Don't Look a Gift Lunch in the Mouth
The last of the Harrisburg meals varied from poor British Isle fare, like Welsh Rare'bit and baked roots, to Feudal lord-sized lamb burgers from a small farm in Lane County. By that point, we were broke and dinner came down to whatever remained. On the final day of our stay, we were scraping ingredients from the corners of cabinets, half-cans of beans, sprouting potatoes, picking the scanty produce our garden yielded, including raspberries for pancakes, looking for eggs in the hen house and getting brutalized by Stew, the rooster. I woke up one morning and he was a man: innocently, I brought them out a plate of compost, and the minute I pulled back the chicken wire, Stew was lunging at me, talons first. My hair caught on the gate, and I was stuck screaming, switching him with a stick to assert my dominance. By the time Robert came to the back door, I was fleeing across the lawn, trailed by a rooster with murder in his eye. "Kick him," Robert said. "Kick him so he knows who's boss!" So I turned, the rooster at my shin, and kicked him. He fell back on his tail feathers for a moment only to jettison toward me ten-fold -- and now I'd kicked a rooster.
I got back to Brooklyn a week ago, early in the morning, and then slept for three hours. When I got up, it appeared the auto-drip had broken in my absence, so a house guest made some cowboy coffee in a sauce pan. When she poured it into mugs, the grounds floated at the top for a second but she assured me they would sink, and at worst, I'd strain a little through my teeth. We sat on my fire escape, drinking a great, deep, smooth cup of dark Italian coffee, smoking a cigarette, and I couldn't have been happier to be anywhere else. For those first few days, almost all of my friends were gathered in 260 Gates, between three apartments, and returning to Brooklyn is like returning to my wildest dreams only no dreaming. Gab and I met Matthew on the sand in Brighton Beach, where he lives now, and swam, and afterward picked out things from a Russian deli -- they're so good at boiling and stuffing! Beef and carrot dumpling, the bottom of which is soft, white chicken, cabbage rolls -- including tarragon soda, and then had a sheet picnic on the beach. It was July 2nd, but there were four firework displays going on along the bay, one right there on Coney Island.
Then I started working full time, running the little health food store I've worked at since I moved to Brooklyn, just for a week while my boss visited his family in the Dominican Republic. Early one morning, grabbing my coffee next door, I met a spry, sharp elderly Israeli man wearing Nike Dunks, a cowboy hat, and using his iPhone. He asked me if I was from Virginia, said I looked like I came from an intellectual family, that I must have known growing up that I was loved. He asked if he could bring me lunch while I worked. At noon he came in, poised but dragging his leg slightly. He set a warm paper bag on the counter and took out two sandwiches: a garlic bagel full of lamb kabob. "I get this every day," he said. "The bagel from the coffee shop, and the lamb from the Arab place. They make my favorite salad," an item that he also produced from the bag, one for each of us: tabbouleh, tomatoes, onion, green cabbage, purple cabbage, lettuce, parsley, onion, a good pickle. "Whatever you don't get from the tomato," he said, "you get from the onion. The calcium and all of that." At the end, a golden brown filo dough pastry that looked like a delicate ball of fishing wire, filled with dates, honey, and walnuts. He told me about New York real estate, about kibbutz in Israel, about Turkish coffee and his boyhood. He brought me this lunch for four days.
Monday, July 5, 2010
Hot Flashbacks, early July
Age--It's February 19th--so in less than ten days, Noah will fly to San Francisco to begin his walk. So last night, we ate. In an "industrial-chic" restaurant hidden in an affluent block (just past the overpass, all of a sudden, we're wealthy). Val works there.
We started with a pint-box of different breads. A sesame white loaf, a wheat sliced a 1/2 inch thick with an almost black crust. Good, talking butter. Noah got the oyster stew--sweet oysters, leeks, and cream. No potatoes, no anxious seasoning. I ate one huge oyster from his bowl. And I with my sweet potato soup--with sage butter and cornbread croutons. We ordered our meals and our waiter had to come back and say, I'm so sorry sir, we're out of the scallops. So Noah changed his order, and by way of an apology, our waiter had someone bring us the cherry glen (is that a place, you think?) oven ricotta. A ramekin with an apple-golden raisin-onion compote, flavored with rosemary, and a browned cut of ricotta cheese on top, served with nut crisps.
Mushroom-Leek Mosaic (this is what I mean by "chic"--a meal isn't a meal, it's a mosaic)--a bit of sweet potato puree with brussels leaves, raw clover, faro, kale, garlic, and of course tender, meaty mushrooms. It wasn't MFK-style, because the vegetables weren't treated as vegetables--they were treated better than most people. And Noah's replacement meal. The oven blackened sea bass, it came to us smiling, it was like the Roald Dahl description of the perfect hunks of white fish he ate poached in Norway. Only I thought that wasn't real, thought it was like Turkish delight, and when you find out what it really tastes like, you wish you only read about it. But this. Fingerling potatoes in some tangy white sauce, pea shoots, and olives. The whole fish and his backbone, gutted and stuffed with mint sprigs and lemon wedges. He ate the whole thing, complimented the jaw meat because he'd heard it was supposed to be very good. Ate the crisp skin but left most of the skeleton organized as the day it was born.
After, I ordered a macchiato (Starbucks bastardized the word but you've been to countries that are real. Espresso with a tiny bit of steamed milk and a drop of foam on top, no bigger than a double espresso, and mine came with a heart poured into its dainty face. A dish of coarse amber sugar which of course I didn't use.) Noah got a plain espresso, which was perhaps the best I've had, in that wonderful and rare way where an espresso is unabashed, doesn't mind tasting like espresso and not sharp coffee. If you don't like it...well, you've got very little wild animal, you know? If you can't take the heat, order hot water.
No, I'm just being a prick now.
We ordered the honeyed pear for dessert (whole, stem intact, skin creased with poached sugar) which came on a bed of milk chocolate mousse, bergamot syrup and pine-nut granola. The restaurant was slowing down, and Val (who expedites the kitchen) had time to come and talk, one dish in each hand, a chocolate wafer like a flag sticking out of both. "That's right," she said. "You didn't order ice cream and I wasn't okay with that, because we have the best ice cream in the world." She explained that one was malt ice cream, or, in her words, "improved vanilla," and the other was cocoa sorbet--which Noah and I decided is easily one of the more unique things we've ever eaten. It was dark, so dark you almost couldn't follow it where it was going, icy where it could have been creamy, with an orange flavor that matched the chocolate in strength. It tasted like eating an orange and baker's chocolate in a blizzard.
So a peasants' breakfast then:
Chop some basil and scoop a little butter and throw it into a cup of water with 1/2 cup quinoa. Reduce heat once it's boiling, when it's cooked almost all the way, throw in a 1/2 cup of chickpeas. When quinoa's done, add the juice from 1/4 lemon, 1/4 or so of an avocado chopped, and a teaspoon of capers (who'da thunk? I happened to have them lying around.)
The next morning, Noah told me, "The thought of that meal will sustain me when I've run out of quinoa, and I'm eating bricks of 2300-calorie emergency rations." I gave him The Old Man and the Sea to take on his travels, a copy I actually gave him a few years ago when I used to call him "the marlin," but took it back from him when I decided to release him into the water one time or another. How good to see things floating that we thought would end up on our plates. Smiling, and not stuffed with mint.