ok friends, our time apart has NOT been wasted - why has it been so long, you ask? b/c in addition to the perils of mercury retrograde - which looked like this for me:
& b/c there has been a lot going on - i've taken over, for two weeks, a tiny cafe in harlem - & NOW i remember why restaurants are slavery - but, as my ex-husband explained about jews (as he was/is one) most thoughts of where to go or what to do, for the most orthodox people of that religion, are prefaced by the lifestyle inquiry: 'is it good for the jews?' this determines the action that must be taken in most instances. in my case, my first thought will be, 'is it good for the blog?' & also, 'is it good for the book?' in this case, it was good for both - & you, friends, are the beneficiaries. this is the prep for sunday brunch's fritatta::
it all happened so fast - my dope-assed sis/mentor, who births books, & that's really all i can say about her career without exposing exactly who she is, is a sexy, worldly-with-a-concentration-on-afrocentric, nappy, erudite & luxuriant mac - although she doesn't LIKE to use the word cougar, if she accepted the title, would be an ace-boon-cougar if there ever were one - she is well-groomed, powerful, & confoundingly gracious, & humble - not qualities that one would normally attribute to a sexpot - but there it is - & it adds to her allure - she is my one of my daughter's rock-star godmothers & as they are born on the same day, i have faith, from the way that Nashira moons @ her, that they are already in some sort of psychic mind meld that will ensure that my baby is 50X as fly as me...something like my sis/mentor, whom i will call M.
M calls me, & from the echo on the line, i knew before she told that i was
"on speaker... i'm here with G - she owns that cute little cafe we went to that time - you remember, right?"
"uh... yeah i think so -"
"ok great well she's going to Burma..."
"for two weeks & since M spoke so highly of you," - this was G herself, adding to my confusion, "i was thinking did you want to run it while i am gone?"
my brain imploded, & then i said, "sure!"
friends, i have a lot to say about restaurants, none of it good: let's briefly review, for those of y'all who haven't been subject to my ire on the issue, shall we?
1 - pure slavery.
2 - no money.
3 - workers are rarely, if ever protected by any union (i am not speaking of hotels) & are
4 - subject to the rules of the fiefdom: the petty tyranny of the owner/s - read unstable nightmare.
5 - i guess the slavery piece should highlight the SHITTY pay & LONG-assed hours, but if that wasn't clear @ the top, then it should be now -
i will not mention these people by name, but i walked out on one restaurant whose basement was flooded with sewage - & to dispel any cloudiness on why i walked out, the answer is, yes, to your unspoken & horrified question: YES they still wanted me to cater among that sewage.
the thing about restaurants is this: you live in a constant state of panic. you will NEVER. be set up enough, have enough back up, plas (as in mis-en-place the state of everything in its place-ness that every line cook goes for yet seldom achieves) or order. my own tenure in restaurants, much as i loved it, was a perfect set up for PTSD - pure anxiety, all the time. in fact, it was one of the chefs @ union square cafe (NYT three stars, three hundred covers a night - cold sweat in the hottest kitchen, anyone???) who helped me to quit drinking coffee:
"hey. you. get your ass over here." he barked on me with total distaste, as i was running around like a beheaded chicken, revisiting my quart of coffee between tasks.
kitchens are very 'thank you, sir. may i have another', so i was just happy that he, a mighty chef was even speaking to me. i hopped over on high alert. "yes, chef?" i was bright eyed & bushy tailed, ready for orders.
"what are you doing?" he queried.
"setting up, i'm chopping parse-"
"no you're not you're running around crazy. if i see you with coffee tomorrow, you're fired."
"no problem, chef."
& that's how i gave up coffee. if i bumped into him tomorrow, i would thank him profusely.
maybe that's why i'm so obsessed with geisha: the tradition, beauty, intensive drilling, grace under pressure, sense of the ancient, strict organization, & standardized ritual - not to mention the way horrific treatment is mythologized as 'mentoring'... & then there is the food these glittering fireflys of the night all entertain in tea houses with superlative vittles. i have often fantasized that i spent one of my (i am sure of this) past lives as a chef @ any of the most exclusive geisha tea houses in Gion, Kyoto, or Tokyo. this is the fantasy food of courtesans & their masters (who have no choice but to be millionaires): FABULOUS cookbook author Madhur Jaffrey talks about a man-made stream in Japan with tables placed strategically @ the curves bends of its trajectory. cold station chefs float cold noodles in this stream, & the patrons use hashi (chopsticks, as they are called in japan) to lift the noodles from the stream, & dip them into the sauces on their table.
now, since my tenure as screamed on garde manger (pantry & cold foods) peon, i have become a chef, toured all stations, expedited, ordered my fair share of subordinates around, & still, am in no hurry to re-enter kitchens.
still, here i am, busy as fuck, goddammit.
a short description of the surroundings, just a couple of recipes & then it's back to running the cafe, while working my day to day bill payer, editing the cookbook/memoir, freelance catering, & operating the $10 million plan w/my friend, S:
it's a beautifully decorated, teensy jewel box of a cafe, shelves lined with books, some of them authored by the owner, who has produced a children's book, a coffee table standard about headwraps, & a book called 'down there' about, you guessed it, the sacred bush. it's adorable, & the perfect place to test out specials, & here they are - you already know one of the specials from the post previous to this one - salmon croquettes, from one brunch, & i had a breakthrough with beer-battered shrimp & marinated kale which i will describe below:
3-5# shrimp,cleaned w/the tails on
2 quts to a gallon of oil for frying: this can be either grapeseed, or coconut & be poured to about 3" deep in a frying pan or pot.
i use extremely finely ground cornmeal - finely ground for prettiness - Whole Foods loose, or Indian Head (political incorrectness rules this blog!!!) mixed half & half with all purpose, either whole wheat or white - your choice - whole wheat gives a rounder flavor though -
2 12-oz bottles beer - i used a fine pale ale, locally crafted, but do what your budget allows - let's not get too crunk & throw a malt liquor in it, but you have some leeway here -
2 cups flour
seasoning - i use various seasoning salts in addition to dried herbs : borsari, old bay, pixie dust (that's a brand - note to self - we can mix up our own @ a later date), herbs can be parsely, thyme, savory
now for the breakthrough:
i've always been afraid of beer battering. so i decided, what better time to try out a new, intimidating recipe than under pressure for a catering gig? perusing various recipes days before, i thought i had it all together - you make the wet batter, & that's your only dredge - but these images of fish & chips - which use a beer batter - kept swimming to mind; & i don't like that style of batter - it rises OFF of the fried food, sometimes with space between the shrimp or fish, & the coating. yuck. still, i wanted the lightness of the batter, & the flavor of the beer. so i simply used the beer batter as the wet dredge:
In a bowl, combine the beer flour, eggs & salt, & allow to sit at room temperature for several hours. Pat the shrimp dry with paper towels & dip the shrimp in the wet batter then in the seasoned cornmeal mixture & fry for approximately 2 to 3 minutes. drain shrimp on paper towels layered over brown paper bags.
this made a super crispy, light crust that was not only translucent, a plus, but insulated the shrimp from overcooking leaving you with bliss in your mouth. & that is all!
6 bunches kale, cleaned & rinsed twice
6 cloves fresh garlic
flax seed oil to coat greens, about 2-3 oz.
& then to taste:
apple cider vinegar
rinse well, filling the sink 3x w/extremely cold water, plunging the greens in, pulling them out to drain, & filling the sink once more.
chop the greens to bite-size
chop garlic finely& mix w/the other ingredients, except the carrots, which should be sprinkled atop the kale when you're ready to serve
the salad is ready to go within 10 min & you can reuse this marinade.
last thing - the recipes i am printing here are from the fabulous Coon Bidness (yes yes y'all, coon. bidness.) party & Burnt-Sugar jam session that i catered (in a scandalously late fashion that can only be described as the ultimate C.P.T. - i'm gon' have ta claim that i was possessed & we all were w/that mercury retrograde - WHEW! - glad that's over) for the ultimate playa, Greg Tate & fly-assed gangsta diva, Nucomme Davis-Walker, in the Do or Die: Bed-Stuy...
so okay i'll be back with all the specials from the cafe, as the 15th is my last day - promise.
thank you for your time!