fish stew

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.

  • An onion.

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)
  • Saf­fron
  • Sea salt to taste
  • Pernod.

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:
  • Monk­fish
  • Salmon, in chunks cut from a steak is easiest
  • Spot prawns
  • Clams
  • Mus­sels

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.


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escape from camp 14

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.


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invention

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.


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equalizing

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.

  1. Equal­iz­ing I (Tone pattern)
  2. Sec­ond phases
  3. Equal­iz­ing II (Clockwork)
  4. Night train
  5. 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?


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piano

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.


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treasure hunt

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:

My notes:

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:


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kindergarten: saudade do futuro

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.


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fennel indecency

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.

Serve.

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.


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fiori di zucca

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!


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chicken marbella

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.


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