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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Respect the Work and Eat it Too

There are certain tensions in the world of good food. Creative chefs like to play and sometimes their play is so successful that it becomes a tradition and sometimes tradition becomes ossified and over-familiar and even not very tasty. So great success breeds its own antithesis. Think of the big culinary wheel turning: Brilliance-Tradition-Boredom-Rebellion-Brilliance. It’s all laid out in the rock opera Tommy and if Max Weber had opened a restaurant, he could have explained it a whole lot better.

Chef Al Paris is a scholar and he plays both ends of this little game. He’s got Heirloom at the top of Chestnut Hill, a brilliant little BYO with a local, quirky, rebellious,surprising menu. I don't want you going there because it's tough enough to get in as it is. He’s also got the Paris Bistro (great coincidence with the name, huh?). He tells us that the Bistro is a place of Respect for Work of Enduring Excellence. It’s a restaurant dedicated to the  Philadelphia-radical idea that  certain great things are worth preserving, no matter how old they become.
I followed Chef to the Weavers Way store in Chestnut Hill to pick up a few things and make one of those classic dishes from the Bistro. Chef Paris’ idea is that once you know the basics, a crêpe makes everything taste better.  You can use the words in bold below for your shopping list. What follows is one of the Bistro’s Crêpes of the Day.

In a high-sided sauce pan over medium heat, put a bit of olive oil and a tablespoon of butter When the butter sizzles, add the scallops. Cook for a minute, turn, then add one-inch strips of salmon. After another minute, add some small shrimp. 
Turn the seafood until the salmon loses its shiny newness, then add some finely chopped leeks and shavings of fennel. Wait a few heartbeats and throw in chopped garlic.
(When the leeks begin to wilt, you can add a splash of pernod, tilt the pan and let the alcohol burn off. Many cooks would be satisfied at this point-having set flesh on fire- and turn to leave the kitchen. Resist that temptation, there are good things ahead.)
At Paris Bistro, Chef Paris adds some reduced broth from bouillabaise. On the off-chance that you are out of bouillabaise, try some clam juice or fish stock. Finish the seafood with some chopped tomatoes, an herb of your choice and-of course-a dash of cream.
Now the simplest thing to do here is put this puddle of deliciousness in a bowl and attack it with a spoon. At the Paris Bistro, they wrap this baby up in a crêpe. the quick and dirty version of this luscious pancake is to heat a pan medium hot and pour in a batter based on pancake mix. Try these proportions:

1/2 cup Buttermilk Pancake Mix
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups water
2 eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons butter, melted

Be stingy as you pour the batter in the pan, then swirl the pan to get the thinnest possible coating of batter. Use a long spatula to flip the crêpe-the whole process should take just over a minute. You can make the crêpes a bit ahead and keep them covered and warm or you can assign the job to your sous-chef.
At the Bistro we had our crêpe with a glass of white burgundy but you would do as well with the beautifully-crafted La Fin du Monde.
Of course, you can make this recipe your own. You can move the seafood around-Chef himself suggested halibut, skate and cockles. You can toast the spices and go all Thai, you could make a rich, earthy root-vegetable soup as your liquid and so on. But as you play with this idea, you might find it fun to get over to the Paris Bistro every once in a while and check out this Enduring Excellence thing. 

If you want to emulate the elegant presentation at Paris Bistro (and why wouldn't you?), use a slotted spoon to put the fish on the crepe, fold the pancake up as you like and then spoon the sauce on the side of the plate.

If someone offered you that, would you smile?

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

I Couldn't Make This Up

When someone says "I Couldn't Make This Up", I suspect that what they're really saying is sometimes something like "I Wish I'd Made This Up!".

So today's story begins with me and a dog in the car on an early morning drive to Carpenter's Woods to meet all the other dogs and the usual drone of NPR reassuring me that I'm indeed secure in the middle class. It turns out that the story I was listening to was being brought to me thanks to the generosity of the Vermont Teddy Bear Company.

This makes perfect sense. St.Valenbear's Day is approaching and if you can't offer a gift symbolizing grown up love, you may well have to settle for a child-luring substitute-like a teddy bear. (Can't evoke an "ahhhh. . ."? Go for an "awwww.. . . " instead.) This isn't exactly a sign of the civilization I hoped we'd be living in by 2015, but I guess things could be worse.*

But what was the featured bear of the day? Which bear do you think we NPR, Lexus-liberal, locally-grown and pesticide free folks are craving for our beloveds? Here he is:

Yes, it's Fifty Shades of Grey Bear! He'll snuggle you up and tie you down and you'll have to say "Thank you, sir" afterwards. Enjoy!

•if you have any really frightening end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it ideas for valentine gifts, lemme know.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Flying Dog Love

Many years ago, (in 1993) I made up a tarot deck, hand-drew hundreds of the cards, shuffled them and sent out five-card hands to all my friends as a New Year's Card. Some of the cards were

•Flying Dog Love
•Roots in the Ground, Legs in the Air
•Sky Pie
•Wider than it is Tall
•Take a Tumble

The whole thing was pretty Alice-in-post-psychedelic Land and I had a lot of fun with it. My favorite card was Flying Dog Love, which was a prediction of Wholly Undeserved Good Fortune. I've always remembered FDL and I've wished it on many people many times, but I didn't seem to have any of the cards around until last week. I found one little version of the FDL graphic and so I send it to all of you.
Wishing you a 2015 stockpot full of Flying Dog Love:

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Besetting Repeating Sins

I'm really not sure what 'sins' are. For the moment I'm going with the idea of repeated failures to do the good and the beautiful. I considered two of mine in Radiation Days: Laziness and Fear. Then yesterday, when I was doodling with scissors (which is not at all like running with scissors), I realized that L & F have at least one child. Its portrait below:

And I'm really glad I could post this before breakfast, because I have so much to do today.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Fat Boys On Fire For You

A few years ago,  I was married and living on Addison St. near Rittenhouse Square. There were five of us: my wife Judith, our daughter Spencer, Bill the Dog and Spike the Cat and me. It was that decade's version of the large, happy family. I was insanely happy even as I was always conscious of the clock ticking, of knowing that this was a mere moment.
One of the things we did to celebrate ourselves was to send out holiday cards. But of course, we didn't take a picture under the tree and walk down to the printer. No. We made handmade cards, a hundred or so. It was a project that delighted us and celebrated the very thing we were happy about.
The cards were usually relief prints (the churlish would call them rubber stamps), hand-colored, mounted in mat board and always a trifle odd. It was to Judith's credit that she indulged my oddness, or maybe in those years, she was a bit odd too.
The cards went out a bit before Christmas or a bit after. We took to calling them New Year's cards because it usually took us that long to get the project together. Just gettng the right color envelopes in a size that matched this year's card could take weeks.
Here's the card from 1991:

I'm working on this year's card. I promise to have it out by St. Patrick's Day and if I have your mailing address, you'll probably get one. In the meantime, I hope that somewhere, there are at least a few fat boys on fire for you.

Thursday, January 22, 2015


Back in the 1990's, I wrote a novel about a guy who sets out to kill someone. In a perversion of the usual wisdom, his resolve to commit murder is what redeems him. This month, January 2015, there's an agent interested in the book. So of course, I've gone over it again, hired a proofreader and now it's back out in the world.
Here's how it starts:

I remember exactly when I decided to kill Jim Pifkie. It was just before noon on a Tuesday morning, after a long Columbus Day weekend. I celebrated Columbus with three days of drinking, cursing and pissing on my shoes. By Tuesday I was way past drunk and well into poisoned; if Congress had proclaimed Columbus Week instead of Columbus Day, I would have drunk myself to death.
On the Friday before the festivities, I turned in two restaurant reviews ahead of deadline. I wrote the foreword for somebody else’s book of recipes, sent out some queries about a winery in Graz, Austria and edited that week’s tasting notes. Then I put my work away and started drinking: whole, cedary, scratchy, dirty bottles of dark red wine. By Sunday I was sure I was dying. Someplace in the sour-smelling little vestibule in front of drinking-yourself-to-death, I saw my mother’s face, pinched and staring. The face didn’t look at me or move its lips, but I heard her voice saying, “You’re not the one who should die.” Then I heard my own voice saying the name of the one who should. 

  Deciding to kill Pifkie was the best thing I did all day. Oh sure, it was the same day I screamed obscenities at my oldest living relative and threw a wine bottle at a male prostitute. And I almost bit a fat lady on the saggy flesh at the back of her neck. Drooled all over her, in fact. Good stuff, highlights-film stuff. But none of it was half as satisfying as deciding that I was going to kill Jim Pifkie. 

I spent a lot of time with this story, I may have even been in love with it once. Anyway, there was a big birthday in New York last month and on the list of baubles that would make a perfect year, getting Killers published is near the top.

Stay tuned.

If you ever want to really embarrass yourself,
design a cover for one of your own books.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Did you ever feel a bit awkward in the presence of beauty?

 I've been feeling a bit of that lately, at least 'til I took a trip to New York. Then I felt a lot of that. It's not a question of feeling inadequate, it's more like getting the knee-wobblies knowing how much there is to do.