Saturday, June 26, 2010

My Husband Forced Me to Have Sex with Our Parakeet

Nothing to say about food this week, so I thought I'd scrape the bottom of the barrel.

This is a real oldie. I wrote this in the summer of 1977, when I was 21. I remember the circumstances precisely. I was on the ferry from Bar Harbor to Nova Scotia and I saw a newsstand full of True Confessions-type magazines. After taking note of a number of the article titles I got the inspiration for my own True Confessions-type poem. I sat down at a table in the snack bar and knocked it out in one take. I'm pretty sure it was never published anywhere, but I used to perform it with Sonorexia, to a twangy country guitar accompaniment by Elliott Sharp. I've been able to recall this from memory.

My Husband Forced Me To Have Sex With Our Parakeet

My husband forced me to have sex with our parakeet
Last Friday night.

It was gettin' late,
He'd been drinkin' beer all night,
And he says to me,
"Honey, I want you to fuck the parakeet."

And I says to him,
"Please, Bobby, don't make me do it."
And he says,
"You're gonna do it!"

So we did it:
Me and the parakeet,
While Bobby stood by and watched.

I didn't like it very much,
And the bird was hurtin' me a lot,
And I was feelin' real bad,
Until the parakeet says to me:
"Honey, I love ya."

Just like Bobby used to.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Maima's in the Kitchen

okra stew

Queens is indisputably the top borough when it comes to ethnic food options, but one does not normally think of Jamaica as a foodie destination neighborhood. But when I learned that Jamaica was home to a Liberian restaurant a visit seemed most definitely in order. So, on a recent Friday afternoon I took the E train to the end of the line and hooked up with fellow blogger Dave Cook for an early dinner at Maima's.

I know very little about Liberia. I know that the country was founded as a back-to-Africa movement for freed slaves. I know that many Liberians have English-sounding names, like Charles Taylor. I know that Liberia has had a troubled history of corrupt leaders, like Charles Taylor. I know that the capital, Monrovia, is named for James, not Earl. And I recently learned that while Liberian cooking has much overlap with other West African cuisines there's a particular fondness for hot spice in Liberia.

I was expecting a simple, hole-in-the-wall, but Maima's is cozy and tastefully decorated, giving it a very comfortable atmosphere. Maima, very much the matriarch, took our order, cooked our food and served it. When two food bloggers get together for a meal it's inevitable that too much food would be ordered. Though some dishes were listed as appetizers and some as main courses, the distinction is not particularly relevant, and you'll likely be served everything together.

We ordered the two stews of the day, okra and the artery-clogging palm butter, served with white rice. Both were cooked with a combination of crab (which seems to be a major ingredient in Liberian cooking), chicken and shrimp. An incendiary hot sauce was served on the side. The okra was cooked in a way that broke it down and mitigated some of the vegetable's mucilaginous (Dave's chosen word) consistency. The palm butter was scary rich, and is probably best shared among four or more.

palm butter

pepper shrimp

The pepper shimp was fiery and delicious: fresh shrimp in the shell with a red pepper coating that was reminiscent of similar dishes from Sri Lanka and South India, only this was hotter. Our fried plantains were delightfully soft, hot, sweet and gooey. The homemade lemonade was way too sweet for my taste, and I was disappointed that the fresh ginger beer was not ready.

Unless you live nearby it's a trek, to be sure. But it's not far from JFK airport, so you might want to consider combining an international flight with a Liberian dinner some day.

106-47 Guy R. Brewer Blvd.
Jamaica, Queens

(trivia: Guy R. Brewer Blvd. is named for the state assemblyman who was instrumental in developing Jamaica as a "suburban" black neighborhood in the 1940s)

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Quesadilla That Ate Pete

I must have passed this Mexican grocery in Sunset Park hundreds of times. It's on Fifth Avenue, just north of the park, so I pass it whether I'm headed further down Fifth for Mexican food or crossing through the park over to Eighth for Asian food. I've always been interested in their quesadillas, Puebla-style, with either flor de calabaza (zucchini flower), champinones (mushrooms), or huitlacoche (corn fungus). I once walked into the place, but there didn't appear to be any place to sit down, so I moved on and ate elsewhere. This weekend I decided I'd pick one up and eat it in the park as a snack, then head over to Eighth Avenue for some Vietnamese or Malaysian food. So I went inside and asked the guy at the deli counter in the back if this was where I order quesadillas. He pointed to a doorway in back of him. Lo and behold, there was a secret little restaurant in back, with a few tables, counter space, and a mini kitchen. I love discovering hidden places like that. I asked the cook whether he had flor de calabaza quesadillas. "No," he said, "huitlacoche." So I ordered one huitlacoche, my intended pre-lunch snack.

When it arrived at my little table I was overwhelmed by its magnitude. I wasn't expecting such a monster, never having tried Puebla-style quesadillas before. It was made with giant corn tortillas and cut into three pieces. Inside was huitlacoche, corn kernels, green chiles, and the fresh white cheese that's similar to mozzarella. Guacamole was served on the side.

I could barely finish two-thirds of it. Needless to say, I scrapped my plans for lunch part two.

I don't know if the place has a name beyond Deli Grocery. It's at 4011 Fifth Avenue, between 40th & 41st Streets.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

The Bumsteads and Me

My latest piece in Mung Being was thirty years in the making. I think the first version was written in 1980. It was a brief, mannered piece, an homage to Walter Abish, a writer I was very fond of at the time. The piece came out of an informal writers workshop that as far as I can remember lasted for one meeting (or maybe it outlasted me). It was held at the apartment of Barry Marx, and also included Linda Svendsen, Bonnie ZoBell and Judy Lopatin (all alumni of the Columbia graduate writing program). As an assignment, Barry had presented us with a panel from a Blondie comic strip without any words. We were to use this as the basis for a story.

A few years later I decided to rewrite the piece, to flesh it out. Over the years I sent it out here and there to no avail, tinkering with it every time. I hadn't thought about it much lately until Mung Being's editor Mark Givens announced the upcoming Confidence Games issue. I thought this might fit, and I fiddled with it some more. Now the fiddler has fled and the story is etched in pixels.

Read "At Dagwood and Blondie's"

Friday, June 04, 2010

Eating Like A Pig

For some people the purpose of a diet is to lose weight and keep it off. For me the purpose is to reset my body weight for further pigging out. So, starting last Friday I made up for lost time.

I left work early for the holiday weekend and headed over to Mile End, in Brooklyn, for a Montreal-style smoked meat sandwich. This was my third time there. When I wrote about it after my first visit I kvelled about the smoked meat, with minor reservations: sliced too thick and a tad too much black pepper. The second time I chatted with the owner and told him that I had written that review. He had seen it and agreed I'd made some good points. He said that they're always tinkering with the recipe, and that during weekdays, when they're less busy, they have the luxury to slice the meat thinner (it's hand-sliced). The second time around the pepper balance was much better and the slices perfectly thin and even. The third time was a disappointment, however. While still quite good, the slices were thick again, and the meat was much more heavily smoked--it tasted like a cross between Texas brisket and Montreal smoked meat. The owner had told me that the smoked meat was different every time, and he wasn't kidding.

Afterwards, as I detoured to Court Street for a walk through Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens before crossing the mighty Gowanus back toward Park Slope, I stopped off at the Court Pastry Shop, an excellent Italian bakery, and had a piece of their wonderful grain pie, a Neapolitan Easter pastry made with ricotta and dried orange.

I had a light dinner.

The next day I took a walk to Sunset Park and broke my noodle fast at Nyonya with a plate of chow kuey teow, a great Chinese-Malaysian rice noodle dish. For dinner I had a mortadella sandwich. I love mortadella, and I love how it's proud to show its fat.

I took another walk to Sunset Park on Sunday and stopped at Tacos Matamoros, my favorite Mexican restaurant in the neighborhood. I had two tacos grandes, which are served with excellent guacamole--one lengua (tongue) and one al pastor (Mexican pineapple-marinated pork shawarma). Matamoros makes the best al pastor I've had in New York. I also tried their seafood ceviche tostada for the first time, and that was also quite good.

Back in Sunset Park on Memorial Day I went to Pho Thanh Hoai III, my favorite Brooklyn Vietnamese, where I had an order of spring rolls and bun rieu cua, a crabmeat noodle soup. Afterwards I had a delightfully flaky almond egg custard tart from Egg Custard King, on the next block.

Dinner stops during the week included Chao Thai, in Elmhurst and Cuba, in the Village. I'm always blown away by Chao Thai. Cuba, on the other hand, didn't do much for me at all.

And an hour ago I had a gelato, downstairs from my office at Melt. It's either a blessing or a curse to have a good gelateria so close to the office. Their flavors can be hit or miss, subject to individual tastes, but today they had one of my favorites, and one I've never seen elsewhere: mascarpone caramel pistachio.

I'm working up to another diet. I fear it may be sooner rather than later.