Saturday, September 29, 2007

Memorias Criollas

Sunday morning in Buenos Aires. We peel ourselves out of bed at 11. We've landed five hours ago. Drunk. We step out onto Moreno, into the quintessential smell of Sunday – burning wood, warming grills.

We walk five blocks past the lightly curled smoke floating up from concrete backyards, balconies and empty lots and take the subway up to Dorrego. We catch the 176 at Chacarita, pass the tombs of Juan D. Peron and Carlos Gardel, roll through the endless Pampas of the residential neighborhoods that almost seamlessly join capital to the province. It’s been an hour since we left home. We are now in provincial San Martín, with its low houses and endless horizon. The occasional tethered horse looks up from the chopped up sidewalk at the bus rumbling down the pockmarked streets. Evita looks on from murals.

We get off the bus on the corner by the gas station. A ring of the doorbell quickly wraps us up in the bustle of preparations for the Sunday afternoon feast. This fire, like other fires all over the country, has been going since 11. It’s now one o’clock and the meat still hasn’t been laid on the grill. But salads are being prepared and an aperitif is being shared in the quincho as we keep the asador company and wait for the fire. A bit of cheese, a finger or two of whiskey, a fernet with Coke and glass of red wine clear the haze from our heads. Occasionally, we're interrupted by the bell. The ringing of the bell is always met with frantic excitement.

Who’s got the keys? It’s Mauro! Let him in. Where are the keys? ¡Hola tío! ¿Qué tomás?

We watch the fire. There will be no five minute steak this afternoon; no three minute cheeseburger. The centerpiece of the hedonistic ritual we share is Argentine beef, which stakes claim to being the best in the world. The cattle in Argentina are not factory raised. They are raised as cattle should be. They walk free, feed on grass, mature at nature’s pace, not man’s. There are no hormones; no anti-biotics. This is not “free-range”; not “organic”. It is just the way it is. Argentinian cattle represent a way of life, a way of living and eating and drinking, that, in America, seems to have been sacrificed to the bottom line and molded to fit our busy schedules. Here, quality still takes preference over quantity.

A life of gauchos and fire pits; lonely guitars and shared mates. This is food that nourishes a country. Argentina consumes more beef per capita than any other country in the world. This meat is the Argentine feeding off the land; Borges connecting with the gaucho.

The fire is ready. Glowing embers fall from its ripe flame. Now the meat can be placed on the grill. It is to be slow cooked, over the red hot embers. It will take a long time. Cuts are placed and moved along the length the grill according to cooking time, taken off as they are ready to eat. Achuras first. Now on my third glass of wine, I am handed a choripan. I open it and paint the chorizo with chimichurri. I apply the chimichurri with a paintbrush. It is the lead in to what is about to take place. We all take our seats and the feasting begins.

Chorizo and morcilla lead the way. Chinchulines and molleja. The asador (he who grills) dashes to and from the large grill. He eats standing over the smoking embers, cutting his meat directly on the heated iron. This entire ritual stems from him and his dance is too important for him to cease. As he moves between the grill and the table, he eyes our plates. For the next hour, they will never be empty. He knows how each one likes his meat.

Andrés likes it rare and is served first.

Gogui prefers it medium and waits a bit longer.

He knows who starts with morcilla and who ends with it; who smears it on bread and who prefers it alone.

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The asador at work

The meat is eaten from wooden plates, unadorned. No marinades, no sauces, no side dishes. A bit of salt before it is placed on the grill. The salads are served on glass plates, though the truly meat-minded eat only from wood. The wine pours into glass after glass and the corks are saved. We eat our meat. We raise our wine and spill our glasses, dabbing it on our foreheads for good luck. ¡Un aplauso para el asador! There’s a round of applause. We all clap and lift our wine. A toast is made. Then another.

Atahualpa Yupanqui accompanies us on his guitar. Ana’s father used to love him. Ana’s father, who played with his trio of tango on Uruguayan radio. Live, like they used to. Everyone said he sang better than Gardel.

Atahualpa Yupanqui sang too. And with purpose. He sang of poverty and freedom; the gaucho and revolution. The perfect accompaniment to the small revolution that we all take part in each Sunday. We defy the gods and stop time. Today the sacrifice is not ours to make; it is ours for the taking. For us to grill and smother in chimichurri, to be washed down with red wine and laughter and the occasional milonga.


½ cup olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup white onion, finely minced
4 cloves fresh garlic, minced
1 cup fresh parsley leaves, minced
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 ¼ teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper

Mix all ingredients and let stand at room temperature until the flavors meld, about 30 minutes, and up to 8 hours. The sauce can be refrigerated in a tight container for two weeks.

Apply with a clean (preferably unused) paintbrush to meat, chicken, baked potatoes or grilled vegetables.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Eat Your Revolution

We’re not the people we used to be. Ask anyone. When bible thumpers, politicians, social scientists, and public intellectuals rail on about the ills of our present-day American society, they invariably point to few hot button items: the collapse of our civic institutions, the dissolution of the family, a loss of faith, or a loss of some nostalgic innocence.

Yet, the truth is not so complicated. Simply put, we have lost any connection to the land. We have also lost the secrets that came with living close to the earth. We no longer know what was once so essential to us. As a result, we have lost the ability to live artfully. And, axiomatically, we have lost the abiltity to truly eat.

There is something so Orwellian about riding the New York City subways these days. On every car is the same sight: throngs of people hooked into their blue tooth mobile phones and I-Pods. It’s chilling. When we allow ourselves to become defined by our relationship to technology as opposed to our relationship with food, the source of nourishment, we are lost as a people.

When I see people walking through the city on their lunch breaks, I often ask myself, "Would this person know how to survive in the woods if they had to? Would they know how to find or catch food? If removed from this ultra-modern urban setting, would they know how to live?" So many of us are starved for any real, spritual connection to the land and its food.

As I walk through the East Village's Thompkins Square Park, Allen Ginsburg speaks to me from the ether: I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by fast food and internet pornography.

Our food habits are what sustain us and are ultimately one of the true reflections of who we are as people. The cultures that are able to survive into longevity are those that understand and respect the secrets that food reveals to us, whether it is the art of curing medicinal herbs, or the knowledge of how to plant by the zodiac. We are no longer in touch with the natural cycles all around us. The damage has been irreparable. You can see it in our schools and communities. You can see it even more so in our super-markets.

We need to know the feeling of how to pull vegetables out of the ground, how to gently massage them until they spring forth from the earth. We need to know how to make a camp fire and how to roast meat over a flame, so that it cooks just right, searing the flesh and capturing the juices inside. Who out there knows the feeling of dirt under your fingernails after you've just planted the vegetables that will feed your family weeks from now? What have we lost as a result of microwaves and hot-pockets? We need to learn how to cook all over again.

There is no separation between food and politics. We are a nation born out of the spirit of revolution, yet we have lost that sense too. In many ways, New York City is as segregated as it ever was. Just look at the difference between what kinds of food options are available in a predominately white neighborhood as opposed to a black or Latino one.

When the revolution comes, it will demand all of these things. It will come barreling out of the ghettoes and low income housing projects. It will smash the window of every McDonald’s and Pop-Eye’s joint from Watts to the south Bronx. It will also streaming forth from countless bland, suburban sub-divisions, burning every strip-mall, T.G.I. Friday’s, and Olive Garden to the ground. It will demand good food.

We need to rediscover our connection to the land, its food, and our sense of who we are. Our hope lies there.

Eat your revolution.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Lazy Man Drinks Noni, Triumph Ensues (A Noni Interview)

My very good friend and neighbor JJ was not doing good. Not at all. After a string of vibrant, healthy months, he had slipped. At first, it was the ocassional Kit-Kat. Then came the disastrous weekend at the beach, the pizza, the funnel cake.
Then, in early August, JJ entered FoodCrackVille. At the time a typical day for JJ included no breakfast, no lunch, and then, an explosive evening of gluttony. Among other unmentionable items, JJ consumed: countless bags of Reeses Pieces, thousands of Fritos, and many cheesesteaks. One night, alone in his apartment, he drank 16 beers.
I saw him the next afternoon. He looked terrible, desititute and defeated.

I went to the store, bought Noni. (By the way, the best Noni, the only Noni I would ever buy, is Genesis Today's Noni...)
I came home, gave it to him.
The following interview recounts his Noni experience.


FoodVibe: What did you think when I gave you the bottle of Noni?

JJ: I had no faith in it. It smelled disgusting. It looked disgusting. I tried it once and I was like: this is no good, this is terrible!

FV: So, you were skeptical?

JJ: Yeah, I was skeptical. Hell yeah!

FV: Why?

JJ: I just couldn’t believe your ridiculous claims. You were like, Noni this, Noni that. It seemed like Noni was your best friend, not me. So, yeah, I was very resentful of the Noni. I took it a couple of times, inconsistently, and then I stopped. I was eating poorly, so I wasn’t really feeling good anyway. And the Noni didn’t seem to help. Besides, it tasted like dirty, wet socks.


Needless to say, the Noni languished in JJ’s fridge for about a week. Then one day, I went over and took the Noni back. I was fed-up, disappointed, utterly and completely baffled. How could he not have felt the power of Noni?!!

That night JJ asked: Why did you take my Noni?

I said: You don’t deserve the Noni. The Noni is now mine.


FV: How did you feel when I took the Noni away, when I told you that you, in fact, you didn’t deserve Noni?

JJ: I felt violated. I went home and sulked. At one point, I saw you on the street, running. I screamed: "What the hell?" But then I looked at you, and suddenly wished I was the person running. I considered, all of the sudden, that Noni might be important, that I might really be missing something. Well, I decided on the spot to turn my life around. An hour later, I marched back into your place and asked for the Noni. That was when I promised to commence my new health regime.

FV: So what happened that day?

JJ: I went home, took the Noni. Within fifteen seconds I was out of control. Not fifteen minutes. Fifteen seconds! I happily cleaned my house, I organized my disastrous closet, I did two week’s worth of laundry, I took out the trash! Afterwards I made a weeks' worth of food: 4 chicken breasts, two batches of tempeh, a tomato soup, a corn soup, and a few batches of pumpkin seeds. I was in love, in love!

FV: Wow!

JJ: Well, I got back to eating healthy food, started taking Noni everyday. And let me tell you: I’ve never felt this postive. Everything is awesome! The only thing I need to do is stop smoking. I see this clearly—it is the only thing holding me back.

FV: Will Noni be a part of your quit smoking regime?

JJ: It will be a part of my daily life. I can say, quite seriously, that I will take Noni for the rest of my life.

FV: What would you do if you found out that Noni was to be banned.

JJ: I would do anything to prevent this from happening.

FV: Would you consider murder?

JJ: Yes.

FV: Seriously?

JJ: No. But really, Noni should be served in schools. Our kids should take Noni.

FV: Has Noni done anything for your sex life.

JJ: Yes, absolutely. My girlfriend keeps asking: what’s wrong with you?

FV: What would you say to someone who refused to try Noni?

JJ: I would slap them around. I would ask, over and over: why not?

Noni Makes You Beautiful

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Big Bunches of Beautiful Grapes

As the summer yields to fall, grapes abound here in Barcelona.

Big bunches of beautiful grapes abound! Ha!

Nothing represents the end of summer quite like a grape. Augusts in Sea Isle City, my grandfather would freeze grapes. Each morning we would trek down to the beach, laden with beach chairs, paddleball, books, towels and coolers full of enough food to see us through till twilight. We were the typical shoobie family, hitting the sand before 10 am, staying until well into the evening. Dinners down the shore were always served later than usual. There was always a last walk on the beach, a few more pages to read, a final paddleball game. The cooler, therefore, had to not only keep us nourished, but also keep us happy. It held such treasures as Twizzlers, Tootsie pops and, of course, frozen grapes.

Each grape was a little frozen water ice wrapped in an edible red or green skin. They must be chewed quickly, passed from side to side with your tongue to keep your teeth from freezing and to keep brain freeze at bay. Sometimes they mix with the sand and salt on your fingers and taste even better.

That was a trick I taught Andres when we first met in the August of Argentina, the month of February. It was hot. He would stick the bed sheet in the cold shower and run back to the mattress on the floor we called a bed. I would freeze grapes. For weeks we lived on chilled wine, liter bottles of cold Quilmes and frozen grapes. When Karen visited she put on my overalls and we served her frozen grapes in a red Tupperware bowl.

For the years we shared a home in Buenos Aires, frozen grapes were our staple dessert. Fast-forward to Spain and grapes have taken on a different meaning. No longer just a dessert, they have become a symbol of wishful thinking. On New Year’s Eve the tradition here is to make twelve wishes. Each wish is symbolized by a single grape. When the bell tolls twelve, you must eat one grape for every stroke of the clapper. It is no easy task, especially if, like me, you make insist on buying grapes with seeds! At the first stroke of midnight, Spaniards (all 40 million of them!) begin frantically shoving the grapes into their mouths, swallowing wishes as fast they can. Only the truly dexterous are able to finish all twelve in that first second of the New Year. Still, as most things, the fun of it lies not in the accomplishment of the feat, but in the intent. Though the truly clever eat their big wishes first.

Autumn begins in a week’s time. And so grapes fill the fruit stalls in quantities not to be seen again till the end of December. Just last week Andrés and I found the most perfect bunch of grapes either of us has ever seen. It weighed about three kilos (almost seven pounds!), was beautifully shaped and we didn’t have the heart to pick it apart. Nor did we want to leave it for someone else to pick apart. So we took the whole thing home. Faced with three kilos of grapes, we pondered what to do with them.

We had them for dessert. We froze some. We ate them with wine and cheese (don’t tell Isaac Davis that!). And we still had so many!

What else to do with grapes?

Experiment with recipes. Savory ones.

Grapes to top Steve’s roasted garlic. Grape relish with tortilla chips. Warm grape salsa served with chicken and goat cheese.

Most recipes call for seedless grapes. Just as I ignore many details of the recipes themselves, I also ignore instructions to find seedless grapes. In part because we had already found a gorgeous bunch of grapes that happened to be seeded. Nor is it so easy to find seedless grapes here, even at New Year. And as I stood at my kitchen counter and de-seeded pound upon pound of juicy grapes I realized that I never again wanted to buy anything seedless. At least not while on holiday. What better meditation is there than the muted meeting of the knife with the wooden cutting block; digging thumbs and fingers into the sticky flesh; observing the delicate symmetry of the inner-grape; the sound of a child playing a toy xylophone floating down from a neighboring apartment.

Prepare all recipes to a child’s xylophone or to John Cage’s 4’33’’.

Ruby Port Glazed Grapes for Steve’s Roasted Head of Garlic

1 ½ cup red grapes
¼ cup ruby port or 2 tablespoons olive oil
Fresh rosemary or thyme
1 baguette, cut diagonally and toasted
8 oz. Brie, rind removed, room temperature

Prepare Steve’s roasted garlic.

Remove seeds from grapes (if necessary) and halve lengthwise. Mix grapes, Port or oil and herb of choice in a bowl. Let stand 30 min to 24 hours.

Spread each toast slice with Steve’s roasted garlic. Spread Brie over. Top with grapes.

Grape Relish

1 lb seeded red grapes
salt and fresh black pepper to taste
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup finely chopped celery
¼ cup finely chopped red onion
½ teaspoon finely chopped fresh jalapeño chile
½ teaspoon minced garlic
½ teaspoon finely grated fresh orange zest
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
¼ cup pine nuts, toasted

Remove seeds from grapes and halve lenghwise. Toss grapes with salt, pepper, and 1 teaspoon olive oil in a bowl. Place mixture on a baking sheet and roast until shriveled, about 25 minutes.

Cool to room temperature on sheet on a rack.

Toss grapes with celery, onion, jalapeño, garlic, zest, vinegar, pine nuts, and 2 tablespoons additional olive oil. Serve with quesadillas (below).

Grape & Goat Cheese Quesadilla with Chicken

For Grapes:

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 small red onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 small red pepper, finely chopped
1 cup red grapes
1 handful fresh cilantro, chopped
Sea salt and fresh ground pepper

4 chicken breasts, grilled and cut into thin strips
½ lb soft goat cheese
8 corn or wheat tortillas

Remove seeds from grapes. Heat olive oil in a medium sauce pan over medium heat. Add onion and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring, until the onion is translucent, 6 minutes. Add garlic and red pepper and saute for an additional 5 minutes. Add grapes. Cook over medium heat, until peppers are soft and grapes are wilted, 6-8 minutes. Remove from heat and add fresh cilantro, and salt and pepper to tastes.

Place strips of chicken breast on tortilla. Top with goat cheese and grape mixture, adding more fresh herbs if desired. Serve with grape relish (above).

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Eating McDonald's Makes You Feel Ugly (My Very Last McDonald's Experience)

When I was twenty-one, I traveled to Rome with a rucksack jammed with a few shirts, a journal, and a few books. I found a small room by the Termini station. The room had a bed, a desk, and a single light bulb hanging on a wire above the bed. I wasn’t sure whether I was living in a pensioni or an abandoned flat and the woman who negotiated the price of the room with me never cleared this up. I only knew I her at the Termini station, she spoke only Italian, and I didn't trust her at all.

So I refused to unpack my bag, to let myself get comfortable. Instead I spent my time trying to figure things out. The bathroom mystified me. I couldn’t figure out the roaming shower head, or the hot water influenced solely by the flushing of the toilet. It took me several days alone to sort out the mystery of the light. I was already accustomed to pooping in the dark when I realized, by happenstance, that the light went on only when the door was bolted from the inside.

In the dark, alone, unable to read the newspaper to pass the time, fumbling for the toilet paper that always ran out, I realized, for the first time, that the laws that had always governed my life were slowly but surely evaporating.

Around this time, I the urge to do something I had not done for years: eat McDonald's.

It was a cool April morning. Walking by Termini station, I noticed the odor of McDonald's. I followed the odor, even though I felt vaguely ridiculous crossing the street and standing in the long line snaking out of the restaurant.

The line moved at an unhurried pace. I buried my nose into my guidebook, aware that the blood was rushing up to my cheeks, that I was suffering an acute bout of embarrassment. When I reached the counter and saw the spigot for red wine along with the soda fountain and coffee urn, I felt overwhelmed. The idea that I could simply order wine at McDonald’s, that I could do so in mid-morning, and that I could drink the wine on the street inspired in me true, vivacious joy.

“Yes,” I said and I actually pumped my fist.

Then I smiled deeply and ordered a sausage, egg and cheese McMuffin, two hash browns, and two cups of red wine.

I said to the young girl who was taking my order: “Rome is a good place to be happy.”

È lei ubriaco?” I imagine she said.

I sat on the curb outside, happily eating my sandwich and drinking red wine for breakfast.

After eating, I wandered up and down the freshly hosed, morning avenues. This is Rome! I told myself. I inhaled the exhaust from the motorbikes. I stopped to examine the paper menus taped on the windows of the cafés. I watched the impeccably dressed Italians, extravagantly hurried, rush in and out of doorways and taxis as if they had some other, marvelous place to be.

I had already seen more handsome people than I had ever seen in my life, when I stepped into a bar on Via Montbello, ordered an espresso, and looked into the full length mirror on the wall. I didn't like what I saw: my hair was a dramatic mess, my eyes were bloodshot, and I looked like a loiterer in my blue jeans and sneakers. My entire being seemed to be burdened with a profound ugliness, a gestating ugliness, something from within: McDonald's was infusing my body and my emotions with a profound sense of self-loathing.

I had no idea how to behave, so I pretended I was in a hurry, gulping my espresso in one scalding hot sip. Then I stepped onto Via Montbello and walked up the street, my tongue swelling, and continued walking for some time until, somehow, I found myself back on Via Montbello, in an utter panic, because I had no idea how to get back to the Termini station.

I stepped to the corner and vomited McDonald's onto the street.

Then I sat on a stoop, put my head on my knees, and fell in and out of sleep.

I didn't know it then, but (thankfully) I was experiencing my last McDonald's hangover.

No way Anita Ekberg ate McDonald's

Monday, September 10, 2007

Microwave Popcorn: FoodCrack

This New York Times article will disturb you. The article focuses on the artificial compound diacetyl which lends microwave popcorn its massively overpowering buttery smell. When heated, apparently, it "becomes a vapor and, when inhaled over a long period of time, seems to lead the small airways in the lungs to become swollen and scarred." Naturally, microwave popcorn plant workers are highly susceptible: Exposure to the chemical has been linked to hundreds of cases of lung-damage. This is called "popcorn workers' lung."

Anyone who has ever walked into a collegiate dormitory knows the smell of diacetyl all to well--It is the anti-scent of the healthful, the purest example of the addictive power of manufactured foods. Quite frankly, the smell is sublime and awful. And now consumers are getting sick.

I suppose this is what happens when two of humanities worst atrocities, artificial flavorings and microwaves, fuse together to create a third, more evil, atrocity: FoodCrack.

FoodCrack is the terror of the American diet. FoodCrack, like crack-cocaine, is cheap, addictive, shockingly unhealthy, and easily accessible. Think McDonalds. Think Suzy Q's. Think Sno Balls.

FoodCrack is clearly not food. Unfortunately, many Americans are FoodCrack Pookies.

The man whom the title of this article refers too was clearly addicted to FoodCrack. Apparently, he ate at least two bags a day, every day, for 10 years. The man’s doctor says: “When he broke open the bags, after the steam came out, he would often inhale the fragrance because he liked it so much.” Unfortunately, his lungs looked much the same of those who suffer from popcorn workers' lung.

Poor fat guy. He quit eating the popcorn and lost 50 pounds in 6 months. Unfortunately, his lungs seem to be irrevocably damaged.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Food and the Wrestler

You never stepped onto the scale with any clothes on. You were always naked. You never weighed in with wet hair. Water was dead weight—even the dozen or so droplets that clung to the spiky part of your hair that grew down along the back of your neck. That’s, of course, if you had any hair. If you knew you were close to being over, you spent the whole bus ride with a lip full of Skoal Wintergreen, spitting into a Dixie cup. If you were lucky, you might fill half the cup with that pasty, frothy type of spit that can only be produced from a water-starved mouth. That could be a quarter of a pound right there. But after a week of intense dieting and water restriction, it was often impossible to muster up any saliva in your mouth, and the plug of chew just sat there, leaving its foul taste somewhere deep inside of you. About two minutes before I weighed in, I would always find an empty corner of the locker room and stand on my head until I almost passed out. This brilliant discovery of mine somehow made you anywhere from a quarter to a half pound lighter (but only for five minutes or so), and was quickly stolen and copied by team mates, all of whom were looking for that extra edge that would help them make weight.

Such is the life of many high school and college wrestlers everywhere. The one thing that I left out above is any mention of food, or the lack thereof. Years later, I still find it hard to sum up exactly the effect that fifteen or so years of competitive wrestling had on my relationship with food. One thing is for sure, though—I’m not like everybody else.

In season, I was motivated and chiseled. In summer, I was sloth-like and chubby. There was absolutely no happy medium. Tragically, this radical polarity seeped into every arena of my life—especially food. While cutting weight in high school and college, I was ascetic in my food intake, eating only enough to meet my body’s energy requirements. But when the day’s match was over I became voracious, often entering a food store and emerging with an over-stuffed bag of junk food that was instantly consumed.

My friends were always amazed by my capacity to eat in moments like these. Seth’s dad, the legendary Ira Pollins, used to invite me to his Labor Day picnics for the sole purpose of watching me eat his watermelon and ribs. Seth was no better. Like his incredulous father, he too would often challenge me to public displays of gluttony. And like the fool I was, I always acquiesced. On a dare by Seth, I once ate a McDonald’s #2 value meal in less than 90 seconds. That’s 2 cheeseburgers, 1 large French fries, 1 apple pie, and a whole lot of soda. This, of course, occurred in the days before I decided to keep kosher.

In junior high one year, they had to switch the lunch line salad bar from a pay-by-the-plate system to one that was pay-by-the weight. The reason? The lunch ladies were complaining that I was stacking my plate too high, thus confounding the economics of their system. A scale was quickly introduced and I lived out that year in the lunch room as a celebrated champion of the commoner—one who found a way to beat The Man at his own game. But my peers had no idea that I wasn’t in it for the politics. It was all about the food.

While my binge mechanism has been somewhat subdued in the past decade or so, other idiosyncrasies remain. When I eat, I have to eat to the point of being completely full. This is a non-negotiable. Out of food? Make some more dammit! Is the deli still open?

Still, I often skip breakfast, and then forget to bring my lunch to work. When I realize this mistake of mine as I walk down the stairs, I almost never go back into my apartment to get some food for the day. The wrestler mentality immediately kicks in and says “No big deal. I’ll eat when I get home.” Even though I haven’t competed as a wrestler in over ten years, I often still go an entire day without eating a single thing. Then, at about 11pm I attack the fridge like a wild animal. When that is conquered, I turn to the freezer. When that too is depleted, I go into scavenger mode and make whatever is in the cupboard. Some of my most creative recipes were born in fits like these.

I have little hope that this will ever change. I can only try to accept it and deal with it. I even have a hard time writing about it, as if my relationship with wrestling and food is some skeleton in my closet. Writing this blog has been a bit cathartic for me in that way. It’s funny though, because as a wrestler I enjoyed great success and national recognition. My career in high school earned me a scholarship to an NCAA Division 1 program, yet when the conversation turns to high school or collegiate sports at work, I leave the room. When people ask me if I was any good, I usually say something vague like “I won more than I lost.” It makes me uncomfortable because I know that, deep down, I have some major food dysfunction that has metastasized to other areas of my personal life, and wresting was a big part of it.

Now I’m really hungry.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Poached Chicken with Lavender Rub

In a recent post, Seth recommended coconut lavender sauce; as chance would have it, Andres and I had lunch this afternoon in a new plaza here on Sepúlveda that has an enormous flowerbed full of lavender and rosemary plants! Of course, this is the Mediterranean. I have often found rosemary, lavender and thyme when walking around Montserrat or when hiking in Garraf Nature Park just outside Sitges. Occasionally I am lucky enough to find rosemary up on Collserola. But here in the city! I snagged a handful or so of fresh lavender and am now looking for a good recipe. Luckily, most Catalans wouldn't know a fresh herb if it jumped up and bit them on the lip, so my new secret stash is safe. And just in time for autumn. I love fresh rosemary in fall.

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Some days later:

So I poached chicken in my own lavender rub for Saturday night's dinner. Our oven is on the fritz. And we have no grill. Still, I did as Seth suggested and brined the chicken, which I had never done before. It was fun. In a large frying pan, I browned the chicken breasts on both sides before slopping the lavender rub on the rounded top of each one. I then filled the pan with white wine, submerging the breasts halfway. I added a sprig or two of lavender to the wine, covered the pan and poached the chicken. When the breasts were cooked through, I brunt off most of the wine. What liquid was left was impregnated with the flavor of the lavender and so drizzled over the breasts before serving.

They were accompanied by sautéed zucchini and cherry tomatoes tossed with lemon, olive oil, fresh black pepper and feta cheese (!) on a bed of couscous.

The meal was a huge hit. Lavender chicken!?!? So was the dessert: homemade brownies (super-fudgey thanks to the fritzing oven) with slices of mango and vanilla ice cream.

To start we had peach salsa with corn tortillas. As it was an end-of-summer do, I drank a lovely Raimat Chardonnay. Everyone else drank red. They give in too easily to fall.

Poached Chicken with Lavender

1/4 cup sea salt
4 cups cold water water
4 large skinless boneless chicken breast halves
1/2 cup fresh chopped lavender
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus 2 tablespoons for browning
2 tablespoon French mustard
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1 cup white wine
a few sprigs fresh lavender

Combine salt and water in a medium bowl. Dissolve. Submerge chicken breasts in salt-water solution and brine for 45 minutes. Rinse chicken, pat dry, and set aside.

Combine lavender, olive oil, French mustard, and black pepper in a small bowl.

Warm olive oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Cook breasts until browned, 2-3 minutes per side. Slather the top half of the breasts with lavender mixture.

Add wine to submerge the breasts halfway. Add lavender sprigs, cover pan, and poach chicken until cooked through, 8-10 minutes.

Remove the breasts to a platter, raise heat to high and simmer until all but 1/4 cup wine is dissolved. Remove lavender sprigs and drizzle reduced wine over breasts. Serve.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

For The Love of Garlic

I think about garlic all the time. How can I use more garlic more in my diet? Is it best to mince or thinly slice? Should I juice garlic? If I eat too much raw garlic will I develop an ulcer? What's the deal with all of garlic's medicinal qualities?

I love the way the dry, brittle layer of skin cracks when you squeeze it. I love how garlic breaks apart into those individual sections that you can always reassemble back into the whole if need be.

When I come across garlic in the store, I never buy the 5-packs that come in the pantyhose packaging. When I buy garlic I have to feel it in my hands. No plastic netting shall come between me and garlic! I caress my fingers over their shape, close my eyes, bring the garlic up to my nose for a whiff. It's a system I have that allows me to instantly and accurately determine the good heads from the bad.

For the first few years of our marriage my wife was vehemently opposed to garlic. I was left wondering if we would make it as a couple. To her, nothing befouled an apartment more than the odor of cooked garlic. There was a winter night a few years ago when I was cooking a batch of garlic-laden apple burgers on a George Foreman grill in our kitchen. She was in her first trimester of pregnancy and very sensitive to smells. She walked into the kitchen and was immediately affronted by a huge waft of garlic mist.

She said nothing, just locked herself into the bathroom and started to cry.

It wasn't until I tried this recipe on her that she changed her mind about garlic. When cooked, garlic loses its sharpness and strong taste. When roasted with olive oil and soy sauce, garlic is sweet, mild and has the spreadable consistency of butter. I roast two heads every shabbos: one for Friday night and one for lunch on Saturday. We usually eat the whole peeled cloves, spread with a knife on challah with some quality green olives and a good hummus. While the garlic comes out piping hot, smooth and creamy, the olive oil becomes infused with the flavors of rosemary and soy sauce.

This is the kind of recipe you have to careful with because it is easy to eat an entire loaf of bread with it.

Simple Roasted Head of Garlic

This recipe can easily be doubled, or tripled, or maybe even quadrupled.

2 heads garlic, unpeeled
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons tamari
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place head (the garlic's, not your own) in a small baking dish. Slather each head with 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1 teaspoon tamari, and 1/4 teaspoon thyme.

Bake for 35 minutes, until cloves are meltingly tender. Serve warm.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Karen's Chicken Potato Paradigm

My wife recently started eating meat after a ten year hiatus. I took a portion of the hiatus with her, but I jumped back into the meat world three years ago. My first meal: leg of lab, medium rare.

Needless to say, my wife's a bit more tentative. So far, she's tried chicken breast. Even then, she's iffy. She has rules:

1. The chicken must be skinless and cut away from the bone.
2. The chicken must be slathered with BBQ sauce.
3. The chicken must be served with potatoes.

The chicken-potato thing drives me crazy. She simply will not eat chicken unless it is served with potatoes. I call this Karen's Chicken Potato Paradigm (KCPP) and, to be honest, it terrifies me: Clearly, I am the normal person in this marriage. This is not necessarily a calming thought.

Anyway, lately I've been thinking about how I might disrupt KCPP. One thing my wife is swayed by is deliciousness. For example, a few weeks ago, she happily ate a chicken breast with a delicious corn risotto. (We bought fresh Silver King corn from Lancaster.)

Friday night I had soaked a pot of rice. So I went out on a limb and brined some chicken. Then I went on a run and thought about how to sway my wife. Simply slathering the chicken with BBQ sauce wouldn't work because she would then demand potatoes. So I tried to think of an ingredient that was definitively anti-potato, but also pro-chicken, a sauce that might induce her to eat chicken with a simple pot of rice. Somewhere around mile two, I alighted upon my key ingredient: Coconut. Since my mom, a lavender addict, was coming over for dinner I added a bit of lavender to the mix...

Lavender Coconut Sauce

1 tablespoons extra virgin coconut oil
1 onion, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 14 oz. can full-fat coconut milk
2 teaspoons grade b maple syrup
2 tablespoons fresh lavender, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
Sea salt and fresh ground pepper

Warm oil in a medium saute pan over medium heat. Add the onion and saute gently for 5-7 minutes until soft and translucent. Add the turmeric, cumin, and paprika, increase the heat to medium-high, and saute 1-2 minutes. Add the white wine. Simmer for two minutes Add the coconut milk, maple syrup, lavender, lemon juice, lemon zest, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and fresh ground pepper to taste.

Simmer for ten minutes. Let cool. Puree in a blender until smooth. Pour back into pan and simmer until thick. Adjust seasonings to taste.

Serve as a dipping sauce for roasted chicken to suspicious wife.