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Thursday, June 30, 2005

Die, Recipe Saboteurs, Die!

Last night I made some of the best grilled anything I've ever made.

And, I'm going to share the recipe with you.

Why am I going to share the recipe, the full recipe, instead of giving you most of the recipe but leaving out a crucial ingredient or step? Let's just call it payback to all of those evil mothers and grandmothers and uncles or whomever in your family or tiny village in Italy who have given you a recipe to one of their signature dishes only to purposely leave out a step or an ingredient purely for their own greedy, maniacal, and selfish reasons.

Now, I'm not a chef or a grandmother and I'm not worried about competition or being replaced by a younger, bottle-blonde beauty, and if my recipe gives you as much enjoyment as it does me and you want to pass it around, or publish it in a book, or add it to your menu, or use it to get laid, then by all means, go crazy!

The recipe is for grilled Country-Style ribs. In the spirit of resistance to the oppression of the recipe hoarders and saboteurs, I shall proclaim this recipe be called...

Insert Your Name Here's Famous Country-Style Ribs

What you need:

About 7 or 8 Country-Style, bone-in, pork ribs. You can get these pretty cheap no matter where you go.

Country-Style ribs aren't like the ribs you normally associate with pork. These ribs are meaty and somewhat fatty. Try finding ones that have some marbling, but for the most part are lean.

Wash the ribs and then squeeze off the water. They don't have to be perfectly dry. Now, place them into a mixing container (a bowl, a tupperware container, a paint bucket, etc.).

For the marinade:

- ½ a cup of light soy sauce
- The juice of one juicy lime (about a tablespoon or two)
- ¼ to a ½ of a teaspoon of black sesame oil
- A two-inch, finger-sized (not the chili kind) piece of peeled ginger, diced finely
- 3 large cloves of garlic, minced

-½ a teaspoon of chipotle powder (or cayenne)

Whisk these things together and pour over the ribs.


- 1 handful of fresh mint, chopped

Add the mint to the ribs, and with your hands, mix thoroughly. Now, take a gallon-sized Ziploc bag and place the ribs in it. Pour any marinade left in the container into the bag. Squeeze all of the air out of the bag and seal. Lay the bag flat on a large plate and flatten out. Marinade in the fridge for one hour, flipping it over around the halfway point.

Next, grill the ribs.

Please use hardwood charcoal, if you can find it, in your grill. If not, and you have to use regular charcoal, please, oh please, do NOT use the self-lighting charcoal. Unless you love the smell of Napalm in the morning (and many of you do), do not ruin your food with these briquettes.

Of course, you know how to grill, so I won't go into too much detail. Of course, you know about the hot side and the cool side, right? You know, a couple of minutes on each side on the hot side and then transferring over to the cool side, right? Never cover the grill.

Also, you should always put on a couple of extra ribs for those neighbors who are drawn out of their apartments and over to your grill like children to the Pied Piper of Hamelin.

And pay attention to not overcook these bad mofos. Remember, you only need to get the temperature up to 135 degrees, and it will rise 10 degrees when it rests off the grill.

Follow these instructions and have a finger-lickin' good time this Monday, or Sunday, or whenever...OK!


PS Hey recipe saboteurs - It's been brought!

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Shanghai'd to Oakland

Last night Bill, Bruce, Seth, and I decided to meet at Shanghai Restaurant in Oakland's Chinatown for a little sump'um-sump'um.

Since that wasn't on the menu, we decided to order something else instead.

What drug B, B, and me all the way over that PCB-rich watermass known as the Bay to Oaktown was a benefit for our swell pal Dax Pierson who was hurt in an automobile accident earlier this year. The benefit was a show at the Lobot Gallery in West Oakland featuring Moe! Kestra, French Radio, and Soft Pink Truth.

We could only stay for Moe! Kestra and part of something I call "interpretive fright drag", but it was good to see the gallery space, plus a couple of folks I haven't seen in years (mostly Andy and Chris Detzer). Moe! Kestra was also quite a gas and watching the conductor, aka Moe, conduct was pretty amusing. The cacophonous sound of the musicians, which lined the perimeter of the gallery, was tuned and untuned and modified and managed by this guy Moe – a short, thin, muscular Chris Issac-looking guy in a white shirt, black pants, black tie – who ran across and all around the room frantically jotting down "code" on paper that indicated to the musicians where or what to play weird next.

Frankly, I like a little structure to my music, but the spectacle of it was enough to keep my attention. It was amusing to see the musicians attempt to decipher Moe Code, often with serious, yet hilarious, looks of consternation and confusion. At one point, Moe was giving direction to the guy with the laptop by pointing at a prepared piece of sheet music, only to receive a confused look. Why? The guy had the sheet upside down.

If I was yawning, it wasn't because I was bored. Well, not totally. Sure I felt a little ill-mannered by uncontrollably yawning during the set and afterwards, but the four of us just had a huge meal in Chinatown and then ice cream afterwards. Can you blame me?

This was the first time I've had Shanghainese food and I found it extremely interesting. Granted, in my everyday vocabulary, "interesting" usually translates as "sucky" in carefully controlled dialogue, as not to offend. But, truly, I was interested and challenged and that's cool, you know?

Bill and Seth are great dining companions. Seth immediately goes for anything that remotely sounds forbidden, strange, or just downright disgusting (I won't even mention the rude "fleshlight" conversation we had during dinner). If it was legal, I actually believe Seth would eat a baby. But what do you expect. He is the child of serious foodies.

At Shanghai Restaurant, our gracious waitress took our orders and then conducted the rest of our meal, plate by plate, building quickly up to a crescendo while running back and forth to the kitchen. If she was conducting the Moe! Kestra (which in hindsight I think she was), it would've looked something like this.

First came the cold plate of jellyfish. Cold dishes are very Shanghainese and this was definitely a classic dish. According to Bill and Seth, it's been better at the restaurant before (usually it's more transparent). But I really loved the cold, crunchy sesame oil flavor of it.

Next came the pork joint which was damn large and damn impressive, except ouch! Was that just an artery clogging up? This was a huge pork joint that was dark and rich, with a thick layer of fat blanketing juicy tender dark meat underneath, and surrounded by a thick dark sweet sauce with steamed baby bok choy swimming in the moat around it.

Rice was served to wash it down with, as was tea and water, yet no alcohol, which is also a trademark of Shanghainese food (usually cooked with wine). Honestly, I've never consumed much alcohol while eating Chinese food, which may be just as well since let's not even mention LSD and noodles, ok?

Next came the steaming-hot xiao long bao, which is a classic Shanghai dumpling filled with pork and a little bit of soup broth, which is then steamed. I thought the bao was very satisfying, especially with the dark vinegar sauce it came with. Though small, the order was just enough for the 4 of us, especially considering all of the food we had ordered.

Soon came the Shanghai fried noodles with eel that was topped with a dark sweet sauce (sweetness is a standard in Shanghainese food). The noodles were just ok and the eel didn't make an impression, although according to Seth, it did sit well in the refridgerator overnight. And along with this dish came the scallion pancakes and raddish cake, both of which I found pretty uninteresting, and by that I do mean sucky. Both Bill and Seth came to the defense of the radish cakes, mentioning that they've had them here before when they were crispy and flavorful.

Last was the vegetable dish; something the waitress called "ay-tai", but what I think was actually sauteed water spinach with garlic. This was a pretty nice and subdued dish that served as a good accompaniment to all of the heavy foods we had up to that point. The good thing about eating any Chinese food is that, more often than not, the veggies are always in season.

After all of this, we were too stuffed to order anything more (much like the exhausted Moe who ran his little butt off). So it was with great sadness that we couldn't fit into our guts the delicious looking, huge, meatballs and shredded pork, Szechuan-style, noodles the table behind us had ordered. At least I know what to order next time. And none of us ordered the stinky tofu, but perhaps that's also something to try next. Word has it that they only serve it after hours; that is when all of the 9 to 5 workers in the neighborhood leave the area. Who could resist that?!

Upon leaving the restaurant, we paid ($13 each) our check and decided to head across the street to an ice cream shop Seth recommended. We waited outside of the restaurant for one or two of our bunch to visit the potty and wash their hands, and while we did, I couldn't help but notice how empty this Chinatown was at night. What a nice, warm night to be out, and yet Oakland Chinatown was practically a ghost town after 8.

Had Gertrude Stein been right all along? Or is it that the there just wasn’t' there, but is there somewhere? Nevertheless, above the Shanghai Restaurant was a dance class in mid-rehearsal, and it was somewhat amusing to hear the instructor repeating "2-3-cha cha cha" on what seemed to be a small mic'd amplifier. Maybe, for some, possibly for them, there was there, and was exactly where there needed to be.

Anyhow, across the street to the small shop that served the "Marco Polo" ice cream, which came in durian, lychee, red bean paste, green tea, and coconut flavors. I had the durian, which was hard to describe but stuck with me, like linguica, long afterwards. It was a great way of trying durian without the infamous stink that usually accompanies the fresh fruit.

Or at least so I think.

Afterwards we headed towards the show (see beginning of entry) and then parted ways as we dropped Bill and Seth off at BART.

On our drive back across the bay bridge, I couldn't help but notice all of the guys and girls born in the 80's driving into the city in cars 4 or 5 full, with windows rolled down and their generation's version of 2 Live Crew pumping from the subwoofers. Besides gagging over the thought of that much cologne and perfume in a single car, I did happen to have a happy thought that capped my night off well.

Thank you for carpooling!


PS Please visit the Dax website and contribute...for me, ok?

Wednesday, June 22, 2005


There's only one place to pinkbag, and that's in the CT.

No, not in the city. The CT. You know, Chinatown. Pinkbagging is not only fun, but it's damn frugal. And if you don't have the green, or if you wish to conserve your green, then try the pink, bag that is.

What the significance of the color pink is in the Chinese community is beyond me. I know that in the Chinese community certain colors carry certain cultural weight. For example, the color red means good luck and/or celebration. The same type of significance placed on certain colors can also be found in American culture. For example, the color white is a sign of purity, whereas blue is a sign of being upperclass (ie., "blue blood"), and red is just another name for Communist (ie., "better dead than Red"). So, if one were to piece all this together, one would assume that Old Glory is also the flag for the purist bourgeois commies. Right?

Um, I'm not sure.

For all intents and purposes, we will assume the color pink, in as much as it affects our CT shopping bags, is perhaps a coincidence or the result of one person's virtual monopoly on the CT shopping bag market. I have to admit, though, it's a great color for a grocery bag. Nothing says, "excuse me, but in this bag is a chicken, two leeks, and a few hot peppers" louder than a bright pink plastic bag.

And one wonders: what does the "Thank You" printed on the side of the bag really convey? Is it a "Thank YOU" God for allowing me to survive the pushing, the clawing, and the line-jumping lil' old ladies all of the way from the front of the store to the back just to purchase two plums? Or is it, as I like to imagine, a "THANK You", umm-humm, that's right, talk to the hand cause the face don't understand, because I'm pink and I'm sass-ay.

Whatever the meaning, without the pink plastic bags, there would be no pinkbagging, and pinkbagging sounds a whole hell of a lot more fun that just (blah) "grocery shopping".

Last Saturday was my pink Saturday, filled with frat boys, crowds of people, and pricks and could you believe it wasn't the Castro? I started the day with some light foraging for wild fennel flowers around the Telegraph Hill area. That turned out to be pretty useless, but stumbling across the blackberries was a nice surprise. A painful surprise, but a nice one nevertheless. And even though every single blackberry was crushed by the time I got home, I felt I had achieved something. Oh yeah, that pain part again. So, like, if you are picking blackberries and you're completely oblivious to reality (like I was), at least be sure to bring a basket to put your berries in so that they don't get crushed. And make sure wear gloves, long sleeves, and long pants. Trust me, you'll thank me later.

Afterwards, I made my way up to North Beach where an unusual number of frat boys and their girlfriends were saturating the sidewalk restaurants along Broadway and Columbus. I thought it might have been just a normal Saturday for the ground zero of weekend warriors, wankers, and wannabees, but alas it was the North Beach Festival. This festival, and many other "neighborhood street fairs" that abound in the summertime, follows the concept of "if you build it…and block off the streets, hire a few crappy coverbands, and set up a tent city of overpriced craft, aka crap, booths and out-of-town carny-food vendors…they will come" to great success. After wandering through the crowds on Grant Street and staring horrified as I saw my beloved Washington Square Park being trampled by the hordes, I decided to make a quick dash over to Stockton Street for a little pinkbagging comfort shopping.

I love Stockton Street. Other streets in Chinatown have their charm, but Stockton Street is just pure, high-adrenaline business. The sidewalks are jammed daily with throngs of Chinese shoppers. The sounds of Stockton Street are amazing. The cacophonous sounds of MUNI buses beeping and breaks squeaking, cars honking, fishmongers and produce hawkers shouting out their goods, music from China being blasted from the music store on Pacific, people speaking Chinese (mostly Cantonese) everywhere you go; it's pretty amazing.

But then, Chinatown is filled with extraordinary sounds. Try walking down Hang Ah alleyway and sitting on one of the park benches facing the tennis courts. In front of you you'll see and hear people playing tennis and kids screaming in the park below, while behind you you'll hear the thousand clicks of mah-jong tiles the old men and women crowded into low-key gambling dens are playing with. Or try walking down any other alleyway, such as Ross or Wentworth, and you'll most likely pass backdoors that open (sometimes) to more mah-jong parlors, to Buddhist temples, to the kitchens of restaurants, and to music stores.

One alleyway that's more like a little side street is Walter U. Lum Place, which is where the King and King Sausage Company is located. I like King and King because they make the Chinese sweet dried sausages, known as Lop Chong, fresh in the store. Other shops in CT sell the sausages, often plastic wrapped and imported, but I like the local-ness and feel of K&K. Besides the regular lop chong, they also make one with pork and pork liver, which gives it a dark color and a richer flavor; and they sell other dried and smoked pork products, such as the huge slabs of bacon you often see in CT. To boot, the storeowner is a super friendly guy who will tell you all about how to use the meats he sells. Storeowners in CT, in general, are nice, especially when they realize you are there seriously and not to gawk. However, because of the language problem, it's not always easy for both the owner and the shopper (me) to have a friendly conversation. That's why King and King is such a breath of fresh air.

Pinkbag item #1: 4 links of lop chong, regular and with pork liver

The rest of my pinkbagging items are as follows:

Fresh, new to the market, green beans (bought on Grant)
A two-pound pork loin for $3.58
6 garlic bulbs for $1.00
A big ole piece of ginger for $.39

New in season, Lychees, red and green, $3.00
Some dried shrimp, $1.00
2 things looking like donut-shaped white peaches, $1.00
Newly, un-banned*, Sichuan peppercorns, $1.00

*So un-banned that the packaging they were shipped in was blank. Sichuan (or Szechwan) peppercorns, which are members of the citrus family, have been banned in this country since 1968. However, it was only until a few years ago that a revision in the ban targeting the peppercorns actually took effect. Apparently, the peppercorns potentially could carry a disease that wipes out citrus trees. As of a couple of months ago, the ban was lifted only for peppercorns that had been pre-treated with heat before being exported to the United States. Still, in most markets, you have to ask for them. Sometimes they are sold as Prickly Ash berries, or something similarly named.

So, what's in your pink bag?

Mark My Words, You Will Suffer

On a down note, I have something to say about world events that have been bothering me lately.

Restaurants are places of business, yes. But they are also communal areas where food is enjoyed and sometimes shared around a table. Throughout human history, the table has been a place that has brought people together. It is a place of peace and a place of bonding. It is a sanctuary and a place of renewal. No one who has even briefly studied human history can dispute that.

When suicide bombers or armies or political activists target the table or the people sitting around one, they're taking an action far removed from human political affairs: they are attacking the very core of humanity, including their own.

Now I know, suicide bombings are just a political strategy waged by leaders who would never offer their own lives to destroy the innocent lives of others. No, they usually pick the weak ones for that job. But, yeah, I know it's political to them. I understand politics and power struggles all too well. However, the murder of those gathered around the table, "innocent" or not, goes far beyond politics, and hopefully I'm not the only one who sees this.

Restaurants, schools, and temples are never acceptable targets for any armed struggle or military action, and those who target them are not terrorists or freedom fighters or brave soldiers, they are war criminals. They are corrupted, desensitized, and dehumanized fragments of humanity who hold no place of honor, only pitiful disgust. And while their Cause may or may not be noble, their actions can never be forgiven.

I took a quiz recently that pegged me as a "cultural creative", meaning that while I don't place any faith in organized religion or necessarily believe in the absoluteness of God, I still place value in spirituality. Of course, I didn't need to take a quiz to confirm that.

And even though I don't believe in the heaven or hell of the Christian faith I was raised in, I'm willing to bend the rules every so often and pray that if there is a hell, war criminals that target restaurants will burn there. I will pray and believe in hell out of spite, waiting for the day that those who target the table will be sent, suffering an eternity of agonizing hunger and thirst. The image I have of my great-uncle pleading for ice water as he lay in his hospital bed dying of cancer is the suffering I imagine for every person who targets restaurants to carry out killings.

I've always believed that reality is just ideas put into action, and if this is the case, let hell become a reality for every desecrator of the table.

Now, onto a lighter note…

Bill's Kitchen Chronicles

It's always nice to have friends who invite you over and cook for you.

It's especially nice when they go out of their way to prepare a multi-course, scrumptious meal. That's exactly what our friend Bill made for us the other night and I’m still salivating over it.

I've always known Bill, up until this point, as more of a diner rather than a home cook. He has eaten in some of the finest and most unique restaurants the world over. As far as I know, he's eaten in Brussels, Amsterdam, Paris, Hong Kong, New York, London and just recently Barcelona…need I say more? So what does a world-class diner eat at home? Believe it or not, most of his dishes were actually pretty simple and seemingly easy to prepare.

First we began with a warmed chicken liver pate on toast, serves with a light spread of Frog Hollow farms apricot jam. Now, I'm lovin' it.

Next we moved onto a little green salad I made with maché, newly in season figs from Capay farms, and thin shavings of Parmigiano Regiano.

Then we moved onto the first main course of chicken, slow cooked in olive oil, vinegar, and garlic served with a side of sautéed Swiss chard sprinkled with a few dried berries. Wowsers!

Our next course was a lightly sautéed filet of cod (if I remember correctly; could've been haddock) topped with a dollop of Sujuks ginger chutney and served next to a helping of couscous.

The piece de resistance was dessert, of course, which was an orange flavored meringue floating on top of a creamy custard sauce, aka Floating Islands, and accompanied by fresh strawberries and edible flowers.

So, do you have friends like Bill?


Wednesday, June 15, 2005

No One Ever Wrote A Song About Life In The Slow Lane

Pa'paw was the odd man out.

My mom use to warn me that if I didn't stop making bad faces, my face would "get stuck" and end up like his. Pa'paw's face seemed forever stuck in grumpy, and the term curmudgeon seemed forever stuck to him. Naturally, as a child, the thought of my face ending up like his terrified me enough to stop acting like a brat, at least for a short time.

Pa'paw was an old Navy man who, perhaps, saw more despair in the South Pacific than anyone ever should; definitely more than he would ever share with us. Once discharged, he drove big-rigs for a living, and in his spare time raised cattle, as well as doing some light farming. On the weekends, we would sometimes drive down to Pa'paw's to help bale hay, but mostly we just went to visit. He lived in a small area called Startown, which lays on the outskirts of Hickory, North Carolina.

Behind Pa'paw's home was a decrepit farmhouse and a barn that sat on several acres of prime NC farmland; acres that included small tufts of forested land. It was here that I first saw (then tasted) a fruiting persimmon tree growing in the iron-gated, 19th century yard of the farmhouse. Here that my Dad and I shot beer cans off of a wooden fence, saw a calf being born, and then later ran from the angry mama cow. Behind Pa'paw's field was another, owned by a friend of his, which we would walk through picking up baseball-sized quartz crystals that had been plowed up. Of course, who can forget the long, hot weekends spent walking behind a trailer, picking up 50-pound bales of hay; later coming away with hands chapped and sore and forearms red, raw, and with thousands of tiny bleeding cuts.

That was fun.

One day, while walking around the edge of the field, Pa'paw showed me the rabbit traps he had laid out. They were simple pine boxes, rectangular in shape, and had a swinging door on the front. Think of 'em as rabbit hotels, where Thumper checks in, but doesn't check out.

On this particular occasion, one of the "rooms" was occupied.

Now, my memory is kind of faded here, but the next thing I remember was Pa'paw sitting under the carport getting ready to skin the rabbit. I remember how easily the rabbit skin came off, as if one were unzipping and taking off a coat. I remember the rabbit flesh as being lean, yet muscular. I remember being in awe that Pa'paw had actually caught a rabbit, was skinning it, and was about to eat it. Part of that awe, I'm sure, was just the natural perversity of young boys who get giddy whenever seeing dead things and helpless animals caught by some other predatory animal.

Unfortunately, that is where my early rabbits-as-food memories end. I don't even remember if we ate the rabbit. Skip ahead a couple of years, finding me in my early teens, and by then I could give a crap about farming, rabbit hunting, and definitely not baling hay, which I avoided like the plague. Pa'paw's rabbit boxes seem now like such a tiny kernel of trivia, stuck in the memories of my youth like the eternal grimace stuck on Pa'paw's face.

It's funny (or not) how food can conjure up such memories; memories that lay dormant only to be awoken by a certain smell or a certain taste or a certain ingredient.

Memories of Pa'paw, who has long since passed away, and the farm and his rabbit traps were all stirred up recently when I decided to launch into a new recipe for a Tuscan-style rabbit sauce, found in Joyce Goldstein's new cookbook called Italian, Slow and Savory.

I'd like to think that someone faxed Joyce Goldstein a two-page memo declaring that Slow Food was "in", but somehow the second page that explained the Slow Food movement in detail was lost by some scatterbrained temp. In otherwords, I think she takes the "slow" part a little too seriously. Not that I'm complaining. I mean Joyce Goldstein is freakin' awesome. I saw a cooking demonstration she gave once and immediately fell in love with her. Besides, we own several of her classics such as Back To Square One and The Mediterranean Kitchen.

It's just that this rabbit sauce recipe was so damn slow, it's no wonder that damn tortoise won the race!

And excuse me, but "slow food"? Maybe I'm missing something here, but in elementary school, it usually wasn't a "great thing" to be in with the "slow" kids. Or be put into the "slow" class. Maybe translated from the Italian into English we lost a little bit of the social significance, because "slow" only means one thing in this country and it isn't very nice.

And "slow food" as an answer to "fast food"?

That's so reactionary.

If I could drive up to the Chez Panisse pick up window, I would. BELIEVE ME!

But before I get into the recipe, first let me say: Whole Foods at 4th and Harrison probably has the worst meat department for an upscale supermarket in the whole city. No, they don't sell rabbit, and trying to find anything other than chicken breasts, whole chickens, a few sausages, and certain cuts of beef and pork is a goddamn exercise in utter frustration. Shame! Shame! Also, what's up with the high turnover of workers in the meat department?

Hecka Bad.

Instead, I called up Tower Market. They had just sold out of rabbit. We ended up going to Mollie Stones in San Bruno (which is out of the way, but we hit the peninsula on the weekends anyway), where we bought a Rabbit Barn Fryer Rabbit for $8 a pound (total $21). The rabbit was frozen and came with most of the organ meats. Later, after I made this dish, I walked into Hing Lung on Stockton Street and found the same rabbit for sale for $4.50 a pound.

Why do I even consider shopping outside of Chinatown?

So, this recipe is first the rabbit sauce. Then I use the rabbit sauce, and in addition make a bechamel sauce, and then make a baked pasta casserole. All three of these recipes are from Joyce Goldstein's new book (although, anyone can make a damn bechamel sauce).

Sugo Di Coniglio alla Toscana
Rabbit Sauce from Tuscany

1 rabbit with liver, about 3 pounds
¼ cup of extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
2 tablespoons of fresh rosemary, minced
1 cup of dry red wine
2 tablespoons of tomato paste, dissolved in ¼ water
2 cups of chicken stock
1 ounce of dried porcini mushrooms

Cut the rabbit into small pieces and reserve the liver (stick in the fridge). Pat dry. Best to use a heavy cleaver for this part. By the way...have you ever heard a rabbit scream? No. Well, besides being crazy, psycho screamers, they are also vicious little bastards. A wolf, which is a pack animal, is kinder than a rabbit, yet who gets the great lead spots in Disney films? A wolf would never do to another wolf what a rabbit would do to another rabbit, yet our Western culture demonizes the wolf and cannonizes the bunny.

So unfair. That is why we must cook the rabbit with glee, and an underlying sense of fuck you.

Anyway, in a large saucepan with tall sides, heat the olive oil over med-high heat, then add the rabbit and brown on both sides. It's best not to overcrowd the pan, and use one of those grease screens while you're at it. Once they are all brown, set aside.

Have you chopped everything? If not, you better do that now.

Once everything is chopped, return the pan to medium and add the carrot, celery, and onion, sauteeing until everything is soft and slightly carmelized. Then add the garlic and rosemary and heat until fragrant (Oh, Joyce is going to kill me for butchering her directions! Don't worry, just follow me and you'll be fine).

Now add the wine and scrape the bottom, getting up all of the love. Reduce in half.

Now add the rabbit, the tomato paste, and the stock and bring to a gentle boil. At this point, cover and simmer for about an hour and a half. Some of the liquid will evaporate, but I doubt you'll have to add a lot to replace it. However, you'll need to add some just to make sure the rabbit braises fully in the liquid. You can use stock or water. I use water.

While watching the pot, soak the porcinis in hot water for about 30 minutes. Soak in only enough water to cover. After 30 minutes, strain through a coffee filter, reserve the liquid and chop the mushrooms.

When the rabbit has finished cooking and is tender, remove from the braising liquid and let cool enough to be able to pull the meat from the bones. Unlike Joyce, I strain the braising liquid to remove the veggies and then add back into the saucepan. Yes, that was a dig.

When the rabbit meat has been removed from the bones, chop finely and then add it, the mushrooms and the chopped liver to the pan sauce. Simmer over medium to medium high heat to reduce until thick. At this time you can season with salt and pepper, plus more rosemary if you wish.

Friends, our recipe class is half finished, but let me share with you some advice.

Sometimes, in the midst of our excitement and determination in the kitchen, harm befalls us. That harm can be of our own making, it can be accidental, or it can be the result of some dumbass getting in your way when you have a pot of boiling water. Insomuch as it is someone else's fault, certain precautionary measures can be taken in advance.

Tasers come to mind.

Whereas the responsibility lies squarely on our own shoulders and disaster strikes, some of you would refer to it as an "act of God", then nothing can be done and milk cried over will not turn into Crème Anglais.

It is referring to the latter than I must break some rather sad news to you. In the midst of preparing this rabbit sauce dish, I accidentally broke one of my most favorite dishes, mentioned previously in another entry. Yes. The Mikasa saucer is no more.


It cannot be replaced.

Well, ok, it can. But the circumstances, the thrill of the find, and the day that plate represents to me can't, and you know what, try auctioning all of that on Ebay.

It can't happen.

Thus, I am resigned to kicking myself once again for having a kitchen with concrete floors. But don't worry, I don't beat myself up over it.

I usually save that rage for strangers I pass on the street.

Getting back to the recipe:

Next let's get our pot of water boiling for the pasta that we are going to first cook al dente. For this dish, I used Rigatoni, which is a tubular (like, totally!), ridged pasta shaped to adhere well to sauces. And I used Barilla, because it's good and it's usually about a buck a box at Safeway and that is your bargain-shopping tip of the week.

Remember, always use a large pot with plenty of boiling salted water when making pasta. I also usually stand by the pasta while it cooks, because it can go from al dente to al limpay pretty quick.

Once the pasta is cooked and drained, add it to the meat sauce and stir. At this point, turn your oven on to 350 degrees.

Next make a bechamel sauce by heating 4 tablespoons of butter in a medium hot pan until melted. Once melted, add ¼ cup of all-purpose flour while stirring wildly to incorporate into the butter. Don't let the roux color; reduce the heat if you must.

Oh. You have to add milk next. But the milk should be hot, so put it (2 cups) into a microwave safe dish and heat it for 2 or 3 minutes. Now, slowly, add the hot milk to the roux, stirring like a madman/madwoman all the while. As you slowly add the milk in stages, the sauce will begin to build and when all of the liquid is added, it should be a pretty thick and consistent sauce. If it is too thick, which I doubt, but if it is, add some more milk.

Remove from heat and add some freshly grated nutmeg. How much? I'd say at least half a teaspoon. I think the nutmeg flavor is crucial to a bechamel.

See that lonely pasta in rabbit sauce that has patiently been waiting for you to make the white sauce? Put it into a 13x9 cassarole dish and then top it with the bechamel sauce. Next add some freshly grated Parmigiano Regiano (about ¼ to ½ a cup) on top and place in the oven. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and serve immediately.

As you see, my plating isn't fancy. And that rosemary sprig. Well, I just pulled that out of my ass (figuratively!). No, this isn't El Bulli. Plating be damned, it's still an excellent dish and thanks to Joyce Goldstein for the slow recipe and the recovered memories about Pa'paw, baling hay, plus all of the drama with breaking my favorite dish.

I'll send you my therapist's bill.


Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Oh Canada

(Bruce writes...)

I just spent six days in Toronto, Ontario, at the Special Librarian Association’s annual conference (I know, “yawn”).

I haven't been to one of these conferences in about 5 years. I have been to a few in the past, and as a result, I knew that if I stayed in one of the “conference hotels” (meaning within walking distance from the downtown Metro Conference Center) I would never get to see anything, other than the few blocks around the conference. So instead, I stayed at Victoria’s Mansion guesthouse. OK, well it was not exactly a mansion but it was clean, quite and conveniently located at Church & Gloucester Streets – five subway stops from Union Station and the conference center – just on the edge of the “Queer As Folk” part of town. And, it was cheaper than the conference hotels.

I got in late, very late, Friday night. It was warm and a bit muggy. Toronto was having a bit of a heatwave the whole time I was there. After dropping my bags at the guesthouse, I wondered down the street to find something to eat. I found a friendly-looking pub called The Churchmouse & Firkin and, indeed, the people were friendly - even at 12:40AM (they serve food until 1:30AM). At the time I didn’t know it was a chain of sorts.

I had a bowl of potato cheddar soup, a Greek salad and garlic bread ($7.95 Canadian) and a couple of Black Russians, light on the Kaulua. Everyone was friendly, informative and tolerant of a clueless tourist. I left there full and happy, and it made me feel like I was back in England. Like England, the fries are “chips”, the chips are “crisps”, crackers are ‘biscuits”, and among the condiments is good ol' HP sauce.

Saturday morning I got up, hopped on the subway, which runs about every four or five minutes (San Francisco MUNI pay attention please!). I was at the conference center in about 20 minutes. Not bad. Spent a few hours at the conference center, then headed to Chinatown.

Chinatown in Toronto on a Saturday is hoppin’. Not only do all the markets have their fruits, vegetables, dried roots, meats and spices on the sidewalks, but individuals with something to hock – some vegetable, fresh herb or such – have their little carts, hand-trucks or boxes out in the middle of the pedestrian stream. Although the streets and sidewalks are wider than those of San Francisco’s Chinatown, they are packed to bursting with goods and people. And with more variety of both.

Fresh California Figs? In June?

The area referred to as Kensington Market – previously known as the Jewish Market in the 1920’s – is adjacent to Chinatown, and indeed the two mingle along Kensington Market’s few narrow blocks. Kensington Market is a riot of colors, tastes, and cultures. Victorian style homes have had their bottom floors converted to clothes shops, cheese, meat and produce markets, head-shops, coffee houses, bars and restaurants. Persian rugs, Indian fabrics and spices, South American and Caribbean cloths, hippie wares, Mexican dry goods, bongs, and pipes (including the stuff to fill them) were all on offer.

I stopped early in the afternoon at some nameless curry shack to sample some goat curry, which was very good. Later, I had a late lunch at the Hungary Thai Bar and Eatery on Augusta at Baldwin Street – and yes, I mean Hungary as in Zsa Zsa’s homeland. The propriator spoke with a very heavy and, to my ear, authentic accent.

The specials were
1. “The best schnitzel in town” ($8.95 Canadian) and
2. Spring roll, Pad Thai, and banana fritters ($12.95 Canadian).

I broke my rule to never eat anything bigger than my head and had the schnitzel and a horribly over sweetened, syrupy, undrinkable iced tea. You can’t see it in the picture, but the schnitzel is sitting on a heap of fried potatoes. The schnitzel may be the best in town - I haven’t seen schnitzel on offer anywhere else – and although it was a little bland a squeeze of lemon helped perk-up the flavor. The sweetened tea is apparently a Canadian (or a Torontian) standard. I ordered “plain iced tea” twice more before getting the message.

From Hungary Thai, I wondered into a very nice cheese shop, an extremely crowded and comprehensive sausage store, a butcher shop, a fishmonger’s shop, and then got something decent to drink at a huge produce market. If the guesthouse I was staying at had a large refrigerator, and were it not for the international border I’d have to cross to go home… Well, you get the picture.

After a long walk through Little Italy, Little Portugal and down Queen Street West - in search of bookstores – and stopping only briefly if front of the porno store to watch the nearly nude live manequins bumping and grinding in the display window - I returned to the guest house for a nice Bowmore 15 year old Islay Scotch and a short rest.

Later, about 9 pm, with it still light and warm outside, I headed a few blocks to 7 West, a 24/7 restaurant at 7 Charles Street West. This three-storey Victorian is just off the hustle & bustle of Yonge & Bloor Streets and has a small second story deck in front. There is not much architecturally to look at, as mostly high-rise apartments are near by, but the sidewalk traffic of tourists and trendy locals makes for interesting people watching.

The clientele is also interesting. I actually overheard the woman at the next table ask her dining companions “Should I order food? No. I had cheese earlier today and whipped cream on my coffee thingy. Well, maybe I could split a small salad with someone”. I’d say that cheese went straight to her head; it certainly hadn’t gone to her hips. One other overheard conversation had one guy remarking to his dinner companion “Wow, you know what this tune is? It’s a swing version of an old St Germain tune! I can’t think of the name.” I couldn’t resist interrupting to tell them the tune was called Take Five and it was originally by Dave Brubeck.

Salads, pastas, pita pizzas, sandwiches, appetizers, a few breakfast items and a variety of desserts are on the menu at 7 West. I had the Italian foccacia sandwich ($10.00 Canadian) - Black Forest ham, (isn’t the Black Forest in Germany?), salami, proscuitto, provolone and roasted red peppers on a foccacia “bun”. I didn’t know foccacia came in buns. The sandwich came with a choice of salad or crisps. I was glad I had asked for the salad. It was quite good, fresh and crisp, if a bit over-dressed, and the sandwich had a generous portion of meat and was very tasty. It was the perfect thing on a hot night.

I wondered back to the guest house and a nightcap at about 11pm and it was still a lovely warm night.

Sunday was another long day at the conference and I returned to the guesthouse to cool off – the air conditioner was quite efficient – took a short nap and, at 11 PM, headed down the street to Zelda’s & the Silver Trailer Bar for some fish and chips ($8.99 Canadian). The waitress recommended the sweet potato chips, an excellent call. And again, the folks were very nice, and seating was on the sidewalk for people watching, Then home, a scotch, and bed.

Monday was a long day at the conference, starting at 7:30AM, and at the end of the day there was the California chapter's reception at Steam Whistle Brewing. There were some very good appetizers; various cheese and crackers; little hollowed out golden beets, cherry tomatoes and cucumbers filled with small amounts of dressed greens; small bruchetta; and my favorite – sliced pears and tangy goat cheese fried in a spring roll wrapper with cranberry-apple dipping sauce. It was delicious and I think I could make this one at home!

I got back to the room about 8 PM, watched an episode of MythBusters, then walked to the end of the block to Olympic 76 Pizza Café for a pizza ($8.05). It was crowded everytime I walked by, so I figured it would be pretty good. But, all I can say is, “DON’T GO THERE!” I’m sure there is good pizza in Toronto, but not at Olympic 76 Pizza Café. Bad Pizza, No Biscuit (or cracker for that matter)!

After the conference on Tuesday, there was a caucus dinner at Byzantium, a sorta trendy place in the heart of the gay district. There were about 40 of us, which is difficult for any restaurant, and they did an admirable job. In the place of the usual bread and butter, they brought us some very tasty seeded flat bread and hummus. I had a starter of Gazpacho ($6.00 Canadian)– which was a perfect starter for another warm night – and a main dish of grilled marlin with a corn salsa, green beans and asparagus tips with root vegetable crisps ($21.00 Canadian). Although I’d swear “Terra Chips” were being passed off as “root vegetable crisps”, I never saw Terra chips for sale in the stores, so perhaps most of the diners were unaware. Everyone at our table enjoyed their dinner. I thought the food was very good, the ambience pleasant, and the conservation stimulating. At our table, most of the conservation was about food, how great the weather is in San Francisco and, of course, librarians.

Wednesday was the last full day of the conference and I just had a quick, basic club sandwich ($9.99) at O’Grady’s Tap & Grill. It has seating right on the sidewalk so you can people watch. O’Grady’s was also the only place I found with hard cider (Strongbow).

Thursday, I took a tour of the Merrril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation and Fantasy, a part of the Toronto Public Library and one of the three best collections of this type of material. I saw a first edition of Dracula and issue 1 number 1 of “Astounding Science Fiction” and “The Magazine of Fantasy”. It was very cool (maybe just for a librarian).

I knew I had to leave for the airport by 5:30 PM and there were a few places I still wanted to get to. I stopped off a Sam’s The Record Man and then headed to The Cookbook Store to pick-up some uniquely Canadian cookbook for Kevin. I ended up with “Cook Like a Chef” by Chris Knight. He has a show on the Canadian Food Network and the book looks like it has some good recipes. I was hoping I could get Kevin to cook even more often for me! I asked the clerk for a restaurant recommendation for lunch.

I took her advice and went a block or so away to Saigon Sister for some Pad Thai ($7.95) and a crab and avocado roll ($3.50). The pad Thai was very good and the roll was good, even with the fake crab. And, best of all, I asked if they had plain unsweetened iced tea and although the answer was no, the waitress recommended I order a hot black tea and she’d bring me a large glass of ice. Finely, iced tea the way I like it!

Now I’m back at home, and Kevin just made pasta with a delicious rabbit sauce. Life is good…except for that going back to work thing.


Friday, June 10, 2005

Keepin' It Real?

I will be the first to admit that I have an unhealthy attraction to Reality television shows, Bob "happy clouds" Ross re-runs, and occasionally tel-evangelists (including Barbara Sher, Suzie Orman, and the other PBS "pledge-week" usual suspects).

There is a mood that underscores the nature of each type of programming. That mood is one of an intense, mind-numbing, sugar high. No sooner do I flip to channel 9 or 2, than the TV zombie dam breaks and vast quantities of drool floods the fertile valley of my mind.

Reality shows had promise at first, much like the invention of television. The birth of television had the promise of opening up previously isolated communities to new visions, new "realities", and new forms of communication, unfettered by politics, greed, and monopolies.

That lasted about 2 weeks.

Of course, there have been reality shows for as long as there's been television. I'm talking about Cooking With Julia, This Old House, Monday Night Football, and even that famously, flamboyantly staged side-show, the Worldwide Wrestling Federation, now called something like WWE.

The Reality shows saturating the airwaves are anything but reality. They are scripted and manipulated from the beginning and done so in such a way that the unsophisticated viewer is deceived into believing what they are actually watching is spontaneous and challenging.

One wonders: What Would ET Think?

The recent entry of Donald Trump, Tommy Hilfiger, Gordon Ramsay, as well as a flood of has-beens and almost-was' that makes you wonder if they've dredged the side alleys, drug rehabs, and temp agencies of Hollywood, California, indicates that the Reality shtick has hit the top of the bell curve, or at least some of us pray it has.

I mean, Evander Holyfield ballroom dancing is just WRONG!

But along the way, I have to admit I've been comforted. I have, after all, watched every episode of America's Next Top Model since Season One and have even written to Tyra Banks, Inc. to approve of them getting rid of the anorexic chick in Season Two (or Three, I can't remember). But before you hiss at me, take notice that this was in between many letters written to my local, state, and federal reps complaining about everything from discrimination in jury selection to Bush's effort to undermine Social Security to the promotion of war criminal John Negroponte to Director of National Intelligence.

After all of that, I need tune out reality, turn on Reality, and drop out before the world harshes even more on my mellow.

Which brings me to Hell's Kitchen.

If you've been a loyal reader of this blog, you would've learned that a year ago, Bruce and I made our way to Merry Olde England and Wales for a couple of weeks of merry-making and fine dining. During that time, I think we caught every episode of Gordon Ramsay's original Reality show produced for Channel 4 called Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares.

Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares was everything American Reality shows were not. Unscripted, honest, full of adult language for an adult audience (no dumbing down for the kiddies, prudes, and FCC), and the only prize given to the participants was maybe that their businesses or jobs would survive for another year.

In short, it was bwilliant.

Off hand, did you know the Brits have nothing established in law that comes remotely close to the protections we have under the First Amendment, yet Gordon Ramsay can speak freely on non-cable television there, while over here it is bleeped out because it is considered by the government to be "obscene" or "harmful to children"? All I can say is that it's a good thing we have a fucking useless First Amendment that the fucked up FCC and goddamn Christo-Fascists can wipe their self-righteous asses with while the rest of us stand around, full of shit, proclaiming we're the freest fucking country in the world.

But I digress.

In Kitchen Nightmares, Ramsay seemed genuinely concerned about everyone he tried to help. He laid down the law, yes, but he was fair and even-handed. You could say it was publicity for him, but in England, Gordon Ramsay doesn't need publicity. His numerous restaurants speak for themselves. In a way, I saw it as Ramsay's way of giving back to the small guy/gal. It wasn't charity, because no doubt he charged Channel 4 a modest fee, but you could venture to say that something greater was gained by both the viewing audience and the participants than just a winner's cup for one.

Kitchen Nightmares often delved into the social and psychological dynamics of the small businessperson running a restaurant and the types of folks who are navigated towards working for them. It exceeded where other similar shows fail because it sometimes showed an unlikely transformation, such as the young village woman who took a job as kitchen prep because she was dating the chef, but who by the end dumps the loser "chef" and learns that she was the talent behind the kitchen all along. Or it showed how a struggling woman running a small restaurant in Western Yorkshire put all of her faith and trust into a smarmy 21-year-old who in the end not only could not taste the difference between lamb and beef, but turned out to be a punk-ass racist when he learns he is dismissed.

Obviously someone on this side of the Atlantic was paying attention.

Unfortunately, from what I've seen of Gordon Ramsay's new American Reality show, Hell's Kitchen, it is miles away from Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares.

Five Thousand, Three Hundred and Eighty-Two, to be precise.

Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares is commercial British television at it's best, whereas so far, Hell's Kitchen seems to be part of the whole Fox drek machine cranking out such Reality airbiscuits as Trading Spouses, Nanny 911, The Simple Life, Playing It Straight, and Renovate My Family.

Completely formula, like the rest; with the teams, the dorms, the obligatory gay/lesbian stereotype ripe for the salacious or hateful message board chatter, the mundane and uninteresting contests, the backstabbing, and always the self-righteous posturing of the show's namesake.

The first episode of Hell's Kitchen attempts to capture Ramsay as the Formidable-School-Marm-Turned-Chef vibe of Kitchen Nightmares, but then completely abandons the charitable aspect of the latter and twists it into a greed-focused gladiator match with each contestant climbing over any fallen, bloody body to grasp the few coins the cruel Emperor throws down. Ramsay comes across as a tough S.O.B. and a drill sergeant of the first degree, but by the second episode the routine seems laden with frustration.

The behavior of some of the contestants is worse. I mean, how disgusting that in Episode Two, contestant Jeff, doubled-over in crippling pain from kidney stones, receives no sympathy from any team member, except that of one whom disingenuously asks how he is as he clings to a wall, but then saunters off saying "whatever". Frankly, I'm use to the conniving and backstabbing that goes on for our enjoyment in regular everyday Reality television, but I thought this was just a little too much. Too much meanness, too much selfishness, too much inhumanity to man. And to boot, this type of show could be done much better. In fact, it already has.

The other thing I have to admit feeling as I watch Hell's Kitchen is something that Ruth Reichl brought up in an old Salon.com interview I recently discovered. Many of the male chefs trained in Europe, notoriously France, are trained in a "good ole boy" network that excludes women from working in the kitchen and as servers. The same restaurant system also has menus for men (with prices) and one for women (without), while wine selection is always deferred to the male at the table.

Notice who Ramsay picked to work as waiters the first night (Answer: 2 men. French restaurants exclude women from serving as a rule). Also notice that although he has one female sous chef (American, and most likely picked by the producers), his personal Maitre D' is French and male. And notice how he implores all of his staff to "stand up and act like men".

If you ask me, something smells in that kitchen, and it ain't Dewberry's squid.

Watching Hell's Kitchen, the viewer is not left with any impression of how a real kitchen works. The closest we come to how a real kitchen works is Ramsay's hard-ass attitude in expecting perfection and consistency from each chef. But even here he overplays it for the camera.

So like, where are all of the bussers and dishwashers? Who has taken an inventory and ordered the food, and is the food fresh or frozen? What's on the menu and who planned it?

Most importantly, where the hell are all of the line chefs doing lines of coke in the bathroom? Or the walk-in freezer quickies?

Everything else is carefully controlled and scripted. It you believe the show's own message board, the actual restaurant is really a studio. Many of the guests are paid actors. And most are required to sign a contract promising to stay the whole night. In addition, the outside and inside of the studio or restaurant or whatever looks gaudy, and the graphics and artistic production of the show look cheap and trashy, like a tricked-out PT Cruiser.

Still, what can I say? I'm repulsed and compelled to watch. At least for now. Let me remind you, only two episodes have passed, so perhaps it'll pick up.

But just a side thought: notice that Ramsay's name isn't attached to the title of the show.

For now, this seems like a wise business and personal decision.


By the way.....Anyone see The Cut?

Three words to Tommy hisself: Out Of Style.

Now why don't YOU walk the runway!

Sunday, June 05, 2005

In A World of Pure Imagination


It seems like there's been so much going on lately with the Memorial Day "Ghetto BBQ" and the Hershey's Chocolate Plant tour and Jennifer's graduation and now Bruce being out of town in Toronto and being busy at work and and slooowwww down!

I know bloggers are supposed to "check in" every day and if not every day, then every other day. But you see, even though a week or so has passed since I last checked in with you, to me it feels like only a few days have gone by. And in that time, I've explored the netherworld of offal meats, more dim sum than you can shake a chopstick at, and grilled this and that out the yin yang.

All of this without taking photos. Eh! Well, what's a blogger to do? And now that Bruce is in Toronto for a conference, don't expect any photos from me since he has the digital. However, when he gets back there should be some interesting things to share. He called me last night and told me about a restaurant near his guest house that featured Hungarian Thai cuisine. Who…would've….thunk? And I use to think Oregon had the market on fusion (espresso stand/hardware shop).

According to Bruce, Toronto is REALLY multicultural. Like walking down the street and seeing markets and shops that go Chinese, Japanese, German, French, Russian, Hungarian, Puerto Rican, Cuban, English, and Thai.

Frankly, I'm a little jealous.

Yo World! What are we (San Francisco)? Chopped Liver? Bring me your hungry and huddled masses already!

Anyway, I promise I'll start documenting my culinary capers more thoroughly and let you know all about things as they happen. For the moment, I'll just break it down for you in short, sharp, shocks.

Here's the 411 as it happened chronologically.

Hershey's Chocolate Plant tour, Oakdale, CA

Occasion: Oakdale Hershey Plant's 40th anniversary. Karen, Bruce's sister in law, has worked there almost 8 years.

Thoughts: Nothing like Munich Germany. No Oompa Loompas, though I may have not had access to that part of the plant. Smell of chocolate so strong it sticks to you like how it does your teeth immediately afterwards and you smile at someone and that just looks gross. Even though I'm a GUY and everyone makes such a big deal about women and chocolate, I have to admit seeing giant pools of chocolate massaged back and forth in dozens of "conches" made my nipples go slightly hard.


Again, coming back to the smell, it was so sweet and strong that I swore I would never eat or look at chocolate as long as I lived, which lasted 2 minutes outside of the plant when, famished, I devoured two large chocolate chip cookies and a Reese's Swoop. Watching the chocolate chips come out of the cooling chamber and onto the conveyor belt reminded me of the droid army in Star Wars Whatever Number That Was.

I can see why Karen loves working there.

True, it's loud, it's a factory, it can be really cold or really hot depending on what part of the plant you are in, and you may have to stand for your whole shift, but I think everyone there feels as if they are part of something important and something that brings joy to other people. When I worked at Amoeba in Berkeley for 3 years, it was kinda like that, only Karen never had to chase down a shoplifter half-way down the block or roll her eyes at some WASPafarian who refused to check his bag using some improvised patois he learned from watching "The Harder They Come".

Interesting tidbits: Hershey's still uses fresh milk when making chocolate. They roast their own nuts (it gets pretty hot in parts of that plant) and make their own peanut butter. Guys have to wear beardnets to work, which looks so damn goofy (as I look in the mirror) that most Hershey's workers I spied just sported stach, and sorry, but stach just isn't cool unless it's like Pancho Villa, Salvador Dali, or John Waters stach.

Jennifer's Graduation from Turkey Tech

Yay! Years of hard work has paid off for Jennifer and her graduation from California State Stanislaus was well deserved.

However, unrelated to Jennifer, I have to bitch about the ceremony itself and if anyone affiliated with Cal State Stanislaus is reading and you have any juice, can you please break down the graduation ceremony? Jesus! I know that schools are underfunded, but you need to break that commencement ceremony into different days for different colleges. Oh, and if you have a kid who is graduating from any college or university, please leave your airhorn at home....Moron.

Back at Karen's, we drank Belgian beer courtesy of Jeremy, ate fruit pizza courtesy of Karen, and barbecued tri-tip courtesy of Dwight.

Dwight, Bruce's brother, brought over his own improvised smoker/barbecue which was pretty damn simple and slightly ingenious. Basically it was a big steel barrel (probably 4 feet tall) with a small hole cut on the side 10 inches from the bottom and which was open on the top. Across the top were 3 steel rods which held about half a dozen meat hooks. From these hooks, the marinated tri-tip would hang.

A word about Dwight's dry rub/marinade. Once, we were over at Dwight's and I saw him season an uncooked pork shoulder that he was going to roast. It seemed simple and fine at first. He started by slathering it with mayonaise, and I think mustard, which you know, is pretty common in parts of the South. And then he dumped a shit load of pre-packaged spice mix on top of that and still I was like, ok, that works. But it didn't stop there. You see, behind him he had several other large plastic containers of various spice mixtures and as he continued to pour and rub the more I stood (probably, or at least figuratively) with mouth open, in a state of shock, in complete disbelief.

Let me tell you. I'm not stranger to shock value. I played in a band with a former bass player for GG Allin called the Nazi-Hunter Jewboys, and I participated in some pretty debauched punk rock parties/shows/events.

With that in mind, it wasn't as shocking as watching my Mom rear-end a car in my High School parking lot and standing there as school let out with all of my friends and high school enemies gawking while the ambulance loaded my Mom strapped down to a stretcher...

But it came close.

So when I asked Dwight his recipe for tri-tip, I wasn't surprised it was a little of this, a little of that, and a little of this, and a little of that.

But, you know, he is onto something with that tri-tip because it comes out perfect, smokey, spicy, succulent, juicy, with a good beefy flavor. I won't let you in on all of his secrets for the tri-tip, but here is one clue: supermarket Italian salad dressing.

I told you.

Crazy ingredients be damned, Californians know tri-tip. Tri-tip is our barbecue and only good ole boys like Dwight can really get it right. To the uninformed, his barbecue set up must of looked like it fell off of the Okie wagon, and maybe it did, but to me it was an inspired form of genius and like they say, the proof is in the pudding. Dwight's tri-tip rocked! In fact, while everyone was asking for seconds for dessert, I was asking for more tri-tip.

Hey Southerners! You better jump off your high horse and taste some California Tri-Tip!

MmmGoy, Siu Mai, Char Siu Bao, Ha Gow, and Potsticker, please.

Someone should make a Super-Size Me mockumentary for dim sum in Chinatown.

No seriously, because it's fast and cheap and loaded with fat, carbs, and sugar. Stepping into any take out dim sum place off of Stockton street isn't merely walking into some shop but stepping into a bloody kung fu match where the lady boxer behind the counter challenges you to "try my sugar, salt, grease, bomb style! Flying pig meets deep-fried crustacean! On guard!".

Most of it is rice flour and meat, but there are some healthy options…like the deep fried sesame balls filled with bean paste or sweet egg custards. Or like the long, fried donuts or the Chinese version of "pigs in a blanket" which I thought would be filled with lop chong (sweet Chinese salame), but got a lowend hotdog wrapped in light bread dough that was covered with sticky sugary coating.

It says something when I go to Stripper Pizza for the healthy choice for lunch that day.

But while I'm in the hood for lunch, I've had about 5 different versions of Law Bok Goh (Turnip Cake) and I can tell you they are all greasy! But good. And I've been scoping out the different dives. Now, I'm not going for the fancy sit down places like Gold Mountain or New Asia which do have the better and more healthier dim sum options. Heck, I'm not even going for Y Ben House (which I like very much). No, I'm going into those countless little hole in the walls that serve basically the same Dim Sum you find everywhere else and I'm taking notes and kicking ass!

My favorite: You's Dim Sum on Broadway, but mostly because they have ample seating and I like sitting by the kitchen hearing the woman at the steam table shout back in Chinese something like "where are those damn shrimp dumplings I asked for an hour ago?" and some other lady in the kitchen yelling back "you want those damn dumplings make them yourself or shut up!".

And of course they eventually come out on a cart in the huge metal steamers stacked 3 or 4 high as everyone seated cranes their neck to see inside as they unstack them, weighing their pocket change against their newfound appetites. It does seem so unfair that as I've consumed my healthy share of fun (that would be rice noodles to you) and dumplings that they then wheel out some huge and bizarre and damn tasty looking dumpling I've never seen before nor even know what to call.

Is this Chinese dim sum torture?

Memorial Day Ghetto BBQ Ho-Down

Well, I cooked my ass off for this one and rightly so, since after our building is sold, there is no telling if we will be evicted or not. I had a party like this before when I lived in Tampa and we were about to be hit by a hurricane. It was great party in any meaningful sense, but what made it extraordinary was the impending disaster that we thought would befall us. Luckily, despite the flooding, it never did. And hopefully, it won't now.

We had over most of our friends and neighbors, which is a small but eclectic bunch. Me in my cowboy hat and apron manned the grill while Bruce kept things running in the kitchen. On the menu was:

Grilled Tiger Prawns (aka "shrimps") marinated shortly in orange, lemon, and lime juice as well as a touch of sesame oil and soy sauce and on a bed of mixed greens
Grilled Basil and Mint Chicken Tenders
Grilled Marinated Veggies (Japanese eggplant, chayote, pearl onions, garlic, ginger, king oyster mushrooms, baked and marinated tofu, and zucchini.)
Grilled Beef Tongue (this was merely for my enjoyment)
Grilled (Real Portuguese) Linguica on a plain, grilled French roll
Oyster-Sauced Gai Lan (Chinese broccoli)
Baked Cauliflower with Parmigiano Regiano
Olives (home cured)
Plus many many desserts brought by our friends and family including a Passion Fruit Coconut sponge cake from Tartine brought by Bill (Bill, you get mucho brownie points for that!).

And believe it or not, there weren't many leftovers! You come down to the Stillman compound and you'll be eatin' good in the neighborhood, I tell you what!

Gai Lan

Wild Fennel Pollen

Tried harvesting wild fennel pollen from the fennel that's in bloom right now.

First, I cut the flower stems off and put them in a plastic bag. I then took them home and put them face down on a flat metal tray in order to dry. Unfortunately a lot of the pollen came off in the bag, so I suggest if you do it this way, use a ziploc bag since it is easier to clean out (I just used an old Safeway bag). Got them home and began drying them. Next day they were covered in Aphids.

DOH!!! Lesson learned: not really sure, but cross your fingers and hope your wild fennel doesn't have bugs. Maybe if you took the cuttings and kept them in the bag and stuck it in the freezer?

Might work, yes.

Sunday, Today, Around 1 PM, 24th Street

It's been a while since I've been to the Mission.

Highlights: Biggest was Tacqueria Vallarta, which had a walk up taco kitchen temporarily set up in front of their restaurant. I imagine this was for the church-going folks, as so much around that time in that part of the Mission is like that. The bakeries are full of little old ladies with the Spanish style veils draped over their heads and mamas and papas and little girls in their Sunday clothes all being treated to hot out of the oven cookies and tamales and whatever else. Not a whole lot of action in the actual meat and veggie markets, but there was some. Taqueria Vallarta was awesome, with all of the classic taco preparations including a really good lengua (which I had) that tasted like roast beef.

I even got to use a little Spanish. Are you ready?


"Uno Lengua Taco, Por Favor".

How's that?

I know.

But you weren't with me, so how can I embarrass you?

La Palma was rocking as was the torta place (near Harrison) I haven't been to in like 3 years but remember getting kick ass, if not too big, tortas. One place that looked cool that I'd like to try was a place called Margaritas. Crappy, low-rent sign, but the inside had an old school lunch counter and shabby chic dining area.

Anyone here ever tried it? Let me know.

24th Street has one meat market that is pretty sizable for the area, but are they suppose to smell that bad? I know raw meat can be quite strong, but this market just reaked. Looking at the meat, it didn't look bad and I didn't get that "just fell off the truck special" feel from the place. But hoo-wee!

One market that had a pretty nice veggie selection (I know, you're hating me because I didn't write down the names, but the Latino part of 24th street isn't that large of an area) had fresh garbanzo beans. Any idea what these are used for? Anyone ever tried using them?

Off of 24th Street and around 23rd and Mission is a nice looking seafood market run by Asians. I seem to remember that place being around for quite some time. 50 cent oysters and decent looking snapper. Flounder at $1.50 a pound, plus nice looking calamari.

Other notes/thoughts:

Great Jobs:

Freddie Mercury, deceased, was the former lead singer of the British band Queen. When I was just a tot, I remember the family who lived down the street from me in a trailer. I would play around with the kids who lived there and thus spend time in the trailer. On the back of the door to the trailer was a poster of We Are the Champions by Queen, with the weird Art Deco-y giant robot reaching out to grab you. It made a long lasting impression on me, mostly because I thought it was kinda creepy.

I'm now listening more to Queen than I ever have. I don't know why. But I just happened to wiki Freddie Mercury's name and did you know that when he passed away he left 100,000 pounds (or $180,000) to his personal chef?

Why the hell can't I get a job like that?

Dinner Theater:

This interview of dissident Brazillian artist, Augusto Boal, from Democracy Now (6/3/05):

AUGUSTO BOAL: I was arrested in 1971. And then I had to leave the country, and then I went to Argentina. In Argentina I had to do something else, and I like to do theater in the street. But my friend said don't do theater in the street because if you got arrested again here in Argentina they’re going to send you back to Brazil. And in Brazil they do not arrest the same person twice. The second time they kill directly. So Simona had a good idea, he said, why don't we do the play, but we don't tell anybody that it's a play. So you can be there and no one’s responsible for anything because you explode the scene in front of everyone. Everyone can participate. So we did that. We did what they call Invisible Theater.

We went to a restaurant. It was a law that said that no Argentine could die from hunger. And Argentine had the right to go into any restaurant, eat whatever they wanted, but not drink wine, not take dessert. The rest he could ask for two, three beefsteaks, and it will be okay. And then sign the bill and show the identity card in which they prove they were Argentine. So I said, “Okay, let's go to a real restaurant instead of spending money to make the settings and spending money to make propaganda. Let's go to a real restaurant and play the play there. And then me, Augusto, I was sitting far away at another table eating my beef. So when we exploded the scene, everyone participated. And then it was very nice because the actor became the spectator of the spectator who had become an actor, so the fiction and reality were overlapping, no? That was in Argentina. In Peru –

JUAN GONZALEZ: What was the reaction?

AUGUSTO BOAL: The reaction is always very good because we never create violence. We want to reveal the violence that exists in society. We don't want to duplicate it, don't want to bring our violence, but just to show society's violent. If there is people who is dying from hunger and food is plenty, why should they die? So we try to show the absurdity of the system in which we live, you know?

Wow! But Augusto, doncha know that all systems are absurd? But I'm with you on the free dinner theatre, though..

Never one to turn down two or three beefsteaks….