14th Sept: repertoires and gifts
by Vivien Chan
It’s still last week. I’d called a pal to see if we could catch up after she had been on a long, life-changing journey. At the end of the call, I asked her for advice about dinner and she talked me through figuring out what to make with the tin of cannellini beans; oh and she’ll come round tomorrow. Hanging up, I started chopping with an episode of Ologies podcast on Diplopodology (Millipedes and Centipedes) in my ears, my favourite meditative activity. Garlic, spicy chorizo, one small red onion, finish the box of cherry toms, a reluctant celery. Olive oil. A generous dollop of the sweet pepper paste I frantically made before I left for Madeira, where I made enough to gift a tiny jar to my new neighbour. An ambitious amount of tomato paste. Swizz the water in the can, dump the creamy bean detritus in the pan. Sea salt, cover for a while. The front door unlocks and J has just come home, and I quickly stick a wrap on a plate, swirl some of his magic green coriander chilli sauce on it (ripped off from a lovely South Asian lady’s sauce whom we met when we were still up North), spoon some of the beans and some romaine lettuce. Fold and cradle while we eat and catch up on his first day commuting - the drive is smooth, until you reach Leeds that is. The beans are smoky and rich, and I mentally take note that we need to make pulses more often.
Next day, A came over to diagnose my bike and be a WiFi tourist, but mainly to cuddle me and divulge in our various tearful and salacious stories. We’d been talking about being in our bodies, where maybe finally at 29 we’re having the best, most terrifying time feeling through the world. I made us a typical VC dish for dinner, look-in-the-fridge-and-see-what-could-work pasta. I had a small box of figs from mum’s garden, and we had bought goat’s cheese to partner on crackers, but something about them begged to be in the pasta composition. A took a luscious bite of one as is her habit, she always takes a raw bite of whatever fruit or vegetable we have on hand to cook, wherever we are, as if to sample it at its most vulnerable. I shoo her away - not unlike yesterday’s chopping repertoire, tonight’s version is a bit more caramelised, as I’d got too embroiled in conversation and set the hob too hot. It ends up as a smoky but creamy, tomato-ey spaghetti with goat’s cheese and figs folded in to finish, and we devour it.
Skip a day or two, and I set out on a mission to visit my local deli shop to find a perfect gift, for some incredibly tasteful older friends who are kindly cooking/hosting me while I’m in Hong Kong. HKers have a penchant for connoisseurship, I suspect from a modern culture of collecting and curiosity - needless to say, I am frightened of getting it oh-so wrong. Food is the safest bet, as everyone, everywhere can access anything if one has money. A quick excursion to Fortnum & Mason’s while in London had left me in despair. I’d bought a tin of orange blossom biscuits and an elderflower green tea but started to feel anxious about the days counting down. I can’t tell whether it’s cute or tacky anymore to receive a tin of biscuits, and something feels wrong about buying tea, ENGLISH tea, and bringing it to Asia. It was all amiss.
I text my friend who’s there too and knows one of the dinner hosts better than I do:
‘Any tips for dinner gifts for C? Red or white, or something else? Shall I bring prosecco?? I thought about getting some German wine or natural wine’
Having affirmed my plans (get wine not prosecco) I’m maybe the first handful of customers at the deli that day, and with a confused look on my face browse the natural wine.The man who’d sold me gorgonzola a few weeks before helps me with my experiential quandary: Something special and hard to get in HK, it’s going to be a celebration, possibly by the beach, light because its hot, something around £20. He gives me a tour, and I’m so relieved. There’s a sweet brand with a cartoonish label which he recommends, in white, red and bubbles - I end up going for the cava/secco blend anyway, because what the hell, it’s a party.
I pick up another different bottle of white for a smaller gathering gift, feeling proud I made a choice and envisioning a teary-eyed get-together around the table. I’m still resenting the F&M present from the day before, it’s too predictable as a gift for the glamorous mother of a loved one. I browse the rest of the shop and get stuck holding a beautifully designed bottle of white wine vinegar from Spain. The bottle is squat yet refined, and satisfyingly stack on top of eachother. I buy that too, and a small jar of sea salt with lemon peel and thyme leaves mixed in. I imagine the refreshing salads it could adorn and feel settled. Another friend, an older lady who I feel will enjoy it more, will receive the Fortnum biscuits.
Vivien Chan, she/they
Vivien is a design researcher, educator and occasional maker based in the UK. She is currently finishing her PhD and researching design history and material culture in Hong Kong, and East and Southeast Asia more broadly. She is otherwise found sowing seeds and making sensations.