black forest

sitting here at my desk, looking out at hummingbirds on the feeder, i think way too hard about what i am supposed to do, like dishes, like laundry. there are no ideas flowing, no detailed notions of what to write, nor where to start. so i do what i think might best to lead me to a start, i type any kind of nonsense, like the one above and likely below. suddenly i am hungry and yet i am sitting and typing some old stuff that happens to crawl adversely across my keyboard. looking out, now clouds and then showers, mid forties, warm for the end of january. how time flies, one more day and february will come around, as it was, new years seems as if it were yesterday. 
i might call to get pretzels, i might drive to get bread or some kind of food for tonight. what makes me sit, instead of doing some errand?
sudden sun, much shifty shadows, and just as quick one fat cloud diverts and softens the light. should i have a ham sandwich? would some hot sake kindle my story, one which now might hide like sun behind my overcast of self doubts. the critical voice which so often belittles my efforts at writing - as you must know by now, you never could better james joyce, why then not have that sandwich, you might as well go for the drink, after all, most of your splendid writers scrawled stories drink in hand at the keyboard. and yet, drunk or sober, they produced one page at least, full of, if only, some drab humdrum. and so the story goes, after all, a page a day makes some three hundred a year, a virtual book properly titled. but instead of rendering the flow, what flow?, i sit here dreamily, chin in hand, scratching my beard, searching the far gloomy horizon, where a still nebulous story might mingle, to gather focus and define a tale worthy the telling.

it is true i became ill in the midst of latin finals at a boarding school in black forest, where my parents had sent me to better my education. any teacher would instinctively know a poor student to fake convulsions during the quest of translating julius caesar's travels to gaul. hence my moans were at first utterly dismissed and only complied to when i slumped off my chair dragging caesar's renditions down with me. class howled thinking me ludicrously funny. i often got a good laugh at the expense of the latin teacher, miss grammatista, that latin doll. but most of my mischief turned ultimately to detriment. this time though, when i reeled on the floor and only wailed, she thought me genuine and called for the nurse. they rolled me onto a stretcher. i was carried away to a bed in the infirmary. soon enough the doctor, alas the gymnastics teacher, poked at my belly and declared the swelling a likely burst of my appendix. he packed me gently into the front seat of his volkswagen and drove to the hospital in neustadt, quite a few miles, uphill and down, on rolling roads through a snowy black forest. every now and then he kindly pitied me in my whimpering. he was sure we'd get there soon, but the thought of arriving at a strange hospital made me yammer only more. once there though, a large bosomed nurse petted my head and pushed a needle into my butt. next i saw me brightly in a hospital bed, a same like nurse bending over, looking at me. he's awake, she said and asked how i felt. i had no pain, just a small murmur in my right lower belly. she said something, but i fell asleep again. waking much later, my room darkly lit by evening's window. the nurse came in to turn up a light. aware now, but as in a dream, a nightmare really, i saw my mother, where she stood by the end of my bed. she was dressed darkly, all in black. at first i thought i had died, here the nurse in white and there mother in black, a short glittering veil over her eyes.
the nurse smiled at me. she took my pulse and said you're coming around nicely.
but mother, why all the black? i thought her a ghost. she didn't answer at first, but after a while she said that grandfather had passed away.
i looked at her. he was my favorite grandfather and he died? and you're wearing black? what are you doing here? you didn't like him even.
i was glad for the nurse. she held my hand. she'd come very near and in her size blocked my view. she had me drink something thick and green. still she held my hand. i was bewildered and just the same frightened, but apparently asleep, though scowling the same.

16 iris

plus 3

it's almost over, the iris season. so here is a reminder to buy rhizomes
early, for choice and for quality. i suggest to get those which re-bloom, the once a year (now) flowering kind come of course in extraordinary colors, then again they bloom once and pooooof.


once upon a time, when i was much younger, i was introduced to sashimi. i don't care if you think i'm bragging, i had just photographed jasper johns in his top floor apartment way uptown. he was hungry and invited me for lunch to a then famous sushi place on 8th street. i forgot the name, but i'll never forget the utter sensation of having a piece of sashimi in my then virgin mouth. i come from stuttgart, where my grandmother cooked everything way beyond well-done, the idea of eating raw fish was then for me as far out as the thought of moving to new york. by the time i was twenty things had changed, much had fallen in place, i lived in new york, getting to know the new york art scene, making pictures and interviewing many of those very artists. the notion of eating small strips of crimson uncooked fish was inconceivably absurd, even if vitally fresh, seductively cut and delectably placed, alas and in the end still slices of very raw fish. johns, like me, had grown up in the south and hence could show patience and mercy. 'at least try the chutoro' he said. this was a dark, domino-size piece of fish, tasting engagingly luscious and totally un-fishy. encouraged and eventually dauntless, i slowly sampled piece by piece each of those sumptuous selections presented by a gracious itamae-san. 
it's been a long time since. there was and unbelievably still is today some forty five years later, a sushi place in new york called hatsuhana. some called it "not-so-hot-suhana", but only because they never got to get to eat upstairs. i went there at first for lunch, later for outrageous dinners, four hour affairs, richly beyond price. my favorite itamae-san was called between us the baby killer, on account of his capacious size. but like so many sumo size men he was extraordinarily gentle. he also knew how to make a toasted unagi hand roll, of triangular shape wrapped in paper-crisp seaweed. treasured as these were, they were simple things. his sushi uni, a nigirizushi topped with a good size lump of uni was his prize. after an extended sashimi and sushi session, fueled by much seishu, he would on a good day have all sushi rice grains face the same direction. but his best was a version of sashimi otoro, simply placed on a lush bed of finely shredded daikon. reserved for us, those very special customers. mere mortals got to eat toro chopped with scallions, like a tartare. i didn't just gorge on whatever cut tuna, but on hirame and hokkigai, salmon and roe, scallop and uni, giant squid and tako, and seemingly endless sake, icily cold in summer, hot, or at least flushed during those new york snowy evenings.

bluefin then was caught off of long island, aided by spotter planes and speed boats. once harpooned, their best bodies put on ice dockside and flown chartered to tsukiji market where the fish was evaluated and priced. the very best fish returned that instant to new york or los angeles. to be butchered  less than twenty four hours after the catch and readied for dinner upstairs at hatsuhana. now this seems inconceivable.

one night a maguro friend and i sat resting, suntori in hand, watching a guy some seats down the sushi bar, one hand woefully low at the waist of his waitress, the other waving a bill. that kind of tip for the itamae was considered the norm after a meal of the best. the waitress of course had her konto apart.

last night stephanie and i ate at hokusei. nothing can match the memory of hatsuhana, though this came close.

the fish apparently is imported from japan, where sashimi grade fish is caught handline, then instantly killed and iced, therefore will keep its freshness for some seven days. we had sashimi maguro, columbia river sake and hamachi. the decoration a little over the top, considering the pips left in the lemon. but a fabulous  otoro, a fortune for two slivers of fish. stephanie ate a vegetable roll, topped with roasted orange colored beet. which she loved. in the end i just had to try the chopped beef, with raw garlic and uni. too much beef, way too much garlic and two slivers too few of uni. my opinion is biased, of course, of course. this is portland, after all, and in no way manhattan. a decent sashimi? an oxymoron at best.

a bouquet of bearded iris, a virtual black, from saturday's market.

the heart of the artichoke

heart of artichoke

when i first thought of this dish i went -hm- and then -hm- again.
i tasted the individual parts and went yes, this might be the making of a great salad, sweet, salty, sour and the slight bitter, peppery crisp of  mizuna. there was then the amalgam of the altogether, that savory, the umami, as in a glorious mix of primordial parmesan with my miso-mayo, a sweetly salty, a lustrous condition making a creamy contrast to the crusty, the bluff rudeness of old parmesan. the heart of artichoke, a crunch, if ever there is one, and an arresting flavor, trying to worry the milky flesh of halibut, a sashimi-like quality only an utterly fresh fish can afford. mizuna as base, a leafy palate on which to present all the others; to drink? well, sake, a dry, an icy liquid, which would, if for a moment, arrest those many, very hued flavors. 


it is likely the oldest question (regarding) asparagus. how do you eat the thing politely in mixed company?

it seems all too obvious which end you start on, but would you slurp, bite, nip or, god forbid, suck? it is not usually a mouthful, so you wouldn't exactly nibble. i suppose you might respectfully chop it bite size, that would be alright, then again some company might think you timid or worse.

if the dish were to include potatoes, boiled ham, hard boiled egg and butter, my preference is for the chop in inch length. then quarter those tiny new potatoes and cut a couple fat rolls of boiled ham into slivers. the hard boiled egg would have been sliced into rounds and offered that way (in a considerate household), chopped garden chives might be available and all should be spread on a nicely heated plate, preferably a large one. now for the butter. technically it would be clarified and at hazelnut strength. but if the cook offered the stuff merely melted, i wouldn't complain. now, with everything in place, i'd whirl it all up into a delicate mess, gush it with butter and hold forth with my fork.

those oysters from lilliwaup

april come, she will, when streams are ripe and swelled with rain. and yes, it is the last month of the Rs. and the skokomish river is at perfect temperature to fall to the hood canal. which makes those oysters at hamma-hamma at their most succulent, gently briny, easy to slurp.
we have driven up there often. once you leave I-5 and get on rt.101, heading north, the ride becomes ever more scenic and lush. the hood canal to your right, the road seems to touch the shore at times, the view north is endless, even on a clear day. it's a long drive, two hours on the main north highway and another hour plus after olympia, likely more, if you have a license plate says "retired" in front of you, a like stratocruise camper doodling on. 
i didn't feel like hammering the pike up and back simply to get yearling oysters for a stew, so i called them and sure enough, they said yes, we'd 'UPS' them for next day and funny enough the cost would be less than my lovely lola takes supping on diesel. we'll shuck'em right before sending your order down, they'll be as fresh, well, almost, as if you'd shucked them yourself. so they arrived at my kitchen this late afternoon, and soon as i done the box cutter thing, they were set to slip into a broth prepped in advance for the happy event. 
the broth: oh, easy: crème fraîche, a jigger of sake, thyme and tarragon, a generous grinding of pepper, for alternative texture, the smallest of new seed potatoes, happily steamed, and toward the end crunchy sea salt, and their oyster's liquid, all at a supple simmer and done, as the oysters slid into their rapture. hence those yearlings had scantily time to be cooked, which is the way i think such a stew ought to be served. and it was. much to applause, and a full tender belly, as it was, barely enough to serve two. 

i did attempt an image. though i know a picture is worth the trembling of a thousand tongues, i have to beg off. i could have, should have, even would have taken the pan to the light, alas, the scent of the stew was too much, the spoon way too ready and above tongues trembled indeed, if for the aroma, the taste and the penchant of the endeavor.