keep me thinking creatively about my lunches instead of reverting to PB&J (Not that there's anything wrong with PB&J; I love them, in fact, but you're more interested in the weird, creative stuff, no?) and b) hopefully they'll inspire you to be creative with your lunches, too.  Your lunch boxes will be the envy of the office.

In other news, I have a final project due in a couple weeks for my creative writing class.  The course is about the American city in literature, and while our topics and styles can be as varied and creative as we want them to be, they do need to come back to the city.  Naturally, I wanted to write about food in some capacity.  Originally I was going to go on something of a food tour of Chicago, highlighting different neighborhoods and how I've become familiar with them through food.  But I've shifted focus to something a little closer to my heart, and will be writing about three meals in particular which carry a lot of meaning for me.  The project in particular will be about the act of sharing a meal with someone, and how that sharing process gives a meal life and importance.  As a whole, it will be about my relationship to Chicago through these three meals.  I will probably post the final product here, but I haven't decided yet.

In any case, instead of sharing a recipe with you all today, I'll be sharing a piece of my original project.  I had to write a sample couple pages of what I wanted to do for my project during fifth week, but, as I said, the project has changed since then.  I don't want this writing to go to waste though, so I'm posting it here.  It's about my adventure to Dat Donut, a doughnut joint on the South Side of Chicago.  

Little Bites:

I’ve never been this far south before – I mean, south in terms of Chicago… You know what I mean.  I let out a small laugh, it could’ve been a hiccup, the way it bubbled suddenly from my lips and hung awkwardly in the air.  I half-grimaced at myself, at that nervous shudder, and gazed at the world outside the car, with the windows rolled down all the way, and Van Morrison’s voice bleeding into the sound of the wind rushing by.  Whenever the car came to a halt at a red light, his voice drowned in the deep, rhythmic thuds from nearby car stereos, with the bass pulsing and accented by angry lyrics.  They seemed angry to me, anyway.  My friend and I sped off again, heading farther down Cottage Grove, deeper into the South Side, past crumbling brick buildings and ladies in dirty dresses picking trash from street gutters.  I’m not sure what I was afraid of, exactly, when my friend stopped the car for gas – afraid to be too cautious, unnecessarily sensitive to every movement, or to be not cautious enough, careless in these unfamiliar, potentially dangerous surroundings.  I slipped my wallet and sunglasses into my backpack, put my hand protectively over it and felt the contours of my camera beneath my fingertips.  To what was I reacting?  Or maybe, why did I have a reaction at all?  The immediate answer is simple – the danger of both gang and random acts of violence are real – but the underlying explanation, sensitive and complex, and maybe even disturbing, is more difficult to understand.  So I waited quietly and tried not to think about it, tried to be an objective observer, rational, running my eyes evenly over the storefronts across the street, the other cars at the gas station, the pedestrians wandering out into traffic.  We pulled away from the curb and I pushed my sunglasses back up the bridge of my nose.

The little nervous pricks dulled and melted once we went inside.  I noticed one man was placing his order at the counter, while another lounged against the long table along the opposite wall of windows.  I glanced at the case of doughnuts in front of me, down by my knees, then up behind the glass between us and the cashier, where the kitchen and its industrial metal equipment were visible.  My eyes moved again, to the small cutout in the glass, where the man ordering slipped his money into the little tray, toward the short cashier behind the glass, with her hair piled high up on her head.  As I ordered and paid for my little sample of doughnuts – one yeast with chocolate glaze, and two cake doughnuts, one with chocolate glaze and the other with plain – a tall young man pushed open the front door with a huge grin on his face, laughing with the short cashier and asking her for his usual order. 

I noticed all these motions around me, but I kept myself detached, not wanting to seem, or to be, nervous here.  My friend stood close to me while the shutter of my camera went click click click, click, click, and he laughed at me as I moved the doughnuts around, crinkled the bag a little more, finding the right lighting, contorting myself to shoot different angles.  I allowed myself to connect with the room and the people behind the glass and the young man’s laughter, once I put my camera away again and pulled the chocolate-glazed yeast doughnut from the paper bag. 

The grease had made small, translucent puddles on the side of the sack, and I admired them as I took a bite.  It was barely sweet as my teeth sunk in and my tongue felt the dough, light like threads of cotton candy; then the chocolate came, pressing gently against my palate.  The outermost layer cracked a little under the pressure, then melted down into the flesh of the doughnut with all of its sweetness and spread pleasantly over the roof of my mouth.  The deep notes of chocolate and higher ones of tooth-aching sweetness lingered on the back of my tongue as I carefully tore away another piece and pressed it into my mouth, glaze-side down.  My tongue firmly compressed the dough into a dense disk against the roof of my mouth and melted the chocolate into tiny, intensely sweet pools that filled up the wells between my lower gums and cheeks.  I tried not to eat it all too quickly, tried to savor these sweet, soft, deep moments of dough and glaze coming together between my teeth.  But the doughnut was gone before I’d even realized that I’d inhaled the last bite.  For all the anxiety I’d had, about the deep South Side and my not belonging there, it didn’t really matter in the end.  Sometimes you just need a good doughnut.

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