In mathematics there is a very precise meaning for the phrase “almost everywhere.” For instance, a function is continuous almost everywhere on the real plane, if it is continuous on all but a countable number of points on the real plane. By an abuse of language, we could say an almost everything bagel is a bagel which has all but a countable number of things on it. Now, mathematically this doesn’t make sense unless we assume that there is an uncountably infinite number of things we could put on a bagel, and maybe there is. However, semantically the descriptor “almost everything” seems much more accurate for a topping that usually consists of little more than salt, garlic and onion flakes, poppy seeds, and sesame seeds (and since it is my almost everything I have swapped the onions for red pepper flakes). There is not much cooking involved in making almost everything, although I did try to dry my own garlic which is why it is so clumpy. Once prepared, almost everything is very nice on a variety of textural surfaces: crackers, dips, roasted vegetables and meats, plain bagels, eggs. Almost anything, really.

Not everyone likes everything, but someone does and that someone may well be the Kublai Khan. Allegedly Marco Polo encountered the Kublai Khan, and that is when garlic went West. Samuel Coleridge sadly neglects that important fact in his famous and surprisingly numerical poem. Sesame seeds, poppy seeds, and pepper are also eastern transplants. Everything in twelfth century Europe would more accurately be described as salt.

When I met him, the Kublai Khan looked like this:

As his biographer Morris Rossabi observes, this stage in the Kublai Khan’s life was relatively moderate. “Probably food, Chinese or any other kind, had not yet become a consuming passion; nor does he show any sign of being a heavy drinker, as later he would become. His alertness and robustness contrast sharply with his appearance in a painting executed in 1280. Two decades after assuming power in China, he had become grotesquely fat.”

Food, Chinese or any other kind, definitely includes almost everything.

A Bloomsday Feast

June 10, 2011

One of my favorite holidays is fast approaching. June 16th marks the 107th anniversary of Leopold Bloom’s magnificent day in Dublin as chronicled in James Joyce’s Ulysses.

“Mr Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls. He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liver slices fried with crustcrumbs, fried hencod’s roes. Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine.”

Though he would certainly be at home in the current offal renaissance,  I decided not to invite Mr. Bloom for dinner. He’s a bit too fond of the strong and stinky for my palate.

“Mr Bloom ate his strips of sandwich, fresh clean bread, with relish of disgust, pungent mustard, the feety savour of green cheese.”

And later…

“His eyes unhungrily saw shelves of tins, sardines, gaudy lobsters’ claws. All the odd things people pick up for food. Out of shells, periwinkles with a pin, off trees, snails out fo the ground the French eat, out of the sea with bait on a hook. Silly fish learn nothing in a thousand years. If you didn’t know risky putting anything into your mouth. Poisonous berries. Johnny Magories. Roundness you think good. Gaudy colour warns you off. One fellow told another and so on. Try it on the dog first. Led on by the smell of the look. Tempting fruit. Ice cones. Cream. Instinct. Orangegroves for instance. Need artificial irrigation. Bleibreustrasse. Yes but what about oysters? Unsightly like a clot of phlegm. Filthy shells. Devil to open them too. Who found them out?”

Thanks to whoever that was, I will most certainly be enjoying oysters next Thursday.

While we’re being extravagant, I will complete the feast with the dish my mother first tried in New Zealand and then dreamed of recreating for almost forty years. Brioche with asparagus and hollandaise. Though not pictured, one could properly put a poached egg on top and call it an egg benedict of sorts. Eat it while reading aloud. But choose your passages with discretion, some are unfit for accompaniments.

Bloomsday would be impossible without Joyce, but it would be very difficult in this part of the world without Judge John M. Woolsey who ruled Ulysses was not obscene and could be imported. Poor Woolsey had to read the whole thing in order to make this informed decision, and he later said this was one of the most difficult periods of his life. In the end, he concluded that anyone with enough wit and perseverance to find Ulysses titillating had certainly earned their kicks (in so many words).

Judge Woolsey will be coming over to celebrate, although alas I will not recognize him.  His image is nonexistent on the internet. Information leading to his graphic representation are most welcome.