Sunday, January 30, 2011

Matt Damon's New Film, SF Salumi and John of God

San Francisco's Ferry Building is a smorgasbord of up-scale food stores, rarefied mushrooms, overwhelmed tourists and reflects the denouement of meat-reclamation. I made a beeline for the building after a casting agent's lackey took my info card, stapled it to an old photo of myself in which I have fewer forehead wrinkles and told me have a nice day.

I have a friend who bears an uncanny resemblance to Matt Damon but this is not why I showed up to the pit of desperation also known as an open casting call. What happened is this: in October I found out I have a bum kidney. The other one is fine so I'm not going to die as a consequence or anything but ever since I was faced with a failure of one of my own vital organs (as a Capricorn, I REJECT failure), I've decided I need to - you know - live a little. So I will travel more and when life offers me an adventure or an opportunity to finally be discovered as a top model or indie film star, I take them. Carpe Damon.

Above reflects an infant's body but you get the gist. But no one will join me for the open casting call except one beloved friend who happens to be on the East Coast this weekend. I will go alone, no matter. Adventures, remember- I am signing up for adventures before I die. I know nothing of the word of Hollywood. Growing up in western Pennsylvania meant the closest I was to celebrity as a child was my mother's co-worker who was Madonna's aunt by marriage. Betty Ciccone. True story.

I don't have photos from today's line and the one above is classier than our crowd, anyway. Suffice to say, I arrived at 9:50am for the 10am start and the line was wrapped around an entire block. I waited 3 hours watching this survey in homo sapiens.

Here's what I discovered, qualitatively:
1. 50% of the cattle were curious (myself included)
2. 25% were somehow involved/involving themselves in the film industry and have delusions of grandeur
3. 25% were bat shit crazy

The woman behind me told me her name right away and separated herself from the pack by declaring herself in the acting biz. She'd brought her resume and all but shoved it at me.  Her info card said she was 38 and I'm guessing she shaved off a decade which is not age-ist, simply accurate. She talked loudly on the phone to her husband, updating him on our place in the endless line and insisted on calling this an "audition" which I thought was hilarious.  It was just a shitload of people from Northern California who feel cheated out of celebrity culture because we live 6 hours too far north off of Interstate 5 and want a brush with fame and a good story to tell. 

Other notable hopefuls included a man who brought his own folding chair and had actual head shot,  3 30-something Sacramento nurses in front of me, a chain-smoking sullen frizzy-haired woman whose mail friend parked his car but couldn't remember where, an affable white man who regaled nearby hopefuls with stories of his previous harassment of Sean Penn, several addicts whose withdrawal symptoms made waiting a precarious thing. The crowd was sad and I was right there with them.

My good friend and excellent writer, Sarah F.W., was an extra in Uncle Buck starring John Candy. She was used in some smoky teenage party scene and was forced to smoke cigarette after cigarette as John Hughes got the footage needed and she wound up pretty ill from the experience. I would totally eat a pancake that big!

Finally, after the 3 hour wait during which I asked myself some hard questions about my goals and willingness to make a decent living, I handed my info card and dated photo off to the lackey. Upon filling out the pink card, I realized I have no marketable talents that the entertainment industry would seek out. Next to specialized skills, I wrote only "moon-walking, old school; playing percussion instruments but not the drum kit; reciting the 50 states in alphabetical order."

It was 1pm and I'd had nothing but water, Metamucil and my morning coffee. In a few days, I will have a private session with Cynthia Branchflower, a disciple of John of God. I'm hopeful she can tell me how to heal my own kidney. My friend, a local Shaman, told me the universe/spirits/god/whomever told her that I would heal myself but who knows where to start? I'm putting my money on someone who was appointed by John of God.

Anyway, Cynthia Branchflower told me not to eat pork for 7 days after our session. I'm not sure why but I will certainly find out. So my beeline for the Ferry Building took me right to Boccalone Tasty Salted Pig Parts.

Lucky for me today's lunch special was a sausage sandwich with peppers and grilled onions. Yes, please! With that, I had a juniper berry soda and some Utz's handcooked potato chips. Utz is a Pennsylvania brand; I remember it from my childhood and it surprised me to find this in the Ferry Building.
Grandma Utz Potato Chips

I would wax philosophic about my  sausage sandwich but truly I was so hungry and beaten down by our collective emptiness that I wolfed it down. It was warm and spicy, that I know. I know I liked it and I know I had life energy once again after eating.

Truth be told, even if I get called to show up and play an extra at Candlestick Park, pretending to be terrified of some catastrophic bacteria unleashed on my city, I don't know if I'll show. I don't know if I can face my fellow citizens' attempts at fame and fortune.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Kimchi That Made Me Weep OR the Zen of Noodle Mixing

It's been over 24 hours since I ate the kimchi at David Chang's Momofuku Noodle Bar, not far from Thompkin's Square Park. Over 24 hours later I'm still obsessing over that taste more than any other flavor I ingested yesterday- and there were many. Momofuku's kimchi was hearty, my Friend noted. It was thick and strong and highly addictive. I considered buying the namesake cookbook just for that recipe, if it can be found there.

Neither Friend nor I were disheartened by the long line at Momofuku Noodle Bar. I'd expected as much and with our NYC athletic food deprivation training schedule, we can tolerate a crowded restaurant wait on an empty stomach. Thankfully, there was a vestibule because was bitterly cold in in New York yesterday. People eat noodles quickly though and within half hour, we were seated at the bar. 

Friend and I planned our menu carefully and ordered the prix fixe lunch which included an amuse buche, horseradish mayo + pickled red onions + brisket steam buns (the softest buns this side of a baby), prawn noodles and apple pie cake truffles. We ordered a jar of pickles, one of kimchi and a bowl of Momofuku noodles saturated with pork belly and shoulder.

When our noodles arrived, Friend observed , "I wonder how we should eat this?"

Answered a gentle voice, "There's no wrong way to eat it. Follow your heart."

Who is this cute boy? That would be one Miguel De Leon, a soon-to-be publicist for Momofuku's deserved empire. Miguel, originally a Berkeley man with Chez Panisse training, kindly chatted with us about some of his favorite spots in the neighborhood including surprise hit no-meat-allowed spot Kajitsu for Buddhist veggie slight-of-hand dishes and Abraco for coffee and olive oil cookies. 

Miguel, being both benevolent and food obsessed, slipped us a dish of complimentary soft serve to go with our dense, cinammony apple pie cake truffles. The soft serve was a house-made swirl of practically three dimensional gingerbread (with Momofuku's own candied ginger!) and a scented clove orange ice cream that would put most perfume counters to shame. DELIGHTFUL. We loved Miguel for his great style, generous spirit and Bay Area breeding.

Besides the excellent food that was totally reasonably priced, we appreciated the utility equipment fully on view sans kitsch: soft serve machine, slushy dispenser and chalk boards. And they serve RC cola!

A person wouldn't need more food after our Momofuku meal even if they weren't on a meal deprivation schedule. Nonetheless, friend noted about 7 hours later that I was sleepy, unresponsive and sluggish so we went to the beloved vegetarian B & H Dairy in the East Village. 

 The man working behind the counter was in a bad mood and would NOT let us take his photo, nor would he answer any questions about why B & H is famous. We soon realized his job must be horribly annoying and left him alone.

Counterman scolded us for sitting our 2 person party at the only 4 person table and insisted we move. 

"But it's empty!" we protested, looking around the restaurant at precisely no one else. "And our friend is on her way." True, on both counts.

The latkes were fantastic, fresh and cheap! Slathered with apple sauce and washed down with an iced tea (I wanted a soy milk Egg Cream -I KNOW, I KNOW- but they don't carry soy milk) and soon I was verbal again! Even funny at moments! Little did I know how much sustenance I would need to sneak in to Justin Bond's sold out show at Joe's Pub...

**All images by Michelle Tea, food porn photographer

Friday, January 7, 2011

I Loosened By Borscht Belt, Indeed

Veselka Coffee Shop

Hello from snowy New York City!

My dearest friend and colleague and I abandoned the quaking, rain-drenched hills of San Francisco for the blustery cold of New York. I wish this trip were for nothing but culinary tourism but -alas- we are at a craptastic conference filled with a bunch of douchebags and bullshit. Such is life.

No matter, said friend and I are committed to one delicious Manhattan or Brooklyn meal a day. I scoured all my food books, magazines, special food editions of The New Yorker and watched multiple episodes of No Reservations all about New York and the Outer Burroughs. I also asked friends for suggestions. Categorized by neighborhood, I have a detailed list of over 30 places I'm dying to eat in ranging from the reigning queen of soul food in Harlem to giant knishes in the Lower East Side to Eric Ripert's house of mastery in midtown.

Friend and I also decided to eat only one meal a day. Not dining out once, just one meal period. Our low blood sugar and grumbling peko peko stomachs gave us a HIGH all day! For every meal we skip, we get a cigarette and more coffee! Only when we decided we've truly trounced hunger do we decide to feed our crazed bodies. Then we feast and experience the chemical shift of a brain receiving sorely-needed nutrients and fat. I don't recommend you do this, judgey reader, but it's working for us.

Day 1 Meal- Veselka
Accidentally, Friend and I ended up in Brooklyn rather than the Lower East Side. [MTA -1, Travelers - 0] Luckily, we didn't lose our fare and could hop the return train to nearby Chinatown and intuited, yes, fucking intuited our way toward the Lower East Side. Truth be told, we've both been here before but probably during a time when we were both fed and hydrated properly so believe me when I tell you this was a feat. Some people can't even send a text message when they're hungry.

We thought, 'What best to end our fast?' What else? Kielbasa, pierogis, challah and other light fare! Plus, lime rickeys!  I decided I'm almost 32 and could spare the extra $1 to have a bowl rather than a cup of matzoh ball soup and was also given a small green New York salad (read: sad and probably just a garnish) smothered in a dill slime sauce that I loved.  We split a grilled link of kielbasa (or, as my Pittsburgher father called it- kielbasie) slathered in spicy mustard which was divine and at this point my body responded to food substances and I realized I was in New York all of the sudden.

A recently lapsed lacto-ovo-vegetarian then pescetarian with terrible dairy problems, I opted for the Meat Plate Combo. To my delight, I was handed a plate filled with 2 potato pierogis, 2 meat pierogies and meat stuffed cabbage. By now, senses and faculties regained, I could really taste again. Delightful!


Also, why don't I live in the Lower East Side? Besides the cost blah blah. Why would a person live anywhere but New York? Dare I betray my beloved San Francisco?

I didn't take any of these photos, even the old-timey one. I never seem to have a camera but luckily none of my ideas are original and all are well-documented on the internet.