Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Thoughts of you unending here in Waterloo


My friend, I draw my strength from my most alone moments.  In the evenings at work people come close, and I embrace them to the most of my abilities.  At night, in stillness, another group comes toward me.  I think of the great figures in their solitude, the poets - my heroes of earthly loneliness: Jesus in the Judean desert, Mohammed alone in his cave, Nietzsche writing the few hours of each day that he could bare the pain of seeing and the nausea of his illness, Cold Mountain on Cold Mountain, Li Po in love with the moon in his cup... In the middle of a blank page, a little pencil sketch of the archetype of a wanderer, flask in hand, rucksack on his back, walking with his back to me into the depth of nothing.

On days of struggle, I recite to myself this little bit of the Hagakure I picked out of a movie about samurai:
The Way of the Samurai is found in death. Meditation on inevitable death should be performed daily. Every day when one's body and mind are at peace, one should meditate upon being ripped apart by arrows, rifles, spears and swords, being carried away by surging waves, being thrown into the midst of a great fire, being struck by lightning, being shaken to death by a great earthquake, falling from thousand-foot cliffs, dying of disease or committing seppuku at the death of one's master. And every day without fail one should consider himself as dead. This is the substance of the way of the samurai.
Standing open in the wind and the sleet at last Saturday's market, soaked to the bone and freezing, I pushed myself into worse areas.  One woman commented to me that I "must keep going with thoughts of a nice warm place."  I told her it was the opposite, that I always think of something far worse.  In matters of small importance, like selling black radish to Eastern Europeans or cooking line on a Wednesday night, I orient myself in the Iliad, in a plain thick with the fog of men's last breaths, dancing always with death.  There is always the frontier of the void.  Bagging kale, unable to feel my fingers, my bones biting with dull cold, I still tell people that I am doing well or even that I am great.  How are you?


Reclined, writing, the kitchen in shambles from last nights company.  Four bottles of whiskey filled with dregs.  A few thoughts after making myself a humble breakfast: a caramelized onion, mustard and hot sauce, wrapped in a steamed tortilla with a piece of salami.  

One must cook true.  I can cook a lot of things, school being the least of my qualifications: the practically-wife and I experiment endlessly in our spare time.  We both work in the restaurant cook our nights, and our days.  Friends come over and we entertain them with a little dinner.  The fare is simple, but we never cook the same things twice.  

I am in love with earthly cuisine. I mean I want to cook for your grandmother, wherever she is from.  My own repertoire has drawn from many sources.  I make ghormeh sabzi, daal chawal, red beans and rice, Irish stew, mole negro, I can cook a steak, many kinds of guts, and I have a bucket of sauerkraut on the go.  Many young cooks I have met dream of innovation.  It would be the highest ideal for them to recast the mold, to re-imagine the whole enterprise of cooking, delighting the wealthy dining class with little flutes of space textures that taste like the moon or whatever.  I tend to like them fine, and I wish them well with their pursuits.  

I cook with memories and I travel the world through cuisine.  Being poor and in debt to a number of institutions from my own negligence coupled with institutional-oppression, I hardly am allowed to travel far or wide.  For someone so broke I think its amazing I have seen as much of the world as I have, across Canada and the United States, into Central America.  Still, those opportunities are hardly regular.  I am forced to bring far away places to me, which is cheaper for sure.  

Its been my fortune to have spent so much time with the ESL crowd.  My closest friends have close ties to another country, or have left a homeland far behind to be here.  Even if people come to Canada escaping war, political crisis, or just seeking better opportunity the homeland weighs heavily on them.  The way things were back home, the way a kitchen smells, the way people greet each other or prepare things, are the palpable expressions of a place, and are tied to the memories that fundamentally comprise their being.  Asking someone from somewhere else to make you a meal, to give you a recipe for something they cook at home, often provokes a kind of spontaneous excitement in them.  It is also my hope that it gives them a real bridge between where they come from and where they are now.  


I can't find the quote, or remember the specific work I read it in, but I often think of my literary hero, Nikos Kazantzakis, responding to criticisms of the sorts of language he used in his writing.  He used the demotic Greek when it was still popular to use Hellenic Greek in all forms of writing.  The academy responded harshly to his language, and his novels were not accepted by the Greek establishment.  Describing his love for the people and the way they speak, the expressions, and the strange words they use he said something to the effect of: "I feel like Noah trying to fill his ark with animals.  I don't want the memories of the people I have met and the things I have seen to die with me."

    Tuesday, 15 October 2013

    fat water or fat thing - and not your mom this time (tomatillo salsa)

    Market is a funny thing.  One year dozens of people can ask for one item.  The farmers at market will believe that it could be a profitable idea, or in the very least not a loss, to grow the damn thing.  One year after being asked a hundred times for fennel, my friend grew a bunch of it the next year, only to compost all of it.  I'm not even sure he sold one.

    A similar fiasco happened this year with another friend and a crop of tomatilloes.  I called up my friend, the sous-chef at a Mexican inspired restaurant and tried to relieve him of them, but the restaurant didn't have a use for them at the moment.  After dropping the price to dirt cheap and still struggling to sell them, I picked up his last half bushel from him for almost free, just to spare him the frustration of looking at them anymore.


    The tomatillo is a funny fruit of Central American origin. It's a member of the delicious and poisonous nightshade family, same genus as the potato, eggplant, and pepper plants. The original name in Nahuatl was tomātl, or tomate in the Spanish.  The word means "fat water" or "fat thing" and the fruit itself the immediate precursor to the more internationally known Aztec cultivation jitomate (fat thing with navel): the tomato.  The Spanish internationally confused the two, as was the style at the time, and the tradition continues to this day. 

    Tomatillos look like a green tomato with a husk around the outside.  The husk needs to be removed to work with the fruit itself, which is a dirty and sticky process. A sticky residue coats your hands, which then collects all the dirt on the husks.  Its moderately unpleasant.  Myself, being the chef, didn't do any of that shit and instead my girlfriend spent a good 20 minutes getting her hands dirty.  I will, however, take 100% of the credit for the whole affair.

    I've only ever had tomatillo in the form of a salsa.  I'm not quite sure what else there is to do with them.  They have an acidic, not quite sweet but tangy taste.  After consulting a fistful of recipes I threw together one of my own for a salsa.  This is with a half bushel of tomatillos, and will generate about 2 gallons or 8 litres of salsa.  It'll take a bunch of hours in the afternoon to get all of it done.  We split the work into two days, one just making the salsa, refrigerating it over night and then canning it the next afternoon.

     Royal-Joe's rockin' tomatillo salsa, with extra rock n' roll

    half a bushel of tomatillo, peeled and sliced in half.
    3 medium Superstar Spanish onions (or other Spanish onions), small dice
    3 medium bulbs of garlic, peeled
    30 or so mild green Thai chilies or Jalapeno peppers*
    1 large bunch of cilantro, washed
    the juice of 2 limes
    3 tbsp Kosher salt
    2 tsp ground pepper
    2 tsp nutmeg
    1 tbsp all-spice
    canola oil

    *Jalapeno or Serrano peppers are probably more legit.  This whole thing wasn't terribly planned and the only chilies I could get on Thanksgiving Sunday were from the Indian grocery store, lest I used my own dried chilies and absolutely ruined everyone's mouth with heat. 

    5 baking sheets
    food processor or blender
    couple of wooden spoons
    cast iron pan or heavy bottom pan 
    3 large stainless steel bowls
    Large stock pot or 4 gallon bucket
    sharp knives
    canning pot
    enough jars to jar 8 litres of shit, preferably in 250ml or 500ml sizes

    I assume you're already with me and have the tomatillos peeled, washed, and sliced in half right down the axis mundi. Crank your oven to broil.  Lay out the tomatillos on your baking sheets, flat side down and drizzle with some oil.  Throw them into the oven for 3 to 5 minutes, or until liquid starts to accumulate in the bottom and the skins are beginning to char.  Remove from the oven and put on a cooling rack or oven top or somewhere that won't burn.

    Once they started to cool enough to handle I moved them from the baking sheets into the stainless steel bowls.  Then I rinsed the baking sheets and used them again.

    This'll take about 25 minutes to a half hour to do all of them, depending on how many girlfriends you have, how good they are at co-operating with each other, and how good your broiler is.  After that's done you're going to want to start charring your chilies in the cast-iron skillet on medium-high with a bit of oil.  We threw whole cloves of peeled garlic in with them.

    Remove your chilies once they're getting some pleasing char spots.  Remove the stems.  Add in your small dice Superstars for only a minute.  Stir frequently, remove from heat with the garlic. 

    Next or meanwhile is the food processor part.  What we did was while my girlfriend manned the skillet, I used the liquefy setting on our food processor and processed all of the tomatillos in batches.  Empty them into the large stock pot.  You'll be done around the same time as all of the skillet jazz, so take the chilies, the onions, and garlic, and the cilantro and pulse it a couple of times with a bit of the goopy liquid from the tomatillos.  Then stir all of the other stuff into the tomatillo mixture, and add the salt and pepper, nutmeg and allspice and stir until everything is thoroughly combined.  

    Throw it into the refrigerator, drink beer, and then can it all the next day.

    Do you even know how long it takes for that to come to a boil on an electric stove?

    Sell your friends 250mL jars of salsa for $3, plus a 50 cent deposit on the jar.  Place a big bowl of tortilla chips on the table with a bowl of the tomatillo salsa.  After the first night of moderate drinking, you will have made more on your investment then the farmer that grew them probably did in total.

    Friday, 11 October 2013

    That boy has a drinking probnlem

    Cultural sponge:

    anomie, go homie,
    a to z
    raised wild in my own count-ree

                still diasporic
    still euphoric
    with a jazz groove
    my niche is folkloric

    raised by a poor brooke
    by a single mother
    I talk Rumi with Moslems
    and walk the path of the lover

    the clatter of kitchenware,
    the swears of the linecooks
    the core of an apple
    and stories about crooks
    old album covers, sax blown in Spring
    and these are some of my favourite things

    I smell like hickory
    my friend an Iraqi
    calls me habibi
    when he tokes from the weedi
    he talks like graffiti

    I didn't have a culture
    I had a Star Wars collection
    distant planet mastermind
    adventure projection
    when I got older I dropped the specifics
    now I beatbox with Chinamen
    because we all gotta kick it

    hailed from the East
    comes my girl named Na
    when its time to party we all gotta ga
    she once asked if I was tired
    I was like "Bssh, na"
    now we travelin' the road down to Arkansas

    sometimes on the streets
    I meet poets from a past life
    I try to switch direction
    keep my head down like an ex-wife
    sometimes I'm successful
    others cut my path like a dull knife

    they're all positive, fantastic
    try to stay contemporary
    annoying, Boombastic
    try to stay literary
    wanna talk the classics
    try to change the world
    but only looking past it

    they all look disappointed
    when I tell them that I rub meat
    they're sure its a phase
    and I should try to stay upbeat
    or they act smug and say they're elite
    the reviews are in and they've got gold feet

    well, fuck 'em all
    The E nd

    Wednesday, 9 October 2013

    Royal-Joe's Ghost Pepper Revenge Sauce

    Que music.

    I harassed the public with it; held entire city's ransom with its wrath.  Children cried, parents helpless beside them, stupefied by the tremendous girth of their own suffering.  Colossal traffic upheavals caused by the blindness instilled by the simple rubbing of an eye.  For my hand in bringing fire to the humans I was punished by the gods, chained under a giant mountain of woe whilst a Wild Turkey pecked at my liver.  It was there my torment germinated into a new sauce.  A richer sauce.  One with bolder flavors and silky edges that caress idly while the horrified mind watches as the tongue burns down to embers.

    When I emerged from that hell, the first thing I did was this:

    - scorch three red bell peppers on open flame or under a broiler until skin is completely black, remove the seeds
    - scorch half a quart of ghost peppers, stemmed, until skin is completely black, reserving the other half of the quart for later
    - slice one large whole Spanish onion and mince 10 cloves of garlic
    - combine blackened ghost peppers, onion and garlic in a sauce pot with two and 1/2 cups of apple cider vinegar, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer for 15 minutes
    - add the blackened red peppers to the pot and the remaining half quart of ghost peppers, stemmed but not seeded
    - puree with an immersion blender or food processor
    - salt and pepper to taste

    Nay! Not in the Classical age, nor in the books of Nietzsche, nor even on the date of my birth: this, this is the birth of tragedy!  The true magma that flows through my loins!  Revenge! Revenge!

    Tuesday, 8 October 2013

    Baked Beans: A Longing For Vengeance

    I've a reputation among cooks and friends for the excitement I show toward strange foods and folk staples.  I don't typically have a problem with soft of jelly textures, obvious animal parts, offal, or things off the Scoville scale.  Fish eyes, chicken feet, livers, flans, ghost peppers, strong greens lionize me.
    I am about to enjoy a sampling of chicken feet, fermented tofu, and pigs ear.

    Yes, there are some items that I am not enthusiastic about.  I eat them, politely, or with moderate distaste.  I still eat them with one exception: baked beans.

    There is some irony.  I work in authentic Southern barbecue. I prepare and serve baked beans for a living.  People frequently compliment the restaurant's baked beans.  Some go so far as to say they are the best.  I wouldn't know.  I taste them, when I make a batch, in order to be sure they taste correct - which is to say, to see if I still don't like them.  If for some reason I find myself somehow liking them then I know I have fucked the dog.

    I have tried many times to enjoy them.  My partner, she loves them.  Considers them a breakfast item, the whole bag.  To my British friends they constitute a proper meal.  I have fought with myself, insisting its a childhood bias to get over.  I have tried to acquire their taste through repeated tastings to no avail.

    When my mother talks about the poverty she endured in her upbringing she always mentions all of the hard times when the only thing that sustained her modest existence was a can of baked beans.  And this is what rings me out: baked beans are the quintessential poor food!  The food I have closest aligned myself with, the food that inspires my creativity, the food that flips the bird to the bougie shit coming out of fine dining kitchens - goddamnit, poor foods is my eats!

    This isn't merely a story of a basic and uninteresting dislike of baked beans though.  It's a story of a deep, dark longing for vengeance, and a caveat for those who would tread the same path as the one who made me this way...

    This tale begins long ago, at the end of the 1980's, with its waves nipping at the shores of the 1990's.  Radio played Michael Jackson and Michael Bolton, cars were still long and rectangular, and I had just begun day care at a loathsome facility in Owen Sound.  Back then I was the lord and defacto king of the picky eaters.  I would hardly eat anything.  Foreign dignitaries would line up bringing exotic items from far away lands to lay them at my feet and see if I would try it.  I never did.  There was a list of things I would not eat, and I can remember it vividly, but for the life of me I cannot remember anything that I would eat.  Apples, probably.

    I am certain my fussy behavior concerned my childcare professionals.  One snack time we were given baked beans.  I closed my mouth tight and shook my head.  No.  Fuck you.  I am not eating that brown mushy shit, is probably what I thought.  I didn't want anything else but world peace.  I just didn't want to eat the baked beans.  I was getting good at this: the sealed lips, the slanted brows, the general look of defiance.  Nobody could feed me.

    That's when it happened.  Some young 20-something blonde sadistic bitch, likely sent to my daycare straight from guarding maximum security correctional facilities, grabbed a spoon, scooped out a pile of the goopy mush, and forced it past my lips, smearing my face with brown, and all the way back into my throat.

    It only took a second before I threw up all over myself.  Once I started, I couldn't stop: I threw up on her, on the floor, on my clothes, on the walls, on the other kids, on the ceiling, a torrent of sticky brown pebbles spewed out of me, the bean levels continued to rise, filling my pockets and the whole lunch room, spilling out of the windows into the playground.

    As if my shame were not enough, once my reaction had been contained, the corporals stripped me completely naked.  I remember standing in the front of the daycare waiting for my mom to come pick me up, cold, sticky, without a covering.  I remember it like the photo of the detainee in Abu Ghraib, standing naked on a chair with a bag on his head, soldiers posing around him.  Except I could see the dull eyes of the children around me, inspecting me, judging, repulsed and already filled with the fickle Proddy wrath they would adopt later in life.

    These years later, sitting at my window staring out in melancholy, I know these were the moments that made me the person I am.  A lifetime of truancy, casual misanthropy, and anti-authority explained in these brief childhood moments. If fate were kind, I would discover the identity of the childhood tormentor, and this time it would be me force feeding her.

    Yes, I would spoon a babyfood of pureed Trinidad Scorpions right into her eyes.

    Wednesday, 2 October 2013

    Milk crate preacher don't bother me


    A man stands in Waterloo Town Square on a small milk crate, elevating himself above the crowd.  From across the road you cannot make out exactly what he is yelling, just occasionally the hoarse chorus of "Jesus saved me! He saved me!"  A meek looking street evangelist with a slim frame and grey beard stands beside him, quietly handing out pamphlets of his own faith inspired poetry.  It's October 2nd and the weather is warm and agreeable.  Buses pass, the sound of the man's testimonials is drowned into a distant incoherent bark.  All I can hear is the rawness of his throat.  After today's performance he will be saying Jesus in the same dry, hushed tones I say it after a night at the bar.

    I ask S. if she thinks he believes it.

    "Believes what?"

    "What he's saying. The Jesus business."

    "Obviously he believes it.  I don't think you would do that unless you believed it."  

    "I'm not so certain.  I think that its doubt, not belief, that drives him to act in such an extreme way.  It's that he believes he knows what the truth should be, yet he is still distant from it as a manifest reality, which is what pushes him onto the pulpit."

    "I think unconsciously you are right.  But I think consciously he believes in what he is preaching."

    "You might be right."

    "Now you're being a fucking hypocrite.  Why are you contradicting yourself?"

    "Well, I'm not sure that I believe that he does.  Dude's a born again.  He's probably made a radical life change and thinks he knows the way things are, but part of him - the conscious part - doubts.  He doesn't think that if he's a real Christian he should possess doubt, so he drives himself to extreme acts to prove - not to God, and not to others - to himself that he believes."

    "I still think you are attributing too much to his conscious processing.  Right now he looks like he believes his own shit."

    "Maybe its somewhere in between our arguments.  In the act of daily life, and the bullshit that entails, he doubts.  In the act of being an obnoxious shitbag, he believes."

    S.'s bus came and she got on.  I crossed the road and took a long route along Waterloo Town Square so I could avoid coming into close proximity with the preacher.


    I remember watching a discussion with Slavoj Zizek on YouTube.  He was discussing his recent work "God In Pain: Inversions of the Apocalypse" with Jack Miles, author of "God: A Biography."

    At about 1:10:32 a woman in the audience asks an excellent question concerning faith.  She asks: "Is it that we never actually really arrive at a belief? Is it that we are always in the process of naming what we believe but that is inauthentic?"  Zizek responds with a quote from Kierkegaard: "We never really believe.  We just believe to believe."  He spins off an anecdote about IDF psychologists trying to understand the psychology of a so-called terrorist before blowing himself up.  What they have come to understand is not that he believes in the rewards of his sacrifice, but that he is trying to "crush his doubt."  In the extreme act the fundamentalist tries to believe what he cannot fully bring himself to believe.


    In the study of religion it is helpful to understand different religions by the terms "orthodoxic" and "orthopraxic."  These terms mean, literally "correct belief" and "correct practice."  In North America and Europe given the prevalence of Christianity religion is almost wholly thought of as an orthodoxic affair.  For hundreds of boring reasons - Descarte, blah blah blah mind/body split blah blah blah - what one believes typically takes precedent over what one does.  There is a notion that beneath the temporal world of forms and actions the inner world presided over by the innermost soul is more important.  In the Christian worldview the belief in question is typically what role Jesus has in the grand scheme of divinity, and is basically a question associated with the Nicene Creed.  Even removed from the Christian historical context defining people by what they believe is still a major European and American past-time.  

    Other ways of defining one's religious identity are interesting to me.  Other groups, such as many Jews, define themselves in terms of practice, other than belief.  That is to say, to be a Jew is to live like a Jew, to participate in the Jewish community, to do the rituals when you are to do the rituals, regardless of having a coherence of belief.  Within Judaism is a pluralism of voices concerning meaning and beliefs.  As one saying puts it something like: "Two Jews: five Torahs." 

    And another way of understanding the question of cosmos and history/belief and reality comes of founder of the Soto Zen school of thought Eihei Dogen.  In his beautiful and succinct little treatise on Dharma, the Genjokoan, Dogen asserts: "When buddhas are truly buddhas they do not necessarily notice that they are buddhas. However, they are actualized buddhas, who go on actualizing buddhas."

    Dogen was a dude that sat down a lot.  He believed that the practice of being a buddha produced buddhas.  In the conscious pursuit of believing in buddhas, a great deal of delusion is encountered.  In sitting and practicing the way of an enlightened being, you are an enlightened being, even if you aren't aware of it.  In fact, according to Dogen's way of thought, being aware of being a buddha was just delusion and was proof that you weren't a buddha.

    The way here is practice.  Of course, practice refers to the practice of certain rituals.  Ritual is what basically allows for the divine to enter where it is otherwise not permitted.  The ritual performance of salat in Islam lets Allah enter the same mind that even moments before might have been contemplating the hypnotic undulations of fat booties.  The thing is here is that the practice of ritual changes the person practicing ritual, and for those moments, however long or short, brings about a reality where the divine is alive and meaningful.

    Here I see the conflict of religious life.  Whatever portion of divinity one has access to is so easy to grasp, but so hard to hold.  The paradox of faith makes discussing it in terms of belief or disbelief almost totally pointless.  This, I think, is what really tortures our buddy on the milk crate.