HESO Magazine

Photography, Music, Film, Hitchhiking, Craft Beer – Cultural Pugilist

Category: Eat Me Drink Me (Page 2 of 6)

Olé Mole

Olé Mole

Mole (pronounced Mo-lay, gringo) is generally associated with two places in Mexico: Oaxaca and Puebla. Mole Poblano, the national dish of Mexico from Puebla is often incorrectly associated with Aztec cuisine. But the savory brown, chocolate-laden sauce that is infamous for its apocryphal origin story of being thrown together at the last minute and served over turkey to a surprise guest, is a more modern invention. As my ex-girlfriend Maria (not you Maria, the other Maria…) used to say, “Abraza la morena, gringo…Embrace the brown, whiteboy.” I never knew if she was talking about the food or her, so I did both. To more or less great failure. She may be gone today, but I still have Mole and I finally think I’ve struck upon a recipe that works.

Olé Mole

I am a fiend for the spicy, salty, savory, smokey, Picante of Jalapeños, Habaneros, Cascabeles, Serranos, Chilhuacle Negros, Guajillos, and especially the manly yet delicate, earthy yet crisp flavor of the precious Poblano.

So it was with much salivating of chops and rubbing of hands like many a cartoon wolf during that two-hour Amtrak ride from L.A.’s Union Station (a few days in from Hong Kong), that I exited the train station in Oceanside (North County S.D.) to be picked up in my uncle’s 1969 Volkswagon Beetle, blue as the sea at dawn, and told him to stop at the first market we passed. Of course it was some organo-hippy granola-fest mini-market stacked to the ceiling with 22 dollar bottles of Guano Extract Shampoo, Chia-drenched Kombu Hallucinogenics and Non-GMO soybean-based condoms for aisles in all directions.

It was the bright reds and luscious greens of the produce which drew me in first. There after my long journey westward, where I selected 10 poblanos, 15 limes, 20 jalapeños, 4 bunches of cilantro, 2 red onions and a vine of tomatoes, I came to know peace. Shaking now from excitement, I looked down and felt as if I’d been hit by a Vegetable Oil Converted Volvo. Tomatillos! In three years living in the lap of leeks the size of small children, the Okinawan dildo-gone-wrong Goya and the greatest sweet potatoes ever (Praise be to Imo), I’d completely forgotten the little green beauties even existed. Slapping myself, and nearly tumbling over a mountain of melon-sized mangoes, I quickly filled my basket and limped away toward the cheese, tortillas and beer. 20 minutes and one very pissed off uncle later, I emerged in a fugued-out trance of recipe preparation strategies and we cruised the Coast Highway south to Encinitas, where lay the kitchen in which I would hatch my plans of salsa picada and mole poblano, (among other kinds of) world domination.


In your big American oven, roast the peppers, all of them, naked on broil (450°F/230°C), carefully watching and turning them to a insure uniform char. Go ahead and throw in the garlic at the same time, wrapped in foil and well-oiled, along with the dehusked tomatillos, though be wary of the differing cooking times.

After roasting (anywhere from 5-20 minutes) toss your peppers into a bowl, cover with a damp dishtowel for 5- 10 minutes to allow the skin to separate and set aside. Before peeling, destemming and deseeding your chiles, and while you wait for the post-roast steam-a-thon to finish, go get a beer. May I suggest some kind of Saison (a bit more European style), or the HUB Lager?

Though roasting tomatillos is similar to roasting tomatoes, tomatillos are not unripe “little tomatoes” as the name suggests, they are fruits and actually grow in a papery husk which should be peeled before preparation. They are generally of a firmer consistency, have less water and are much more tart than you might expect. This is the prime reason they remain the main ingredient in salsas verdes, salsas crudas and my own roasted picadas as tart mixes very well with heat. Like all my exes and me.

Now finely chop your fatty red onion, a vine-ripened tomato and go ahead and slice a lime up just to have ready. Here’s the fun part: do you want a salsa cruda with its fresh raw feel or a more smooth and traditional salsa verde? The only difference is merely a finely diced former, or a pureed latter. I prefer the crisp and cool texture of the raw cut, the picturesque juxtaposition of your garden’s range of colors, the saltiness of the tortilla chip balanced perfectly with the sour of the tomatillo, the acid of the lime, the heat of the jalapeño, the warmth of the garlic and all of it rounded out nicely by the fortitude of the patriarchal poblano. So for me, it’s la cruda. Pero la verde es muy rico tambien.

I haven’t talked about Cilantro yet. Coriander, Dhania, Ketumbar, Chinese Parsley, Kothamir, Llaksa, however you say it, it’s everywhere. In my 10 or so years preparing Mexican and Asian foods, I’ve found that there are two camps of people: those who love cilantro and those who don’t. Those who don’t are equally as stubborn in their opinions as those who do, though luckily those who do love the fresh citrusy twang of the embattled herb far outnumber any haters. And you haters, would it please you to know that through no fault of your own, but rather due to an enzyme which alters the flavor due to a genetic disposition, you cannot help but hate the plant? Doesn’t that make you feel bad- hating a plant? So, if this is true, it seems your genes just aren’t good enough to like it. You Are Deficient. As a genetically healthy person who should produce cilantro-eating offspring, it remains mandatory for my food, as- in the proper dosage- it is good in almost anything. Just ask Ethiopia!

Cilantro should be shredded or ripped by hand and then ground in a mortar as opposed to using a knife, the steel of which undoubtedly alters its natural flavor. If it were me I wouldn’t even bother making this gorgeous yet manly salsa without cilantro. Like auto-eroticism without the self-flagellation…just not worth it. Now on to the Mole.

Mole Poblano

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cumin seeds
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon sesame seeds
  • 2 tablespoons ground Pasilla chili powder
  • 1 cup cooked black beans
  • 1 cup chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 cup Mirepoix
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1/4 cup cilantro leaves, loosely packed
  • 2 teaspoons lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1.5 oz. Mexican Chocolate
  • S & P


In a small skillet, toast the cumin seeds, oregano, sesame seeds, and chili powder, stirring constantly for three minutes (or until golden), and then blend, or crush in a mortar with pestle for a more authentically tiring feel. Add the beans, tomatoes, Worcestershire sauce, Mirepoix, honey, cilantro, lime, butter, and salt and pepper to taste. Puree until smooth and liquidy brown. Transfer the mole to a saucepan and slow heat for as long as you can stand it. Make sure to stir regularly so as not to scorch the bottom. Serve any number of ways including (but not limited to): dip, topping on seafood, rice, base sauce for Pizza. That or just stand around with Day of the Dead Craft Beer and lick it off your fingers. We will be making fish tacos. Because even though it may be tradition to serve it over fowl, breaking tradition, if done deliciously, can be a wonderful thing.

Finish making the tacos by warming up your tortilla of choice, a bit of guacamole on the bottom for stability, place your protein (monkfish perhaps?) down next, plenty of mole on top, top with salsa cruda, crema and cilantro.

Friends of Laphroaig

Friends of Laphroaig

2015 is Laphroaig’s double centenary year and The Friends of Laphroaig 21st year as well. Celebrating the 200th year of making exceptional Scotch Whisky with a whole host of events and special releases. At the request of the Friends of Laphroaig there is one off bottling of the famous 15 year old and the permanent reminder in the form of a huge dry stone Cairn / Kiln near the water source – The Kibride Stream. There’s the new tasting room and in September there we will be the official party during Laphroaig Live.

Friends of Laphroaig

Friends of Laphroaig

What exactly is a Friend of Laphroaig? Having children causes one to get back to their roots, and as I’m Scottish therefore Whisky flows through my veins, so thankfully the one clear, sober decision I made was to join the Friends of Laphroaig and drink Real Whisky like it was meant to be drunk: On The Peat. As of November 2008 I’ve been a Friend.

From the deed:

“As a condition of this award, we agree to pay a yearly ground rent in the sum of one dram of Laphroaig, to be claimed in person at the distillery.

Upon the Leaseholder’s arrival at Laphroaig we undertake to provide a map, with adequate directions for locating the PLOT, and suitable protective clothing against Islay’s rugged weather and eccentric wildlife.

The LEASEHOLDERS’ Cupboard will contain at all times essential equipment, including: For ascertaining the boundaries of the plot, one tape measure; a pair of wellingtons, size 12, approximately one foot in length. For the journey to the plot, protective headgear against low-flying GEESE; a thick overcoat to repel the inclement Scottish mist; a lifebelt and anchor to safeguard against being blown out to sea; one ball of string for securing trouser legs from inquisitive stoats; and a towel for the Leaseholder to dry-off in the event of unwelcome attention from affectionate otters.”

To get your own you need a bottle and a code. Don’t wait, let’s dram it up like real Men Of The Sea.

Best Bloody Mary Ever

Best Bloody Mary Ever

Best Bloody Mary Ever

Best Bloody Mary Ever

Add the ice, Season the glass, then pour for the win…

Just as the smart traveler does not fly to Santorini for only one day, the smart drinker realizes that one cannot have just one Bloody Mary — if only for the fact that it takes at least one of these finely crafted, blue collar beauties to merely season the glass (an important point I will come back to) — but rather must make proper arrangements in advance in order to insure the best Bloody Mary drinking experience possible. In order to write this, I am, at this very moment, under the influence of more than a few fingers of spicy vodka goodness. Which begs the question: what makes a good B.M.? Bloody Mary mix? Is it merely the tender pressings of tart tomatoes or rather the clear winter’s chill of crisp Russian spirits? After making more than 1000 of these vitamin C packed concoctions, rest assured it is more than just the aforementioned juice of the tomato fruit and medium-grade Russian intoxicant, that makes the Blood Mary the drink of choice for the mornings of forever after. So let’s get started:

The History:

It was sometime last century, likely in between world wars, in the few years of celebration when Europe was recovering from the war to end all wars and preparing for the deadliest conflict in human history, that the drink which was created to deal with hangovers was probably mixed up for the first time in Paris. Though some argue that it was first thought up and imbibed in New York around the 30s, in order, most likely, to deal with the major pain in the ass the that was the great depression. Wherever tomato juice was first mixed with vodka (or gin as was a common alternative) is not so important as the evolution of the drink, which has morphed from two simple ingredients to a complex and lively mixture that is both refreshing and uplifting, especially on Sunday mornings during brunch out with friends, or for the more skilled party-goer, for late Saturday night in preparation for the inevitable dehydration and loss of vitamins minerals caused by drinking alcohol. Whichever you may be, in order to properly enjoy the Bloody Mary to its full potential requires a bit more than elementary skill, but with a bit of practice and not much cash, anyone can make a damn good one for someone you love to love in the morning.

Seasoning the Glass:

Best Bloody Mary Ever

From dark to translucent the heart of the mix …

It’s almost shocking how much the drink is geared toward getting you going in the morning. Beyond the obvious tomato juice, the usual accoutrements could range from olives and celery, a pirate’s sword skewer of olives, pickles, or those mini Gibson onions. These days the add-ons are over-the-top excessive — bacon, beef sliders, spare ribs. If I wanted food, I would order your farmer’s plate, but what I want is a drink to cure all the wrong things I did last night. Key in the drink is citrus, the lemon and the lime. Which, after putting the ice to the brim, but before adding a couple jiggers of vodka, it becomes necessary to season the glass. This means adding pepper, celery salt, (soy sauce, horseradish, wasabi, kimchi, various chiles, et al are viable alternatives), anchovies, a nice squeeze of citrus and then the wedge, hot sauce, and Worcestershire sauce. The order is important, in that you want a nicely spread uniformity of seasoning. This should make the bottom of the glass appear as if it’s been left out in the rain and tipped over in a mudslide, but not to worry, we have vodka to the rescue. I infused my vodka with a lot of habanero peppers and some fresh mango to sweeten the wrath of the little orange chile. It didn’t do much to tame the heat, but it sure does taste great.

The point of this is to get the ice melting a bit and mix the seemingly disparate elements before adding the tomato juice. Another bonus being that the glass is basically ready to go for round two, with only a modicum of seasoning needed during the next mix up. The importance of this cannot be overstated. Proper seasoning makes for a damn near perfect Bloody Mary experience, no matter what blueprint you swear by. If you were wondering, mine is below.


Bloody Mary recipe courtesy of the HESO Magazine School of Bartending:

  • 2 oz. (60 ml) habanero/mango infused vodka in a Highball glass filled with (preferably crushed) ice.
  • 1 dash ground black pepper
  • 2-4 dashes celery salt
  • 2-4 dashes of Worcestershire sauce
  • Mashed up Anchovy
  • 1/4 juice of lemon or lime
  • Fill glass with tomato juice

While most home bartenders will be mixing in-glass, if one should have a proper bartender’s cocktail shaker then the mixture may be shaken vigorously, as desired. But above all, these should be consumed in twos and threes over brunch with an unbending spirit of togetherness as you crash blood red glasses toward a brighter day.

Wild Alaskan Sockeye Salmon

Wild Alaskan Sockeye Salmon

Salmon season has begun in Alaska, and the King (Chinook), Chum (Keta), Silver (Coho), Pink (Humpy), and Red (Sockeye) are the salmon species most frequently targeted in freshwater and saltwater sport fisheries. Starting in May and June with King Salmon, June and July are good are good times for Reds, while Pinks & Chum have a short season in July and August, Silvers can often peak in September. In Alaska, although salmon returns to streams near the major population center is relatively small, large returns do occur on other more remote areas which are accessible only by boat or by floatplane. Lakes and the mouths of rivers typically provide exceptional angling opportunities for sockeye salmon during June and July and then again for coho during August.

TASTING NOTES: A bold and balanced IPA.
13 INGREDIENTS: Rogue Farms Dare™, Risk™, Maier Munich & Dare™ R-3 Malts; Rogue Farms Liberty, Newport, Revolution, Rebel, Independent, Freedom & Alluvial Hops; Pacman Yeast & Free-Range Coastal Water
Crafted with 7 of the 8 Hops grown at Rogue Farms.
22oz Bottle & 4 Pack / 18° Plato / 7.77% ABV / 76 IBU / 78 AA / 16° L

Wild Alaskan Sockeye Salmon

Skylines Hong Kong

Skylines Hong Kong

Skylines Hong Kong

Hong Kong is a perfect example of a seemingly finite universe in which a quite small amount of land has been pointed toward a certain kind of efficiency–building up and down rather than outward–in effect searching for ways to find space within rather than without. With its background as imperial playground and now its multi-cultural identity going far to define it as China-but-not, Hong Kong is a perfect place to get (very) lost and still feel warmly surrounded and enclosed by people of all makes and models.

Skylines Hong Kong

Shrine to all the Night bats

KOWLOON is a big beautiful sewer, awash with gorgeous rats. Humid and rife with an armada of smells in her harbor: smells of the sea and shit, dim sum and diapers, tobacco and Tsing Tao. I’m staying where I always stay in Asian cities: in the ghetto with the illegals and no names, foreigners and prostitutes, criminals and the working class- a crowd which Jesus would approve, the lifeblood as it were, and then there are the ubiquitous touts on every corner proffering fake Rolex, real hash, faux Gucci, real women, ersatz Versace, real annoyance- this is Nathan Road. I am targeted for my pigment, my melanin. 8 of 10 apparently being too dark-skinned to be dollar rich, the random Brit and I (not together mind you) walking the wide crowded boulevard, remain the only recipients of such special offers as Pressure Point foot massages, exquisitely tailored almost-Armani suits and of course the superfluous Chinese Virgin…”Comes with the set meal!” I expect to hear next, yet somehow don’t. The thought arises concerning job security in this latter category, though knowing the Chinese’s affinity for their daughters, most likely not something to give a lot of thought to.

Here in this part of the city, on these long traversive roads, one tends to walk faster than any double-decker tourist special. One weaves and bobs like a prize fighter in training, with that special glint in the eye focusing toward some future destination. Though if those eyes should linger too long on any would be prize, if too much interest be shown in any merchandise, human or otherwise, the possibility of being pestered and followed for blocks by a never-ending flow of Indian, Pakistani, Nigerian or other-blooded touts looms too large for comfort. So I walk on, turn corners, round blocks, repeat, retrace, I check out a possible restaurant in two to three passes before committing, whereupon I do not stand outside like some pasty German in overly tight safari shorts with his fat wife gawking at the plastic display. No. But rather walking in, in full stride, head up high with eyes scanning, sitting as strategically as possible (for a potentially quick getaway should it be needed) and I order the local beer as quickly as possible.

The truth is I enjoy all these things to a certain extent- the dirt, the constant pestering, the humidity, the walking, the smell of the earth, the sweat, blood, and genitals all intermingling in intimate proximity to fellow humans, swarthy or not. Though they reside at the periphery of my journey, though I pass them by, they too matter. They also are part of the process. For what I seek is simple, friends. What I seek is food. And no matter how much shit I have to trudge through to reach my destination, sometimes known sometimes not, I shall pass.

It's the BBQ prawns which I can't get out of my head, the taste off my tongue. Here comes the second order, blindingly hot wrapped around thick chunks of bamboo, hot and sweet, washed down with a second tallboy of Tsing Tao. Visions… Click To Tweet

Skylines Hong Kong

Restructuring Hong Kong Night & Day

As diverse as Hong Kong is English is everywhere. Good English too, at least compared to the Japanese. The Chinese are Asia’s consummate businessmen and thusly realize the power of properly utilized linguistics. Most any restaurant I walk in to has an English menu, albeit offering slightly inflated prices, telling me of the: oceans of shrimp, ox tail, beef tongue, pork neck, duck wing, camel hoof, shark fin, turtle soup- the translation of which leads me to actually knowing what I shall soon be served as opposed to (yet another) bout of random pointing at Chinese Characters, because though the businessmen of Hong Kong do know their English, the citizenry have yet to learn word one, nor do they care to, especially the wait staff, it would seem.

Having gotten my beer and a roomful of odd stares from the customers (none of whom are drinking anything but tea with their dinner), I down a few glasses of the ice cold Tsing Tao and kick back, preparing the various soy and sweet chili sauces. But here comes my order- nothing fancy for dinner- BBQ prawns fried in sugarcane, the Vietnamese veggie harumaki- fat thumbsized bastards all of them, come with a plate of lettuce the mama-san mimes me to wrap the spring roll in and then dip in the strong chili paste, and finally my weakness, some octopus tentacles. It’s the BBQ prawns which I can’t get out of my head, the taste off my tongue. Here comes the second order, blindingly hot wrapped around thick chunks of bamboo, hot and sweet, washed down with a second tallboy of Tsing Tao. Visions of cows and their two stomachs float by, but I’ve already ordered more than usual, so I finish my beer and pass on, rolling a smoke outside and venturing onto the next joint.

Skylines Hong Kong

A Misty View From Victoria Peak, Hong Kong

The Chinese are nighthawks, up all hours selling, buying, eating, drinking, smoking, touting, pimping, dealing, double-dealing, even perhaps loving. The opportunity for good food, good photos, strange conversations, illicit meetings, dark alley connections, neon-lit exclamations, convenience store forays, porn-mag expeditions, brothel look-sees never ends. Then there’s still the endless sidewalk running alongside this British-dubbed Nathan Road, walled in on all sides by a million different nationalities, all vying for one more Hong Kong Dollar. Well friends, tonight I’m buying. Anyone know a good place for snake, boar, bear, pigeon or raccoon at 5am?

The day starts a deep dark gray and seems to settle that way, as if it likes it just fine. The streets wet from rain or the perpetual sweat the city secretes from its myriad glands, I cannot tell. The touts at their posts already, yawning yet with eyes apeel for the day’s fresh white meat. Sipping a mango smoothie, I makeway through morning traffic with one thing on my mind: dim sum. A local points me toward Happy Market Noodle Factory recommending the congee. I find it, walk in and sit while the mama-san impatiently taps her foot as I sip my tea and take in the 10 page menu she just slammed down on the sticky table.

I say “Beer” motioning big as she husks off whispering something to the other 8 waitresses lounging about beneath strange posters of various mostly deep-fried flora and fauna, all looking eerily similar. I need the time it takes her to get my beer so as to justify my slow perusal of the menu’s breadth and overall depth of selection. I imagine myself a fortune cookie maker: “One must take their time when ordering so as not to miss the menu’s secret back-alley specials.” Somewhere a gong carols. Birds flap off. A baby cries.

Mama comes back and I know another drink won’t keep her from tossing me out, so I order a mudfish congee to appease her and keep scanning, my eyes jitterbugging back and forth past typical boring, safe tourist fare. I linger a bit over shark fin soup, but can’t bring myself to sanction such brutality. The ox-ball dumplings in oyster sauce with braised bok choy sounds good. Never had testicles before. Penis yes. Testes no. That’ll serve nicely as an apres-main and for the second course…it’s then I see it, big and posterized above a waitress picking her nose: Deep Fried Pigeon.

My choice is made. Screw dim sum. I. Must. Have. Pigeon. My mouth, which before had merely been expecting testicles, now goes into salivary overproduction mode. My belly rumbles and rolls in anticipation. My fingers even begin surreptitiously to move toward my lips, preparing to be licked. As if a sudden case of low blood sugar has set in, I have the shakes. I’m flushed and prickly. My dick is hard.

Skylines Hong Kong

This Little Hong Kong Pigeon Won’t Be Flying Far

I head to the bathroom to steady myself, throw water on my face. Looking in the mirror I flash on my ex-girlfriend and her vocal disgust for what she termed “flying rats”. What would be her reaction to my breakfast choice: would she hug me to her bosom for ridding the world of one more foul beast or revile me in disgust for putting such a vile, dirty creature across my lips?

Shrugging, I head back to my table, passing the kitchen, full of a fresh delivery of duck carcasses, some brown and crispy-skinned, others pale and limp, all piled next to various heaps of pig legs, necks, feet, cow tongues, ox tails, and what look like a bevy of genitalia all queued up for the big Oak-round cutting board and that mad-eyed Kahn lookalike with the cleaver in his hand and blood on his apron. Steam floats about in all directions, whistling and shooting like from old locomotives, while small, angular men in white wield knives with deadly accuracy, moving with a precision memorized by muscles years ago. There is no waste. Not in animal nor in preparation. It is a pleasure to watch.

It is only then I notice my the pounding in my ears. Suddenly everything’s sped up. My pulse ascending to double beats. Blood rushing to the surface of my clammy skin. My walk is thick and loud like slow motion through a bog. I imagine MSG poisoning feels like this. Was the bear liver I had yesterday bad? The Panda anus not quite bacteria free?

It’s nothing. Nerves. Excitement. Sexual rush. I get back to my table and, steaming and popping in grease rivulets, here comes my pigeon. It’s smaller than I expected, though defeathered, what isn’t? As it’s served whole (it’s fried little head, eyes and beak rendered so perfectly…adorable) I glance at my chopsticks, then at the bird, then at my steady surgeon hands and I have at it, dropping the chopsticks and tearing into it. Literally ripping it in half and sucking all I can out of its fried little ass. There are no barriers anymore.

I flay the skin from its neck and, peeling up and over the head, I bite down until it breaks between my teeth, sucking out all the marrow from the neck bones. I slurp at the eyes, test the beak, chaw on the spine. I want to consume it whole. And not for my ex and for anyone who ever hated on one of these so-called winged rodents, but instead to take the yoke off of its much maligned back and put it on mine. Suddenly I see a light. I hear beautiful singing. And then I know.

From now on little fellow, in eating you, in consuming you whole, sins and all, I relieve you of your earthly burdens and take them for myself. From this point forward Brother Pigeon, I feel your pain, just like all the clawed, taloned, hoofed, scaled and winged animals I have taken your deliciousness into my body and allowed to strengthen me in my journey to rid the world of treachery toward our collective. Thank you, brother, for your life, tasty as it was, given unwillingly, has now become mine and until I can no longer eat another of your winged kin, can step no longer to the cutting board to declaw you, can no longer chew my own food, I will live this life in strength and peace, pursuing wisdom and offering respect to all those who seek to enlighten us on our collective journey down the Right Path.

A photographic work-in-progress focusing on the communities in which we reside and the lines, sometimes invisible sometimes not, that connect us. This project began in Hong Kong in 2007 documenting how we layout, build, maintain and ultimately view ourselves within the large-scale cityscapes in which we move to and fro, work and live, love and kill. Suggesting not only what we see before us but also the larger and more mysterious nature of the cities and therefore the societies that we make, as well as their reverberations spreading outward from the center to the fringes. I remain fascinated by exploring new places with my camera and a few rolls of film, after which revisiting old places provides me a parallax perspective, fresh ideas and new insight into how we continue to add to the world of our forefathers and mothers.

Honke Owariya - Best Soba in Kyōto

Honke Owariya – Best Soba in Kyōto

The Soba War

Honke Owariya - Best Soba in Kyōto

A Slice of Seasonal Heaven – Roasted Duck (鴨せいろ)

Visualize if you will, a spry young man in his work kimono, made of an easy to clean light fabric, walking down the dirt-paved roads of the old capital Kyōto to the clickety-clackety of hundreds of Japanese sandal-wearing passers-by as they go about their daily business. He smiles and nods to his acquaintances while the deciduous trees rain orange and red fires of leaves all around. With a wave of the hand, a quick konnichiwa to his neighbors, and a right turn past the entrance curtains our man enters his shop. A small storefront with a tiny garden pond to the left and a backroom for kneading, mixing and baking makes up the modest shop, all separated by the thinnest of rice-paper shoji sliding doors, yet somehow keeping the cool autumn breeze from disturbing the still sun-dappled air of the fine-milled flours and powdered sugars floating like benevolent ancestral ghosts around the confectionery. The year is 1465 in Nakagyo-ward, just south of the grounds of the Emperor’s palace, and you have entered Honke Owariya, which although new, has quickly become one of the favored shops of the imperial family. Sadly the Ōnin War, which will begin in just two short years and will last ten, destroys most of the city, scatters the population, and renders the emperor powerless: not exactly auspicious timing.

Maybe our man hides out until after the war, all the while perfecting his deliciously sweet an (餡) paste, the emperor’s favorite mochi (餅) and the traditional jellies of tokoro ten (ところ天). Maybe an influential member of the emperor’s cortege comes calling telling you His Highness really loves simple fare, like Soba and should you decide to take advantage of the large natural water table upon which the city lies (thanks to its beneficial situation in the Yamashiro basin of the Tanba Highlands) to extend your talented hand into making the best dashi soup stock around, your legacy might still be around in the year 2000. Thankfully that or something like that is exactly what happened, which is why we still have Honke Owariya, arguably the oldest restaurant in Kyōto- which would likely make it the oldest in Japan- 544 years later.

Honke Owariya - Best Soba in Kyōto

Monks always say: 壊れてもいないものを直すべからず (If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it).

When you are invited by the family to stay at the restaurant itself, and they casually drop that it was established in 1465, your mind begins to go numb. These kinds of numbers don’t mean anything to Americans. 544 years of uninterrupted service means that they had already been serving soba for more than 300 years by the time the thirteen British colonies got off their lazy arses and decided to unify into the U.S.A. The soup I was slurping was older than my own country’s constitution, and much more delicious, which made me wonder, 1) just exactly who are these soba-mongers? and 2) what’s the difference between their product and the stuff you buy at the store?

That first talented young patisserie chef who came from Nagoya along with some members of the imperial family, worked hard to turn the shop from strictly sweets to the soba du jour. Generally considered an everyman’s dish, fit for laymen as well as for a king- the initial proprietor Denzaemon (でんざえもん)- as has been named every master behind the Owariya (尾張屋) symbol- has passed down the recipe alongside the name from father to son since the end of the Muromachi and into the Edo period, until today. While the building itself has changed over that time, the shop has been located on the same soil- despite war, fire, and other misfortunes which prevailed upon a Japan still searching for its national identity during the violence of the 15-19th centuries- since 1465. Only open for lunch, the current establishment- a multi-leveled wooden building which can seat over 50 guests comfortably, and located down a sleepy side-street near the Karasuma-Oike subway station- has been in use since the early part of last century, the 1920s or 30s. Barring another civil war, a massive fire, an earthquake of great magnitude, a genealogical dry spell or any other potential disaster already having occurred in the storied history of Kyōto (Mothra’s Revenge perhaps?), the current incarnation could be around for another five hundred years.

Honke Owariya – Best Soba in Kyōto

Honke Owariya - Best Soba in Kyōto

As an apprentice this is as grandiose as his day gets

But what exactly is soba? According to Owariya, soba “are thin grey noodles made from sobako, or buckwheat flour.” Depending on which area of Japan you live, they range in percentages of purity from 100% juu-wari inaka-soba (Nagano) to mixtures containing various wild mountain yams, green tea and even mugwort. It ranges from the traditional kaiseki-esque 500 + year-old stuff of Owariya (who do an excellent sobazushi by the way) all the way to small shacks serving bowls of the stuff as fast, cheap food for businessmen who don’t have five minutes to sit. Despite sounding a bit mundane, soba has become by far my favorite Japanese food, so much so that I still slurp up the thick dark buckwheaty goodness of sansai-soba (country veggie) at the standing fast food noodle joint in Matsumoto whenever I head back that way. How, you ask, is it so highly favored among the blue bloods, the proletariat and, of course, foreigners like myself? Despite the ancient mama-san trying to hurry you up to free space for the next customer in line, the important thing is to go slow. In order to be able to appreciate the finer subtleties amidst a symphony of salaryman slurps, you have got to eat it often and eat a lot of it. Which shouldn’t prove a problem, as according to a new study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition eating buckwheat, has been linked to protection against atherosclerosis, ischemic stroke, diabetes, insulin resistance, obesity, and premature death. Another benefit would be eating the 100% juu-wari soba for people with wheat allergies (it’s a fruit seed, which does not contain protein glutens). Ok, enough with the history and the health benefits, we get it already, so what, it’s good for you and allergy freaks can eat it too…can we see what’s all the fuss at Owariya?

Honke Owariya - Best Soba in Kyōto

Kamo Seiro (鴨せいろ) – Autumn Duck in fish stock

Duck is as seasonal as it gets in the old capital. At Owariya talk around the green tea cooler has it that the cook hunts the birds himself. True or not, this dish, Kamo Seiro (warm soba noodles with warm roasted duck in warm tsuyu dipping sauce), a close relative to Kamo Nanban (warm soba noodles with leeks), another Kyōto autumn / winter favorite, is masterful. Something about the autumn air and the changing colors makes people, especially Japanese people, and even more especially Kyōtoans, long for a taste of the season, and not being especially close to any seaside the people of the Imperial City generally agree: what does that better than roast duck? The crispy skin is like the falling leaves crunched underfoot as you walk in the chill dusk evening toward your lady friend’s house, the centimeter thick layer of beautifully textured fat redolent of the bearskin rug before the hearth of the roaring fire which throws flame light on the open bottle of vintage old world Pinot noir said lady friend is holding, and finally past the skin and beneath the fat comes the tender flesh, reminiscent of the autumnal elements, of the mingling of fire and air, and as you bite down and union is achieved, you taste the fine seiro fish stock now with a hint of oaky barbecue added as ballast and realizing that this meal too, perfectly balanced as it is by the light buckwheat noodles awash in their own sobayu, like others, will pass, you slow down. Taking your time now, you look out the window and watch the people passing and the wind blowing the leaves to that far off sea. Things inevitably change, but thankfully some things do not.

Fugu Tempura Tacos

Fugu Tempura Tacos

Raw Fugu - Blowfish - Babies

Raw Fugu – Blowfish – Babies

Retro/Proto-grading on homegrown rockets of herbal bliss, somewhere in the precarious balance between taste bud ecstasy and practical applications of time and space, is where reside my abilities to create, implement and cook up recipes of a questionable kind of originality. I’m in no way saying here that Everything Has Been Done where food is concerned, but damn if the French didn’t do most of it by the 18th Century. The haute cuisine stuff anyway. The other good stuff (Central/South American, North/Central African, Indian/Nepali, Chinese/Korean, Vietnamese all on its own) has its place in any kitchen, but what of creativity? Where does my addled 21st-century California Mind come into play here? What of taking convention a bit further? What of thinly-sliced Gravlax over a fresh, well-chilled Gado-gado? What of the high risk of failure? Where do your basic mirepoix and bechamel sauces belong among today’s Asian-savvy line cooks? What of living on the fringe of the culinary universe, always just one misguided pinch of fennel from falling off into the bland, over-processed ether? What of the beautiful fusion known as le métissage gastronomique?

If living in Japan has taught me anything, it’s that the Japanese love – LOVE – fried food. Forget the fact that the Macrobiotic diet originated in Japan, and the world tends to think of the Japanese as being one of the healthiest races around, tonkatsu (fried pork cutlet), karaage (fried chicken), ebi furai (fried shrimp) age-dash-dofu (fried whole tofu), gyōza (dumplings), inarizushi (sushi rice in fried tofu pouches), natsumaki (Summer rolls) and especially tempura are the current staples of daily Japanese cuisine. So representative of this land of borrowed culture, the Japanese word Tempura is actually Portugese (tempero – referring to the fried fish the Portugese Missionaries ate in the time of Lent – ad tempora quadragesimae) in origin.

Light and crispy, a Tempura Party is fun and tasty

Light and crispy, a Tempura Party is fun and tasty

In all fairness, 天ぷら Tempura – lighter and crisper than most other deep fried foods – was mastered here and not in Portugal, just as sushi – originally hailing from southeast Asia & China – came to be the world famous Japanese food it is now, here. I myself have developed a taste for tempura, though usually from my own kitchen (that or one particular yatai, or food stall, I know of), where I know how – and how long – the oil is used. I also happen to have once lived at the south end of the Kanmon Straight – the border between the islands of Kyushu & Honshu – the most ubiquitious feral beds of fugu (puffer or blowfish) in the world. While fugu is well known as an extremely poisonous fish (the liver, ovaries and skin contain the neurotoxin tetrodotoxin, 1200 times more toxic than cyanide), it’s also one of the blandest. Regardless, plates of thinly sliced fugu sashimi can exceed a hundred dollars, often due to the exaggerated allure of completely conscious asphyxiation a missliced torafugu liver will produce in the consumer.

I myself have no fear of a pufferfish-induced death, due in part to the rigorous 3-year training course expectant chefs have to undergo here, as well as the secret inner knowledge that no fish will be the one to introduce me to my maker (octopuses, squid and sharks, on the other hand, aren’t fish). But I also have no clear desire to eat the little blow-daddy just because it’s there, especially not for these prices, yet I do have easy access to the stuff, so…Maybe you can see the neurotransmitters doing their thing, synapses creating new bridges, serotonin cocktails passing around. So, me and my cooking cohort (what I call my cock) decide it’s high time to fuse some boring fugu with some tempura batter, fry on high for a few minutes and, combining with a few other simple flavors, create new gastronomic worlds the physical laws for remain undefinable.

Eh Voila - Fugu Tempura Tacos

Eh Voila – Fugu Tempura Tacos

I give you Tempura Fugu Tacos. Now the thing about tempura batter is it should be mixed with equal parts ice cold soda water and egg yolks (2 is good), stirred rapidly with chopsticks for only a short time in order to preserve the lumpy quality characteristic to tempura. So, after heating your wok full of an oil with a high smoking point- sesame, peanut or vegetable (or even a mixture thereof)- oil to 190°F, cutting the fugu into chunks, prepare your batter mixture. When the batter floats the oil is ready to go, though you don’t want to fry too much as once as the oil temperature will drop too low, screwing the Kitchen Adonis image your drooling audience has of you all to hell. Take out of oil after 2-3 minutes and nicely golden, resting on a paper towel for a bit to soak up excess oil. Salt it! Of course you’ve already made your red onion, tomato, pepper based pico de gallo, cut the avocado into long green quarter moons, and been heating your corn tortillas all the while, right? So, once your tempura‘s done and dried a bit, throw it on that tortilla, adding the previously mentioned accoutrements and get to eating while it’s still hot.

Beer’s good. So’s horchata. So’s mojitos.

Lazy Bread Recipe

Roasted Garlic Fennel Wholewheat Ciabata

Here’s you: It’s Saturday or Sunday, Monday maybe even, you don’t know, but you’re hungry. Not that idiotic snickers I must have instant satisfaction now! kinda hungry, but some kind you haven’t felt for a long time. What the hell, eat some almonds, be done with it, move on.

No nuts, no chocolate, not even teriyaki salmon jerky for chrissakes. But what’s that? A pristine triangular package of French Brie sitting lonely in the lower recesses of the fridge. Cheap, of course, but still, cheese. This goes that deep. Suddenly this is about Stinky French Cheese. Someone should do some goddamn shopping around here, you say aloud, to no one in particular. Because you live alone. You are talking to yourself, yelling at the walls again. You are alone. Pathetic.

Splashes of Dreamlike Food Memories Are Haunting You

Splashes of Dreamlike Food Memories Are Haunting You

Head slumped, still digging in the pantry, shaking a bit now from low blood sugar, hallucinating last week’s bruschetta, willing to give a kidney – hey, I’ve got two! – for anything to pair with the Brie, eyeing the week-old open bottle of cheap red wine a bit too long, you see an abundance of one thing and one thing only: flour. Don’t know what kind of flour as you decided, for some goddamn reason, flour packaging to be passe some time ago, also apparently opted for the non-marking-with-sharpie-of-flour-type-on-generic-ziplocs. Ooh, whimsical me! So grab the 3 or 4 semi-translucent flour-filled bags, a couple bowls, the brown misshapen package marked yeast & then you begin.

Lazy Bread Recipe

First, don’t really clean the cutting board from last night’s dinner, the extraneous crumbs & sauces will add zest to your bread. Since the flour could be tainted with rat poison, mix dutifully, though no sifting. Who the hell actually owns a sifter? Do you? Pussy.

Next add a teaspoon of seasalt, a tablespoon of sugar – oops out of sugar – so some honey, maple syrup, sweetened chocolate, lemon drops, (miso?) will substitute well. Anything to get that yeast activating. Alternatively, if you can muster the energy to break into your neighbor’s apartment, do it, but under no circumstances should you actually go to the store. Might as well buy bread while you’re out. And get me a 40oz. of OE while you’re there. Widemouth.

All the while of course you’ve been blooming your 2 teaspoons of yeast in 1 3/4 cup warm water (You like that? “Bloomin’ your yeast” Totally made that up right now), but since you don’t have hot or even warm water you’ve got to either wait for the kettle to boil or go take some from the bathtub, which seems to be the more efficient, more of a French solution to the problem. Eh, pourquoi pas!

Soon Your Knife Hand Will be So Busy Smearing Cheese Here it's Not Very Funny At All

Soon Your Knife Hand Will be So Busy Smearing Cheese Here it’s Not Very Funny At All

So you’re yeast is blooming, and you’ve got your four cups of flour, throw in some olives if you’ve got some, and mix it already dammit! The thing is you’ve probably not added enough flour so choose a handful or so from mystery bag A, B or C and toss it in while stirring with some grizzly old whisk that breaks! Fearsome God of Goats Cheese! I curse your ill-born mother’s dollar whisk. I’ll break you! What the hell does that even mean? I did break you. Alright, take a break. Smoke a cigarette. Play some online poker or something. Actually doesn’t air help mix the flour & yeast molecules better? Yeah, so this is good for the bread. Cool. We are in control.

Being in control is the thing. So do it. Quit half-heartedly thinking about masturbating to softcore Tumblr sites and get up off your ass and finish the bread. Get your hands in it. Reach in there dammit! Oh, you washed them didn’t you? Oh well, write it down as “zest” in the recipe. “Schlooge” that too wet dough up and get residual flour everywhere on you so much so you’re hoping the cops don’t bust in mistaking you for some damn Colombian, to make it – your lazy dough – oh so like the Beatles, come together. When you’ve done enough kneading to change the chemical composition from liquid to semi-solid, go ahead and kick back bro, or sis. But maybe first you’d better grease up that bowl – nah, don’t clean it first – with some of that chili-garlic infused olive oil you made up last month. Damn, you hot sucka! and then, yeah, go ahead, take a seat, but wash your damn hands first before you get wet doughy wannabe man goo all over the damn couch like I did, making all manner of moths and the like come bombing down on you nipping at the crust of wheaty rosemary goodness hardening around the hair on your hands that’s gonna feel like a wax job getting it off later.

You should let it rise for an hour or so and then wrap it and refrigerate it overnight, but did you forget how damn rumbly your tum-tum is? Damn Geena! You a forgetful fool ain’t’cha?

Bake that mug up at 450C for 40 minutes, flipping and spritzing it with water. Little Bitch.

Damn Excellence in Amateur Baking

Damn Excellence in Amateur Baking

But, wait before you do that, slice the top in some geometrically intricate pattern with some sharp steak knife you probably stole from Outback making it look all professional so when your friends come over they’re all, “Yo, B, dude, which completely unreal bakery you get this buttery madness from already?” Nod your head, grinning wicked. Wake up bitch, we ain’t done! Crust that badboy up with some more of your slavoringly savory olive oil infusion and toss some the good herbs on top of that, you know the ones. You know you wanna let it sit out on a raised aerated surface like some country momma’s apple pie you know you’d steal too, but you ain’t got that kinda time, do ya cowboy?

You know what you just did? You just made the goddamndest tastiest bread in whichever tri-state area you hail from (Don’t pretend you don’t either. I know you!) and you didn’t even try did you? You might also consider cutting it in cute triangle-shaped quadrants and wrap it in a decorated cellophane with ribbon you curled with the scissors and give it away to the hottee down the hall, but on second thought, what’d she think of you giving her so damn cute bread? Probably she’d thank you all flirtatiously, go straight to your best friend’s house (even though she don’t know the fool) and screw his brains out, telling him as she slams the door on her way to Pilates class to tell you that she just cut out the middle man and cheated on you early before you could give her any more of that damnly delicious bread. So, in pre-retrospect you might as well just eat it all yourself. I heard in Russia kids are brought up well and oxen-strong like on just bread and vodka. Try it out!

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