"A Single Man" by Christopher Isherwood & Baja Fish Tacos

Travel back to the '60s with A Single Man and a twist on classic California baja fish tacos.


Christopher Isherwood’s A Single Man had been on my reading list for a long time and I’m sorrier I didn’t get to it sooner. It’s like a one night stand with a magnificent stranger or a single bite of an exquisite meal. Part of me wishes this novella was a thousand pages, that Isherwood’s magnetic prose took me from the beginning of George and Jim’s relationship, along their ups and downs, and through Jim’s tragic death.

But I know that one of the reasons this story so potent is because of (and not in spite of) its length. It is a glimpse of a man’s life — a single day — and not the glimpse he would have chosen you to see.

Published in 1964, A Single Man catapulted into fame as one of the first sympathetic yet honest accounts of a gay man. This portrait is not a romantic one. George isn’t young or exotic or consumed with passion; he’s a middle-aged Englishman who teaches literature in a Californian university. He is unapologetically human, a refreshing depiction of an archetype that was usually painted as lascivious or girlish, as a creature of French trysts and flamboyant tastes. George endures the loss of his longtime partner Jim and also endures the more banal trials of his life, sometimes with dignity and sometimes not. And yet, at the heart of the book is a relentless love of being alive in spite of it all.

A Single Man continues to resonate 50 years later because Isherwood has portrayed with exquisite precision all the distress, absurdity, poetry, and comfort of being alone, forever an alien no matter how well you blend in. As a lifelong expat (“Third Culture Kid”), I have been frequently preoccupied by the repercussions and benefits of individualism. When the environment is friendly and familiar but it’s not yours, you seek friendly and familiar people to fill the gap, usually expats with a similar origin.

George not only faces the challenges of an expat but, due to his sexuality, he also has a much smaller pool of people he can trust with his true self. It’s akin to speaking a foreign language well enough for day-to-day interactions but not for communicating deep feelings or complex thoughts. You get along with the people around you but you are forever dogged by the knowledge that their impression of you is incomplete, that you have yet to find a way to say exactly what you’re thinking, and that you have no idea how they would respond even if you did.

Transient

A Single Man is one of those stories that is very conscious of the setting — in this case, Southern California — and how the protagonist fits or doesn’t fit into it. Fish tacos are a Californian classic and capture all the flavors of the story’s location, but I switched out tilapia for cod to reflect George’s Britishness. Just as George is at once part of his environment and completely separate from it, the cod is part of the fish taco but nevertheless stands alone.


BAJA FISH TACOS

Ingredients

  • ¼ cup reduced-fat sour cream

  • 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh cilantro

  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

  • ½ small head of green or red cabbage (about 14 ounces), cored and thinly sliced

  • 1 medium red onion, thinly sliced

  • 1 tablespoon chili sauce

  • 1 ½ teaspoons paprika

  • 1 ½ teaspoons brown sugar

  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano

  • ¾ teaspoon garlic powder

  • ¾ teaspoon salt

  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin

  • ¼ teaspoon ground red pepper

  • 4 (6-ounce) cod fillets

  • Vegetable oil

  • 6-8 (6-inch) soft corn tortillas

  • ½ ripe peeled avocado, thinly sliced

  • 4 lime wedges

Instructions

Combine sour cream, cilantro, 2 tablespoons of lime juice, and cabbage, plus salt and pepper to taste. Stir until thoroughly mixed. In a separate bowl, combine chili sauce and onion.

Combine paprika, brown sugar, oregano, garlic powder, salt, cumin, and red pepper. Sprinkle mixture evenly over fish. Heat oil in a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add non-frozen fish fillets to pan; cook 3 minutes on each side or until desired degree of doneness.

Warm tortillas according to package directions. Divide fish, slaw, and avocado evenly among tortillas. Add a squeeze of fresh lime and serve with lime wedges.

Adapted from Blackened Tilapia Baja Tacos recipe from Cooking Light


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The TBR List: Relentless Reader

Roxane Gay's advice to writers, applicable to everyone.

Roxane Gay's advice to writers, applicable to everyone.

I went to my first author reading this week.

(That's crazy, I know. There are a lot of great author events in Chicago, and I've enjoyed attending the Printers Row Lit Fest a few times. But I hadn't made it to a reading before this week.)

On Wednesday night Roxane Gay, author of Bad Feminist and my current Twitter crush, spoke to a packed house at Women and Children First, a feminist bookstore in Chicago. We got there 20 minutes early and got standing room spots squeezed between a table and the cash register. I spent most of the time peering between two people's heads.

You'd think it would've been distracting, the air conditioners that couldn't keep up with the 100 squished-together bodies and the relaxation-killing electric purple walls. But it wasn't. Because Roxane was awesome. She started out by reading a series of her own tweets. The woman live-tweeted the September issue of Vogue. And it was hilarious. Then she moved on to reading three essays from Bad Feminist. I'm in the middle of the book, so I was happy she picked pieces I'd already read. If she hadn't, I might've had to earmuff myself.

In the Q&A section, Roxane took queries as diverse as "I'm a white teacher at the City Colleges. How do I support and relate to my black students?" "Is Beyonce a feminist?" (Yes.) and "What's your best advice for aspiring writers?"

Her answer to that third question, incidentally her last, was amazing: "Be relentless."

Do you need anything else to pump you up as you head into a three day weekend? I think not.

Flamin' Fury peaches from last Saturday's Green City Market.

Flamin' Fury peaches from last Saturday's Green City Market.

Now let's feast on some links.

The Groupon Guide featured us in their list of top 10 food and drink blogs to read right now! Thanks!

Here's how humans create 1.4 billion tons of food waste a year. 

Infinite Jest has been Lego-fied.

You've never seen an egg poached like this before.

The beautiful history of print.

A gorgeous graphic cheat sheet for in season produce.

So your book club needs some help picking diverse books.

Go behind the scenes of a personal food photography shoot.

DIY Pocky!

Book storage inspiration that will make you empty your shelves. Now.

Useful: When to splurge or save in a kitchen reno.


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At The Table With...Stephanie Wise of Girl Versus Dough

Interview with food blogger Stephanie Wise of Girl Versus Dough | www.paperplatesblog.com

Today we're chilling with Stephanie Wise, the 27-year-old blogger behind Girl Versus Dough, a baking blog that's celebrating its fifth birthday this week! Perhaps it's no surprise I'm drawn to Stephanie because she, like me, has been a newspaper reporter and food blogger. (I'm still doing both, but who knows? I may need to turn to her for advice one day.) Girl Versus Dough features a lot of delectable recipes that I find approachable, probably because Stephanie is a self-taught baker. Unlike cooking, baking can be really intimidating and I like learning from others who've taught themselves. There's a whole lot of sweet — plus some occasional savories — at Girl Versus Dough, and I think you guys will like it.

Read on to get to know Stephanie!

What is your all-time favorite book?

This answer changes constantly, but right now The Last American Man by Elizabeth Gilbert is currently at the top of the list. It's a book about a man who decides to live completely in the wilderness — definitely eye-opening, humbling and fascinating.

What meal do you love to cook?

Anything I can bake. ;) That is to say, enchiladas are one of my favorite go-to meals — with extra guacamole on top, please.

What is your favorite food scene from a book?

I love the food stories in Ruth Reichl's memoir, Tender At The Bone. If you haven't read it yet and you love food, drop everything (yes, even that cupcake) and go get a copy.

Tea or coffee?

COFFEE! Sorry about the shouting. I've had some coffee.

What is the last book you abandoned?

I should have abandoned Gone Girl, but I powered through it because everyone said it was so good. Now that I've finished it, I have to disagree.
At Girl Versus Dough, Stephanie makes things like these S'mores Pretzel Hand Pies. Wow.

At Girl Versus Dough, Stephanie makes things like these S'mores Pretzel Hand Pies. Wow.

Author you'd most like to meet for dinner, and your order?

I'd love to meet Elizabeth Gilbert. I'm not the biggest fan of Eat, Pray, Love, but I love her other books (I'm currently working on her new novel, The Signature of All Things) and I've seen/heard her interviews before. She just seems like a warm, kind, interesting person and I'd love to enjoy margaritas and share a plate of nachos with her.

Where do you go to find new recipes?

I find inspiration everywhere — other blogs, Pinterest and food magazines are my primary sources.

Where do you go to find new reads?

Either I'll get a tip to a book from a food or lifestyle blog that I read, but more likely I just browse the bookstore and find one (or five) books that sounds interesting. I could spend all day, every day in bookstores. With my drink of choice in the question above.

Tell us about your blog — the inspiration for it, why you blog, and your favorite aspects.

My blog is primarily a baking blog, and it all started as a personal challenge to bake more homemade bread. In the five years since, it's become about so much more, but at the heart of it it's just a running story about my intense passion for creating food and sharing it with those I love. I love the recipe creation and writing aspects of blogging, but my absolute favorite aspect of it is the relationships I've developed through the site with readers and other food bloggers. It's so fun to know there are other crazy food people out there like me who shamelessly post photos of their breakfasts on Instagram.

What are your favorite blogs, and why?

Ahh, this question is always so tough to answer because I follow like 200 blogs (I'm not even kidding)! Right now, my biggest blog crushes are Blogging Over ThymeClimbing Grier MountainThe Law Student's WifeThe Moonblush Baker andHow Sweet Eats — their photography and recipe ideas are just bonkers. But that really just barely scratches the surface of great food blogs out there.

Connect with Stephanie: Twitter | Facebook | Pinterest | Instagram | Google+


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"The Silkworm" by Robert Galbraith (AKA J.K. Rowling) & Creamy Tomato Bisque for One

The Silkworm weaves mystery into publishing, which can be a lonely world. Warm it up with our creamy tomato bisque.


Perhaps what is most interesting about J.K. Rowling’s second book under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith is her exploration of a topic she knows too well: the world of writing and publishing. In an intricate whodunit tale, Rowling capitalizes on all she knows of her industry, depicting writers both terrible and successful, and the treachery within their profession. 

In the latest volume of the Cormoran Strike saga, the detective is on the case of a missing author, recently accused or writing a libelous, “fictional” piece of work about his publisher and a fellow author, among others. Owen Quine, the author (and a strange man who frequently wears capes and absurd hats), seems to have angered everyone in the publishing world. 

Through this case, Rowling explores modern avenues of self-publishing, blogging and self-promotion. By questioning the merits of these forms, as well as the roles of agents, publishers, and fellow authors, Rowling touches a deep nerve in the writing community — the very structure of the system that determines what is worthy of being considered “literature” or at the very least, an example of quality writing and an art form. The title too is a nod to the pain that a silkworm suffers to produce silk —  a reference perhaps to the process of writing, thereby producing great works of art. 

Yet surrounding all these hefty topics remains Rowling’s undeniably entertaining thread of characters and plot twists. The novel feels like a traditional British crime tale, albeit set in the modern day (in fact, it sometimes surprised me that characters used computers, iPads, the internet). Like a well-worn tale from a bygone era, The Silkworm carries a sense of nostalgia for what writing used to be, and for what books have meant. 



Although Strike is reminiscent of a certain genre of detectives, he also surprises. It is through him that Rowling mulls over the complexity of fame, the disappointments of marriage and relationships, and the increasing rarity of privacy. 

Knowing Rowling wrote the novel did make me more forgiving of the times when the plot seemed repetitive or when the book seemed to go on too long. But remembering that Rowling writes under this pseudonym also reminds me as a writer that this is her exploration of traditional form in a modern context, and that in itself is something I can always appreciate. 

Transient


As I read The Silkworm, I couldn’t help but think of Cormoran Strike’s nights alone contemplating case after obscure case in his office and accompanying attic apartment. This tomato bisque is just the thing for a light dinner alone (paired with toasty grilled cheese sandwich, of course). Like the book, it is layered with subtle flavors and hints of just what might be lurking behind the seemingly obvious surface. 


CREAMY TOMATO BISQUE FOR ONE

Ingredients:

(May be doubled, tripled, etc. to serve more than one person) 

  • 2 tomatoes on the vine, halved
  • 1/4 onion 
  • 3 to 4 cloves of garlic (skin on) 
  • Basil (fresh or dried) 
  • Italian seasoning 
  • Salt 
  • Pepper 
  • Olive oil 
  • A piece of crusty bread 
  • Parmesan cheese (optional)

Instructions: 

Preheat oven to 400ºF. Grease a baking sheet or pan.

Place halved tomatoes and skin-on garlic cloves on the baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil. Place onion on the same baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

Bake for 20 minutes (until roasted).

Remove vegetables from oven and peel garlic cloves. 

Blend roasted garlic, onion, tomato, and seasoning (Italian, salt, pepper, and a bit of olive oil) in blender or food processor until smooth.

Add water as needed to adjust thickness of bisque, if desired.

Pour bisque into a bowl. Sprinkle parmesan cheese and a crushed piece of crusty bread (I used French bread) over the bisque.

Serve immediately, but if you want to make more than one cup or save some for later, this soup can also be refrigerated and then reheated on the stove or in the microwave as needed.


Transient

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