As I’ve been compelled to email this very good bouillabaisse-like recipe from Ondi to myself a number of times over the past couple of years, it seems more convenient and sociable to put to put it on the blog. Here goes.
Fry in olive oil. Add:
- Cumin seed
- Coriander seed
- Several sprigs of thyme
- 2 bay leaves
- Fennel seed
- Several cloves garlic (pressed or finely chopped)
- Sea salt to taste
When onions are golden add:
- 1 can of San Marzano DOP tomatoes (can be chopped beforehand, and can substitute fresh Roma tomatoes if sufficiently good ones are available)
Cook down for a good 20 minutes. Then add:
- Chicken broth or fish stock till the base is as thick or thin as you like.
- When that’s cooked about 20 minutes, add assorted seafood. Typically:
- Salmon, in chunks cut from a steak is easiest
- Spot prawns
I use the prawn shells and heads to make the stock.
For extra joy, I also add sea scallops at the end, which I’ve seared in butter and flamed with Pernod.
This should be served with a crusty bread.
Posted in food
Tagged food, recipe
Our good friend Blaine is gearing up for the publication of his new book, Escape From Camp 14.
It’s about a young man who has managed to escape from the most brutal of North Korea’s giant concentration camps, eventually making it to the US. The story is absolutely harrowing. North Korea’s total insularity seems to have kept most of the world from really understanding what’s going on inside— senseless horrors on a truly grand scale. It’s a bit like imagining a Nazi Germany turned entirely inward rather than bent on dominating other countries. In this scenario, would the rest of the world have stood by while the atrocities were committed? The answer appears to be ‘yes’.
Over the past year, through lots of long family dinners and hurried hellos at the neighborhood coffeeshop, I’ve had the good fortune and honor to see Blaine develop Escape From Camp 14 from an idea, through several drafts, and of course through the ups and downs that go with this kind of project. Blaine is a pro at this, and in addition to his very prolific career as a reporter, he has written some great books— A River Lost: The Life and Death of the Columbia (hurry! Amazon says only 11 left in stock!), and Africa: Dispatches from a Fragile Continent, which Adrienne and I each read in about a day on an Africa jag that I remember also included Beryl Markham’s autobiography and What Is The What. I have a feeling, though, that the timeliness of Escape From Camp 14, as well as the extraordinary source material, might make it his big bestseller. I certainly hope so— this is a story that needs to be read by many. It comes out next month, and you can preorder it now.
Blaine enlisted me to do the voiceover on his promo video. He assures me it turned out OK, though I can’t actually listen to it. There’s something horrifying about hearing your own voice recorded.
Before the five Equalizing pieces, I made an invention in d minor to begin experimenting with counterpoint:
Invention in d minor
This was the first thing I recorded on the little personal recording device. It’s a bit of a mess, but posting it anyway, as it has some ideas that might be worth returning to when I’ve improved. It’s recorded in two passes, since I can’t yet articulate all four voices in realtime (and this leads to some timing problems). I used the harpsichord setting, both because it seemed appropriate and because in the beginning I felt unable to control the piano dynamics well enough.
So I’ll now take a deep breath and post the first edible fruit of my labor. The performance is of course imperfect, since I’m not an actual pianist, and the piece should also be considered a draft, as there are places where it still needs editing. But I do hope it manages to cross the threshold into music.
- Equalizing I (Tone pattern)
- Second phases
- Equalizing II (Clockwork)
- Night train
- Equalizing III (Indonesia)
OK, some liner notes.
Equalizing is in five movements, where the first, third and fifth are variations I, II and III on a central idea, while the second and fourth are interludes.
The ascending octave tone pattern in the variations is something from childhood. It was an analog equalizer, one of our pieces of stereo equipment, which when put in tone generator mode would light up the sliders in sequence while playing the progression of octaves, from a bass you felt in your stomach to an inaudible dog-whistle. Sometimes when we’re young we become obsessed with apparently trivial sensations— I remember watching our kids at the beach very slowly dribbling sand through their fingers for hours. I’m not sure exactly what’s going on during these long unprompted meditations which would try the patience of a Zen monk, maybe it’s significant, maybe not. But I certainly remember many of those times. I remember the sense of flow, the engagement of all of the senses at once even when the input was purely visual, or purely auditory. And I remember the limbic power of those intensities, the disembodied yet primary-colored emotion, hypnotic and unregulated. Even the echo of that is a treasure.
Yes, I know I made overmuch use of the sustain pedal.
Connoisseurs of the WPRB school will notice the influences of John Fahey and Guy Klucevsek, as well as Steve Reich and Arvo Pärt. Like the last two, I’ve tried to build around a stripped-down harmonic armature (though I haven’t been as rigorous about sticking to it as those sages). This feels consistent with the octave tone pattern at the core of Equalizing, which on the one hand is trivial in that it lacks any harmonic structure at all. On the other hand, containing nothing but powers of two, it’s neither major nor minor, but hovers behind and above this passing weather in a kind of mathy space beyond sad or happy. Is it just me, or is this naked precursor to tonality already thrumming with feeling?
A couple of months ago I began playing with our new digital* piano. What a lovely thing a keyboard instrument is! You just push a button, and out comes a perfect note— hard if you hit it hard, soft if you hit it softly, and never out of tune. The buttons feel great and they’re laid out in a neat row. The tonal range yawns across many octaves. You’re limited only by the physics of your hands. It feels like cheating compared to every other instrument I’ve ever played. No wonder music began really taking off when this technology was introduced.
(*Why digital? Because it has headphones.)
Not that I can be said to actually play the piano. Over the past couple of months I’ve “learned” it in much the same haphazard way I learned to type thirty years ago— without any discipline or technique whatsoever, driven purely by the urgent desire to transduce. (Now that I think of it, most of what I know is characterized by this rather sloppy approach.) I’m sure I could achieve better results by studying it properly with a teacher, and I’m still painfully slow at reading from the staff. But: I began making music anyway, with the piano, a handheld recorder, and some notation software. There have been some late nights.
Posted in music
Tagged music, piano
Over the past year I’ve set the kids a number of treasure hunts, which are both fun to make and always in demand. Like anything one tries a few times, it’s gotten quicker. This morning’s was assembled in record time and under duress. It turned out decently given constraints and incorporated a shopping trip, though I’m regretting not having made Eliot’s half of it harder. Next time..
The structure usually works like this. Clues are written on slips of paper, which are hidden in various places, each pointing to the next. There’s some sort of prize at the end. These were the clues:
The library is useful as a place to hide clues— it’s a source of fun things to read, and shelf column, row and book number form a coordinate system, which is good for math problems.
The Dylan Thomas poem was Where once the waters of your face, with the following clues in a jar of salt and in sage:
Thanks to Ilse for taking over from A5/E6. She MMS’d me their favorite Schiele paintings from 1909-10,
.. after which I texted back the final clue leading to their prizes:
I hope not to get in trouble for posting, verbatim and with minimal commentary, an update we’ve just received from Eliot’s kindergarten. I find this fascinating and, in its way, rather utopian:
As you know, we have been experimenting in our room with different kinds of learning supports for our classroom, such as “wiggle spots” to sit on, headphones for quieter concentration, and “private offices.” Many of the kids seem to have high oral needs right now, so we introduced two “chew tools” this week — chewy straws and gum. The gum is all natural, no chemical sweeteners, and sugar free (sweetened with xylitol). We will continue to supply straws as needed as well as chewy snacks at choice time. The gum seems to work better than the straws and be more hygenic as it does not touch hands or other surfaces once it is in the mouth.
A need to chew on pencils, clothing or hair is a common kindergarten behavior, and providing alternate chewing experiences can help focus and concentration as well as be relaxing for kids. However, gum is not a choice for all families, so if you would prefer that your child not use this chew tool, please let me know.
This is different from the kindergarten of memory.
Like the fried fiori di zucca, there are some dishes whose ratio of low effort to extraordinary result seems like a violation of some natural— or at least moral— law. This is one such. The recipe comes originally from Frank, the Tuscan restaurant on 2nd Avenue between 5th and 6th Street in New York, which was for a while in the late 90s an undiscovered beauty but has suffered being written up, famous and mobbed for many years now. Frank is still very much worth the visit, especially at 11:46pm on a Tuesday. Frank, the man, was kind enough to share this improbable fennel stunt with us back in the day. The flavor was so complex that we were hard-pressed to believe that it was a three ingredient dish. Frank, you shitting me? (Accompanied by appropriate large-amplitude hand gestures.) Of course, when two of the ingredients are the most perfect hard cheese ever invented and an aromatic bulb full of complex polycyclic whatsits, one understands that the “simplicity” is only superficial.
Take one or more bulbs of fresh fennel and wrap them tightly in tinfoil with no leaks. Roast them in the oven at 375 degrees for.. a good while. Open them carefully over a bowl, as you want to save any liquor that may escape. The bulb should be soft and juicy all the way through.
Cut each bulb in half lengthwise and put into a ramekin. Don’t leave too much surrounding space. Pour all the juice in there. Now, coat with heavy cream and a generous quantity of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. Don’t be fainthearted about this— the fennel should be nearly submerged. (That’s why you cut them in half and used individually-sized ramekins.) Put these ramekins back into the oven at Fahrenheit 451 or so— the temperature at which good sense burns. When the guys are good and cooked, you can grate a bit more Parmigiano on top and run them under the broiler very briefly to char the upper surface.
This needs to be accompanied by a nice crusty baguette, because the bits of fonduta or whatever the hell it is surrounding the intensely flavored fennel bulbs will be consumed by you and your friends one way or another, with a discreetly swirled finger if all else fails.
The season won’t last much longer, so it seems a good time to share the technique we use for making one of the loveliest things one can pop into one’s mouth, e.g. with a glass of prosecco before dinner with friends: fried zucchini flowers. It seems that many people do complicated things with these flowers, like using them in soups or stuffing them with goat cheese, but in my opinion this is the very definition of gilding the lily.
There’s not much to it. You heat up an inch of light oil to just below the smoke point. While that’s happening, you mix flour and water to make a smooth, fluid batter the consistency of heavy cream. You slit the zucchini flowers along one side and spread them out to form a sort, um, let’s call it a frilly dress-like shape, maximizing the surface area. You coat the flowers lightly in batter, slip them into the oil, and take them out with tongs when they just begin to brown, laying them on a paper towel. (Which should be kept well clear of the hot oil and flames.) Sprinkle generously with coarse sea salt and serve without delay. Unfortunately it can be quite hard to get any in yourself when you’re sweating over the hot oil doing this for friends, as they seem to disappear immediately. Anselm alone has been responsible for making off with the lion’s share of this course.
Appearances notwithstanding, the flowers one usually uses are the males, which grow on stems. This recipe can be used for female flowers also, which appear a bit later in the season. In Italy one can often find small zucchini (only a couple of inches long) fresh enough to come with the female flowers still attached; cutting the whole thing in half lengthwise and proceeding as above yields a lovely sort of culinary centaur, half fried zucchini flower, half zucchini tempura. Move over, Jeffrey Eugenides!
Posted in food
Tagged food, italy, recipe
Nancy made this for us last year, and it was great. Apparently a classic. Adding it to the blog now because it’s today’s shopping list.
- 4 chickens, 2½ pounds each, quartered
- 1 head of garlic, peeled and finely pureed
- ¼ cup dried oregano
- coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
- ½ cup red wine vinegar
- ½ cup olive oil
- 1 cup pitted prunes
- ½ cup pitted Spanish green olives
- ½ cup capers or caperberries with a bit of juice
- 6 bay leaves
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1 cup white wine
- ¼ cup chopped Italian parsley or cilantro
In a large bowl combine garlic, oregano, salt and pepper, vinegar, olive oil, prunes, olives, capers with caper juice, and bay leaves. Add the chicken pieces and coat completely with the marinade. Cover and let marinate, refrigerated, several hours or overnight.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Arrange chicken in a single layer in one or two large, shallow baking pans and spoon marinade over it evenly. Sprinkle chicken pieces with brown sugar and pour white wine around them.
Bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour, basting frequently with the sauce. Chicken is done when thigh pieces, pricked with a fork at their thickest point, yield clear yellow juice (not pink).
With a slotted spoon, transfer chicken, prunes, olives, and capers to a serving platter. Add sauce and sprinkle with parsley or cilantro.