New-Orleans—Temps/Oralité #1


Gold Mine Saloon
getting a face lift before the All-Hands-On-Deck fund raiser

I got back Tuesday night from New Orleans. My mind still loops images, smells, tastes, & feelings. New Orleans is a place where present and past souls can mingle & converse  if one is attentive & tuned in:  a timeless, boundless & profound journey is all yours there!

First night out, my hosts, poets Megan Burns and Dave Brinks, took me to the launch of the anthology A Howling in the Wires. This collection of texts covers blogs, poems and stories in response to Hurricane Katrina and is edited by Sam Jasper and Mark Folse —see Megan Burn’s blog Solid Quarter for more details.
My last visit to Nola goes back to early November 2005, only a few months after the devastating hurricane Katrina. The French Quarter was slowly reopening for business, the rest of the city was still pretty empty, many areas were still without electricity, destruction was everywhere and people where still totally shell shocked. So, last Thursday’s reading brought me back five years later right into the midst of her/his-stories written back then — poignant offerings that touched & humbled me deeply. Despite the ordeal this community experienced having to go through the material and psychological reconstruction, their sense of dignity and humor, generosity and compassion is unaltered and contagious.
 The volume is available on line and I recommend getting it: http://gallatin-and-toulouse-press.com/shop.html.

Of course, compared to my 2005 visit I found the city beautiful and vibrant.  Sunday was the 5th anniversary of Katrina and though you can still see  feel the stigma, people have moved on, and New Orleans feels to be a culture of the now. So thank you, David Brinks, Megan Burns, for hosting me, and for giving me the opportunity to perform at the “All-Hands-on-Deck” event. Thank you, Gina Ferrara and Jonathan Kline for getting together the last night like we did 5 years ago, talking longly and fondly.

It might take me a few postings to recount most of the moments, places & tastes, I wish to share… Voilà for the the first one.


Live Oak -City Park- New Orleans

The centennial live oaks of City Park awed me as I reflected on the fact that they witnessed the Bayougoula, Mougoulacha, Chitimacha, Oumas, Tangipahoa, Colapissa, and Quinipissa native American tribes, along with many storms and hurricanes, as well as many duels. These evergreen oaks that have survived and outlived all kinds of weather, humans & other pests, for hundreds of years, induce a sense of temporal magnitude rarely experienced.


City Park also hosts the New Orleans Museum of Art. “Unframed but reflected by Michel Angelo Pistoletto” is the caption I posted when I uploaded the picture of this piece on my Facebook page. The mirror painting by Italian artist Michel Angelo Pistoletto raised another notion of temporality. Here, unlike the deep & linear temporality of the live oak, I faced and inscribed myself  as a non-chronological layer of time. You will notice the Philip Guston painting  reflected in the back.

Another painting that stood out for me and provided a not so linear experience was the piece by New Orleans artist George Rodrigue. He is famous for his blue dogs and his relief efforts for Katrina and the gulf. The Aioli Dinner was painted in 1971. Here is what the Museum has to say about the painting:


“The Aioli Dinner was Rodrigue’s first major painting with people. He designed the painting using combinations of photographs taken of the Aioli Gourmet Dinner Club, a group which met once a month on the lawn of a different plantation home in and around New Iberia, Louisiana.
Only men sat at the table, each with their own bottle of wine. The women standing in the back row cooked the food, and the young men around the table served dinner. One of the older men, however, made the aioli, a garlic-mayonnaise sauce. Rodrigue’s grandfather Jean Courrege sits on the left near the head of the table, and his uncle Emile is the third boy standing from the left, peaking his head in between the others. All of the figures are portraits of people who lived in and around New Iberia.
Rodrigue chose the lawn of the Darby House Plantation as the setting for his painting, because the house was still standing in 1970, when he began work on the piece (it has since been torn down). Today the paintings hangs at the New Orleans Museum of Art.”


Wendy Rodrigue, the artist’s wife, keeps a  blog where she gives interesting details about the painting and the Rodrigues‘ family history.  I like the naive quality of the painting very much, but what piqued my attention was the fact that it was called “Aioli Dinner” A très typical dish of the Provence region.  According to Wendy Rodrigue’s blog, the family insisted on their French background, and though I am just assuming that this was a family tradition, they must have come from the Provence region. The name aioli (alhòli) comes from Provençal alh ‘garlic’ (< Latin allium) + òli ‘oil’ (< Latin oleum). Often referred to as a garlicky mayonnaise, real Aioli has only olive oil and garlic. It is made by pounding garlic with olive oil and salt in a mortar until a smooth texture is obtained. Now a “grand aïoli “, also called “l’aïoli monstre” or simply “l’aïoli” consists of platters of poached salt cod (bacalau) — sometimes bigorneaux (winkles) are added — and a variety of steamed or poached seasonal vegetables with ample bowls of the hand-made garlic mayonnaise served as a wonderfully pungent accompaniment. Le grand aïoli is especially popular for large village gatherings. I will be sure to investigate the “Aioli Gourmet Dinner Club” more closely as I deepen my research on Southern French immigration to New Orleans. But that will be the topic of another post.

Today I will close with the trade mark sandwich of New Orleans the Muffuletta. These sandwiches can be found in many places in the Big Easy. Of Sicilian origin, this sandwich consists of a round loaf of bread about 10 inches across, filled with Italian salami, olive salad, cheese, Italian ham, and freshly minced garlic. The key ingredient is the olive salad that gives the sandwich its special flavor and pleasant look.

The Italian Market, Central Grocery on Decatur Street, proudly claims to be the home of “The Original Muffuletta.” The sandwich was supposedly invented in 1906, when an Italian immigrant, Signor Lupo Salvatore, owner of the Central Grocery, started making the sandwiches for the men who worked the nearby wharves and produce stalls of the French Market. I visited the beautiful store right after my beignet breakfast at Café du Monde so I decided to return on Sunday… Unfortunately Central Grocery is closed Sundays & Mondays. Really craving to sink my teeth into a Muffuletta I decided to settle for “Frank’s” restaurant next door. Their sign advertised “World Famous Original Muffuletta”, and though I have nothing to compare it with, I found it most delicious — and that comes from someone who is not much of a sandwich fan. I will try to make it, and found this recipe (which makes sense) on the “Nola Cuisine Blog. Stay tune for more!


Troy-Ithaca: Quelle Journey!


I am not sure what is the final mileage the 21st century Odysseus,  A.K.A. Douglas Rothschild, ended up walking along small roads between Troy (N.Y) & Ithaca (N.Y) but it should be pretty close to 170 miles in 8 days! Congratulations to Douglas & to Anna Moschovakis & Matvei Yankelevitch (both active members of the Ugly Duckling Press Collective).  This is how it all began for Pierre Joris & I, but it had been in the brew for a quite a while when Anna Moschovakis sent out this email in June :

A few years back, Matvei Yankelevich and I had some idle idea that it would be fun to make a film of Douglas walking from Troy to Ithaca. It just seemed obviously like a good thing to do. This summer — soon, in fact — we’re going through with it.

We’re calling it an Experiment in Potential Documentary. But you could also call it a Constraint-Based Happening. In any case, the basics are simple:

— Douglas takes one week at the end of July to walk from Troy to Ithaca, on backroads determined primarily by the “walk” function on a GPS mapping software.
— Douglas wears a mic the whole time, so that all of his speech — including talking to himself, if there’s any of that — is recorded.
— Friends of Douglas’ join him for portions of the walk. He will know which people have been invited (though we will add some surprises too), but he won’t know which people to actually expect or when.
— People who can’t join in person can indulge instead in a desultory phone conversation with Dug as he walks.
— Much of the proceedings are filmed in HD video and with a variety of other means. Douglas, too, has a camera. Visitors, too, are handed a point-and-shoot video camera to employ as they wish while with Dug.
— The journey culminates at a Banquet and Poetry Reading in Ithaca, co-hosted by Catherine Taylor and Stephen Cope at an arts venue, to which the local community will be invited.
— Homeric overtones may be explicit, implicit, or cast aside altogether — though certain episodes dear to Douglas (e.g., the trip to the underworld) will be incorporated and we will ask each person who joins Douglas to bring a copy of the Odyssey (in any translation, or in the original) and to read a portion of it to the camera.

We hope YOU can participate in some way!

With many others Pierre Joris and I did. I will not tell you about the details of what happened because that is Anna & Matvei’s potential-in-the-making documentary project: they have 58 hours of audio and 11 hours of video recorded. Let’s hope they can gather all the necessary resources to play with it.  Meanwhile I just wanted to share the menu and pictures of the banquet — for the Chanterelles episode click here. The Banquet took place at the house of Wylie Schwartz, overlooking Cayuga lake and food was coordinated by Catherine Taylor, Stephen Cope, Anna, Trevor and myself, while many others helped with logistics and goodies.

At around 6:30pm —& after shooting his bow-oar through a dozen  axe head— Odysseus arrived at the banquet dressed in fine clothes, oar still in hand. A lovely band (sorry was busy cooking didn’t catch their name) greeted him and played throughout the banquet. As the sun went down Odysseus Rothschild (or Dugysseus, as Pierre called him) told us the tales of the journey. Hermes read beautiful messages from far away lands like Brooklyn, we also heard Homer’s writing in Greek, songs and passages of Charles Stein translation of  The Odyssey until deep into the night & after moving the party twice with our last being the harbor of Catherine & Stephen, until the wee hours, I don’t remember what time we left!


Menu:
Cheese platter: Syrian cheese, brie, local cows milk hard cheese, grapes, hummus & pita, lamb burgers, marinated olives, garden greens, feta salad, cucumbers, white & purple carrots, (from Anna & Trevor’s garden), artisans breads, baklava and plenty of ouzo, wine & other liquids to wash it down!

Eric Paul brought an amazing sausage from a local Ithaca’s charcuterie. We owe thanks to Lori & Tom who let us take over their kitchen to prepare the lamb burgers.

Epilogue:
The poets have decreed that Odysseus can now rest. He met enough people and told them all about oar & sea. A shrine has been built & sacrifice have been  performed. He is all done & can now return safely home, write more poetry and travel for pleasure as it pleases him!


Keep the Ink! Cook it…II!

The previous post showed  how to clean  squids while saving their precious ink to make the wonderful recipe Calamares in su Tinta,  Calamars à l’Encre or Squid in their own Ink. But first let me share some sweet family history about this dish.

When we first moved to this country in 1987, my son Joseph was 6. When he started school we were told there was a cantina where the kids could buy their lunches. At first we were all eager to blend in so we decided to go with it. First day of school, and little Joseph comes home appalled reporting that there was no lunch served, only pizza and hot dogs! AND kids who brought their own lunches had peanut & jelly sandwiches —to this day I don’t think he would consider eating one unless truly starved. We then decided to pack him a real lunch, and that didn’t include sandwiches, that was picnic food, he was used to French public schools ,then family style, sit down three course meal! So I purchased a thermos box and packed him a hot lunch for many years. His favorite one was to take to school: squid in their own ink — needless to say not a popular item to trade lunch! It is still one of his favorite dishes and he actually did partake of this batch. Alors, voilà la recipe for Joseph Mastantuono and for poet Jonathan Skinner who asked for it.

Calamars à l’Encre

5 lbs of squids cleaned, ink sacks set aside
1 medium chopped onion
1 peeled & seeded tomato
4 cloves of garlic chopped fine
1/2 bottle of red wine —French Languedoc or Spanish—
1/3 cup of  Spanish Brandy
3 tablespoons Arrowroot flour ( or two of regular flour)
1/2 cup of chopped parsley for garnish

– Cut the cleaned and drained squid cones into rings —  I don’t cut the tentacles though some people do and I cut the rings about 1 inch thick.

-Warm a skillet with 3 tablespoons of olive oil, add the onions, cook gently until slightly golden.

-Meanwhile prepare your ink:

with a pestle (or the back of a spoon) apply pressure to the sacks to force the ink through the mesh of the strainer. Pour the red wine over the sacks in the strainer and keep working until you have extracted the ink from the bags. Save.

-Add the cut & dried squid to the skillet, mix well with the onions. Once the squid start getting opaque and stiffen add the Brandy and flambé safely (if you don’t flambé is not a big deal). Mix well.

– Add garlic, tomato & mix well.

-Add ink with wine, mix well.

-Sprinkle the three table spoons of arrowroot on top. Mix very well.

-Add more wine, if needed, so that liquid covers squid to 3/4.

-Bring to a gentle boil, then turn it down to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes or so. Your squid have to be very tender.

I like serving it with saffron rice, but white rice is good too.
Bon Appétit! And please report if you make it.



Clean your Squid! Keep the Ink! — I

Yes, you can buy clean squid but then you are depriving yourself of what will give you one of the most exquisite dishes: Calamare en su Tinta or Squid in its own ink. You can also buy the ink in a little plastic bag and make the sauce from that… but it ain’t the same, trust me. Most of the time it gets too black and too strong. If you use what comes with the creatures you will cook, it is always the perfect amount. Yes! Cleaning squid can be tedious and time consuming, so why not have a  squid cleaning party? I am providing you all with the necessary info to do it yourself. Below, there is a video, though I am also including a step-by-step with pictures.

1- Make sure you buy very fresh squid. I do not like to use the frozen squids for this purpose. I am lucky enough to have fresh ones available at the Bay Ridge Green Market. I order them a few days in advance and request very fresh ones. Susana —who works for Glen at American Seafood stand— is always eager to please her customers. She also shares great Peruvian recipes that I still need to try. Let’s begin the cleaning process:

Cleaning Squids

1- Grasp the tail section firmly in your hand and grab the head section below the eyes as shown in the picture. Pull gently but firmly in order to detach the inside as deep as possible.


Cleaning

2- Find the silvery ink bag located in the inner section of what you pull from the squid. Gently lift it, detach it and save it in a stainer.


Cleaning Squids

3- Turn the tentacles upside down and apply pressure between the eyes in order to pop out the beak


Cleaning

4- Hold the head part of the squid below the eyes and with a sharp knife cut  the tentacles below the eyes, being careful not to cut into the eyes. Rinse and place into a colander (the tentacles, not the eyes…)


Cleaning Squids

5- From the edge of the body part remove the pen shaped spine that looks like plastic. They can be saved to make fun collage projects with kids.


Cleaning

6- Peel the reddish outer membrane away, remove & discard. You can also peel the fins & also save them. Wash the body, squeeze to make sure nothing left inside. If you are very picky you can turn the inside out to make sure it is very clean — I don’t do that. Once clean, reserve in the colander with the tentacles.

Now the video: Don’t have great expectation — Miles shot it with my very low end camera, so that’s the best we could do. I think it will help. Watch it a couple of time before you try working the squid, it will help and give you confidence. At first you might break an ink bag or two, not a big deal, just clean up in between. Next post will be the recipe for the Calamari in the Ink, but once the cleaning is done it’s a breeze. O! One more thing:  5lbs  of  squid for 10 people should do it.

Tchakchouka

I assisted Pierre in making Tchakchouka, a dish he remembers from his time in Algeria. It is a kind of ratatouille — but to me it is the better dish. The recipe appears in many Mediterranean traditions. I have found Algerian, Jewish, Tunisian,  Moroccan & Kabile recipes, all have pretty much the same ingredients with variations of meat or eggs — at times coming close to the famous huevos rancheros! We made two versions: one with eggs and another without, which we served with lamb chops.  You can eat tchakchouka hot, luke-warm or cold, as you prefer, or as the weather suggests. You will not regret the effort and can make big batches of this super delicious fragrant summer dish. Don’t wait, make yours now!

Tchakchouka

Tchouchouka

Ingredients:
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, sliced thin
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
3 tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and diced
2-3 green & red peppers,  roasted, peeled & sliced
1 cup of water
Paprika, ground coriander seeds
Fresh coriander & parsley chopped
Salt & pepper, to taste
4 eggs (optional)

Recipe:

*Roast the peppers over your stove. When charred wrap them in newspaper. Wait until they cool off & then peel them, discard seeds, cut lengthwise into thin strips.

*Dip tomatoes in boiling water for one minute. Remove & cool, then peel, seed & dice.

* Heat the oil over a medium flame in a deep skillet. Stir in the paprika & ground coriander seeds and let cook slightly to color the oil, about 10-15 seconds.

* Add the onions, sauté until onions are translucent and wilted but not browned, about 4 minutes; add garlic, cook for another minute or so.

* Add tomatoes and bring to a rapid simmer. Add peppers, parsley & fresh coriander, water and salt and pepper. Reduce heat to low, and simmer, covered, for about 15-20 minutes. Add more water as needed.

* If you want to add eggs, form four small indentations in the simmering peppers to hold the eggs. Crack eggs, one by one, into a small bowl and slip each egg from the bowl into an indentation.

* Cover and simmer another 10 minutes or so until eggs are cooked through.
Voilà! & enjoy!

Tchakchouka