Tag Archives: French Food

A New Mission…Art-August 20th 2011

It’s a gorgeous day as I wait for my train on the platform bound for New York City. I’ve just finished a light breakfast of a coffee and a light airy pumpkin muffin. The first sign of fall is not the solstice on the 23rd, but rather the arrival of pumpkin products in the stores and eateries. This does not depress me as usual, in fact I will go so far as to say I welcome it. It will mean meat cooked over an open fire while me and my bro ponder the meaning of life and hold a meeting of  “The Office of Separate and Collective Endeavors” a geeky name for some quality time spent together over food and alcohol.

But today I am on a special mission in New York, I mentioned that I put brush to paper for the first time in almost four years, after three abortive attempts to paint a cafe scene from the instructional book on watercolors. I finally got a finished piece on the forth try, I learned much about watercolor painting but have miles to go. I wrote in “Doing A Slow Burn” that I have to find good pictures of Paris cafe’s on the net to use for watercolor paintings. But I had a genius attack the other day in the city, and decided that my own pictures taken in my travels would be a better choice. Most good pictures on the net are copyright protected or you pay to use them, the last quiet trip to the city only yielded one picture good enough for a painting. So today I will be taking multiple shots of every scene that catches my eye, different angles will be tried and the element of chance will be invited to come along. I have found out that I can make my own watercolor block at home using home-made glue and sheets of watercolor paper cut to size and pressed together. This will save me lots of money, block is expensive. Especially the superior French Arches Blocks that cost arms and legs for the large sizes.

I am very excited about this new reason to go into New York, I stand at work and think about how I will sit and listen to Pandora Radio and create art later. It takes the idea of being stuck in for the winter a happier thought, and at the same time it ties together all my interests into one. It’s all here in a nice package  Art, New York City, Food, Photography, and Writing. It’s been a quiet ride so far, but in Woodside, Queens things change. A big guy in shorts and t-shirt with a baseball cap get on the train and sits down in front of me. By all accounts he’s very normal looking. But after the train pulls out he starts talking to himself in a high-pitched nasal voice. I wonder if he’s nuts or if he’s practicing lines for a voice over in a commercial or something, either way it’s a little annoying. We slow to begin the descent into Penn Station and I fill with anticipation for the day. I emerge from the station and decide to walk to West 10th st and  head south. I am looking for film for my Advantix camera which I haven’t used since I got the Samsung from my English relative in 2008. I don’t find  any in two places I stop in so I start walking west. What I don’t know is that they stopped making the film and I will have to find it online.  By the time I write this however-ten rolls are sitting in my fridge and I will buy more when I can. I will not give up on those beautiful wide-angle shots, some of my best pictures were shot using that camera!

I’ve never gone this way before and it turns out to be a good decision, as I begin walking south I stop after a few blocks and notice people walking towards something. I turn and see the entrance to the Highline, an old elevated railroad that used to be the carrier of freight trains into and out of the city. But for many years it was the haunt of the homeless, junkies, and crazy kids looking for some free fun in a shrinking economy. Of course it was illegal to be up there but with dozens of ways in, people found a way to do it. It’s kinda like the sewers and catacombs beneath Paris, you’re not supposed to be there but no one really has the time to enforce the law.  The powers that be in New York decided a few years ago to turn this space into a public park, so I go up to investigate. There are stairs leading to walkways that have been built over the tracks, and on either side are planting beds with a wonderful array of trees, shrubs and flowering perennials. There are nice benches along the way, special seating areas and viewing platforms that jut out into space. The park police patrol to keep things cool and emergency call boxes in case of an accident.

There are times when the buildings rise up around you and others when you are open to the sky, it almost feels like your flying as you look out over roofs where only pigeons walk, they stare at you unable to fathom the invasion of their domain. This is a truly wonderful space, you can see the contentment on the faces of the native New Yorker’s and the delight of the visitors is apparent too. I hear a man say to his fellows that the time to come here is in Feb, when it’s not too cold and there’s no one here in the early morning. I can imagine how tranquil that might be especially if it’s snowing. I will have to remember that for the future. I walk some three miles to the end, along the way I encounter common areas where events are staged, a place where the children can splash about in an inch of water while mom and dad sit in chairs big enough for two, and a roofed-over area near the bathrooms where the kids can play with giant wood and plastic Erector set pieces and build small contraptions. I make my way to street level and start for the West Village, walking down Greenwich Ave again for the first time in two years. I pace myself slow, taking pictures, reading menus, and find myself down by the waterside-just a short walk away from the piers. I pass a huge meat distributor and wonder how many millions of dollars of food are inside, then doubling back to civilization to find lunch. So many good places to eat, but I can’t afford them, I need to spend under twenty dollars today so I walk on looking for a sandwich and a beer.

Passing through the buildings.

A Sense Of The Height

I find it at the Fish on Bleeker St, a small place that has been here since the fifties I think as I look around at the decor and the pictures of the old days. I order an Oyster PO-Boy sandwich and a Stella Artois and relax at the old wooden bar and watch TV. I see a huge pyramid of shellfish go by and is laid down on a table in front of six people, they immediately go at the crab legs, lobster’s, clams and mussels with a vengeance. In fact all you can hear is cracking and the banging of small hammers to break shells to get at the wonderful treasure inside, along with corn on the cob and boiled potatoes it’s a meal fit for a king. My sandwich is taking a long time but I watch the prep chef at the raw bar set up his mise-en-place a few feet away. He’s setting up dozens of oysters and clams, making sure he has plenty of sauces and lemons. He stops to put orders together which spit out of a gadget that looks like a credit card machine, then after setting up a plate he rings a bell and it’s picked up and delivered. When my sandwich arrives it’s a big plate. There’s a bunch of fries and a nice side salad with greens, sliced tomato and pickle with a tangy sauce. The po-boy is another matter. It is light on soft bread, the crunch comes from the oysters that have a delicate flavor that deepens as you chew, they taste of the sea and the stones where they grow. It’s altogether a delicious and filling meal, but I can’t resist going down the street for dessert. So I sit and let my food go down and then after paying my bill I go to a place called “Cones” an ice cream shop like no other.

I know I have seen this place on the Food Network or the Travel channel as soon as I walk in. There are many different colors of gelato in the case and as others get theirs I look past them to see many strange flavors. There is Yerba Mate,made with a South American tea. There’s kumquat with Johnnie Walker Black Label which costs a dollar to try a spoonful. Zabayone, based on an Italian dessert with cream and sweet Marsala wine-amazing. But I go for the Corn after the pretty Argentinian woman behind the counter gives me a taste. Made with real corn and cream and with a dash of cinnamon on top, it is a thing of beauty for the tongue. Imagine a piece of corn bread with butter and cinnamon and you’ll get the flavor profile. I talk a while with the waitress who is also Italian, we chat about living  in her home countries, life in the city, and especially about Cones. They have been featured in articles in the New York Times, New York magazine and Zagat’s. They are number four in the top ten places making the best “corn” dish in New York City. I am sure I’ve seen this woman on TV. I finish my treat while she helps other customers and I bid her farewell and head out again. I’m on Bleeker St in the West Village so I decide to head east arriving on 1st Ave. This is the exact opposite of where I started so I think I’ll walk up 1st Ave and see what happens. I feel the heat and humidity more now after eating as the afternoon heats up. This is a fast paced area sporting many Italian, Latin and Indian eateries but not many good photo opportunities. So I begin to work my way back to the center of things and find brassiere Les Halles on Park Ave and a few others. Then I cool off inside a Greistede’s supermarket for a few minutes with a cold bottle of water. I retrace some of my steps from past trips but I always walk down a street I’ve never been before. I always find something new and today is no exception. Mille Feuille is a French bakery on LaGuardia Place in Greenwich Village featuring its namesake dessert and the bright Macarons that thrill and delight children from Paris to Provence. I order a coffee and a Mille Feuille and sit at the bar against the wall. The pastry cream is delicious and the crispy layers make it difficult to eat but oh so worth the effort. I see a mom coming with a stroller so I get up and open the door for her and two kids and her husband follow. They thank me and they are French, looking for a taste of home. The adults order Espresso’s and the kids are so cute asking for “Pain de Shokolat” as they loudly look at everything asking so many questions and running around the small space. I decide not to get into a conversation about France.

I continue my long walk back to Penn Station and think it’s been a almost perfect day. The only way it could have been better would have been to have a little more money to spend and if it had been about ten degrees cooler, but that will come soon enough. The final act of the day is a stop in tracks for a wash-up and a drink. It’s been a hot walk back and my french dessert was burned up hours ago. I ask for a St Germain cocktail and the Irish waitress says to me “What’s that?” so I order a glass of Harp instead. I didn’t really want a beer but when in Rome…

It was a crappy week at work so I really needed a good day out, I am tired and happy. Tomorrow will be a rainy day and I will work on pictures and remember today.

Peace

Glen

MyFreeCopyright.com Registered & Protected

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Filed under Art, Food, Food Writing, French, French Food, Greenwich Village, Life, Memories, My Truth, New York City, NY, Travel, Writing

A Recital With Rasputina-Feb 26th 2011

Sunny and cool today on Long Island as we crawl painfully to the promise of Spring as February draws to a close. I am waiting with a few others on the long Island Railroad platform for a train into New York City. I am going to see another eclectic indie band tonight at the Highline Ballroom called Rasputina. They are a cello based band. That’s right… See Eee Ell Ell Oh! Melora Craeger has created a trio of classically trained musicians, a drummer and two cellists who play original music and rock covers. They are steeped in history as they are dressed in bawdy period costume from the 1800’s, and much of the songwriting is rooted in history which Melora relishes in presenting in unique ways. The new cd is out but I haven’t heard it yet, I will be buying it at the show I’m sure. This is the seventh cd for the band which has been around for twenty years and has seen a few lineup changes and solo projects from various members.

But throughout it all the music has remained the same. Classical – but not stuffy and pompous, folksy – but not annoyingly so, at times hard-edged but never heavy. One could say they are a happy marriage of The Dresden Dolls and a chamber music quartet. So as the express rain heads into NY I write with chilled fingers and listen to students talking about school life and current events. They talk in that modern post valley-girl twang that seems so attractive to young people these days. Several people are sleeping in this mostly quiet car and I find myself envious of them, but tired as I am after a busy day – I never sleep on the train. I just don’t trust the world well enough for that, it’s my suspicious Taurean nature.

Speaking of such things as the world, it seems to me that we are hurtling toward destruction at an alarming rate these days. I try to stay apolitical in my writing but it’s hard not to side with any people interested in free speech and personal liberty, as long as they are not blowing up buildings to get their point across. I am scared for the future of the planet, in my darkest thoughts I imagine how much some people want to use nuclear weapons against us and other U.S. allies, and what it could do to the face of the globe. What surprises me is how easily the same people could find their own lands adversely affected from such actions and yet are going on with the planning and other activities like it won’t go down that way. They seem to me like children playing with matches who haven’t been burned yet. We can only hope that cooler heads will prevail, but right now it feels like too many Darth Vaders are cutting the hand off too few Luke Skywalkers. The next few weeks will be very interesting.

I am considering the merits of a long walkabout as opposed to the subway. I need the fresh air and exercise but I also want to make some time after getting a later train. The Highline Ballroom is on W 16th St at 9th Ave which is eighteen blocks away and two avenues over as the crow flies or in this case pigeon flies and I don’t want to rush through dinner to get to the show on time. I guess I’ll just play it by ear when I get off. I am also thinking about tonight’s meal, I had a late breakfast so this will be an early supper, and I’m undecided about the choice. It will either be French or Vietnamese, and damn if I can’t find both within a few blocks of here! I just need to get a pen to write more, the two I have are both low on ink. My ears pop as we begin to descend and people begin to pack up and prepare to disembark. No nerves this time after a long absence, I’m ready for New York like a man is ready for a woman…it takes a lot out of you but oh so worth it.

I come up in Penn Station and am immediately greeted by color and movement, people on the move. Walking briskly the commuters go about their business, you see little scenes – a dad and his little boy sit on the floor sharing snacks-couples walk close oblivious to the world around them – a homeless man searches in the garbage can. Cold blasts of wind rise up from the tracks below each stairwell as you pass carrying the faint smell of machinery replaced quickly by cooking food. Grilled meats, pizza, strong coffee, bread. A quartet of musicians plays pop songs on classical instruments at one end of the station while a rhythm and blues band plays at the other end. I grab a pen at a kiosk and go up to 8th Avenue and quickly find a pub called the Irish Times for a quick beer and a loo.

The pub is a nice but typical place with wood tables and bar, well-lit for lunch and playing sports on the tv’s and mix radio, I settle for a Spaten instead of a Harp, huh some Irish pub – at least the bartender was Irish. So I rush to the loo and wash up and go back to my spot where I’m listening to a German man talk with his American handler about business and wax philosophic about the economy, I imagine he’s here for a meeting as he is asking the American about what to do nearby at night. I don’t have time to put my two nosey cents in and besides the guys getting paid to be a fixer for the man anyway so I finish my brew and go outside. Walking down 9th Ave I note again how relatively quiet it is compared to others like 7th or 8th, and that’s not for lack of businesses here, there is a whole bunch of pizza places, vegan eateries of all kinds and sizes – from nice restaurants to a guy in a kitchen the size of a closet boasting the fastest vegan food in town, you get your food in 30 seconds or less or it’s free! Just kidding. I quickly make the walk downtown, it’s nice here and the weather is fine. Soon I’m standing outside Co Ba only to find it’s closed, the waiter comes as I enter and tells me to come back at 5:30 for dinner but I need a loo again and I ask if I can and reluctantly he lets me in after I promise to be back for dinner.

So with 45 minutes to kill I walk down to the Highline and go in to the box office to get my ticket but they are not giving them out till 6:00 pm! I mean come on, can I get a break here or what? The only consolation is the Chelsea Market is a block away so I walk down to check it out. The studios above the market is where Emeril Lagasse’s show Emeril Live was filmed for many years and the market was featured a bunch of times. I walk in and am greeted with a welcome sight, there is a Anthropologie store here! Let me explain, Anthropologie is a womans clothing store, at least 60% of it is clothing for women and girls which means that there is plenty of eye candy for a man here to see. But the rest is an interesting eclectic mix of housewares and decorative items that you will not find anywhere else, as well as books and a fantastic selection of music playing . Which I would buy on CD if I could, I have heard songs that I wanted while in the store but no one knew the band. The buyers go all over the world and bring back pieces of furniture too that are used for display but are also for sale! There are dressers and marble-topped kitchen cabinets with drawers and they are beat up and look as if they were purchased at an estate sale in Provence, Tuscany or Barcelona! Did I mention the beautiful girls? This store is twice the size of the one near my house which is becoming all clothing gradually so I am absorbed as they have two floors. I walk out into the market and see a wonderful array of bread on racks at Amy’s Breads, a huge bakery with glass walls so you can see the operation, opposite that is a butcher shop I won’t even walk into, the smell alone would have me blacking out from the pleasure. The selection of charcuterie is jaw-dropping! I have never seen so many types of bacon and the terrines, pate’s and rillettes make me want to get a baguette and a bottle of wine and make a picnic lunch on the floor. I don’t even bother to go in the wine and cheese shop…I would have to be carried out on a stretcher. Besides I’m hungry and it is time to eat dinner, I will be back and make a proper expedition here again, armed with a cooler bag or perhaps a mule team to take it all back home!

I come back to Co Ba and the young waiter waves me in as I stand outside looking in and sits me properly, after I go to the loo again. I advise him to enjoy being able to drink gallons of beer and hold it while he’s young because it won’t last, he laughs and I study the menu. This is an extensive menu for a small place and they are doing God’s work (as Anthony Bourdain would say)! They have twelve small plates, six Banh Mi sandwiches, six noodle dishes, beef three ways, a fish of the day, and four clay pot meals. I ask the waiter how much food you get with the small plates and explain that I want to eat as much as I can without being a pig because we don’t have Vietnamese food by me anymore. So he advises on portions and I go with Chim cut roti: five spice quail roasted with small rice cakes as an appetizer, a small Pho Bo, the ubiquitous noodle soup that I first learned about in a book called “Rougue Warrior” by the former leader of seal team six, and for my main the much-loved French inspired Banh Mi, a toasted baguette with an assortment of luncheon meat, house made pickles, honey plum – glazed pork, cilantro, jalapeno, and mayo and a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon.

I gaze out at the street and wait while I write about the day so far, my waiter brings my wine which is good and soon another brings my quail. I wanted to try this because of my experience with it at a Spanish tapas place last year, to compare flavors and textures. This is far superior, this is tender and spiced just right. Next my piping hot Pho comes and is just what I expected, good ox tail broth with shaved eye round, noodles, bean shoots and mint leaves, with Hoisin Sauce and Sirrachi to taste and a twist of lime. I relish every drop. But the jaw – dropping taste of the Banh Mi is what I came here for and I wasn’t disappointed. The crunchy baguette (which is cut in three pieces and served on end) filled with the different textures and flavors of meat and veg is a revelation another dimension of good, now I know why Tony went nuts over it in Saigon on No Reservations a few years ago. This is needs no other accompaniment, I could have eaten just this and been perfectly happy. If you eat this…you’ll never want a ham and swiss on white with mayo again!

My waiter was a gem of a guy, I made conversation with him about the food and how people who wouldn’t try this (like the guys I work with) are missing out on flavors you can’t find in any other cuisine. I ask about his accent and find he is of German/Swiss origin and we talk about his father in Germany, growing Heirloom tomatoes, and he tells me of the ease to travel in Europe where three hours in any direction can take you to a whole different country! He listens with interest about my writing and later will ask me for the web address to read some. A solitary traveller like myself really appreciates the momentary friendship of one such as he, and even though he and his co-workers probably joked about the strange guy later, it’s okay I was much the same myself. It’s important to treat your waiters and waitresses as friends rather than servants, the first glass of wine I got was a typical house pour, the second was much larger. The point is treat well and tip well and you will enjoy the experience of dinning much more, and will be remembered when you go back. I pay my bill and shake hands and grab a paper menu to take with me and go off towards the Highline.

I am surprised to see a line still, but when I try to go to the front and get my ticket at will call I am stopped and told to wait at the end of the line. So I wait and freeze a little in the windy street for about 45 minutes. Finally we get in, and can enjoy the zany music and antics of Voltaire, a top hat wearing, guitar playing Goth troubadour with a flair for comedy. He is the opening act and explains at one point that it was Rasputina that first inspired him to buy a guitar and learn how to play.  He was actually using his old student guitar that night!

He is very entertaining and as there are tables right up to the stage for those who want to sit all night, he does play with the audience including a beautiful black transsexual? ( I don’t know if she was or Voltaire was just joking) that provides comic material for us. Just as a sidenote, the he or she (as the case may be) was asked to leave because of her drunkenness. So her tall, bald, white Vin Diesel looking boyfriend had to help her out of the ballroom followed by a phalanx of security.

While I wait for Rasputina to go on I buy the new CD and also a live CD that I don’t have, then I make my way to a good spot to stand and scan the crowd. There is an eclectic mix of types here, a few that dress a little period like the band, men in top hats and 3/4 huntsman’s coats, girls in bodices and floor length dresses, a few “Johnny Depp” types in overcoats with the appropriate facial hair and glasses with hat, and some who look like they got dressed in a costume shop in the dark! The mix is fascinating to me and I am more than a little envious of the cool look that some guys can pull off that I couldn’t even when I was young.

Finally the band comes out and the lineup is yet again different from on previous albums. The fans roar with enthusiasm as they take the stage and two cellists and a drummer begin the play some of the most unusual music you could ever hear. I know they use effects to add to the music just like guitarists do, but you wouldn’t believe the blinding speed that they can move their hand up and down those strings while the bow must hit every string while the pressure is on the string at the same instant. These cello’s sound like heavy metal guitars at times and other times like synthesizers, they play soft and classically on some songs and others like Jimi at Woodstock! Melora runs a tight ship as she calls it and the “Recital” is fantastic, they even played “Barracuda” by Heart! Then after a three song encore they go off and I wait around hoping to get an autograph from Melora but she doesn’t show up at the tables. I do however shake Voltaire’s hand as he walks about selling CD’s and making new friends. I move downstairs through the crowds and outside the clubbers are lineing up to go down to the basement club for the night life. Their evening is just starting as mine is ending, which is good for me because if I make good time I can be home in time to watch Saturday Night Live and get to bed half-way early, and let me tell you that’s a great plus for me these days. Isn’t it funny how time can shift your priorities to sleeping all night instead of being out all night!

I walk back along 9th Avenue at a brisk pace and at one point hear the sound of a loud gunshot somewhere nearby, in the city such noises echo through the canyon like walls of the skyscrapers. No one seemed to take any notice so I didn’t either, if it was actually a gun I’ll never know but otherwise the trip back to Penn was uneventful, I grab a beer and dash for the train that is leaving in three minutes. Not much time but I make it OK and even find a seat, I could have waited for the next train but that was an hour wait. So I sit and write and sip my beer entirely thrilled with my trip and all I experienced. Everything went off without a hitch, another great meal and more great music. I’m lovin life right now, the way it should be. I am excited to see what the summer concert and play season brings as I drift off on cello harmonies.

Banh Mi

Glen

MyFreeCopyright.com Registered & Protected

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Filed under Anthropologie, Chelsea Market, Concerts, French Food, Life, New York City, Travel, Vietnamese Food, Wine, Writing

Anthony Bourdain in N.Y.C – June 8Th 2010 – Part II

  I join the conversation around me after actually starting to read the book on-line. One woman is from Florida on vacation and her daughter is moving toward French cooking, an Indian girl who adores Tony, and a middle-aged woman who has a drawing her husband bought her on EBAY years before allegedly done by Tony that she wants to authenticate. I grow more excited as we get closer to his appearance, and then I hear people say “There he is!” and I look down into the ground floor to see Tony striding along in his dark jeans, graphic t-shirt and suit jacket carrying a Brooklyn Lager and wearing dark glasses. He looks just he does on TV loping along tall and relaxed, quintessential cool. In a few minutes he walks in and sits down at the desk and the signing begins, they speed the process by taking your book from you and your camera, you walk up to the table shake hands, talk a little while he signs the book he has been handed by the staff, and then you lean in and get your photo taken, he hands you the book and then you move on and let the next person go. It’s very efficient and rushed and by the time my turn comes I am a cross between a gushing schoolgirl and a stuttering awkward teenage boy. My turn comes and I walk up shake hands and place my folder on the table. Tony says “How you doin” and I stupidly say “Alright” without even asking him in return I blurt out “This is a gift” as I open my folder and say “It’s a little of my amateur writing” He says OK and takes it and puts it under the table then while he signs my book I say to him “Two questions…Is there any place in New York to get Singapore chicken rice?” and he says “No” Then I ask “How is the $26 Black Label Burger at the Minetta Tavern?”  He smiles and says “It’s really good, I mean really good” So I say “Really!” (another great reply and as he hands me my book back after the picture) and I say “Uh cool uhh I’ll have to try it” and the conversation trailed off in nodding and smiling uhhs and yeahs and I don’t think I even thanked him for signing the books ( I also brought my copy of his excellent fictional novel “Bone In The Throat”) as I walked away feeling stupid and wishing I could have had a do-over and feeling like I need a social etiquette class.

 I guess people will always wish they had done a little better in these situations, at least I do now in retrospect I could have talked more and been a little more engaging. I should have said something more meaningful, but I thought I’d let my writing speak for itself. The trouble is I don’t know if he even read my stuff, I put my address and phone numbers on the inside cover just in case he wanted to get in touch with me. I mean he probably gets this all the time and it might even piss him off so there’s a good chance he threw it away. It’s my nature to be self-critical and I know I’m not a great writer I just wanted to sound more intelligent than I did, but hopefully he will read my work and read abut the positive influence he has had in my life in the story “1st Anniversary on WordPress” How he has changed me in positive ways and made me a better cook and consumer. I leave with regret, the whole thing was over in less than two minutes. I go downstairs and outside to find my friends and we gather together to talk excitedly about our shared experience. The Indian girl says that he told her he is definitely having too much fun and the show will go on for a few more years! The woman who owned the drawing had it confirmed by Tony that he remembered doing it on a beach in Long Beach, Long Island, NY many years back and that a friend that was not doing well stole it and waited to sell it when Tony was at the height of his popularity. Tony being the good man that he is did not ask for it back and felt that it had a good home with the woman who was thrilled to pieces. We talk for a few minutes and then go our separate ways.

 I walk back to the park feeling a little better about things and sit on the wall and call my mom and tell her my news, she is thrilled and suggests I find a nice place to eat. So I walk back to the subway and head uptown to more familiar surroundings. My mind is muddled with a hundred thoughts about my experience so my usual observations are lost in that sauce and I get out at Bleeker St and begin to search for a meal. I walk around checking menus and decide to settle down in Chez Jaqueline, a French place that has been in New York a while, I have walked by it many times. I sit down facing the street with the louver doos and curtains open and I order a glass of pastis and watch the kids in the playground across the street. They are actually playing kickball! I didn’t think anyone did that anymore. I order Bacalau brandade, a mix of salt cod and garlic mashed potatoes baked till golden, and for my main a pork chop Milanaise. I sit and watch the kids and adults enjoy the cool weather and listen to a mix of cool jazz and cafe Paris thrown in for good measure. This is a Cote d’Azur themed menu featuring southern French food with a few traditional dishes such a Daube de Boeuf, Duck  Rilletes and the ubiquitous French onion soup w/Gruyère cheese on top. I have the place to myself as it’s actually quite late for lunch and not yet dinner. The Brandade comes and is good but a little dry and over browned making me wish I had ordered a celery remoulade instead. The pork chop comes and has been butterflied and coated with seasoned bread crumbs and pan-fried, it is served with field greens vinaigrette and a lemon wedge. It is tasty and healthish and I enjoy a glass of wine with it while the afternoons grows late. I decline dessert and pay the check and head for the subway, it is alternately warm and cool depending on the wind and shade. Soon I see some familiar sights and as I make my way to Bleeker St station I find the Monk Thrift Shop where a new comer to New York City (me) came years before and bought the old army travel bag that has been all over the city as well as Paris and London. I look around at all the stuff, clothes, shoes, handbags, books, records, nick naks, lamps, glassware, all kinds of stuff. I show the guy at the counter the bag I bought here years ago with its hand drawn destinations and he is impressed and says that its history now-my history, and he is right.

 The trip home was uneventful and I walked to an area easy for my mom to get to and called her to pick me up as I will be without my car for two days. I tell her all about my adventure and my hopes and feelings of dis-appointment about the experience and as always mom tries to get me to be more positive about things. Now what I didn’t know until about six weeks later is that Tony is holding a contest, for one of the fans of the show who are registered on the No Reservations website to write a 500 word essay on Why is it important to cook well? The contest will go on till November when Tony (who will be checking in and reading people’s work and commenting ) will pick the winner who will win $10,000 and get their essay put in as the new forward to the paperback version of his new book Medium Raw. you can enter as many times as you want to try to win and I have already entered once a piece called “I Cook Well” and am working on a second at this time. I can’t help thinking that it was me and anyone else who gave him their writing that brought this contest about so now I feel a whole lot better about the book signing debacle and how I came off.

 I hope I win but my story at last count was like 914 out of 1047 entries so it’s a long shot, but at least I met Tony and the next time I meet him I’ll be a lot more confident and self-assured and maybe it’ll be because he’s delivering my prize in which case after a sit down with the family I will take him to Cassis, my local piece of France with food that I am certain will pass his muster and over a good meal and many drinks I will ask him all the questions I thought of later and pitch some ideas to him for a book I’d like to write but need help with and some ideas for his show that I think he would like very much, nothing big just goofy themes like “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” that he used for his Nevada trip, along those lines. But of course “The Sit Down” with Tony is a dream that all his fans have and I’m sure very few will ever get that but it’s good to want and it’s nice to dream.

Cheers

Glen

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Filed under Anthony Bourdain, Food, France, French Food, Life, Medium Raw, Memories, Minetta Tavern, My Truth, New York City, No Reservations, NY, Travel

The Story of Red-Part 2-Apr 10Th 2010

When I arrive at Washington Square Park I ask around and find out the fair doesn’t start until May so I wander a little and take some pictures of the goings on today, so I will let the pictures do the talking for me and after a while I decide to walk up to Union Square. I know there is vendors there almost every week and even in April of last year some of the braver souls came out when I took Mark and Sharon on a cold day during their first day in New York, I’m praying luck will be with me. 

T-Shirt vendor in Union Square

Street artist using powdered sand.

 

An Art Fair at The Washington Arch

When I get their the market and the art show is in full swing, loads of people come here on Wednesday , Saturday and Sunday to buy produce & plants, meats and cheeses, and everything in between. I find myself walking amidst the artists sitting with their work, hoping for a sale. It makes me feel very wretched that I can no longer claim to be one of them. I know that it’s my fault I stopped painting, I always blamed it on other people and circumstances. But as someone once said “A real artist needs only his bread and his art.” Yes in modern times you need much more than that, but the bare bones of that saying ring very true for me anyway, so while I can only use writing as a lame partial excuse for not painting, the fact is that the nights I don’t write I could paint but I don’t. I haven’t painted a thing since 2007.  Why? you ask. Because I let the canvas beat me into submission. I grew more and more unhappy with a painting that still sits on my easel mocking me. It became an all or nothing game of Russian roulette between me and the painting and in the end I died. There was no smoking gun, just an unfinished canvas and ten years of work lying dormant…unseen like some hibernating bear it sleeps, waking years later like Rumplestiltskin to find an art world changed.
 The artist Mark Rothko said that eventually black would swallow red, swallow all color until nothing was left. He believed that artists should starve, that fame is what kills them. When they become a commodity, a pastiche of themselves, they seek a way out.  For Jackson Pollack it was whisky and a Oldsmobile convertible. For me it was Malibu Rum and Coke and an online video game called “World of Warcraft.” In the game I could fight and die but I came back to life and fought again to win. Every time my characters gained another level, another skill, an achievement of any kind, it was like I was winning at life. Soon it became more fun to play with others online than to face the canvas alone, and see who would blink first. So now I know …I did. 

Union Square Artists Work

 This is all revealed to me as I walk through the artists stalls practically reeling with the weight of the realization I’ve just made about myself and my art. Eventually I walk into the regular vendors space and as I come around a bend I see the exact T-shirts I wanted and the girl selling them from last year is back! This is a kind of salvation for me now as I had no idea they sold here and am overjoyed to find the shirts I want, but there is just one small problem. I’ve got no cash and they don’t take debit cards. But luckily the girl tells me that a permanent newspaper vendor set up here actually has a debit machine and he is on the other side of the fair. So I take a long walk back to the artists area and wait my turn to get some dough, and I noticed that there’s many signs up protesting something, so I stop at an artists booth to get the lowdown. It seems that our illustrious Mayor wants to start limiting the number of artists to eighteen who can show and that there will be a fee for the day and that it’s on a first come first serve basis, anyone else will be turned away! I walk back to the girl and pick out the shirts I want marvelling at the stupidity of the people in our local government. The very thing that makes New York special is the very thing they want to attack and destroy or alter in some way and make it less attractive to tourists and the local population, and then when the Union Square market closes down because they took all the good out of it they will sit and blame others for the loss, never admitting it was they who ruined it in the first place. I hope it doesn’t come to that but it’s an old story, around here  on Long Island, local politics have made the suburbs a boring place. Where kids get into trouble because all the venues for fun were closed down leaving the kids nothing to do but invent their own fun on the street. I go down into the Union Square subway station and take it back uptown to the theater district. 

 It doesn’t take long to get back to the theater and needing a sit down and a drink of some kind I go searching for a local bar where I can sit and relax till the show, but this is a tourist section and there’s only loud sports bars and tourists traps, not what I need right now. So I wind up in another French restaurant calles Pergola des Artistes near the theater, it is crowded and I sit at the bar wishing for a drink and an appetizer but finding nothing small and “tapas-like” which I really would have preferred. I order Fillet of Sole Menuiere and French Onion soup to start with a glass of Cotes du Rhone and watch the action in front of me. The woman behind the counter is Marie Ponsolle, she and her husband Jacques opened the place in 1962 and struggled with all sorts of problems including a plumbing and electrical problems, water damage from a flood in the basement and from a fire on the floors above causing flooding  to their restaurant below to put it out, and even a holdup the first week they opened! Now their son Christian runs the place but Marie runs the bar where I sit and with a watchful eye and a loud voice she makes sure the bills are tallied correctly and that the waiters are working hard. I find her a little off-putting and when my soup arrives I tell her it is good but I’ve had better actually. It was murky and greasy and seemed to me to include  the sediment on the bottom of the pot. When my fish arrives it is indeed a huge portion the size of a dinner plate with some basic vegetables on the side that were undercooked and un-inspired, the fish was tasty enough but I have no point of reference so I don’t know this dish. I eat about half and ask for the rest to be wrapped up, the play starts in about twenty minutes and I pay the tab and walk briskly for the theater wishing I had gotten a hot dog of a cart instead. I mean why should you pay 50 bucks for heartburn when you could get it for around $5. I walk past others on their way to food and shows and arrive at the theater and take my seat. 

 The stage is set up just like Rothko’s studio, bare wood floors dirty and paint splattered, canvasses on the walls, stacked up some painted others stark white and waiting. There are tables and ladders, spot lights and a big wooden Adirondack chair across from a huge red canvas hanging from a gargantuan moveable A-frame easel. The actor is already seated in that chair contemplating the canvas before the show starts. It is to say the least an unexpected and un-nerving start to the play…he is motionless. When the lights go down he gets up and lights a cigarette and looks at the canvas, he walks toward it and touches it almost with the reverence a man might touch his wifes nude body while she sleeps. Quietly a  young man enters through the door stage right, wearing a brown suit and shoes, looking earnest and eager he has come to apply for the job of studio assistant. Rothko lays down the law of employment, he’s not here to be his friend, his father, or his mentor. 

  The dialogue between them throughout the play is often raw and un-pleasant, Rothko’s contempt for people in general is very evident and he laces into his assistant many times and mocks his opinions after asking for them. But still he tries to draw his assistant, who is also a painter into the real meaning of art. Rothko talks about Nietzsche, Byron, and Socrates. He tells the young man to become civilised. during the show they actually take canvasses down off the huge easel and put up new ones. They actually finish stapling one on the floor and setting the corners and after placing it up on the easel they both cover it in red primer, Rothko working above, the assistant below whose white t-shirt gets covered in splattered paint! (Later we find out the t-shirt will be signed by both men and offered to raise money for AIDS after the show)  

 In a pivotal scene the  young assistant (who has spent two years with Rothko) finally tells his employer off,  giving a long soliloquy about Rothko’s self-absorption and mis-trust, and finally telling him that he (Rothko) doesn’t believe anyone is good enough to own his art or even view his art. He thinks he is fired but Rothko says it’s the first time he really said what he thinks and  respects him for it. In real life Rothko, after seeing  in the Four Seasons  restaurant in the Seagrams building is distraught. He will not have his work in a place where such pretentious people, will pay too much money for mediocre food and look at each other assessing their worth and comparing their status. Rothko gave back the $35,000 dollar commission and continued to paint his unique vision but in his later years fell in into ill-health, an aneurism made him unable to work high up and he was forced to paint smaller canvasses. Then also ignoring his physician’s advice to quit smoking and drinking he became more depressed. Rothko was growing increasingly unhappy with the art world, and feeling betrayed by the younger artists who he felt had learned so much from people like him, finally took his own life in Feb 1970, slicing his wrists to his elbows in his studio, which was now his home after he and his wife separated. He was found by his young assistant Oliver Steindecker on the floor near the slop sink.

Me and Alfred Molina

The play ends as it started with dramatic music being played on the phonograph while Rothko who has just dis-missed his assistant telling him to get with his friends and start something new, get with them and “do the work” he says holding his face and looking into his eyes the only fatherly advice he gives him. He looks at the canvas alone as the light dims but the red of the canvas glows with an inner fire out of the black like the burning coals of a furnace. The crowd erupts into explosive applause with many hoots and shouts of “Bravo” and the actors appear and bow before us and then leave the stage. I make my way downstairs and go outside and wait a long time for the actors to come out, Eddie Redmayne comes out first and I tell him how good the show was, he is very pleased with the attention but after finishing with us rushes to embrace a young girl and guy who waited patiently for us to be done with him. They are obviously friends and possibly fellow actors enjoying a friends big break, indeed I find out later that Redmayne was interviewed on Charlie Rose, a late night serious talk show. Next Alfred Molina comes out and I tell him that I’m a painter trying to come out of a two-year block and that he has helped me quite a bit tonight. We all take turns taking pictures with him and when all are done he gets into his limo and off he goes, he’s got to be exhausted, two shows in one day. I am too but I stop to help an old woman who attended the show find the bus stop before turning back to go down 8th Ave and Penn Station once again. The wind has died down so I am warm enough in my denim and scarf as I walk the streets and find myself standing before the big board with 40 minutes to kill before my train. So, naturally I go to Tracks for a wash up and a cold glass of Harp on tap. It’s been a wonderful day followed by a profound evening, art changes you, it should change you. With gods help and a little luck I hope to be able to say I have been changed in this way many times before Rothko’s black finally comes. I settle into my bar stool and lean back  sipping my cold brew…lost in thought. 

Peace 

Glen

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Lower East Side (Slight Return)-April 24th 2010

 Today is bright and will be warm and I sit and munch half a bran muffin washed down with a decaf coffee on the train to New York City while I listen to a young couple dote over their three-year old boy, he’s a cute kid in a baseball cap who stands on the seat and marvels at everything, looking around in wonder and asks questions, lots of questions. There is three young girls sitting diagonally across from me speaking French, I am shy to go and talk to them I don’t want to make a fool of myself, but I push shyness aside and walk over asking if they were from France, which they confirm.  I excitedly talk about my love for France and everything French, my ambition to cook French food and to be a tour guide in NYC and to someday ex-pat to France after Mom and Dad are gone and Chris is moved to Vegas or Canada whichever he chooses. They are here for five months and are doing work/study programs although they don’t seem to want to share the details or even talk that much too me. The dark-haired girl is friendly and the redhead too I guess, but the mousey girl sitting closest to me looks petrified or at least uncomfortable. They assure me that they are meeting friends who live in the city and will not need my services but I explain that I am not licensed yet so cannot guide them anyway, although I could do it for free… that is not illegal in New York but give them time. So I decide to wish them well and head back to my seat and they talk amongst themselves, laughing occasionally at the  older guy who just wanted to meet some people from France, but now I feel like a fool who should have kept his mouth shut. When will I ever learn. 

 I know I have a tendency to be too excited when I talk about my passions, but I’m not the only one and I remember Drew Barrymore, the actress talking on Late Night about how she scares people with her enthusiasm for a new project, so I can really identify with her, I guess I do too but at least I’m in good company. So I get out at Penn Station and make my way to the blue A,C,E subway line and check my old tickets for credit left on rides, I swipe my old cards and see that I have plenty. While doing so the three girls come up behind me and are busily engaged in trying to use the ticket machine, I say a quick hello again but don’t even try to help them, I would have helped them in any way I could just to be nice.  But their snobbery being what was I move off quickly to get the next train to West 4th St station and make sure I’m in a forward car so I don’t run into them again. It’s a quick ride on the subway, whoosh! and your there almost before you know it, I get out and almost immediately I am asked for help by a woman and her daughters from Queens who are looking for the Washington Arch and NYU University, I whip out my flip map and tell them to follow me and we walk up to the 8 Th Ave exit. 

 It’s a beautiful day turning warm as I lead them to the Arch, they walk fast and it’s hard for me too keep up, I’m guessing they are looking at the school for the girls to attend after they graduate high school and after we walk past the fountain, still dry. Not in operation yet as I see excited kids running around inside its shallow bowl that will soon be cooling off visitors who brave the (clean?) water to cool off in the heat. I part company with the family on the other side of the park pointing out the NYU buildings to my left and with a few Thank You’s they are off to see the wizard and I go to towards the Lower East Side starting point for my tour. I am stopped on my way by a young Asian girl who is lost, looking for an address. She is staring right at a map mounted inside a frame for the students looking for certain buildings in the area but this girl cannot find it and she cannot be late, she’s going for an audition! I tell her to follow me and I tell her also that I’m a tour guide in training and it can be very confusing especially with all the construction going on with closed streets and all. We walk a few blocks and a few turns later and I’m beginning to think I screwed this girl up but she turns to her left and says “Here it is!” with glee and with a shake of my hand we wish each other good luck and I continue on my merry way, the triumph of making a difference for two people putting a swagger in my step as I continue on my way. I give a homeless man the other half on my Bran muffin and says God Bless You as I pass him by and a little further on I see a youngish couple looking around in confusion so I stop to help. They are also from France and I tell them how much I love their country and using my flip map show them exactly how to get to the West 4th St Station, and also what train to take to get to 42nd St which is where they want to go next, they also thank me profusely and with smiling “Au Revoir’s!” they move off and I holster my map like a smoking gun in its holster ready for the next time. My starting point is a few blocks away but I am in need of nourishment now and I spot an old-looking place just ahead. 

 I stop in the Cafe Colonial, a Brazilian eatery with a brunch menu and a simple atmosphere with white metal bistro tables and chairs, and a pay phone in the back corner. I order a simple meal of warm steak over field greens and a decaf coffee and after a wash up in the loo begin to make notes on the trip so far, I feel a real optimism about today as my food arrives and that is made more apparent by the delicious food I get. This is the way I should eat at home, no starches just meat and greens with a little whole grain thrown in too. So I pay the bill and start walking down the street when I see a familiar face standing in chefs gear smoking a cigarette, I don’t know his name but I recognize his face from the food network Iron Chef show, he was one of the contestants to be the next Iron Chef! I stop and say “Hey I know you from the food network!” “That’s right, that was me.” he says casually but visibly happy to be recognized. I look at the building , “Is this where your working now?” I ask not being able to see the sign up ahead. “Yeah. you should come in and eat, it’s the best!” But I explain I just ate at Cafe Colonial and he suggests I get a paper menu, so I move off to do so and them after I get it I can’t resist going back and saying “Dude can I be a real tourist and have you sign this?” as I offer a permanent marker and the menu. He signs it without hesitation and I explain that I’m studying to be a tour guide and will be back to eat here the next time I come to the Bowery to study and eat. I shake hands agin and start walking towards the starting point again. This is shaping up to be a great day! I might just have made my first contact in New York! 

 (Footnote: I would find out later that he’s only been there since February when it opened and on April 4th he was arrested for carrying a two-inch knife on a chain he uses to cut boxes at work as he was walking home between shifts at his restaurant Pulino’s Bar and Pizzeria, he was surrounded by three police cars! Nice going New York’s finest, way to keep us safe from 2 inch knife wielding chefs, I know I feel a lot safer now!) 

Best place for a bagel and a smear in New York City!

 

So I begin my tour stopping first at the Famous Russ & Daughters Deli appetizers since 1914, it is said to have the best bagels, Nova & Caviar cream cheese in New York, it is packed so I walk down and back getting glimpses of fantastic food in flashes as the space between bodies is small and closes quickly, people are ordering bagels by the bagfull! I leave promising myself that I will have a bagel next time around, next I take a few minutes to photograph the famous Katz’s Deli, I wish I was hungry because this place serves up beef brisket or pastrami sandwiches that need their own Zip Code! I peeked in once at this place at night right before the Anya Marina show in 2008, (see Anya Marina Concert Parts 1&2) but didn’t want to eat so much as this place gives you between two slices of bread. I move off turning on Norfolk and take it down to Rivington & Orchard, but needing a loo I stop in Nooy’s Bar for a cold beer but first a wash up, this is actually the bar for the Kampuchea restaurant, a mix of Cambodian and French Cusine I find out from the young friendly bartender who is cutting and squeezing dozens of limes to fill a Magnum for drink-making. I sip my cold Hennepin Ale and we talk the interesting menu, travels abroad and N.Y.C. He is a Californian studying graphic design who works 50 hours a week and pays $1200 a month for a studio apartment! I find him a great source of info for food and wine, he has re-done the drink menu for the restaurant himself and added his own spin to them. He is smart, friendly, hipster, cool and I admire his ability to multitask and still be a great conversationalist. I can’t resist ordering the Chicken Rillettes and another beer, they come with small greens and pickled Rhubarb with toasted slices of Baguette. It is superb, I needed this so bad! I haven’t been this relaxed and happy in a long while. I could sit here all afternoon, but I can’t eat or drink anymore. I pay the tab and shake my bartenders hand and thank him for his kindness and move on. I walk down the street taking it all in, the sun, the breeze,  the easy feeling of being able to do whatever I want with no one telling me what to do or where to stand while I do it. 

 I move through Chinatown and enter another world where I am the minority and don’t speak the language. I sit on a low wall on the corner of Bowery & Canal St and write, cool from the breeze yet warm from the sun. I watch the kids play on a clay soccer field while parents sit on benches and talk on the sidelines. The little park is surrounded on two sides by a grass field about ten feet wide where a young woman sleeps peacefully with a cell phone on her chest while a young hipster lies on his back with his knees up talking on his phone a few yards away. I realize how lucky I am to have a piece of land I can call my own, this is all the nature they get in this urban sprawl of concrete, stone, and the ever-present sound of traffic and machinery. It makes me appreciate the ease with which I walk out my back door and step into nature. I move on into the heart of Chinatown where stalls of fresh fish (some still flipping around) crowd the sidewalks that flow with the runoff of melting ice in a constant stream to the street. The foods here are endless, dried mushrooms, dried fish, and strange vegetables are displayed and in butchers windows whole roasted Peking Ducks and chickens. The crowd is a mix of tourists but mostly natives that live in this enclave and shop here all their lives, vendors hawk their wares and shoppers argue loudly over prices and freshness, at least that’s what I think they’re saying  but who knows. The bucket of still moving blue crabs from some far off place the subject of this particular debate. I pass into Little Italy and the mix of Chinese and Italian turns all Italian as I make my way up Elizabeth St where I see a familiar figure sitting outside his butcher shop, Moe is still going strong at 83, he sits with his son enjoying a Perrier water and enjoys the day. I promise to come back and get a “Got Cha Steak” his trademark aged beef steaks as soon as i fix or replace my grill. 

 Well, the tour was done a while back on Grand Street and now I am back on the corner of East Houston Street and Elizabeth Street, the Cafe Colonial is a few steps away, across the street is a big mural on the wall of a building painted with the cities permission by Shepard Fairey of Obey giant fame ( see What is Obey Giant Parts 1,2,3,&4 for more) the last time he was in New York, right next to that is Billy’s Antiques and Props. My brother and I have plans to cook over the open fire tonight so I better head back to Penn Station, I walk towards 6Th Ave as the strong late afternoon sun burns a little as I pass familiar sights, the basketball park and street vendors on West Houston and easily find my way back to the West 4Th Street subway station. It’s an easy ride to Penn and easily grab an express train to Hicksville, three stops to home! 

 I sit on the train and think about what might have happened if I had a camera crew with me shooting my fun day. Somehow I think it’s just possible that I too could have a hit show on the Travel Channel, so what if I’m not tall dark and handsome. I don’t have to be a hipster twenty-something with a face full of scruff and a half tucked shirt with vest. I can just be who I am in all my aging hipster, latter-day bohemian, over enthusiastic glory! Those French girls missed out, they could have spent the day with me being shown the ropes, while listening to a good storyteller who knows a few good places to eat and drink. It was a great day nonetheless, and I managed to make a difference for a few people who let me into their life for a few minutes, all in a days work for The Guide Boheme. 

Bonsoir 

Glen

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The Story Of Red-Apr 10Th 2010

It’s a cool breezy Spring day, typical for this time of year on Long Island, one that finds me sheltering from the wind in the stairwell of the Long Island Railroad Station platform. My train is seven minutes late and I’m getting a late start to my adventures today. The morning found me scrambling to find an in-between coat to wear (which I don’t seem to own) so like many others I’m a little underdressed. Today I’m going in to New York City for a walkabout and to see “Red” an off broadway play about the artist Mark Rothko, particularly about the relationship between Rothko and his young assistant during the time leading up to the completion of the commission for the Four Season’s restaurant in the Seagrams Building in New York.

 He was a tortured man who left an indelible mark on art and the rave reviews it got in London promise this should be a real experience. I have put some study into Rothko and his work but find myself unable to paint color field paintings in his style, I can’t contain my energy and violence, and sexual desire to paint dozens of glazes to achieve the pulsating glow of his master works. But I have also stood transfixed and stared at them in museums until the colors changed before my eyes. This is my birthday present to myself, it’s just 10 days away and so far no one has mentioned it to me, needless to say I’m a little hurt by this since I put so much thought into others gifts and parties. But as I’ll be turning 48 I’m not really sure I care to celebrate, I’m not where I wanted to be at this point in my life, only a windfall of money could solve some of the problems and put into place the things I feel are lacking in life.

  A few weeks ago Anthony Bourdain was in Provence, France filming his Emmy Award winning Travel Channel show “No Reservations” and while dinning al-fresco with his guide he said “everybody in some childlike way craves a life of simplicity, where they have a garden, a beautiful sun, where they can walk into a small town and everybody will know them and wave”. This about sums up how I feel about France and although his guide Ann said laughingly that in his little movie there is no “sweat” and here is considerable work and sweat. The fact is that rural France was a hard place to live always, a rocky terrain not suited to vineyards and the growing of vegetables or livestock, but somehow they made it work. Today of course they survive on the tourist trade to a large extent and what makes downtown unbearable for the indigenous population is also what keeps many people employed, and since I started buying France magazine, I am beginning to be drawn into the desire to see the small towns and villages and less drawn to Paris itself…maybe it’s the thought of being an ex-pat in the future when I’m older and more settled or the thought of being in a town where everybody would wave to me as I make my daily rounds. The guide Ann was very appealing to me, mid 50’s with a full head of long grey hair and very stocky,  she has a very provincial earthy appeal and a great personality, I guess you know you’re getting older when you start fantasizing about older women than yourself and less about the young girls in the seat in front of me. They are chattering away like magpies about everything and giggle incessantly as they talk about school, work , and friends. I can see the face and chest of the girl facing me through the opening  in the top of the seat for the hand-grip. What a clean fresh face with a dazzling smile and perfect hair, she wears a peace sign necklace which rests on her chest, I muse on the thought that a child of the 90’s could hardly know what a peace sign entails, I mean she wasn’t even born yet. Heck, I thought that guys with long hair in army jackets were veterans back from the war who couldn’t stand having short hair cuts, at five years old the Summer of Love was as unknown to me as the student protests and the realities of the war. In back of me a young couple talk in hushed tones and also giggle as they hunch over a new computer phone and app away the time doing God only knows to their friends to cause such quiet hilarity. Oh to be young and in love. We descend into the tunnels and my ears pressurize and I yawn to pop them, soon the streets of N.Y.C.

 I come up into Penn Station and make my way to the 8th Ave subway line, my first goal is to get to the theater and pick up my ticket for tonight, then lunch. The station is hopping as usual with tourists, workers, and people heading for a show like myself, I weave by the crowds  like a motorcycle does through a traffic jam on the freeway and go upstairs to the uptown branch, but I don’t have to wait long as I approach the turnstile I hear a train come in and I hop on easily for the short ride to 42nd St station. It’s an easy walk up to ground level and up the 3 blocks to the theater, the wind is making me a little cold but the sun is out and the full spectrum of sound and color hits you as Time Square looms all around you like a giant robot encircling you with its arms and looking down on us all, its glowing eyes flashing and head spinning. I find the theater and see a line down the block for the matinée of Red in about an hour, a good sign I think as I pick up my ticket and turn around to go to my brunch destination for today. 

  Marseille is a NYC landmark combining French, Italian and Greek influences, and has been in Hell’s Kitchen for 9 years, I have always wanted to eat here but never got around to it. I go inside to get a table but it is packed and loud so I ask to be seated outside and am glad I did, the sun is warming now so I order two items, Soupe au pistou, a garlic vegetable soup I’ve never had and a scramble of eggs with Merguez, a spicy mediterranean lamb sausage with creme fraiche, potatoes rosti, and greens. I also order a decaf cafe au lait which is served in a bowl! This is about as traditional French as it gets. I receive a complementary plate of sliced rye and grain bread with mini carrot muffins and a small plate with jam and 1 pat of butter, I begin to tuck into this and hold my coffee bowl with both hands and smile into the hot creamy beverage as I take my first sip. If I close my eyes I could be in Paris or Marseilles, except of course for the English being spoken around me

The way coffee should be enjoyed!

When my soup comes it is a pleasure for the eyes, lots of colorful vegetables with beans and macaroni in a clear vegetable broth with thin slices of garlic and grated cheese, it is very good and just what I need right now. It’s all I could do to not gobble it up like a dog, dunking my bread and licking the bowl! When my plate has been cleared I wait for my eggs and I am not disappointed, the fluffy mound of eggs topped with creme fraiche and chopped tomato and crunchy onion is wonderful, if you read my post “The Case for Scrambled Eggs” then you know how much I enjoy real scrambled eggs and these were no exception.

Life is not sucking right now!

They are soft and savory with the spicy Merguez sausage being balanced out by the sweet creme, the potatoes however were very greasy and decadent in a bad sort of way but the field greens were in a delicate vinaigrette that I still can’t seem to duplicate at home, altogether a fantastic meal. It’s a little hot in the direct sun but as I sip my coffee I think that this is the most relaxed I’ve been in a long time. Next tp me an upscale couple sits sipping bloody mary’s and eating goat cheese and asparagus tarts with field greens and lamb sausage, it too smells great. I pay the check after letting my food go down a little and walk back up to 42nd street station and take the subway downtown to the village, I am looking for some t-shirts to send to Mark and Sharon in England that I saw last year when I didn’t have the money to buy them. I hope the street fair in is full swing as I descend the stairs and hear the familiar rush of wheels on track as I zip through the turnstile and walk for the train doors.

Peace

Glen

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Julie & Julia…and Glen? Dec 5th 2009

The weather is cloudy and overcast but I am in good spirits as I drive towards the nearby Town of Huntington to the Barnes and Noble book store for an early breakfast. I am off today and tomorrow and have already started my Christmas shopping a few days ago, but today I am doing something I used to do all the time but stopped for lack of funds. The weather is warm as I cross the parking lot and enter the store. The warmth of the colors hit me as I enter, it is like a second home to me a bookstore; any bookstore feels the same way. I make my way to the loo, it seems that these days I need one everywhere I go, guess I must be getting older.

 But soon I find myself standing in front of the section on international foods, there is an awesome array of books on French cooking, the ones that appeal to me most are the bright color photo jobs with a picture of each recipe, but the pièce de résistance is a huge volume put out by the French Culinary Institute in New York City whose web site videos I watched and marvelled at the relatively cheap cost of a six month course. The five-day a week daytime course is 46,500 dollars and they place you in your first job, I think they also give you a set of chefs knives to boot. The same course taught at night takes nine months and cost 36,500! The teachers are all very experienced and they take you from how to chop carrots to working a shift in the restaurant attached to the school L’ecole. I would love to go if I could, if I could afford to quit my job I would go just to learn classic French cooking, but that’s a lottery win dream. This book is for those who are not going to go to school but are more advanced than me, as is the same sort of book put out by a French School similar to FCI in NY, the pictures are beautiful and each lesson is a three to four course meal, starting with easy stuff and getting into very complicated meals half way through.

 I take both books to a table at the Starbucks Cafe inside the store and order a Cafe Au Lait and a Caprese Panini sandwich, toasted cheese,tomatoes, and pesto on ciabatta bread cooked in a press toaster to melt the cheese, it’s pre-made but good and I munch as I flip through the volumes, my mind swirling with unfamiliar food, phrases and techniques. I put the books back and look around for gifts for others, but find little that would interest them, I do find a cheap book on Alice Waters and Chez Panisse, the story of one of the most famous restaurants in the country. I know her name but nothing specific about Alice herself so I buy it and walk back to my car and set off for the Fairway market in Plainview, just a town over from mine and a place that will become my Mecca for my new venture. I plan on teaching myself classic French cooking just like the new movie “Julie & Julia” based on the book of the same name; which I got for my Mother but at this time still haven’t seen. I’m prepared to go to a lot of trouble to do just that, so I have already bought my first real chefs knives at Macy’s department store that I got on sale for 40% off plus an extra 25% promo which ends today, I bought a small pairing knife and a large chefs knife but I am going back to get the others I left behind. I have the money from my 401k which I’m paying back weekly from my paycheck so I can afford to splurge a little, with my bills caught up and deals made for lower monthly payments and interest rates I have come out on the other side of my financial disaster of a few months ago, in fact we also got a nice bonus this year as opposed to last year but half of what we used to get back in 2007. I didn’t know that yet with Christmas being 20 days away but it was a shocker when I found two envelopes to open on the 22nd!  I pull into Fairways parking lot and find it a madhouse as usual, it is the largest food store around here and shopping here can be a hassle.

Fairway Market-Long Island N.Y. 2010

 I can only imagine that this is a taste of the open market experience that you get in other countries, when you walk in your senses are hit with dazzling color and to your right a huge produce dept, to your left the cookware and the catering desk, opposite catering is the café area where a salad bar, sandwich bar, and hot food waits in large stainless steel chafing dishes for people to dish up for themselves, every kind of food is here. Fresh made lemon chicken, asian style ribs, ox tails in gravy, pork chops stuffed with fruit, sautéed vegetables, butternut squash puree, mashed potatoes, filet of sole stuffed with crab swimming in lemon and garlic butter, flank steak in barbeque sauce, garlic string beans with almonds, broccoli rabe in garlic and oil, an ever changing array cooked each day from about 11:00 to closing or until the food runs out, whichever comes first.

The Heart of the Maze

  If you walk past the food area you come to what I call the maze, an area where cold prepared deli food awaits and here the vegans and vegetarians have a field day! The selection of humus alone will kill ya, roasted red pepper, plain, garlic, lemon, babaganoosh, antipasto, cheese salad, vegan General Cho’s Chicken, fire roasted veggies in olive oil, marinated cauliflower, eggplant, tomatoes and basil with fresh mozzarella, couscous galore!, multigrain with vegetables finely chopped, couscous with fruit and grains… combos that will just make you insane there a sooo good. There is an olive bar where you can pick out from 16 different types from all over the world, and around the corner is a fresh hand-made mozzarella ball stand, an olive oil tasting bar where fresh bread is available for dipping, turn another corner and your in the biggest cheese market I’ve ever seen, with samples and tastes of anything you want to try! There is a cold case with French delicacies from goat cheese to pâté of all kinds to duck confit and crème fresh, and very expensive truffles! The next aisle over is a coffee lovers paradise, fresh roasted on the spot! I mean you gotta smell this section, it is beautiful with teas from around the world in tins, boxes, or loose as well as coffee of all kinds to indulge in your caffeine cravings. The back-drop for all of this is the back of the store beginning with the end of the produce section where the deli starts, all kinds of cold salads that were not in the other sections are here, potato salad, macaroni salad, cole slaw, egg salad, all the picnic stuff Americans crave and more as well as sliced meats and cheeses, always busy as hell with a wait. Next to that is the fish market, and let me tell you they have it all here, live lobsters and crabs, clams and mussels and slabs of bacalau still packed in kosher salt, and every kind of fish you could want or need. Then next to that is the meat market; a haven for meat lovers with dry aged steaks, Angus beef, and every kind of sausage you can think of…chicken, lamb, pork, beef, spiced in every possible way with cheese or fresh herbs added and ground meats of all kinds arranged in a beautiful display of neat clean rows, very clean and very fresh and cold. This makes the back area into a chaos of people bumping and jostling each other (especially with a holiday weekend) like roller derby for food.

 I am making a traditional Navarin D’Agneau, which is a spring vegetable stew using a few cheap pieces of lamb tenderloin I found in the regular store we shop in for a discount. These are pieces of meat which have been pre-seasoned and are cheaper cuts cast off from better ones that sold for more money, but as Tony says on his show often, poor people discovered good food by taking cheap cuts of meat and cooking them just right … to make them delicious. I will need some lovely small white pearl onions which I pick out one by one from a large bin, a bunch of  nice big carrots, turnips, peas, small fingerling potatoes, garlic, and parsley and thyme for a bouquet garni; which is a fancy French term for herbs tied up in a piece of cheesecloth. I finish my shopping and go home for a short break in the action before I start my meal, feeding my fish and talking with my brother briefly about our tanks and things before I start setting up my mise-en-place, which is another French term meaning having everything ready ahead of time. This means you get all your ingredients out and all the pots and pans you will need as well as the dishware your serving the meal in and for me a Rum and coke!

  So as I assemble my “mise” my mom sits at the table using her laptop to chat with her friends on the Neil Diamond Fansite “Sweet Caroline” which she now is in charge of greeting new members daily.  I’m absorbed by my task and after getting everything out I start to peel the little white onions, let me tell you this is a pain but the little pairing knife is a godsend, I cut through a paper plate like it was nothing just to show the quality to my family, who were very impressed by the way, then start cutting up the other vegetables. I can’t believe how easy it is to cut the carrots with this knife. I bought J.A. Henckels cookware from Spain, and I can see now that we never owned a really good knife before this, I am happy to have made what I consider a shrewd buy that I will have for years. I quarter the large carrots and white turnips, and I cut one large onion into eights ( expecting it will render down and flavor the gravy), and peel the small potatoes (covering with a damp towel) before I address the meat.

  Now I take the pieces out of the packages and wash off the herbs and turn them over, very fatty on the back side so I have to trim all of that off before I can cube it. I don’t enjoy butchering meat, I like to eat meat very much but don’t enjoy handling it, I guess it’s the guilt of knowing you’re a carnivore and things die so you can live. But the trouble is that plants are alive too, we just can’t communicate with them yet, and fish-what about them. I am just starting to like fish when I have to go and get interested in keeping  freshwater fish, so now the thought of cooking a whole fish in the beautiful long copper fish pot I got my Mom for Xmas is not as appealing as it was a few months ago. Still I have to be realistic, I’m not turning vegan any time soon so I brown off the meat and removing it for a while I toss the onions in the pan, let them cook for a few minutes (but not browned), add the garlic (cooking till aromatic) then adding the meat back in I sprinkle with a tablespoon of flour and stir to coat, finally putting in two cups of brown stock and the bouquet garni and covering to cook for 1 1/2 hours.

 The rest is really simple, just adding the peeled and sliced potatoes, carrots and turnips into the pot and adding frozen peas at the end cooking till tender. But I am a little unhappy with the gravy, it’s like water so I mix up a little cornstarch and add it in to thicken the pot. The problem is I have to overcook things for my parents who can’t chew vegetables the way god intended- a little resistant . So I am basically forced to kill the meal a little for their sake, next time I will make some for myself done right and separate it from theirs so all will be happy. We sit down to a very good meal but it doesn’t look like the picture in the book, too much gravy comparatively, but that’s us Americans for you. I don’t feel like I made a major foray into the French gastronomy because I have made regular beef stew many times so this wasn’t a great challenge. The flavor however was very good and no one else was disappointed in the outcome, so I’m my own worse critic, what else is new. 

 I sip my glass of wine and think about the next meal, the next challenge, around me my family enjoys the meal. In the end what mattered is that they ate heartily, and enjoyed it and that is after all…the only thing that matters to a cook. 

Bon appetite

Glen

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