Awakening the inner chile

The world outside New Mexico has finally discovered Hatch Chiles. Not that they’ll stop spelling “chile” as “chili” but at least they’ll stop using those damn Ortega’s.
Like ice cream being the new cupcake or gluten-free being the new paleo, there is nothing hotter than being in the know about Hatch chiles in August. Used to be I’d have to pack them in a cooler for the 16-hour drive from Santa Fe to Los Angeles, or stash them frozen in my luggage for the flight. Friends that knew I was packing the green stuff prepared for my arrival by buying posole, orange cheese, Negro Modelo and cubed pork butt. The short harvest season (six weeks) makes timing super important.

chile_temp

Now it seems globalization has hit Hatch. 18-wheelers that have driven all night from New Mexico to California set up in school parking lots filled with burlap bags of chile, and if you’re really in the know you will ask for “Chavez” to roast your stash. Now that Bristol Farms has fully embraced this “the roast is on” fad, in the cake and cookie department the signs say “It’s now or next year! Hatch chiles are here!”

In the cheese department, “It’s now or next year! Hatch chiles are here!”
In the meat department, where at least there you can get tenderloin marinated with HATCH CHILES! or sausage made with HATCH CHILES!, but yes, by the pickles and the beers: “It’s now or next year! Hatch chiles are here!”

hatch-header

So I bought some. Why not? They’ve come all this way, and they smelled, even un-roasted, incredible.
I made my way to the checkout aisle, where a lady wearing a t-shirt with a green man-chile and the phrase “Ask me about Hatch Chiles” on it asked me if I found everything I needed. I nodded. She scanned my groceries quickly, slowing down only to count the snack bars that I buy by the box because Bristol Farms is the only place that carries them. But then she got to my bag of chiles. She frowned. I looked up, just about to swipe my card. She turned one of the chiles over and then slid the bag on the scale, pressing with both hands to keep the chiles from falling out of the plastic bag. She looked up at her monitor and then she pulled out the book to look up the code for… what ARE these?”

gracias_plate

PS. The one sign that didn’t mention Hatch said “Now serving coffee in our café.”

Space time continuum at the Velodrome

velodrome
At my second lesson to get certified riding the track at the Velodrome things got weird. Not like some law of physics failed to keep me from sliding down from the balustrade, which I did manage to claw my way up to, for around four laps, but weird like one of us (there were four of us riding together) fell into a space time warp.

alien_velodrome_bikes

We started riding happy as can be (a “warm up” is 40 laps!) in proper order, white, black, red (that’s me), and teal. All the way to lap 32 teal was right behind me, but then he must have taken a turn into the pit of nylon teeth because as we rounded the turn all of sudden there he was, in front of us.

alien_velodrome_bikes2

Teal swears he never stopped riding, and the three of us riding in front know he never passed us. He came out of nowhere. He blipped. Maybe the three of us were going so close to the speed of light we were tossed into a space-time warp. Maybe if I stop worrying about whether I’m going fast enough, and why the tires against the wooden boards sound like fingernails on a chalkboard I might be able to pay attention to where the other riders are. All I know is that if all you’ve ever done on a bike is road cycling, having someone that you know is behind you end up in front of you without them ever passing you is a sign you need to pull over and eat something.

There’s a story Sam Spade tells in Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon often called the Flitcraft parable. It’s about a man who almost dies from a falling beam and completely walks away from his life, only to pick up a few months later in a different city with a different wife, doing the same thing he was doing before the beam fell. The last sentence in Spade’s telling of the story is: “I don’t think he even knew he had settled back naturally into the same groove he had jumped out of in Tacoma. But that’s the part of it I always liked. He adjusted himself to beams falling, and then no more of them fell, and he adjusted himself to them not falling.”

sky_mirror

albert_einstein_bicycling

Just floss the ones you want to keep (ode to Dennis Oppenheim)

I remember being in high school and sneaking out in the middle of the night to meet my friend Ellen. She’d pick me up at the end of the cul de sac, having rolled all the way down my street with the engine completely shut off. We were sneaky. But this being White Rock, New Mexico, there was nowhere to go. The fun was climbing out the window and seeing if all the stars were still there. OK, sometimes we’d light firecrackers. It was also before gas stations took credit cards, so if we didn’t have any gas we were stuck, and Ellen often had no gas.
One night we were in my room and Ellen had to pee. In the darkness she went to the bathroom which I shared with my grandparents, who were sleeping in the next room, and since she thought we were good at nighttime maneuvers she didn’t turn the light on.
I heard her scream, and then she called out “Abby!”
I wondered why the hell she would call me “Abby.” Ellen and I had been friends forever, and we didn’t even know an Abby. I went into the hall, stopped for a few breaths to listen for rumblings of my grandparents, and ran into Ellen carrying a glass jar on her head, with my grandmother’s full set of dentures submerged in water, rat-tat-tatting. The moonlight sparkled off the metal, and the water gave the dentures a magnified look, causing the pink simulated gum to actually look like flesh. Bubbles rose to the surface and popped. It was alive.
Ellen danced the jar back to my room, saying something about how that Polident shit was weird looking.
“What are you doing?” I said.
“We’ll need this!” she said, tapping on the jar. “It’s Abby Normal!”

**********************
Also back in high school my teeth didn’t respond well to orthodontic manuevering so I had to have several teeth pulled and a bridge put in. The doctor who put my bridge in told me I’d probably get twenty years out of it, and by then some new technology would be invented to solve my problem. Well that time has come.

teeth_imprint_before

teeth_imprint_after

Here is what’s been helping me eat for the past 25+ years. It’s like having your personal fork taken away.
teeth

Cycling D.I.Y and how not to be a drag

In cycling there are a lot of nicknames, for the person who always has chain grease on his calf, for the guy who passes you at the red light only to slow down or the dude wearing shorts that are too old and too sheer, but one of the worst has got to be reserved for the person that doesn’t carry their own tool kit. (OK, it’s a toss up—no tool kit or the guy who always assumes a woman riding alone wants company. Now that Strava’s got what they’re calling “fly-by activity” I can see exactly who it was that didn’t, ahem, just “fly by”).

strava_stalker

Like most outdoor activities, a little DIY goes a long way on a bike. So get a tool kit. Learn how to fix a flat tire (they kind of go together), and don’t toss your CO2 canisters into the landscape.
Carry all the food and water you are going to need, plus money for coffee (and if you do forget the $, buy the round the next time) and always take a pull in the front. (This is awful scary the first time. It feels like you’re a little person trying to bust out of the Earth’s atmosphere for a closer look at the moon, and you think everyone is shaming you for something, when all they are is grateful for your effort. It’s kind of like making dinner for a chef. They’re so glad not to be doing the work that all you have to do is make something. But don’t just open a can, you do have to try your best).

And seriously here’s one of the important ones: if a friend of yours has been collecting Thomson bags for quite some time, and offers them to you, you go all the way and make something totally awesome for him. Who knows, with something like this, maybe he’ll win his next race.

thomson_bags

thomson_bag_strings

It helps if part of your company description is “We make cool stuff for cool people.”

thomson_bag_zipper

It also helps if you pick a project that matches your cat’s coat on the outside, and her temperament on the inside.

thomson_bag_bingbing

thomson_bags_liner

Don’t forget pockets and adjustable straps. And no gear bag is worth anything unless you can fit two helmets inside.

thomson_bag_pocket

thomson_bags_final

thomson_bags_packing

thomson_bags_carry

thomson_bags_handlebar

Thanks to the Grainline Portside Travel Set pattern (it’s been modified only slightly, we used two buckles instead of D rings, and added the shoulder strap cover), and also to the customers who didn’t take their Thomson seat post bags home with them.

Casualties: 1

thomson_bag_casualty

Happy campers: 1

thomson_bag_manny

If sewing an entire bag is too much work, try a simple cycling cap instead. They seem to multiply like bunnies in our neighborhood.

cycling_caps

riding in a centrifuge

velodrome_cake

When you dream about riding a slingshot to the moon as a kid, or you think it’s normal for your father to explain centripetal force using an orange, a chopstick and a inclined hard back book, or you do full arm swings holding a mesh-bag-inside-of-a-larger-plastic-bag instead of using a salad spinner, riding in the largest indoor velodrome (The Stubhub) in the country is more than a little awesome.

track_racing

First thing to go through my mind was that I had no idea how to get off, much less stop, having never ridden a fixed wheel bike before. That was soon alleviated by my friend Lucie who told me to just get close to the rails and grab it, which seemed reasonable since the rails were large and soft like a stuffed-animal snake (quite different than grasping/bashing into the wooden barricade when I was learning how to ice skate). Her next piece of advice was that when in doubt, pedal harder. As counter intuitive as that may seem, when you are clipped into this thing on wheels and there are no brakes, your adrenaline will actually kick in when the bike begins to feel wobbly and you will actually pedal faster. Or at least it did for me. Although at one point I was reminded of my cat, who once got a back foot tied up in the handle of a plastic bag, and the faster she ran away the more air went into the bag resulting in a much larger evil thing chasing her down, and more drag, causing her to run even faster.

stubhub

I wanted to spend my time on the boards riding either the black or red line as consistently as possible. This is awfully hard, since the best way to stay on the line is not to look at it. Just don’t. If your head is down when you go into the curve, you will see just how banked it is, and your mind screams “Holy crap that’s crazy steep” just before the bike follows your gaze and heads down the slope and then you are screwed. Looking ahead (and you’ll need a little bit of “being in the zone,” or “using the force” type of thing) is something that applies to all sports where the body is supposed to go somewhere, like skiing and track and field, as opposed to tennis where you really should keep an eye on the ball until the last moment, requiring “the zone” or “the force” to come save you in a wholly different way (ask any tennis player who all of sudden can’t serve or any basketball player air-balling free throws). Believing in friction works pretty darn well too.

Banked_turn

(If your eyes glaze over when looking at graphics like the one above, just know it’s the “normal” force that keeps you from flying out of the county. It might help to envision the “normal” force as a string bean, or toothpick. The chopstick was normally used by my dad to represent velocity.)

Riding on the track felt like a completely different sport than riding on the road. There’s no “I’ll just push real hard here and coast for awhile.” There’s no escape from the curved part, after each straightway there’s always another curve. There’s no ‘glory’ from riding indoors, and by ‘glory’ I mean the dirt and pollution plastered all over your face, but there is certainly nothing like the look-Mom-I’m-sideways feeling of whizzing around a banked curve. Holding one’s line is where it’s at, whether on the road or track.

The track is also much more fatiguing on the legs, and the muscle ache will catch up with you as you cruise around forgetting how many laps you’ve done. One of the best techniques for post-rides is to use the foam roller to relax the legs. As with everything sport recovery related, proper technique of the foam roller is critical.

proper_foam_rolling

My visit to the Velodrome was made possible by the Fireflies and Connie Paraskevin from the Connie Cycling Foundation. It’s not every day you get to hang with Olympian athletes, she’s terrific (although I didn’t get to see how big her legs were), and her cause completely worth donating to. She’s the only American woman to ever earn an Olympic medal in track racing, and she’s a four-time world champion, and, she doesn’t have a bike named after her?

Reminder and Remainder

kitty
Behind any published piece of writing are many pages (and in my case many many pages) that were written but never meant to be read. These excess words are like the camphor tree that’s planted alongside a tea tree, by the time the tea leaves have been picked and processed there’s no thought of whose roots were co-mingled with what, but the slight cooling sensation on your tongue is both reminder and remainder.

spices

Many thanks to Black Balloon Publishing for publishing my profile on Koh Kikuchi (Chef Otto) this week. While editing the piece I went back to my notes and found a few lines comparing Koh’s cooking to Morton Feldman’s piano music. Needless to say such abstract nonsense didn’t even make it into the first draft but I can post it here for the minimally inclined.

A Morton Feldman piano piece:
- sometimes the audible has already been played
- sounds become inaudible before their notation ends
- notes that fade away by themselves without the pianist’s influence
- not everything in the score is audibly recognized

Koh’s cooking:
- takes into account what you may have already eaten, or may still be lingering in your palate.
- dictates textures and flavors in a sequence, within a time frame lasting between two bites to a five-course meal
- flavors that emerge without Koh’s influence (he likes to say “I did nothing to this piece of meat!”)
- not everything he does to the food is intended to be tasted

pheasant_puff

One has to read what the dish is trying to do. Like minimalism piano music, there are tones and rhythms, but the music has a purpose. It’s going somewhere, though some notes fail where others succeed. One has to study the dish, how it relates to what was served before, or what is coming.
The seared tip of a triangle of whitefish, the slimy spiral of seaweed in a clear consommé, the dull grayish blob of leeks that were cooked in soy sauce and wine and pork ribs for 8 hours. All of these are notes/textures in his little compositions.

knife

A few lingering online reviews of Koh’s cooking:

LA Times: February 11, 2001

Metropolis: March 17, 2011

Mouthfulsfood.com, July 2004

Uwe’s World: September 2005

remainder

Chef de Brigade resurfaces

portraitchef1

In 1975 John McPhee published a story called Brigade de Cuisine about a chef he calls Otto, who ran a 55-seat restaurant with no help except for Anne, his pastry chef/wife, their children (who served the food), and a dishwasher on the weekends. Seven years ago as a dear friend of mine was closing his French Japanese restaurant in Los Angeles to move back to Tokyo, I borrowed McPhee’s line where he asks the chef if he could sit in his kitchen and take notes.

veggie_ride-drawing

This April my profile of “Chef Otto” will be published online at airshipdaily.com by Black Balloon Publishing, and the only thing that could possibly make me any happier is knowing that the Chef de Brigade is coming back to the states.

knife_chopping

You lucky people of Seattle will now have a chance to taste this guy’s food. Don’t be turned off by the name of the place (Yes, it’s called I Love Sushi, the one in Bellevue). Just know that even though “Otto” is not a sushi chef this place is owned by the same people who own Shiro’s, and if you follow the hype, both owner, Shiro Kashiba, and sushi chef Daisuke Nakazawa (who recently left Shiro’s and is now running Sushi Nakazawa in NYC) apprenticed with Jiro Ono from the movie “Jiro Dreams of Sushi.” You can imagine they take their fish-craft very seriously.

feeder-drawing

Add to this “Otto’s” weird obsessive concept of how things should taste and be cooked, and his commitment to achieve particular flavors and textures by controlling how everything from the trimming of herbs to how to clean to the pastry brush, and you’re going to be saying “I loaf loaf loaf sushi.”

koh-burger

For those of us stuck in Los Angeles, there’s the hope that “Otto” will someday come back here, but in the meantime for sushi there’s Kiriko Sushi on Sawtelle. These guys are buddies.

koh_ken

What do they talk about during a precious layover at LAX? An 80 year old sushi chef just outside of Tokyo who’s the hands-down grandmaster. All skills, no hype. From what I heard: Sushi chefs that have been at the top of the business for 40+ years eat his food and get goosebumps. Always room for improvement, as “Otto” likes to say.

scampi

Love Will Tear Us Apart

I made a pork loin the other day, stuffed with salt-cured olives, pickles, and pistachios. It came out a perfect spiral, dripping with juicy bits, but because of work/schedule/whatnot we didn’t get to eat it that day so I put it in the fridge.

Yesterday David busted into it for lunch while I was out. With an awesome knife from Cut it’s easy to get carried away with how thin you can slice the thing, and no matter what you do the hunk stays perfectly put together.

pickle_olive_pork

Then came this text:

love_porkstring_text1

love_porkstring_text2

Pretty much sums up the secret to why we’ve stayed together all these years.

And now to curb the sappiness of this post a little:

Celery Root Soup vs. me

It’s supposedly winter, and despite the high 80′s temperature it’s still the season for soup. I’m batting 0 for 3 in the celery root soup department, though, so I’m thinking I should cross that recipe off my list.
A month ago I thought I bought celery root and I came home with horseradish. It was a little difficult to tell what it was at the store. I had a cold, and couldn’t smell anything. I was going to bite into it, but the grocery boy was staring right at me. Never mind that horseradish root looks a little “schlongy.”

horseradish-root

A week later I saw celery root at the Malibu farmer’s market but couldn’t squeeze them into my bike jersey. At a couple pounds a piece they’re not the kind of thing you want to be dragging down the PCH anyway.

Finally last week I came home with the right thing but left the burner on too high and boiled the soup into a charcoaly mash of smoked root bits. I had a cold (same one as everyone seems to have), and couldn’t smell the smoke until the smoke detector went off, and then went off, and went off some more. Sigh.

Good things come to those that fail though. I finally decided to do something with the horseradish so I turned it into horseradish. It’s hotter than crap, in fact it’s holy mother blow your head off good. So here’s to clearing up all sorts of sinus issues. Prime rib, deviled eggs, sausages, herring under a fur coat, anyone?

horseradish