Once upon a time, a person stood in a kitchen holding a tin bowl full of cauliflower florets. A beeswax-coated cloth, which such person can use instead of plastic wrap, sat stiffly on top of the pile of cauliflower like a mortarboard. The cauliflower was a bit aged, old enough to graduate from the refrigerator to somewhere else. Ideally, a dinner plate. But the person in the kitchen longed to put the cauliflower directly into the compost and run down the street. She had already broken the shaft of a bamboo toothbrush into pieces and placed it in the compost. A natural cotton swab was in there too, with some liquified chives. Things were getting good in the compost. Things were getting mushy. She longed to do anything other than make dinner. She thought of getting on a ladder and cleaning out the gutters, because in comparison to making dinner that sounded like a goddamned delight, and her heart strained toward the door, like a houseplant in shadow that develops one stout striving limb, the limb nearest the light source. The person also thought of taking up smoking and “going out for cigarettes” until someone else made dinner. But someone else had made dinner for many, many nights in a row, and it was her turn.
It was my turn! I’m talking about myself in the third person and at some point I’ll just switch to second person for no reason. And guess what? Guess what I made, guess WHAT? I made tempura. The batter for tempura, according the Moosewood cookbook, which is otherwise famous for recipes like: “take two vegetables and smother them in a bucket of dairy before you sprinkle the whole thing with dairy,” involves just egg yolks, flour, ice water, and salt. The flour I had at hand was whole wheat flour, which gives the batter a tan craft-supply aspect, like you’ve got a bowl of oak tag and you’ll just eat it wet, perhaps with salt? like you’re in a Halldór Laxness novel. Like you just don’t know what the fuck you’re doing. You have to heat the frying oil to a specific temperature range, which for a family that has melted several cooking thermometers means you just guess, and then you fry the coated vegetables in the oil until they look golden. Except if you’ve chosen to use the nearest-at-hand dull tan wheat flour, the tempura will never get golden. It can take on the dun aspect of homespun women’s punishment-wear from a GOP near-term dystopia, or perhaps a kind of buckskin tone. By which I mean, wheat flour makes it difficult to know when the tempura is done.
Coating the vegetables is just something you have to do with your hands. Ideally, you should probably go one by one and be careful; maybe enrobe them like chocolatiers do.
But I like to dump the whole bowl of vegetables in the mixture and paw through the bowl until I just can’t stand it anymore. If you reimagine that scene from “Ghost” where Demi Moore is making… is it a massive chess piece? Is it… a novelty dildo? Is it really supposed to be a vase because I doooooon’t think so… but subtract Patrick Swayze and swap out the vessel for a pile of cauliflower, and just grope through a thick homemade sludge full of raw egg yellows… that is what it is like to make tempura while your mind wanders.
While the tempura is frying, it is best to make a dipping sauce. Integral to that sauce is raw ginger. On the evening in question, I found that the raw ginger had shriveled where it lay, in the vegetable drawer, where so many things before it had been ignored so intently that they had swapped one earthly form for another. I found a tube of ginger paste and used that instead. The dipping sauce for tempura (also from Moosewood) is delicious, but part of that deliciousness is due to fresh garlic, ginger, and scallions. Using ginger paste, as I did, creates an end-product that looks like you’ve just scooped some substrate out of a polluted pond and put that muck right in your tamari, put it on the table, and said, “put your food in this.”
While these things were happening, I also made a pizza, which is one of the few things I can usually make without ruining it. But because I was sort of distracted, I tossed the dough into an oblong shape, which hung over the pizza pan so it cooked unevenly. At dinner, there was me, one adult with a lactose issue who couldn’t eat the pizza, and two kids with no interest in the tempura, which was not unexpected. But then I tried to prove to them that tempura can be delicious by taking the largest piece of cauliflower and popping it my mouth. Because the hunk of cauliflower was so large, some wheat flour from my poorly mixed tempura batter had collected in a little shelter between the branches of the floret and the stem and then been trapped there, enclosed by some undercooked batter. If I had been yawning massively during a sandstorm, the sensation probably would have been more pleasant than the explosion of wheat flour and loose batter. I immediately spit the whole thing out on my plate, on top of a sacrificial piece of pizza.
What happened next I’m not sure. The scene is kind of greyed out. We have some books published by Disney that attempt to give the princesses lives after their weddings. In them, Cinderella mostly hangs out with her mouse friends looking for her lost ring while someone plans a big party to celebrate the anniversary of her wedding, apparently her first and last notable day at the castle. The Little Mermaid goes back into the ocean to look for jewels with her father because there was an underwater typhoon and a bunch of treasure got swept out of her old kingdom. There’s very little of Ariel’s story to remember when she’s on land. Post-dinner was like that for me. Just a sad lonely wander through decisions I’d made, some underfed family members, and wheat flour in my hair.