Saturday, August 7, 2010


Mostly prepared from recipes
Mass-produced for restaurants,
My peculiar food's refreshing--
Minted personally, fixed regardfully,
Miscellaneous parts forming results,
Mad planning finally realized....

Mmmm, perfect -- for real.
Manly pineapple fried rice
Makes proper farewells right.
Too much has been written about goodbyes for me to do them any justice.  Goodbyes in poetry inspire foolhardy gestures or debilitating depression; in plays and films, they exude a sense of melancholic finality; in novels, they are singular turning points.

In my goodbyes, I am simply taken by surprise.

That's how it was when I said goodbye to my friend Paul last week, and it's also how it was when I said goodbye to my students this morning.

I've been working at an educational camp at Stanford for the past week*, teaching engineering (and ultimate) to a group of eighteen really quirky, individual middle schoolers, each and every one of which has found a way into my heart in some way.  After our first class, I was pretty down on myself; the kids were so varied in age and maturity levels, and I didn't think there was any way I'd be able to give them all a positive learning experience in seven days' time.  But as we got to know one another, I got to know myself as a teacher, and they got to know engineering and the power of invention as an expression of themselves.  Yesterday, after our last class, many of my students came up to me and told me I was their favorite teacher.  A few gave me gifts of lanyards and yarn necklaces.  One kid -- a boy who'd spent most of his first class disinterestedly distracting others -- told me that he hated being made to go to school over the summer, and that he disliked any school subject that wasn't a sport, but that he'd enjoyed my class.  I don't think I've ever been more happy at the end of a fourteen-hour work day.

Anyway, this morning after final presentations, the kids began the prodigious ritual of saying their camp goodbyes.  There's a recent episode of This American Life called "Notes on Camp" that discusses several summer camp traditions in a wonderfully nostalgic way (definitely check it out), but one it misses is the very end of camp.**  Even after a single week, my students trade phone numbers and addresses; they ask for my e-mail address, and get me to pose for pictures with them.  We all sign each others' camp t-shirts like they're yearbooks -- mine says things like "U R the best teacher ever!!!" and "You are awesome!  I hope your [sic] here next year!" and "You are the best ultimate frisbee person I know!!! :)"  (That last one's my favorite, because one day, these kids will be ten times better than I'll ever be, but they have no idea.)

Everyone promises to keep in touch.  Nobody wants to leave, or really feels as if an entire week has gone by already.  When I bring those who've come from far away to the airport, I see them through their respective security checkpoints, and then they meet up again inside the airport to say goodbye again.

No matter how many times they say it, they won't realize it's actually over until they're alone again.  Then they'll go back to their everyday lives -- they'll forget to write or e-mail, remember their other friends -- but camp will become a singular place and experience in their minds.  They'll miss it during the year, watching next summer approach from impossibly far away, wishing they'd said goodbye better.

Before I left for Stanford, I had a farewell dinner for my friend Paul, who's joined the Air Force and leaving for Basic Training in Texas.  He isn't going until September, but we have terrible timing, and I head to Australia tomorrow and don't get back until the day he leaves, several hours too late.  I made a variation of one of his favorite dishes, pineapple fried rice (PFR)***.  It's a meal that always reminds me of Los Angeles, of lazy summers spent paddling through waves at the beach until we are tired and hungry, and then of contented evenings spent carb-loading with PFR and beer.

I didn't realize we might never have another summer like that until I left.  Alone again, I wish I'd said goodbye better.  But I kind of think everyone might feel the same I'll assume they know how much I'll miss them when I'm in Australia.  HAGS, Paul and friends; U R 2 COOL 2 B 4GOTTEN.

*We had really limited internet access, and even more limited free time, so...that's why this took so long to post.  Also, if this entire thing sounds like it was haphazardly jotted down in fifteen minutes by a sleep-deprived camp counselor, it's because it was.
**And here, I start employing the present tense
à la Ira Glass.  Thanks for letting me rip off your style, Ira.
***I messed this up a little when I made it -- the recipe was still in beta (read: in my head), and I cooked with too much marinade and pineapple juice, which resulted in rice that was mushier and starchier than I would've liked.  But I'm presenting the recipe I would've used had I figured this dish out the first time around.

Manly Pineapple Fried Rice

Ingredients for Manly Steak
  • 1 lb steak
  • 3/4 cup Guinness
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp Sriracha
  • 1 tbsp chili oil
  • 1 tbsp pepper
  • 1/4 tbsp salt
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar

    Ingredients for PFR
    • 2 tbsp oil
    • 2 shallots, chopped
    • 3 green onions, chopped
    • 1 Mexican green chili, finely chopped
    • 3 cloves garlic, minced
    • 1/2 each of red, orange, and yellow bell peppers
    • manly steak
    • 6 cups mixed brown & white rice, cooked
    • 1/2 cup cashews
    • 1/4 cup frozen peas, thawed
    • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
    • 1 pineapple, cubed
    • 1 cup cilantro, chopped
    • Sriracha and curry powder, to taste


      Chop steak into bite-sized pieces, removing all fat and bones.  Mix all remaining manly steak ingredients together; pour over steak and let marinate, refrigerated, for at least an hour.

      Heat oil in wok.  Stir-fry shallots, green onions, chili, and garlic briefly.  Add the steak and stir-fry very briefly (even raw, it should be delicious and edible, and it'll cook more as you add the other ingredients in).  Add bell peppers and rice; stir-fry until slightly crispy on the edges of the wok.

      Add cashews, peas, cranberries, and pineapple.  Stir-fry for a few moments longer.

      Mix in cilantro, Sriracha, and curry powder.  Serve in a hollowed-out pineapple for kicks.

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