Wednesday, November 24, 2010

it's all connected


a few photos i took before i left. might we be wrong in thinking that plants don't feel?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

the stuff of dreams


hello dearies

so clearly this pic is of the serbia i was expecting to find; note the dilapidated soviet-era car, the crumbling building, etc. in reality, there isn't much of that here, but at least i was able to find a little (and, yes, i only wear green polos and always carry bags full of root vegetables wherever i go...).

i promised a few dreams, despite remembering clearly a few lines of cautionary poetry that go: "describe a dream/lose a reader." alas, hopefully these are worth it.

the more recent is easily explained: my brother comes to visit, and instead of me taking the feather bed off my futon and putting it in my office, as i normally do (so we have separate beds, for if you've ever been w/in 20 yards when my brother takes off a shoe you'll know is a vital necessity), but this time, it's clear we're going to have to share a bed. more odd, mike tyson is also there. very friendly, not at all homoerotic (really!). just like he happens to be staying too, and now we have the dilemma of three guys who have to share the same bed and work very hard not to accidentally bump each other in the night.

in person, the former champ is very mild-mannered and pleasant, by the way -- at least in my dream.

the other one i think holds a meaning i'd like to keep with me.

i'm walking through a very fancy restaurant with my mom. we're planning on eating, but we see the prix fixe and decide it doesn't look so good, so we decide to pass. i'm walking toward the exit, and suddenly it's my dad, not my mom. we walk into the only apparent way out: a tiny blank white room, as if under construction. i ask a waiter if this is the elevator, and he says of course.

it looks barely painted, unfinished, and entirely inappro- priate for such a fancy restaurant. worse, the back left corner appears to have a punch hole in the top; there's a jagged opening in the ceiling and the plaster seems all in shards. but when i look more carefully, i see that the jags are actually intended, that the plaster is all made of interlocked, unbelievably subtle lettering, and then i see that in fact the whole room is made of such lettering, only perceivable when you try to see it. it is intricate and exquisite in the extreme -- and clearly a joke on the patrons to think that the restaurant had failed them. especially when crowded, there'd be almost no chance of thinking that the elevator was anything other than a travesty. but no. it's consummate art. loved it.

the food, by the way, is the other stuff of dreams: buckwheat pasta, parsnips w/ greens (the leaves of which were absolutely delicious), and the best beans i've ever had. sorry, steve from rancho gordo; i still have a dozen or so of yours to try, but the bar has been raised. if all goes well, i'll bring 10 pounds of these home w/ me and all of you will get to taste them. they are the legume equivalent of a hot sulphur spring: so minerally, good for you, rich, dense, and gratifying you can't believe it. i've been making tuscan-style bean sandwiches w/ kaymak, ajvar, pickled veggies, beans, and a drizzle of olive oil. superb.

unlabeled bottles -- yeah!


among the few regrets i have in life is never having been on horseback on a dustblown plain out west and had my brother, also on horseback, put a cork back in an label-less bottle and toss it to me for a swig.

my version instead is to purchase mystery homemade liquors in all countries of the world, raising local eyebrows, risking eyesight, and enjoying every incendiary drop.

obviously, the above is a bottle of rakija, we have no idea what type, delivered by one of danica's friends named Bojana -- a dentist -- as a present from her boss, who heard i like the indigenous hooch. head dentist, buddy, this one is for you. i won't tell that you've been using it to anesthetize both your pre-op patients -- and yourself.

(oh, and here's the picture, by the way, of the rest of the spread she brought, food compliments of her grandmother: homemade ajvar, sublimely delicate cabbage rolls, roast pork, the rakija, and roast lamb. score!)

now, assuming the liquor bottle does in fact, tragically, have a label, the thing you're clearly after is the hand-written type, or at least the hand-numbered small batch, as in this delightful case, a delivery from another of danica's friends (apparently my reputation is beginning to precede me). this one is from the provinces down south, and apparently the one the friend's dad drinks (natch). she also brought a homemade jar of ajvar, as you can see. delicious.

of course i can't bring any of these home in their bottles proper, so many of you can look forward to my own barely labeled bottle special: the former water bottle with the label ripped off and the name of the alcohol written into the residual glue left behind. apparently my left-behind half-liter bottles that say:
G
I
N
down the middle have traumatized some visitors to my brother's home. sorry about that, Stoli Beri drinkers everywhere.

to know your double-goer, and for him to be famous and dead

this could be my bio:
•born while dad is in grad school
•elder of two children
•moved to and spent early life in champaign, IL
•dad prof at Univ of Illinois
•eventually went to public school in Urbana, IL
•prodigy in math
•went east for college
•double majored in philosophy and lit
•considered (briefly) grad school in philo
•had extremely unkempt long hair
•became a writer
•suffered depression
•wrote fiction and nonfiction
•taught at a university
•loved tennis
•loved dogs

and in fact, it is. it is also the bio of the late David Foster Wallace.

when i consider my frustrations with my career, i would do well to think that much of his writing is what i would like mine to be, his notoriety what i covet, yet still he tied a noose for himself at the apex of it all.

Monday, November 22, 2010

sparkle in the eye

first, a guest entry from my brother (who is just back from a bbq weekend retreat w/ my dad in KC -- details to follow, apparently):

"bro, i made some hot sauce from annesa's peppers (her dad has a big garden). it's really good but it's so fucking hot i can't believe it. whole body heat. i have a jar for you. you'll love it but you'll also live in fear of it. i really should bottle it and sell it. i gotta say it's the best tasting almost inedible hot sauce i've ever had."

so, yes, my family takes vacations just to eat meat, then comes home and we exchange hot sauce for the holidays. good times.

in other news, i met this utterly adorable little guy while on my way back from the market (yes, with leeks). he was so cute and excited i can barely tell you (note the paw placement in the fence). when you see the sparkle in his eyes in the last photo, you'll know why i think i could move out of the city and be happy just having a dog and playing tennis every day -- even if i'm living in my van.

on the food front, i did in fact eat at the hunter's lodge. had a venison goulash, yummy, and continued to scandalize my friend by eschewing silverware and instead simply mopping bread in sauce for every bite then taking home all the meat at the end.

clearly you've all been waiting for your serbian thug bird gang update. well, today i saw about 6 of the crows torment and herd about 3 dozen seagulls, driving them to various corners of the soccer pitch and then finally shooing them away altogether. these is a no-nonsense avian mafia, i'm telling you. highly organized and capable.


didn't end up writing much this week, as i spent the entire week reading Infinite Jest on my computer (it's a half a million words long, so at the end of each day of nothing but 1120x820 text, i'd get up and walk around like one of the mole people pulled out onto a daylighted Broadway). amazing what a protracted cry for help it was; with hindsight's 20-20, it's haunting (mike moore's word) to see all the signs that DFW was going to take his own life. tragic.

as for the book, it's clearly the Gravity's Rainbow of our generation -- intentionally so, i think -- and a pretty amazing, if flawed and, in my opinion, quite unfinished book. have much more to say but won't go on here about it.

i'll wrap up for now, but coming soon: two dreams -- the white elevator in fancy restaurant and mike tyson meets my family

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

the $1 lunch experiment

here is the chronicle of The One-dollar Lunch Experiment , otherwise known as a one-man, 4-crockpot, itsy-bitsy social experiment — if not the first seed of a revolution.

Ok, that's an exaggeration, I don't think there's going to be a revolution, and even if there was a revolution, I think the effects would be short-lived, as they seem to have been with every other (have you heard me tell the story about being in Prague in October of 1990 and going to the bar where Havel and the Charter 77 revolutionaries would have underground rock shows and poetry readings; a year after the "Velvet revolution," there was a red velvet rope outside the bar and doormen only letting in the cool, well-dressed, beautiful, and those who bribed).

So let's call it a social experiment — not a bad way of thinking about my life as a whole.

The whole thing came about like this. I decided to do an article reviewing crock pots, so I ordered a ton of them and needed to do a lot of testing.

Simul- taneously, I tasted some dried heirloom beans that my brother had ordered from a place called Rancho Gordo in Napa. At $5/lb they cost 4 times what I normally spend on dried beans, but the one kind I tried made me want to try the other 26 varieties that they sell.

So I ordered them all.

And I created a spreadsheet with reviews (I'm happy to share it w/ anyone who's interested).

Now the survivalist's perfect storm of having both 4 crockpots and 26 pounds of dried beans in one's apartment at the same time will lead you to some unorthodox thinking. In my case, it led to the desire to feed my office lunch, and to do so such that I could charge them each only $1 a portion and still break even.

It was the perfect economic challenge/mass-providing activity to suit all my psychological needs.

Additionally, it brings me one step closer to my dream of being a 260-lb Baptist woman — now, in addition to the perpetual roots gospel I have playing in my apartment, my basso singing along, my hip-shaking, and now, the capper, my bringing of lunch to 22 people a day, as if I was toting my prized pies or buttermilk fried chicken to the church social or the fair.

So here are the 19 meals i ended up cooking over the 29 business days from sept 21 - nov 1. (didn't use any recipes, but can give basic ideas upon request)

Meals:

1. Malaysian-style curried beef (rendang-like) w/ broc, red pepper, carrot, brown rice $1

2. SW-style chili con carne (pork/chicken livers as secret ingredient), green pepper, brown rice $1

3. Chana masala (chick pea curry) w/ broc, potato, brown rice $1

4. Chinese noodles w/ roast pork, red pepper, baby bok choy, peanut sauce $1

5. Penne w/ mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes, labna, pepper/herbs de provence $1

6. Bbq pulled pork, heirloom flageolet beans, cabbage/cilantro/green pepper no-mayo slaw, rice $2 (couldn't get enough pork shoulder on sale, thus the price)

7. Hunter's stew (lamb, pork, chicharrones), white beans w/ spinach, brown rice $1

8. Re-tread chili (3 leftover chilis/beans from freezer mixed up), rice, cilantro $1

9. Pasta e fagioli (heirloom tepary and giant lima beans, artisinal orecchiete pasta) w/ watercress and sopressata) $2 due to Little Italy last-minute buying

10. peanut noodle dish w/ red peppers and scallions 75 cents (note, here's the pic, but normally i'd have to bring about twice this much food in)

11. 2 curries: french lentil w/ pea shoots/carrots/ghee (vegetarian not vegan), ground pork/red peppers/broc/cilantro and a roasted cauliflower (vegan) and brown rice $1

12. ricotta mini ravioli w/ broccoli rabe, heirloom snowcap beans, luganiga sausage, kalamata olives, fresh basil and tomato sauce: $2 (rabe is expensive)

13. tuscan-inspired sandwich w/ grilled duck hearts, broccoli rabe, white beans, shaved parmesan, and quality olive oil: $1.50

14. ziti w/ "sausage and peppers" -- sausage in the bolognese sauce w/ green pepper $1

15. vegan curried zucchini and brown rice. 75 cents (see pic)

16. heirloom mayocoba beans w/ green pepper, much better chick peas than you're used to (cuz they're not from a can) w/ spinach, brown rice $1

17. syrian-spiced grilled chicken breasts and "succotash" (corn, potato, greens), + chick peas, spinach, rice from yesterday $1.50

18. chicken cacciatore w/ egg noodles, green pepper, steamed yams $2

19. ricotta ravioli w/ zucchini and rich meat sauce (w/ soppressata cubes) $2

my favorite responses were from Kyle who repeatedly said how much he loved the whole idea of the thing (and seemed to enjoy the meals quite a bit too). megan was sweet b/c she had a new favorite every few days (as did margaret). and i got to know the people on the nerve side too, since obviously i opened it up to them.

in all, a blast, even though i'll probably have dishpan hands for all of 2011.

westchester redneck

all,

it's getting toward the holiday season, which puts me into my annual dilemma about whether or not to buy my brother a still for christmas.

he lives in westchester, so i'm dying for him to be cooking up his own hooch in a shed in the backyard, thus confirming that they could take us rednecks out of central Illinois, but couldn't take...

(i also have been trying to get him to host a greater New York roadkill cook-off, but somehow that plan has been stalled as well)

the problem, of course, is that stills sometimes explode (thus some of cormac mccarthy's characters referring to their liquor as 'splo -- and thus i go by Splo for our various sports leagues), and he and i and his wife hillary all love their three kids more than anything on the planet, so i'll need to resolve some safety issues before we proceed.

nonetheless, i'm encouraged by this set up -- and the certainty that my brother will see in it a portrait of my future just as i see in it a portrait of his. we might have to wait till the kids go to college, but there might could be some shine in westchester. just you wait and see.

as to matters more in the here and now, meanwhile, tomorrow i'm going to eat at a place called the Hunter's Lodge/Home. sounds quite promising. apparently i'm also about to be treated to some homemade village rakija and ajvar, which of course thrills me to no end (ajvar is a kind of roasted pepper spread that i'm beginning to think is my favorite food here. it's absolutely killer)

i've also learned the cyrillic alphabet and am now reading street signs everywhere and figuring out all the cognates. my vocabulary is now at a whopping maybe 80 words, but i am surprised at how many greek and latin roots sneak in to this old-church-slavonic-derived language. and now that i've caused acute narcolepsy in all of you, i'll say sweet dreams.

check back in for report on the game at the hunter's lodge. i promise to order any rodent on the menu.