foodandwine:

Introducing Food & Wine Chefs-in-Residence. In honor of our 2014 redesign, we enlisted star chefs Grant Achatz (above), Mario Batali, Eric Ripert, David Chang, Andrew Zimmern and Hugh Acheson to consult on monthly features, recipes and travel tips. They have brilliant ideas, but don’t always make great office mates. For full videos visit Youtube.com/foodandwine.

foodandwine:

Introducing Food & Wine Chefs-in-Residence. In honor of our 2014 redesign, we enlisted star chefs Grant Achatz (above), Mario Batali, Eric Ripert, David Chang, Andrew Zimmern and Hugh Acheson to consult on monthly features, recipes and travel tips. They have brilliant ideas, but don’t always make great office mates. For full videos visit Youtube.com/foodandwine.

We’ve been calling Emmy xiao bao bei—little treasure, little darling—since she was born, so this song makes me endlessly happy. But I also like it because it’s maybe the sweetest that Mandarin has ever sounded in my ear.

I was talking to someone recently who shared a conversation she’d just had in which the woman had imitated how ridiculous and abrasive English had sounded to her when she first came to the United States. The sound was wonderfully awful. I’ve definitely heard people speaking a language my ears can make nothing of and thought, It is not possible that these people aren’t just repeating two words. This woman’s impression was just as unflattering and reductive. And a good reminder.

It would be easy to here suggest that with patience and willingness we come to hear each other better, literally and figuratively, which is true. But there are still other factors contributing to the task. A linguist friend acknowledged that our reactions to languages aren’t just about familiarity, but that things like an even pattern of vowels and consonants can make a language (like Japanese) sound pleasing to more people than a language with more stacked-together consonants. 

Still, surely in any language, a great voice does a lot of the heavy lifting. 

Since well before she turned 2, Emerson has been wanting a jiăotàchē (ja-dat-sah). But when we brought her to the jiăotàchē diàn (bicycle store), her feet didn’t quite reach the pedals. We bought her a scooter instead and assumed she’d give up on the idea, but weeks ahead of her third birthday she began telling us, “I’m getting a jiăotàchē for my birthday, a red one!”

And so she did.

And that’s when I learned that what she wanted, precisely, wasn’t a jiăotàchē but a sānlúnchē—tricycle.

In this case, the translation is identical to English. Sān is three, lún is wheel, chē is bike.

It’s lightning bug season! And oh, to hold on forever to the serious face my toddler makes, staring intently into the dusky shadows beneath the sagging branches of the neighbor’s mulberry tree. “There!” she shrieks, and then goes silent again, so serious in her task of alerting us to every flicker. “There!”
Yínghuǒchóng (the ch- is more like t) lightning bug.

It’s lightning bug season! And oh, to hold on forever to the serious face my toddler makes, staring intently into the dusky shadows beneath the sagging branches of the neighbor’s mulberry tree. “There!” she shrieks, and then goes silent again, so serious in her task of alerting us to every flicker. “There!”

Yínghuǒchóng (the ch- is more like t) lightning bug.

My daughter’s preschool is trying to transform an old storage space into a library. 

It’s a nonprofit preschool that’s the daytime home to approximately 150 kids from culturally and socio-economically diverse homes throughout Brooklyn. Fifty percent of the families qualify for reduced tuition through the Agency for Children’s Services. 

Research has proven that preschoolers with access to library programs can develop early reading behaviors that literally change the paths of their lives. Of course, I want this for my daughter. But for so many of the parents leading the library effort, it’s not about their kids, but all the kids that will benefit for years and years to come (and, by extension, all of us in the wider community). 

Jen and Roy Leone are the parents of a 4-year-old at Park Slope North Child Development Center (PSN-CDC) and the talented partners behind the architecture firm Leone Design Studio. They created a model and a budget for the library pro bono, and have donated dozens of hours to the project — though their son will have moved on to elementary school before there are even books on the library’s shelves.  

Jay Rodriguez, a musician and two-time Grammy nominee, assembled a group of jazz luminaries to play a concert, for parents sitting on blankets on the PSN rooftop playground, in an effort to raise money — though his 4-year-old son also won’t be around to enjoy the library. Ditto for the documentary filmmaker parents who volunteered their time to shoot this video, so we could run an Indiegogo campaign — a final big push to meet our fundraising goal of $5,000 by June 23. 

If you can spare $2 or $200, literally every cent will have an impact.

With crossed fingers, endless gratitude and so much love,
Michelle

The table would be set with watermelon pickles and canned meats, apples and jelly doughnuts and shoestring potatoes, a block of pre-sliced cheese, a bottle of milk, a bottle of catsup, and raisin bread in a stack. Sylvie liked cold food, sardines aswim in oil, little fruit pies in paper envelopes. She ate with her fingers and talked to us softly about people she had known, her friends, while we swung our legs and ate buttered bread.
Marilynne Robinson, “Housekeeping.” (Still enjoying the coverless paperback I picked out of a box of throwaways on the UCSD campus in 1997, considering a graduate degree in anthropology.)

Gluten: Drop It Like It’s Hot

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We’ve decided to go gluten-free for April, to see if it helps Rich’s horrendous spring allergies, his stormy digestive system and Emerson’s and my eczema. My first nod to this decision, optimistically anticipating Monday morning break leftovers, was the pizza di ricotta, or Easter ricotta pie, I baked last night for today’s lunch.

I’ve written about wanting Emmy to associate this pie with Easter and spring time, at the very least—language has been a tremendous component of her Chinese heritage; food is nearly the only way I know how to try and make her Italian side meaningful to her. I wanted to bake it with her, but wound up short on time and baking it after she went to sleep, hanging out alone past midnight waiting for it to cool. 

This year I used this Mario Batali recipe, but with one less egg in the batter, butter in the crust instead of shortening and gluten-free flour. I also left out the candied fruit but sprinkled chopped chocolate on the crust—fearing it would taste beany from the g/f flour, which smelled beany—before pouring the batter in. I also skipped the lattice crust, for fear of unavoidable beanyness. Though I needn’t have worried.  

Now, to take on April and assemble an arsenal of g/f-vegetarian dinner ideas. Suggestions (and take-out menus) welcome. 

Still Life With Rhino

A glance into Emerson’s jewelry box last week revealed the Jolly Rancher–like ring Rich once slipped onto my finger while I was sleeping, back in our very first apartment; a Matchbox car from her 2nd birthday party goodie bag; a rhino; a fork; and a brown ballerina.

The jewelry box came with brown and white ballerina options. When I half joked to the woman at the Pottery Barn that we were waiting for the Asian option, she smiled tightly.

 

Christine Castro, lady of the house over at Darling Studio and a dear and supremely talented friend, recently posted an email “conversation” we had on her beautiful Brunch blog. I’m still smiling about the experience—and her question about which five people, living or dead, I would like to invite to brunch. 
Who would you invite?
She also posted a pancake recipe I wrote up, and here’s where I get on my soapbox and advise: If you have time to make pancakes from a box, you have time to make pancakes from scratch. Seriously. You can have a batter together in 10 minutes (less if you skip my buttermilk substitution advice—and don’t let a toddler help you scoop the flour). You can even do yourself the time-saving favor of measuring out the dry ingredients and putting them in a container or ziplock in your pantry, all ready for when you need them.  
Like Christine, pancakes are a Good Thing. 

Christine Castro, lady of the house over at Darling Studio and a dear and supremely talented friend, recently posted an email “conversation” we had on her beautiful Brunch blog. I’m still smiling about the experience—and her question about which five people, living or dead, I would like to invite to brunch. 

Who would you invite?

She also posted a pancake recipe I wrote up, and here’s where I get on my soapbox and advise: If you have time to make pancakes from a box, you have time to make pancakes from scratch. Seriously. You can have a batter together in 10 minutes (less if you skip my buttermilk substitution advice—and don’t let a toddler help you scoop the flour). You can even do yourself the time-saving favor of measuring out the dry ingredients and putting them in a container or ziplock in your pantry, all ready for when you need them.  

Like Christine, pancakes are a Good Thing. 

The Impact of ‘Futureless’ Languages

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Behavorial economist Keith Chen has found that speakers of “futureless” languages—languages like Mandarin, in which one doesn’t say “yesterday it rained, today it’s raining, tomorrow it will rain,” but instead, “yesterday it rain, today it rain, tomorrow it rain”—exhibit markedly different behaviors.

They tend to see the future, Chen explains in this TED talk, as an extension of the present, instead of something far off, and so engage in behaviors in which there’s up-front “pain” for a later reward. (Smoking is an example of the reverse—an immediate reward for later pain.) Not only are they much less likely to smoke but they’re generally much better savers.

Specifically, Chen’s data found that between families that were identical in a long list of ways, except that one family spoke a futureless language and the other didn’t (for example, two families in Brussels, one of which speaks Flemmish and the other French), the family that spoke the futureless language was 30 percent more like to save in a year and to retire with 25 percent more in savings. 

"While the data I analyze don’t allow me to completely understand what role language plays in these relationships, they suggest that there is something really remarkable to be explained about the interaction of language and economic decision-making," Chen said in his TED bio.

"These correlations are so strong and survive such an aggressive set of controls, that the chances they arise by random lies somewhere between one in 10,000 and one in 10 [to the 32nd power]."

nomoretexasgovernorsforpresident:

Everybody knows one of these people. They’re not Asian, but they wannabe Asian. Yes, the EGG

Behold, the egg… 

You Don’t Say

"Nice yifu, mama,” Emmy said to me approvingly the other morning, stroking my pajama top and finding it surprisingly soft. “Nice yifu…”

Yifu is clothes, and while she might have said shuiyi—pajamas—my first thought was to be pleased that she’d grabbed for a Mandarin word at all. 

But then I realized she’d used one of each and it started me wondering—is that the result of learning two languages? Or, more likely, the result of regularly listening to me stuff a single Mandarin word into an otherwise English-language sentence? I think I’m messing her up, which means it’s time to step up—I need to be better about constructing and using whole sentences. 

"Hao kan de yifu!" (Good looking, your clothes!) isn’t perfect, but it would be a step. For both of us. 

(Elmo, as he’s wearing his high heels here, clearly, might be told, “Hao kan de xiezi!) 

Highly recommended: Having an accountant with an office near Chinatown, so that you can balance the horror of taxes with the delights of a warm egg custard. Emerson now asks for two Chinese desserts by name. Dan tan (dan means egg) and doufu hua. Both of which, I realize now, I wrote about in “The Gastronomy of Marriage.” She is her mother’s daughter.

Highly recommended: Having an accountant with an office near Chinatown, so that you can balance the horror of taxes with the delights of a warm egg custard. Emerson now asks for two Chinese desserts by name. Dan tan (dan means egg) and doufu hua. Both of which, I realize now, I wrote about in “The Gastronomy of Marriage.” She is her mother’s daughter.

Asian Mathletes

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"The fish is the last to notice the water," the proverb goes, and it seems my endless pestering, regarding how to say words in Mandarin and what they mean, has caused Rich to give the water, as it were, a bit more thought.

A few years ago, we decided he’d solved the question (slash borderline racist generalization) of why Chinese people are good at math by realizing that Chinese math has so many fewer words to slow a person down. There’s no “2 plus 2 equals 4,” but just “2, 2, 4” and you’re on your way.

(You can roll your eyes at dropping those two words, but give 20 second graders a 100-question, 10-minute test and see if the Chinese kid doesn’t finish 8 minutes ahead of everyone else. It’s the effect of eliminating those two words, not the words themselves.)

But more recently, at a point when my counting skills had maxed out at 10 but Emmy was ready to take on more, Rich offered an even better argument. He explained that there’s no eleven, twelve, thirteen, but ten-one, ten-two, ten-three. In Mandarin, learning to count is learning to add.

Surely that must make the relationship between numbers more deeply intuitive—lodge it into the brain folds where we store the information we understand intuitively, emotionally.

Mandarin speakers (is Cantonese the same? are other Asian languages?) also get a math tutorial from the months.  

"Month" is yuè, so January onward is the equivalent of 1-month, 2-month-, 3-month. If my kid was born in August (8-month) and yours was in June (6-month), there’s not even a second of thinking about their age difference. Abstract ideas are made into numbers and the relationships between them are obvious.

The days of the week work similarly—Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday are xīng qī yī, xīng qī èr, xīng qī sān: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3.

Until you get to Sunday, which for some reason doesn’t play along. Instead of Day 7—xīng qī qī—it’s xīng qī rì.

"Why does it do that? What does it mean, if not Day 7?"I asked, irritated by the inconsistency. 

Rich shrugged. “I don’t know. It means … Sunday.”

ps: When I look at this art piece it instantly says to me: Fish. It’s one of my favorites, from a growing body of work by the young artist who in these parts refers to herself as “E-M-Y! Two m’s!”

Language, Love and Respect

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This photo was waiting in the mailbox earlier this month, the day we returned home from a visit with my father and his wife in Florida—our first since having Emerson.

My mother had sent the photo, but it’s of me and my father’s parents, whom I called Grandma and Grandpa Maisto—a rather formal title it seems to me now, as we settle on names for the grandparents in Emmy’s life.

My mother is Grandma. Rich’s parents are Goong Goong and Po Po (pronounced paw-paw), which is not exactly their titles in Mandarin. The parents of a child’s father are Nai Nai and Ye Ye (the mother’s parents are Goong Goong and Po Po) but we got it backward early on and no one, funny enough not even Rich’s parents, felt like making the switch when our gaff was pointed out by a relative.

We call my father, as my sister and her kids do, Nono—the Italian designation—and originally we called his wife Grandma Marge, my thinking being that a Nona is a wrinkled, old 4-foot Italian woman, which his wife certainly is not, and that she might feel more comfortable with an American title.

During our visit, though, noticing no one else included the Grandma, Emmy also dropped it and a change of strategy was implemented.

"How about you call me Grammy?" Marge suggested, which is consistent with what her son’s son calls her.

Perfect.

Titles in Mandarin are specific—they’re not simply nameplates but explanations, making clear even whether a person is a blood relative. There isn’t “aunt” but “father’s younger sister,” not “uncle” but “father’s sister’s husband.”

The Chinese are interesting in this way, I’ve thought over the years, as certainly this says something about Chinese culture—something that can’t be said about Americans.

But seeing this photo of my very stern Grandpa Maisto, and considering how unthinkable it would have been for my parents to suggest we include his first name in addressing him, made we realize that there is something to be understood in the changing titles that Americans use. Something about us becoming, if not less respectful, at least a less formal society than we were then, or even a generation or two earlier, when Grandmother, and not Grandma, would have been more appropriately respectful.

That my mother had sent that photo, and when she did, also seemed meaningful since we’d talked about my grandfather on the trip and I’d learned things about him I hadn’t known—and that gave me some small insight into my father, with whom I, like my sisters, have had a complicated relationship.

My father can be very loving and fun—it startled and touched me during our visit when on two occasions, while my hands were busy with something, my father took my face in both his hands and gently kissed me on each cheek. It was the way one kisses a child—the way that I kiss my child—and it made me realize that he had kissed my sisters and me like this when we were girls, though I had 100 percent forgotten this. Never once, holding Emmy’s face and kissing her, had I realized I was repeating something that had been done to me, or imagined the sensation of having one’s face held. So when he did it, the feeling of his hands on my face—the feeling of being a child—surprised me each time no less than had he, as I stood there arranging cheese and crackers, thrown me into the air and caught me. 

But my father can also be gruff and short-tempered, and through small stories my mother shared when I was young I understood that his father had been the same way, but more of the latter and more so. There was one story about my teenage father arriving a few minutes past his curfew and my hard-nosed grandfather locking the front door on the nose of midnight, so that my father had to spend the night riding the subway.

I knew that my Grandpa Maisto had left for America as a young man to find a job, and that he returned to Italy to marry my grandmother and then again each year after that—to visit her and grow the family by a child—before finally bringing them all back to Brooklyn with him when my father was 7.

What I hadn’t known was that when my grandfather had first left for America, with only his 18-year-old brother, he was just 12 years old. His parents had let go of him—had released him to become an adult—at 12. In the non-movie version of such a story, I can see how such an experience might harden a person. And how, with each generation more parented than the next—my mother left her parents’ house when she married at 21; at 21, I moved back into my mother’s house—we might all grow more soft. 


Hi there. I'm Michelle Maisto, author of "The Gastronomy of Marriage." I'm also a reader, thinker, eater and Mandarin-learning new mama. Thanks so much for dropping by.

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// The Gastronomy of Marriage

// Chitalian