Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Irene Khin Wong, Please Open a Restaurant!

Recently I've been pining for Irene Khin Wong's cooking. I think it was the bad news from Myanmar that reminded me of her good food. Irene was the chef-owner of what I believe was New York's first Burmese restaurant, Road to Mandalay, on Broome Street, in the 'eighties. Road to Mandalay was fantastic, and based on meals there I thought I loved Burmese cuisine. After trying a number of other Burmese restaurants, in New York and San Francisco, I discovered that it wasn't Burmese food per se that I loved, but rather Irene's amazing touch that turned Burmese home cooking and street food into haute cuisine. Irene's remarkable and affable hostessing skills added yet another dimension. Her beauty and intelligence didn't hurt either. It was a tragedy when Road to Mandalay closed.

After the demise of Road to Mandalay I became friendly with one of Irene's brothers, who was a fellow computer programmer where I was working. When I was planning a trip to Vietnam in the mid-90s he told me that Irene was living in Saigon at the time. He gave me her contact info, and she graciously invited me to tea at her home in an upscale section of the city. Irene spent three years in Vietnam, where she worked as a culinary consultant and traveled around Southeast Asia picking up recipes and techniques. I met her toward the end of her stay.

When Irene returned to the states she started a catering business rather than another restaurant. With Saffron 59 she is now one of the most successful Asian caterers in New York, specializing in food from all over Southeast Asia. Her recipes have appeared in numerous newspapers and magazines, including the New York Times, Food Arts, and New York Magazine. Her clients have included major corporations, the Clintons, Donald Trump and Annie Leibovitz.

I'm sure she doesn't miss the headaches of day-to-day restaurant operation, but surely catering is similarly stressful. I really wish Irene would consider opening another restaurant. If she did, I suspect, given her current reputation, it would be considerably more high-end than Road to Mandalay. I could live with that.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Event: Kitchen, la Cuisine Transportable

I thought this might be of interest to readers in New York.

M i d - M a n h a t t a n L i b r a r y


"Kitchen la cuisine transportable"

Thorsten Baensch and Christine Dupuis

Tuesday November 6, 2007

6:30 p.m. on the 6th floor

Mid-Manhattan Library

The New York Public Library

40th Street and 5th Avenue

New York, NY 10016


"Kitchen, la cuisine transportable" is a performance project by Thorsten Baensch and Christine Dupuis. Founded in 2001, it has been shown in cultural centers, galleries, museums, and schools located in Brussels , Courtrai, Düsseldorf, Munich , Paris and Tunis .

A cardboard construction plastered with paper-plate drawings, handwritten recipes, notes, etc. the Kitchen acts as a backdrop for the artists to barter soup, tea and marzipan in return for visitors’ personal recipes or drawings. "We create an atmosphere where people can sit, eat and talk with us" Baensch explains. "It’s a social project, and exchange is at its center." The collection has grown to around 1500 recipes, drawings, food related texts and other documents forming the core of an extraordinary book project which will be on display.

Thorsten Baensch, born in Heide ( Germany ) in 1964, has lived and worked in Brussels since 1991. He is an artist and publisher, and has worked as a bookseller and book production manager in Hamburg , Munich , Cologne and New York . He studied painting in Brussels and Milan . In 1995 he established Bartleby & Co. a small artist enterprise for artist’s books and editions. His limited edition books are held in many prestigious collections such as Bayerische Staatsbibliothek (München), Centre Pompidou (Paris), Museum of Modern Art ( New York ), New York Public Library, Tate Gallery ( London ), and Van Abbemuseum ( Eindhoven ).

Christine Dupuis, born in Marcinelle ( Belgium ) in 1946, lives and works in Brussels . She has worked with food since her childhood. She is an artist and "conseillère culinaire." Nowadays she spends her time creating installations. Since 2001, she has collaborated with Thorsten Baensch on the “Kitchen, la cuisine transportable” performance project.

This program has been funded by Commisariat général aux relations internationales (CGRI) de la Communauté française de Belgique, Renilde Loeckx-Drozdiak General Consul of Belgium , and private funders. With additional November performances to be held at Kimmel Center ( New York University ), Roosevelt Hall ( Brooklyn College ) and Goethe-Institut New York .

Elevators access the 6th floor after 6p.m.

All events are FREE and subject to last minute change or cancellation.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


I've gone on the occasional diet for most of my life. I'm on one now, about a month into it. This latest one was long overdue. Food blogging is a dangerous avocation.

Until the age of six or seven I was a skinny kid. So skinny that my family was actually worried about it. Then, all of a sudden, I became a fat boy. I've been battling the scale ever since.

As an adolescent and teenager I followed specific diets from books. Sometimes I counted calories and often I went on high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets. The latter existed before the widespread fad of the asinine, and I suspect life-threatening, Atkins diet. They were known by names like "The Air Force Diet" and "The Drinking Man's Diet." As a fourteen-year-old my idea of a diet was gorging on Genoa salami and provolone without bread. I wasn't usually successful.

My most successful diet was in 1987, when I lost 35 pounds in 3 months. How did I do it? By eating very little, avoiding high-calorie items, and stuffing myself with lots of vegetable fiber. I ate enough steamed broccoli to last a lifetime. The diet was tough going, but I discovered a survival mechanism that worked for me: sniffing. In fact, I told people I was on the sniffing diet. Across the street from my office was a sausage guy. At lunch I'd eat a bunch of vegetables at my desk, then I'd go out and loiter by the sausage cart, sniffing Italian sausages and onions. It was surprisingly satisfying. I'd grab food sniffs wherever I could during the day. Indian restaurants are often pretty generous when it comes to offering their aromas to the street. The sense of smell is, of course, a major factor in taste, so why shouldn't a sniff provide satisfaction? Sure it's only partial, but I was glad for what I could get and still stay on my diet. Many people wouldn't be able to do it, I know. A sniff would send them over the precipice and they'd have to eat the sausage. Many would then call the diet a failure and return to a full-time occupation of pigging out. Well, I figure it all boils down to what you really want more--to lose weight or to give in to this particular form of gratification. I figure anybody without a bona fide eating disorder should be able to stick to a diet if they really want to lose weight. When I lost those 35 pounds I was over thirty, so I was old enough to realize that three months wasn't such a long time; I'd be able to eat what I loved in due time. Then I was able to keep the weight off for a couple of years with a month-on/month-off plan. I decided that in alternating months I'd either keep to a fairly austere diet or eat anything I wanted. In the eating months it's impossible, if you don't have an eating disorder, to eat enough to negate the dieting months, and in the dieting months the light at the end of the tunnel was never too far away. A funny thing happened. Ever since I was a fat kid I could never eat certain foods, say ice cream, without a certain twinge of guilt. Well now, in the anything-goes months, I could eat anything I wanted and feel no guilt. It was incredibly liberating. Unfortunately, the alternating month routine somehow got lost in the shuffle.

Otherwise I've followed a similar dieting pattern ever since, though not as extreme, and I usually manage to drop 10 pounds in a month or two. It does get more challenging with age, more so for women, I understand. This time I'm aiming for 15 pounds by Christmas. If I don't drop 15 pounds by Christmas I'll stay on the diet until I do. If I lose 15 pounds before Christmas, tough on me, I still stay on the diet until Christmas. I'll let you know how I do.

I never follow any official or fad diet; I mainly cut out or cut back severely on certain food categories, resulting in a low-carbohydrate, low-fat, low-calorie diet without any counting involved, though I estimate I'm consuming less than 1,500 calories a day. Generally I start the day with a bowl of cereal, with Almond Breeze, which I prefer to milk anyway. That's my major starch of the day. I don't eat bread, pasta, rice, etc. I don't eat sweets or desserts when I'm dieting, which isn't much of a problem for me since those aren't among my major weaknesses. I rarely consume dairy products, so avoiding them isn't a problem. I avoid fried foods and fatty meats. I've been eating lots of fish, grilled chicken (no skin), and a tiresome amount of sliced turkey breast (plain, smoked, and pastrami-seasoned). I've also discovered Hebrew National 97% fat-free hot dogs (sans buns, of course). They taste surprisingly like the real thing, but are 45 calories each compared to 150 for regular hot dogs, three for the caloric price of one. I eat them with sauerkraut and green peppercorn Dijon mustard. I'm not usually a between-meals snacker, but since I'm eating smaller meals I snack on fresh fruit a couple of times a day. That also helps to keep cravings for more malignant sweets at bay. Pickles also make a great snack. I avoid certain classes of restaurant altogether, especially Indian and Latin American, where it would be difficult to find items that would fit within my limitations. When I do go out it tends to be to Japanese, Vietnamese or Middle Eastern places, where it's easy to get grilled foods or salads.

The secrets to sticking to a diet are fairly simple, for me, at least. It's pretty much common sense stuff, the kind of advice dietitians and nutritionists have been dishing out for years. I have to be ready to make the commitment and I have to really want to lose the weight enough to deny myself a panoply of culinary pleasures, temporarily. And realizing that it's only temporary, that I'll be able to gnaw on pork fat again in a couple of months, is essential (though I'm not sure the dietitians would recommend this attitude). Eating smaller meals is also essential, as is the realization that not being "full" isn't the same as being hungry. Not owning a scale helps. I can't obsessively weigh myself and possibly get discouraged by the numbers. Weight loss doesn't always follow a steady trajectory, so ultimately it's really about how you feel and how your clothes fit (better and better, thank you). Finally, the very pursuit and challenge of weight loss has to provide enough satisfaction and pleasure to allow one to put those more sublime pleasures on the back burner. Temporarily.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Nostalgia for Kerala (and its food)

I've visited the state of Kerala, on India's Malabar Coast, twice in the 1990s. It's my favorite part of India. There are beautiful beaches and backwaters, places of great historical interest, reflecting the region's varied colonial past, and an overall sense of contentment and well-being among the people. It has the highest literacy rate of any state in India (largely a result of years of Marxist local rule), and though generally a poor, agrarian region, the poverty isn't abject. As a traveler you're not confronted by a constant parade of beggars or relentless hawkers. Kerala is a success story of the developing world.

In 1991 I visited Cochin, and about five years later I traveled more extensively within Kerala.

I wrote the following as part of a letter to a friend after that first trip:

Cochin is situated on a number of islands, along with a mainland district called Ernakulam. Ernakulam is not particularly interesting, but it's the best location as far as traveling logistics are concerned. I arrived there mid-afternoon and took a walk around town, stopping in at what was billed as an international food fair, which consisted of five or six booths run by hotels and restaurants, serving north Indian, south Indian, Chinese food, pizza and ice cream, in addition to a couple of kitchenware displays. I stopped at a stand run by the Cochin rotary club which served 21 (count 'em) varieties of dosa. That night I took a sunset cruise on the Arabian Sea, followed by dinner at my hotel, the Sealord. As Cochin is a coastal city, seafood is bountiful, and the Sealord does it up well.

The next day I took the state-run tour. The tour covers a lot of ground in 3 1/2 hours that, due to travel logistics, would be much more time consuming to do on your own. The boat takes you to the major sights on various islands, but the stops were, I felt, too rushed.

Cochin has such an interesting range of sights due to its setting and history--variously controlled by the Indians, Portuguese, Dutch, English and back to the Indians. There were Christians in Kerala way before the Portuguese arrived, and now the state is about 20% Christian--you see a lot of blessed virgins and people wearing crosses around Cochin, and at the settlement of Fort Cochin there's an old Portuguese church, St. Francis, surrounded by houses that look like English country cottages. By the water are a number of these big contraptions known as Chinese fishing nets that have been in use for centuries. In the settlement called Mattanchery is a palace known as the Dutch Palace (originally Portuguese, it was restored and expanded by the Dutch), the highlight of which is a series of beautiful murals depicting scenes from the Ramayana.

Also in Mattanchery, in a neighborhood known as Jewtown, is a 16th century synagogue. Jewtown is a fascinating place. The shops and houses have signs with names like "J.E. Cohen, Tax Advisor" and "Dr. Blossom Simon," all, apparently, old Cochin Jewish names (the Jews settled there about two thousand years ago). There are only about 25 Jews left, most of them elderly. The woman who sells postcards at the synagogue told me that her son, a doctor, lives in Detroit. Jewtown is full of curio and spice shops, and the smells are wonderful. There's also a Jewish cemetery in Jewtown.

One custom that the churches and synagogues have inherited from the dominant culture is that one always removes one's shoes before entering a place of worship.

Later I went to a cassette shop in Ernakulam, in search of typical Keralan music. I don't know why, but when you tell the shopkeepers in far off places that you're looking for the genuine article they never believe you. At first they showed me everything but what I was looking for--north Indian ragas, film songs, even some Tchaikovsky. "No, no, traditional music from Kerala," I insisted. He finally got the message. He brought out a tape of music for Kathakali (the local dance drama) which I eagerly purchased. But the best find was a tape called "Malayalam Devotional Songs" (Malayalam is the local language, very clipped and staccato when spoken, a Dravidian language that is completely unrelated to Hindi). Though they're Hindu songs, the music appears to be greatly influenced by the church, as the male vocal harmonies sound much more western than Indian. The instrumentation is Indian, the melodies slightly Arabic, and the combination is beautiful.

That evening I went to a Kathakali performance, or should I say demonstration. A full Kathakali performance runs many hours, and the tourist version is greatly abbreviated. The presentation included a lecture on Hinduism and its relationship to the dance, followed by a forty-five minute taste of scenes from Kathakali. It's a mannered, gestural, ritualistic dance theatre, similar in some ways to other Asian dance idioms, such as Indonesian and Japanese forms. Traditionally, female roles are portrayed by men. The technique is precise and physically exacting and requires years of study. The stories were originally drawn from Hindu epics, but eventually the lexicon expanded, and recently there have been Kathakali versions of Shakespeare. The dancers have perfect control of all face and body muscles, and the make-up is striking and elaborate. Before the lecture you have an opportunity to watch the make-up process.

There are a number of companies in Cochin that do nightly Kathakali presentations. I went to See India Foundation, which is reputed to be the best. But when I had asked a rickshaw driver to take me there he insisted, "No performance tonight." I knew he was lying. One thing you quickly learn in India is never believe anything a cab or rickshaw driver tells you. For instance, if you blow into town and tell a guy to take you to your hotel of choice, he'll say, "All full," because he wants to take you to a place that gives him a commission. Apparently the drivers in Cochin have the same arrangement with Kathakali companies.

On my last day in Cochin, Claudio, the Italian musician I had met in Mysore, and his friends turned up at the Sealord (they had taken a land route via Ooty, a hill station on the way). I ran into them at breakfast. They had just been through a horrible overnight train ride and were exhausted. We arranged to meet in the afternoon for a boat ride through the "backwaters."

As I didn't have time for one of the longer backwater trips (the 8 1/2 hour ride from Alleppy to Quilon is supposed to be the ultimate), I opted for the ferry from Cochin to Varapuzha, a two-hour trip each way. Claudio, Elena, Roberta and I boarded the ferry at 2:30 and paid our fare--1 rupee, 30 paise (about 7 cents). Fortunately the ticket seller realized we were just going along for a pleasure ride and advised us that the boat gets to Varapuzha at 4:30, but that the last one back to Cochin leaves there at 4:25, so we'd have to get off a stop or two earlier.

The boat is a passenger ferry that takes people from island to island, and along the way groups of people got on and off, most of them standing, packed in. Luckily we had seats with an unobstructed view. Everywhere you looked there were palm trees. The ride was delightful, though a bit claustrophobic. At about 4:00 we decided to look for a suitable place to disembark. At one stop Elena pointed and said, "Why not?" So we got off. The villagers who got off with us looked amazed--why on earth would we be coming to their island?

It was a lovely, idyllic place, and I felt a bit like Gauguin arriving in Tahiti. As we walked through the village, people really took notice. Kids followed us, shouting, "Hello, what is your name, where are you from." Young women with babies smiled shyly. Word got around and pretty soon the whole village had come out to see us. We had become an event. We chatted with a few people (most didn't speak much English), and learned that the island was called Kothad. As we started walking back to the ferry landing, somebody yelled to us, "Wait--the alderman wants to meet you." So we went back and met Rafael, a delightful old guy who proudly showed us the little chapel of St. Mary ("One hundred years old," he boasted) and asked us all about ourselves. A gaggle of children had assembled around us, and Rafael asked us to please take some photos of them. I was all out of film, but Claudio took a number of shots. The kids loved posing. Then Rafael and the kids escorted us back to the ferry landing and waited with us until the boat came. My one hour on Kothad was one of the highlights of my Indian trip.

Note: Things have really changed on Kothad. I just discovered that there's a 3* resort on the island.

* * *

Keralan cuisine differs from other Indian cuisines in a number of ways. Unlike most other South Indian cuisines, it is not strictly vegetarian, since the population is much less homogeneously Hindu than the rest of the south (Christians and Muslims account for over 40% of the population). Being a coastal state, there's much emphasis on seafood; the tiger prawns of Kerala are crustacean nirvana. A "curry" in Kerala is nothing like a North Indian curry (dishes with a similar spice mixture are known in the south as "masalas"). A Keralan curry gets its name from the aromatic curry leaf, and it's often cooked with onions and tomatoes. Kerala is named for the coconut (kera), so naturally coconut and coconut oil is used heavily. Varuthatus are wonderfully incendiary dishes made with chili paste. Keralan cuisine is one of the world's great culinary secrets. The Kerala Tourism website features recipes for many typical Keralan dishes.

Keralan food is virtually impossible to come by in the U.S., which is a real tragedy. There was a place, about fifteen years ago, in Manhattan's "curry hill" restaurant enclave, called The Raj, that served Keralan and Punjabi food (the home states of the two owners), but it was nothing special, and it didn't last very long.

Londoners have a much better time of it. I've eaten at a good Keralan place near the British Museum called Malabar Junction, but since I was last in London the big news is Das Sreedrahan's Rasa group of restaurants, devoted to various aspects of Keralan cuisine. Rasa has garnered numerous rave reviews. The original Rasa is vegetarian, Rasa Samudra specializes in Keralan seafood cuisine, Rasa Maricham is a black pepper concept restaurant, and Rasa Travancore serves (believe it or not) the Syrian-Christian cuisine of Kerala. Das Sreedrahan has even taken Kerala to Newcastle, with his recently opened Rasa Newcastle. I'm dying to try every Rasa branch in London, though it would probably be much cheaper to go straight to Kerala.

I was excited to learn, several months ago, that there's a Keralan restaurant, Kerala Kitchen, in the Floral Park section of Queens. I also learned that it's a pain in the ass to get to from Brooklyn or Manhattan without a car. It's at the edge of Queens, right near the Nassau County border, and no subway goes within miles of it. One could take the F train to the end of the line in Jamaica and then hop on a bus for the next hundred blocks, but I figured that would take me close to two hours each way. I decided that the Long Island Railroad was a better bet. From Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn it's about a 25-minute ride to the Floral Park station in Nassau County, then it's more than a mile walk to the restaurant. I took the LIRR out on a beautiful late summer day for lunch, and the walk was rather pleasant.

The restaurant is run by Keralan Christians from the town of Kottayam. Not only was the presence of both pork and beef on the menu a clue that they were Christian, but there was also an Indian calendar-style illustration of the Virgin Mary in the dining room.

The menu was intriguing, including such seasonal specials as rabbit roast and frog legs fry (toddy shop style). They serve a buffet on weekends, which would have been the ideal way to sample a lot of dishes, but I went on my own on a Wednesday. I figured my best bet would be to order the "kerala meal," a thali with a fish dish, a meat dish, two vegetables, rice, dal, yogurt, pickle and pappadum.

Overall, the entire meal was a great disappointment. First of all, everything was lukewarm; perhaps ordering the thali wasn't the best idea. The vegetable dishes were very bland (granted, Keralan vegetables tend to be milder than Tamil versions). There was a green bean with coconut dish (thoran, similar to the Tamil poriyal), and avial (mixed vegetables in a yogurt sauce). The non-veg dishes were somewhat better. The sauce for the kingfish curry had a nice, tangy bite, and the beef fry had an aromatic dry masala that reminded me a bit of an Indonesian rendang.

Disappointment notwithstanding, I may rouse myself out on a weekend to try the buffet, but I'd much rather find a really good Keralan place closer to home. Perhaps Das Sreedrahan will take a cue from Gordon Ramsay and open a Rasa branch in New York.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Mr. Cherches Goes to Mars, Part IV (conclusion)

Mr. Cherches couldn’t sleep at all that night. He was leaving the next morning, and he still hadn’t discovered the secret Martian meat loaf recipe. He just had to have that recipe.

In the middle of the night, as he tossed and turned, Mr. Cherches had a brainstorm. The X13s must have a cookbook with the meat loaf recipe, he thought. All he had to do was find the book and copy down the recipe.

Mr. Cherches snuck down, very quietly, to the X13s’ kitchen. He brought his little travel flashlight with him so he could find his way around.

Just as he expected, on a shelf in the kitchen was a cookbook titled Flavors of Mars. Mr. Cherches looked through the book and found the meat loaf recipe. His heart started pounding. He quickly copied down the recipe and replaced the book on the shelf. Then he quietly crept back up to his bedroom. The rest of the night he slept like a baby.

* * *

The next morning Mr. Cherches got dressed, packed his bags and went downstairs for his final breakfast with the X13 family. As usual, breakfast smelled great.

“You have a long flight ahead of you,” said Maggie, “so I made you a nice big meat loaf omelet.”

When breakfast was over it was time for Mr. Cherches and the X13s to say their goodbyes.

“Mr. Cherches, it was truly a pleasure having you as our guest,” said Maggie.

“Oh, the pleasure was all mine, I assure you,” replied Mr. Cherches.

“We have been honored to be the first Martian family to host an Earthling–and such a well behaved one,” said Bud.

Then the kids spoke. Together they said, “We love you, Mr. Churchill!” That brought tears to Mr. Cherches’s eyes.

“All right,” said Bud, “before we get all weepy, I’d better drive Mr. Cherches to the spaceport.”

And off they went.

* * *

When Mr. Cherches boarded the rocket Captain Singh asked him how he had enjoyed his visit to Mars.

“It was great,” said Mr. Cherches. “Were you aware they have the best meat loaf in the universe?”

“No, I never knew that,” replied Captain Singh. “It’s the sad life of a pilot. I fly to so many places, but I never get to stay long enough to find out what they’re really like.”

As they took off, Mr. Cherches looked out the window and saw Bud waving goodbye.

Mr. Cherches didn’t mind the weightlessness so much this time because he had gained five pounds from all the meat loaf he ate on Mars.

When mealtime rolled around, Mr. Cherches was happy to learn that the food on the return voyage was Martian Meat Loaf Paste. It wasn’t as good as a real hunk of hot Martian meat loaf, but it sure was a lot better than Planet Puffs ‘N’ Stuff Paste.

As he was eating, Mr. Cherches’s conscience started bothering him. “Hey Cherches, you’re a real low-life,” the conscience said. “You betrayed the trust of the Martians. You stole the secret meat loaf recipe, even though you knew your friends could get in trouble with the Martian law.”

“I was very careful,” Mr. Cherches told his conscience

“Even so, it’s the principle,” replied the conscience. “You give Earthlings a bad name.”

Mr. Cherches tried to keep himself entertained on the long flight home by reading a book he had picked up on Mars. The book was called Mr. QB-R66 Goes to Earth. While Mr. Cherches was reading, his conscience kept calling him names like “thief,” “scoundrel,” and “stinker.”

Then, after almost a week in space, Captain Singh said, “Look out the window, Mr. Cherches” Mr. Cherches saw what looked like a toy globe. “We’re almost home,” said Captain Singh.

Fascinated, Mr. Cherches watched the Earth get bigger and bigger as they approached it. By the time they landed, Mr. Cherches had forgotten all about his guilty conscience.

* * *

When Mr. Cherches got off the spaceship he saw the reporters and cameramen from all the TV news programs. The reporters huddled around Mr. Cherches and started asking him questions.

“Mr. Cherches, how did you enjoy your visit to Mars?” asked the first reporter.

“It was great,” replied Mr. Cherches. “It’s a beautiful planet, and the Martians are very friendly.”

The second reporter asked, “Mr. Cherches, how does it feel to be back on Earth?”

“It feels great,” said Mr. Cherches. “Mars is a nice place to visit, but there’s no place like home.”

Mr. Cherches took one more question. “Now that you’re back on Earth, what are your plans for the future?” asked the third reporter.

This was Mr. Cherches’s chance to make his big announcement. “I plan to open a chain of restaurants,” he said. “Mr. Cherches’s Original Martian Meat Loaf.”

Then Mr. Cherches and Captain Singh hopped in a big black convertible limousine and drove off to the “Welcome Back Mr. Cherches” ticker tape parade.

* * *

Back on Mars, XJ-R13 and VB-B42-R13 were standing in their kitchen.

XJ-R13 was now certain that Mr. Cherches had stolen the meat loaf recipe. Mr. Cherches had carelessly replaced the cookbook upside down, so there was no doubt about what he had done.

“I knew we couldn’t trust an Earthling,” said XJ-R13, “but the joke is on him.”

“What do you mean?” asked VB-B42-R13.

“I was sure that Mr. Cherches would not be able to resist trying to find the secret meat loaf recipe,” said XJ-R13, “so I planted the false cookbook right here in the kitchen.”

VB-B42-R13 looked horrified. “You don’t mean–”

“That’s right my dear,” said XJ-R13, “the book with the recipe for the foulest-tasting meat loaf in the entire universe!”

Friday, October 05, 2007

Mr. Cherches Goes to Mars, Part III

image by Mr. Fairfield

Day five of Mr. Cherches’s visit was Martian Thanksgiving. “This is the most important holiday on Mars,” said Maggie. “We eat a big, festive meal and give thanks for all things Martian.”

Mr. Cherches was looking forward to Thanksgiving dinner. All the food I’ve had so far has been amazing, he thought. This can only be better.

“I thought you might like to hang out with me in the kitchen and watch me prepare dinner,” Maggie told Mr. Cherches.

This was better than Mr. Cherches could ever have imagined. Surely Maggie would make meat loaf for the most important holiday on Mars. All Mr. Cherches had to do was watch and remember the ingredients. “I’d love to,” said Mr. Cherches.

“I usually start by preparing the side dishes,” Maggie said. Mr. Cherches watched her make creamed corn, green beans, and sweet potato casserole with marshmallows. “And now for the main course,” she said.

Mr. Cherches got goose bumps just thinking about watching Maggie make meat loaf.

You can imagine Mr. Cherches’s shock, then, when he saw Maggie take a turkey out of the fridge.

“What, no meat loaf?” said Mr. Cherches, disappointed.

“I’m afraid not,” said Maggie. “Thanksgiving is the one day of the year we don’t eat meat loaf. It reminds us of just how thankful we really are for meat loaf.”

What a gyp, thought Mr. Cherches.

* * *

On day six Mr. Cherches and the X13s went to the zoo. There were many strange animals at the Martian zoo. The only one Mr. Cherches recognized was the unicorn.

While the X13s were looking at the orangufrogs, Mr. Cherches saw something much more interesting. Standing a few yards away was a Martian in a chef’s cap. I’ll bet he knows how to make meat loaf, thought Mr. Cherches.

Mr. Cherches walked over to the chef. “Excuse me sir,” said Mr. Cherches, “do you know how to make meat loaf?”

“Do I know how to make meat loaf?” said the chef. “Of course I know how to make meat loaf. Ain’t I a Martian?”

“By any chance could you share the recipe with me?” Mr. Cherches asked sheepishly.

“Certainly,” said the chef.

Mr. Cherches couldn’t believe his luck. Perhaps the chef didn’t know about the law against sharing the recipe with non-Martians. The chef recited the recipe while Mr. Cherches copied it down.

“Thanks,” said Mr. Cherches.

“My pleasure,” said the chef.

Mr. Cherches caught up with the X13s in front of the hippofoxbird cage. Mr. Cherches stuck his hand into his jacket pocket to get some nuts to feed to the hippofoxbirds. But when he did that, the recipe fell out of his pocket to the ground. Bud knelt down and picked it up. Oh no, thought Mr. Cherches, my cover is blown.

Bud started laughing uncontrollably as he read the recipe.

“What’s so funny?” Mr. Cherches asked.

“I hope you’re not planning to make this,” Bud said.

“Why not?” asked Mr. Cherches.

“This is a recipe for animal feed meat loaf,” said Bud. “I wouldn’t even serve this to a Venusian!”

* * *

On Mr. Cherches’s last full day on Mars Bud said, “I thought you might like to go for a drive around the planet and see the sights.”

“I’d love that,” said Mr. Cherches. “Time has really flown. My visit is almost over, and I’ve hardly seen anything of Mars.”

The whole family piled into the extra-terramobile for the scenic tour. Bud drove by the famous red sand beaches. They stopped at a forest that had the biggest, strangest, most colorful trees Mr. Cherches had ever seen. They saw the Red Mountains and the Very Red Mountains.

Then it came time to return to the city. Mr. Cherches had seen many wondrous sights, but nothing impressed him as much as the strip malls they saw along the highway. Alongside the various shops at the strip malls were dozens of restaurants with names like Meat Loaf King, Tip-Top Meat Loaf, and Colonel KF-C76's Martian Meat Loaf. All the meat loaf restaurants had long lines out the door.

“These meat loaf restaurants seem to be very popular,” said Mr. Cherches.

“Best business on the planet,” said Bud. “There’s an old saying: ‘Nobody ever went broke selling meat loaf on Mars.’”

“Which one has the best meat loaf?” Mr. Cherches asked. Max and Tiffany started laughing.

“The kids think that’s a silly question,” said Bud. “That’s because all the meat loaf on Mars is exactly the same. There’s no better meat loaf in the universe than the original Martian meat loaf, so there’s no point in fiddling with the recipe.”

When he thought about all those meat loaf restaurants Mr. Cherches saw dollar signs, and lots of them.

* * *

To be continued . . .

Monday, October 01, 2007

Mr. Cherches Goes to Mars, Part II

The R13s had a different activity planned for each day of Mr. Cherches’s visit. His second day on Mars, Mr. Cherches went to school with Tiffany.

“Class, I’d like you all to say hello to our visitor from Earth, Mr. Cherches,” said Tiffany’s teacher, Ms. GL-H52.

“Hello, Mr. Churchill,” said the class, and they all giggled.

“Now I’d like to begin our math lesson,” said Ms. H52.

The class all paid attention as Ms. H52 read them the math problem. “Mother VB-M35-T88 is preparing meat loaf for her family. There are five members of the T88 family, two adults and three children. If a Martian adult eats 12 ounces of meat loaf, and a Martian child eats 8 ounces of meat loaf, how many pounds of meat loaf does Mother T88 prepare?”

Tiffany was the first to raise her hand. “Yes, WZ-R13,” said Ms. H52, “do you think you know the answer?”

“Yes,” said Tiffany. “Mother T88 makes 6 pounds of meat loaf.”

“And how did you arrive at that solution?” asked Ms. H52.

Tiffany explained. “Two adults eat 12 ounces each, which is 24 ounces. Three children eat 8 ounces each, which is another 24 ounces. Together that’s 48 ounces, which is 3 pounds.”

“Go on,” said Ms. H52.

“But Mother T88 always makes enough for leftovers, so that makes 6 pounds.”

“That is correct,” said Ms. H52. “But how did you know about the leftovers?”

“Because the T88s are our neighbors,” said Tiffany.

After class Mr. Cherches held Tiffany’s hand as they walked back to the shelter unit. “I was very proud of you when you answered the math problem,” said Mr. Cherches. “I would never have known that Mother T88 always makes leftovers.”

“Thank you, Mr. Churchill,” said Tiffany.

“By the way, Tiffany,” said Mr. Cherches, “what are the secret ingredients in Martian meat loaf?”

“I don’t know,” said Tiffany. “Only full-size Martians know the secrets of meat loaf.”

Drat! Mr. Cherches thought to himself. He felt like a worm for trying to wangle the secret ingredients out of a little kid, but he just had to know how to make Martian meat loaf.

* * *

The following day Bud, Max and Mr. Cherches went to the ball game. As they settled into their seats a food vendor came around. “Get yer hot meat loaf on a roll,” he called out.

Bud raised his hand and said, “Yo! Three meat loaf.”

The food guy handed him three sandwiches and said, “That’ll be forty-two marsnitzes.” Bud handed the guy a fifty and got eight marsnitzes in change.

Mr. Cherches couldn’t figure out the game. The field had orange turf on which were painted what looked like random numbers. A guy threw a green basketball at another guy who held a big tennis racquet. The guy with the racquet swung and missed. Then he started running around the field like a chicken with his head cut off. A guy from the other team tackled him as the crowd cheered.

“I don’t understand this game,” Mr. Cherches said to Bud. “Could you explain it to me?”

“I’m afraid not,” said Bud. “We can’t make any sense of it either. We just come out for the meat loaf sandwiches.”

While Bud and Max chomped on their sandwiches, Mr. Cherches ran after the meat loaf vendor. Mr Cherches pulled up right behind the vendor and said, “Hey guy, I forgot what the secret ingredients in meat loaf are. Can you remind me?”

“Sure,” said the meat loaf guy, “first there’s–” Then he turned around so he could see who had asked the question. But when he saw Mr. Cherches he changed his tune. “Wait a minute–you’re not a Martian. I could lose my job if I told you the secret ingredients. And what’s worse, I wouldn’t be able to eat no more meat loaf for the rest of my life. Now get out of my face!”

Curses, thought Mr. Cherches, foiled again.

* * *

On the fourth day Mr. Cherches went with Maggie to her office.

Maggie was a web page designer. She worked for the most popular website on Mars,

Maggie showed Mr. Cherches around the office and introduced him to her co-workers. A female named GG-O22 shook Mr. Cherches’s hand and said, “I’ve never met an Earthling before. I’ve seen pictures, but they’re much better looking in person.” Mr. Cherches blushed.

Maggie took Mr. Cherches to her cubicle. She logged on to the computer and brought up the All About Meat Loaf home page. All of a sudden Mr. Cherches smelled the most wonderful aroma. “Is somebody cooking meat loaf?” he asked.

“No,” said Maggie, “that’s the odor module you’re smelling. All websites on Mars are odor-enabled.” Mr. Cherches was glad Maggie didn’t work for All About Bathrooms.

Maggie gave Mr. Cherches a tour of the website. “We have a ‘History of Meat Loaf’ page, a recipe section, and a series of pages about meat loaf on other planets.”

“Oh, is there meat loaf on other planets besides Mars and Earth?” Mr. Cherches asked.

“Of course,” said Maggie. “Martian explorers introduced meat loaf to Jupiter and Saturn ages ago. We’ve tried to bring meat loaf to Venus too, but those Venusians are so primitive. All they’ll eat is pot roast.”

Just then a female voice came over the intercom: “VB-B42-R13, could you please come to my office. I’d like to go over the latest updates.”

“That was my boss,” said Maggie. “I’ll just be gone a couple of minutes. Make yourself at home, Mr. Cherches.”

This was Mr. Cherches’s lucky break. While Maggie was gone he could look up the Martian meat loaf recipe on the website. He sat down in Maggie’s chair, grabbed the mouse, and clicked on the “Recipes” link. When he did that, a box popped up that said: “Restricted area. Please enter password.” Mr. Cherches didn’t know what to do, so he typed some random characters and clicked “OK,” hoping for the best. Unfortunately, he got the worst. A loud, screaming siren went off and all the lights in the office started flashing.

Maggie came running back to the cubicle, along with her boss and a security guard who had his laser gun pointed right at Mr. Cherches. “What happened?” Maggie asked.

Mr. Cherches was sweating bullets. He had to think of something pretty quick. “Ahem,” said Mr. Cherches, “I was trying to get my e-mail. I must have pushed a wrong button.”

* * *

To be continued . . .