Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Still Hungry

Still like The Blue Lagoon in Port Antonio, Jamaica
I am still recovering from the turkey binge. I feel heavy as it’s a busy time, the specter of  spent money looming overhead. It’s that time—the closing of the year draws closer. It is the end of things that never began and the beginning of things that never ended. I’m busting at the seams, the guilt of still wanting more and more when there are so many who have nothing. I go through my fridge, foil-wrapped throw-aways staring back at me—the turkey leg, the Basmati rice from four weeks ago, the funky cheese I forgot about and the three year old kremas (an amazing Haitian drink). Yet, I complain about having nothing to eat, my inner-spoiled brat sadistically unquenchable. I drive down North Miami Beach Boulevard, sad faces draping the day with cardboard signs like, “I have cancer, and I have no food” or “Laid-off and Hungry.” Sometimes, I give. Other times, I look away, annoyed, still caught up in my own hunger for quietness, stillness and maybe, more cookies.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Kiss My Morbier

Muenster, flour, bell pepper, scallion, carnation milk, & butter 
Woe betide the creature who steps into my garden when I’m cooking Thanksgiving dinner. For me, cooking is a deep, meditative journey and to prepare for such an adventure, I must nourish my spirit with secret treats that will get me through the congested parking lots, frequent jaunts to Walmart and Whole Foods, chopping, massaging, and leaky onion-eyes. These treats are not on the menu. They’re in my gourmet squatter stash. This year I hooked myself up with a quarter pound of morbier and Boar's Head Prosciutto Piccolo. The prosciutto piccolo tastes like a knock-off Proscuitto di Parma with its yummy, salty bite. And it’s way cheaper. I love morbier funk—the detestable, French cheese aroma that’s comparable to sweaty armpits. I grabbed some Jamaican water crackers from my mother’s cracker jar since they were there. These crackers are thick and can handle the most creative topping towers. I made this crazy dip with mayo, finely chopped rosemary I pulled from my garden, ground black pepper and a spike of scotch bonnet pepper sauce. Increíble. And, of course, there’s the wine. I bought an Australian Grenache not worth mentioning and ended up sipping some Korbel a cousin gave me as a gift. It’s not Champagne, but it served its purpose. I was ready to work. It’s taken me eight whole years t0 master the art of making a creamy mac-n-cheese. Inspired by Haitian cooks’ amazing macaroni au gratin, I subbed whole milk for carnation milk. I also subbed sharp cheddar with Finlandia aged Muenster which is reminiscent of a gorgeous, sharp British cheddar. It was a beautiful Thanksgiving dinner. My father told Jamaican duppy (ghost) stories that had us cry with laughter. I watched my family chew bones, their eyes licking the plates. When my mother wandered into the kitchen, I stuck a piece of piccolo-wrapped morbier into her mouth. “Mmmmm. Where did this come from?,” she asked.   

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Cooking for the Jam-American Sadists

A black pepper dry salami mixed green salad precedes this year's gluttony showdown

In my family, I’m considered “The Black American.” If I do anything distinctly un-Jamaican, my mother, an old-school, Jamaican kitchen-magician is quick to explain my peculiar behavior: She was born in this country. You know how dem stay. I’m a first generation Miamian, and so for my pre-dominantly Jamaican-born family, I’m usually the go-to reference for all things black American. My mother loves to hear the southern, ghetto, black American idiosyncrasies that drip from my mixed Jamaican-Brooklyn-Miami-white-girl twang. She loves when I precede our now adult conversations with: Girl, she said this or he said that. That said, Thanksgiving is considered my holiday. I took the cooking-torch from my mother back in 2000, vowing to bring black America to our Kingstonian table that usually begat dishes like curry goat, rice and gungo peas and jerk turkey. As a child, I secretly envied my friends whose Thanksgiving tables boasted macaroni-n-cheese, honeymoon salad, homemade buttermilk biscuits, peach cobbler, sweet potato pie, and those turkeys that looked like the ones in the Crisco commercials. I hated our desserts which consisted mainly of “puddin’ ”—a dense sweet potato dessert that I’m still not crazy about. But there’s a lot of pressure to please these Jamaican flagged palates that can season meats blindfolded and transform the blandest dish into a boisterous score of rhythmic flavor. My mother and aunts are amazing cooks, and if you don’t meet their expectations, they’ll growl in disapproval. A few years ago, a very dear friend joined us for Thanksgiving and had a full-on, face-buried-in-my-sheets panic attack when presenting her crab stuffing to the flavor sadists. It was a hit, though they complained about having to wait so long for its completion. My cooking reviews have been good though my mother would never entrust her beloved rice and gungu peas to me.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Tigers & Callaloo

Yoko Sugiura  

Nurse: Are you an organ donor?

Me: Um, well, I’m using my organs right now.
Nurse (Laughs): I mean in the event that something happens…
Me: Sure. But try not to kill me. It would be really inconvenient if I died right now.

I had major surgery this year. It was the scariest experience of my life. The surgical procedure was super-risky and major blood loss was highly probable. So was death. The surgeon, a fellow Jamaican-American, advised me to eat obscene amounts of callaloo as it was critical that my blood was iron-rich for the procedure. Callaloo is like a spinach-meets-collard greens vegetable. It’s a classic Jamaican dish that is usually served with boiled yellow and white yams, dasheen, fried dumplings, and ackee and salt fish. My father makes exquisite callaloo and when he heard what the doctor said, he planted callaloo gardens all around his house. In the weeks that preceded the surgery, he pulled, stripped and chopped his fears into edible pieces, seasoning the callaloo with yellow onions, scallion, salt and pepper. He served the callaloo with Jasmine rice that was perfumed with dried shrimp. He offered this dish to his only daughter with all his heart. The day before my procedure was super-intense. What if the doctor accidentally leaves a blunt inside of me? (My brother, a physician, says that many doctors smoke a little ganja). What if I lose my sense of smell and can’t recall the dreamy aromas in that 1997 Bertani Amarone? What if I lose the ability to weave words? I lied on my parents’ couch, the sun frozen between my legs as I chatted with God. I asked him to choose the nurses, the anesthesiologist, even the table I would lay on as they carved into me. I asked him to choose the surgical utensils and to give the surgeons exactness and wisdom with every incision.  That morning daddy and I prayed together. “You’re going to emerge from this like a tiger,” he said as he pulled callaloo from the earth.

Calaloo is very cheap and available at most West Indian or Caribbean supermarkets. If you don’t have these markets in your community or city, consult your nearest Jamaican who may actually be growing some.   

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Gourmet Squatters' Guide Through Thanksgiving Snobbery

We, Gourmet Squatters, have some nerve. Even though we squeeze our bite-size budgets for every frivolous,  gastronomical adventure, we have the audacity to look at our family and friends’ Thanksgiving tables with closet-disdain. Oh no—is that the canned, string bean casserole? Could the turkey be any drier? Store bought apple pie with the not-fully-baked crust? And the worst—Arbor Mist. Gourmet Squatters all over the world must be prepared for such atrocities. So whether you’re a zucchini-zealot protesting the cock massacre that defines your family’s table or you just don’t celebrate the mass murder of Native Americans, here are some suggestions for the uppity, financially-demure, food snobs during this holiday season.

Anti-Turkey Carnivore Snobs—If you don’t do the gobble-cock, Caribbean Express’ oxtail stew is sweet, savory, juicy, supple perfection ($10, $12.46). Their curry goat captures the earthy and sweet spice flavor profile that distinguishes Jamaican curry from curry experiences in countries like Trinidad and India ($9, $11.18). My father said their fluffy rice and red peas is almost as delicious as  my grandmother’s. 
Caribbean Express, 6033 Miramar Pkwy., Miramar, 954-981-4989.

Vegan Snobs—These colossally ill-shaped zucchini, pineapple, sour cherry muffins are moist, tasty and look so homemade, you almost want to buy Owner and Baker, Hakin Alexander, baking molds. But their messy shape is part of Alexander's bucolic charm. He balances the earthy zucchini with jewels of sour cherry and pineapple sweetness ($4.50 each). Alexander is always experimenting, so there are other yummy combinations like banana, cherry and walnut and blueberry and pineapple.   

Vegetarian Restaurant by Hakin, 73 N.E. 167 St., North Miami, 305-405-6346.

Wine Squatters Choice—Click here: http://www.miami.com/november-wine-month-article

Saturday, November 12, 2011

An Ode to The Overweight Lover

So the overweight lover, Heavy D, has crossed over. Damn. I used to jam to Heavy D & the Boyz. Back in the days I was part of a dance troupe called the “Sensational Supersonic Six” (I know. What were my friends thinking in letting me get away with giving us such a name?) That’s when those MC Hammer Let’s-Get-It-Started pants were in and we thought we looked so fresh. Last night, a friend (an old school sommelier) and I discussed Heavy’s possible cause of death while munching on Michy’s Bread Pudding. Heavy was a big dude, so my first thought was heart disease. I know two young men who died of heart disease. One was 19 (I used to be his babysitter), and the other one was 32. Eating healthy and living in the moment can be arch enemies. Should I have passed up this warm, luxurious, custardy, chocolate-chunked slab of decadence for an apple? And did I mention the 2009 Domaine La Tour Vielle Banyuls Rimage? My friend recommended this dessert wine, and it was, hands down, one of the grandest food and wine pairings I’ve had all year. This wine has aromas and flavors of prunes, raisins, molasses, and sweet tobacco (He threw in the “sweet tobacco” description. I have no idea what it smells like lol). When paired up with the bread pudding, it was like the perfect wedding happening in your mouth—the perfect arrangement of music and colors and no unwelcomed guests. It was a sweet mystery that didn’t need to be solved, just enjoyed. I tried to pour a little into the ground, so Heavy could enjoy a sip. He isn’t buried yet, but I know his spirit is fluttering around. The sommelier protested (He was buying).  

Michy’s, 6927 Biscayne Blvd., Miami, 305-759-2001.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Chocolate Brownie Break-Up

I will always love Paul. Ours was a love affair defined by bacon, pancakes and the moistest, most decadent chocolate brownie in town. I met him a few years ago at an outdoor yoga class. It turned out he read the food and wine column I used to write for The Miami Herald called “The Promiscuous Palate.” But Paul just didn’t offer you’re-such-a-great-writer feedback. If he didn’t get something I wrote, he let me know. I loved that about him. And he was a great writer. His emails would make even the most tawdry novelist, blush. He was a horny, old, gay man and he didn’t give a damn who knew it. But underneath the peace sign tattoos wreathed with age spots lied a lonely spirit. He wanted what we all want—to smell the fresh funk of day-old love making in his sheets, the sweet perfume of morning armpit welcoming the first morning stretch, burnt pumpernickel toast, and the security of love that is found and kept even when it leaves for the afternoon. His love never returned. Didn’t even leave a note. And I could see it hurt him, and while I never pitied my accomplished painter-mat buddy, it was hard to love him. Our relationship took a shift when he found out I was Christian. He didn’t approve, and he let me know that. It was either him or Jesus. Funny—Jesus never asked me to make that choice. I now enjoy my La Provence brownie by myself. The texture is like sticking your fingers into a velvety, black beach. It’s chocolate perfection. I miss you, Paul.

La Provence French Bakery & Café, 2200 Biscayne Blvd., 305-576-8002.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

In The Whole: Ghetto or Organic?

The cooked food buffet at the Aventura Whole Foods is ghetto. Have you seen the chicken wings swimming in grease? Even Wing Stop has its limits. All you see now is a sea of dried out rice and beans, pastas covered in cheesy pimples, and oily vegetarian dishes with cultures like India and Thailand haphazardly tagged to them. Is this stuff really organic or even all-natural? I bought a vegan blueberry muffin and the oil soaked through the paper bag. I hate to sound like such a sour puss, but if I'm going to spend $1.79 for a vegan muffin, I want some illusion of good nutrition. Nowadays, I stick with the simple delicacies. I had a long, perilous affair with the vegan chocolate chip cookie, not the dull-colored chunkie one, but the dark, crumbly one. I used to fantasize this beast of a cookie that was so rich and yummy, I often wondered if I was better off eating Oreoes? I loved dunking pieces in Blue Diamond Vanilla Almond Milk while watching some pointless Lifetime TV Network drama about a woman who's sleeping with her best friend's father's brother's son who's a murderer and a psychic. Have you had the vegan chocolate chip cookies?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Dating Mr. Carrot Part 2

Half veggie and half Portabello mushroom and goat cheese
If you’re just joining me on my Mr. Carrot adventure, let me give you a quick round-up: Had a crush on a guy who looked like Moses (post “Let My People Go”). Mr. Carrot owns a Seven Day Adventist vegan restaurant in the hood. He’s a bit of a carrot-fascist, but he has a beautiful heart. I’m no vegan. I’m food-agnostic. I swing from seitan to steak, but I really wanted to impress Mr. Carrot, so I threw myself into that whimsical world of dried seaweed snacks and astronomically-priced wheat grass shots. He invited me on a date to Andiamo’s—my favorite pizza joint in Miami and then things took a turn for the weird. He had a mini tantrum about the pizza cutter that had been infected with cheese particles. He professed his distaste for wine, and he didn’t know any of the lyrics to Frankie Beverly & Maze’s “Before I Let Go,” which we heard through the patio speakers. We ordered the Ratatouille, a large pie topped with eggplant, zucchini, roasted red, green and orange peppers, caramelized onions, and tomato sauce. Hold the mozzarella and Portobello mushrooms (sigh). The pizza was so pristine, it looked like it belonged in a museum. And it was absolutely delicious, all those fresh ingredients romping around my mouth like naked people going skinny dipping for the first time. But we needed wine. Chianti or a Super Tuscan, perhaps? As I sat there gobbling away, I realized that Mr. Carrot and I had limited romantic prospects. He was way too strict, and he started to fall asleep at the table. I’m serious. He started nodding off. I thought his dredlocks were going to fall into the pie. Turns out he’s narcoleptic. I wanted to shout, “Brother, have a steak!” But that would have changed the mood.       

Andiamo Bricken Oven Pizza, 5600 Biscayne Blvd., 305-762-5751.