My Old Man…who lived in a pantry

27 Jan

One on One with Dad

 

 

Being as my father is a very busy guy, even for being retired, I was lucky to get enough of his time to sit and talk to him about some of his food related experiences. If you have had a chance to read any of my blogs, then oh reader, you will have already a pretty good understanding of the man my father is when it comes to food. Being a chef, he is pretty much all about it. So it wasn’t pulling teeth by any means.

I came over to his house and we sat around the coffee pot for a while and this is what I came up with.

I started by asking him “how did you start cooking- what made you start cooking?”…and in asking that he was even able to answer my next question of “did your parents cook so well?” He laughs and sighs, and looks at me and boldly says “Your grandmother Brockmann was a terrible cook! And the meals I ate prepared by her were boring, bland and simple. I hate to say this about my own mother, but truthfully she was really bad, maybe not burn water or even eggs…but let me tell you, her water was better than her eggs….”he cackles lowly. I laugh too….”That’s pretty bad dad, I’m glad to hear you have made such improvements….I would have hated to taste those eggs.” He went on to tell me “That it was just this sheer lack of skill and development that really influenced and inspired me to learn how to cook, to want better for my own family some day surely…but initially it was for my own enjoyment.”

Two questions down. “So dad, how has your relationship with food changed over the years, like from the early years of Grandma Brockmann’s bad cooking, to your initial stages of learning, to now?”

“Well,” he says, “if I would say that initially my parents, and more specifically my own father was skeptical of my desire to cook and skill (as his earliest forays at home were only marginal at best, he admits this freely by the way), I would be being honest.” He says “ He used to say that it was a waste of time and would make little to no money, however it was just that which was a galvanizing factor, as he being this well established and supremely accomplished engineer…he wanted me to shoot higher….he wanted me to be a doctor or a lawyer. Go figure, right?” I shrug,  and say “Well I guess I could see what he meant by that…but if that’s not what you wanted then I feel you.” “Well,” he says, “here is the deal…I know that I could have done either of those and done well, but the truth is I wanted to be an artist man, it was the late 60’s early 70’s, freedom of expression and all the lot, and I loved eating….wanted to eat better…and I figured that this was a great place for my freedom of expression to run wild…hell I could feed myself at the same time…so that was also another factor, you see, too birds one stone.” “I got it man, ok so well what about the progression?” I ask. “Well, it was slow going, because I was going to school for electronic engineering as I was also pretty into that, satisfy my dad and make me some money, another two birds one stone right there. I also was courting this idea of culinary school. I worked at a local restaurant in Long Beach doing kitchen prep work and small line cook work, but nothing major. It got me all the more hot for the cooking, and after finishing my engineering studies, I got a job with a company in S.F. and left L.A. and the restaurant behind. Eventually I started taking class at CIA in the city, as now that I had a good job I was able to afford culinary school as well. So I was taking classes amidst my working. I was a lot to do all at once, but was really into. My skills had considerably progressed when I worked at the restaurant in LA, so I was already working with a good base of knowledge.” He pauses and takes a breath. “Ok, so would you say mediocre then?” I ask. “Yeah, something like that.” He says.  “And so now?” I ask. “Well I’m a chef aren’t I?” he asks. “Yes man you are, I was just giving you a hard time dad, your cooking is awesome, and I mean that.” I say.  “So I guess in a really round about answer to your question son, I had a really deep and passionate penchant for food and cooking, clearly as I made it a professional thing. It was also about the art son, it was important to me to have an outlet for expression. So I would say as I got older I got more “hot” for cooking, and thusly my relationship got heavier man. You dig?” He asks. “Right on dad, I dig.” I answer.

“Ok, so loaded question for you dad….” I say hesitantly. “Shoot..” he says “Ok…so what is your favorite meal to make?” I ask.  “Awww man, you know I cannot answer that, there are really just too many things to make that I like. I would only be able to give you a few tops….like putenesca cruda (uncooked putenesca is  kind of a tradition in our house) and a big grilled rib eye with fresh corn in the summer….maybe a nice rock salt roast in the winter with some acorn squash and risotto…and like in between the height of the seasons anything else that tickles my fancy.” He answers and adds “That’s kind of an unfair question to ask.” “Yeah I hear you dad, I too probably couldn’t answer that straight either….way too many choices.” I finish.

 

“Ok so simpler question, what is a memorable food related experience for you?” I ask. “Well son, believe it not, its not my own experience, one of my favorite moments is when you had your first popsicle.” He smiles softly. “You know I keep that photo of you in my wallet all the time (he takes it out and shows the tattered old wallet size photo).” I smile, “Messy boy, eh?” I chuckle. I have cherry popsicle all over me face and my two front teeth gleam a big smile….there is cherry all over my snoopy bib too….I always think that it must have tasted and felt amazing to me, but also wonder why could I not keep it in the mouth? “You were teething at this point, and the Doc recommended an ice poop to cool your gums, so we did so.” He says. “It was a lot of fun, and you had a great time….a serious relief from all the pain you seemed to be in. It brought my heart a lot of joy to do that for you, and to watch you get silly with it.” I smile again. “Right on man.” I say.

“So I had one last question for you, but I really think you need to think about it, and I actually really need to run so ill ask you it and you can think about it. I know you know this game, but what would be your last meal? Don’t tell me now….think about it…and well talk soon. Ok dad, thanks for your time.”

He smiles and nods and we exchange hugs and say our good byes. “Crazy cool guy that dad of mine,” I think, “but honest, inspiring, and endearing all the same.”

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The words “chiffonade” and “jullienne” are grossly under-utilized…(“Chopped” Challenge)

27 Jan

Chopped…diced…brunoised…slice it any way you like it,

But will you make the cut?

I was worried, this was not a normal feeling for me, I didn’t know what to do with the seemingly un-blend-able and miniscule array I had been given. Frosted flakes, home made pasta, and basil. I kept hearing the Sesame Street song from my days of youth playing in the background….”one of these things is not like the other, one of these things is not the same…” It was nagging me from the moment I pulled the little pieces of paper out of the bag. Come on coconut milk, come on lemon grass, come on shrimp…….if only I could get what I had put into that bag I could make me some Thai shrimp curry and call it a night. But no, it was not in the cards. The culinary gods had laughed a resoundingly hysterical laugh instead, and dealt me a big smack in the face. Sure, basil and pasta….no brainer. But what the hell was I going to do with Frosted Flakes?

As I exited class, I started to think about all the things I could do with frosted flakes. Crush, mush, mash….eat…ha.  How was I going to make one cohesive dish with these three ingredients? And then it hit me….I would make two separate dishes…and intermingle the ingredients as much as I could. Then I set to thinking, again about those frosted flakes. Hmmm, what to do with a slightly sweet breakfast cereal that’s made of corn, crunchy and crisp….hmmm. I tried to think off all of the applications of past where cereal had been used to cook with. There was bran flakes for brank muffins, there was…there was…what…hmm. Nothing. So maybe I needed to stop thinking about it like a cereal and look at it like something else. What is it like…..hmmm…its crisp and crunchy, kind of like bread crumbs…and then it hit me again. Breading, for deep frying! I would crush it and fry some poor defenseless piece of an animal crusted in crushed frosted flakes. From here it was simple…it was all down hill. I had done plenty of impromptu cooking on my own. One of my favorite past times was “what’s in the pantry, what’s in the fridge, what’s in the freezer….?” Make something with what you’ve got.

I quickly figured out my other dish, pan fried gnocchi with fresh basil and ramp oil…perfect. It was perfect. This would be a hit. I just needed to pick a beast to be dredged and fried. Hmmm, what about an ahi tuna steak? That sounds good and would be great if I leave the center rare….the crisp brown exterior crunchy and sweet from the fried flakes, and the center just slightly warm and soft. Presentably it would be beautiful, and palatably it would be succulent.

I set about to procure my ingredients. I went to my work, the local TJ’s. One package of frozen ahi, (cause lets face it folks, I’m a broke college student, and if it failed…I didn’t throw 15 bucks away on a sashimi grade ahi steak!), one box of frosted flakes, one package of basil, and yes 2 packages of potato gnocchi (cause lets also face it folks, I DON’T HAVE TIME TO MAKE FRESH PASTA). I pay and run home. I start to get an idea of what I am doing in my head and so need to write out my recipes and process. There will be 4 stations for the fish frying: dry seasoned flour station, wet batter station, flakes dredging station, and the hot oil pot. The pasta will need: a large pot of boiling, oiled and salted water, and my large aluminum frying pan, a cheese micro plane and garnish station. The basil ramp oil will need a chopping station, and the food processor station. Plates need to be selected for both as well, and so I set about prepping.

 I get 3 pie tins out and fill one with flour, salt and pepper. The other with the wet batter (see recipe), and the other with frosted flakes I profusely pulverized but some left a few larger flakes for contrasting textures. I chopped about 2 inches off the ramp tops for what would seem like a half cup, and took about the same amount of basil, place it in the food pro, added some olive oil and a few sprinkles of salt and pepper and pushed the button, slowly drizzling the olive oil in to make an emulsion. That done I let the now virgin oil rest, and I turned my attention to the pasta water that I had boiling. I cut the two packages of the gnocchi, and working in batches, made each package separately. Once cooked I took my spider and flipped them out into the hot aluminum of the pan, added a few shots of oil and a small pat of butter, sprinkle of salt and pepper and coaxed the pillows around the hot oil till they had a glorious light golden brown toasting. I evacuated them to an awaiting dish and covered in the fresh herb oil. Small micro plane of pecorino on top, hit with more pepper…and pasta was done…next was the fish.

I cut a very small corner off one steak as there were two, ran it through each of the stations, flour, batter, and flakes…and then quickly into the oil….watched it float for a second and coaxed it with the spider. In less that a minute I pulled it out, and tasted it…the center wasn’t rare…glad I tested it….needs less time. So I set about repeating the processes with the steaks….one at a time so as to not drop the heat of the oil. In went the first, and about every 10 seconds, I flipped it over in the oil, then over again, like 4 to 5 times I did this. Then out it came to a waiting plate to cool before cutting…. I painted a small streak of the new oil on the fish plate…for some color….I would have done a different sauce…but was too taken with my dishes coming together, and had to run to work in less than 30 minutes.

I waited 2 minutes and then took my knife to the middle of the fish. Perfectly cooked, nice and rare in the middle, wonderfully golden outside, so I made my next move, plating arrangements. It was picture time. I snapped a few photos and that was it. Time to eat before it was cold. The food was amazingly good, I was surprised how sweet but not too sweet the flake crust was, it seemed to bring out the natural sweetness of the ahi, the fish was perfect and creamy smooth, subtle in flavor. The gnocchi was also excellent. The soft fresh basil was mild and the ramp brought a magnificently grassy fresh onion and mild garlic flavor to the party…prefect on the crisp little pillows, finishing salty earthy with the cheese and pepper dusting. All in all I have to say it was a pretty huge success….my roommate who got the other plates definitely agreed! So “chopped” you ask me? Not my food, not when I am asked for seconds by a hungry roommate still licking her plate.

Frosted Flake Ahi Tuna Steak

2 ahi tuna steaks (size can vary)

3 cups frosted flakes

1 egg

1 ½ cup all purpose flour

1 cup water

5 cups vegetable oil

Salt

Pepper

Heat 5 cups oil to medium heat in a heavy sided small pot.

Batter

Combine water, 1 cup flour, egg, salt and pepper in a medium bowl and whisk till combined in a slurry. Set in a pie tin or bowl for battering.

Flour Dredge

Combine ½ cup flour, salt and pepper in a separate pie tin, making sure S&P are well mixed.

Flakes

Pulverize frosted flakes to small or medium flake size. Add to a third and separate pie tin.

Rinse ahi, and pat dry with a paper towel. Lightly season with salt and pepper. First dredge steak in flour mixture, making sure to shale off excess. Then dredge in batter mixture, making sure to again shake off excess. Then finally dredge in flakes…making sure to evenly coat the entire steak. Move to the pot of oil, and with a spider or slotted spoon, gently lay the steak in oil. Flip the steak over in the oil with spider or spoon every 10-15 seconds, cooking for a total time of no more than 2 minutes, or the center will not be rare. Remove when flakes have achieved a light golden brown color, and place on a paper towel to cool and drain. Serve promptly.

(Serves 2)

Gnocchi in fresh Basil/Ramp oil

¾ cup fresh basil

¾ cup fresh ramp (tops preferred)

2 ¼ cups olive oil

8 quarts water

Pecorino Romano Cheese

1 small pat of butter

Salt

Pepper

2 packages potato gnocchi (1 lb. each)

Herb Oil

Roughly chop fresh ramp tops and basil, and add to food processor. Lightly season with salt and pepper, and cover. While pulsing to start, slowly drizzle oil in to mixture. When half of oil is used, bring food pro to a medium speed, and slowly drizzle remaining oil till an emulsion is created. Set aside for later.

In a medium cast iron skillet or frying pan, add 1/8 cup of oil and set to medium heat.

In a large stock pot, bring water, 1/8 cup oil, and large palm full of salt to boil. Add one package of gnocchi at a time, cooking a max of 3-5 minutes (or when a couple of gnocchi start to float to the surface, which ever comes first), or the gnocchi will become water logged and ruined. Remove with a spider and place gnocchi into the medium skillet, be wary of splatters as the oil and excess water combine in the skillet. Add pat of butter, and bring pan to medium high heat. Lightly season with salt and pepper, stir repeatedly and constantly making sure gnocchi do not stick to the pan and burn. Cook for a total time of 4-5 minutes, or until the pasta has a very light golden brown patina. Remove to a small mixing bowl. Take reserve herb oil, and profusely spoon over gnocchi, and stir with said spoon to coat hot pasta. Remove pasta to a serving bowl and gently grate (a micro plane is preferred for this) Pecorino over the top, 2 cranks of fresh pepper, and garnish with a sprig of reserve basil. Eat promptly.

(Serves 2)

Wok this way….wok this way…

27 Jan

Wok Like a man…fast as you Yan Can-can

 

 

                The air is thick with a fog of diesel exhaust from the many panel trucks that rattle, clack, and sputter as they wiz down the busy streets already full of cars, followed by occasional honks when one cuts another off. The sweet, heavy, and acrid smell of incense billows out from a high apartments open window, mingling with the fragrant earthy tobacco smoke amidst the pagoda topped lampposts in a near by park where old men play mahjong, their severely weathered hands almost indistinguishable from the tightly clutched wads of profusely worn and crumpled dollar bills. Chinese characters are scrawled in every color and size where ever the eye can see; on billboards, over doors, in windows, and on the long forgotten wrappers, bottles, and news papers that densely litter the streets. The sidewalks are a violent tide of colors, from the bright greens of the cabbages and spring onions, the vibrant oranges of the mandarins and kumquats, and the electric yellows of the Buddha hands and Meyer lemons that pile high in the baskets and on the shelves of the produce markets; to the rich mahoganies, golden browns, and lustrous red lake # 5’s of the crispy roasted ducks, glistening chickens, and the glowing whole sides of char siu that deftly dangle from heavy iron hooks in the profusely steamy windows of the many delis.

A vendor who specializes in seafood and poultry has a split shop with many tanks and cubbies packed to the gills with frenzied swimming occupants in the front, and stacks upon stacks of fevered squawking fowl in the back…the floor throughout is strewn with feathers and puddles of water. Some where in-between the two, a man is breaking down and disassembling a whole pig, like a surgeon, carefully separating each part ALL of which will be for sale. A sea of pink plastic bags moves up and down the sidewalk, draping each persons arm like this seasons new Channel Hobo (some with multiple on each arm!), not filled with Versace sunglasses of the keys to a new Mercedes, but the equally valuable spoils of their negotiations with each shops owner.

People move about frantically, everywhere, all the time, some as though their feet were on fire (this is to get the best quality “xyz” for your money before some one else buys it all), and others so heavily laden and or so aged they move at more of a saunter or a hobble. However, amid this already deafening cacophony of noise and storm surge of movements, aromas, and colors…there is yet another layer….the inescapable fevered roar of Cantonese, seemingly coming from every direction. There are no two ways about it, this is unmistakably Chinatown.

 

On my most recent visit to Chinatown I was whisked about by a tour guide and local inhabitant who was soft spoken and (for what I could understand) none to keen to let his participants delve too deeply into the culture. I felt more an outsider looking in, as though I was visiting a forbidden far off land, rather than being introduced to it. I wanted to reach deeper into this seemingly ever moving world with in a world. I wanted to eat off the “secret Chinese menu”, not for the “whites.” So much vitality, so much energy, and all so hard to take in all at once.  We made our final stop in at the Four Seas Restaurant, where I hate to say it; I was served Americanized Chinese food that was COLD. Then again what could one expect when you’re with a giant group of people (who wouldn’t know the difference) not from the area, and where the kitchen was most likely a mile bellow ground? Graces Uncle Sam would have not been impressed…a clear indication that the restaurant “certainly had gone down hill”….”where is my Wok Hay I was promised?!” I hear both he and myself thinking.

Hand in hand with the disappointment at the table, were the very small amounts of time able to be spent in each place, I didn’t really feel I was able to grasp much of what was going on or retain what little I did. A puff pastry cream horn crammed here, sure, a few pieces of dim sum gulped there, ok. But I needed substance, something lasting, so I grabbed some small tidbits to hold onto and remember my trip by. I don’t want to call these souvenirs in the sense of such a tourist might purchase, but more so items of durability, worth, and investment. In a small produce market I had nimbly navigated between elbows and sideways looks, I bought gul choy, which Grace Young told us of in “Breath of a Wok,” which I would use to re-season my grandmothers wok. At 2.50 it was a reasonable investment for the continued good eating of my foreseeable future. In the under ground grocery dry goods market, I was able to see out of the corner of my eye and decipher what was a package of cardamom pods, perfect for grinding in the coffee/spice grinder to make home made chai spice mix like Mayur (my past roommate from Bangalore, India) instructed me to make. I made two other stops. One at the Wok Shop, a local cookware mecca on every visitor’s pilgrimage to this destination, where I procured a long awaited and much need vegetable cleaver. And finally, some tea from the Red Blossom Tea Company, Lap sang Suchong and Tung Ting (charcoal roasted tea).

 I felt a small sense of accomplishment and recompense in my procurements, that I hadn’t totally lost out on my visit and experience. I vowed some day to return, to again brave the ever constant cistern that was the tumult of the little city with in a cities existence. Next time, I want beef tendon in black bean sauce, pork snout in Chinese curry, or maybe chicken feet (hmm..maybe not) or what ever else is unidentifiable on that ‘secret menu’…and I want it HOT….with a heaping double dose of WOK HAY….shieh shieh ni!

For a chef and foodie…cooking disasters are like scars on the soul

15 Jan

 

Mean Green

 

It was a usual Tuesday afternoon, I was off from work and as eager to get as many shirked chores and errands done in the few precious hours that were available that I possibly could. Running around like a chicken with its head cut off, I managed to get the majority of work taken care of; however while in the chaos I felt the impending need to fill my stomach as it gurgled and chided me for neglecting it this morning on my way out the door to school. While primarily just relieved to be on a break from the monotony of doing anything school related, but also now on a mission to sate my stomachs cavernous growling I decided to do some shopping for produce at my favorite green grocer.

The Pleasant Hill market has known many names and seen many face but has only been held by two different sets of hands over these last 2 decades. The now current proprietors where a pair of Hispanic twins, Matt and Danny, who were not too much older than myself. I always enjoy going in and talking to Matt about girls, the weather….my dad the last time he visited the store…cars…just random stuff. But I always get a sense of being welcomed. On this particular day I was in a small rush…primarily due to the verbal commands given by the tiny drill instructor in my abdomen, but also because I had the need to get back to some much required homework. I made a quick round of the store not seeing Matt any where……garlic..check….onions..check…bananas..check…and a few other odds and ends.

While perusing the potatoes and blue lake green beans with the thoughts of future meals..Matt approached un-noticed from the back office. “Hey man, que paso?” said Matt. “What’s up man?” I said. We made our familiar small talk as I meandered through the rest of the store, all the while procuring the remaining necessities. When we reached the wet produce case I stopped some what suddenly, and there in the center of the case was a very tightly pack bundle of some greens that, while looking some what un recognizable, where not too foreign either. “what are those Matt?” I asked.
“Mustard greens man, their pretty raw bro, not for everyone.” He somberly replied. “Hunh…not for everyone eh?” I thought to myself….”but I am not everyone”….while imagining the many different ways I might be able to manipulate these oversized arugula looking leaves. I returned from my small imaginary moment, to find myself tossing these into my basket.

Finished with the rest of my shopping, I thanked Matt, said my goodbyes and left. I was eager to get home to see what kind of trouble I could get into. As I mounted the steps to my apartment, I was still having a battle in my head with how cook these. “Sautéed with garlic in the walk like spinach or arugula…cause they should react the same way…right?…or should I add them to a soup or maybe blanche them?” By the time I had reached my door, I had decided. I set the rest of my groceries down on the counter…clearly too obsessed with the mustards. I reached down in the deep depths of my cabinets where I keep the pots…some clinking and shuffling of pots later, and out came my Wok. I was going to sauté the greens in sesame oil with a profuse amount of garlic, fresh ginger, and half of a Thai chili. It sounded perfect. I set the wok on burner, and fired it up to high. Out of the bag came the mustards which quick where trimmed with one fell swoop of my vegetable cleaver. I found my close by container of a head of garlic and made several large cloves quickly turn to mincemeat, then came the greater and presto, the ginger was done. I ran outside to the porch and plucked one single red Thai chili and ran back in, eager to get this show on the road.

I doused the bottom of the wok with a decent amount of cooking oil, and then a smaller portion of toasted sesame oil. The oil started to smoke, and on went the down draft. Focusing back on the green I split them in two and then tossed them into the now searing wok, snap snap snap. I produced my long handled tongs and gave them a thorough swirl and shake over the hot iron. Then came the garlic, then the ginger…and lastly, the chili. I stood over my now splendid looking creation as it was coming to life. The smell was amazing…garlic…chili…sesame…ginger…….I kept stirring for another few moments. And after what seemed like the greens were done, I quickly plated them. I snatched up the closest fork to me and proceeded to take a quick bite. AWEFUL!!!! And I mean, ABSOLUTELY HORRIBLE when I tell you…these mustard greens tasted like the smell of week old gym socks that some one had been wiping their sweaty pits with. The seemingly tender greens where not tender at all, they were unmanageably fibrous, like chewing on a sheet of plywood….the wood pulp un-able to be swallowed. It was the most disgusting thing I have put to mouth in most recent past. I was so appalled I promptly spit the disgusting wad of greens back onto the plate. The strong flavors of the sesame, garlic, and ginger…including the heat of the chili….where no match for this epically disturbing pile of now baneful greens.

 Tragically, for part my ego bruised at the failure, and part my mouth now angry along with the mal nourished stomach still raging…I made for my sacs on the counter and promptly wolfed down a banana to silence the lot. I returned to scene of the accident, hands on hips, looking at the pile of still steaming garbage and thought,  “I don’t even want to remember that this happened.” Forthwith, I took the wok, and tossed it in the sink, quickly washing it and stowing it away. Next, the greens…down the garbage disposal. At least some one would get a meal out of them; thankfully the garbage disposal would not reject even this most seriously heinous concoction. It gobbled the goop down without a pause. While all evidence now had been cleared from the scene of the crime, sadly I couldn’t wipe this disaster from my mind. A failure! A failure?…trying to reassure myself that it was ok, I remembered that one of the most pivotal and important things we can do in the kitchen is fail, cause it teaches us more than we would like to or can acknowledge in the moment as my father always says. While digesting the wise words of my father, I slowly but surely brushed off the now only stinging ego hurt….however I sadly could not cleanse the bitter taste of defeat from my palate…no longer were the mustards the culprit, no….it was the bitter taste of a dish gone wrong…..this currently like the greens, I just couldn’t swallow.

 END

Nothing says love like the meals of our youth….

15 Jan

The Conductor and General

 

 

Sunday morning, 11:00 am. Alarm clock goes off…(smooth jazz)…the soft whisper of a tea kettle joins the band but from down the hall. Then a furious clinking of pots and pans chimes in….the kettle has now risen to a shrieking ferocity…and then promptly…silence. Then more rustling in the kitchen can be heard…a drawer opens abruptly and is closed…finalized by a sharp “damn…no filters” from my father. Now more rustling…resulting in a “huh ha.” “Whhhhhiiirrrrr”…deafeningly fills the air as the motor on the electric coffee grinder sounds off…as it emaciates the previously sedentary darkly roasted French  beans…and as the din of the motor subsides…all that remains is a deep rich mound of freshly disturbed soil…”tap tap” as my father expels the mound into the French press…

Listening closer (only heard by the occupants of the kitchen)…is the sound of hot water pouring out of the spout in an awaiting French press…”gurgle…burble…”…followed by a shallow metallic “clink”…as the spindle of the press is mounted to the carafe. The now brackish looking concoction faintly wafts its delicate aromas down the hall…clearly rousing my mother…tickling her nose to life at the new stimulation … who has clearly slept through the radios previous attempts of “green onions”…and “grazing in the grass”… yawning and slowly stretching like a cat long draped on the arm of a family room sofa, she rolls back over and proceeds to doze…

Laying in my bed…my eyes now gradually opening with the slow compounding of these movements and sounds…I drag my palms gingerly across the eyes still only half wide…removing the remnant crusts of dreams digested the night before in my silent reverie….the small yet clearly disorganized symphony that was cuing up in my home the primary signal for the exit of my room… I stumble out of my bed….snoopy doll in tow and scamper down the hall like the bunny sewn in to the front of my footie pajamas…and as I near the kitchen door way…swinging round its corner…groggily…my sleepy eyes are met with a large silhouette of a figure muted and dark by the newborn rays of morning radiating from around its hulking gait. As my eyes adjust…the once unclear towering apparition now can be clearly distinguished as my giant father. His hands tightly clutching a freshly greased iron skillet and spatula…both brandished above his head..as if ready to do battle with seeming hostile occupants of the kitchen as well as the unexpected interloper that was I.

His ominous gait clad in a brightly festive and traditional Peruvian night shirt…his maw dusted in the wiry protrusions that were his second day beard long earned in this warrior’s weekend of resbit. His scraggly mane of peppery blond hair oily from the nights slumber protruding in patches where his Aucopolcan beach hat didn’t obscure it….eyes wild as if singling he was “the wild man from Borneo” he regularly proclaimed of himself…tongue flared out and down protruding insanely like those of the Yucatan ceremonial masks that hung in our entry… “Who goes there”…he sounded loudly..as he now brandished his spatula and pan as a makeshift sword and shield…. “Daddy!” I run and without the slightest fear wrap my small arms around his trunk of a leg….squeezing tightly…signaling my pleasure for the certain events and well known final results that were soon to follow. It was breakfast in bed….obvious to any who could see the grand array of stations laid out on the kitchens immense counter. Each separate area an artist’s palate of colors and ramekins…mise en place…artfully and strategically placed to aid in the battle with the morning hunger of the houses occupants.

I promptly released my now captor father….and scurried to my long warmed but now cold ceremonial spot in the ‘audience’ that was my bar stool on the other side of the kitchen. My father then whooshed off into the adjoining family room…no doubt to ready his cooking music for morning. With the cheerfully profound and stately blasts of Wynton Marsalis baroque music for trumpets  (Vivaldi. Concerto for 2 Trumpets in C major) cuing up…he reenters the kitchen….makes a quick but firm wink at me…smiles…and spins to face the bare gas range that would be his canvas…raising his skillet and spatula in each hand….and turning his face to the heavens….as if seeking some ethereal divine inspirational boon….he lets out a controlled but guttural “charge” so as not to wake my mother….

I giggle to myself at this ridiculously entertaining display….and with that he turns his focus to the cold iron expanse before him. With a waive of his spatula…as if some psychotic chef turned lunatic conductor and general….rousing a sea of delinquent ingredients in to a haphazard orchestra come army…he begins. “Clang!”….the cold hard iron of the skillet striking the range top sound off like a canon ball hitting the floor. Next, the clicking and whoosh of the gas burner firing off. The master and commander wheels and selects carefully the eggs before him…flour..milk….ricotta….vanilla…sugar..and skillfully zested lemon peel. Now brandishing a wisk….his arm turns to a blur with repeated furious movements as he combines the once mere ingredients in a bowl, to a thing of ineffable grandeur. RICOTTA pancakes, a sure victory! His arm now distinguishable…he slowly pours the rich viscous foundation de ambrosia lovingly into the eagerly awaiting greasy pan…. Snap…sizzle….can be heard as the mortar like substance meets the searing heat of the now fiery iron and liquid fat. A small waft of steam swirls out and up to the loud down draft now gulping for the divinity that is the morsels exhaust, its roar competing for superiority with Wynton in the other room.

The maestro, undaunted by his new auditory adversary, continues to dollop the mixture into the pan…making perfect dainty circles. The batter now exhausted, he turns his attention to the immensly thick slabs of bacon lovingly draped out on a sheet pan like exquisite sheets of music a composer lays lovingly to rest after completion. Pan in hand, he effortlessly spins to face the oven, opens….and a sudden blast of heat meets my face from across the room like a furnace…the concertos of pork slide in…and the door slams shut….leaving the glorious sheets of pig to sizzle unto perfection in the ovens bowls. He turns his attention back to the battle ground and pan…and with the baton de grandess that is his spatula, he masterfully flips his creations. As he works, it seems his movements keep time with the music in background. Each slice…each swing…each flip mirroring the resounding echoes that are the horns in the other room…

Another timer cries his next cue…and so the bacon exits its sauna, and meets the counter…..salty savory tendrils of smoke spill into my nostrils….the inescapable smell causes a small tide of saliva to form in my mouth as I anticipate to crunch away at the delights in front of me. My dad sensing my eagerness…snaps a piece off of a cooling portion and hands it forth….an amuse bouche for his enraptured audience. I bolt the piece down…jaws smashing away its crispy composition…smacking my lips in delight…the unctuous fat softly caressing my lips…tongue….and esophagus as it makes its way to the dark empty chasm that is my needy stomach. I want more. MORE I TELL YOU….

Another timer goes off….and to this the conductor wheels again from his brief interaction with the spell bound crowd of one. He promptly rescues the lone brave vessel from the heat of battle on the stove top. Gently he coaxes the soft yet dense storm clouds that were the pancakes out on to an awaiting plate, their thick bellies poised to deliver a certain torrential down pour of pleasure and joy to their eater…he then places several pieces of porcine delight adjacent….now a small bowl of perfectly shaped spring melon balls, a wash in their many different electric colors….a perfectly poured cup of coffee…and a small but neatly appointed silver serving vessel of syrup. He gently anoints each cloud with a silver lining of butter and then…..motions to me to get the bed tray….I bring it to him eagerly…he carefully places his opus on the tray..and then hastens to the doorway headed for the hall…

I swiftly follow him, closely at the heels like a seasoned pup….trained to trail its master donning food, anticipating any small scraps that may fall from grace…only to be snatched up and wolfed down forthwith. I match his stride…keeping rhythm as if in a platoons parade march. We round the corner smartly at the end of the hall and are met with my mother who is now sitting bolt upright in bed…clearly keen to this moments arrival as the marvelous aromas had let the cat out of the bag long before our entrance. In his most regal tone…my father smartly mouths a “m’lady” as he softly curtsies…and I follow suit…she laughs with whole heart, and subsequently keeps the heir of humor by closing her eyes, raising her brows and turning up her face slightly…then silently and nobly motioning with both hands for us to “commence”…my father lays the tray in all its magnificence in her lap…steps back and curtsies once more…which is met with another giggle. She now eager to delve into the sumptuous feast before her…breaks her noble composure and says “everyone on the bed”..and we both simultaneously comply.

 My mother slowly pours the syrup from the silver vessel onto the awaiting downy golden pillows…a bright but deep black currant tide sweeps over the mound of silver dollars on the plate…she takes her knife and fork…and makes a smooth clear swipe through the mound…extracting the portion with her fork…she moves to make me the first recipient. I draw my mouth open…and like cobra flash maw shut, engulfing the heavenly payload. The pancakes are soft and firm….silken and dense…light and rich….sweet…and fragrantly lemony…creamy from the butter…and florally and fruitfully finished by the pure cassis syrup that drenches my mouthful. “Victory!” I cried with raised arms.

END

An Apple a day will do more than keep the doctor away…

15 Jan

My Fair Lady

 

 

Something quite strange, albeit wonderful, happened to me the other day. I met a lady, but not your everyday garden variety Sue Smith or Alice Pippen; she was unique and exquisitely beautiful. Raw and earthy, grounded, unadulterated…seemingly untouched by all but the lovingly generous Mother Nature herself. She was Argentine in stock, with strong roots to her culture, identifiable as her eyes glimmered brightly with such tell tale ancestral fire, passion…clearly indicative of the crisp vitality she held within. While her seemingly ardent resolve clearly visible to all with the gift of sight, I was to be the only one so lucky to be graced an audience to her true venerable inner tissues at the depths of her core. Our eyes met, and silently with outstretched limb she beckoned me to come closer.

 As I drew near to her my nostrils lit with the potent yet decadent aromas of jasmine and lilacs, no doubt from the fine French soaps of her bathing and the ambrosial oils with which only a lady of her appointment would be anointed. My brain now a wash with romance, stifling my reason, decommissioning my restraint, fanning my now fledgling ember of desire. I want nothing more than to touch her. Intoxicated with her heavenly mist..and in wistful spellbound passion…I longingly and effortlessly reach out to touch her.

My hand finds the side of her bare neck. My mouth opens slightly in awe as I delight in her firm supple body, my fingers gliding over her sensually smooth and creamy marble like skin, playfully tracing an imaginary line from one of her many freckles to the next. She now too earnestly relishing in my tender yet curious caress…as her silky cheeks flush fire red…and she cocks her head back slowly…parts her lips slightly….silently…and closes her eyes for a moment in bliss. She returns her gaze to me and with the raise of one of her delicate brows…signals me to come closer. I oblige and now bringing my hands to her shoulders, they move down her figure to her hips…unrushed….like a sightless mans running over the curvatures of priceless and ornate vase. I draw her face closer to mine, and gently place one hand behind her head, reassuringly cradling its weight. Her perfumes now stronger than ever, like the cries of the Sirens they called out to me…”come drink of my lips Christian” they cried…”come moor your lips to the crescent shores that are mine awaiting yours…”

I close my eyes and lean in to taste of her flesh….turgid with the bounties of youth, our mouths meet….mine long quivering and wet with the saliva of passionate anticipation….hers are of the sweetest honey suckle and piquant acidity of a lovers long hoped for first kiss. Our mouths meet again…and again….and again…and again…Slowly..steadily lingering  a moment at each pass….so as to absorb the deeper depths of its meaning….each time the subtle nuances new and unique….flashes of sweet ripe pears and candied violets….mild fragrant Tahitian vanillas and rich creamed honey…….

 

I open my eyes…and everyone in the room is staring at me holding the core to my Organic Argentinian Pink Lady……and now I’m the one that’s flush red!

END