Last night we had dinner with our friends Cristin and Daniel who live in Boston. No, we weren’t visiting Bean Town and they didn’t come back to Houston after only a few weeks. We had a Skype dinner; one dinner, two time zones, 4 friends, and a little help from the interweb.
Cristin revealed a few weeks ago that she had always wanted to do a Skype dinner with someone else in which both sides would make the same exact meal and eat it together as if they were in the same physical location. Naturally, Kayla and I thought this was brilliant. After a week or so of group text message deliberating, we landed on Thai food. Kayla and I love Thai food, but we rarely cook it ourselves (Ok, we do make curry a lot, but I wouldn’t call it Thai by any means) so we were excited to expand our culinary horizons.
The menu: spring rolls, Pad Thai, and coconut rice with grilled pineapple.
The spring rolls turned out to be fun to make, albeit difficult to make properly. I don’t know how people can make perfectly-sized and wrapped spring rolls. It reminded me of making sushi and, as with sushi, even though it may not look ideal, it still tastes delicious.
Even though Kayla had a rough experience with Pad Thai the first and only time she ate it, she agreed to give it a shot. This Pad Thai wasn’t hard at all. We made it with tofu since I’m a veggie and Kayla has veggie tendencies (Cristin is a veg as well so they made it the same and added some chicken on the side for carnivore Daniel). We altered the recipe a bit by adding mushrooms and zucchini. I think it worked well, but next time I would add more veggies because at times it felt like there was too much noodle (but I love noodle!). Kayla started the noodles and sauce off and I took the dish into the home stretch. It was the best thing we had all night. I had very little control; couldn’t stop eating it.
The coconut rice made me nervous. I find rice very difficult to cook. I grew up on mushy rice and tend to make mushy rice (sorry, Mom). However, this time my rice turned out perfect. No mushy at all! Paired with some fresh pineapple, it was quite good. We were both surprised at the result.
While the food was quite tasty, the best part was the Skype/Friends in two places aspect. We set up our computers in our kitchens and cooked alongside each other. Kayla asked a question about hoisin sauce and I didn’t even get to answering it before Cristin was giving her the info. It honestly felt like we were in the same kitchen cooking together instead of just “cooking together.” When our meals were ready, we set our tables (complete with Skype open on Kayla’s computer), and sat down for the “same” meal even though we were 1,850 miles apart.
Last September, I finally read The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. I had been beating around the bush for months, maybe years, and after going to a Junot Díaz reading and talk-back, I finally plunged into the book. The novel blew me away and quickly became one of my favorites. If you haven’t read it, stop reading this immediately and get yourself a copy of Oscar Wao!
Díaz’ latest book, This is How You Lose Her, while not quite up to the level of Oscar Wao, is almost as compelling a read as his masterwork. I loved reading the different short stories and I even managed to get Kayla to read a few of them. This is How You Lose Her consists of 9 stories that feature Yunior, of Drown and Oscar Wao fame, at the center. I love Yunior. Everyone I know who has read the books loves Yunior. If anything, this collection humanizes him even further. Even though he is a world-class Dominican-American macho male, these stories show us that he just wants to be loved regardless of his “stud” persona. The reader sees the ways in which Yunior is able to love and be loved while demonstrating the effects of his relationships on his unwavering masculinity.
Yunior may come off as a typical macho Dominican male, but he is more than that. While all of the men in his life are serial cheaters and the collection’s most prominent male influence, Rafa, is abusive to women, Yunior does not exactly follow down this path. Even though he frequently messes up, cheats, and loses the girl, he doesn’t particularly seem to learn anything. Nevertheless, I interpret the work itself as his recognition of his failures and the poor decisions he has made in his life. The last story, “The Cheater’s Guide to Love,” presents Yunior years later. After being rightfully dumped by his fiancée due to his typically womanizing ways, he seems to finally learn from his mistakes. He becomes depresses and must fall into the abyss before he can finally emerge a wiser and better person, one that does not repeat the mistakes of his youth. Essentially, the stories are as much about failure as they are about growth. Yunior cannot truly grow and become a better person until he experiences failure. True, he frequently makes the same errors and typically credits them to his being a Dominican male, but the repetitive nature of his mistakes forces him to see them for what they are. They aren’t a reflection of his Dominicanness or his maleness; they are a result of who he is. Yunior is an addict, thus explaining the repetitiveness of his mistakes. I see the collection as a sort of rehab in which he must “come clean” about who he truly is in order to move on and make amends with his past.
Even though I generally want to dislike Yunior due his typical machismo behavior, I genuinely like the character. I think I owe this to Díaz’ style of writing. His writing is real to me. He effortless intertwines different languages, dialects, linguistic registers, and even sci-fi and pop culture tidbits. I’m always wanting to read more. And perhaps no other contemporary writer makes me want to write myself more than Junot Díaz. His writing makes me want to drop out of school, take some creative writing workshops, go to Agora, and make magic happen.