For the Love of Food
Quarantine Takeout, Taiwan
Contributed by Guest Journalist, Professor and Filmmaker, Dr. Greg LeSar
Sep 10, 2021: Craving USA Meals while quarantined in Taiwan
Dear Readers, Tim and I have known Dr.Greg LeSar long before he was a “Dr.” He is one of those fellows who is always hungry, loves whatever I cook, and voraciously enjoys every meal. Through teaching, art, his wife, Cassie, and our UNO fests we all became fast friends. The following is Dr. Greg LeSar's guest contribution to Food for Thought, shared during his three week quarantine in Taiwan. Dr. Greg is currently a filmmaking professor and TV station manager at the I-Shou University in Kaohsiung, Taiwan for a year-long assignment. Enjoy and please leave comments. Greg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The following is his Food for Thought:
Jayne Lisbeth’s Food for Thought blogs have been a continuing inspiration to me for years now. I always read them and everything else she writes. She’s got power with her words, she brings life and relatable emotions to her stories that make me proudly smile.
If she knows anything about me, it’s that I love her cooking. For the love of God, I love her meatloaf. It is a comfort food that I crave, something that I swear gets more delicious every time she makes it. She and Tim have heard me say, “this is the greatest meal I have ever had” several times over the years at their dinner table in their beautiful home in Tampa, Florida.
What I find interesting is how we associate great memories with meals that we’ve shared with the people we love. I’ve had so many crappy, unforgettable junk food in my life that when something is really good and has real love in it, I’ll never forget it.
One time Cassie and I were doing something up their way and decided to stop by, so I ran around their back porch trying to scare Tim into coming out with his shotgun, cursing in his underpants. It didn’t happen like that, but he did later preside over the annual vows that I take with my wife in that very garden a while later. He had this magical silver hair all kinda flowing across his shoulders, looking like a wizard, and asked me if I’d keep Cassie for another year with his rough gravelly voice. The day we stopped by though, they were so tickled that we’d arrived unannounced that Jayne declared our reward would be a meatloaf for dinner if we wanted to stay. After whippin’ ass at UNO, like I always do, we drank beer out of cans and listened to great records by the Shirelles and Captain Beyond. Jayne brought out this immaculate log of pure heaven. It was so perfect, hot and juicy, and made with absolute mastery and love.
The best meals you will have in your life are made by people that love you. They are so memorable that if you close your eyes and concentrate, you can almost go back and taste them. Sometimes it's just the people you’re with that make the meal so incredibly memorable that it tastes better.
I’ll never forget devouring Wendy’s cheeseburgers with filmmaker Ryan Sullivan at two in the morning after begging the closers at the drive thru to feed us after we spent the last forty hours making a horror movie non-stop in the arctic winter of Clarkston, Michigan just before Christmas 2012--- the best hot’n’gooey cheeseburgers we’d ever had. Sometimes it’s the shared experience between people that have never had that kind of food before is what makes the meal unforgettably powerful.
My late friend and filmmaker Michael Musselman and I lived in Beijing, China in 2016 where we would always make fun of this unnamed hole in the wall restaurant by our high-rise apartment as we walked by. The restaurant had a big sign with the Facebook symbol out front, that’s it. It was full of aquariums and was operated by a family of Japanese expatriates who specialized in these fancy and super expensive sushi dishes. I tricked Michael into going in one day and after we sat down, we were encouraged to point at the weird alien-like fish in the aquariums, creatures that they would immediately butcher and serve to us. Neither of us had ever had food like that in our lives. I’ll never forget the look on Michael’s face. We went back to Facebook a lot after that.
I had deep fried oreos and a Carlsberg beer at the Fort Lauderdale airport as I waited for my flight to JFK and Taiwan. It felt like such an American thing to do before leaving the country to live on the other side of the world.
I think it's funny how I’ll still eat shitty food even if it's shitty. Like, I will finish everything they give me to eat on an airplane, it doesn't matter what kind of garbage they will deep fry at a beach bar in the Florida Keys or horrible Domino’s pizza laid out in the hot sun on the set of a cheap TV commercial, I will just shovel it all in.
I like the anticipation of a meal or a snack. The excitement of knowing that food is coming soon, it’s awesome. Even if it is shitty junk food I get excited, like when Cassie and I baked Party Pizzas and watched Naked and Afraid XL all day during the early days of the pandemic.
My cousin and actor Jake Andersen uses the 3-2-1 method to slow-fire barbeque ribs, a process that takes six hours to complete, and the promise of those dry-rubbed “fallin off the bone” beauties is worth every hour of that wait.
Most meals are forgettable, not because they are not good or not satisfying. Great meals are memorable because they are shared with people we love. I’m currently on day seven of a 21 day quarantine in Kaohsiung City, Taiwan. I’m stuck in the Karo Hotel serving my sentence and eating savory boxed meals that this little old man brings me. They’re special to me because they are always stuffed with surprises, exotic tastes and flavors that I don’t seek out in Florida.
On Day four I broke down and figured out Food Panda, a delivery service for literally anything you would ever want to consume, except beer. They don’t deliver beer here! On the app, I found a local fancy doughnut shop that could have delicious doughnuts brought to me within fifteen minutes. I ordered a box of ten. Again, the anticipation of food is always the best part. Man, I really savored those minutes.
These doughnuts showed up as candy-coated, perfectly-shaped plastic sugar rings. They looked too beautiful to eat. There is something to be said about how we can appreciate the beauty of something we are about to consume, knowing that we will enjoy destroying it. Those doughnuts, like much of the food in the east, deceived me. They were not cakey and fluffy, they were springy and dense. A chewy doughnut, imagine it.
Texture is everything. I came from a land where the majority of products that I consumed were corn and wheat based. But over here everything is made of rice. Not a complaint, just an observation, one that is made often about the millions of tasty treats that are made of rice.
Needless to say, I laid there and ate all of those rubber doughnuts while watching a heavily edited version of Gone Girl on Chinese HBO, a film by David Fincher with a soundtrack by the guys from Nine Inch Nails that I deeply love.
In the east they call them typhoons, in Florida we call ‘em hurricanes. Typhoon Chanthu is hours away from hitting us directly in southern Taiwan and I wait patiently with no party to go to and no beer to drink. Hurricane parties are probably the best parties in Florida, because we all share a sentiment that if we’re all going to die in a terrible superstorm, we might as well do it loaded-off-our asses with the people we love. That was how we celebrated Irma in 2017.
Cassie and I stayed with Tim and Jayne and we danced to oldies records all night after Jayne made her spectacular world famous spaghetti and meatballs, again another unforgettable meal shared with people that I love. This was also the same night when after the power went out, Jayne exclaimed how great her new candle smelled and then proceeded to sniff it, a lit candle!
She probably won’t be mentioning that incident in her brilliant writing blog, but it stands as a reminder that the people in your life are there to share laughs and dreams with and hopefully there is also a good meal involved too.
Update: Greg’s quarantine has ended and he’s begun his professorship at I-Shou University where he writes that he’s loving his teaching assignment, his students are intelligent and excited to be learning how to make films, but he continues to long for my meatloaf.
Photos by Dr. Greg LeSar: Typhoon Chanthu Approaching, Taiwan Donuts, Jayne's Meatloaf,
Hurricane Irma Party, Michael Musselman at Facebook, Beijing, China