Shutters VIII

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The eighth of a series of twelve, originally published in the anthology Terra Firma in 2004, with a reappearance on this blog in 2014.

Shutters VIII

Edges, rounded
and grown thick
as if to accentuate

the merit of flavor,
or to imply, beyond odor,
the sublingual text

of heat and degradation, the
eventual disposition attained
and perhaps forgotten.

Taste arrives, unannounced yet certain.

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Mole (Pipian)

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Mole (Pipian)

Always the search beneath texture,
layers captured in subsidence,
the drift to interpretation: a mixture, meaning

sauce, and its journey from seed to mouth,
the careful blend of herb and fire,

dismembered chiles,
the crushed and scorched fruit
rendered to preserve for consumption
the most tender qualities

and their enhancement towards art.

 

This is of course not about the mammal with the subterranean lifestyle, but rather a version of the Mexican sauce, pronounced “mo-lay,” which includes, as a main ingredient, pumpkin seeds. It takes a while to put together, but is well worth the effort.

“Mole (Pipian)” made its first appearance here in February 2015.

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Chili, Chocolate and Chihuahuas

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Chili, Chocolate and Chihuahuas

The Lovely Wife has jetted off to the great Midwest, leaving me behind to sort the pages of an unruly poetry manuscript in the company of Apollonia, the six-pound terror of Texas, and Ozymandias, her doting, but worried, twelve-pound shadow. As noon departs I note hunger’s first tentative touch, and head to the grocery store for supplies. I’m craving chili, but not having a particular recipe in mind, decide to see what strikes my fancy.

Ah, the sun at last!
No more rain, the yard’s drying.
Our dogs, shivering.

For my chili base I’ll sometimes toast dried ancho peppers, rehydrate and puree them, but I’ve recently replenished my chile powder stock (ancho, chipotle, New Mexico, cayenne, smoked paprika) and feel just a tad lazy, so I’ll use the powdered stuff. But I pick up a poblano, some jalapeños and two onions, and on my way to the meat counter, grab a 28-ounce can of diced tomatoes and some spiced tomato sauce. I examine the beef and nothing entices me (ground beef is anathema, and don’t even mention beans!), but a few paces away I spy a small pork roast, and place it in my cart alongside a 16-oz bottle of Shiner Bock and a bag of chocolate chips.

Knowing my plans, the
cashier smiles and shakes her head.
Milk chocolate chips?

Shuffling the manuscript pages, I ask the dogs for their input. But Apollonia declines, preferring to nap in a sunbeam, and Ozzie is too busy pacing to bother with poetry. So I turn to the impending dinner, chop onion, dice peppers, mince garlic, measure out the various chile powders, cumin and oregano, cube the pork, and brown it in the Dutch oven.

Ozymandias
sits by the front door and moans.
Wind rattles the house.

Once the meat is seared, I saute the veggies, dump in the canned tomatoes and chile powder mixture, add the meat, coating it with the spices, and then pour in the Shiner Bock and heat it all to a near-boil before reducing the temperature and allowing it to simmer for an hour, at which point I stir in about four ounces of the chocolate chips and a teaspoon of garam masala. I let the chili simmer for another hour, then remove half of the pork, shred it with a fork (it’s very tender), and return it to the pot, stir, taste, and add a little salt. Done. I ladle out a bowl, pour a La Frontera IPA, and eat. Not bad, I think. Not bad at all for the first chili of the season.

Beer in hand, I burp,
the dogs stirring underfoot.
Only four more nights…

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Not Your Mama’s Carnitas (and not my Mama’s either, but then she was Japanese)

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This first appeared in December 2013.

The Lovely Wife and her boon companion Apollonia, the 5-lb terror of Texas, are in the country, shooting arrows, fixing weed whackers, burning wood and sipping Chianti with the neighbor, leaving me bereft, alone but for Jackboy, the loyal cattle dog, and forced to fend, alas, for myself. So after a vigorous cardiac rehab session I repaired to my favorite bar, er, grocery store, and while meandering with a “mazy motion” like Kubla Khan’s sacred river through the aisles laden with organic produce, wondrous cheeses, craft beers and dubious dietary supplements, what did I spy but a comely little top round bison roast! I’d never before prepared said roast, but throwing caution to the wind is of course part and parcel to fending for oneself, and it was a breezy day. And while resting at the bar, er beverage sampling station, and sampling the wares (a local German-style pilz), I pondered the piece of meat and eavesdropped among my fellow samplers – talk of shopping conquests, welding, 14th century navigation and hoppy beer. But what to do with the roast? Certainly not an ordinary potato and carrot concoction. Chili? Nah, just had it. Grilled? Are you kidding? And then I overheard the word, the one way, the truth: carnitas, which instantly transported me through various savory stretches of the world and multiple cuisines, initiating salivary gland overload, but leading, in the end, to what I hoped would become a culinary delight, or at least an edible dinner.

I knew that I should braise the meat, as this particular cut of bison was very lean (hell, bison is very lean), but it was late and I was famished. So I did what any bright, hungry, middle-aged sojourner of the kitchen would do: put it off. But thinking it might be nice to enhance the depth of flavor, I threw together a few dry ingredients (salt, sugar, 5-spice powder, ground pepper), sprinkled the mixture on the roast, and set it in the refrigerator to cure overnight.

[To assuage my hunger I fried some leftover rice with ham, green onion, jalapenos, carrots and peas. Tweren’t bad.]

And the next day, after taking The Lovely Wife’s dobro to the repair shop, reading Dawn Lundy Martin’s A Gathering of Matter a Matter of Gathering (amazing poet, incredible poetry) at Hopfield’s gastropub while enjoying the Pascal Burger (medium rare with camembert, cornichons and carmelized onions) and frites accompanied by a delightful tulip of Birra del Borgo’s American Pale Ale,and following this with a productive and pleasant writing session in the poetry shack, I commenced preparing dinner…
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…which began with opening a bottle of Parducci Small Lot Blend Pinot, and pondering Dawn Lundy Martin’s book. The collection opens with “Last Days,” a poem of death and grief and what lies before, between and after, consisting of questions and replies. But such questions. Such replies! She begins the poem:

What is the relation between Figure A and Figure B?

This is what the father has become.

And ends it:

How is the pain endured?

A stem of grass imagined when it is not raining.
All those things called intentions. The private / treasures one keeps safe.

The depths, the deliberation, the complexities of language and image brought forth in the replies, astound (confound?) me. So much to consider. And what lies between the opening and ending serves to build, layer by layer, the emotional foundation, adding texture and nuance, providing power in detail and, yes, beauty. Wonderfully complex and masterfully done. But back to the pinot (light, spicy, woody aroma (cedar?), and balanced, though unlike Martin’s work, not complex, but hey, it was only $11), and cooking:

First I inventoried my supplies, starting with veggies: three slightly withered carrots, one whole onion, garlic, three jalapenos, a small knob of ginger, one red pepper, four green onions, half of a small red cabbage, and a poblano pepper that had seen better days. Next, the braising liquid. Hmm. Which primary liquid? Pinot? No, I wanted to drink it and wasn’t willing to share with the bison. Sherry? Nah, use it too often. Chicken broth? Water? Surely you jest. And then I spotted a partially full (empty? was I truly feeling optimistic?) bottle of sake, resting amiably next to its close friend, Ms. Soy Sauce. Braising liquid, check.

I peeled and fine-diced the carrots, sliced the jalapenos lengthwise into thin strips, diced the red pepper and onion, salvaged what I was able of the poblano (about half had gone mushy) and diced that, and minced three cloves of garlic and the knob of ginger, reserving half of the ginger for later use.

Then I patted the roast dry with a paper towel removing the excess moisture drawn out by the rub, after which I seared it in a little oil in a Dutch oven. After judging the roast suitably crusty, I removed it and added the carrots, onion and peppers, sauteed them until softened, added the garlic and ginger, two tablespoons of soy sauce and the rest of the bottle of sake, perhaps three quarters of a cup. I brought this up to a roil, turned down the heat, let it simmer for a few minutes, and then covered and placed the Dutch oven into the oven, where it remained for two and-a-half hours, simmering gently at 350 degrees.

While the bison braised, I shredded the remnants of the red cabbage, sliced the green onions, prepared a dressing consisting of rice vinegar, sesame oil, hoisin sauce, hot mustard, minced garlic and the reserved ginger, and tossed it all together, resulting in an in-your-face but nevertheless tasty slaw.

And after the allotted time, I removed the bison from the oven and shredded it with a fork – yes, it was that tender – placed a bit of it in taco shells (hey, these are MY carnitas, not your mama’s), topped the meat with some of the cooked veggies, dolloped a bit of creme fraiche on that (I’d found a partial container in the fridge, only a month past the “sell by” date), covered that with the slaw, and took a bite. My. Goodness. Wow. More. Want more. All in all, I must proclaim that the Asian-Inspired Bison Carnitas with Hoisin Slaw was a success. I give it two thumbs up, and a few assorted toes.

But I’m still pondering Dawn Lundy Martin, and have turned to her latest (I think) book, Discipline, which looks to be every bit as intriguing as A Gathering of Matter a Matter of Gathering.

Onions

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Onions

My knife never sings but hums instead when withdrawn from its block, a metallic whisper so modest only the wielder may hear it. Or perhaps the dog, who seems to enjoy the kitchen nearly as much as I. A Japanese blade, it’s a joy to hold, perfectly balanced, stainless steel-molybdenum alloy, blade and handle of one piece, bright, untarnished, and so sharp as to slide through, rather than awkwardly rupture and divide, its next task on the board.

We’ve never counted the chopped and rendered onions, the fine dice, slender rings and discarded skins, but if we could gather all the corpses we’ve produced together over the years, we’d form a monument to our work, cooperation of metal and man, a Waterloo mound in memory of the bulbs laid there, the planning involved, the missteps and serendipity, and the tears shed along the way.

The blade doesn’t care. It is. It works. It moves things, it lifts, it parts them, and in return is cleansed, and later, in the quiet room, maintains its edge with a silvery rasp, angled steel on steel in a circular motion, over and over, until finally it hums its way back into the block. But it never sings.

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Mole (Pipian)

00936

Mole (Pipian)

Always the search beneath texture,
layers captured in subsidence,
the drift to interpretation: a mixture, meaning

sauce, and its journey from seed to mouth,
the careful blend of herb and fire,

dismembered chiles,
the crushed and scorched fruit
rendered to preserve for consumption
the most tender qualities

and their enhancement towards art.

This is of course not about the mammal with the subterranean lifestyle, but rather a version of the Mexican sauce, pronounced “mo-lay,” which includes, as a main ingredient, pumpkin seeds. It takes a while to put together, but is well worth the effort.

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My 3rd (and Final) Poem in the Silver Birch Press Self-Portrait Series

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Ah, simplicity! When I was a child my mother would occasionally serve rice balls in which a single tart umeboshi rested at the center. These have long been a favorite, but I admit that umeboshi might be an acquired taste. Commonly called “pickled plums,” ume aren’t really plums but are more closely related to apricots. Whatever they are, I cherish them.

http://silverbirchpress.wordpress.com/2014/08/31/self-portrait-with-umeboshi-poem-by-robert-okaji-self-portrait-poetry-series/

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