Bang Bang Shrimp & The Corona Blues. Sounds like the name of my new band. Or the book I am not writing during this pandemic. Not sure if it's the over-saturation of heady, inspirational paperbacks I have been attempting to digest or the lack of connection to the outside world, but I have felt uninspired.
Who knew that it would be a beautiful bowl of home-cooked Chinese food to get the words flowing again.
I was in the kitchen last night, the day after an anxiety-inducing trip to Whole Foods. I felt like I was experiencing adrenal fatigue. I still feel unsafe out there even though I donned a mask -- one I've re-used a half dozen times -- and wore latex gloves I had stashed from the last trip to the market. Sorry guys, I took a few extra. Which brings me to another anxiety-producing thought, if my virus fear justifies snatching an extra pair or two of latex gloves, what else am I capable of taking? What are other people capable of taking? I guess I experienced what the hoarders must feel when faced with an opportunity to take more. Turns out with a little extra protection came some empathy.
The things we think about in all this solitude.
Before I set off to prepare a dish that I could only dream about during weeks and weeks of isolation, I turned on the tv -- something I just haven't been doing much of lately despite all the downtime. Lo and behold, it's a documentary series featuring Chicago blues legend Buddy Guy. I had to laugh; I once had the most delicious Chinese food with Buddy and his entourage before one of his shows while living in Las Vegas.
The Crustacean is actually a Vietnamese restaurant, no longer in Vegas, with roots in San Francisco and a location in Beverly Hills at which I also had the pleasure of dining -- and what a memorable experience it was on Little Santa Monica Boulevard. I can still recall my wonder at the covered koi pond floor. At 75, Chef Helen An continues to make some of the best fusion dishes your palate will ever know. With this said, Chinese food with Buddy Guy just sounds cool.
The dish I set out to make was called Boom Boom Shrimp, and I’m maneuvering around the kitchen calling it Bang Bang the entire time. If you’ve known me long enough you’ve experienced me effortlessly changing the names of things. It just happens. Some of your dogs have been renamed Rosie. And Candy. I might get this from my dad. Or maybe it’s a Chicago thing.
In between chopping and sautéing, baking and broiling I could hear Buddy in the background, talking about how he didn't know what he was doing, he just played. It's how I manage in the kitchen. I don't know what I'm doing; I just cook.
Bang Bang Shrimp with Sirachi Sauce
By the time I got done, there was this gorgeous sirachi shrimp dish (yes, I just renamed Sriracha) that tasted just as good as it looked. I had to take a picture -- if only the viewer could understand how long I had a taste for this, how much the market outing freaked me out. Will they know how guilty I feel spending money on seafood. Or how sad it is that nobody is here to taste it. I watch people posting pictures of their culinary creations on social media, but after reading updates in the New York Times I tend to say, "So?"
It feels insensitive posting a photo of a delicious dish I just whipped up -- so tasty and pretty while the world goes to shit. It's hard not to think about the dead and suffering. Their families. Seattle, NYC, New Orleans, and Detroit. Not to mention Italy and China. Healthcare workers. Essential workers. The jobless. The soon-to-be homeless.
I too am struggling to make ends meet, losing all contract work and even the part-time corporate gig I humbly took to fill in the blanks. Right now, in the words of Buddy Guy, I can't win, cause I don't have a thing to lose. I continue to walk through grief as I simultaneously stumble through heartbreak. I am feeling lonely for the first time in a very, very long time. I have been forced into stillness, into being soberly present. And of course on Good Friday I happened to read in one of those paperbacks that what I am experiencing is "being nailed to the present." I’m just plain scared some days, nailed or not.
I also realize that in the vast expanse of the very world that is falling apart there can also live beauty and appreciation. The savoring of a long awaited meal and gratitude. We just have to leave room for it.
I have this particular food to eat not because I know how to stretch groceries or how to face my fears and go to the store but because I was given a generous gift certificate. It not only filled my refrigerator, it filled my heart. Somebody had my back.
Who's back do you have today? If you're reading this, I've got yours.
When all this is said and done, treat yourself to a trip to Chicago during his January residency to see Buddy play at his namesake club in the South Loop. Local tip: he's been known to sit in on any given night. Before his death, Muddy Waters made Buddy promise to keep Blues alive - Legends is part of keeping that promise. https://buddyguy.com
Basile, special correspondent to Nashville's Tennessean, brings you the perspective of a Yoga teacher, sober coach and former music business exec. She hails from Chicago, lives in Nashville and misses the weather in LA. Watch as she gracefully stumbles through life in the middle lane.