Saturday, May 2, 2009

I love HANCO'S!

Call me quick to judge, but I've assumed from the start of New York's Banh Mi Craze, which kicked off around 2007, that I just wouldn't be into it. Truth be told, it's because when I hear "Vietnamese Sandwich" I think vermicelli, unsauced, shoved into a stale French Baguette. And someone told me that they put mayo and butter on them, so add that, too: Stale Baguette, Mayo, Butter, Vermicelli.

Sounds terrible, right?

Turns out I had it all wrong, and suddenly I feel embarrassed about calling myself a person who keeps an open mind about food, not to mention, way behind the times. I went to Hanco's on 7th Ave & 10th St three weeks ago and I've gone 7 times since. Sick. I've ordered the pork sandwich every time (not spicy)*.

The Banh Mi Thit Nuong (known at Hanco's as "Pork Sandwich") starts with:

A Crunchy, Toasted French Baguette with a little butter spread on both sides.

Then is stuffed with:

Long, shredded, lightly pickled, very fresh carrot and daikon.
Sliced Cucumber
Cilantro &
The tastiest, sweetest, juiciest, sliced pork.

Then a dollop of mayonnaises.

All for $6.50

I've been going crazy and ordering a 160z Almond Bubble tea, too, which I recommend you do.

*If you can handle spicy foods then I'd save your self the embarrassment from onlookers and eavesdroppers and answer "Yes!" when the ladies behind the counter ask you, "Spicy?". I'll believe that it's better that way, and I'd do it if I could, but I can't. Don't give me flak - I'm allergic to oleoresin capsicum and there's nothing I can do about it.

Monday, April 20, 2009

XTra Fancy VIP Family Dinner

Big News! I'm going back to California in 1 month. I'll have to change the name of my blog! I figured before I left should have some dinner parties (for me and my four friends. Where'd you all go?) Last week, I picked up $91.70 in paychecks from Perle, racking up a grand total of $156 in my bank account. What a load of money! So I called the friends, went to the co-op and spent $75. I felt a little more like myself, lugged my new foodstuffs home and started whipping some shit up.

Recall that Sara and I had an adventure preparing Ram's Testicles last week. Our intention was to prepare a similar feast for our friends and let them in on the secret ingredient only after they had licked their plates clean. But this week at the co-op there were no balls!

But there were livers and tongue.

So, on the menu goes:

Lamb's Liver Pate

Pate is really easy to make at home. Everyone should do it! To make a really simple pate, get yourself:

1 lb of chicken livers (or pig livers, or lamb livers, or beef liver, but beef is kinda gross)
2 anchovy filets
1 tbsp of capers
1 shallot (chopped up, of course)
like, uhh...a cup of Marsala or Sherry or other sweetish fermented beverage
some butter or olive oil - whichever YOU like better

Then just sautée the shallot, anchovy, capers, in the butter (or olive oil) and when the anchovy is dissolved, crank up the heat tops and throw in your livers (which should be rinsed and dried). Cook the livers til they're just browned a little, just for a minute, and then pour in the alcohol and simmer until the alcohol's reduced by half. It should look pretty soupy. Let this cool down and shplop it in your Cuisinart or blender, blend til smooth, and there you go!

Spread it on a nice crusty baguette with some Dijon mustard and you've just knocked up your fancy level, like, 12 points.

The lamb's liver I got was super strong (see photo, smelled bad), so I ended up tempering it out with a few chicken livers, which make a smoother, sweeter, less funky pate. I sliced up some red onions, dried figs, and prunes and simmered them down with balsamic vinegar to throw on top.

After some debate, Sara and I decided that the tongue was a little too fancy for our guests, so we put it in the All-Purpose Pickling Jar that Sara had used weeks back to pickle herring to save it for ourselves later.
On the side we had roasted beets with goat cheese and Vosgienne salads with frisee, poached eggs, bacon, and warm vinaigrette. By the time I got around to poaching the eggs, I'd had a bottle of wine and couldn't swirl my water right. They were breaking all over the place, but no one seemed to care.

For our main course, I found these little Guinea Fowl at the Co-op for 6$ each! They even came with gizzards, fingers and toes. I brined these in some salt water, pepper and bay leaves for about an hour, then tied up their little feets, shoved butter patties under their skin, sprinkled them in salt, pepper, and orange peel (simmer your orange peel in some water for 2 minutes to get the scenty oils flowing) and roasted them in the oven for about 40 minutes. Meanwhile, we made a knockout sauce with orange juice, stock, a little leftover ball sauce (for the fat and the flavor), some orange marmalade, apple cider vinegar, a little red wine, and the plentiful pan drippings. They were divine! Super tender and juicy, crispy skin, and the sauce was savory, sweet, and rich. After we each got our turn to suck the remnants off the carcasses, dunked our bread in the leftover sauce, poured
more wine, and wished for more.

Serious Business

Please Note:

From this day forward, I will be occasionally posting things that might take on an uncharacteristically serious-ish tone. It's not that I'm never a serious person. Historically, though, this blog has been a decidedly anti-serious place. But if the world is going to take me as seriously as I take myself, which is really, really seriously, I'm gonna have to start acting like a grown-up. And grown-ups are always serious.

Today I'm going to dinner with some people my mom and I met at a Peerless Platters function. They graduated high school in 1995 - which makes them like 32 years old - and work at places like Morgan Stanely. I think they invited me because I seem "interesting". Maybe I can be their new, youthful, "crazy" friend. Anyway, I'm getting ready to act like a grownup. Wish me luck.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Hardship Hits, I'm Put to the Testes

Hello Devoted Blog Followers (fake it til you make it, no?),

As you mostly certainly recall, I have more experience than most 23 year old women you and I know with eating testicles by choice. Recall also that some time back, I had the good fortune of discovering that I didn't have to go lurking round Upstate during castration season to get my hands on the goods - the Park Slope Food Co-op was practically giving them away every Thursday when they received their Miscellaneous Lamb Parts delivery.

What you don't recall, because you're hearing it for the first time now, was that March/April '09 has punched me in the face big time. Like, I woke up and was being teabagged by the big, badluck balls of March and April every fucking morning. Dumped by my boyfriend and the workforce. Permanent layoffs in relationship world and environmental education world. Brooklyn Center for the Urban Environment went under and took all 40+ employees with it so suddenly, I was not only TOTALLY boyfriendless but also broke, broke broke, broke, broke.

So - no money for groceries. Negative monies in the bank. Last week I'm walking around the neighborhood with Sara Curtin and I'm crying about having to eat raw flour and spoonfuls of balsamic vinegar for dinner when she reminds me: We have balls in the freezer. Now this is big. Yeah, I'd eaten the balls in Lyon, where it was only customary and polite to do so. And I'd purchased them. But, hey, I'll admit it, it was mostly for novelty's sake - they were $3! I'm just gonna go ahead and say it - actually defrosting them and touching them and cooking them and eating them wasn't something I hadn't been dying to make time to do.

But, desperate times call for rifling through your freezer for anything that can satiate your hunger and make for some low-budget Friday night entertainment.

When we got home, we figured out what sort of ingredients we had to work with and made a menu:

Tater Tots
Frozen Peas & Corn
Braised Thighs of Chicken aux Marsala & Ball Sauce

We defrosted the balls. We gave each other pep talks and hearty, "YOU'RE the MAN" type slaps on the back. We poked them with a wooden spoon before we poked them with our index finger.

Raising our dullish knives, we went in for the slice. The knives bounced off. The two veiny testes, twice the size of any balls that either of us had ever in our lives been involved with, wiggled and leered at us from the cutting board, their outer skin an impenetrable, pink fortress of flesh, little rivers of blood running from each of their nippleish tips.

Since it's not my general practice to do much preliminary research prior to treading new kitchen waters, I didn't know that most of the Rocky Mountain Oyster eating community in Colorado suggest you peel off the tough outer skin while the balls are still frozen to make your task less stressful. Ten minutes and a lot of girlish squealing later, we finally finished sawing off the XXTRa sinewy outside flesh encasing each ball and reached, with glee, their pillowy, peachy insides. Two glistening treasures.

The rest was easy. Sara was insistent that she got to taste at least a little of the ball in its purist form, so we sliced the part of 1 ball into 1/2 inch discs, gave them a toss of s&p and seared them like scallops (which they resembled exactly, save the color) with butter and a little garlic. Delicious.

Maybe it's the pussy way out, but we'd decided to incorporate the rest into a "Ballsala" sauce, cutting them into smaller pieces to disguise their form, browning them and cooking them for a long time in a stew of caramelized onions, stock and Marsala which we poured over crispy, roasted chicken thighs (our favorite!).

Though I'd been the ringleader of the project to start, Sara turned out to be the clear choice for "Most Enthusiastic Ball Eater". She loved them. Couldn't get enough! She was stealing the balls out of MY sauce, even! And it's true that once you get over yourself there's little not to like about them: they're super tender, low in fat, a little gamey, pair well with many flavors, and are dirt cheap.

Could Ram's Testicles be the Recession Era Filet Mignon?

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Corned Beef & Cabbage, Just like Mom Made

Though you'd never guess it (you wouldn't have to though, I'd tell you) my parents are mad into being Catholics. They love it. They also love gays and divorce and abortion and women being priests, so sometimes I'm not really sure what their deal is. When I ask them what they like about being Catholic, they don't like to answer. Now, my parents are incredibly rational, intelligent, progressive people, so I think they're just caught in the spell of the Virgin and her Good Son and all their miracle-doing/pyrotechnics. Almost more than they love Jesus, though, they hate prostelitizing. Growing up, we went to Catholic school but didn't go to church, we didn't wear crosses. We got confirmed, but all of us were vocal about wanting to be bat mitzvahed. The only place Catholic rituals managed to sneak into our home lives in a way that wasn't totally subversive and unseeable, really, was during the Lenten season, when all 6 of us would imagine ourselves as Jesus and Moses, alone in the desert talking to a snake or out at sea with a boatload of animals, both without food or drink, a one-on-one-on-one battle between themselves and the G_d man and themselves and themselves. Resistance. Strength. In Catholicism those words mean: Denial of Earthly Pleasure. So, I've been giving shit up for Lent since I figured out I was a candy fiend at age 5. Growing up, it was usually that or soda. At 14 I gave up lying to my mom, which didn't work out well. Senior year of college I tried giving up being sober, because I figured that it would at least be difficult for me since I wasn't an alcoholic, but I couldn't follow through. My dad on the other hand, because he is actually into this whole thing in a real way, gave up booze and meat Saturday-Thursday and full on fasted on Friday every single year. I think maybe that's why my family started taking St. Patrick's Day so seriously.

The Church folk in Ireland say that on St. Pat's day it's a-okay to get bloody wasted, covet your neighbors wife, smack around your own, dance, be merry, and gorge yourself with all the cabbage and corned beef (or Irish bacon) you can get your hands on. Every March 17th or thereabouts, my Mexican mom makes the best corned beef in the world for, like, 150 people. She stalks the Supermarkets for weeks, cutting Vons Buy 2 Get 1 Frees (valid 1 per customer) and sending in me and my sisters one after the other to redeem our coupons, too. She borrows the neighbors stoves and ovens, she fills the bathtubs with cabbages and potatoes and carrots, she makes 6 types of soda bread, fresh fruit trifles with vanilla pudding and shortbread (mmm!), she sets out cheese platters and nuts and all sorts of treats.

My dad goes to BevMo and comes back with 24 cases of Guinness, 6 handles of Jameson & Tullamore Dew, and some Baileys.

This year was the very first in my whole life I wasn't able to get back to Northridge for the fete so I decided to recreate it in Park Slope with 100 less people and 30 less corned beefs. Dad taught me to run the party bar when I was 12 and I've been making the beef glaze with Mom since I was wee, but I'd never done it without their help.

First off, despite the abundance of specialty grocery stores and access to weird foods that doesn't exist in other cities, shopping in New York is mostly a pain in the ass. 15 lbs of corned beef is heavy. 6 heads of cabbage is heavy. 2 8-packs of Guiness, a 6-pack of Brooklyn Winter Ale, 3 jars of marmelade is heavy. I would have given away my stamp collection for a car.

10 hours and 7 stores later, I was in business and the cooking went without a hitch. I simmered my beefs for 3 hours (!), dropped in the vegetables (cabbage last, obvi) slapped the glaze on the meat and tossed it in the oven. Meanwhile, I helped Jeff make a soda bread, set up the living room, finished the dishes, and let myself, for I think the first time, enjoy a party that I was hosting.

People loved it. They came back for seconds and thirds and fourths, latecomers who weren't invited for dinner ate it cold. It was a success!

I was able to enjoy the communal vodka Jell-o bowl in peace, confident that my corned beef was the best my guests had ever had and happy that I had eaten food I cooked with my guests while it was still hot and they were eating too! Success!

Thanks, Mom :)

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Burying Sheep

I wrote this piece to get the attention of some big whigs at The New Yorker who I've been ballsy enough to approach about a job. I like it. It's a mostly true story about having to do some icky jobs on the farm in France.

Burying Sheep

At 5:45 am on the farm it is pitch black and you fumble down the stairs and grope in the foyer for your boots that are always as cold as you hope they won’t be. You milk the sheep with the stripes on their backs, your eyes mostly closed, and you take the milk to be made into cheese. At 7:30 you call for Nina, your sheep dog, and she helps you take the herd five miles up the mountain where it eats and sleeps, and at 1:30 it follows you back down and allows you to put it in cages. There are six pigs and thirty-four chickens and four dogs, and you feed them. You feed the other farmers, you put the roof back on the pig hutch, and you fix other things that are broken. You milk the sheep again. Twenty-two of the sheep are pregnant but only nine of them have their babies and one is stillborn. Six of the babies won’t eat so you force a plastic tube to the backs of their small throats and a syringe of their mother’s milk. They gag because they don’t know how to swallow. Their little bodies convulse on your crossed legs and they start to shit and vomit and both of your bodies, yours and the lambs’, are sloshy and hot with its mother’s milk and the yellow-green shit-vomit spurting out of its ass and mouth. Both of you are covered in flies. In the end, three survive.

In the fall, I was working as a shepherd in the southern French Alps after a long summer in New York City. In the summer, I had been making massacres from minor violences I saw on the subway. Every stranger's face was droopy with hate and heavy with human badness. At night, I dreamt of my little sisters with snarled faces hunting small animals, other times of my own body becoming stiff and cold. Often, I dreamt of being buried alive.

On the farm, I think my days were too full of new challenges to expend energy on self-injury at night. I was responsible for the health and safety of the sheep. In return, the sheep were patient listeners and a good distraction. It didn’t matter to them that I didn’t speak French. I gave them names and sang songs for them in English and put on dance recitals for their benefit and mine. Sometimes, I wanted nothing to do with them or their mountain and cursed at them for running into thorny bushes or chewing my hair; but this never made me feel good. When the herd was napping, I took dreamless, midday naps in the sun, too, and used Nina’s warm body as a pillow. In return, I protected her from Rocky, the bumbling Great Pyrenean Mountain Dog whose job was to guard the sheep from the wolves. Rocky spent his time trying to rape Nina, who protested hotly. Most of the time, she would outsmart him or I came to her aide, so Rocky would try the sheep, who were less able to refuse him. When the sheep’s babies were born and had trouble eating, I sat cross-legged on the barn floor with their little bodies in my lap and held their chins and fed them little drops of milk from my fingertips. When they died, I tried to mimic the matter-of-fact responses of the other farmers.

Then the mother of the only lamb that I had nursed back to health died, too. At lunch, I offered to bury her before anyone asked. When lunch had ended, I set to work unthinking. I collected my boots from the foyer and a pair of leather gloves from the tool shed. I collected a shovel, a pickaxe and a sharp pair of pruning shears and carried these tools to the big tree where the dead were buried. I called it Skull Valley. I had watched another farmer dig six other holes that week. Now, those holes were filled with dirt and babies and there were little piles of rocks like headstones where the holes had been. As I set up my station, I imagined myself looking as she had: strong and graceful and tremendously capable. But the only hole I had dug was for a bunny on Easter. It had come in my Easter basket and our grandmother’s cat killed the bunny before I had even named her. We found her left in a pile of clean laundry with her broad pink ribbon still tied around her half-neck. Our grandmother helped us bury her under a rosemary bush and because she felt so sorry, bought us a frog that died, too, and we buried him next to the bunny.

I didn’t pause to think of the strangeness of my task. My focus instead was on mimicking the other farmer’s motions. But I could hardly lift the axe off the ground. When I finally hoisted the axe above my head, my arms were so limp and the axe was moving so slowly that when it came down, the tip hardly cracked the dirt’s surface. The second time, I dropped it mid-swing and the falling blade dug into the back of my leg and there was a little blood. I took a spade from the tool shed and went to work on my knees, pulling up a cup of dirt at a time until I had made the shape of a hole. I jabbed and pried at the dirt pell-mell with my boot and the spade, and in four hours I had a four-foot hole.

The dogs watched from the garden as I gathered the sheep, who was waiting in a wheelbarrow outside the barn with a blue tarp covering her body. Her body was folded into a gunnysack, like the gunnysacks my grandmother used to wrap a skinned goat tightly when someone in my family was baptized. She dug a hole in her backyard and put the goat in the hole. She covered the goat with charcoal and sticks and we started a fire. She kept the goat in the hole wrapped in the gunnysacks until its meat was soft and peeling off its bones, then we dug it back up and shredded the meat to serve to our guests. I thought of the goat as I wheeled the sheep to the hole. She was very heavy. When we reached the hole, I took off the tarp and the gunnysack, folded them neatly, and placed them next to the hole. Her collar and bell were still around her neck. Her neck was bloated and the jagged edge of her metal bell cut deep into the underside of her throat. The bell made a noise, even though she was dead. Using the shears, I cut off the corner of her ear to remove her plastic tag and blood oozed slowly from her ear and neck.

My hands were sweating hard, now, so I took off the gloves. When we were both ready, I took the handles of the wheelbarrow and dumped her into the hole. She landed all wrong. Her hind legs were poking out of the hole and her back was against the wall of the hole, like she was sitting in a chair upside down. When her head hit the bottom, her mouth opened stupidly and her useless tongue fell out.

I lowered myself into the hole to fix her. I wrapped my fingers around her fore legs and felt dizzy because she felt like my grandmother. Nothing else in the world feels the way a dead thing feels. Both are cold and a little squishy, like a reusable Freezee gel pack. When you feel a dead thing, many of the things you wonder are the same whether the dead thing is the sheep or your grandmother. You wonder if its tongue is hard and dry. You wonder if its eyeballs will shrivel up quickly. Of course, you wonder if it knew it was going to die and you allow yourself to wonder these things because of course you can’t help it. You think about rearranging its face into winks or frowns. When your grandmother dies you put pink lipstick on her and jewelry and you dress her in her favorite dress with gold and sequins. You don’t do this to the sheep but you could and the sheep wouldn’t notice and neither did your grandmother. I held on to her cold limbs for a long for a long time and found it hard to let her go. Then I pulled her until she was flat on her back and could fit in the hole, and I hoisted myself out of her grave.

Her belly was bloated and stretched out like a drum and the clods of dirt made a sound like sad music when I began to shovel her in. Now, it was mostly over. Soon, the hole was filled more with dirt and grass than it was with the sheep and it became possible to lose track of my task. Soon, the hole was gone and I rolled the heaviest rocks I could onto where it had been. I put the blue tarp and the gunnysack in the empty wheelbarrow. When you bury a dead thing, the dead thing is gone. Your grandmother or the sheep. But at night both make you dream of bloody waves carrying dying horses, or of bad men cutting the limbs off your brother and sisters with a butter knife, or of your own body becoming stiff and cold.

Two weeks later, you are picking tomatoes in the greenhouse with your shirt off and singing when you hear Rocky panting loudly. You turn around to shoo him away and you see that his face and his paws are covered in blood and there is something bloody and yellowing in his mouth. The scent is unbearable. Before you can move, the dog drops a pile of rotting organs in your lap. You start to gag and you stand up quickly with your eyes shut tight and your teeth pressing impossibly hard against each other. You brush the organs off your body and you start to vomit and cry. You rinse yourself with the hose in the garden. You gather yourself and the shovel from the tool shed and the wheelbarrow from the barn and you start slowly toward the hole to rebury your dead.

Connie Coady
January 12, 2009

Cupcakes Etc.

This week I made cupcakes. I forgot for a bit that I used to make cupcakes practically every day of my life for money and that I'm pretty good at it. I made buttermilk cupcakes with sea salt and butter cream frosting made pink with a couple Maraschino cherries and some beet juice. They were delicious.