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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….



Blogger Cali said...

We've got fresh garbanzos in my local market (for the first time) this year, too. There is a recipe in the SF Chronicle's food section for fresh garbanzo hummus. I didn't make it, but it sounded good.

6:23 AM  
Blogger molly said...

I need a nap after that post!

And mayonaise, mustard, a shit load of pre-packaged spice mix, and several other large plastic containers of various spice mixtures?

*stares into space. screams. runs away.*

I'll take your word for it.

Your BBQ sounds yummy. Next time you'll have to invite bloggers without any backyard or porch space for their BBQ *sniff*.

2:04 PM  

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