Monday, February 23, 2015


We now know a thousand ways not to build a light bulb. - Thomas Alva Edison

 The lights flicker in the kitchen, dulling the dull brown of the cabinets, muddying the muddy yellow of the tiles in the dimness. A row of bulbs above the sink, stretching from refrigerator to stove along the top edge of the wall, just under the ceiling, are inconsistent things, not a bright bulb in the lot. Like the great bulbs in the great neon signs standing high above the roadside in those classic films that shudder, flicker and pop, on off on off, these bulbs do the same, and although it is expected that one or the other bulb will flicker and dim before humming back to life, it is always a disappointing surprise. Unpredictable bulbs, so annoying. Flicker, blink, wane, darken. Then jump back to life.

 A kitchen tenebrous as I stand at the counter and handle a bowlful of bulbs, a head of garlic, a handful of shallots, long and narrow or short and plump, and onions. I shuffle and rub the onions, garlic, shallots in my hand, between my fingers, the flimsy, brittle layers of skin fall away. Slice off the ends and peel away the fresher, firmer skin, the oniony odor wafts up and tickles my nose, bites at me, threatening. I toss in handfuls, fistfuls of chopped onion, brush pinches of garlic, shallots off the blade of a knife glittering with the reflection of the bulbs overhead. Sizzle. Sizzle.

 Those damn lights, those cursed bulbs. How unpleasant it is to work in a kitchen with the lights on the lights off the lights on the lights off and one never knows when. Bright lights invigorate the cook, dim bulbs depress. My favorite kitchen was my favorite kitchen because of the lighting. Office lighting. Long, narrow neon bulbs (are they bulbs?) screwed into cream-colored metallic boxes, long and rectangular. The apartment had been offices before we moved in and renovated and I demanded those lights be preserved, not replaced by any number of bulbs, no matter how fancy the fixture. Those neon lights were bright and perfectly white, the better to shoot photos of food under, the better to stand at the counter and cook, cheered on as if listening to jazzy music.

Life is like an onion. You peel it off one layer at a time, and sometimes you weep. - Carl Sandburg 

 Fussy little buggers, bulbs are. How many ways to chop an onion so I don’t cry? I try, I do, but I blubber like a baby no matter taking precautions. All those Old Wives' Tales. A toothpick between the teeth, wearing a bandana over my nose and mouth, wearing goggles. chilling the onion before cutting. I have done it all. I breathe in and out through my mouth, tongue out. Stick a piece of bread between my lips, chill the onion in the freezer first or cut under running water. But to no avail. Up against a bulb, I burst into tears. Bulb-shaped tears.

 Occasionally, I bump into my husband as I dash out of the kitchen, tears coursing down my cheeks, nose running, arm pressed across my eyes, sobbing. What’s wrong?! he asks, “What happened?!” Ah no, I am simply cutting onions, I say as I fling open the nearest window and stick my head out. 

 Shallots have the same effect. French shallots, oniony shallots.

 For many years onions no longer made me cry. I never understood why. But now they do again.

Faith sees a beautiful blossom in a bulb, a lovely garden in a seed, and a giant oak in an acorn.
- William Arthur Ward

 We once took a trip to Holland. A road trip, we drove through tulip fields, through cities and countryside, Amsterdam and Haarlem and Leiden and The Hague. We bought packets and little mesh bags of bulbs for my mother-in-law who planted other bulbs, onions, garlic, shallots, radish bulbs and crocus and dahlia bulbs. Tiny, little brown bulbs, orbs no bigger than those big playing marbles, the shooters, my brother and I used to play with when we were kids, a jumble of pale brown bulbs dressed in crinkly skin. We bought a selection for my mother-in-law who loved gardening; tulips, a gift from Holland.

 She snipped open the packets, the tiny mesh bags, and out tumbled the bulbs no bigger than those glistening white bulbs, pearl onions, that keep cornichons company in brine, that find their way onto cocktail toothpicks among the platters of pâté. Papery skin, crinkly, like the skin on raw onions and shallots, those other bulbs, layers that slip off between one’s fingers leaving a trail of dirt and dust across the table. Bulbs huddled together in the palm of her hand, bulbs planted in pots to be kept indoors when icy weather threatened, pushed outside to be buried in a long, narrow row along the shrubs edging the garden, the tiny brown bulbs pressed into the dark, damp earth, to be loved and tended by a woman who loved her garden.

 Bulbs pushing their way above ground, first a tiny green bud, and leaves, arms waving, checking the air, checking the temperature, then bursting forth in ostentation, tulips yellow, pink, red, white, mauve. From a tiny, papery, brown bulb, this.

How Many Does it Take to Screw in a Light Bulb?

 Buxom fennel bulbs, creamy white tinged with green, springtime running through her veins. How I love fennel bulbs. Tough outer layers giving way to tender layers, superimposed, protective of the heart, layers overlapping elegantly like a cache-coeur (hide the heart) sweater that overlaps across the heart. Chop through the layers, the bulb is firm and crisp and allows the knife to slice through thinly, those thin strips almost transparent, translucid, opalescent. I rub my hands over her smooth surface, follow the curves, and breathe in her perfume.

 Feathery greens capping the bulb, waving, a brush of green, fennel fronds, chopped off and fed to Piggy the guinea pig who adored fennel bulb greens. Slender stalks likes arms raised above the head, the bulb. Pull the arms and crack off layers.

 A hefty fennel bulb somehow not hefty but voluptuous, zaftig in Yiddish, because there is something so elegant, so feminine about the fennel bulb. Slice through the bulb, take a bite of the crunchy fennel for a hint of licorice, anise, sweet yet not.

 My husband adores celeriac, that other bulb that I can easily call bulbous. Unlike the smooth, creamy, alabaster fennel, this bulb is ugly, gnarled, splotched with brown. A rustic bulb. A thick, hardy splay of green sticking out of its bulbous, knobby head, an outer skin tough and rough and earthy. Lusty to fennel’s sensuous, celery to fennel’s anise.

 I love fennel bulbs, slivered into paper thin slices and tossed in a salad, or chunked and roasted drizzled with olive oil until sweet and sexy, or simmered in a big pot of chicken soup until so tender it is falling apart, imparting a deeper, smokier flavor than any onion could.

 My husband adores celeriac as the French do, grated and smothered in mayonnaise. Or prepared like those other peasant roots, potatoes, turnips, rutabagas, grated, chopped, roasted, baked or simmered and puréed.

Radishes, small, pink and peppery. When I see radishes, I think of my father but not because he was small, pink and peppery but because he loved them. And so do I, eaten like they are; dipped in salt, in salads or on bread with fresh butter is a treat but I also like them roasted like this, milder but still crunchy.


A bunch of radishes
A sprig of rosemary
Good balsamic vinegar
Extra-virgin olive oil

   Clean the dirt from the radishes and cut off the leaves. Divide in halves and put in a bowl, add salt, 1-2 tbs balsamic vinegar and 4-5 tbs olive oil and then mix it all well before pouring it all in an oven-proof form. Bake in a pre-heated oven (200°C/390°F) for 15-20 minutes.

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  1. I thoroughly enjoyed this post. It is always a joy to read Jamie's beautiful words and admire Ilva's gorgeous pictures. You illuminate my Mondays.



  2. Buy a very, very sharp knife. I bought a Shun and have not cried since.

  3. Onions don't make me cry too much. But horseradish does! (I know; I know. It's not a bulb but a root...)

    I love the look of those roasted radishes! And you are reminding me of the giant bag of watermelon radishes I got on the last day of of the outdoor farmers' market last November. The farmer assured me at the time that they would keep for months in the fridge and he's right. They're still brilliant.

    Any time I see a photo of onions stored in sand in a vase, I keep thinking I've GOT to try that. I hope I remember the next time we get green onions.... (Do you put anything into the sand, or is it just regular old garden sand?)

  4. Was laughing at your cutting onions and old wives' tales - I don't get it either, how I still cry with them. Ah, light bulbs. It's my favourite DIY job (nobody else somehow does this in the house for fear of being electrocuted - lol!)
    Never been too keen on radishes BUT I absolutely love the sound of roasting them, Ilva-style. Never thought of cooking them - only made soup from the leaves. This sounds great!