Round 23: Entries
Posted 08 August 2004 - 09:24 PM
Edited by tanabutler, 08 August 2004 - 09:24 PM.
Posted 09 August 2004 - 01:19 PM
I've always assumed that life is a film noir for all five senses, and your job as the director is to get the best shots you can out of the material you're given. Well, I remember lots of quick shots about and around New Orleans; tight closeups of a seahorse half the size of your pinky's fingernail at the aquarium, side frames of a four year old looking up at a Rodin statue and saying "He's pretty, Mama - is that Jesus?", the tint of the blush of a stunning young lady after I caught her watching me playing pool at Coop's instead of paying attention to her rapid-fire hand-talking dinner companion, calling a 15 foot putt at City Park and dropping it, the subtle enveloping mouthfeel of the best mac and cheese on this here earth...but the truth? The shot I can't shake for love or money is in this dream I had. The last time I dreamt like that, I met the girl within the month. Sasha, my looper at Bandon Dunes, she of the doe eyes and the swivel hips and the sailor's mouth. The dreams I manage to remember take place in some film-noir sepia-toned version of Saint John's uptown area...crumbling brick buildings with peeling two-story ads painted on the side, hazy skies...Prince William Street shot for L.A. Confidential. The important part: I'm powerwalking in a hell of an obvious hurry to get somewhere to do god knows what, slicing through the crowd like an NFL-caliber draft pick at running back, and out of nowhere she grabs me - first with the eyes, then by both shoulders - and says "Remember me," before smirk-smiling and spinning back into the crowd. Three weeks later, she walks up to the first tee at Bandon Dunes, and I remembered. New Orleans is the kind of place that makes you dream and makes you remember...I'm convinced of that above all else. It's a culture that celebrates its poverty, the fact that they survive everything. Scars are not hidden. And then they shock you by being so unexpectedly cultured, showing appreciation for art, for music, and most of all, for food. Surface means nothing around here, which is good, 'cause if you judged the place on the surface, you'd never come back. My brother Justin and I are still laughing about the tourist literature...about how early they'd have to had come to Bourbon Street to take the pictures that don't show puke, piss, blood or beer - or how the pictures don't show the barricades and three trucks of cleanup personnel that had to scrub that particular part of it. Couldn't help noticing that most pictures don't show street level at all - a lot of sunsets through balcony railings, tight shots of horse-drawn carriages, plenty of restaurant interiors. The smells assault you, literally...it's hotter than a two-peckered owl, and the Quarter's garbage removal infrastructure isn't exactly the finest on the planet. Paris if everyone stopped giving a shit, is how Justin described it. Walk down Royale Street at nine in the morning and you'll see five, six, nine garbage cans in front of each tourist trap, every last one overflowing...a veritable cornucopia of filth. Cigar smoke hangs everywhere, some of it remnants of the previous night's debauchery, most of it fresh... ...and then you walk another block and by another joint and you're hit again, and just as solidly...but it's nothing but garlic and onion, red beans, the salty assault of fresh oysters. Warm bread, laced coffee. The tourist joints are just that - tourist joints, fully interchangeable with the shitholes that overcharge folks on vacation from Vancouver to Paris to Tokyo. Every store seems to be offering five t-shirts for 25 bucks, usually variations on the theme of Getting Slobberingly Drunk on Bourbon Street. Barbecue aprons seemed to be huge as well, and I'll admit, I was heavily tempted to buy this fire-engine red one that said "Don't make me poison your food". Actually, though, what I really remember was the air conditioning. I'm convinced you can draw a socio-economic parallel between how cold a place was down there and the level of cash it took to shop there comfortably. We walked into one mall after I saw a Starbucks sign (embarrassingly, the best coffee I had on the entire trip was from there) and...shit, it had to be 64 degrees in there. I mean, it felt like the walk-in at your local Italian joint. So I look at the stores - Gucci, Kenneth Cole, Saks Fifth Avenue, Brooks Brothers. Then I think back and remember that the places where normal people shop had normal people temperatures. But the thing that really kicked me in the ass was the places aspiring to be rich - the ones that were straining to appeal to the heavily moneyed tourist class and failing miserably. They'd have the a/c on full fucking tilt, and the nice person behind the counter would be shaking like it was a Saskatchewan winter, and the cash register just doesn't ring. Guess rich folks don't have much call for a shirt that says "Fuck You You Fucking Fuck - new orleans la" on it. Now, I don't have to tell you that the best places to eat in town aren't the tourist joints. This is basic. But to firmly illustrate the point: the tourist lit will tell you to get 'authentic' bengiets and a cafe au lait at Cafe Du Monde. That was, authentically, the worst cafe au lait I've ever tasted. Instant coffee with skim dumped in; chalky and horrifying. (The bengiets weren't half bad.) The tourist lit will tell you that Brennan's is one of the finest places to get a meal in the whole of New Orleans, and while it was alright - damn good at times, pitifully average at others - they're wrong. I had four meals while I was down that kicked all unholy hell out of that, and for 1/5th of the cost. Screw the trout amandine - give me the red beans n' rice omelette down at Mother's, or the broiled redfish with mac n' cheese at Jack Dempsey's. And then, we had the bars. My favorite bar on the planet is Tom's Little Havana in Halifax, just because it involves a comfortable barstool, quiet tunes and a good pour...the whopping total of none of which is available on Bourbon Street, or in any of the tourist dives. But, in one of those beautiful twists of fate, it was in one of those very same traps that Justin and I found our salvation. Her name's Allison, and she works the tire swing bar at (brace yourself) Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville, just off the back of the French Market down on Decatur (pronounced DEE-cater - yeah, I know) Street. Since I always lived by the rules that They Who Buy The Booze Call The Shots, we're heading there so me everlovin' ma can get a margarita into her. Fuck knows why they'd pick a chain, when I'm sure there are decent margs to be purchased all over hell's creation down there, but...well, "they had to learn" was my mindset, and see above re: booze purchaser choosing point of dispensation. So I walked into that imitation Key West pastel-tinted hellhole, and had my ears assaulted by some fella most of the way into his second midlife crisis, sing-song babbling about...well, he didn't know what the holy hell he was singing about, I'm sure, so my chances of working it out were somewhere between slim and fuck all. I immediately headed upstairs, in the hopes that he'd be at least drowned out a bit by the floorboards. The elevator opened (couldn't find the stairs in the place to save my life), and I walked out into this...well, god. Maybe dad got a picture. It's a regular bar, right? Loads of hooch behind, plus the requisite blenders and taps, but instead of barstools, they've hung tires from the ceiling so they face hole-up...they've added a bit of padding under your quads and for your back, but it's the tire swing you had as a kid. Normally I'd have heel-spun and walked out - this is the dictionary definition of the Anti-Tom's - but I happened to glance up at the TV just in time to see some of ESPN's coverage of the 2004 World Series of Poker...and therefore, I'm going to blame Chris "Jesus" Ferguson and his mastery of pot-limit Omaha as the reason I sat down. Allison, she looked at me and expected...well, god knows. Margarita of some flavor, probably, they only make like a million different kinds there. I had dressed as non-tourist as I could, but the family hadn't. Anyway, I got an awful big grin when I ordered Maker's, double, neat. "Oh, GOD, I wish I could have one with you," she said, pouring me a triple at least. Just ordered a Jack and coke, and then my 'rents found their way up and ordered their alcoholic abortions. Mom and Dad had their one drink and headed back for the hotel...the kid and I figured we'd sit back and have another...and eventually, once the place quieted down a bit, Allison had time to talk. She'd been running back and forth to a birthday party in the room directly behind us, but they'd finally managed to pack all fifteen of themselves out the door. Found out she was a lot like everyone else I'd met; originally from somewhere else, but had lived there for five years now...and that when she drank, she didn't drink at Jimmy Buffett's. (Shocking, I know.) She gave us the name of the dive across the street - Coop's. Burn that into your brain, kids. Coop's on Decatur, directly across from Jimmy Buffett's. Justin and I went there the next night, and it was like we were home. The place was fire-violation crowded for dinner, and it took like five minutes to get a goddamn beer, but they were understaffed and overpacked and trying as hard as they could...and it had a jukebox with everything from Iggy Pop to Hank Senior to Guided By Voices to the Pogues and of course, the Man In Black himself, and it was full of locals relaxing in their work clothes (a who's who of the various spots deeper in the Quarter), had an off-kilter fifty-cent pool table in the back...saw the cook himself bussing tables and delivering food, full tattoo sleeves of spiderwebs and checkerboards...a shockingly impressive wine list, and buck-fiddy Dixie's... And Just and I fired some Wilco and some U2 and some Stones and some Cash on the jukebox and kicked the everloving snot out of each other at pool and smoked our new American brands of choice (his Pall Malls, my Nat Shermans) and nailed beers and caught the eye of the aforementioned sweet young thing on a first date going horribly, horribly wrong, by the way she kept looking over at us. I glanced up from the table when I should have been concentrating on a shot and caught her lip-synching along to When Love Comes To Town, and when our eyes met I grinned and I nodded...and I'm sure she blushed so hard she turned the roots of that lovely brown hair auburn. We closed the place and staggered out drunk and happy, maybe finally starting to understand what folks see in this town. Now we just had to figure out how to make Mom and Dad understand that. The best story of all - like all my best stories of all - started on the golf course. Saturday, before we left, was kind of a free day, nothing really planned...but you have to understand my father. He HAS to have a plan. Needs to be doing something at all times, has no concept of relaxation. Just and I handled this earlier in the week by laying down the ground rules; we'd meet them for one or two things a day, but otherwise we'd hang on our own. This helped us avoid the inevitable horseshit we didn't want to participate in (bus tours of the city is the standout there; Just and I went to the D-Day museum instead) but we got to hang out together at times, too (Brennan's, for example). So when Pops pressed us for a plan for Saturday, I said "We're going golfing at City Park." City Park is a four-course muni dead in the middle of New Orleans; fairly typical golf, discounting the heat index that hovered around 103 or so...but with that heat, you get on for $13. So Just and I rented some sticks and proceeded to play. Anyway, on the third tee, we were waiting, again, for the threesome ahead of us...and Walt walked up. Walt's a house framer, lives about 20 miles out of NO on the Baton Rouge side. My height, but the kind of frame built out of manual labor - probably got 20 on me, and all muscle, too. Got an interesting swing, lots of wrist, and an honest one, too - no delusions of how far he can hit the ball with the different clubs. Tends to go long. We talked a bit, and as the three ahead of us finally got out of range, I said "Hey, listen, you want to play with us?" Well, I don't know how often two skinny white kids have ever asked a big black guy to join up down there in the Dirty South, but you could tell that it wasn't often...and he said sure, and proceeded to beat Just and I, ball down. I'm convinced of it. Boy could hit. Couldn't putt worth a shit. And by the end of the round, we were gettin' on together really well, laughing a lot...and he says "Listen - where you boys been eatin'?" So we tell him, and get nods of approval for Mother's on Poytras and findin' Coop's...and he says that his brother in law is meetin' him here after the round, and they're gonna go for a bite to the best spot in New Orleans - y'all wanna come? I say sure - the folks are pickin' us up after the round, and I'm sure we'd all love to go. And we end up...on the other side of the Quarter. The bad side. Bulletholes in the buildings, long stares from the locals, stores advertising fast cash for car titles...and we pull up to an above-ground bunker. No outside windows, just a few beat-up concrete steps to a iron-clad door. And we walk in, and it takes our eyes a few seconds to adjust to the sudden dark... ...and all I see is this gargantuan tray of fried catfish come out of the kitchen, served up by a waitress who is honest to Christ named Flo and looks like Mimi from the Drew Carey show with only slightly better makeup... Walt and Eric, his brother in law...they did not lie. Jack Dempsey's. Best. Meal. Ever. I watched my brother knock down - no word of a lie - a steak, two lobsters, a bowl of gumbo and a bunch of fries. More impressively, I watched my mother knock down about a pound of broiled redfish, oysters and shrimp, a bowl of mac and cheese (which was...oh, god, I don't even know HOW I'm gonna knock that dish off, but I'm gonna learn, dammit) - and go back for cheesecake. My mother's 5'3" and about 105, folks. I myself did justice to a pound of broiled redfish, some of the aforementioned mac and cheese, a couple Dixies...it was so perfect and so fun, and one of the best memories I've got is the grin on Eric's face as he taught my brother how to properly lay the bricks to a lobster. He watched my brother attack that bastard mouth-first and laughed...just filled the room, low and booming, and he slapped him on the shoulder and said "You could eat at my place anytime." Put it on your list of places you gotta eat before you die; this summer or any other time. Unforgettable. Dad, unprompted, as we're driving back to the hotel: "Guess that's why you need to meet the locals, huh?" I just smiled, me. -=- That shot I was talking about? She's my height, maybe a little shorter, maybe a little taller; close, in other words. Brunette. Shoulder-length hair, kinda curly. Heart-shaped face, narrowing to a blunted point. High cheekbones. A total jock, that much is obvious...the kind of woman that runs for shits and giggles, not out of some sort of misplaced guilt for sneaking that last cookie. I had to guess, I'd say she probably outdrives me by ten yards. Dresses simply...white tank, jeans. No jewelry, no rings, no bullshit. We're walking through that same area of the dream-state Saint John, obviously at the end of our first date; no PDA's or handholding, but the body language read 'together' to anyone who cared to look...that same nervous electricity is in the air, too. Sparks. We're both immediately comfortable with saying nothing at all, just breathing, walking, being around each other. I'm stealin' glances like a girl in a dive watching a fella play pool, and I'm getting caught and don't care... We reach...her car, her apartment, I don't know which, but it's obvious that this is the stopping point...and instead of the long exhales and controlled nervousness, she stands in front of me, grins and says "We've both had way too much fuckin' garlic for this, but..." And she wraps her arms around my neck, closes her eyes, and drops this...this Hiroshima-class bomb on my lips. Then hits me with a backup kiss, just in case the first one didn't take, I guess. "Remember me," she said, trailing a hand across my cheek before turning and walking away, the barest hint of a black ink tattoo peeking out from a shoulder blade... That's New Orleans, kids...a right hand and a kidney shot to all five senses, a memory you can't remember to forget. That's what I end up talking about this summer - that's the story that needs to be told. That's what I ate this summer. Oh - and I'll tell you her name when I meet her...(sorry about the boxing, but it's the only way I could hold the tabs)
Todd - why yes, that clang you heard IS a gauntlet being thrown down
"I still throw a few back, talk a little smack, when I'm feelin' bulletproof..."
Posted 09 August 2004 - 07:02 PM
Wow, my favourite writing , golf-playing, cookin' and eatin' Canadian minister --- you rock.
Posted 11 August 2004 - 11:04 AM
Wow! Took Writing classes from Anthony Bourdain, huh? Or were you the teacher? Either way, I like your style!That's New Orleans, kids...a right hand and a kidney shot to all five senses, a memory you can't remember to forget. That's what I end up talking about this summer - that's the story that needs to be told. That's what I ate this summer. Oh - and I'll tell you her name when I meet her...(sorry about the boxing, but it's the only way I could hold the tabs)
Posted 10 September 2004 - 03:10 AM
We were home this summer from France, and we’d made a run to the city for food, where we’d perused the waxy finished cool spritzed aisles of peppers and spotless bundles of carrots imported from hothouses afar. I’d looked with interest, but thought twice about buying, nothing looked just right in the produce section. We’d loaded up on cases of beer, dozens of fresh bagels for the crowds and pounds of Philadelphia cream cheese. We’d gathered large scoops of shrimp for the barbie, big packs of sausage in various forms, and I’d finally chosen three shiny halepeno peppers (for salsa). We were on our way to the lake.
The sun was getting low and glowing near the horizon over the flat open plains scattered with enormous rolls of freshly bundled hay, and there was a cool steady wind coming from the direction of the ever-present body of water that was still miles away, making the trees that lined the fields all lean to one side in unison. The rusting yellow traffic light swaying in the breeze at the center of the intersection turned its mechanical green and we wound our way across the farmland in the direction of the last town before our turn off.
We found ourselves drawn over just then, our tires grinding in the roadside gravel on the warm summer roadside. In comparison to the mountainous vast landscape of every conceivable vegetable imaginable for sale at the supermarket, at first, the little baskets looked meager and tired. The haggard woman stood like a pool of stillness, sucking in light, and watching us very steadily with no expression as our gaze drifted over the carefully laid out selection. We’d have to get something; we couldn’t make a big to do about pulling over to the side of this rural route and then not buy. I searched for something, anything.
Alright, I’ll take some celery. She grasped the muddy but firm bunch of long stems in her sun browned fist and put it into a dingy looking old plastic bag that had been crumpled and tucked into something for a long time, it seemed. OK, and these potatoes. These things are going to need a scrubbing, I thought. Oh, and look, there are some beets. They lay 4 in a row, like sick kittens lined up with their wilted leaves but I knew just what to do with them. I’ll take them all. Oh, there’s beans. A quart of crisp string beans were turned into a sack, as she guarded the baskets in a stack behind her. Plums. Take those plums. She put them in a separate plastic bag. Hey, did you see this garlic! Perfect tight little heads in bouquets loosely tied by their hard stems, like a bunch of pickup sticks. Do you see anything else? We greedily pointed at one thing after the next until she was heavily laden with sacks along both sides of her long black skirts. Alright. Done.
We searched for cash and found the right change in just the glow from the horizon that spread up into what was going to be a magnificent night sky. The woman still hadn’t spoken – and she shocked us with the gruffness of her voice. “God Bless You.” I responded with the same and a smile. She then spoke in her mysterious language. “Karrrnobruuk”. I repeated the word, rolled my R’s and mimicked exactly the word she had articulated to me with a flourish. This must mean God bless you in her language, I thought. The woman waved her hands from side to side in my face as if to stop me, her cragged face suddenly taking an energy we hadn’t seen before. "NO, YOU. Kar." She animatedly pointed to my mother’s Buick sedan. NO. she said, wagging her finger. We patiently tried to get the gist of her message. “Kar no broken. For you. God bless you.” The words tumbled in groups from her mouth.
At home. In the bustle of the kids and kites, sounds of the downstairs fridge being loaded, Lolo playing the piano, my brother recounting a race tale from the cozy nook, I went straight to the sink and put the beets on to boil, snapped and stringed the beans, got things simmering, as the meats sizzled out on the deck. Home and all is well. The brush felt right in my hand as I scrubbed the potatoes, and when the beets came out of their burgundy liquor, their skins slid off in happy complicity. I sliced them and served them bare.
What a glorious feast we had! So fresh and clean and crisp and good for us. The children asked for more beets, their mother beamed with delight. “We like Aunt Lucy’s beets!” they squealed. After the meal we all gathered on the dock with blankets to look at the stars. And I told them the story of the lady from forest in the Ukraine who fixed things with a magic word.
Posted 13 September 2004 - 06:18 PM
A Fish Tale
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Ever been up close and personal, nose to nose and mano a mano with an
Octopus the size of your leg? It could happen that you might catch one by
mistake, fishing off a pier on a hot summer's night in the Florida Keys, as
you sit placidly waiting for a bite, whiling away the quiet time near the bright
spotlight aimed at the water, dreaming of all the tantalizing recipes you will
make with the catch, half-dozing in the simmering humidity. A heavy pull of
the fishing line gives a pleasant shock, making a startling call to action, to reel
the line in gently, up and out of the dark waters.
You stare with avid amazement at the first view of the catch. . .this
strange gleaming creature dripping from the end of the pole, slowly
undulating while merrily waving its eight long elegant tentacles in primordial
dance. . .a secret, shimmering, yet impotent Medusa of the Sea.
It must be freed from the hook in order to drop it into the fishing net
(while grimacing in disgust but also fantasizing the delicious 'Insalata di
Pulpo' that might be for lunch tomorrow). In the blink of an eye the second
surprise happens. The creature does not stay in the net. It wiggles itself
muscularly then slithers away in artful escape, oozing in a sudden fluid
transmutation of shape right out through the now-straining wet turquoise
string net. Fat tentacles slide up over the side of the bucket that's been
quickly kicked under the net by your sneakered foot in a flailing
sideways lunge. The oyster-colored plasticine tentacles stretch and pull at the
dense pulsating heft of the eyeless body to lift it up, out, and over
the top edge of the battered yellow bucket. The monster is running away
down the sticky concrete floor of the pier. It must be captured, and quickly.
Fishing with the intent of eating the catch can be brutal. The only way to
stop this prey is to pin it down firmly, stopping it smartly in its tracks with the
sharp curved tip of a slighty rusty old steel fishing knife. But as you move with
measured patience in a feeble attempt to do this act with some sort of dignity
(so as not to take on the grim appearance of a maddened butcher to any
passers-by), the transparent rapidly travelling ghost escapes, skimming away
with all the grace of a three-pound batch of old Silly Putty. The next attempt
fares better though, and this time as you pin it down you pull upwards with
the handle of the knife to carry away your prize.
But it won't come. It won't budge. Those little suckers on the underside of
its tentacles have a grip worthy of a Sumo wrestler. In truth, the Octopus is
beginning to resemble a Sumo wrestler to your eyes. Diapered bottom stuck
way up in the air, round hefty and strong, with all those extra arms and legs
thrusting vigorously away with practiced skill.
"Whack!" goes the large gleaming knife. The thing must be chopped up
anyway, before poaching it in wine, herbs, and broth to make a fine dish. . .so
why not chop it up now?
Unfortunately, that particular ploy did not help a lot, for now all the
tentacles are walking off by themselves in eight different directions, rapidly
humping along the darkened crusty dock in a half-hearted parody of a bunch
of drunken sailors.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
After a bit of running around, all the parts have been collected, pried up
off the dock and tossed haphazardly into the bucket. Now it is time to get
down to some real fishing. No more of this nonsense. Having come out with
the idea of gathering a mess of dainty, lady-like, tasty little red snappers to
dangle grinning from your line, the night has just begun. Again, you cast off,
impressed with the whizzing perfection of line as it extends gracefully and
athletically out over the torpid sea. With a satisfying and gently noisome
'plunk', the hook re-enters the waters. It is time, now, to sit pensively and
watch for the slightest wavelets of movement. Peace and equanimity rule
The bobbin is flopping about! It must be a big one! Drop that beer and grab
the pole! Gently, gently now, pull 'er in. Up close, it looks like it must be that
red snapper! But wait. Look closer. This is no red snapper. The shape is the
same but the color is wrong. And isn't there something odd about its eyes?
Moving your face close in the dank seawater-scented twilight, you try to
remove the hook from the edge of the hungry beast's gullet. As you twist it
sideways, a frighteningly loud noise emerges from the fish's belly.
"Graaaak! Grooooook!" The ugly vermin is making an appealing, loud
scratchy noise at you! Who ever heard of a fish that could talk! Your fingers
edge closer to the hook to try to pull it out. OUCH! Damn! Huge, beaver-like
teeth have emerged from this smarmy pipsqueak's mouth and the nasty little
thing has bitten almost through your finger.
Memories of books read long ago on piscine matters waft into your addled
brain as you watch the scarlet blood spatter from your finger onto the dock,
where you have hurriedly flung the squiggling fish. It is a Grunt. Yes, a Grunt.
A charming inhabitant of southern seas, this creature grunts loudly when
threatened (with a voice that sounds very much like an unhappy squealing
pig). It is also capable of biting in attack with sharp little incisors. Besides
that, it is also the main ingredient for the famous dish (eaten with much
vengeful gusto by the fisherman) 'Grits and Grunts'. He'll do okay for this dish.
Add him to the bucket.
The night is taking on a Dali-esque attitude. There is a strange vertginous
dizziness in the air. This could be blamed on either the amount of beers
consumed or the amount of blood lost from the Grunt Attack. But there has to
be more to a night of fishing under the stars on a glorious hot summer night
than this, this collection of mishaps. The line is cast out, again and again.
I am sad to say what happened next. There is a fish called a Lizard-Fish.
This is the fish that bit next. Sticking strictly to facts, I must tell you that a
Lizard-Fish resembles nothing so much as an escaped overly-made-up drag
queen from 'The Rocky Horror Picture Show'. Not even seagulls come near a
Lizard-Fish so it is tossed back into the inky depths to spawn (though one
vaguely wonders, with a mild supercilious sneer as it plops flatly back into the
sea, how its own mate could tolerate that thorny visage for even long enough
to do the Fish Thing).
The sky is lightening to orange and a bit of light breeze wraps round your
goo-spattered iodine-scented upper arms. Sleep would be welcome. . .so
after just one more hit, this adventure must come to an end.
The hit comes quickly. These gluttons are busy at night, eager to taste the
bloodworm bait, the chum of the Lizard-Fish, and the bits of your Grunt-bitten
index finger. Nice, nice! You can feel the weight pull against you as you reel
him cautiously in. He's not a fighter, no, so it won't be a common Barracuda
which are so prevalent here.
Ahhhh. The fish is white. The fish is large. Closer now, closer, heavens to
betsy! (or some similar exclamation has escaped your mouth which itself is
now looking rather fish-like) it is a Skate. Two dime-store plastic troll eyes
fight to bump into each other while they stare crossly up with futile bitterness.
Thin sail-like side wings flutter and flap noisily, and a wickedly devilish tail
whips its sword-shaped tip against the wet, Octopus-slathered dock.
"Raie au Beurre Noire, Raie au Beurre Noire" you murmur consolingly to
to yourself as you pack up the evening's gains and trudge home tiredly to a
hot shower and hopefully a long, deep, nightmare-free sleep.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
The next morning all the fish must be pulled out from the balled-up plastic
bag in the refrigerator (that now has a permanent smell of black fish livers),
to be cleaned and prepared for some gourmet cooking. Briefly, Octopus is
cleaned like Squid, and can be used in similar recipes. If it is large, it should
be gently braised first till tender. Grunts can be cleaned like Porgies, like
Bluegill, like any other small regular sort of fish, but watch out for those
rodent-like teeth. If the Lizard-Fish had not been tossed back, he would be
good for nothing but a stock. Boiled till disintegration is a fine ending for any
Lizard- Fish. Cleaning a Skate is something like cleaning a Flounder but the
Skate is both bonier with many more small sharp scales. They give a stuggle
before yielding those wings.
And now to the Grand Finale: preparing the recipes. Remember all those
lovely exotic tastes, flavors, ideas that ran free in rampant imaginings as you
tossed these prizes of the deep into the bucket to carry home? Which recipe
should be started first?
On second thought. . .forget about it. Just make Boulliabaisse. Then go
for a pleasant cooling afternoon swim, after firmly snapping shut the shutters
of your mind, closing off all thoughts of exactly what sorts of friendly
sea-creatures might be swimming right alongside you in this glittering
salty grey-green cauldron of sea.
Edited by Carrot Top, 13 September 2004 - 11:21 PM.
Posted 15 September 2004 - 06:41 AM
Ice cream, frozen custard, frozen yogurt, sweet treats, cold, creamy and delicious.
Ted Drewes, Maggie Moos, Mr. Wizards, Custard Station, Fritz's doesn't matter bring it on, cold and sweet, what a treat, drive-up, drive-through, walk a block walk a mile.
Chocolate-Banana, Hot Fudge with Marshmallow, add the candy, add some nuts, add the peanut butter cups.
Cold and creamy, cold and sweet, it's the summer thing to eat.
Posted 15 September 2004 - 10:42 PM
Would it be that first trip to the farmer’s market? Those sweet peas? That spinach, those greens, tender as a newborn’s skin?
Or would it be putting in that first tomato plant, hopefully a Brandywine?
Or would it be that first ear of sweet corn? Those bi-colored kernels, bursting with sweet-corny goodness, requiring nothing but field to pot of boiling water ASAP?
Or, perhaps, the first firing up of the Weber Kettle for burgers, brats, steaks, whatever, as soon as the frost has gone and the kids are almost done with the school year?
Or, that first green bean, tender and slim, from that packet of pole beans that one so haphazardly scattered early in the season, espied, and eaten right off the vine?
Oh, let’s not forget those peppers, red as a ruby, nor those slender zucchini, roasted on the Weber. Nor the hard-necked garlic, the tender glistening onions.
Then there were the new potatoes, be they marble or golf-ball sized. Don’t roast them; the fall and winter’s chill will welcome heating the house with the oven. Rather, steam and dress with mayo or EVOO and vinegar. Add whatever. Or nothing (except perhaps butter, coarse sea salt and pepper). They can stand on their own.
Or, perhaps a lug of those Colorado peaches. Juicy and ripe when arriving. Bite into, but biter beware. The juice will run down your arms, your mouth filled with luscious juicy sweetness.
Oh, how could I forget those blueberries, loving picked on a granite outcropping way up north? Or, those oh-so-seedy raspberries that paved the way to the blueberries?
And, those late summer sunnies. Cane poles, simple hooks and leeches? Scaled by kids, gutted by those same kids under the tutelage of those us who have been doing it for decades.
Rashers of bacon, mounds of waffles, for breakfast, to steel all for a day in the lake.
But, most of all we drank. Drank that cup of coffee before bounding outside to see what new was coming up; what was ripening. Drank another cup of coffee at the end of the dock at The Cabin. Drank of up those northern lights late night laying in the lake. Drank up late night sunsets. Drank up those memories of all we ate, all we grew, all we enjoyed, all that warmth that our skin absorbed, drank up what we sweat in those hot, sultry days, drank up the memories of Another Summer. Every summer is better than the last.
Posted 13 April 2005 - 03:39 PM
What are we eating? Whole fish, baked, over a ratatouille and jasmine rice. Thin and crunchy green beans with merguez sausages on the grill and potatoes spiked with bay leaves, wrapped in foil and tossed in the fire. Crayfish we’ve snuck down to the lake with flashlights and butterfly nets to stalk, watching them thrust and parry in the pail before boiling them till done. Dried donkey sausage, or saucisson d’âne, which is, I promise, a lot more appetizing than it sounds. Salmon terrines. Cod liver pâté. Duck mousse. Creamed leeks. Cookies poolside, with a pitcher of grenadine. Savoy mountain cheeses that we buy from la barbue, the toothless farmer lady, her back curled more cruelly every year, who cuts them with a rusty knife—la Tomme, le Reblochon, l’Abondance, le Tamié (still made by Benedictine monks, one of whom I saw at the Shopi getting groceries), and my favorite, le Beaufort. (She also sells her own sour cream, yogurt, local eggs, and butter, cutting it from an atlas-sized slab.)
When I made it home a few hours ago Marie brought a case of apples out from the garage for me to make a crumble with, and I carefully peeled and seeded each one, smelling them, feeling the fruit’s crystals, its compact juicy foam. I weighed out flour and sugar and butter, equal parts of each, and crumbled it in my hands until it was sandy. And that night when we ate it I noticed for the first time the difference in taste between baking with salted vs. unsalted butter, a small victory for my tongue.
We eat salads with lavender seed, although everyone complains they then taste soapy (I like it). Amélie’s spaghetti carbonara, wet with cream. My peach crumbles and mirabelle tarts and nut cakes. Homemade pizzas. Pears we sun til soft, melons rife with flavor. Tomatoes, feta, chives. Bubbling gratins of cauliflower or potato or zucchini. Leftover egg whites alchemized into chocolate mousse. Fresh cheese that’s little more than whey and water, loosely clumped, best if made that day. Tiny radishes still flecked with earth, drunk with rosé as the sun sets. Chicken tagine, simmered on the stovetop all day long, Marie’s multi-culti pot-au-feu. Ethereal croissants and baguettes the texture of deep-fried cotton. Smoked, dried pork loin. Lake fish like le féra or, in restaurants, the illustrious omble chevalier.
But wait a second. What am I doing? I hate the whole France nostalgia bit. It irritates me when I see it in cookbooks, certainly in those written by non-French, but it’s almost worse when it’s the French (Madeleine Kamman et al) prostituting their own country. I’m talking specifically about the exploiting of tired old stereotypes about French provincial life (even ones considered “positive”), which collapse, ignore and conflate the subtleties of a country with, yes, a rich past, but also an amply textured present. The fat French gourmand, say, pinky-ringed, ruddy-nosed, critically holding his wineglass to the light. The crotchety old gardener with his beret and rubber boots and suspenders, sniffing at the air to determine if it’s humid enough to plant beets in the chateau’s potager. The gingham-aproned menagère smiling merrily as she tosses more goose scraps into her simmering pot-au-feu.
Here is the France most commonly called up in the minds of those who aren’t French, even when they might know better. Cooking schools like the one I work in exploit images like these (and it works). Come feel the passion, we say. Toss away your cell phone, your diet books, your neuroses, your mother-in-law (As if these only existed in America!) Come live more simply, in the rhythms of nature. Even the air provokes romance!
To this end, we transfer to rustic glass bottles the wine we buy in five-liter plastic gallons. We almost poured purchased tomato sauce into canning jars to make it look as though we’d made it (Sly and Mela later made our own). We hang laundry in front of the neighbors’ door so that students don’t find out—through us, anyway—that not every Italian kitchen looks like ours. These images are how we and many others make our money, and sometimes, they’re a big fucking charade.
Tradition is lovely and important; it’s certainly worth remembering the past. But the past presented in images like this is unreal, and furthermore, unfair to the present. Case in point: my aunt buys local alpine butter, creamy and flaxen, while my grandmother picks up low-fat Bridelight at the supermarket. The same aunt plans on making and selling 100 or so artisanal pâtés de foie gras this Christmas; the same grandmother makes radish dip with powdered onion soup, much like the Card Club women in Pennsylvania. But my aunt uses a food processor (le Magimix!) to make her pie crusts, and my grandmother does not. To me, this mix of givens and inversions is markedly more interesting than if they just embodied their proscribed roles (grandmother: upholds tradition, it will die with her; aunt: career woman, embraces modernity, shuns the long way). Plus, it’s real. More real, I would argue, than the invariably flat stereotypes evoked so often that they’ve carved deep ruts into our minds.
Unfortunately, I rely on this sham all the time, in writing, in speech. And that’s because it has some basis in truth, and it so lends itself to poesy. The bearded old cheese-selling farmer ladies, pinky-ringed bon vivants and curmudgeonly gardeners are still around, if you look hard enough. But it’s sad to ignore modern interpretations of traditional values, roles and behaviors, because besides being relevant, they have a complexity and beauty deservedly of their own.
(original entry can be found here: http://cabbagesandkings.typepad.com)
Edited by azurenath, 13 April 2005 - 03:40 PM.