Waking Grammie

Funerals are all about the food.

Funerals are all about the food.

I have always wondered about wakes and funerals, death in general, and how so many people seem to eat and drink so much during these affairs. At least they do in tv and film. Who can forget the great scene from the first season of True Blood with Anna Paquin’s house being filled with the whole town and their dubiously prepared “comfort food?” Everyone wanting to condole but really just desirous to see the murder scene, to see her grieving…what would Sookie do? Oooooo! And then she flipped out because someone was eating GRAN’S PIE!!!!  It made for great television!  I was on a short-lived tv show for a few episodes called “The Black Donnelly’s,” and the very first day I shot, the scene was a traditional Irish wake. In a bar, naturally. I had never been to a wake, but luckily I take direction well. To be honest, the only funeral I can remember is my stepfather’s when I was a kid, which I talk about in https://gratuitousgrub.wordpress.com/2011/02/16/i-would-like-the-disaster-please-with-a-bottle-of-sancerre/

I know I went to more. Hmmm….My Jr. High guidance counselor, I guess. A good excuse perhaps to how I have turned out, my guidance counselor bit it early on. And then there was my Dad’s great friend and colleague from the college. That was sad. Honestly I couldn’t wait for the damn thing to be over. I hate all that stifled crying and stiff upper-lip shit. If we are having a proper lamenting of the passing of the dead, why not throw yourself around wailing, like you know you want to do, inside. That would have made me much more comfortable. But then, it wasn’t about me. I remember grabbing a bottle of wine from the open bar and high tailing out to the side door with my mom and and my husband. None of us wanted to do the whole “talking to people” thing. Not without some liquid courage at least. Some of those people I hadn’t seen since I was a kid, mostly faculty that taught with my dad. A bunch of college professors I had known since birth, milling about mumbling kind words and memories, pretending they felt just enough to care but not enough to shed a tear. It was horrifying. In a sadistic turn of events, the funeral was held, no joke, RIGHT NEXT DOOR to the house my dead stepfather’s parents lived in. We stood, my mom and I, in the grove between the two forest-enclosed memory factories, clutching our open bar cabernet, staring in dismay at the situation and then could not contain our laughter. It was ridiculous. Life was ridiculous. Death, though, was even more so. Or at least the traditions that surround it are.

You may wonder why I am waxing nostalgic about funerals and such. Whilst I do admit that this subject comes up on occasion, here at Gratuitous Grub, I do however have a purpose and intention for my dismal edge. You see, my Grammie just died.

The story of her demise and the journey I traveled to attend this macabre event can, in itself, be told in the food. And the drink. Lots of the drink. I received my mom’s phone call that my beloved Grandmother had had a stroke at an ungodly hour in morning. Like 8am or something. I knew before I answered that it was bad news because if anyone knows not to call me before noon, it is my mother. There is something so amusing though about how the stroke went down that I smile just thinking of it now. You see my Grammie loved Chinese food, and she had cajoled my mom and stepfather into taking her to brunch at the China Buffet up on the hill between Prescott and Prescott, Valley. Grammie loved food, but she was feisty and discerning and a buffet suited her nicely. As a woman raised during the Great Depression the concept of “All you can eat” was deliciously thrilling. I remember being at a buffet with her once as a kid. She had brought an extra purse. I wondered why she carried two purses…well made me carry one…but then she started stuffing rolls and butter packets into her bag. Anything that wouldn’t soil her handbag she wrapped in napkins and tucked away. This was a particularly good lesson I learned and used later in my life when I was literally a starving actress in New York City.

So Grammie had gorged herself on the buffet. Interestingly, I was given her handbag by my mother, later in the week. It was full of tissues and lipstick but no spring rolls wrapped in napkins. This was to be her last meal. Perhaps, somehow, she knew this. In the Walgreens parking lot she suffered a severe stroke and luckily they were just two minutes from the hospital.

And so it came to pass that I scrambled to get “emergency orders” from the military. Although we are civilians we qualify for this luxury and after a kind but honest discussion with the nurse over the phone I knew it was only a matter of time. Amazingly, I was booked a flight, or rather several of them, within 48 hours of my mom’s phone call and before I could say “can you pour me another glass of wine please?” I was off to Tokyo. On to LA and finally landed in Phoenix where I was met by my incredible father whom I had not seen since I had moved to Japan five years prior! It was a hug like no other and our usual rapport picked up where it always does, on the phone or Skype, but now it was in person! And he had a lovely surprise for me lined up.

Carlos O’Brian’s Mexican Restaurant!

As a kid through my teenage years Dad and I would drive down to this splendid cantina before going to the independent movie theatre to watch foreign or obscure films that weren’t shown in the duplex of my hometown.

Dad enjoys a little bit of Mexican food!

Dad enjoys a little bit of Mexican food!

Every time, EVERY time we would order the “A Little Bit of Everything in Miniature” sharing platter which gave us each a mini version of tacos, flautas, tamales, enchiladas etc. I think we were both excited about it. It was heaven. Just me and my dad, talking’ ’bout movies, eating mexican food, drinking margaritas, enjoying the camaraderie and love that is special only to us. I was truly happy.

The further we drove north, toward my dying grandmother, the more that happiness evolved into a nervous dread. I was gagging for a glass of wine somewhere around Cortes Junction. By the time I was at my mother’s house and in her arms I was trying to control my tears. Tears of joy to be with the ones I loved, tears of exhaustion from my 24 hour journey, tears of dread to have to sleep in my Grammie’s room, and tears of mourning for a person who has not even died yet. And yet to my surprise my blessed mother and my stepdad, Ben, pulled out a lovely bottle of wine and told me just to sit. Drink. Hug. Ok? Ok.

Mom, Ben and Myself. Just hugging. Happy to be together.

Mom, Ben and Myself. Just hugging. Happy to be together.

I spent a glorious hour with my Grammie the next day. I fought back the tears, I sang songs to her, she was so happy to see me even though she couldn’t say so as she was on a breathing tube that was keeping her alive. That and a bag of water-looking nutrients jammed into her paper like skin. “That was her breakfast,” I thought. “Mom made me turmeric eggs and tomatoes, but this is what Grammie eats. Nothing but fluid she can’t even taste.” I immediately ran to the bathroom and threw up. When I returned I had a few brief moments of lucidity with her. I told her I loved her for the umpteenth time and she squeezed my hand and looked into my eyes and nodded. Then the doctors came and interrupted us and I saw her Grammie-ness slip away. She had held on for me to come. She was done. Still alive technically, but done.

For the first time since I was in college, I think, my mother, father and I sat down to meal together. We Genovese’s Italian, sweet little cafe that had been around since I was in high school. My mom and I had frequented it then and it was hilariously obvious that she still made it a regular stop in her week when the very attractive, strapping (no really that is a good word for him) young guy came by and said “Hey Connie, red wine?”

This began a week of eating and drinking, drinking and eating that I will remember for the rest of my life. I ordered prosecco. Two splits. Mom had a few red wines. Dad made fun of us, saying “Jesus you guys drink a lot of wine.” He sipped his sparkling water and I had a distinct feeling that there was a subconscious, slight envy that had settled in the back of his brain. Grammie’s situation reminded him of his own mother and his own mortality. He could have indulged as we did, but he is always put together, my father. I swear he should have been born an upper class Englishman in the Victorian era. He would have excelled at it. Mom and I are a little more splashy with our lives. We tend to do what we want to when we can, and at that moment, I could and would have me another prosecco.

Dad popped off to his friend’s house after that leaving my mom and I to discuss the inevitable. The “pulling of the plug,” as they say. I knew this was something that my mother did not want to deal with but I had made up my mind that Grammie was gone. So I dragged mom (oh sure, kicking and screaming, you know) up to the old bar that used to be a brothel, The Jersey Lilly. Named after Lilly Langtry, one of the most famous actresses of the old west, and one of my personal heroes, I had spent a lot of time in this bar every time I came home. It has a devastating view of the courthouse square and easy going bartenders. As I plied her with wine we came to the consensus that tomorrow was the day. Wine had never tasted so bitter. And so appropriate. I was beginning to understand this whole “wake” thing. We were already grieving. We started our wake.

That morning I woke up with the terrible anxiety of what was about to occur. It was 2am. I poured some wine and sat in my mother’s living room, trembling with anticipation. This was to be the worst of it, I told myself, as I sipped at the fabulous glass of my favorite wine Arizona Stronghold’s “Tazi.” Eventually my mother awoke and eventually we put on clothes. Eventually we walked out the door and eventually we signed the papers, said goodbye to a shell of my Grammie and walked away.

And the worst WAS over. We went to The Gurley Street Grill and sat in a dark booth with our wine and gluten free burgers. The food was so divine but I could barely eat. The next day we decided to do an official “wake” which to us meant brunch at the Peacock Room at the Hassayampa Hotel. We both had eggs Benedict and mimosas. I was beginning to see a theme here. Throughout the week my friends took me out, stuffed me with food, got me drunk on cocktails, mead and shots.

Bar number.....hmmmm...The Fabulous Valerie, tour guide for the debauched and one woman hair circus!

Bar number…..hmmmm…The Fabulous Valerie, tour guide for the debauched and one woman hair circus!

One friend, Valerie, whom I hadn’t seen since JR. HIGH SCHOOL took me on a crawl of all the cool new, trendy bars that had blossomed in my little hometown in my five year absence, including an amazing place run by her husband called The Point that made cocktails that made my head nearly float into the ether. If I had been able to down more I might have actually run into Grammie up there! And a little group put together by my dear, majestic friend Rachel at El Gato Azul…well what can I say? I was pretty spiffed by that time, but the music, which was her husband’s band, was amazing and I am assuming everything we imbibed was tremendous considering I don’t quite recall the ride home. No matter. It was beautiful, glorious life that greeted me in each of these establishments and even in my mother’s own home!  Friends lifted my spirits (and my family’s as well) through song and laughter and happy memories of our living lives. 10519531_10152825065989766_3988055014058735899_nWe ate, we drank, we made merry ourselves, as Dickens would say. There was nothing for it but to do so. People didn’t care if I had to unbutton my jeans because I had had too many tapas or if I stumbled a bit when I went up the stairs. We were celebrating life. And there I found my community coming in during a death, but unlike Sookie Stackhouse in True Blood, I don’t think anyone was there to see the freak. Well, they were there to see the freak, but because they loved her. Me.

Food and Drink are a manner of expression. My Grammie didn’t have a funeral because she didn’t want one. She probably felt the way that I do, that funerals are forced, unnatural. She wouldn’t want my mom and I wearing pantyhose and black dresses and some fuss made by some preacher she didn’t know. She knew better and that is why she put it in her will. She was 91 years old. She had been through many deaths. She knew what was needed. What one really wants to do is drown their sorrows a bit and remember all the good times. So we ate out just about every meal and toasted every damn drink to her name. She would have loved it.

In the obits they always say people who have kicked the bucket are “survived” by their relatives. I think this is an insulting thing to say about the dead person, as if they did something wrong, they tortured their loved ones. It also demonizes death as something to be survived, as if we, my mom and I, had to claw tooth and nail to get out of the clutches of the grim reaper as it swooped down and hovered around Grammie in the last few days of her life. Perhaps it felt like that at the time, but it doesn’t now. In fact I would like to say that she is “thrived” by her family instead, for that is what we endeavored, without even knowing it, to do once she had gone from our lives. We went out there and took a giant bite out of life, chewing slowly, swallowing glutinously and asking for more. More food, more wine, more LIFE. As “Auntie Mame” says in the film “Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death!” And Grammie certainly never starved at life’s banquet.

Toasting with My Grammie, Mary. Cheers, Gram! I raise this one for you!

Toasting with My Grammie, Mary. Cheers, Gram! I raise this one for you!

A BIG THANK YOU to the following establishments who’s food and beverages, atmosphere and hospitality helped my family THRIVE during this time of loss. If you are in Arizona please take time to enjoy these wonderful places!

Carlos Obrien’s in Phoenix http://www.carlosobriens.com

Genovese’s Italian Restaurant Prescott http://www.genovesesrestaurant.com

The Point Bar and Lounge Prescott https://www.facebook.com/thepointprescott

El Gato Azul Prescott http://www.elgatoazulprescott.com

The Jersey Lilly Saloon Prescott http://www.jerseylillysaloon.com

The Gurley Street Grill Prescott https://www.facebook.com/pages/Gurley-Street-Grill/190965994271565

The Hassayampa Prescott http://www.hassayampainn.com/default-en.html

Arizona Stronghold (I didn’t go to a location, just bought a case of their amazing wine!) http://www.azstronghold.com

And a GIANT THANK YOU to the United States Air Force for getting me “home” to be there for all of this!

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Specialty of the House

There’s an old joke that always makes me giggle: “They say you are what you eat. If that is true, is Hannibal Lecter more human than any of us?”
It aways gets me, especially in that twisted, funny spot in the side of my brain that has special, sewn-in pockets where I keep my morbid humor and my fascination with things not likely to be brought up at, say, a charity dinner. Amongst these pouches of the strange or weird is a well-worn metaphorical shoe box devoted to Cannibalism. It dates back, as far as I can tell, to my 5th or 6th grade year, my last, rebellious days as the only non-Catholic at the Sacred Heart School. I was at my babysitter’s place, an institution that came very inexpensive to my single mother. It was known as “The Public Library.” I happened upon a “Time Life” series called “True Crime.” They were large, leather bound tomes that described a different flavor of violent crime in each separate book. There was a book for “Crimes of Passion.” One for “The Mafia.” “Serial Killers” and the like. Amazed by the gruesome photos of crime scenes as I flipped through them (I think I stared at the famous shot of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre for an obscene amount of time) I found myself engrossed, incredulous that such things happened in the world. Quietly, my small town reality melted off of me on to the carpet of that library floor where I sat. When it was time for my mom to pick me up I left it there, dehydrating away in vapors, never to be seen again. And thus began a strange interest in so many macabre aspects of crime and death, that any parents other than my own, would have been truly concerned. Instead they educated me. Films, tv shows, books. I have cool parents, what can I say?
The first time I saw “Silence of the Lambs” I was transfixed. I had heard that the film was so terrifying but strangely I found romanticism in the relationship between Hannibal and Clarice, a feeling totally vindicated by the author himself in his literary sequel. I liked the idea of this guy going around, eating assholes….well not literal assholes, you understand…eating “the rude.” Of course the idea of actually having to kill and butcher someone made my tummy remind me why I did not ride rollercoasters, but there was this sort of snarky glint in my eye, when someone, for instance, bullied one of my friends for being gay, or a nerd or whatever. I would just turn to them and say “Don’t worry! Hannibal will just eat so-and-so.” In a strange way, my teenage brain just accepted Hannibal Lecter as having “an alternative lifestyle.”

It wasn’t until I read about the Donner Party and saw the slightly absurd film “Ravenous,” that I thought about the idea that there could be more to it than just the compulsion to kill and eat. That maybe there is something to the myth that once you taste human flesh, you become addicted, that nothing ever satisfies your hunger again. Not having eaten any human flesh other than the hangnails I tend to neurotically chew at, when I am deep in thought, I really had, nor have, any idea about the validity of this theory. To me it is like heroin. I KNOW people SAY it’s better than sex, the best feeling on earth, but I will take their word for it. There are limits to my bohemian spirit.

This concept of cannibalism as addiction leads me to this fabulous episode of “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” entitled “Specialty of the House,” which I happened across on Youtube the other night. Based on a story by Stanley Ellin, it is the story of a posh English businessman who takes his young protege to his exclusive dining club called Spirro’s and pontificates about the exquisite…you guessed it….specialty of the house. Below is the link to the 20 minute episode. Have a gander before reading further if you get pissed off by spoilers.

This film struck me as terribly amusing and bridging an interesting gap between the elitist lore of Hannibal’s fine cuisine, with the mythology of the addictive, demanding obsessions of the other side of the cannibal coin. You must be upper crust to be part of this club, but watch out for the other members or you will be baked IN the crust.

What one must really knead their mind around is the real cannibals in the world and what, in particular, is their ideology that allows them a moral reality where eating a fellow human being is not just for survival but a delicacy and privilege. Or even something deeper, like in the case of German celebrity cannibal, Armin Meiwes.

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A Fish Story

It’s 5am. In the darkness of the remote dock the lapping of the ocean seems to whisper to me. Something about adventure, excitement….but I was honestly too tired to listen closely. My feet, full of the chronic cement that seems to infest them in early mornings, trudge slowly toward the light on a mast, the only light on this desolate, haunting mooring. Suddenly, leaping out of the virtual silence like a chainsaw in a horror film, erupted the spectacularly loud sound of a boat engine, revving itself up. Before I knew it, I had been ushered on to a small fishing boat so well worn I was slightly afraid that instead of learning how to deep sea fish in the next 12 hours I would, perhaps, be involved in another impending “calamity at sea!” href=”https://gratuitousgrub.files.wordpress.com/2013/09/20130911-164636.jpg”>20130911-164636.jpg

I tucked myself into a corner of the boat, wrapping my arm around a rickety metal rod of some sort. My backpack, stashed with mini bottles of rum, a bathing suit and a first aid kit (you know, everything you need if you are lost at sea) was thrust under my legs and I tried to listen intently to what the strapping guy with the fishing rod was talking about, but as the boat started flying off into the inky water all I could do was stare back at the island of Okinawa, slowly becoming smaller and smaller as the sun began to rise over it’s sleepy terrain. It was majestic! All thoughts of the actual fishing fizzled from my mind as my inner sailor crawled out of the drowsy panic and began drinking in the salty sea spray and delicious, “apparent wind.” That’s a nautical term. Yes, I am being pretentious. Of course I, who am used to the moderate to slow pace of leisure sailing, was overwhelmed by the sheer force at which we were hurtling toward the deep, open water, but as I clambered to the bow of our little vessel and nestled into what would become my spot on deck, looking straight off into the unknown, I began to feel a giddy sense of pride. I was doing something that people dream of their whole lives! I was “living in the cool,” as one of my fellow ex-pats would say.

Of course “the cool” became hot as the sun rose in glorious reds, oranges and purples and by the time we had reached our destination, an hour and a half or so out to sea, I was less enchanted and more overwhelmed. I was on a boat in the middle of the ocean with a bunch of people I didn’t know and there was no control I had over the outcome of the next 12 hours. This, you might be realizing, is a bit of a thing for me. One of the many reasons I love sailing is that, more or less, when you don’t count our ironic and devious friend Mother Nature, I control where I go and when and whom I take on board. I had relinquished my control to a barefooted, gap toothed Okinawan man who had skin like leather and was driving the boat with his foot, frequently laughing as some of his “guests” fell down or got sea sick. His name was Mr. Miyagi. I kid you not.

I finally gave up the freak out, as it was so exhausting and thoroughly pointless, and settled in to trying to figure out this whole fishing thing. For the last four years….even more…I have had a major bucket list type desire to catch a fish and learn to clean and gut it. So I approached the strapping deck hand with a mini bottle of rum and asked him if he wouldn’t mind teaching me how to go from ocean to kitchen ready…that is, if I caught anything. Chan, as he was known to us, was very happy to oblige and said when we docked, fish I caught or not, he would teach me everything he knew. Chipper, with a goal in mind, I set to figuring out this foreign object called “fishing pole.” It was pretty easy, really. Not the complex art form I had prepared to be crap at after watching movies like “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” or “A River Runs Through It.” Deep sea fishing, as I learned, is more about sheer stamina and pure muscle….of which I have NONE.

No sooner had I cast my first line into the water a tug alerted me that, Oh Lordy, I had me a fish on the hook!

And then my arms decided to secede from my body.

I couldn’t believe the amount of strength it took to reel this creature in. “Chan the Deck Hand” came over and held my pole as I put my whole body into bringing in this still live creature that would soon be on my table! It took me about five minutes but I had finally caught my first fish! A yellowfin tuna. I watched in fascination as Chan slit it’s throat and threw it into a bucket of water that quickly became a bucket of diluted blood. It was incredible!

It wasn’t a half hour til I got to reel in another tuna on my own! I felt like a warrior! A survivor! I was puling my own food out of the ocean!!! It was a heady, surreal and empowering experience. Something that would change my whole perspective on food. href=”https://gratuitousgrub.files.wordpress.com/2013/09/20130911-164918.jpg”>20130911-164918.jpg

We enjoyed a great, long, sunburn-y day at sea. The boat (which was 8 of us) brought in 50+ fish, 6 of which were my very own, huge tunas! The last fish I caught, was perhaps the highlight of the day as I had, at this point, shaking arm muscles and a sunburn forming that would rival a cooked lobster. I was so very hot and so the captain told the deck hand he should shoot me down with some sea water from the pump. This he did. In my face! And just as I was blinded by the salt a yank came on my pole and blindly I put every last ounce of energy I had into reeling that mutha in. The entire boats was laughing and cheering and when the tuna finally plopped down at my feet we realized I had brought in the largest fish of the day!!! Blind.

As we turned back toward where shore would eventually be I sat on the bow with my legs hanging off the tip, listening to “The Poxy Boggards” sing dirty sea shanties on my iPod. I was full of salt and sun, stinking of fish and happy as a clam. I started thinking about the whole process of fishing. About Okinawa and the fishing culture that is so integral to their society. I realized that I had spent years on this island, buying fish from the fishermen without really understanding how intense and amazing what they do is. This thought sauntered me on to a realization about how very little I really comprehend about where food comes from. And how if I, a forager in the forest of food amazement, knew as little as I did, then what did people all over the world, who only buy their food at supermarkets even know or understand?

When Chan taught me to clean and gut a fish it bordered on a strange ecstasy for me. The precision, the lines, the anatomy, hell the sheer blood and guts! I was doing something primal. Something people have been doing for thousands of years! Something that the average person, who thinks fish come from the blue styrofoam trays at Safeway, cannot do.

I took my loot home and sat on the roof with one of my very own fish. After admiring it’s beauty, the way it’s fins spread, the colors and the life that it had, I made the cuts, I pulled the guts, I removed the bones, I pulled off the skin and I filleted the meat. In that moment, I felt so very accomplished. I felt as if I had climbed Mt. Everest and was looking at the view….except my view was of a life completely changed. Changed by a fishing trip in the East China Sea. Filets in hand, I slopped down to the kitchen, marinaded, baked, added veggies and greek yoghurt and created the BEST tuna salad I had ever had in my life. From ocean to plate, I was completely responsible for what was accomplished. It was, without a doubt, sheer Forage heaven!

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Grown Ass Woman!

I recently just finished my first article for the magazine “2 Raw For TV.” I’m their new Food and Beverage Writer, which I think deserves a little bit of fanfare! My article about “Healthy Comfort Food” will premiere in June. I will, naturally, jump around on the blog and scream happy about it. Hell, I’m doing so right now!

Whilst I am tooting my own horn I am sitting in Cafe Jiji, a joint I reviewed in:  https://gratuitousgrub.wordpress.com/2013/01/05/jiji/     that has become my “office” of sorts. There is nothing like being able to sit down in a nice sunlit corner of a cafe, whip out my computer and not actually have to even ask for a glass of wine. It just appears. It’s always different but completely suited to my taste.  I can sit for hours. I can be still. Quiet. Alone. I can write.

My world has been in a massive upheaval, as of late. I have had some pretty scary health issues, particularly in my stomach realm, which as a foodie is really upsetting. Directly following (like by a day) some dear friends of mine moved to the other side of the world. Then I opened my home to a friend who is being deported in a few weeks and lost her apartment. As a solitary being (aside from my sainted, patient and understanding husband), it has been a challenge to share my little insular world, to “learn to be still,” as my father likes to quote “The Eagles” to me.  Alas, I have been where she is, having been virtually weeks away from deportation myself at one point in England and know the fear of not knowing what I am going to do next. To top it ALL OFF my in-laws are in town. They do not like me. I have never figured out why, but there it is. Naturally things went from bad to worse. Well I went from bad to worse. Let’s put it that way.

I never thought of myself as a fragile person but I suddenly found myself weak, strained, despondent, desperate to be left alone and, the most amazing of all things, NOT EATING!  I have rarely, if ever, lost my appetite! I am laughing to myself quietly, thinking of a zombie sitting at a fine restaurant saying “no sir, thank you very much but I have had quite enough brains.” Burp.

I was cooking food for everybody, my friend, her son, my family and so on. Three course meals every night! Boeuf Bourguignon! Bison Steak in a Whole Grain Mustard, Agave and Rosemary Rub! Red Berry Pie! Creamy Roasted Garlic and Cauliflower Soup! And a salad….oh a salad, my friends, that would knock your panties off! It was a randomly made up mix of fresh arugula, romaine, chopped cherry essence prunes, almonds, kalmata olives in a roasted orange bell pepper, garlic, onion and red wine viniagrette!!! It was stupid awesome.

I put so much energy, love, and power into my work, cooking for these folks that I found myself left with no energy at all. I have heard people talk about housewives and mothers giving so much to everyone but themselves that they lose their minds. I hit a breaking point. There was only so much my psyche, who is used to getting away with everything like a spoiled child of single parents….oh wait…..yeah. Here I am, a grown ass woman, with delusions of grandeur such as becoming some relief worker in, like, India, someday, and I can’t even handle a few people I care about being in my space for a millisecond. I suddenly feel like I am so damn selfish that I should be on The Real Housewives of Okinawa….if there were such a travesty.

Yet I do feel that there is truth in the concept that you HAVE to take time for yourself. Step away. This afternoon the atmosphere in my world could be spread on a Carr’s cracker and served with some fig confit and brie. I left the house, this little computer in my backpack, my journal, my pen and my sunglasses. Every step I took toward my favorite cafe was a breath of fresh air and when I sat down at “my” table to a fresh, gorgeous little feast of fresh fish and veggies with a gorgeous bottle of wine I felt as if winter had blown away my stress. When Manekin, my fairy godfather of wine (and Jiji manager) said to me “You look like Spring! Outside also a little like Spring! I bring you a plate and glass full of Spring! Enjoy Spring!” I finally took a hint. Seasons, days, circumstances….they all change, just like the menu at Jiji. Just like the food I buy from my local markets. Just like the mandatory rotation of the fridge.

And I could change.

I could choose to be blustery, grey old winter, withering everything around me, or I could rotate. I could be spring. Shiny and hopeful for warm days and sunshine and a new crop of basil in the garden. So tonight, I am going to do what I can to sprinkle light on my friends and family. I am going to hit up the farmers stall, grab what is beautiful and fresh and serve it up as a peace offering. But also as some sort of comfort, because I know now, I am not the only one who needs quiet, love and support.

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Ryan’s Romantic Rescue

I recently was asked to be a guest writer on a lovely, sexy blog, “Lovin’ With Lola” (http://lolakbooks.blogspot.jp/ ) and of course I have been a lazy little cook who has yet to do the shopping for the blog I want to write for her! However, I stole her great idea and asked a friend of mine, who is a twitter-pated newlywed, but more importantly, a Le Cordon Bleu trained chef, to write a no-nonsense recipe blog for Forage. He is also an old friend, and not a little bit snarky. I am pleased to present Ryan Klindtworth’s Romantic Rescue, be it for your first date, anniversary, Valentine’s Day or whenever you want to get laid. This is a great, 4-course spread that is “guy-friendly” so send it along to your friends!

Chef Ryan To The Rescue!!!!

Chef Ryan To The Rescue!!!!

RYAN’S ROMANTIC RESCUE

by Ryan Klindtworth

Do you have your reservation for Valentine’s Day yet?  It’s not far away. What do you mean you don’t have your reservation?  Great, now you have to show the woman in your life how you feel about her with a coupon to your favorite chain restaurant! It’s time for option B. Now you have to cook it all by yourself.  Guess what! Option B is so much better! Trust me when I say this, it’s very sexy to cook for the person you care about.   What I have here are 4 courses to wow, and impress her.

Course 1:  The Appetizer-Prosciutto Wrapped Melon

Food Needed:

1 Cantaloupe

6 oz Prosciutto

Directions:

Cut melon in half and remove seeds.  Cut the melon halves into quarters and cut into cubes.  Wrap the cantaloupe with the Prosciutto, and put a toothpick to hold meat in place…ready to serve.

Course 2:  Caesar Salad

Food Needed:

3 oz Caesar Dressing (you could make it, but you will have your hands full. *Natasha has a note on this to follow)

10 oz Chopped Romaine Lettuce

2 oz Pecorino Romano

3 oz Croutons

Directions:

Toss lettuce and dressing.  Season with cheese and croutons.  (Easiest part of the whole dinner, so don’t try to over think it.  No woman has ever been impressed by an ability to make salads.)

Course 3:  Dinner-Chicken Parm

Food needed:

2 Chicken breasts

Flour

2 Eggs-to make and egg wash

Bread Crumbs

Olive Oil

Marinara Sauce

4 slices Mozzarella Cheese

Directions:

Pound chicken down to a nice thin piece, about a quarter inch.  The thinner the chicken, the faster it will cook.  Once you feel it’s ready, season the chicken with salt and pepper.  Dredge chicken with flour, then egg, then breadcrumbs.  Put chicken off to the side until all chicken is ready to cook.  Once chicken is ready, heat up a pan, and add a little olive oil, enough to coat but not drown the breaded chicken.  You want to cook it until it is golden brown on both sides.  Cook on a low flame so that you ensure that the chicken is cooked all the way through.  Salmonella is not a nice way of saying I love you.  Dry off excess oil from chicken and put on a cookie sheet.  Put marinara on top, enough to cover, but not directly on the edges of the chicken, leave a little room so it doesn’t spill onto the pan.  Mozzarella goes on top of that, 2 slices on each piece of chicken.  Put in an oven, set for 350, and cook until cheese is melted. Serve with garlic bread and pasta (I really hope I don’t have to explain how to make pasta.)

Where's my glass?

Where’s my glass?

 Course 4: Dessert-Banana Fosters

Note: Make this dessert in front of your date, it’s more impressive.

1 Banana- sliced into pieces

1 oz Brown Sugar

1 oz Butter

1/5 oz Banana Liquor

1/5 oz Brandy

2 scoops of Vanilla Ice Cream

Cinnamon (in a shaker)

Directions:  Heat up a pan.  Put brown sugar in the pan, and start melting.  Constantly stirring sugar until it’s mostly melted, add butter.  Stir until you see a caramel sauce forming.  Add your banana slices, and stir until it coats the banana.  Add liquor and brandy and tilt pan into the fire…

!!!Warning!!!

The pan is going to flame up on you, be VERY, VERY, VERY careful!  A major house fire is not the way to impress her. Once it flames up, let fire die a little, then shake cinnamon over the remaining fire, it should sparkle.  Once the fire dies out, add sauce/banana mixture to ice cream.  Only make one, share and feed each other…trust me, it’s sexy.

Not all that hard, or that expensive, but a very nice way to tell someone that you care about how you feel on Valentines day.

* Natasha’s Caesar Note: Didja know this dressing was invented by an Italian named Caesar Cardini in restaurants in Mexico and California? Evidently he was drinking loads of booze in Tijuana, escaping the confines of prohibition and at some point ran out of usual staples. He totally made this dressing on the fly! Cool huh. You can buy a bottled version at any grocery store and it is absolutely scrummy! Or you can be all wacky and try an make your own. But you are under the pressure that Ryan thinks you might, just buy some Cardini’s! But whatever you do, Ryan has got you covered!!!

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Sitting in the Sidelines

I love a good sports bar.

The 'olden days" at the best footie bar on the planet, Nevada Smith's!

The ‘olden days” at the best footie bar on the planet, Nevada Smith’s!

I spent several years of my life spending two football (soccer) matches a week at the late Nevada’s Smith’s, aptly subtitled “Where football is Religion!” I went on a bit about this in my blog Drunk Food (https://gratuitousgrub.wordpress.com/2011/10/10/drunk-food/) an ode to those of us die-harders who think a good sports bar should warm the hearts of all sports fans who think it’s quite natural to drink Magners at 8am.

Magners in the morning, Magners in the morning 1,2,3.....

Magners in the morning, Magners in the morning 1,2,3…..

Even when I am not interested in the sport, I tend to really enjoy the sort of comfort food that comes out of sports bars, things like chicken wings, fries, jalapeno poppers, meat pies, pizzas and so on. My one stipulation is that nothing is bought in frozen. There is a proper chef, or at least a damn good cook, actually putting together simple fare that tastes great with beer, cider, cocktails and VICTORY….or consoles your loss. The great sports bar has lots of TVs, doesn’t smell like an asshole, has patient, friendly wait and/or bar staff, serves up great drink specials at a super pocket-friendly price (after all you are gonna be there for at LEAST 90 min. if you are a footie fan or who-knows-how-long if you favor baseball) and it’s gotta pad your stomach with good food whilst you drink and scream and cry and laugh. Or sulk.

So I have been absent a good sports bar, in my tenure so far, her on the island. I have found a few izakayas (Japanese bars with food. Lovely!) to watch cup finals but the time difference has pretty much robbed me of my hooliganism. I had, however, heard of this place called Sidelines, which by every account either sucked, was fabulous, or they really couldn’t remember…perhaps because they suffered some brain damage from being stupid, 20 years old and…well, let’s just leave it at that. I had no idea where this place was, and honestly no interest in an American Sports Bar on Okinawa. I probably should have, for many reasons, but some of the people who raved about it….let’s just say, their tastes weren’t the greatest I have encountered on my world journey.

It actually happened by accident, this whole review. Jason and I were set to explore a sushi bar that is supposedly PHENOMENAL. Once we got inside the place we realized that it was, in fact, probably pretty damn amazing as we couldn’t get a seat to save our lives. Well, we could have, but Japanese jails are not known for their fine dining, so we walked along the seawall, on our way to Hearth (https://gratuitousgrub.wordpress.com/2012/12/31/hearth-a-cafe-for-the-cool-cats/) when my husband turns to me and jokingly says, “Well there’s that Sideline’s place. You wanna review that?” And with a big, old, “What-the-hell!” from me, we sidled inside the dark, neon, empty bowels of Sidelines Sports Bar & Grille. (You gotta love the pretentious “e” at the end of grill!)

We were met with the Okinawan version of a Hooter’s girl. Her uniform was neat and tight and I got the opportunity, within a glance, to give her a pelvic exam and mammogram. I thought…Sure, cool. I enjoy Hooters’ concept. This totally works. She was ridiculously friendly, either out of management’s orders, boredom or from slipping too many shots from behind the bar. What? OK maybe she was just a REALLY nice girl. Sure. Stilettos make me jump for joy too! Especially while serving all night. She showed us to our seats and plunked herself down at one of the chairs like she was just gonna hang with us, pushed her tits onto the table and began to chat so inanely I can’t even remember what the hell she was on about. Now I understand this technique. It works really well for single men, makes them tip well, they feel like she is interested in them. She flirts, their egos burst, she gets tips. I KNOW. I DID this as a bartender in London. All my girlfriends who have worked as waitstaff know this trick. This trick is old. But when a married couple come in, people on dates, or what about a family, or an elderly woman, or any other number of conglomeration you can conceive of who just wants to chill, it is time to change the tactic.

I ordered a vodka and soda. Simple, sophisticated, easy, AND an especially good way to discern the aptitude of the bartender when  trying out a new bar. I encourage everyone to find their own simple cocktail that they love. Learn to make it perfectly. Ask your local bartender to teach you. You can size up a place by the way they serve your favorite. Mine came in a pint glass. No, I’m not fucking with you. And oh guess what!? You couldn’t taste the alcohol or the lime (that was served instead of the lemon i ordered) to save your life. I suddenly got the entire theme behind this place. They were out to trick people into thinking they were getting something great, but were, in fact, cutting corners and pulling magic tricks on stupid people to make the most profit. They were letting the quality suffer in place of tricking people into thinking they were getting more quantity bang for their buck. Placebo Dining.

sidelines1My point was proven when our first course, a recommendation from the vapid, vaginally exhibitionistic waitress, arrived. To just drive home the hilarity of that last sentence it was the “Meat Lovers” Pizza. Yeah. I’m still kinda pissing myself. The pizza itself, when it came, was absolutely the epitome of frozen crap. It was limp, undercooked, soggy, tasteless and so bad that we could only stomach to pick a bit of the cheese and sausage from the top. It was like they took a toothbrush of tomato paste and called it sauce. We had the rest boxed up and later fed it to the seawall cats, which wasn’t honestly a true charity, we just didn’t want to insult the poor, bimbo waitress and thought we’d help the homeless kitties….use it to glue together a cat house for themselves….or kill rats.

Sooooo it was about this time that a gaggle of Japanese women in 8 inch platform stilettos, fake eyelashes, water-bras, with eardrum piercing giggles came in to provide us with some more gynecological exams. They looked a bit disappointed to find just a couple, sitting having dinner, but coochied over to the pool table, which was, evidently the most HILARIOUS thing they had ever seen and proceeded to SHRIEK in delight as they seemed to discover that round balls rolled. All the while they glanced at the door, waiting, in lurk for the first single American man (because honestly not many Japanese men would be caught dead in this place) to pop up and give them a chance to go fishing. Once or twice a sleazy looking guy in a leather coat came in and out. They flocked to him. As for young marines, I feel bad for the guys stuck in barracks cause these gals didn’t get the memo that there was a curfew. No boys to play with that night! Too bad, poor dears. Better luck next weekend. If it wasn’t so sad it would have been hilarious. Ok fine I laughed. It was a fascinating sociological exhibition!

Our next course of their “famous” chicken wings came with little finesse. Or rapidity.

Wings. The staple of a sports pub....usually.

Wings. The staple of a sports pub….usually.

We ordered “hot honey mustard,” as I was told it was the best, via our little waitress from the bartender. It was…nothing special.

Pork Sliders. Pedestrian but edible. The fries we soggy, by the way....

Pork Sliders. Pedestrian but edible. The fries we soggy, by the way….

The sauce was overly acidic and salty and the wings seemed to have been hanging out in the back awhile before very slooooowwwwlyyyy being doused in said sauce. Jason, who was ravenous, threw them down like medicine, whilst I ordered another “vodka soda.” Last but not least was the plate of pork sliders. This was the highest point of the night…well that and going to the bathroom only to have a picture of David Beckham watch me pee. The sliders were alright. I would say that, aside from being dry, they were up to par with one of those chain sports pubs that has a strict, yet moderate standard of quality. They were passably agreeable, as was our perky little serving wench until we read the final bill.

I couldn’t believe it.

They fucking charged me $24 for two vodka and sodas! What is this? A restaurant or a shitty brothel?
I haven’t been that gobsmacked by a cocktail bill since the first time I went to the Hudson Hotel in NYC and was presented with $10 for a glass of wine! (Give me a little credit, I was only 21 yrs old!) Who the flying fuck gives a sports bar in Okinawa the RIGHT to serve you watered down $12 dollar cocktails? You do. You do by making the choice to actually be a patron of this place. What gives them the right to serve frozen, bought in food? The people who keep eating there. The idiots who plan their parties, watch their TVs, drink their watered down beer, hit on their ‘buy me drink” girls. It is the consumer’s fault when a business as pathetic as Sidelines is allowed to stay open and make money. If this gets you off, if you don’t care about anything that goes into your mouth as long as you get wasted and get a shag (which is totally kickass, in my opinion. I’ve been there), then please, by all means, keep hanging out at Sidelines, but I expect more out of my brothels…errr sports bars…like at least being fulfilled for my money. And I would, someday, like to feel the camaraderie. The roar of the hooligans. Either way, in this case, I must say, I would rather play in the game than sit in the Sidelines.

Beck: He likes to watch you pee!

Becks: He likes to watch you pee!

Oh and as a gal, I have better sense then to frequent a place whose lady’s room main door looks like this: sidelines2In my next installment: A guest blog by Chef Ryan Klindtworth, including sexy, date-impressing Valentine’s Day recipes!!!

Cheers,

Tashie

Posted in Disaster, Drunk, drunk food, Football, Nevada Smith's, Okinawa, Okinawa Restaurant Review, Pizza, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Jiji

Showing my artistic love in leftover squid ink sauce!

Showing my artistic love in leftover squid ink sauce!

I was wondering when it was gonna happen. The day I finally got called out by my local cafe about my culinary meanderings here on “Forage.” It wasn’t four months ago that my husband just “happened to mention,” during a lovely dinner down at the Jiji Cafe, that I was a food writer and reviewer. I met the chefs, who were lovely, and chatted with them. Suddenly, the pressure was on….which meant that I could not find the words to save my life. Thankfully I had a great excuse. The pictures did not turn out due to the fabulous, yet intimate lighting in the restaurant.

"Manekin" and the intimacy of Jiji.

“Manekin” and the intimacy of Jiji.

But that excuse could not hold me forever, especially when I frequent Cafe Jiji at least once every other week, sometimes up to three times a week. I bring my friends for drinks, I go for dinner, my cleaning lady hits them up every Tuesday for lunch, hell I even write these blogs sitting in a nice cozy corner next to their bar. So it is about damn time I wrote about this great little joint that I dearly love!

My dear friend, Hannah, enjoying one of many cocktails we have toasted over at this lovely cafe!

My dear friend, Hannah, enjoying one of many cocktails we have toasted over at this lovely cafe!

Cafe Jiji sits on the side of one of the curving, narrow main hilltop roads in my village of Kitanakagusuku, just a nice little meander from my home. It is, perhaps, the greatest discovery in my local area that I have made in the years I have lived here in Okinawa. You see, there are those few places, as a world traveler, as an expat, that pop up in your life. Places that have so much heart, attitude, creativity and comfort, that you almost immediately feel at home, no matter where you are.

Cafe Jiji, the view from my writing nook.

Cafe Jiji, the view from my writing nook.

It doesn’t matter what language you are speaking or where you fall on the longitude and latitude, but that you some how share a connection through great, creative, gorgeous food and drink!

Hanging out at Jiji, writing this for you!

Hanging out at Jiji, writing this for you!

Jiji lives up to everything I adore in a perfect hangout. I grew up in the cool 90’s cafes of downtown Prescott, Arizona, which, at their time, were revolutionary for a little hick town but have since continued  to create an amazing, thriving cafe culture in my hometown. We had these artistic little corners of paradise where you could escape into a cocoon of laid-back warmth and acceptance. They always had mellow lighting, great music, supported local artists and musicians, and most importantly made wonderful food and drinks.  There were only one or two of these in my childhood but they made their mark on me and I can honestly say that when I move into a neighborhood, whether it was Brooklyn, Paris, London, Cedar City, Okinawa, I have searched for this perfect creative-comfort cafe. I always found one. And that one, here in Okinawa is Cafe Jiji.

Pigging out with my bro-in-law! Mmmm Carbonara!

Pigging out with my bro-in-law! Mmmm Carbonara!

Jiji is so very eclectic in every aspect. It is like an arty-hipster, a traditional hippie and a totally sophisticated gastronome exploded all over a a found-art gallery. In a beautiful, perfect, holy-crap-how-did-they-think-of-this manner. Dried flowers and plants, candles. hand blown glass, antique furniture, fixtures and shabby-chic agedness accent the decor, without dominating or defining the dining area or bar. The Bar itself is chalk full of the pleasures of libation, the kind you don’t get in many places in Okinawa. Things like Chartreuse, Absente, Pernod….bevvies that make a gal like me stay much later than I should!

As I have been frequenting this establishment for quite awhile, they do take care of me. They always surprise me with their latest, special wine. “Manekin,” as he likes to be called, took the time upon my first few visits, to get deep into my wine tastes. He NEVER disappoints me with a recommendations, and they have a constant flow of new wines….so much so that they don’t really have a wine list. They will bring the bottles to your table and let you taste.

So, the food. You wanna talk about the food?

Tandoori Chicken Lunch Special

Tandoori Chicken Lunch Special

Indeed.

Duck in Berry Sauce...oh and a meal.

Duck in Berry Sauce…oh and a meal.

I don’t return to a restaurant if I don’t like the food. I don’t blog about it if I haven’t returned many times or plan to. I don’t freak out and NOT write a blog about a joint unless I am so overwhelmed by it’s fabulousness that I have to spend time, eat everything on the menu and put my kiss of approval upon this place. Jiji gets kisses.

Homemade pasta!

Homemade pasta!

Pasta of the Day. Pork with Basil Sauce. Epic.

Pasta of the Day. Pork with Basil Sauce. Epic.

So what do I recommend? Well to begin with, they do make their own pasta for a few of the dishes, so any of those are naturally on the list. Jiji is open for Lunch, Afternoon Tea and Dinner. Essentially for 12 hours there is always something on offer! Quiche, Salads, Pasta, Fish, Pork and Steak, and amazing desserts. The menu changes with the seasons, with what is available locally and organically. It changes with the winds of Okinawa and whims of the chefs.

Blue Cheese and Mimolette with Honey.

Blue Cheese and Mimolette with Honey.

We have had amazing cheese plates with Italian honey, specials like tonight: Pork and Potato Pasta in Pesto Green Sauce (which was divine!) to a Bone Marrow and Cartilage Risotto. They make a mean Carbonara, an exquisite Duck Breast in Berry Sauce, and I am always thrilled when the Coconut and Shrimp Risotto with Squid Ink Sauce pops up on the menu.

Coconut Shrimp Risotto with Squid Ink Sauce! Pure DECADENCE!

Coconut Shrimp Risotto with Squid Ink Sauce! Pure DECADENCE!

The set menu is really the way to go. It comes with a beautiful salad dressed in their signature black sesame. You also get the appetizer of the day, usually quiche but sometimes an interesting concoction of, again, whatever is fresh and seasonal. And of course you finish up with a beautiful plate of desserts, always different, always scrumptious!

One of many dessert plates!

One of many dessert plates!

If you are just looking for a nice place to spend the afternoon they have many teas and coffees to choose from, including a tea menu offering quiche of the day, bruschetta and other various nibbles. You will, if you come around tea time, see the cool coffee klatches of Japanese mommies who bring their little ones to read the multi language kids books on hand whilst they gossip over said nibbles. It is a relaxing time to be there, amazingly, and bridges that gap into cocktail hour, which of course Jiji excels in as well. To be honest, for a person like myself who doesn’t tend to deal with daylight til 10 or 11 am, Cafe Jiji provides the perfect opportunity to be social or secluded and spend my day however I see fit. Coffee or wine? Lunch, tea or dinner? Pasta or salad? They are an equal opportunity cafe with something intensely pleasant available for anyone. 098-987-7515 www.jijicafe.com

Quiche of the day with Shiquasa Beer

Quiche of the day with Shiquasa Beer

 

 

 

Posted in Comfort Food, Okinawa, Okinawa Restaurant Review, Okinawan Cuisine, Pork, Uncategorized, Wine | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments