Thursday, August 29, 2013

Swimming Pools, Officers Clubs and Barber Shoppes Oh My! Lessons about Life and Food as Learned by a Military Brat

When I was in first grade we were stationed in Jacksonville, Florida. My Daddy was stationed at JAX Naval Air Station and we lived just down the road in a little neighborhood in a part of town called Orange Park. We were living in a house on a street that to this day I love the name of, Wonder Lane.

It was the perfect street name for a perfect time. When life was new and I was so young and the world was yet unknown and unexplored. Whether that exploration took the form of Winnie the Pooh books, playing outside in the backyard or neighborhood, helping my Mama in the kitchen or just watching the shadows on the ceiling of one's bedroom late at night. After you went to bed and the drone of music on the phonograph or your Parents talking filled the quiet corners of the house.

No adult problems yet to be had, no raging teenage angst or hormones. It was the time of life when being a kid is really all there is. And everything is new and different all the time because nothing has ever been seen before. A time when expectations are almost akin to imagination. Fresh new vibrant and alive was the world and all it's possibilities. This was life as a first grader in the house on Wonder Lane.
It was the first place I have truly concrete memories.

Now I can remember our first house in Charleston  where my brother was born but only colors and shapes and a few fun times spent with my brother in the backyard playing in costumes made out of sheets and tin foil. We were knights and kings, gladiators and spacemen. Well I was my brother mostly just followed me around being so little. We had a great time.

But I don't really remember it as well as I wish I could. I recall my Daddy being gone on the carriers and sending us postcards as to where he was. Mama put up a big map of the world and we would mark "where Daddy was". I remember a certain Christmas tree that was short and had to be put up on top of a harvest table in the dinning room which was disappointing somehow.

I can recall my parents going out and entertaining in Charleston. My Mama all done up in a floor length chiffon green gown, hair piled up on her head like the hairdos from the 1960's. Looking like Julianne  Moore in that Tom Ford movie. She was so beautiful. My Daddy dressed up in his blue dress uniform looking dapper. Off to some event or ball. I can recall house parties were I was put to bed early but would peek out to the festivities. Punch Bowls filled with Artillery Punch ( a deadly mixture I hear ) and sideboards groaning with platters of food. Maybe fondue pots and chafing dishes filled with Mom's Norwegian meatballs or cocktail franks.

But I can remember Jacksonville with clarity. It was the first place I recognized that we were a military family and also realized what that meant. We lived on and amongst bases and military neighborhoods for my entire childhood. Places surrounded by barbed wire fences and gated entrances where my Mother even got a salute from the MP. guards as an Officer's wife. Driving past planes and missiles and wharfs filled with a collection of various Naval vessels the world seemed very grand and powerful indeed. And our place in it purposeful and understandable.  Daddy was in the navy protecting our country. And we were a family bound to each other like a small nomadic tribe, carrying our memories and possessions with us from billet to billet. Moving from place to place the strange familiarity of the bases brought a sort of calm to otherwise total upheaval. To this day whenever I go onto a Military base I have a quiet sense of peace and melancholy and nostalgia for what went before. Or maybe it's just a longing for that simple and satisfying time of life so long gone by. Either way it's a good feeling cause it's all part of me and who I am and the fabric of my experience here on the planet.

Now a few years later with my Daddy being stationed in Hawaii, as a very small boy I had the opportunity to climb trees and scrape knees in the beautiful setting of those magical islands. Even living in military housing on a base was cool as a kid ( although not so much for my folks). But even my Parents admitted, to this day my Mama claims, that the overall experience we had as a family in Hawaii was a blessing that shaped so much of what was to come for us.

Now there were many experiences I associate with growing up on a base in Hawaii. But three which linger with me strongly to this day center arround a particular base called Makalapa. It was a base up the mountain from our housing and near where my Daddy was stationed at Camp Smith. It was a housing billet for single officers and was a large square wooden structure maybe 5 stories tall that housed all the things that these officer's could need. It had an exchange, a small commissary, an Officer's Mess, a rec. hall and a barber shop.

One of the things most memorable things about being a small boy and which to this day I have an almost visural memory of is going to a barber shop to get my hair cut. I can remember one of my parents taking my brother and me to get our haircut at the Makalapa Officers Club. I think for most men getting a haircut has a primordial memory of some fellow with beefy hands smelling of talc and barbicide. This fellow would then pull onto you a waxy plastic apron and using clippers and shears  shear one's young locks with manly vigor and precision. Sometimes scary and always intimidating the barber was definitely an iconic figure in the pantheon of my boyhood.

At the Officer's Club barber shop there was no mistaking this was a place for men. It was a rite of passage for young one's and a duty for the adults. It was a refuge from the world of women and a bastion of community and manly conversation. Sports, tours of duty, ladies fair and the manly version of gossip ( aka bitching) were the bill of fare besides hot towel facials, shaving and haircuts. It was the first place I became aware of a ritual that would continue most of my life. And to this day I think about the bright lights and wooden walls of that barber shop with it's framed prints of naval ships and commanding officers. Every barbershop for me is Makalapa.

Then there was the swimming pool at Makalapa. It was also a place that was the scene of a world of first's for me. It was there that when asked who could swim by the swim teacher, I raised my hand and plunged into the deep end only needing to be rescued by the instructor. Oh where is that shameless abandon now when taking on life! I did learn to swim and to dive there and that started a love for water recreation that is with me to this day.

But my favorite place on the base was without a doubt the Officer's Mess. It was the scene of many a family dinner for special family nights, visiting relatives from mainland and special command occasions. It was a grand naval dining room decked out with pictures of warships and flags. Brass lighting fixtures and white linen tables set with shining glassware and plates embossed with the Makalapa crest. Manned by an army of filipino naval stewards in starched white waiter coats, the maitre de in dark blue it was the grandest of dining for young boys like myself and my brother.

It was the first time I ever knew there was a steak called a filet mignon. Grilled to meaty perfection and served wrapped in bacon it was a delicious discovery, and a memorable one. The potatoes were stuffed and twice baked and even the asparagus made you want to stand up and salute. It was in a word, fancy. You see it set my boyhood imagination on fire that magical base Makalappa.

I have on occasion to this day wanted to capture my boyish awe at the first encounters with this and other like places like this of my youth. But try as I may they allude me. I have sought out haircuts in the best salons that did not give me the thrill of those early barbershop days. I have been in amazing places with amazing pools that somehow do not revive my memory of my first almost drowning. I have in steak house after steak house, even some of the best in the country, hoped for that meal. I have never quite reached the threshold of that succulent memory.

The Officer's Mess  the pool and the barber shop were perhaps never the things I remember them being. But it like my memory of soft hot breezes and the palms around the swimming pool or the smell of the barber's talc on my neck, they are things that I will never forget. And in glimpses of living my life today I occasionally capture, if only in a flash of memory when I climb into that barber chair, the boy I was and the beauty that time held for me. Not that it was all such a bed of roses ( again my parents concur). But it was a time that I can never forget and a time that made me part of who I am. For that I am grateful, as well as all the other nonsense that went into growing up in the Navy as a kid.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Hippy Dippy California Burning Man Kale Salad with "Goddess" Dressing

So several years ago I met a group of people through my friend Stuart who attend something called the Burning Man Festival. Now for those of you, like myself, who do not know anything about Burning Man it can be summed up in one word, sandy. Well, you will see why.

According to Wikipedia:

Burning Man is a week-long annual event held in the Black Rock Desert in northern Nevada, in the United States. The event begins on the last Monday in August, and ends on the first Monday in September, which coincides with the American Labor Day holiday. The 2012 Burning Man Festival took place between August 27 and September 3. It takes its name from the ritual burning of a large wooden effigy on Saturday evening. The event is described as an experiment in community, art, and radical self-expression. Burning Man is organized by Black Rock City LLC.  In 2010, 51,515 people attended Burning Man. 2011 attendance was capped at 50,000 participants and the event sold out on July 24.  In April 2011, Larry Harvey announced that the organization had begun the process of transitioning management of the festival over to a new non-profit organization called the "Burning Man Project".

So what this excerpt doesn't tell you is that it's a massive community effort on the part of the people there to leave no visible footprint. That means what came in goes out. And with 50,000 people in attendance that's no small feat. It's really interesting.

Of course ultimately it's all about experience at burning man. Partying, drinking. drugs. music and art all collide in a sort of hippy spirited free living environment where social norms are challenged as free thinking takes it's summer holiday.

The event is divided into groupings called camps. Each camp has a theme and a proposed purpose. Some self involved and other open and public. There are whole camps which are focused on music, dance, and even food. One of the most interesting was one I heard about that offered showers. And then there's one that just makes bacon all day and night. Hello Bacon! I would have been there all the time. I know my burner friends are cringing.

So what does this have to do with Kale Salad. Well let me tell you. Nothing really except as a segue into talking a little about the Hippy movement of the 1960's.

Years ago when California became a hotbed of the so called Hippy Movement, it also became the home for the first serious vegetarian food movement in this country. Why, well because one of the outgrowths of this culture was an awareness of nature and naturalism as it applies to life, including what and how one eats. This led to the growth of the vegan raw and vegetarian food culture in the west and this went on to inspire California chefs in their first looks at a farm to table cooking mentality. Isn't connectivity an interesting thing.

One of the hallmarks of the early California raw, vegan, and vegetarian food trends was a heightened awareness of produce and sourcing fresh foods. Another was also the further development of the salad as a meal concept.

Of course California had led the way in pretty inventing the "Salad Meal" with the introduction of such dishes as the Cobb Salad ( introduced in LA. at the very famous Brown Derby restaurant) or the Crab Louis Salad ( which was introduced much earlier in San Francisco). Or the Caesar Salad which came out of prohibition era Tijauna Mexico, where wealthy Californians would go to escape the liquor laws.

Further in the 1950's and 60's Sunset magazine introduced the US readers to a variety of Salad meals like these. Some of which, like the Taco Salad, are so common today one would never think that it was not a known quantity everywhere in the US. all the time.

Another hallmark of the Hippy driven vegetarian food movement was a moving away from animal fat based sauces and dressings. As a result there are interesting and delicious ingredients that when used together make for very nice results. As with everything this movement moved into main stream culture in California and helped to shape California cuisine.

One such dressing that has become as famous over time as ranch dressing, especially on the west coast is something called "Goddess" dressing. The name comes from another dressing very popular in the 1960's  "Green Goddess" which is rich in dairy and not vegan. So goddess dressing was the vegan version of this using tahini (sesame paste)  as the base and incorporating other flavors to make a rich creamy satisfying dressing without the dairy.

As I continue to experiment with Kale Salads I have made my own version of this dressing. It's so good you can put it on anything. Annie's all natural products and Trader Joe's make a version of this that is really good but making it at home makes it a little better I think.

And I put together a Kale salad recipe that I think is as good as any Californian Vegan Hippy Dippy Chef would make. Maybe even a little better....but that's for you to decide. Enjoy Ya'll.

California Style Kale Salad with "Goddess" Dressing

1 bag of kale stems removed or 1 bunch kale stems removed both options cut into small pieces or ribbons
2 small carrots shredded
4 radishes sliced thinly
2 tablespoon sesame seeds white/black mixed
10 oz baby bella mushrooms quartered and lightly sauteed and cooled and drained
1/2 medium red onion finely diced
1 bunch mint leaves finely chopped
1 bunch parsley finally chopped
2 green onions diced on a bias
1/4 cup crushed parmesan croutons or toasts ( optional leave out if you want this salad gluten free)

Mix all ingredients except sesame seeds and green onion pieces in a big salad bowl and toss generously with "goddess" dressing, garnish the top with the sesame seeds and the green onions.

"Goddess Dressing"

2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons Tahini paste (plain)
3 tablespoons cider vinegar
5 whole green onions chopped
1/4 cup lemon juice
3 tablespoons dark soy sauce (if you have it)
3 garlic cloves
2 tablespoons dried parsley leaves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
  water as needed to thin out if desired

Place everything in a food processor and blend till smooth
Will keep covered for up to two weeks in the fridge

Thursday, August 15, 2013

BBQ Chicken with Spicy Yogurt Sauce and Blistered Tomato Cous Cous

Every year I go on vacation to Provincetown on the cape in Massachusetts. Now the first thing one thinks about when one thinks about Cape Cod is  probably of course seafood. Well that may well be the predominant flavor profile of the Cape but when it comes to vacationing there or anywhere grilling out is always popular.

American's grill everything these days and so do I. I love the way the grill just flavors up everything from steaks to corn to scallops and eggplant. In fact I think things just plain taste better when they are cooked outside on the grill. And if the current issue of Food and Wine magazine is correct it is chicken, not steak actually is the biggest thing on American's grill favorites list right now.

Growing up partly in Hawaii I have spoken about the Kamato grill before on this blog. Nowadays, marketed as the Big Green Egg, the Kamato is a Japanese style grill that is made of clay and has the perfect shape to not only BBQ and grill things but smoke them as well. It delivered a flavor that is hard to beat and to this day I miss having a grill like that. It was in Hawaii that my Father taught my brother and myself to grill. This tutelage  included how to prep the food as well as how to prep the grill and then how to cook the food, all using the Kamato. It was one of those wonderful father and son moments that are somehow too rare in our lives and the whole "Man, Fire, Food thing seemed to come alive for me.

Now my Dad made many things out there on the Lanai in that Kamato ( yes, I just used the word Lanai)  and I thought that I would share one of the dishes that I have come to love as a result of those grilling lessons long long ago.

Now to say that this recipe came about because of some sense memory about grilling with my Dad years ago would be a stretch. It actually came about in an attempt to cook something for my vacation housemates that would be slightly more on the healthy and interesting side. And again to be truthful this recipe is really about the sauce and not the BBQ'ed chicken. But that's because Life is better with Bacon and Sauce. By the way, that is the working title of the cook book I am working on presently. I will keep you all abreast of any developments there.

So back to the recipe, like all great chicken dishes it starts with the prep of the chicken, this is very simple. Chicken thighs are marinated for about an hour in olive oil, lemon juice, garlic powder and dried thyme. Then grilled till just done. Served over couscous that is generously buttered and into which is mixed chopped chives and cherry tomatoes that have been baked in the oven till they pop and the skins blister and dry out a little. This is then smothered in a yogurt sauce that has indian style spices and garlic. Delicious. I will say that it's not complicated but very good. Enjoy Ya'll.

BBQ Chicken with Spicy Yogurt Sauce and Blistered Tomato Cous Cous

For the Cous Cous

Place 1 pint of grape or cherry tomatoes on a baking sheet and toss lightly with olive oil and salt
Pre heat oven to 350 degrees.
Place tomatoes in the oven for about 20 to 30 mins checking occasionally to see if they have split open and are roasting but not drying out or burning.
Remove from oven and hold on the side
Take 1 package 8 to 10 oz Israeli Cous Cous prepared according to the package directions
When finished cooked and still hot stir in 3 tablespoons of RT butter and 1/2 cup chopped chives
Gently stir in the tomatoes and season with salt and pepper to taste

For the Chicken

Place 6 chicken thighs i a shallow bowl season with salt and pepper and dried thyme and pour over 1/4 cup lemon juice and 1/2 cup olive oil let sit for 30 mins up to 4 hours in the fridge.

Remove chicken from the marinade and place on a plate
Over a medium grill
Grill chicken till done and golden brown with a little crusty edge ( make sure it's cooked through)

Place on a clean plate and hold warm till serving.

For the Sauce

1 and 1/2 cup greek yogurt plain
1/4 cup lemon juice
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoon sugar or honey
2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons curry powder
2 teaspoon tumeric
1 teaspoon hot sauce ( Siracha)
Handful chopped chives
salt and pepper to taste
Taste if too bitter for your liking add more sugar and a touch more oil
Mix well and hold

To serve place the cous cous on a serving platter, top with the chicken and then pour  some of the sauce over the chicken serve the rest on the side. Garnish with fresh chopped parsley and serve!
Enjoy Ya'll.