Friday, March 31, 2017

Yelping My Way Through Time

Culinary & Inn Review: The Daily Nazarene, June 32 AD 
I guided my tired and thirsty camel off the Roman Road somewhere near Nazareth and headed for my favorite restaurant—Isaiah’s Falafel Palace—but that and every other eatery in town seemed to be closed. I was so famished that I lifted my hands up to the heavens and cried, “Oh Lord of Abraham, bring this lonely traveler some sustenance.”
            Just at that moment there was rumble beneath my feet and a flock of doves circled around me singing an ever-so-sweet song. Out of nowhere a young man with very long hair and a celestial glow in his eyes was suddenly standing before me. Twelve other young men attended him. I had heard some rumors about this Nazarene youth and his ability to feed the masses. I stood transfixed wondering what savory delectable would be on today’s menu.
He placed his warm hand on my cheek and said, “Brother, are you in need of a miracle?”
Nodding my head, I replied, “I just traveled all the way up from Jerusalem and I’m really beat and so hungry—do you know any place open and perhaps a modest inn where I can lay my head?”
The young man first looked to the sky and then said; “Fear not, for I shall make a table before you with a selection of nourishment.” And faster than you could say Anno Domini there appeared a roughly hewn board filled with fishes and loaves. “Oh this is great,” I replied, but I also desired a little libation to go with my repast.
The bearded anointed one then asked for my water sack and said, “I shall change your water into wine and may you both be blessed.” I handed him my leather sack and he laid his hands on it and placed it down on the table with my meal. He then put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Brother, my friends and I must be off now to bring salvation to mankind. Please enjoy your meal and when you need to lay your weary body down, get thee to my home and thou mayest sleep in my shop, but please try not to awaken my mother as she is a light sleeper.” I invited them all to stay but I could tell they were on a mission and I sat myself down to dine. As I watched them disappear on the road south I took an educated guess that those twelve men must have been his line or sous chefs, as feeding the starving masses of Judea must take a lot of work and preparation.
However, shortly after I sat down to enjoy this “miracle” feast, my excitement soon turned to disappointment. Let’s start with the wine; yes a Golan Heights merlot is a lovely treat, but for heaven’s sake not with fish. I was hoping for perhaps a nice Coastal Plains chardonnay or at least a very dry Negev fumé blanc. Granted, his choice of the North Coast merlot is a favorite among the scribes and Pharisees, and its hints of fig and pomegranate are exciting, yes, enticing, with perhaps a fatted calf or a ram, but it’s simply not served with seafood.
Which brings us to the fish. While the tilapia zilli had some zest to it, I felt that the anointed one was a little too generous with the cumin and the cayenne. Indeed, while this piscis was no doubt compassionately net caught in the Sea of Galilee, I was really in the mood for more of a salt water creature, say a swordfish or perhaps a nice filet of broiled leviathan. Not to be too critical of my heavenly host, but I could get tilapia anywhere, and if indeed it’s all a miracle, why not surprise the diner with something different from the usual catch of the day?
Now let’s talk about the bread. Yes, it was warm and yeasty but it was not gluten free. One would surmise that anyone who could walk on the water, bring sight to the blind, and raise the dead could come up with a gluten-free alternative to the usual Judean loaf.
The dessert was lacking as well. I sure hope he didn’t commit that lemon cake recipe to stone. There were lemon peels in the cake and little bits of date pits as well. I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but perhaps this young man should just stay with his worldwide salvation thing or carpentry and leave the restaurant business to those with a little more sensitivity.
Things didn’t get any better when I went to bed down at his home. The place was full of sawdust and there were nails and odd tools all over the floor. When I finally made myself a little pallet out of straw and was dozing off, in walked his mother. She then kept me up all night worrying that her son was hanging around with the wrong crowed. Every time I tried to doze off she said something to the effect of “So my son, he’s running around with these twelve men—how is he ever going to get married like that? What kind of mishegoss are these young men up to?”
I tried to comfort her by replying, “Oh Mary, it’s just, you know, a stage he’s going through, a sort of messianic thing, you know. Perhaps it’s an attempt to bond or gain approval from his father.”
Mary tilted her head and replied, “He should stay here and learn the carpentry business and all will be well.” When she finally left I still couldn’t sleep because of all the bugs in the straw. However, I was awakened by heavenly smells emitting from Mary’s kitchen, where she was preparing my very favorite morning eye opener—shakshuka—and though her harissa was a little on the pungent side, the repast was a most pleasant way to greet the dawn.
 All in all a questionable evening meal and a most uncomfortable night at the inn; however, the company was interesting and breakfast was great, so I’ll give my dining and lodging experience here in Nazareth three stars.

Art Review for The Paleolithic Post, April, 15,000 BCE
Anyone worth his or her horsehair brushes or bone tubes for shooting out dyes against cave walls was in attendance during the recent full moon exhibit at Lascaux. It was quite the exciting show as many of the artists in attendance had gone far beyond that whole bison and horse thing, which is so Lower Paleolithic.
There was one artist in particular—I do believe his name is Unk—who is part of the new vanguard of cave painting, as he enjoys employing his own blood on his images from time to time. This exciting new technique adds a titillating sense of realism to those old cold stone walls. I would advise, however, not getting too close to Unk while he is working since he has been known to bite and actually devour those he feels are too critical of his work.
There was a major buzz or perhaps “grunting” going on for a young new artist who had recently worked his way up to Lascaux from Pech Merle. Nomina Dubia was completing his latest work of a nude holding an animal horn. The horn was incised with rows of mysterious lines that kept his fans guessing—were the lines a lunar calendar or a woman’s menstrual cycle? Nomina would not grunt either way, which created a greater sense of excitement about the new work. Nomina has recently signed on with the Flint & Stone Agency and his work will be soon be touring throughout the greater Dordogne area.
Perhaps the most wonderful surprise of the show was my terrific culinary experience at the new upgraded restaurant. Yerk & Saltina have not only changed the name of the eatery from “Paleos” (which is so way too obvious) to the charming “Chow At Lascaux.” This talented couple has changed the bill of fare as well. In the past Yerk and Saltina were legendary for their mastodon ribs. However, I for one felt that consuming these meaty bones directly extracted from the carcass of a recently slaughtered beast was a bit challenging, but not anymore. 
Last vernal equinox Saltina attended a workshop up north given by (might I say) a more evolved tribe who referred to themselves as the Parisi. They have this technique in which they strike small rocks together over dried leaves, thus creating an event that they refer to as “fire.” Before consuming any meat, they immerse the fresh carcass within the flames, and the results are the taste of legends. Saltina was a little taken aback when one of the Parisi mentioned that they have been using these flames for hundreds of thousands of lunar cycles. One of the Parisi referred to her as “sort of Neanderthal,” but since Saltina is indeed a Neanderthal she didn’t mind at all.
Saltina’s new and exciting innovative fire technique is now all the talk of the Midi-Pyrenees. One no longer has to chew and chew raw meat for sustenance.
So the next time you have the pleasure of dinning at Chow At Lascaux, be sure to order the ribs, which have been immersed in these roaring flames of the earth. For a few stones extra Saltina will gladly add her “gatherer special” rub of lichen and earthworms, which, when all cooked with the ribs, is simply a joyous festival for the palette.
The open cave exhibition runs for two lunar cycles, and Chow At Lascaux is open from sunrise to sunset except during earthquakes and the occasional invasions from nearby hostile tribes and stampeding hoards of angry mastodons. I give both the show and the eating experience four stars.

Be sure to catch the next show at Lascaux: Charcoal—How Much Is Too Much?

Monday, March 27, 2017

A Chilling Sacrifice

They’d been sitting in the fridge for at least twelve days, and I knew I would never eat them. Yet each day as I looked upon my two little prisoners held captive in a bag of plastic, I somehow convinced myself that they would be consumed. Yes my delusional self thought, I shall use them in a stew or perhaps a lovely and tasty soup. Even the synthetic sack that held my imprisoned fungi was begging for release. Its yellowing tinge seemed to now be in sympathy with the darkening pair held ever so tightly inside.
I remember the day I brought them home from the farmer’s market. Two big beautiful portobello mushrooms, with stately, bountiful caps and mighty stems. They looked like twins in their color and size. I imagined the pair growing up together from little spores in a lovely manure-seasoned raised bed somewhere out in Monterey County. How happy they must have been with their fellow Agaricus bisporus as they proudly rode together in the bed of the Ford pickup truck heading north to the farmer’s market. I bet they were singing a little mushroom song.
When I first got them home I planned to grill them up for lunch and make a wasabi lemon sauce to spread on lightly toasted francese bread. Or better yet, I’d hollow them out and stuff them with a sun-dried tomato risotto, with little green onion and aged Parmesan cheese on top. I had such bold and delicious plans for them.
For the first five days a six-pack of Belgian beer hid them from view, which was really no one’s fault at all. On the sixth day of their chilly incarceration I swore on my little chef’s heart that I’d marinate them in a tamari ginger sauce and roast them on my gas grill, but alas, that slab of fatted cow would be ever so much more pleasing to my palate.
By the eight day I knew I was never to employ either of theses two dying jumbo mushrooms of the crimini persuasion for any type of culinary pleasure, yet I refused to take them where all vegetables go to lie down, to my large black plastic biostack compost box.
No, I thought, I’ll just leave them in the fridge and each day I will continue to fool myself that I will soon consume them. I wondered if my two captives turned to each other as they were wasting away and said, “Had he only put us in paper we would have kept so much better.” Or “The master’s not getting any younger—surely we are a healthier alternative to the red meat and sea creatures he seems to consume every day?” Or perhaps, “My gills, my gills are wilting away.” Or finally, “Of all the fridges in all the towns, why did we have to end up in this one?
It was day ten—I stared at the bag and realized the fungi were really getting funky. My pair of basidiomycetes were now becoming one. Oh, I thought, first thing tomorrow morning I’ll chop them up with some carrots and onions and make them into a hash and put a little poached egg on top. The next morning came and I chose oatmeal and thus another day of uncertainty for my two little fungus friends. If a vegetarian zealot were to run a news story about my treatment of the two large capped captives, the headline and story would go something like this:
Portobellos Held Hostage, Day Eleven
Somewhere on the west side of Santa Cruz, California, two beautiful mushrooms are slowly wilting away as an aging folk musician turns a blind eye to their plight. Pictures at eleven.
Each day it was the same—I opened the door, I looked at them in the bag, I nodded at them, and they didn’t nod back. Mr. and Mrs. Portobello were shrinking and merging together in some sort of fungi mush. They were not the first pieces of nature to perish in my fridge. I have had my share of dead lettuce, wilted parsley, lumpy rutabagas, and limp celery. It’s best not to even reflect on that pair of rainbow trout I left in the chiller when I went away to New Zealand for five weeks. Suffice it to say, when I opened the door of the fridge I had what can only be called “a gastronomic Stephen King moment.”
Throughout human history the mushroom has been a symbol of the magical, mystical, and supernatural aspects of life. By day twelve they had indeed taken on aspects of both the mystical and supernatural as they had been truly transformed into some form of sinister orbicular amulet. And on the thirteenth day I shook their respective remains out of the bag and into the big black biostack in my back yard. I felt an added sense of guilt as it took a while to remove all their little mushroom parts from the plastic. Sensing an immediate need for spirituality I improvised a little on-the-spot prayer, something like this:
As I lay you back into the earth I realize it will be a welcomed relief from your captivity in a petroleum-based bag that lay within the chilly confines of my Maytag for all too long.
 I truly regret never using and appreciating your talents in a stir-fry or a sandwich as I had promised. I do indeed have a real and a sincere sense of remorse that your delicate skins will never know the sizzling heat of my Weber. However, you are now going back to the same place from which you came and with a little luck you may be pushing up spores again soon. Though I have not consumed you I have in my own magical way given you a shot at immortality.
May you mix well and become one with the pineapple skins, potato peels, turnips, eggshells, and coffee grinds. Amen.

Also present were three brown carrots, a half a bunch of cilantro, a very sad little onion (who wept throughout the ceremony), and some form of vegetable that at one time was called a beet. I then took my spade and mixed them all around to hasten their journey back to Mother Earth. I bowed my head in respect as I closed the top of my biostack. After returning my shovel to the shed I went in the house, grabbed my favorite burlap bag and headed down the farmer’s market.