Thankful (But Not for Grasshoppers)

I had just finished my last post about my pal Mike and his wife Bridget harassing me from Oaxaca with their photos and videos of delicious meals, when they returned — bearing gifts!

There was a lovely and colorful dishtowel, a jar of black mole paste which to this cook is as good as its weight in gold, and there was a small jar of chapulines — roasted grasshoppers.

Chapulines

Chapulines

On the adventurous eater scale of 1 to 10, I consider myself about a 7. I’m no Anthony Bourdain. But I’ve recently been venturing more deeply into the euphemistically named world of “variety” meats, have sampled the slimiest offerings the world’s oceans put forth, and am a fan of such culinary curiosities as Japanese fermented natto and the stinking durian. There’s not a lot I won’t try, at least once. But one taxonomic class I have steadfastly resisted ingesting is that of the insect. More

Queues and Barbecues

They asked me to do it again. Despite the lines — oh! the lines… — they asked me to do it again.

“Is there anything we can do about the lines?” they gingerly put forth.

Last Halloween, our children’s annual grade school Halloween carnival got an upgrade. It moved from school to the ballfield at the local community center, a live band would play, there would be a bar… And they asked me to do the food.

The Chef boogying at sunset

The chef/fairy/cow boogying at sunset

I was to cook for somewhere between 450 and 600 people. I was a week in preparation and was all set — except that the chimneys I needed for my coal were 90 minutes late. The carnival had opened at 3:30, people began queuing up for food at 4-ish. And I didn’t have anything to serve until close to 5 p.m., at which point the line had stretched from our home-plate set up well into left field. We would never catch up.

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Pokē, Mon!

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. When a friend gives you a block of yellowfin tuna, make Hawaiian pokē!

And so my friend Erin passed along another chunk of yellowfin tuna. And after making ceviche and pokē (in that order) the previous time she gifted me tuna, I decided this time to make pokē and ceviche (in that order).

PEMA3306

It was an ordinary Monday, which I decided to transform into an extraordinary Hawaiian Monday. In addition to the pokē (served on crispy won ton skins), I grilled some Korean-style beef short ribs, made some mac salad and some plain white rice. Nothing gourmet, just good, working-class Hawaiian — served with something close to a mai tai. (Rum, OJ, pineapple juice and grenadine). More

Sidekicks

A friend of mine with a production company said he wants to make a TV show out of my food blog.

“That would be a gas,” I said. “I have good sidekicks.”

My best sidekick might be my 5-year-old daughter, Imogen. She’s foodier than many foodies I know.

Imogen at 2 years old, mistaking the serving utensils for her own

Imogen at 2 years old, mistaking the serving bowl for her own

“Something smells good,” she said the other night, strolling casually into the kitchen, gazing into the primavera I was making and zeroing in past the asparagus, kale, onion and carrot.

“”Dad, what’s that white stuff in the pan?”

“That’s lobster.”

“Do you think I would like it?” she said coyly.

That’s like the lion asking if you thought he’d like the antelope.

“Yeah, I would guess you might.”

Another night she came into the kitchen, and there was a rather large dry-aged rib eye sitting on the counter.

“Who’s that for?” she inquired.

*    *    *

What are the qualities that make for a good sidekick? For the purposes of culinary adventures, I would guess they differ somewhat from what the Lone Ranger might’ve appreciated in Tonto. You needn’t be a good scout or tracker for example — except for finding the next great snack or meal.

Sidekicks extraordinaire, Don & Bob

Sidekicks extraordinaire, Don & Bob

A culinary sidekick should bring joy to the drinking and dining experience, should have an irrepressible joie de vivre, and should be ready to follow a culinary adventure wherever it may lead.

(Although I will point out that one of my favorite sidekicks, childhood pal Gary who now lives in Portland, once winced as I dragged him toward a particularly grimy-looking roadside stand in Mexico where I discovered the best fish tacos I’ve ever tasted. “I’m not eating there,” he grumbled.)

It’s easier to find culinary sidekicks than it is to find a good-quality Indian tracker sidekick or a life-of-crime sidekick. Just about everyone wants to be a culinary sidekick. And the job requirements are fairly easy: Must have sense of humor; must enjoy trying new things; must not be gluten-free or vegan or lactose-intolerant or of otherwise delicate constitution; must be able to have a drink in the morning, if asked.

Patas negras under the bridge, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

Patas negras under the bridge, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

A culinary sidekick anecdote: I was in Mexico once with one of my favorite sidekicks, pal Don Schneider. “We need to find patas negras,” he said emphatically as we stormed into old town Puerto Vallarta, stopping only briefly for a roadside al pastor taco en route. He had been talking of little else than these mythic black clams for days. It being a warm day out, he suggested we grab a couple Modelo beers to keep us cool while we walked. Then, as we strolled along the waterfront malecon, he stopped suddenly — as if sensing something I couldn’t, or perhaps picking up a scent on the wind.

“This way,” he said, leading me down an embankment and under a bridge, where there sat a very jovial-looking couple and a table piled to the sky with oysters and black clams.

These are the qualities I seek in a Skinny Girls & Mayonnaise sidekick. No application necessary — just grab your favorite bottle, pick up some cheese or charcuterie, a few tacos or some fresh sushi fish, and come on over for your interview.

Year of the Taco

In the Chinese zodiac, 2016 is the Year of the Monkey.

In our house, I’m pretty sure it’s shaping up to be the Year of the Taco.

Taco al pastor, The Taco Stand, La Jolla

Taco al pastor, The Taco Stand, La Jolla

I made many a taco in 2015. But I believe that was just a lead-up to what will be the taco year to end all taco years.

Because over the past 12 months, I’ve gotten good at tacos — really good. Beyond the standard gringo tacos, Baja fish tacos, carne asada and pork al pastor, I’ve branched out into dried beef machaca tacos,  birria goat tacos, fried cheese and shrimp tacoschicharrones and tomatillo tacos, crab tacos and dry-aged rib-eye steak tacos. More

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