30 August 2007

All Praise the Mighty Falafel!

MJ made falafel this evening.

I cook almost every night, but for some reason I was occupied this evening so MJ took over the duties.

I know that different folks have different feelings about falafel. For me, it always reminds me of Louie's Bookstore Cafe in Baltimore.

I've posted before about my time working at Louie's. For a while I was a dishwasher. However, once they realized that I was indeed the most inept dishwasher on Earth, I got sent up to work the front of house in the bookstore.

Allow me to give some description. This joint was located in the Mount Vernon neighborhood of Baltimore in an old warehouse / loft sort of building.

The front of the place looked out onto Charles St. via a huge plate window. This is where the bookstore was. Even in my juvenile state, I was sure that without a doubt we were the most kick-ass bookstore in town. This was back before the big chain bookstores had really taken over. I still challenge any Barns-and-Un-Noble to ever even find half the stuff we had in regular stock. Everything from the complete Black Sparrow catalogue to hand-printed chapbooks. We had it down.

Anyway, back to the falafel.

I guess there's something about working in a restaurant that sets you against eating its food. Not that the food here was bad; by the contrary, we served up some mean sandwiches and great post-symphony desserts. It's just that you kinda get bored with what's at home in the kitchen each night, you know?

Except for the falafel.

Louie's falafel sandwich -- three dollops in a pita with lettuce, tomato, and white tangy sauce -- was a worthy benefit in the days before health-insurance and FICA. (BTW: what the heck is FICA? Is this a benefit of some sort? I honestly have no idea what this is or why these people take money out of my paycheck.)

Back to the falafel.

This sandwich was in my most humble opinion, the greatest sandwich ever served under the shadow of Baltimore's Washington Monument. I watched love affairs live and die within olfactory resonance of these sandwiches. I watched the wealthiest of Baltimoreans pick lettuce out of their teeth thanks to these sandwiches.

Needless to say, there will be more about Louie's in future posts.

29 August 2007

Silence is Golden

Sister could clap really loud.

She was a Sister of Notre Dame. Maybe that had something to do with it.

She was also principal of our little elementary school, and thus commanded the respect of every little cretin in the lunchroom.

As I recall, it was winter-time. I was wearing an enormous black and orange coat my mom had bought at Burlington Coat Factory. It was the kind that zipped down the center of the hood so you could unzip and wear the flaps over each shoulder.

Somebody please bring back that fashion statement.

Anyway, there we were in the cafeteria. Standing at attention. Waiting for Sister to let us go.

She had just clapped, which was nun-communication at the time for "Yo, twerps! Shut yr mouths and listen up!"

Being winter, the heater was on full-blast. Because if it weren't for running the heater constantly, the parish would never have had reason for taking a second collection on Sundays.

I was standing behind a kid I didn't know that well. He was wearing a black and silver winter-coat very similar to my own.

I had just eaten a cheese sandwich.

Now, this had been no ordinary sandwich. This was one of my mother's "we couldn't afford liverwurst this week" cheese sandwiches. Several slices of white American cheese lodged between two mayonnaise-slathered slices of Wonder Bread. Salt and pepper optional.

I don't know just how long we stood in that line. Perhaps three minutes. But in first-grader-mind that equals at least a half-hour.

About a minute and a half into the ordeal of standing in silence, I felt the cheese sandwich changing direction. Somewhere around the entrance to the stomach it decided to throw on the air-brakes and do an about-face. Fleeing that bubbling caldron of 2% milk and gastric juices, it headed north pausing for just a moment near the Adam's apple before bursting through the flood-gates and pouring directly into the hood of the jacket of the poor boy standing in front of me.

I still remember it today as having attained an iridescent pinkish quality during the brief respite it had made in my esophagus.

And to this very day, I always equate listening to directions whilst being forced to stand still in silence with the smell of hot vomit.

27 August 2007

Lunch-ladies in Love: a back-to-school ode

In deference to John Berryman's 'Washington in Love'

A quiet cheeseburger, and the rattled vinegar fries

The music of our condiment is: vulgar?

Dear Ms. Lunch-lady, have you my change?

Spaghetti, no sauce. I'll pass on the soup.

Hairnets. Saran-wrap gloves. Morning, hon.

Elevation of the fountain drinks from the bus tray line 2.5'.

Bring the hungry, Martha! Bring the hungry freshmen.

26 August 2007

Nice animal. Can you put it on a stick?

What is it about State Fairs?

MJ and I took the kids to the Maryland State Fair this afternoon. Her brother had gotten tickets through his work, so how could we refuse?

I remember going to the State Fair as a kid. Loved it. Lots of animals, rides, games. Even now, the idea of going to the fair takes me back to those days.

So we all went a-fairing. And I think we had a good time. Watched a cow giving birth. Stepped in horse-dung. The kids ate something on a stick.

Yeah. The stick. The one with food on it.

Whoever came up with this idea?

You spend an hour walking through the Cow Palace looking at beautiful, big-eyed, local heifers and then you enter a line that leads to a counter where you can order that beautiful, big-eyed, local heifer (or at least a distant relation) on a stick.

How sick is that?

Could you imagine a family reunion where Uncle Bob was being served on toast?

And then they want us to spend $5 to get on the Tilt-A-Whirl and not throw up.

24 August 2007

I Hate Recipes


I understand that your average food blog is supposed to contain recipes and nice pictures of drizzled entrees and bubbly desserts.

I've even thrown in a recipe or two early on.

But get it straight, Jack. And I make no bones about it: I Hate Recipes.

If you can show me a picture of a particular dish and then take me through the steps to make that dish and my dish looks the same as that dish, then something is terribly amiss in the universe.

My reality just don't work like that.

I don't want to make your food. And I don't really want you to make my food.

And above all, I don't want to spend my precious time reading a recipe.

I just wanna cook. And eat.

That's it: I want to cook and eat.

Downtime in cooking is for reading Yeats and Eliot and Beckett and Berryman. For reading mystery novels. For reading interviews with Mark E. Smith. For reading blogs about electric guitars.

I find nothing compelling about reading recipes.

It's about as interesting as reading directions for putting together shelving.

The occasional recipe is alright. Just don't expect to get inundated with them around here.

I think it's got something to do with my childhood.

My teachers noticed early on that despite a quick memory and a 'creative' outlook on life, it was just fundamentally beyond my range of intellectual capabilities to follow directions from point A to point B and produce a product anything remotely like what was intended.

It got to the point of sheer embarrassment just about the time we dissected frogs in 8th grade.

I personally saw no reason why one should check out the digestive system before moving on to the skeletal system. Skeletons are cool. All that digestive stuff just looked icky.

And to this day, I'll swear that my frog had neither a heart nor lungs. I don't care what the instructions said. They weren't there.

I think all this trouble with directions bred in me a deep distrust of anything involving a stated objective and a set of instructions for attaining said objective.

I also get lost easily.

It once took me an hour and twenty minutes to figure out how to get out of the city of Boston by car. And yes, in hindsight maybe I should have realized that I lived only three blocks from the entrance to the Mass Pike.

I don't see hindsight ever using a map.

Which brings me to recipes.

In my jaded opinion, recipes are nothing less than death traps. The death of the pioneer spirit must be directly attributed to the first time someone followed a recipe for making Swedish meatballs.

I don't know. It's probably just me. But I can't think of anyone who’s really made a difference in this world by following someone else's recipe. Even Julia Child threw her own two-cents (and several ounces of sherry) into whatever she happened to be making.

This is my idea of a good recipe:

Spaghetti al fungi

1. Get spaghetti and mushrooms and some other stuff you think is tasty.
2. Do stuff to it.
3. Eat.

There are two important kinds of recipes.

1) Recipies for making wine / destilling moonshine. Do this wrong and you'll have fungus growing out your burned-out esophagus.

2) Recipies for making dangerous dishes like blowfish. I don't know about you, but I'm not eating any amateur blowfish.

This is not to say that some people don't make the most of a recipe. If it works for you, great. But for me, it's like the difference between composed and improvised music. And I've never really had the attention span to concentrate on reading when I could just as well make something with just my ears and fingers.

Of course, no one has to eat my music.

23 August 2007

Is it Possible to Get Sponsored as a Cheese-Eater?

I think I need to see a doctor. Or a shrink. Or maybe be I could just pay someone to tie me to a tree and spoon feed me for a week.

You see, I’ve got an addiction.

And it’s not going away.

I’m addicted to cheese.

That’s not some hep code word for some psychotropic wonder pill. I mean cheese pure and simple. The yellow stuff. The stuff that makes a cheesesteak more than flesh on a bun.


I looked up my addiction online and all I could find were people who took themselves way too seriously who were prepared to wean me off cheddar.

I’m not ready for that. I’m gonna take my chances. You’re not gonna take my cheese away, weird internet-cheese-intervention person. If you want to take my cheese away, you’re gonna have to pry it out of my cold, dead hands.

Ok. Now that I’ve proven that I’m a completely reasonable person…

One of my favorites here is a little block of wonder known as Dill Havarti. I think those little flecks of green twig are really miniature suicidal alien beings holding a thousand miniature tractor-beams. They pull my face close to the Dill Havarti until I have no choice but consumption.

Just a theory.

I hold a special place in my heart for fresh mozzarella. Possibly my finest cheese memory comes from sitting outside a little café off Piazza Navona in the shadow of Sant’Agnese in Agone eating Insalata Caprese. A simple salad of tomato slices, mozzarella, basil, and olive oil, this stuff takes on an epic tone in the City Eternal. Mozzarella chill, soft and wet, drizzled in extra virgin and bespeckled with tiny charms. The fact of the matter is: this is the cheese that conquers all. The only cheese that can honestly heave its own reputation into the fold and come out an equal on the square of Borromini and Bernini’s great architectural arguments.


Asiago, Feta, Danablu, Dubliner, Beaufort, Munster, Edam, Svecia, Paneer, Monterey Jack, and (my favorite) New York Extra Sharp Cheddar… these are the names that haunt my dreams. Sometimes stinky, sometimes hard, sometimes gooey, sometimes moldy. I just can’t get enough.

21 August 2007

Eating Corned Beef With the Mob

I lived in Boston for a while.

Boston has a long and colorful history of organized crime thanks to generations of ethnic segregation and insider politics. Not that I know all that much about it -- after all I'm just some dumb musician -- but the fact that up until a generation ago, you could easily procure which neighborhood any resident of the city lived in based on what cuisine their mother did -- or didn't -- cook for dinner firmly secures it's place as a steaming cauldron of ethnic and racial ghetto-ization. Even those few years back when I was there, 'diversity' was only a word spoken in terms of investment strategy. Sure, the city looks good on the surface -- lots of smart people and the best colleges money can buy, a great baseball tradition and top-flight entertainment, a relatively low rate of violent crime, and plenty of nice public institutions. In fact, I really love the place in many ways. But I just don't think it's a city that presents itself as what it is, because underneath all that fuss and glitter there's still the neighborhoods. And the city remains one of the most segregated in the country.

To a lesser -- or perhaps just to a different degree -- there's still the gangs and the mobs.

The most well-known of these was / is of course the Irish Mafia -- in all its fractured and sectarian forms. According to the FBI, what was once a relatively fluid -- if riotous -- organization is now but a shambles of its former self. It's most notorious contemporary leader has been on the run for two decades and informants and insiders have all but routed the foundation of what had been a prosperous -- though occasionally lethal -- business. But the mob is still the mob. Or at least mobsters are still mobsters.

And to think I ate Thanksgiving dinner with a whole family of them.

Now, I'm not really the mobster sort. I've never liked how I look in a double-breasted suit and I'd take a Toyota over a Cadillac any day.

I'm too practical to be in the mob.

I can hear MJ guffawing as I type that.

Maybe 'practical' isn't the right word.

I sat there at the table with 'Golden' Eddie. He'd double-parked his El Dorado out front and was settling in for a big plate of hash and cabbage. He smiled as he chewed. He smiled as he talked. He smiled as he told me all about his God-given talent. As a hairdresser.

'Golden Eddie' was about 75 years old and had skin that looked like it was three sizes too small. He wore his doo slicked back and sported Gucci shades indoors. He was introduced to me by a guy named 'Lamb' whose neck was thicker than my waist.

"I'm an artist," said Eddie. "Hair is my canvas."

Early that evening I'd overheard Eddie and some of the boys on the backporch reminiscing about some jobs they'd done in the old days -- apparently before Eddie found his calling with the scissors.

Now, let me explain how I wound up here on this unusually pleasant November day just outside of Boston.

It was my mother-in-law's fault.

Turns out she was catching up with an old friend from college who happened to live near Boston and thought it would be a great idea if all of us had Thanksgiving dinner together. So she makes the trip north and meets us at our place. We drive out to her friend's place in a well-manicured little neighborhood in a town whose name I shall not disclose in the interest of self-preservation.

My mother-in-law wasn't quite sure what it was that her friend's husband did, but we were soon told that he was in 'business' and sometimes worked for 'politicians'. This would prove to be a dinner where everyone's occupation would be wrapped in quotation marks.

Now I won't get into the details of what happened that night. I won't tell you about the several Caddies parked on the lawn or the seemingly endless line of Italian men with Irish names who revolved in and out of the dining room over the course of the evening to give their formal hellos and wishes of a Happy Thanksgiving. I won't mention the number of times grown men in sunglasses men gathered in hushed voices out in the backyard -- away from a kitchen that had a different sort of bug problem than what I battled back at the apartment in Allston, I presume. I won't mention the strange occurrence of a young man -- white as a ghost and with a posture like a lamp-pole -- entering the room only to whisper in the ear of an old balding guy. After he left, one of the other men commented on what a 'good kid' he was. I say 'one of the other men' on purpose, because to my recollection the only women present were MJ, my mother-in-law, and my mother-in-law's friend.

I won't get into all that.

What I want to talk about is fear and what a man living in fear is able to do.

I want to talk about 'Golden' Eddie offering me the corned beef.

History lesson: I swore off all cow and pig parts around the time I turned seventeen. It wasn't a moral or political decision. No. I was dating a girl who was a vegetarian and I just couldn't put up with her nagging me anymore about hamburgers. So, there goes the beef.

Until Eddie.

There he is. Seventy-five year old arms beginning to tremble as he steadies the glass plate of meat in front of me. What am I supposed to do? I don't want to be the one to offend the man and end up on a midnight trip to the barber's for a shave.

So I take the corned beef. I take it and I eat it.

And I realize just how good life is as a vegetarian.

I fill my wine glass several times over the course of dinner both to be more social and to rid the taste of corned flesh from the roof of my mouth. Eddie sees that I've a clean plate and promptly fills it for me with a new heaping helping of dried beast.

This goes on all night. In the end, I've probably eaten six full plates of corned beef.

I am sick for days.

The whole thing gets me wondering. With meals like that, it's amazing the Irish Mafia lasted as long as it did.

20 August 2007

Do we really need Key Lime Pie flavored yogurt?

I'm a yogurt man.

I eat yogurt every morning for breakfast. Yogurt, a glass of 2% milk, a glass of OJ, and a small tray of vitamins.

I like my yogurt. I like my yogurt because I understand my yogurt. Hmm. What's in strawberry yogurt? Oh yeah, that's right: strawberries and yogurt.

It's real easy-like. Easy on the mind in that hazy region of existence known as morning.


What's with yogurt-makers coming up with these new-fangled flavors like Key Lime Pie and Mocha Latte?

I go to the store and buy strawberry yogurt and when I get home and peel back the foil-top, what's inside? Strawberries.

I go to the store and but Key Lime Pie yogurt and when I get home and peel back the foil-top, what's inside? Not a pie. No pie in sight. Don't even know how they'd expect anyone to believe they could have even fit a pie into one of those little containers.

Makes me mad.



And so I've decided to stay away from the nouveau-yogurts. From here on out, it's nothing but strawberry, peach, and raspberry. I don't like blueberry. The blueberries always get hard and it feels like you're eating scabs.

Though maybe that's better than the sheer disappointment manifested through the reality-punch you get straight to the gut when you open that foil and there's no pie in there.

The horror.

19 August 2007

Cows Can't Breathe in Outer-Space

You know, I just think it's weird that if you search 'NASA' on YouTube you get a bunch of mess about UFOs and alien cover-ups.

I'm looking for pictures of the planet Saturn and I wind up inundated with the comments of UFO freaks and alt-9/11 theorists. Listen, nothing against freaks and theorists, folks of both varieties tend to be among my closest friends and allies. But come on, do you really think any agency as screwed up as NASA would be able to cover-up contact with inter-galactic beings? These are people who eat Hardee's for lunch and whose greatest threat to humanity is that their O-class model rocket might interfere with FAA-controlled air-space. They are busier putting up corporate satellites than tracking alien threats. Jeez.

Nonetheless, all the talk about aliens got me thinking.

If critters from a distant nebula actually did find their way to Elkridge, what would they want to eat?

Met a guy while camping in the Patapsco Valley recently who swore by the Rt. 1 Taco Bell. Somehow, I believe that interstellar super-geniuses would be smart enough to stay away from that mess. As a matter of fact, one afternoon, my wife made the mistake of stopping by there with the kids whilst in a rush somewhere. They all filled up on gorditas and nachos and they all got sick. Now when the kids are misbehaving, I threaten them by telling 'em we'll have lunch at Taco Bell.

Maybe they'd stop by Daniel's biker bar. It's a destination for many a traveler, and I bet there's room enough in the back lot for a moderate-sized space-craft. And bikers are good representatives of humankind. Might give the aliens a few tips on sporting up their rigs while they're at it.

Most likely though -- if I know the mindset of a super-genius extra-terrestrial -- they'd wind up at the supermarket. Salad-by-the-pound is decent on Tuesdays and right now they're running a special on Morningstar.

Which reminds me. I bet super-genius extra-terrestrial alien life forms are vegetarians. After all, cows can't breathe in outer-space.

18 August 2007


I've spent the last the last 30 hours in the mixing room. And it's finally finished. A year since I first put pen to paper and eight months since the first notes were put to tape. And it's done.

Time for lunch.

16 August 2007

Babci's Kitchen

My grandmothers could not have been different.

On my mother's side was a woman whose sauté pan never needed cleaning, so to speak, and whose every dish tasted primarily of gravy.

And on my father's side was a woman who woke at 7AM to start cooking dinner.

Let's concentrate on the latter for this post.

Though born in the US, Babci had been taken back to Poland as an infant and had grown up there. She returned to Jersey City as a teenager and lived most of her life along the wake of the filthy Hudson.

Somewhere along the line she'd learned to cook.

Her dinners were nothing less than legendary. A salad of cucumbers and onion in a thick tart sauce followed by a strapping chicken soup with carrots and noodles where the long, thin strips of chicken would just fall apart in your mouth. Then came the pirogues. Followed by the kielbasa. Followed by the sauerkraut. Followed by more kielbasa. Followed by a sprig of white grapes as a palate cleanser.

And then she brought out dinner.

How in the heck did people eat like this? They didn't have any money, and everything she made was like a subtle reflection upon that fact. The ground sausage ubiquitous, but never a single piece of meat that even remotely resembled anything related to anatomy. The sauerkraut steeped in vinegar that would just last for days and days and days. The bone marrow that comprised the chicken broth.

And yet she would make these enormous, labor-intensive meals every day.

Her kitchen was like a sauna. I have memories of her sweltering in that tiny room, listening on the TV to the priest on the local church show. In the harsh light of mid-afternoon, that room became a site for metaphysical kung-fu.

And she never once said a word in defiance of that heat. She'd just go in there and chop chop, knead knead.

That kitchen was so much more than a place to cook food. It was a daily theatre of war between my grandmother and demon reality.

15 August 2007

All You Need Is Wasabi

I'm beat.

Been working the last few nights to finish the mix of a new album. Been working on this beast since December. It's time to finish it.

There's only one thing that got me through last night: Wasabi Edamame.

That's right, I owe whatever inspiration might exist on those mixes to a horseradish-covered soybean.

Ever think how much more peaceful the world would be if we covered everything in Wasabi? Really now, have you ever seen anyone wage an act of aggression, abuse authority, belittle the meek, or pander to ignorance whilst in the midst of a sinus-clearing Wasabi injection?

I think the stuff should be mandatory in Washington, D.C.

Let's get an Amendment written: mandatory continuous two-minute Wasabi shots during waking hours for all members of the executive and legislative branches (not the Supreme Court... I don't think they'd be able to handle the Wasabi. We'd have to start them out on something that made them more alive to begin with. Maybe lithium).

Just think about it:

President: Mr. Ahmadinejad should know that the nuclear option is not off the... WHOA NELLIE! [gasping for air / hands waving furiously].

Press Corps: Mr. President, Mr. President, are you alright?!?

President: Whew. [eyes watering]... Yeah, but let's go, I've only got two minutes before the next one. Anyone got a glass of water? Where was I?

Press Corps: The nuclear option.

President: Yeah, well screw all that. Can I get one of them Maki Rolls?

13 August 2007

I definitely did not marry an axe-murderer.

Stayed up late last night reading a book on the Borden murders.

As any astute Bordenologist could tell you, Andrew and Abby Borden's last meal consisted of a breakfast of days'-old sliced mutton roast and mutton soup with bread, fruit, sweets, and coffee. Many an inquiring mind has asked: who in god's name eats mutton soup for breakfast during a heat-wave? (Local temperatures in the days surrounding the murders hovered around 100 degrees -- uncommonly hot for Massachusetts).

Notably, Lizzie only had a cup of coffee.

Of course. Do you really think anyone could have done in their family with an axe on a stomach bloated with spoiled breakfast meat and cookies? In that heat? I would have had to take a nap.

I've never been a fan of the big breakfast. I tend to run on a cup of yogurt, a glass of 2% milk, a cup of OJ, and a spot of tea. MJ likes to make big breakfasts. She'll griddle pancakes and fry eggs, throw fakin' bacon in the oven, and top it all off with bowls of ridiculously healthy cereal -- you know, the cereals in boxes devoid of cartoon characters.

I like the occasional egg. Especially hard-boiled. But she tells me I need to eat more in the morning. She's probably right; I'm just stuck in a breakfast habit.

My grandfather ate oatmeal everyday for breakfast. An entire life comprised of oatmeal. He's 90 now and in good health, so maybe there's something in that. Small simple breakfast... no axe-murderers...

I have to admit that I do enjoy the occasional big breakfast. The best breakfasts I've ever had were in Athens, Greece. Every morning began with eggs, mushrooms, a pastry, and -- of course -- olives. There's something about an environment where mushrooms and olives are considered breakfast food that just appeals to me in the deepest of ways. I think it's because it is not that I don't like breakfast -- it's that I do not like breakfast food.

I'd rather eat cold pizza than a waffle.

Maybe it's an aesthetic thing.

More likely, I'm just too lazy in the morning to bother eating anything that involves using an appliance.

MJ does make the best pancakes on Earth. It's hard to find any fault in them. It's a zen-like practice to watch them settle out and golden-up on that table-top griddle. And with a little real maple syrup, we're talking heaven.

I'd just rather eat 'em for lunch.

12 August 2007


Real short post this evening, but it says it all. Seriously, if you dare walk down this road, you may never find your way back:


There is no way to explain in words just how good strawberries and seaweed taste together. And strawberries and wasabi! Somebody catch me!

It literally exhausts me just to think about it. I gotta go lay down.

11 August 2007

Ode to an Avocado

O, my great alligator pear,
Excuse my knife,
Pardon my will.

For underneath your dinosaur
Tapestry lies
The soft green kiss.

And this instrument in my hand
May cut and burn --
But all in love.

O, for you are the fairest fruit;
You draw me in
And ruin me.

10 August 2007

Choose Your Own Miso

Enough about the heat. It is what it is. Gets me better prepared for hell.

Helped my friend Susan move into her new apartment today. She's a musician from Houston. She and her friend David made the trip to Baltimore in two nights by rental-truck. She said that when they left Houston, you could barely see for the condensation caused by the humidity.

I will never complain about humidity again.

Actually, MJ and I experienced this sort of thing years back while camping just east of Houston in what amounted to a big swamp. It was in the pleasant environs of this lonestar marshland that we were first acquainted with mosquitoes whose wingspans were so wide I wouldn't doubt the pests had on numerous occasions been reported to whatever clearinghouse takes the calls of folks claiming UFO sightings in the middle of Texas. It was so humid the tent itself sweat.

So I've no reason to complain. Other than it's in my nature to complain. But that's another issue altogether.

No, humidity's no longer on my mind. The only thing on my mind at present is the fine vegetable tempura I had for lunch.

Susan treated us with a mid-day break at the Korean restaurant a block from her new apartment.

The name of the place is New No Da Ji and if my bearings are correct it's on the corner of 25th and N. Charles. It's this place that's been around forever under different ownerships. Currently it seems they've got a thing for ESPN and Jackie Chan movie-style decorations. Nonetheless, they haul out the biggest, baddest Asian lunch buffet in the city.

Cold stuff, hot stuff, obliging stuff, way-out-there stuff. Plenty of stuff to make your belly tell your mind that you got your money's worth.

Can't comment on the sushi really, because there was only one veggie to choose from and it was a bit skimpy. But the tempura kept me going back for more. Somehow eating deep-fried green vegetables makes me feel somewhat healthy.

The real killer this afternoon was the miso soup.

Miso is so often given low-man-on-the-totem-pole status. It's just that soup. You know, the one everyone obligatorily orders. It's the mozzarella sticks of Asian cuisine.

New No Da Ji has a different idea when it comes to miso.

D.I.Y. Miso.

Yeah. That's right. D.I.Y. soup.

They supply the broth, the scallions, the seaweed, and the tofu. It's up to you to figure out how it all goes together.

Are you kidding? That's awesome.

Yes, I was a fan of those 'Choose-Your-Own-Adventure' books when I was a kid. Go figure.

So there I am this afternoon, after a morning of hauling boxes and bedsprings, standing before the great Miso Sphinx. How much green onion is too much? Can I really take all the tofu I want? Am I worthy to make my own miso?

End product: excellent. And for no lack of unsophistication on my part. It seems like given the right situation, and given a little opportunity to experiment, it'll all come together.

I wish more restaurants took this approach to soup.

Then again, I wonder if the average soup eater could handle that kind of responsibility. Not every kid fared well in 'Choose-Your-Own-Adventure'.

09 August 2007

Pansies au gratin?

I hope it rains today.

We need rain. My flowers are dead, my bushes are dying. MJ did some gardening last night just to help them over the hump of this heat wave. And you know, it's a little bit hazy so the heat doesn't really catch up with you until it's too late to realize that the heat index is 105 degrees. Maybe that's not so hot for some of you out there. Good for you. Maybe you'd like to come over here, take care of three kids, clean a 50 gallon turtle tank, and keep everyone fed and happy in an old house without air conditioning in temperatures where it's hot enough to fry an egg on the street. Hell, and I'm lucky... this is only a passing heat wave. I can't imagine what hell it must be like in Baghdad where it's twenty degrees hotter than this and you have the occasional city block blown up. But I digress.

What I really wanted to talk about was flowers.

My flowers may be long dead, but that doesn't erase them from my mind. Daisies, Black-eyed Susans, Poppies, and Sunflowers... these are the petal-bearers of my domain. I'm also a big fan of the pansy. The pansy is a damn sturdy flower. Never understood why its name got co-opted to mean the precise opposite. Go figure.

I recall the first time I ever visited Chapel Hill, NC. This was around 1993 when bands like Archers of Loaf and Superchunk were making the hometown of the University of North Carolina an indie-rock Mecca of sorts. I was there in a van on tour with the guys only to find out our show that night had been cancelled. After a nap in the parking lot of a donut shop, we decided to spend the days seeing what Chapel Hill had to offer and trying to find a bill that we could hop on for the night.

By three in the afternoon, things were looking down. We didn't have enough gas money to get to our next gig in Atlanta, and nothing had come together in terms of setting up an ad hoc set anywhere in town. Chapel Hill's main drag only being a few blocks long at the time, it soon became clear to us that walking up and down the half-mile stretch looking for opportunity would only suffer us the fates of the law of diminishing returns.

I sat along a curb by myself, dejected.

Along came a vagrant of the nicest sort. Sitting down next to me, the vagrant picked a flower and promptly ate it. We stared at one another. "So long as you have flowers, you will never go hungry," the vagrant spoke and then vanished.

The guys found me sitting on the curb. They had good news. We'd been picked up on a bill for that evening and were promised gas money to Georgia.


Now, truth be told, my little garden in Elkridge is a mess. I do get a lot of flowers, though it tends to look more like foliage mandated by the Ladybird Johnson act than by anything worthy of the Victory Garden. MJ swears half my 'flowers' are really blooming weeds.

No matter. MJ plants really nice flowers along with tomatoes and herbs. My favorites are her pansies.

I wonder what they taste like.

08 August 2007

Hotter than a...

It's hot.

Damn hot.

Black asphalt shimmering with mirages hot.

Sweat through three t-shirts by noon hot.

Air itself feels coarse and sick hot.

On days like these, I realize that my diet is more attuned to colder climates.

For instance, a cup of tea. It's obviously too hot for a hot cup of tea, so what do I do? I make a hot cup of tea.

Take another example: using the oven. The National Weather Service actually put up a warning to refrain from cooking today. So what do I make for lunch? Veggie burgers and refried beans. In the oven.

I'm telling you, I have no sense and I was not made for this weather.

My father's people were from Poland. Ever heard of someone overheating in Poland?

My mother's people were from Ireland and Scotland on one side and Austria on the other. How do you think they dealt on warm days? (Go with it, baby birds...)

Yes, I'm genealogically antagonized by hot weather. My body can't deal with the desires of my stomach. I tried to make something other than those veggie burgers. Just wouldn't happen. I was compelled to cook up those refried beans.

I can't go on using the oven in 100-degree weather. I'll go on using the oven in 100-degree weather. (Damn you, Beckett).

07 August 2007

The Price of Freedom

I am always the last one on the gravy train.

Jeez, I mean, if I had known that $50 entrees came with the lifestyle of the average congressman, I'd have begun campaigning years ago.

Sure we've all heard about the golf trips and the cruises and the prostitutes, but c'mon, now we're talking about free rounds at the Capital Grille!

And some lawmakers want to put an end to this?!?

According to a report by David D. Kirkpatrick in the August 7, 2007 edition of the New York Times, young lobbyists are feeling the pinch of congressional reform. Apparently many of these poor K Street serfs are missing out on many of the social perks their predecessors took for granted, and all on account of the appearance that catching a congressman's tab on a prime rib and drinks at a major Washington social institution that caters to the political elite could possibly be construed as a minor bribe.

Go figure.

I sure wish I got more free dinners. And that's why I'm running in the next congressional election.

My platform?

'Lobbyists have the right to buy me dinner!'

I mean, if you can't trust the judgment of a well-fed congressman, then tell me just who in this world can you trust? Why, I'd even go so far as to say that to deny lobbyists the right to wine and dine our political representatives in Washington is to support terrorism!

I mean, without steak and wine -- let alone the complimentary Martini -- how do you expect anything to get done in this country? Our national defense depends upon free Cosmopolitans!

I used to eat turtles.

I used to eat turtles.

If I squint and think hard, I can still conjure the taste in my mouth.

See, my mother was born into post-War working class Philadelphia. She grew up in a house where beef stew was a three-day affair. So she always had this yearning to live the aristocratic life. And in the Philadelphia of the day that meant one thing: Bookbinder's.

Bookbinder's was / is a restaurant whose history dates back to the 1860's. Its heyday was in the Gilded Age, and it prided itself on its seafood and steaks. Today it prides itself on it's $50 entrees.

Now, nothing against Philadelphia -- I happen to love the city very much; and nothing against seafood -- it's health benefits are known the world over. But putting the two together: Philadelphia and seafood. Hmm.

Have you seen the Delaware River?

This must be where the turtles come in.

See, Bookbinder's is also known for its exquisite sherry-drop soup: the Red Snapper. And, make no mistake, by 'red snapper' we're talking about turtle (the 'red' in the title is analogous to 'red' [Manhattan] versus 'white' [New England] clam chowder). This is a soup prepared in a five-hour window of ritual. From the turtle meat simmering in beef broth, to the waiter serving the bowl accompanied by a glass of sherry [eww...], this soup reeks of aristocratic boredom.

My mom loved it, though.

So I remember as a kid, my mother and father dressed me up in some outrageous late '70s velvet suit and took me to Walnut Street for an evening at Bookbinder's. The only thing I remember was the Snapper soup. And, yeah, it pretty much tasted like you'd think a turtle would taste. Sort of a pungent flavor with a lamb-like texture. Not so much 'fishy' as perhaps 'swimmy'.

Yup. Nothing says 'yum' like an aggressive reptile boiled in a stew.

I've seen this stuff in cans at the grocery store and have actually been tempted to buy it -- not to eat, but just to cook up and smell to see if my childhood memories of the stuff were accurate. But I've got an aquatic turtle by the name of Hermes who lives in an aquarium in the corner of the kitchen.

I think he'd be disturbed by the smell.

06 August 2007

Finding the Perfect Maté: Pt 2

Just finished engineering a recording session along the Patapsco River, and I had the opportunity to compare several varieties of liquid stimulants and energy boosters. The verdict: 1) don't drink a quart of iced tea on an empty stomach 2) espresso is served in a tiny cup for a reason 3) yerba maté remains the lord of heppy liquid stimulation.

Can one really speak too fondly of the yerba maté?

I've decided to write a haiku to the jungle leaf:

yerba maté drink
summer in the patapsco
my ears are ringing

04 August 2007

Hey, Jerky!

The greatest display of jerky I even did see was at a truckstop somewhere around Fort Stockton, TX.

I remember this because MJ and I both commented at the time that this was indeed the greatest display of jerky we had ever seen. We were on the road from San Diego to New Orleans, and as Texas just happens to be between the two we spent a few days exploring the Lone Star state.

Now please, before you go marking me as some East Coast ninny who wouldn't understand Texas even if I switched brains with a longhorn, know that I've got family in Houston and friends in the state's capitol.

Ok. Now you can go on marking me as an East Coast ninny.

It's the truth: I don't freaking understand Texas.

My first impression of Texas came driving south from Alamogordo, NM. We had visited near the Trinity test site and were on our way to El Paso. From the first city to the next, we followed one straight two-lane highway. Every now and then a car would pass us doing 120mph. F-16s were actually more common traveling companions. On either side of the road every three miles or so stood a sign reading: 'Do not leave vehicle. Beware live munitions'.

So it was a surprise to us as we entered the great state of Texas that, despite the fact that there was no sudden increase in the amount of traffic we'd encountered in the desert, we were now driving on an eight-lane highway.

Must get busy out there in the middle of nowhere during rush hour. (Ok. Ok. Sorry. That was ninny-ish of me to say.)

Anyhow, we ended up blowing through El Paso and figured we could hit San Antonio by nightfall.


I think there must be some sort of space-time problem going on out there in West Texas. Because, I swear, it took us four hours to travel 50 miles at 110mph.

We ended up in Fort Stockton.

A couple of interesting things along the road to Fort Stockton and just beyond. We were lucky enough to find a restaurant dedicated (in a cultish way) to the NFL announcer John Madden. Kinda freaky. We also saw the world's largest wood carving of a woodpecker. Impressive.

When we pulled into town, we found the local convenience store to ask if there was a safe place to camp for the night. Lady behind the counter was as kind as could be. She closed up shop, led us to her trailer park, and gave us a free pad. With all due sincerity, it's folks like these who make America great.

We awoke the next morning having survived a blistering windstorm that literally would have blown us away in the night had we not secured our tent with metal spikes. We had the rain-cover over the tent and in the middle of the night, a particularly evil-looking, but somehow pathetically adorable cat wandered between it and our hemisphere. All night it just stood there, hiding out from the wind, watching us.

The next morning we took off towards San Antonio. And out there along that highway, we found the jerky.

Now, it should be stated that neither MJ nor I eat beef jerky. I haven't had a taste of cow since I was a teenager. But something about that Texas truckstop brought out the appreciation I have within me for people who love their local cuisine.

For here before us stood a nine-foot tall bulletproof cabinet of the finest and most varietal beef jerkies known to humankind. It was truly a sight to behold and an image I will never forget.

MJ used the bathroom. I got a cup of coffee and a pack of Swedish Fish.

Yeah, I'm a ninny.

Now, you think that would be the end of the story. And on any reasonable blog, it would be. But this is no reasonable blog. And so, I submit to you:

I spent years in the wilderness wondering what I had missed in not purchasing any of the finest and most varietal beef jerkies West Texas had to offer. I questioned my beliefs. Shook a feeble fist everytime I passed a poster of Gandhi.

But then. One day. Someone by the name of Stonewall entered my life and saved my jerky-soul.

Stonewall is the producer of "the incredible, animal free, all natural, jerky substitute"!

Yes! Because if there is one thing a vegetarian needs: it's a jerky substitute.

In fact, the stuff is made out of defatted soy flour, yeast, wheat, and spices.

And it's a damn fine jerky.

I eat it every chance I get. And that's why now, next time I'm in West Texas, I'll be able to go up to the counter and say, "Gimme some Stonewall's".

To which they'll likely reply, "Bug off, you East Coast ninny".

03 August 2007

I Hate Coconuts

I hate coconuts.

I mean, I really hate coconuts. I will never drink a Pina Colada nor eat a coconut custard pie so long as I live.

My wife thinks I have psychological trouble. She may be right.

My earliest experiences with coconuts were nothing less than terrifying. The first was at a Luau.

Context: For a brief period in the late 1970s and early 80s there was a 'Hawaii fetish' going on in the American conscience. Syndicated television was all about Hawaii 5-0 reruns and re-telecasts of the old Brady Bunch Hawaii special. On the fore of new broadcast drama lay Magnum, P.I. and his Hawaiian escapades. Perry Como still reigned supreme at Christmas time and the ground work was laid in fashion for middle-aged men to get away with wearing Hawaiian shirts all summer. In short, America was 'Hawaii-crazy'.

Now, this is all kind of hazy because I was only like four or five years old, but I still can draw upon the deep emotions that were branded onto my psyche. There we were: my father, my mother, myself, along with my 'uncle' (not really an uncle) Dave's family. As I remember, Dave had a daughter named Yvonne and a son also named David. I could be wrong. No matter. What I do remember is that at four years old, Yvonne (who was probably eight) seemed like she was in her twenties and David (her younger) not far behind. David was the coolest kid on the planet. He looked like he had stepped right off the set of Eight is Enough.

Now I remember what I do of this because of where we were. You see, this was our 1980 summer vacation to Disney World.

I think everyone on the planet either went or wanted to go to Disney World in 1980. I have no idea why. To this day, I can think of no less appealing place on the planet to visit than that soul-sucking living hell known as Disney World. But I digress. In 1980, I really didn't know so much as to even be able to tie my own Buster Browns, so concepts of crass commercialization and psycho-marketed capitalism really didn't mean much. I just liked the guy dressed up in the big Goofy costume.

Our Disney World vacation seemed to go exactly as planned (go figure) and once we got used to the idea of standing in line for seventeen hours for a three minute ride on a tea-cup, all the cosmos seemed to become aligned in a new order of Mouseketeering physics. All was well. That is, until the luau.

Again, these are only the memories that have surfaced after almost thirty years of tortured suppression. I apologize to my family if I've got any of the details mistaken. But, there we were on the final night of our Disney World trip. Sitting around a big white table with a big candle centerpiece smiling and wearing leis. We were at the luau -- which up to that point in my young life I had no idea was Hawaiian for 'hell night'.

As the sky darkened, young men came forth to play drums followed by girls in grass skirts performing their most enticing hip shake. 'Uncle' Dave ordered another round.

And then the food came.

I think I noticed the carcass hanging from the spit before I had actually been presented with a plate of flesh. Something about growing up Catholic maybe had ingrained in my mind images of torture, so I didn't necessarily put it all together right at first. Perhaps I though the cadaver on the stick was just a mock up telling a story from the Lives of the Saints.

What I do remember was that everything smelled... different. As though there were a way Hawaiian food at a luau was supposed to taste and Disney just upped the ante by creating a spray bottle version of that smell and covering everything with it. I struggled through my dish as the adults -- with the exception of my father who never drank -- enjoyed outsized versions of the Disney Pina Colada.

And then came the coconuts.

A man who looked sort of like an extra from the Love Boat began singing pop hits on the Hawaiian guitar. As a side-note: earlier in the week we had spent a day at Sea World where I witnessed the most gruesome of late-1970s / early 80s particles of culture come together in a mash as Spiderman and Wonder Woman did water-skiing tricks to the light-rock sounds of the Manhattan Transfer. So, I had had my share of ridiculously horrifying syntheses of music and images long before this guy started playing a Hawaiian guitar version of 'Light My Fire'.

So the man comes on to sing and the waiters bring us what appear to me at first to be shrunken heads, which they promptly slice in half revealing a pale white brain. These are the coconuts. And the last thing I remember was my mother leaning towards me with the white stuff on her fork.

Which leads us right into the second terrifying event in my life surrounding coconuts.

My mother's parents lived in a rowhouse in Philadelphia all their lives. Walking in the front door, the first thing one would notice was just how immaculate my grandmother kept the place. A green low-shag carpet and wallpapered walls made a proper environment for the Modern L-sofa and the console television.

Walking into that house, no one would suspect that in the basement lay the greatest horror known to a four-year-old boy.

The coconuts.

You see, my grandmother was a bit of a collector. Actually, she hoarded things. All kinds of things. Anything she could get her hands on. Her basement was full of boxes upon boxes upon boxes of stuff. Newspapers, clippings, doilies... all preserved in cardboard liquor store boxes stacked three and four high.

It was scary enough to be a four year old wandering through this strange-smelling musty maze of my grandmother's design. But then to come to 'The Back Room'! Dear God, have pity on the boy who is asked by his grandmother to fetch something from the back room.

I remember my first time.

The old lady asked me to go downstairs and fetch soap for her. Slowly I made my way down the dark stairs. My grandfather had long ago covered them with no-slip rubber pads and these seemed to create an un-earthly sensation under my feet as I crept. Reaching the bottom of the stairs, I pulled on the long string leading up to the room's single bald forty-watt bulb.

The light cast shadows, only making things worse.

Steeling my resolve, I straightened my shoulders and edged towards the door to the back room.

Reaching it, I pushed upon it and it squealed a horrendous shriek. I jumped back, brushing off imaginary cobwebs.

My grandmother's voice called down shouting my name. I knew it was now or never.

I reached forward and pushed the old paint-stripped door with all of my might. And that's when I saw them.

The heads.

Whoever thought it would be a good idea to paint faces on coconuts really should have thought twice about what effect their artistic inspiration might have had on young boys in dark basements. Because when I saw those coconut heads hanging in the darkness of the back room, I nearly died of fright. All I can say is that, fortunately, urine stains are not so noticeable on dark green corduroy.

I tell you, friends: To this day, I can't look at a coconut covered sheet cake without those old memories rushing back in waves. Coconuts scarred me. And I'm sure I'm not the only one.

02 August 2007

Real Taste

Had an excellent dinner last night.

A light salad with red cabbage followed by a main course of spaghetti with tomatoes and olives and a side of collard greens and bakery-fresh bread. And a healthy dose of conversation among friends throughout.

This is what dinner is all about. Simple food well prepared and shared over a good talk.

One of the biggest mistakes folks make in the kitchen is falling into the trap of complex food preparation. I think this is partly a result of the restaurant-chain mentality. KFC uses thirteen herbs and spices, so I have to use thirteen herbs and spices. Chilis makes an onion that looks like an exploding demon, so I have to make an onion that looks like an exploding demon. I think this is the reason a lot of folks opt for ready-made frozen meals rather than bother to cook.

It doesn't have to be this way.

Notice just how amazing a fresh organic tomato tastes. Bite into a real South Carolina peach. Sprinkle real extra virgin olive oil on a slice of fresh bread with a dash of basil from the garden.

Eating simple is the way to eat.

American restaurant cooking so often fails because it mistakes flashy sauces and spices for genuine flavor. By contrast, when you order insalata caprese in Roma, what you get is tomato that tastes like tomato and mozzarella that tastes like mozzarella. And you never forget it.

Here's a call to arms to all home cookers: let's make simple food that tastes like what it is. No more silly sauces, no more masking the true flavor of the food in a coating of varnish.

This is not to say that spices are bad. Quite the contrary. Blue Crabs belong with Old Bay. Hungarian dishes deserve paprika. Rather, what I'm driving at is this: there are a lot of chain restaurants who are trying to cover up the fact that their cooking is sub-par by dressing up their dishes in phony candies. Don't fall prey.

Remember: it's your kitchen. And you can always best tell the freshness of a tomato by biting into it.

01 August 2007

Dog Food

Still getting used to some of the technical features of publishing a blog. So I'm not surprised that I managed to delete today's previous post. Nice job, Shelly. Real professional.

Oh well.

What I'd posted earlier was a clip from L'Avventura sort of as a momento mori for Antonioni. The clip has to do with swimming and sharks and cognac. After I realized I'd deleted it, I started thinking about sharks and then I started thinking about my high school Spanish teacher.

I'm not going off on a tangent. This all fits together.

You see, because he used to tell this story about when he was living in Costa Rica. It just so turns out that he had a place on a substantially sized inlet from the bay, so every morning he and his dog would go swimming.

If I remember correctly his dog was a lab or some other big dog like that. Playful. Liked to swim.

Anyhow, on this one particular morning he's swimming across the inlet and he's maybe some seventy-five yards off the shore. The dog is following him.

There's a small fishing boat up ahead. And the three men on board are waving their arms and shouting in his direction.

He can't make out what they are saying, but he decides to swim over to their boat.

As he gets closer, he hears them shouting and screaming uncontrollably. There's so much commotion he can't make heads nor tails of what's being said.

And as he reaches the boat, they hurriedly pull him aboard.

Once aboard, he looks out over the inlet. There is no trace of his dog.

And then he realizes what the men had been shouting: "Tiburón! Tiburón!"

Which is Spanish for 'shark'. Which is what had been following him and the lab across the inlet. And which is what rose up from the water and ate his dog.