Skip to main content

This Is What Cold Cellars Are For

In case you were wondering, Gob made cold cellars so you can pull a bag of beets out in February like you plucked them from soil just yesterday, slice them, dice them, dry them, and paste them to windows (and anything else they’ll stick to – especially bodies). And then take pictures.

Someone gave us a mandolin last christmas, and it has gathered dust in the satellite cupboards until it occurred to me the other day that we could officially donate it off without guilt. But at exactly the same time, Henry was developing a fondness for all things sliced thinly. So when he requested apples sliced thin the other night I started slicing out onion-skin apple slices until it occurred to me to bust out the mandolin. (Which I subsequently did).

Long story short it’s pretty fun to slice things really thin and before long I had everything that would allow for thin slicing out on the counter. As you might have suspected, the nice crisp blood-red beets took rather well to the format, and I was so in awe of their colors and patterns that I kept at it until I had sliced them all.

I pasted them (with their own juice) to the window because it was a nice canvas. They dried overnight into these crustacean-y waves and whorls and plates and I conceded to them that they were quite fetching and had rather stolen my heart.

Frita Batidos: Fruit Flies, Terminal Hair, Bad Attitudes, and a Mean Streak

I am not in the habit of writing reviews of restaurants as I rarely feel compelled to force my bitchiness judgments of a particular establishments merits on another’s subjective experience, but tonight’s dinner at Frita Batidos was so piss-poor that I feel obliged to warn others for their own protection.

This was my fourth meal there. The first two were fine, a little shaky, but charming enough to warrant further inspection. The vibe was a bit much: the staff seemed to be high on the fresh start (according to an unimpeachable source, Frita’s owner, Eve Aranoff, stiffed investors and staff alike as her last venture crumbled), and sold the concept of every item in booming uber-enthusiastic voices that made it hard to taste the food for yourself, and I had a hard time hearing my companion(s) because of the canyonesque acoustics of the room, but the sandwiches were good (can you go wrong with chorizo and french fries?) and, despite inconsistency and items that failed to live up to the hype (conch fritters), most of the ingredients and combinations were thrilling and novel, so I was willing to go back for more.

The second time we casually commented to an employee about the noise. “We’ve heard that, yeah.” the server said. “The Roadhouse had that problem,” I said, “they put up some baffles in the dining room and that was that.” I half expected to find baffles the next time I went in.

The third time was not-so-charming. The fruit flies arrived at Frita Batidos in late summer (big, juicy, jungular ones – they must have ridden in on a carton of mangos), and were a nuisance while we ate. It was also disquieting to have a half dozen buzzing around with me in the cramped bathroom. And to my surprise, after a lapse of more than six months, nothing had yet been done about the cacophony.

All of this prelude to tonight’s dénouement. Shall we begin? How about with the flies.

Apparently, they loved it so much this summer they moved in permanently. We (Courtney, Henry and I, and our friend and her two children) decided to try the furthest-back table, hoping to keep our kids’ high chair legs out of the crowd by the order counter and also hoping that it would be beyond the canyon of noise. It worked for the former. We couldn’t gauge the latter. More on that later.

Behind our table, against the wall, was a trash can. Above and around this can, clinging to the wall and the pile of napkins and the bottles of condiments on the shelf at the end of our table, were somewhere between fifty and a hundred fruit flies. It took us a few minutes to notice them (they were mostly still, and small enough to blend in to the dark nooks and crannies of the whitewashed brick) but by meal’s end they were restless or hungry enough that they had come off the wall and into our circle and we were vigorously shooing them from our faces and food.

At one point, after noticing them early on, I joked with an employee that had sent them flying when he moved some decorative bamboo stalks near the trash: “Mind those flies now,” I said, and he chuckled. “A shop vac will really do the trick.” I tried again when he missed the subtle call for help. He walked off with the bamboo and I did not see him again. It would appear that that early booming enthusiasm has been replaced by chuckles and apathy.

Our food came moments later. I liked my chorizo sandwich. But then I found a hair in it, nice and dark and curly, facial or pubic I couldn’t decide without my gag reflex activating. I set it aside and finished my sandwich – I compartmentalize well. I understand that this happens. Still, it can’t help but be added to the negative impression I was cumulating.

I will venture that it did indeed seem quieter in the back with the flies and the pubic hair, at first. But then the music coming out of the speakers directly behind and above our table was turned either on or up. Whichever, it was so loud that we all paused in our conversation, waiting for order to be restored. When it was not I turned and got the attention of the employee behind the counter and motioned a request for him to turn it down. He did not understand my gestures for a long moment. Someone out of view turned it down at last.

Twenty minutes later we were finishing our food. Henry asked for another of the pretty umbrellas that came with a drink. The music volume had also crept back up to an unbearable level. “I’ll ask,” I said, and got up with Henry. There was a man ordering at the counter. I did not notice anything remarkable about his manner. He finished and turned away, and I looked at the clusters of customers milling abjectly near the counter, waiting for, I presume, to-go orders, to make sure that I wasn’t cutting in line. Satisfied, I stepped forward and looked up at the woman, who had just completed an eye roll to her (bearded! off-duty or non-employee) companion (about, I presume, the man who had just ordered). She was nice to Henry and I, took time to offer him his choice of pretty umbrellas colors, and made small talk. I thanked her and asked her if she could turn the music down. She said she would. I am not certain she did.

We left soon after so that we could hear ourselves finish a conversation. I considered warning the couple I saw eyeing our table about the flies as we prepared to go, but decided against it. I could not gauge them and wasn’t confident that they would appreciate my input. We walked out, through that abject crowd, and as we hit the air outside I felt noticeably relieved. I turned around as we waited for our friend, and looking back in it was clear. It was written all over all of their faces: “I can’t come back to this place anymore,” I said after a moment. “There is something really off in there.”

Frita Batidos In summary:
Flies: Really, really, really gross. Reported, observed, ignored.
The Hair: Ick.
Inordinate Volume: Requested. Ignored.
Atmosphere: Stifling.

cocoa for fun yes, profit maybe.

The more I consider the options of what I can get to greenhouse grow, the more I’m interested in cultivating a variety of nuts and spices to complement my focus on fruits. Nutmeg, cloves, allspice, black pepper, coffee, and alongside these,  cocoa.

The missus and I were reconnoitering the conservatory at Matthei Botanical Gardens Sunday, and they have a decent-sized cocoa tree, maybe 13′-14′. Growing straight from the trunk were the seed pods, in various states of maturity, small green ones the size of an egg, large brown ones the size of a human heart.

The seed pods are full of seeds, or beans, which are first fermented, then dried, then roasted, then shelled, then ground. The fermentation and the roasting are the key to the flavor.

Sounds labor-intensive as hell, and a risky proposition for a novice like me. But what do I have to lose, save time and the pittance for a tree?

cocoa beans

nutmeg and mace: myristica fragrans

I just learned what fresh nutmeg looks like. Here are some visuals to aid in blowing your mind:

Myristica fragrans

myristica fragrans

myristica fragrans

myristica fragrans nutmeg seed

What you buy in the store – if it isn’t ground – is the dried seed (which is inside the brown part inside the red web). But I don’t care about the spice any more. I just want to hold the insides of that fruit. It looks like it should still be beating. I have never seen anything come off a tree that looked so alive.

The shiny red web (the aril) around the seed is mace, another spice (and favored repellent). Two-for-one, this bad boy. About 3% of the oil is toxic, which is why smart guys trying to get high on nutmeg usually come close to dying.

Takes nine years to get fruit from a seedling. And only then if you’ve got a hermaphrodite. Otherwise, you better find your lady a fella, or vice-versa, depending on which it turns out you have. Which makes this one a chancy buy. Which is unfortunately for me not enough of a deterrent. TopTropicals down in FL sells 2-3 yr old seedlings, as well as Plant it Hawaii. Both great shops.

the impossible mangosteen (garcinia mangostana)

My two new mangosteen trees arrived from Hawaii today, looking wonderful. I had pretty low expectations for the size and health of the plants after all my searching and researching. Not only are they nigh-impossible to grow in the US, it seems they’re also pretty hard to come by.

Most of the tropical fruit tree nurseries I’ve been dealing with don’t carry it. And I was nearly tempted by an ebay seller who ships them from Hawaii bare-root, but I bought a rambutan from him a couple weeks ago, and it now looks like death warmed over — I’m not even sure it’s alive — so I figured there was a better route and kept looking.

I finally found another grower, Hula Brothers in Hawaii, selling them for $100/ea. or two for $150, shipping included. I figured what the heck, I’ll most likely lose one, might as well get two, improve my odds. I kept checking the door all day today, and they finally came at five pm. They were the best-looking plants I’ve gotten in the mail yet.

mangosteen treeThat’s probably a five-year-old tree there. Which means just five or six more years until I have a chance at some fruit.

It takes ten years for a mangosteen tree to fruit in favorable conditions, favorable being ultra-tropical always moist and never-lower-than-eighty-degrees kinda weather, preferably on a riverbank. There’s only one known instance of anyone getting one to fruit above the 200th parallel. Some feller in S. Florida got lucky. But I’m going to mimic Thailand/Puerto Rico in a greenhouse, and I’m going to get it to fruit. Mark my words. Check back in six years re: deliciousness.

The fruit is a beaut is the reason for my mania. I have never seen anything so pretty that tastes so good.

mangosteen fruit

fish pocky baby yeah

I went in Lucky Market looking for rice cakes last day, and lo, what did I find in the freezer section, licking her lips at me beguilingly from between the squid and the whale? Perfect inscrutable temptation!

fish paste product

In my inexorable quest to be early-adopter to everything, I present for your viewing pleasure these gold-wrapped tubes of fish paste product. After years of striped socks, high-body cars, pink khakis on boys, and cetera with my mouth shut, I am screaming it from the mountaintops now, the perfect snack has been invented!!

Yes babies, lick those lips! A big thumbs-up to a friendly gold manga….”cigar”, ahem, of “cheese” snack fish paste product-y goodness.

As the rest of you crackers know already, half the fun of Asian groceries is the sheer novelty of the somehow-still-ostensibly-appetizing products. Ice that with the bubble-gum beauty of the (deceptively?) innocuous packaging and you have yourself an impulse buy!

fish paste product

Oh siren, how I have foundered on your fish paste product shoals, how I will never look at snacking the same now that I can peel happiness from a golden tube, a fat phallic red-striped counter-intuitive crayon of bottom-feeder and cheese and gluten and flavorings.

However! Sigh….. There’s always a condition with me. Before I can go on record as saying that this awesome snack is ready to be gulped up by the eager masses, I need to point out the design flaw: unwrapping is a pain. I would love nothing more than to squeeze my fish paste product from it’s tube straight into my gaping maw. But instead, I am meant to peel the tube away, like a near-infinite Escherian spiral of red baloney-casing. But too much fish paste product goodness is left stuck to the walls of the golden sheath. Somehow, whether by oil or by toil, I want squeezy or somehow else more easy, (pleasie).

fish paste product

It’s Official: Offal’s Not So Awful After All

I’ve been thinking about all the kinds of foods I’ve eaten in the last couple of culinarily adventurous years, and am somedeal proud of the assortment of variety meats I’ve been lucky and brave enough to try. Below is a list of the types of offal I’ve eaten, organized by animal, followed below by my humble appraisal of each:

pig: belly,cheeks
chicken: liver, gizzard, heart, feet
turkey: gizzard, heart
cow: liver, brain, thymus, stomach, kidney, tongue
monkey: syke!

Gizzards is the bomb-diggy. Look at me askance all youse want, but I love rubbery meat! The more it’s made of muscle, the more I’ll like it, almost guaranteed. Gizzards are tricky thanks to the good bit of gristle you have to work your teeth around, but the dark sinewy hard-packed muscle is simply super-duper.

Hearts are rubbery too, with the added bonus of allowing one to consume and assume the courage of the animal it came from (seeing as how I most often eat chicken hearts this may explain my cold feet and weak knees).

Tripe the jury’s still out. I’ve had it twice, the first time, in Rome, it was delish, the second time, in Madrid, it tasted like cow poo. Maybe it was another type (there are three, each from a different of the cow’s four stomachs). Maybe the Spanish don’t flush it as well? I dunno. Texturally however tripe is another rubbery to the point of almost crunchy meat, which I liked.

Brain was a little too squishy with assorted bits, like rancid custard. Not my kinda texture at all.  Plus I really had to deliberately not think about what what I was eating had been thinking about before it became my meal, lest I get it into my head that I was eating it’s thoughts. Calf brain, my stomach, my brain: a most unholy communion.

Thymus (sweetbread) had a little better texture, kinda flaky almost like fish, but the taste was not at all worth the bother. I’ve had tastier meat in a slim jim.

Liver: the godawfullest type of food put on this planet to date. No, thank you mom, I don’t care how rich in iron it is I still don’t want to eat that cow’s toxin-catcher.

Kidney came in a pie. I couldn’t tell you what it was like or how it tasted. Either I don’t remember or it was unnoticable enough not to lodge in my memory in the first place.

Feet: probably more dependent on the preparation than anything else (like wings I reckon) but ultimately not worth it to get the tiny little bit of tasty between all those knuckles. 1.3 billion people may disagree with me on that one.

Tongue: I like it! Another pretty rubbery meat. And good on a samich.

Cheeks: Indistinguishable (to me) from any pother pulled pork-ish preparation. Tasty enough, but I could have just had the PP sandwich and not known the difference. I’d like to try it prepared in other ways.

There is plenty of offal I have not (yet) tried: fries (I can tell you I’m in no hurry to scratch that one off my list), lips, snout, tail, chitterlings, cockscombs, spleen, udder, cheeks, blood (unless blood sausage counts), and for better or for worse, penis, uterus, scrotum, etc. Name yer part, you can find a dish of it.

Then there’s your various offal concoctions, such as liverwurst (yum!) and scrapple, souse, chitterlings, and many others.

I’m all for waste parts æsthetically. It’s an essential component of my intractable hedonism, and so by principle if something tastes good that’s all I need, even/especially if it violates some primal taboo like don’t eat thoughts. But a little variety in your meat is anti-waste too — it uses up the whole animal not just the muscle — and therefore would please my parents, republicans, and other conservative types. What other cuisine, I ask you, strikes such an impressive balance between moral decline and the kind of restraint that keeps civilizations strong?

The Search For the Elusive Kai Kua aka (untranslatable Thai) aka Guay-Dtieow Kûa Gài aka Kway Teo aka Guay Tiew Kua of New England (and probably elsewhere) Abetted By a Visual Aid

Girlfriends, let’s dish:

The missus and I stopped for lunch at Ithaca, NY’s Taste of Thai Express Monday. Not wanting yet one more slightly varied permutation of ye olde staple pad thai, I ordered a dish called kai kua. I didn’t invest much hope in my straying from a well-trod path, but one bite showed me just what ol’ uncle bob (frost!) was talking about all those years ago. Oh babies. It was, how do you say in english, effing awesome? Probably the best noodle dish I have ever in my entire little life eaten ever! I vowed to have kai kua at least once a day for the rest of this trip.

However. This is not easily accomplished. The waiters at three restaurants wherein I have sought this treasure of noodly perfection have looked at me with a certain measure of puzzlement when, not seeing it on the menu, I asked if they made it, first by name, then by enumerating the ingredients.

Thai doesn’t translate very fluidly into the latin alphabet, so there are a great metric many variations of the words for the dish, the basic elements of which are: pan-fried wide noodles, chicken bits, egg, squiddy, and a savory garlic gravy.

If you want me to get all technical on your ass, it is really called something that, due to typographical limitations, wordpress will not print so I have to inelegantly post here as an image. What I now love to eat more than anything else is:


But if (unlike me) you have a hard time pronouncing that one, try one of its many nominal slurs: guay-dtieow kua gai; or kway teo; or kai kua; or guay tiew kua; or any number of other variations that you might discover eventually by visiting enough different thai restaurants. Unfortunately, I didn’t learn any of this nomenclature bidness until just now, so my attempts in the last two days to replicate my first experience fell a little flat.

The first of these attempts, Thai Corner in Amherst, MA, actually did know what I meant when I listed the ingredients, but it took a little tweaking. They call it Guay Tiew Kua, and after adding squid, it came out reasonably close (though a bit drier, and twice as expensive for less food) to my archetypal ideal.

The proprietrix of Thai Paradise in Portsmouth, NH last night just shook her head when I listed the ingredients. Instead I ordered a close approximation by removing the veggies and adding chx and sqd to Lad Nar aka Rad Na. And that’s what I did again today at Saeng Thai in Portland, ME. But both of these came with too much of and not the right kind of gravy.

Since they two out of three times have no idea what I’m talking about, I’ve made up a little note that I sent to my phone with all the variants of kai kua written out that I can show them when I don’t find it on the menu. Now that’s what I call a smart phone!


Kai kua look out: I’m comin’ a gitchoo.

Update: visual aid = total fail.  Thrice before a cock crowed I have asked for the elusive kai kua and thrice I have been denied. The first waiter squinted at my phone: mumble mumble chicken mumble mumble. No…… Try the pad see ew.  The second didn’t even look, just said no. The third squinted at it, his lips moving as he read, and said it’s just a list if condiments. What!? No, I said, this is supposed to be chicken, pointing at the “gai”, and this is supposed to be noodles, pointing at the “guay-dtieow” (I don’t know what the “kua” means). He shook his head. No recognition whatsoever.

I though this was going to be my ticket to comprehension but instead I was just as stuck. I though Thai was a language and Thai food had it’s conventions and with my dictionary in my hand I could order a dish in a Thai restaurant just like if I asked for spaghetti with meatballs in an Italian restaurant everyone knows what that means without me having to say spaghetti with marinara sauce and 1-inch diameter balls of breadcrumbs and meat or if I ordered a hamburger in a diner I wouldn’t just get a lonely hunk of ground beef in the middle of a plate.

Moreso, what dish is there in America that 1/4 of the people know exactly what it is and 3/4 just stare blankly at it named four slightly different ways? Even the most obscure of our dishes are enough a part of our collective food lore that if you said mountain oysters or chitterlings pretty much everyone would know what you were talking about. Okay souse. But anyone outside of New Orleans that eats pickled brains is a complete abnormality. And okay scrapple maybe, but is kai kua the Thai equivalent of all the nasty parts of a pig no one but a tiny minority of Dutch in Pennsylvania would ever eat? I’m thinking probably not.

So it can only follow that either kai kua is as regionally specific as souse and scrapple, or there is no such thing as a collective Thai food lore and that each province carries with it it’s own set of regional specialties that don’t carry over or blend into one another and are as mutually unintelligible as Chinese dialects. That kai kua originates and largely remains in some tiny Thai backwater, or, aside from a few staples (must be everyone there eats pad thai), you are pretty much shooting craps walking into a Thai restaurant looking for a particular dish. Either way kai kua remains as elusive as poutine south of the 49th parallel.

Am I wrong or am I wrong.

Vegetable Porn

There’s something especial about the turn my sublimation has taken this late summer, something especially dramatically vegetable. It’s no surprise that tomatoes have got me breathing heavy thanks to my falling down the heirloom rabbit hole last late summer. But now it’s spreading.

Tigger melons I bought last week just because I heard their siren’s call, their stripes radiant sunsets and me all photosensitive. And another watermelon because it’s skin got me nostalgic about the brain coral I had brought home from St. Croix a month ago. But it turns out all watermelon have skin that complicated, I’ve just never noticed it before (though the darker ones are far more seductive, there is no no doubt).


We just got home and the neighbor we split our share from the CSA with brought over a ten-pound at least bag of corn and squash and tomatoes and basil and an eggplant and watermelon and the eggplant is bone-white


and the watermelon has me sweating just looking at it. It may take a good bit of creativity to find ways to eat these things, but I can look at them all day long.

Then the first few heirloom tomatoes came in at the market, and I spent twenty bucks on love apples before I had blinked. Chocolate stripes and black ethiopians and green pineapples. I’m in deeper already than I was last summer and it’s still only mid-August. I’ve got more photos than pounds of tomatoes and I’m just not okay putting you through that here so I’ve started a new site just for tomatoes.  If you’ve got a yen for heirloom tomatoes and a super-specialized and slightly weird and lustily vegetable libido then check it out. But if this:


kinda thing doesn’t do it for you, i.e. if you’re at all even in the head then don’t bother. check out illegal dojo instead. For it is there that yuks abound.

  • 1
  • 2