It has not been a very happy year so far and it shows no sign of getting better any time soon. I know I’ve been off the radar for two years now and I can’t seem to get back on the horse. I am putting a link that will tell the tale for me in the hopes of getting some help. Here it is http://www.gofundme.com/bm047c
I never thought it come to this but desperate times call for desperate measures. Thanks for reading, and to any who used my work for term papers and such. I hope you got good grades.
Category Archives: Anthony Bourdain
It has not been a very happy year so far and it shows no sign of getting better any time soon. I know I’ve been off the radar for two years now and I can’t seem to get back on the horse. I am putting a link that will tell the tale for me in the hopes of getting some help. Here it is http://www.gofundme.com/bm047c
Sunny and cool this morning as I wait for my train on the railroad platform. This is my 2nd unexpected trip to New York in recent times, with the promise of 50 degree temps today there was no way I was staying home. The chores can wait till tomorrow. The New Year hasn’t turned out too good so far but of course it could be much worse. My father has been sick with a cold and asked me on New Years Eve morning to lookup online the symptoms of swelling in the legs. I ask to see it and it looks like cellulitis, just like my mom had which I chronicled in my story Anya,Mosquito’s and Me a few years ago. I tell dad to call his doctor and he is told to go to the ER. So I leave for the store because dad insists on finishing his toast and tea, like a sort of last meal before the cigarette and blindfold I guess. When I come back mom is up and I tell my brother through his closed-door what is happening and leave for the ER. This has become all too familiar in recent years.
When I park the car after letting dad out at the door I find him in triage being evaluated. I help them fill in the blanks of my dads memory and then they take him to chest ER and we are seen soon enough. The same jackass who misdiagnosed my brother with a simple nosebleed is my dads doctor, but I hold my tongue pending any legal action my brother might take against the hospital. They immediately put him on oxygen with a nebulizer and a double antibiotic drip. He has congestive heart failure, edema, cellulitis, possible pneumonia and anemia. He will be admitted as soon as they do some tests and find a bed. I go down to find some breakfast but they don’t open till eleven for lunch, so I get some free utility coffee and graham crackers in the pantry and wait as more blood is drawn for a second round of tests.
When my mom and brother show up I say goodbye to dad and head home stopping first at the liquor store to see my friends and fill them in on what’s happening. They are shocked and sorry for us as another holiday is ruined. They don’t even know about the trouble with mom at Christmas which wasn’t medical but just as devastating. I go home and clean up a bit and pour myself a glass of wine and settle in to make a meat and vegetable lasagna, with no bake whole wheat pasta, skim milk cheese and ricotta with fresh tomato sauce. I’m so glad I can get healthy foods in under the radar like this and nobody is any the wiser. It’s getting dark and I really wish that mom and bro would get home before the crazies start driving around. They finally arrive and we sit down to eat the food which was awesome, later we toast the New Year with Negroni’s for me and beer for my brother and we watch the ball drop with mom. I note that Carson Daley has almost completed his transformation into Dick Clark. We are all mad at dad for refusing to go to the doctor until his scheduled visit in January and landing himself in the ER again. This is an exact repeat of Christmas 2010.
The next day I plan to try making French macaron’s for the first time followed by a small pork roast I got on sale as our holiday dinner. I visit dad in the morning and bring him the paper and he is looking better already, I try to make the best of it by making small talk and watching TV but he is mad. I take the opportunity to speak with the floor doctor to correct any false statements my dad made and fill in gaps about his last trip to the ER. Soon after I leave and wish him a happier New Year with assurances that mom and bro will be there later. Despite my efforts to make his tea and heat up his lunch and prep it for him he is miserable. There is nothing I can do. I go home to find the house empty and since I’ve again had nothing all day, I don’t know it yet. But I’m about to make the best Fritatta of my life! I combined chopped onions, ham, potato and goat cheddar cheese cooked on the stove top and then into the oven to broil the top and melt the cheese. It was a masterpiece, cooked to perfection! The flavor was out of this world and no one was there to see it. Someday I will make some lucky girl very happy, I cook well , don’t watch sports ( except the Olympics), I actually enjoy shopping and I’m an artist. But enough bragging about me…my euphoria was cut short as the unforgiving macarons would remind me just how much of an amateur baker I am. I set up my mise-en-place and have my instructions out and while the oven heats up I mix the almond meal with the egg whites and then pipe them on to the baking sheets, but my first batch doesn’t rise and spread the way it should, and despite lowering the heat and doubling up the pans my second or third don’t work either. I have succeeded in making crunchy buttons that’s all. So I clean up the Fritatta, storing it to take to work for the week and clean up my mess when I hear a strange noise in the house.
What sounds like the blinds on the back door being ruffled by someone brings me to full alert, I go into the dinning room expecting God only knows but there is nothing there. I’m alone in the house, it is then that I smell that ugly burning wire smell that sends me racing upstairs to check the rooms and then back down again to find the source. I finally call the fire dept who advise me to get out of the house but I stay. I move the furniture around to find the source looking for the problem when I look up and see the chandelier has one candle that is black and melted. I quickly turn off the light and call back the firehouse to cancel the call but as I can hear they are already on their way. I go out side to find they have brought every truck imagineable as well as the Chief dressed in his dress blues and the others in full battle gear. I shake hands with the Captain and explain that he didn’t have to get dressed up for the occasion but he laughs and tells me they just came from a swearing-in ceremony. I tell him what I found and they go in to check it out and we turn off all the breakers just to be sure. I sign some papers and they leave me to air out the house and I pour myself a large white wine and try to calm my jangled nerves. I thank God this didn’t happen when we were at my cousins for Christmas, we could have come home to a smoking ruin, especially when I think that dad wanted to leave the dinning rooms light on while we were away. Once again my instincts told me to shut it off after he went to the car, my guardian angel, sixth sense or whatever you believe in saved us again.
I come up from Penn Station and waste no time in getting over to 9th Ave , I’m glad I dressed warmly as it’s still cool and breezy. I head south and stop in a bodega for a coffee and a loo break and sit and write looking out the window, the sun is warm on my face as I sit and the promise of spring is on my mind as I watch the passers-by. But I move on passing thru Chelsea, a quieter section with Asian influences, stopping to take a photo a French cafe called Le Grannie. It looks inviting for lunch despite the ugly black door but they are full up. So I move on stopping to take pictures of the Maritime Building, built-in 1968 it features round port-hole windows which I love. I continue on down Greenwich St to Gansevoot where 9th Ave ends. A photographer is photo shooting a model in the cobblestone plaza across from another French place called Pastis. It’s relatively quiet here except for the street construction it’s like the suburbs. I continue on stopping to look at the menu of the Spotted Pig, an old gastropub that I’ve mentioned before, it’s a little expensive so I move on past the remnants of Christmas trees that have been picked up by NYC Sanitation, the needles litter the sidewalk and out into the street like green blood of a murder scene that has yet to be cleaned. I turn back and decide to try the Spotted Pig after all, I know it will be good here. The place is like a hunters tavern, old brick pillars, wood floors and artwork featuring pigs, ducks and game birds in all states of life and death. There’s an attractive hipster staff and good old standards and jazz playing at just the right volume. This is the kind of place I would love to have back home in boring Long Island. I like it here a whole lot, if I wasn’t watching my budget I’d have a drink or two but it’s not even noon yet. The menu is amazing and the bar specials too, they include rock shrimp over grits with poached egg, rabbit rillettes, sardines et toast but I decide on an Omelet Albert Bennet, an omelet covered in bechamel sauce and Gruyere cheese. They bring you a small pot of coffee here God love em, I sip my coffee and write for a while till my food comes. The omelet is a little over browned but it’s rich and creamy, simple rustic food served with crusty Italian grain bread and olive oil. This is the kind of place I love, no TV, quiet music, great food and drinks and a lot of atmosphere. I pay my check and go out heading east to Hudson St, stopping to take pics and deciding to walk to the Bowery. I want to go to the kitchen supply store where Anthony Bourdain shot scenes for his show. I pass the familiar A.O.C. where a very naive me ate his first Cassoulet years ago, I didn’t even know it was an overcooked mess. But that was before I started teaching myself classic French cooking.
I walk down W.Houston street among the throngs of people, this for me is the non-Asian speaking equivalent of Canal St and I stop opposite The Angelika Film center to make a call and sit for a while. It’s a long walk but I love to walk far in the city. It’s what makes a stress test so difficult for me, they have to raise the incline and increase the speed far above many people to get my heart rate up to complete the test. The nurses always ask me “Do you do a lot of walking?” I had no choice today anyway, I heard that the subways are undergoing a makeover today and several lines are closed. So it’s walkies for me today for real. I find the Kitchen Supply Co easily and go inside to look around, they have got everything here. The next time you go to a eatery and look at the stainless steel counters and utensils, chances are it came from this place or one of the others that are in this area. I find the saute pans that Tony showed on his show and just like he said $18.95, I get a little chill to think that I’m standing where he stood. Especially when I realize I already have pans like these, so I am using the stuff that is recommended to Chefs all over New York. I leave without buying anything else, I’ve got all I need for now. It isn’t long before I’m walking down into Criff Dogs, a steamy small place serving the most unusual hot dogs and hiding a secret. This is also a Tony place and I order a BLT dog, a wiener wrapped in bacon and served with lettuce tomato and mayo. The phone booth is where the secret lies, it leads to a small bar that serves good drinks and dogs that you can only get in the bar called PDT. But it’s too early-not open for another two hours, so I eat my crunchy BLT dog and drink my Sprite and leave. I will make it a point to come back one night when I’m in town. I begin to head back to mid-town and start the long walk home, it’s a beautiful day filled with people moving around enjoying the sunshine and warmer temperatures.
In France people often wish each other to step in Merde, it’s like break a leg in theater… it’s for good luck. The dog poo laws being what they are there’s an excellent chance of stepping in some if you’re in Paris, as I can attest to. The New York version is getting pooped on by a pigeon or at least a sparrow, and for the first time in New York and the second time today I am hit by an incoming round! I hope it’s the bluebird of happiness, after the last few months I could well use some. I decide to stop at a pub on 33rd and 2nd called Jack Kavanaugh’s for a drink or two before the train. I sit at the end of the bar and the bartender comes over, mid fifties and Irish as they come. “What can I get yah?” I think for a moment and say “Ill have a Manhattan” and looks at me and says in a thick accent “Streyhtwup?” and I say “Excuse me?” and he says again leaning in a little. “StraightUP!” So I think for split second and say “Yes thanks.” Trying to appear deaf instead of naive. He tells me he was invited to a New Years party where he drank only Manhattans because he was given no choice in the matter. I laugh and tell him I decided to try all the old school drinks I’ve never had just for kicks to see what I’m missing. He seems pleased that someone ordered something other than beer and brings me my drink in a Martini glass with 2 cherries laying in the bottom. It is smoky and bitter, strong and smooth, just what the doctor ordered. I sit back and read the Village Voice in the fading light of afternoon and think this is about the happiest I’ve been in a long time. The stress of the past few weeks melts away with the second drink as I listen to the sounds of the city as I read. I start to think about getting home and after a trip to the loo I walk down 33rd St west toward the LIRR. Moving with the throngs of people I think how the family is changing, the old people are sickly and some will be gone soon. The forty somethings are turning fifty and the thirty somethings are turning forty. Then there is the young ones who are not so young anymore, they have become the twenty somethings pushing at thirty. The old guard is coming to a close and the rest of us single people will have to close ranks, find mates and form a new family bond in an ever uncertain world we are all we’ve got. It might be the booze but I start to feel a little blue at the thought of all who are passed. I start to feel a little sorry for myself. But the city always provides the answer in the form of a young Hispanic couple I pass on the street. She is taking a picture of her boyfriend and I pass them by-but then I stop. And turn back and say “Would you like me to take a picture of you together?” “Sure!” they say in unison and hand me their camera. They pose and I take a shot, but after giving it back they ask for another…she had her eyes closed. I take the second shot grinning now at them and they are pleased. They thank me and I walk away feeling better about things with a spring in my step now that I made a difference to someone today. I can only hope that their love lasts as long as my love for New York City. I ride the escalator down to the waiting trains below.
So I’m sitting on an express train bound for New York and it’s a nice day…real nice. I am armed with both cameras intending to do a photo shoot and I am also pondering whether or not to go downtown and cover the Occupy protest. I sit down across from a pretty girl with a backpack, I am busy admiring her whilst trying not to leer (that would be creepy) when she pulls out a camera so big if a puma attacked her she could kill it! This is of course a real camera with a lens as long as my forearm, it makes mine look like child’s play. So much for the ego of the great shutter-bug. Today is all about the art project I’ve been working on lately but I’m bothered by the feeling that I should visit the Wall St protests. This kind of thing is happening all over the world, people are fed up with the government, the corruption of the politicians and are taking to the streets. But I can’t help feeling like something bad is going to happen, maybe not today but soon. The rumors of jails being built to house the creators of dissent with videos to match on You Tube are possibly true. People have been arrested by the dozens and New York’s finest have even herded women into penned areas and pepper sprayed them at close range! I think it’s gonna get ugly real soon.
I predicted all this would happen years ago and the revolutionary in me wants to be there standing up for what I believe in too. But I worry, what if some idiot does something stupid and incites the police? I could easily find myself in a situation. This is one of those times when I wish I was free to do whatever I wanted. If I get arrested and wound up in jail and missed work I’d be in real financial trouble. I have people depending on my income for their life too. But this is what the government and our employers count on-fear. This is how they keep us in line and make us work like slaves. I’ll see how I feel later but at my age I’m a little tired and sore from a busy week at work, I’m getting too old to be doing the grunt work I do.
I head straight for the Lunch Box Buffet, an Asian place right near Penn Station. They are rumored to have the delicious egg tart the Chinese are famous for but when I get there they have none, the only breakfast they have is the ubiquitous NY bagel and rolls or pastry. I was never a pastry for breakfast type so I pass up the chocolate croissants and move on in search of something better but cheap. I start walking in the busy hustle of the city just before the shops open. The problem with the city in the morning is the blinding sunlight, if you’re walking east your blinded-even with sunglasses on! But I forge on shading my eyes and zig-zag to stay on the shaded side of the street. I hit 3rd Ave and head south. There’s many Indian and Thai eateries here as I walk through Gramercy Park , it’s a busy built up area but as you go south it gets quiet and quaint in ti;s own way. I see many places are not open yet and I make mental notes on shoot locations. I pass a new restaurant where a nice old French cafe used to be, I wish I had eaten there just once. Soon however I come to the industrial part of town, it’s busy and loud here, this area has many restaurant supply shops and metal works fabricating those shinning steel counters where are food is made and sold. Recently on his new show “The Layover” Anthony Bourdain gave a quick tour of such a place, showing viewers how one could cheaply buy the same saute pans they used at Les Halles for $18.95, in fact he got a whole bag of stuff for under a hundred dollars. I also read online that the people in these shops on Bowery are really helpful and nice to walk-ins so I will make it a point to go over my kitchen inventory and buy my next pans at such places instead of high priced department stores. I turn off the avenue and go down Prince St into the heart of Little Italy. By chance I turn on Elizabeth St and walk right by Albanese Meat market to see Moe sitting inside, I go in and greet him and chat a little about business and the weather. He’s in early on Saturdays as he supplies the restaurants before shutting down for the weekend. He’s always cheerful and happy, I often wonder what his secret his?
I move on to get my breakfast and wind up at Cafe Duke, a fancy name for a place that serves every kind of food you could want in separate stations- both hot and cold can be had. This place also doubles as a cyber cafe and has the mix of cuisine to please everyone. I order a bacon,egg and cheese on an everything bagel with utility coffee and wait for my order as the smells begin to drift about from various stations that are firing up the days offerings. It smells real good in here as food is being cooked in half a dozen places, who would have thought a place that’s not very attractive could be so appetizing. This is the kind of place that amazed my relatives from England in 2008, they have no English equivalent over there. I suggested they open one up and hire people to run it but they politely declined. My egg sandwich is nothing special but it’s still good and compared to a sign I saw advertising a $9.00 egg sandwich with truffles on it I think mine for $3.50 is as good as it has to be. I leave full and in search of my reason to be here today.
The sun is making today’s walk a little hotter than I would like but maybe it will burn the head cold out of me that hasn’t taken hold yet. I walk in the direction of the west side but stop when I see a girl getting off a Vespa, I walk over to make a little conversation about scootering in the city. I ask her about the safety issues of driving a scooter on NYC streets and she tells me that she’s had hers for years and never feels like she’s going to get mowed down by a truck, but also confesses that she stays away from big avenues at rush hour anyway. Big avenues really aren’t needed to get around in her orbit. She suggests that I look into buying one and tells me that it was a gift to herself for her 26th birthday. I wish her a happy birthday and she excuses herself to go about her business at the Vespa dealer nearby. I decide to move on without looking at them, I can’t afford one right now and of course the vintage one that I would like is the most expensive and hardest to find. I would like to go to Rivoli’s Pizza and have a slice, having just finished the painting of the storefront but I actually don’t have the address. It was weeks ago that I took that photo and I don’t remember. So I wander through familiar streets till I come to Broadway and see a strange and wondrous sight.
There are crowds gathered on the sidewalks watching dozens and dozens of skateboarders go south on Broadway! Each green light releases another group in all shapes and sizes and colors are coming in waves right alongside the traffic. Many are wearing their cameras taped to helmets or carrying small sticks with cameras running to video their run. The run of their lives! I don’t know why they are doing this but it is but I love it! I snap a few pictures and videos as they pass and am amazed to see some older guys in the mix and girls too. Up ahead a young guy stops and leans over, he’s sick and throws up a little bile. He apologizes and moves on but stops about six feet behind me and throws up for real. It’s pink in color and I figure he has a smoothie for breakfast, I wait till he done and offer him my unopened bottle of water. He gratefully accepts and begin washing out his mouth and drinking water to rehydrate. I ask him “What’s this all about?” puzzled.” Were going down to Wall St.” he says. “Oh to join the protest?” I ask knowingly. “No we just love skateboarding.” he says as he catches his breath. “I mean some are going there for that too.” he says. “Oh I see…where did you start out?” I ask curious. “Ah 116th street.” he says plainly. “Ah hundred and sixteenth street! I repeat astonished. That’s basically three quarters of the length of Manhattan! He offers me a few bucks for my water but I refuse, so he thanks me and turns off to join the ride again. It is then that I think the arrival of hundreds of young skateboarders could turn the protest into a free for all. So I decide to sit it out this time. The sad fact is that I could only stand around impotently for a few hours and go back home. I would then be protesting equivalent of a teeny-bopper from the sixties, spending the weekend as a hippie then going back to my real life. Essentially with all that’s going on at home and at work I could never live the life of a real political activist. The reality is that we can only muster a few signatures on a petition or two and then the powers that be just do what they want anyway. I am no advocate of violence but the only way to achieve change is through total rebellion, like the Star Wars saga. We would have to be funded, armed, organized, and military-like in our actions. Lets face it, a bunch of hipsters, latter day hippies, low level office workers, and housewives are not going to change anything. That might be a cop out but it’s the only one I got. I walk away to find refuge in my work.
I continue my walk and soon find myself on Laguardia Place by a happy accident. This is near where the French pastry shop Mille-Feuille is located, there is no way I’m not going in for a Macaron or two. I walk down a few streets and find it there between Bleeker and 3rd. Once inside the small shop I seek consultation on which is good today. The salted caramel and a rose are my choice with a decaf coffee-the caramel is the best. I excitedly tell the young staff about the skaters and between customers show them the video I made on my cell phone. They are suitably impressed and happy about it and I leave the shop in search of more pictures. It’s not easy to find good shots, either the lighting is wrong or there is a truck in the way but I persevere. I stop in a Spanish deli and look around, there is an amazing array of oils, olives, sausages of every kind and a whole Serrano ham being sliced paper thin for a customer who talks and waits as his meat is lovingly arranged on butcher paper. The owner offers me a tiny piece and it is magical melt-in-the-mouth good, but a $28 dollars a pound I’ll have to pass this time but I will be back to make some serious purchases some day. By now it’s getting on to about two in the afternoon and I’m hungry again. I wanted to try and find Rivoli Pizza after finishing the painting I felt it would be only right to be able to say I had eaten there once. But I can’t remember where it’s located exactly, so I go around the block to a place I passed before. Roma Pizza is doing one thing and doing it well, pizza on artisinal bread in the tradition of Rome. This is a slab of thinner crust pizza made in long rectangular pans, it’s nothing like Sicilian or Neapolitan or anything else I’ve seen in my life. I go in to a long counter bar with a dozen different pies, I’m greeted by the hipster pizza chef and he tells me what each one has for toppings. I pick the potato and sausage with hot pepper flakes and an imported Italian beer. The pie is cut into two large pieces with “chicken scissors” and brought to me at a small table by the wall. The bread is really nice but too soft for me I like my pizza crunchy, but at this point I just want to eat. I’m actually very hungry after hours of walking and taking pictures. The flavor of the toppings is very good, meaty sausage and cracked peppers provide a salty sharp counterpoint to the mild potatoes and smooth olive oil. It’s good but as usual I went for something I never saw before and I really should have gone with a cheese and tomato slice instead. By the time I was done however there was no room for a second slice. I paid my check and went to the back for a loo break before leaving, there was also an outside dinning area past the actual dinning room. I chatted with a couple from Pittburgh while waiting for my turn and after went back outside to walk the pavements once more.
I spent the rest of the afternoon so wrapped up in shooting that I didn’t actually write any more notes on the trip, and by the time I got on the train going home I was too tired to even try to remember all the places I’d been. This is very unusual for me and I regret now not being able to finish the story of today correctly. The pictures I took offered up about six good choices for my project, so on the whole it was a very good day.
Well today marks the third year of my writing this blog and finds me staying at home instead of heading into New York. The nor-easter that has come out of nowhere has shut down my plans to see Rasputina tonight at the Highline Ballroom, it would have been nice to finish the year exactly the way it started back in Feb. But with snow, high winds, and a cold biting rain coming down I just can’t face the prospect of standing outside waiting for the doors to open. Tomorrow is supposed to be really nice and sunny in the fifties as well as all next week, this is a freak storm so doom on me I guess. I will make the best of it by writing and painting and later I will be making a beef stew over noodles for dinner. I have been thinking much about my writing this year and about the changes that I might want to make to it. In some ways when I look at the body of work I’ve written I am disgusted by the amateurish style of some stories. While on the other hand there are some passages that I am genuinely proud of and see as readable in magazines. I expect the best from myself and get discouraged when I don’t measure up to my expectations, but with only one college course in English to my credit I think on balance-I write well.
The tough reality is that the only way to get better is to write and study writing, and maybe also to read, but without more schooling I feel like I’m never going to make it as a writer. I need to take classes at the Gotham Writers Workshop in NY and beside the fact that I don’t have the money, I also can’t make it from my job in Suffolk all the way to Midtown by the time class starts. I would be an aggravated, sweating, stressed out mess with a headache by the time I got to class. I’m not one for taking online classes either, my brother is pursuing an online degree and I find too many distractions would keep me unfocused. Personally, I don’t know how he does it, but he is doing very well!
I am however starting to feel as though I have to change, this blog is not a blog in the usual sense, it is not a few short paragraphs written hastily each day, but a blog of short stories for readers. If you read my about me page I call it “a selfish venture” and indicate that it is at it’s core an open diary. While that is true I find myself wishing I had more fans and more comments. I see with an app added to my page that people from all over the world are visiting, some multiple times. I can even extrapolate that a few high school or college students might be hijacking my words for school papers, why else would I see people logging on from the same place over and over again sometimes a few hours or minutes apart? I don’t care as long as no one is getting paid for it, but it’s a shame that kids are so lazy these days. The change I think I have to make is to write more to an audience and less to myself, while I thought I was doing that already I think now that some stories are too cookie cutter too much the same basic story I wrote the last time. The fact is that not every trip is that interesting or noteworthy, some trips cool stuff happens and I’m cooking on all burners and others I’m too absorbed in what I’m doing to gather all the stimuli around me. It’s a tightrope but I have to try and do it better in the future, if I ever want to get published I must walk that line.
So tonight I will start writing a new piece about the city trip I took last week, and an editorial about this whole Occupy Wall St movement that’s so controversial and so confusing. I must again give thanks to the people that got me here. Thanks to Professor Wigetow for your teaching and for believing in my potential, to W.B. Wilkins whom I owe this blog to for giving me the key to being a good writer, hopefully I will use it to unlock all the right doors, to J.R.R. Tolkien for the obvious, to Jack Kerouac for teaching me to write in the moment, to William Burroughs for showing me the way to color my words, to Anthony Bourdain for infusing my imagination with his words and especially for turning me on to Graham Greene, to Graham Greene for igniting my desire to be a better writer and for creating some of the most unforgettable characters ever, to Maureen for being my friend and my number one fan, to my mom Alyce for teaching me my A B C’s while still in the crib, sometimes it’s the little things that matter most. No matter what happens I will keep writing and keep painting and strive as I have all my life to do something with nothing, I will keep hoping, planning, wishing, praying and insisting that life can be what you want it to be with a ton of hard work and a little luck. The work is hard, it’s the luck part that I find is so much harder.
Long Island N.Y. 2011
I’m sitting on a long Island Railroad train heading for New York City, behind me a crazy cat lady is telling the conductor that it’s” Take your cat to work day” …I didn’t get that memo. But it doesn’t matter to me because I am on vacation and this is my first in three years. So I’m heading into the city to get out of dodge for a while and having not been here since April, I’m rather looking forward to just loafing and sitting and watching the working world go by me. I am armed with Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises” and a laundry list of places to eat and drink, but to be honest I’m back on austerity so it’ll have to be cheap. I spent 225 bucks on my car repairs and after 11 years and many upgrades my old desktop computer just gave up. I was forced to buy a reconditioned laptop. It’s got 4 gig of memory and a great processor, but I don’t like it much as a writing tool. I’m used to my old setup so part of the next ten days will be spent setting up my desk and introducing the laptop to my peripheral devices. This has set me back over 500 bucks so my dreams of three star dinning are out the window.
But at least I’m out of the rat race for ten days and my garden is in full swing with veggies growing and war being waged organically on pests and a big barbecue is planned for the 4th with everyone bringing food and drink so life is good. Recently I saw an episode of Andrew Zimmern’s” Bizarre Foods” which actually has him working in restaurants trying to work a shift like he used to in the old days. He goes to Xian’s Famous Noodles in Chinatown and works the busy lunch and dinner shift. Here they make every dish of noodles by hand and after brief instruction he is stretching and slapping the noodles on the counter like a pro. Each dish of noodles is made with a delicious combo of meat or veg in a sauce and the most popular is the Spicy Cumin Lamb Noodles. During the episode his friend and fellow Food Network Star Adam Richman stops by to have a bowl and declares it to be fantastic. I’ve read that Anthony Bourdain has also declared that Xian’s is among the best in New York, so at just 7 bucks a bowl-for me to day-it’s all about the noodle.
Recently, I was looking at Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations website and found that he is writing for a HBO show called “Treme”, I don’t have HBO but he is also contributing to a new culinary quarterly called “Lucky Peach”, this is the baby of David Chang the legendary owner of Momofuku in New York, the home of possibly the best Ramen noodles in the western world as well as three other restaurants. This magazine is available only through McSorleys on the web and this first issue is devoted to Ramen noodles. There are articles by Anthony Bourdain and original artwork and recipes and maps of Japan showing how Ramen is made in different provinces. It’s an off-beat unconventional magazine and owning a subscription makes me feel like I’ve joined some secret society, known only to a few who have the password and secret handshake. I am today entering the complex world of the noodle, a humble Buddha-like food product so important to so many.
So I get topside and head for my first destination which is another food network episode memory, again to the Lower East Side where many simple good things seem to have been invented, up to and including the donuts at Doughnut Plant, a little shop where hand-made jellies and sauces go over hand-made batches of donuts. It’s a place that’s a little smaller than my house where chef/owner Mark Isreal has come a long way. He has made the doughnut a work of art and they even sell t-shirts for tourists to show off back home! This is a small Jewish enclave on the outskirts of Chinatown on Grand St next to Kossars Bialy and a kosher bakery. But when you come to this small shop, it’s all about two things. The Peanut Butter and Jelly doughnut and the even more venerated Creme Brulee doughnut, so I sit down on the window ledge after a family from Nebraska leaves and tuck into my PB&J, this is a square doughnut that has a square hole in the center with grape jelly running all through it. The outside is covered in a peanut butter sauce, it’s good but I really should have milk with this rather than bad utility coffee. But the Creme Brulee doughnut is another matter. This is good, I mean blackout good, this doughnut is made with creme Brulee filling and the outside is actually got the hard toasted sugar just like the classic French dessert! This reminds me how much I need to learn how to make the French dessert myself from scratch, yet another chapter in my cooking pursuits.
There is much going on today in the city, for some reason Elizabeth St is closed with police barricades. They are moved by officers to let sporty black police edition Dodge Chargers through however, and down the block men in suits and white shirted officers stand around for what…I don’t know. But I later learn it was an accident of some sorts. I walk on and get a text message from mom, she wonders if The Golden Dragon is still open in Chinatown. This was a place where she and her girlfriends would have lunch back in the day. I have no way of tracking this down myself but with additional texts from my brother, I use my map to go to 51 Division St but find it’s not there, I actually go to two more addresses but I come up empty handed. It would have been cool to find it still open but that was back in the fifties, most places don’t last that long. It was a good effort though and it made me hungry. So I decided to double back to my noodle lunch destination. The fascinating thing about being here is how much you feel like an outsider in your own country. You are literally the one in one hundred who doesn’t look or talk like everybody else. The streets are mobbed with people shopping, talking and bustling about. Many are laden with bags of food, unfamiliar greens thrust up from shopping bags, others are heavy with fish, large eyes staring through plastic that were only hours before searching for food in the sea. The streets are lined with vendors selling all manner of colorful hats and shirts, battery operated toys, fans and those ceramic cats with writing on their bellies…I wonder what that’s about? I find Xian’s easily and go into the crowded space and wait my turn. This is not the same location that was used on TV but the food is the same, I am however disappointed that I won’t be seeing my hand=pulled noodles made today. I place my order and go sit in the back and wait for my number to be called, the orders are made in a downstairs kitchen and come up on a dumbwaiter. My number is called and I go up and get my tray and choose my weapon of choice-chopsticks. I tuck into my spicy cumin lamb noodles with gusto, this is a whole other level of good! The noodles are soft and yielding at first but then become chewy, and the chopped lamb with onion and cucumber and scallion swimming in an fiery orange sauce. This is savory and hot, evil and good. It’s too bad the A/C is blowing so cold, I rush to eat my food before it is chilled down. My lips are burning as I slurp down the last of my dish and I really wish I could try another but that would be gluttony so I clean up my tray and head out into the warm summer day. I decide to head back to the Doughnut Plant to get some Creme Brulee’s for the family, it’s a long walk but that’s okay. I make my way back in the growing heat of the late afternoon to Penn Station, zig-zagging to keep to the shaded side of the street, like they do in Provence. Soon I find myself in the growing crowds entering the station proper and the coolness wraps you as you descend. The long walk was tiring but at least I burnt some of todays calories off, this beats the heck out of standing at that hot counter! I grab a cold water and go down for my train, relaxed and happy.
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If you close your eyes…you can almost see it. A group of primitive humans are gathered in a large cave, it has been home for many years now. In the center a large fire burns keeping the cave warm and illuminated. This fire is a relatively new discovery for the group, and all are responsible to tend the fire and keep it burning. There is much to be happy about as all eyes are on the fresh kill that the hunters have brought back this dusk. The clan leader carves the portions from the bones and gives each member their share on a large leaf which is quickly taken back to feed hungry families or consumed alone. A young teen male only just allowed to go with the hunt waits his turn , his first kill and he is especially proud. He is given his share by the leader and dashes off to his corner of the cave, but as he does so, he see’s the object of his desire sitting with her family to his left. In a bit of bravado he leaps over part of the fire, but the young fool does not stick his landing, and as he falls in a tangle of limbs his portion of meat slips into the flames and begins to sizzle and pop!
He falls hard, and is immediately aware that his food is no longer in his hand, he turns and is horrified to see to see it roasting in the flames, he tries but it is too hot to reach in and get out, he doesn’t know what to do, all eyes are upon him as he panics-there will be no second helping for him, as the minutes go by all you can hear is the sizzle and pop of cooking meat. The clan leader strides over with spear in hand none too pleased, determined to make an example of him he grunts his disapproval and raises his spear! The young fool cowers looking down waiting for the fatal spear to strike. The leader thrusts down into the cooking meat and laying it down on a leaf commands the boy to eat. Everyone watches as he takes up the hot meat, it burns his fingers a little but the smell of roasted flesh is inviting. Yet he is still afraid and as he brings it to his face, he looks up pleadingly at the leader, but he stares him down waiting. He folds his arms and commands him”EAT!” The young fool brings the warm meat to his mouth and takes a bite and begins to chew, expecting to become ill or die and meet the ancestors.
Can you imagine the first bite of cooked meat? How it must have tasted to him, the warm juices flowing in his mouth and down his throat, dripping down his chin. The meat, so tender and warm, so different from the meat eaten cold by the time it was carved. The leader is astonished and grabs the meat from the underling and takes a big bite and chews, he too discovers the joy and taste of cooked food. He declares the young man to be Master of Fire Meat from now on and soon all are enjoying cooked food, especially the young girl who is by now at his side. Over time the young hero teaches his sons to cook meat and use spices and herbs that he has discovered by taking risks, and finding whats good in nature to cook with the meats and roots they live on. I wonder if there is cafe on the spot where all this occurred so many years ago? It may not have happened exactly like that, but the next time you’re in a natural history museum, look close at that ancient skull staring back at you, he may know why it’s important to cook well…because it tastes so good.
To cook well is to pull the best out of the freshest ingredients, yourself and your recipe. It takes a commitment to creating food that tastes good, looks good, and is hopefully good for you. Unless of course your making Cassoulet Toulosain or Thanksgiving dinner then it’s all good. When you cook food well you create an emotional bond between you and those who enjoy your food., and when you succeed-people remember your cooking long after your gone. I would give anything to taste my Aunt Dora’s Roast beef with Yorkshire Pudding and Roasted potatoes fried in lard again, with gallons of gravy. The fact is that when you have passion for the cusine and respect for the ingredients the result is being asked to make your signature dishes again and again. I always want my cousin Donna to make her crab dip for Christmas, even though she gave me the recipe and I made it to rave reviews too on one occasion. I think that she just makes it better than I do.
The only way to get there is through years of practice, and when disaster strikes as it most certainly will, taking note of what went wrong and why. Then not repeating the same mistake twice. The first time I made Pan Seared Salmon with Puy Lentils in Balsamic Vinegar and Olive Oil it was a mess, the salmon stuck to the pan, the lentils saut’eed with red and green peppers were too oily and the Balsamic could do nothing to save them. The second time around the fish came out perfect with a nice browning on one side but not too done and the lentils were balanced just right. Thanks Emeril for the recipe from the book you signed at Borders in Westbury for me, lots of good easy recipes. If you are workmanlike in your approach and chef-like in your observation of the food and how it reacts to the cooking process-then each each dish should get better with practice.
The greatest thing about learning how to cook is that almost anyone at any age can begin to learn cooking. Even if you don’t have thousands of dollars to go to culinary school, you can still for a small investment start learning the art of cooking well on your own. The internet has video demostrations by journeyman cooks to help you, and the shows available on TV/DVD can open a Pandora’s Box of information that wasn’t available when I was young. I still remember my mom and Grandma watching Julia Child and the Galloping Gourmet, they thought that Graham Kerr was charming and fummy. I watched an episode of his old show recently and I was bored beyond belief, half the show was spent telling a long lame joke before he cooked amything, and yet I remember the audience was enchanted by it all. How could we have known what would happen thirty or so years in the future. Where a TV channel would be created just to showcase clebrity chefs and later a second channel for lesser known cooks to have a chance at stardom, either way it wound up being a school for amateur cooks to learn and grow, and other channels would feature healthy cooking demonstrations and the Travel Channel focusing on the foods of distant lands.
It seems as our world got smaller, our palettes got bigger. The mac & cheese or franks an beans didn’t do it anymore for most. But I’m sure we all return from time to time to that special place where old time comfort food still lives, in our memories and that’s why we sometimes cook something just to taste it again. Yet, in these times of fast food, fast cars, and faster internet it’s become inportant to cook well. In order to win the heart of someone or impress the boss and his wife, or even your hipster crowd of friends. cooking is the modern equivalent of being a Renaissance artist, the best of them were held in high regard, but even the journeyman were recieved recognition as being on a higher plane. So we are all riding a culinary rocket that has no end in sight. Just as long as we take care of the planet, it will take care of us and that will ensure that plenty of fresh food and water will be available for all. But perhaps the biggest reason why we should cook well is, because our taste demands it.