Entries Tagged as 'Out'

Tomatillo Salsa

Thursday, August 28, 2014

tomatillo salsa

I started writing this post from Annie’s couch in Harlem. A breeze would pass through the apartment, carrying the sound of someone’s saxophone or the distant wail of a siren, and if you folded yourself into her living room windowsill, you could gaze down on her neighbors’ plant-filled, walled-in urban retreat of a patio. We hadn’t started packing her things yet, and she was all knotted up over her decision to leave New York. On the inside, I was pitching a fit over the possibility of returning to Minnesota alone, with the deposit on our apartment already paid. Those eight days were tough. Toss together two longtime friends, both of whom have their own complicated relationship with New York, as anyone with New York history does, add in the weight of moving, quitting jobs, saying goodbye, starting over, seeking closure, and the probability of a blowup is all but marked in stone. Today that trip seems part of a past life, which makes it all the harder to believe that I’m writing this now from our new apartment in Minneapolis.

minneapolis apartment_1

minneapolis apartment_3

minneapolis apartment_4

When Annie and I decided to live together, I wasn’t positive it was the best move. I’d been living with people my whole life, and I was very much ready to have my own space. Annie, on the other hand, was used to living alone. Above all, though, we both saw it as a now-or-never type of chance, a challenge, for sure, but one that we both wanted to risk taking rather than missing. I’d stalk Craigslist for apartments, she’d send me links to places she’d found and I’d make appointments to view them. On Google Chat one day, we sent each other the same link at the same time for a duplex in South Minneapolis. Six weeks later, we moved in.

First we had to get her out of the clutches of New York. And what the hell, I thought, why not make a trip out of it? I booked a one-way ticket and flew out on a Tuesday, the first of eight consecutive days of summer perfection. She met me at the corner of 125th and Lenox, and when I saw her standing there, she was a woman who’d melded to the city’s pace.

One night at dusk, we crossed the Triborough Bridge in her friend Bri’s car to eat Peruvian while Bri called every fifth driver a motherfucker for driving like one. I liked her immediately. Bri is all heart, tough as nails, and just shy of a hundred pounds. She came over the next night and taught us how to fry cabbage the Deep South way with bacon and onions. Cal and Brandon came too, and Cal made his mother’s famous fried chicken, a recipe he’s known how to cook since he could reach the counter to season the flour. We piled on Annie’s couch and chowed until it was time to fry a second batch. Annie and I got dressed up on Sunday morning and loped to Abyssinian Baptist Church, craving gospel music and ice water and sweating buckets in the heat before we’d even arrived. When we finally did, a straight-faced woman wearing pantyhose and bifocals told us services were finished for the day, so we hailed a taxi for Bloody Marys at Vinateria instead.

At the end of the week, we celebrated our survival at Red Rooster over shredded lamb tostadas topped with rosy pickled onion and dabs of grainy mustard. We drank a Savoy and a PYT and watched a wave of characters pass through the doors. The food was good, not great, but you felt the place come alive as the night wore on, and when Annie asked, “How can I leave this?” I had no answer. New York is panoptic, hypnotic, and much sexier when you’re away or on your way out. Like any love/hate relationship, New York is a place you can’t fully appreciate until you no longer wake up to it everyday.   

minneapolis apartment_2Annie wavered between staying and going up until the very morning we left. I told her I’d be okay if she changed her mind, and that was mostly true, or would have been eventually. She told me she’d made a commitment to me. That meant something, even if it felt heavier than what I’d bargained for. In the end, we packed up the moving truck with the help of Bri and three guys from Bri’s security staff. With Annie at the wheel, we pulled away from the curb and sailed down Seventh Avenue to Iggy Azalea like the whole trip was already in the bag. Ten minutes later we were in a tunnel, then a bridge four or forty lanes across when the first of several truck drivers honked and yelled that our back ramp was down. Within seconds, we were protected on all sides by a fleet of semis until we could exit, pull off to the shoulder and assess the situation, first panicking, later cackling like a couple of once-wild grandmothers with stories of skirting the law. After nine hours of driving, we stopped somewhere in northern Ohio, checked into a Super 8, and walked to the Lone Tree Tavern next door through a field of grass with a walking path carved for truck drivers who likely kept both places in business. Tom was the front desk manager and a retired principal with a few opinions on migrating west, all of them favorable. At that hour, whether or not Annie found them comforting was moot.

It took another fifteen hours to reach home, and it was after midnight at the start of the third day when we did. I told Annie I felt like I’d left a critical piece of my heart behind. She said she thought she’d made a mistake, and we laid in bed staring at the ceiling, exhausted, dejected, and confused. We slept hard, woke up early, and drove the truck to the new apartment to meet a crew of family and friends who gave up their Saturday morning to help us move. My brothers got straight to work by opening all the windows in the house for fresh air. My dad pulled the refrigerator from the wall to plug it in and tore two holes in the vinyl floor, battle scars that are going to remind us of that day every time we see them. Annie’s friend Jessie did most of the heavy lifting, while her dad loaded up his car with bags to donate and came over later to hang curtains and put together chairs. We unloaded Annie’s stuff, drove to my youngest brother’s apartment to pick up some of the stuff we’ll store while he lives in Phoenix, then drove back to Mary Ellen’s to load up the truck with my stuff. Brian bought us welcome back burgers and beers at Pat’s Tap when it was time for a break. Brad and Megan brought their baby over in the afternoon, Tony and Niki came with felt pads, a power drill, and a reading chair, and Tippy brought us our first plant. Long after the sun had set, we spread out at the front of the house and ordered delivery for dinner. That all of these people were so happy we were home was impossible to ignore, and I think we both fell asleep feeling lighter, protected even, which makes a hell of a difference in any sort of big life change.

Grandpa's cactus

Now that we are here, a new brand of culture shock is settling in, and that’s the kind related to stuff. Buying a sofa last week, you see, felt major. Annie keeps telling me I’ve been able to wait 31 years without buying any furniture, as if this is some stroke of good fortune! At IKEA, it was my turn to panic, and if she hadn’t have been there, I might’ve left a full cart in the checkout lane and bolted for the horizon. At this rate, I guess I should be ready for marriage by age 62?

Speaking of commitments, I walked forty-five blocks from Annie’s stoop on 133rd and Lenox to Kitchen Arts and Letters one day, and that’s where I found this recipe for tomatillo salsa. More specifically, where I found the book with this recipe, and where I decided it would be our kitchen’s bible for the upcoming winter. Annie loves Mexican, and so do I. All this late blooming must have put me in the mood to start something early, as I assure you I’m not at all ready to think about colder days. Salsas are great because you really can’t fuck them up, so long as you use prime ingredients. It never hurts to have a recipe to reference, however, and this one’s a definite keeper.

Tomatillo Salsa (makes 1 1/2 cups) from Truly Mexican
1/2 pound tomatillos (5 or 6), husked, rinsed, and coarsely chopped
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
2 fresh serrano or jalapeño chiles, coarsely chopped, including seeds
2 tablespoons chopped white onion
1 good sized garlic clove, peeled
3/4 teaspoon fine salt, or 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

Add the tomatillos to a food processor or blender, then add the rest of the ingredients. Blend until salsa is very smooth (you’ll still see the tomatillo seeds, and that’s good), at least a minute. Season to taste with additional chile and salt, and blend again. If you can make this ahead of time to let the flavors meld, do it–a few hours or an overnight makes a big difference. Serve with tortilla chips, black beans and rice, salmon, pork, chicken, roasted vegetables, or an omelette with cilantro and goat cheese.

Breakfast in Penang

Sunday, February 2, 2014

A brief list of breakfasts from George Town, Penang.

Confession: I’ve been hanging onto this post since last July,

Digging for originality,

Which is why it’s good I’m not a journalist,

But today is the day I set it free.

Happy February, y’all.

May the month be as sweet as it is short.



Coffee, Half-boiled Egg, and Toast with Kaya–standard morning fare at any Chinese coffee shop in Malaysiabreakfast-penang-georgetown-kopitiam



Rava Thosai–thin, crisp crepes served with coconut chutney, sambar, and fish curryrava thosai-breakfast-penang-georgetown


Wanton Mee–commonly sold at hawker stalls, can be ordered wet or dry (dry in the photo below) wonton mee-breakfast-penang-georgetown


Koay Teow Th’ng–noodles with pork, fish cake, and scallion–pronounced kway-tow-tung, or you could do like I did, which is to fumble with the name and point instead (one bangin’ bowl of noodles either way)


Roti Canai–buttery, soft flatbread with or without an egg fried in its center, and so good when cooked on the spotroti canai-penang-georgetown-breakfast

roti canai-Penang-Georgetown-breakfast


Nasi Lemak–coconut-soaked, sambal-seasoned rice wrapped with hard egg yolk in pandan leaf (goes best with iced lime juice)–the lovely woman in the photo below told me to order peanut and anchovy–she was rightnasi lemak-penang-breakfast-georgetown

nasi lemak-breakfast-penang-georgetown



Beachside Ssam

Sunday, September 8, 2013

This weekend marked the first and last beach trip of the summer, or mine, rather. We walked out barefoot and gingerly on the mud flats of Jebu-do when the tide was at its lowest. We sunk past our ankles, the mud gurgled, we screamed. When the tide rolled back up the beach, we swam until sunset. Then we grilled dinner on the patio and wrapped it in lettuce with ssamjang and garlic. We chased tequila with bites of kimchi. When we were lightly stewed, we followed the boardwalk and bought tickets for the beachside carnival’s two most riveting rides, the Spinster and the Viking (only one of those names is made up). On our way back to the pension, we bought fireworks and sparklers and lit them on the beach.

This morning we woke up and cooked ramyeon outside in a pot over a portable burner, then walked to the main road and waited for an hour for a bus that never came. A group of teenagers with nothing better to do on a Sunday at seven a.m. tore up the road straight for us, swerving out of the way in the knick of time. They circled around and did it again, the punks. A sweet ajumma tended to her garden across the road, unaffected. Still without a bus, we caught rides from a pair of nice drivers and made it off the island before the tide would come up and close the main road for hours.


Beachside Ssam

1) Slice garlic and add to a foil dish with a glug of sesame oil. 2) Wash a heap of lettuce and perilla leaves, shake dry. 3) Heat a charcoal grill, then place pieces of sirloin (or other cuts of beef for grilling) on a big square grill rack above the flames. 4) Using tongs to hold the meat with one hand, cut each big piece into bite-sized pieces using a scissors with your other hand. Wear fire-proof gloves for maximum protection. 5) Grill cherry tomatoes, sliced rounds of eggplant, mushrooms and sliced pineapple. Grill pieces of cabbage kimchi. Grill anything conceivable to grill. 6) When ready, assemble the ssam. Take a piece of lettuce and a perilla leaf, and stack them. Add a piece of meat or two, some garlic, and a piece of eggplant or mushroom. Slather in ssamjang, which is to the Korean barbecue as ketchup is to the American. 7) Wrap tightly like a package and shove the whole thing in your mouth (feed your friend or lover the same way – it’s the ultimate sign of affection). Repeat steps 6 & 7.

Dear Annie

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

I’ve known Annie since we were sophomores in high school. She’s been a rock, a confidante, a partner in crime. Recently she applied for a job to teach in New York, and to the surprise of no one (besides, possibly, herself) she got it. She leaves tomorrow.

Annie, cheers to you.

So you’re moving to New York. Ho.Ly. Smokes, A. You may not feel brave, but you are.

It probably doesn’t help to hear from others that you’ve got guts. Sometimes it’s the last thing you want to hear. The rest of the feelings on your emotional scale are easy to identify – the anxiety, excitement, sadness, terror, ambivalence, hope, confusion – but bravery’s there, in the background. Those other emotions? To remind us we’re human.

I will say it anyway. It takes courage to uproot your life. Don’t let the voice of uncertainty drown it out. One day, you’re going to wake up in your Harlem apartment, pleasantly surprised to feel at home. You’ll realize you know exactly where to go for the best cup of coffee in your neighborhood. The owners of your corner bodega will know who you are by the brand of your vice. You’ll recognize your neighbors on the street, and you’ll start to see patterns and routines that’ll bring comfort, a cadence of fellowship right there on your own block of New York. This very process shows us that we adapt in ways we don’t even know, and can’t know, and this is probably what saves us: our ability to cope, and thrive, with change.

I’m proud of you for giving the interview your best shot. The anticipation must have been petrifying – the day you auditioned for the job. But if I imagine you in front of those middle school students, you in your hot pink blazer, I see you commanding a presence that no doubt shocked your soon-to-be colleagues and supervisor and gave the kids something to talk about for days. Especially when they (the kids) asked you how you felt about the Knicks, and you told them (and I quote), I ain’t got tiiiime for that. (Unquote).

I haven’t spent much time in Harlem, besides for one show at the Apollo Theater and a single blues harmonica lesson from Arthur on 128th Street. My roommate Megan insisted on coming along, and afterward she and I went for lunch at Sylvia’s. Make Sylvia’s top priority of your restaurants-to-try, and make sure to order the collard greens and baked mac and cheese. If you want Arthur’s number, let me know. He’s also on Facebook (I checked).

When I got off the plane at La Guardia, a guy named Chaplin scooped up me and my oversized luggage and we drove to his apartment on Roosevelt Island where I stayed with my would-be new roommates until we could move into our apartment in Bushwick. To me that first day, Roosevelt Island was the absolute most dismal place in all of New York. There was nothing but a huge rehabilitation hospital, brown brick high rises and a single cafe that was usually empty. So depressing. But last summer, Time Out rated it as one of NY’s best lesser-known attractions. So there you go. Matter of perspective, and what strikes you as strange or dreary at first will hardly affect you once you get the hang of the city. In other words, maybe you’ll love your new neighborhood right away, and maybe you won’t. But chances are, you’ll learn to.

Don’t be afraid to cry in public. Or to shout at someone who deserves it. That’s what’s great about New York. So much bustle and density encourages open expression, and you’ll rarely have to wonder what someone’s actually thinking, unlike in Minnesota. Because in NY…..

You’ll soon find your favorite parks in all boroughs of New York.

Live music gems. Most are in Brooklyn, but you love Brooklyn, so you’ll probably spend a lot of time there anyway?

NYMag is a very good resource, especially for places to eat. You can filter by neighborhood, cuisine or price. A list of Harlem restaurants is hereRed Rooster is supposed to be great.

short list of Vikings Bars, not quite the same as a tailgate, but it’s something. And here’s a collection of Eastern European restaurants for when you’re feeling homesick.

West Village: On many nights, Arthur’s Tavern was a last-minute stopover on the way back to Hoboken. You must visit Corner Bistro for burgers, Tavern on Jane, and Mary’s Fish Camp, all also in the Village. Megan, my old roommate, swears by John’s on Bleecker for the best pizza in the city. But I’d argue for Di Fara in Flatbush (Brooklyn), bar none. Three Lives and Company is such a great, quaint book store.

I told you about Garden of Eden, the gourmet chain of groceries. I’d often go there just to hover and de-stress when I first moved to NY, even if all I could afford was a small tub of mixed olives.

A few other favorite restaurants by neighborhood:

East Village: Grape and Grain // Frank // Prune // Ess-a-bagel

Lower East Side: Katz’s // An Choi // Barrio Chino

Midtown: The Breslin

Brooklyn: El Almacen (Williamsburg) // Roberta’s (Bushwick) // Teresa’s (Brooklyn Heights)

Soho: Cafe Select

Korea Town (near Herald Square): Mandoo Bar

There’s a dive bar in the lower East side with a jukebox and pool tables that sells a can of Tecate and a shot of tequila for $3. I can’t remember the name, but you’ll recognize it by the smell of urine that wafts from the dilapidated exterior, beckoning you to step inside. Just do it.

Whether you stay in New York for six months or six years, who cares. Think of all of the other millions of people who’ve also made the move from places all over the world. Not one of them wasn’t scared and unsure of what would come. The day before I moved back to Minneapolis, I shipped the last of my boxes from a huge post office near Penn Station. The woman who helped me had left India twenty-seven years before. Don’t forget New York, was the last thing she said. I remember her more than any other stranger I met during those four years. Her and the other woman who told me everything would be alright as I sobbed on a park bench in Roosevelt Island on one of those first few days. You’ll pass hundreds of thousands of strangers you’ll never speak to, and that’ll feel lonely, but you’ll also meet people who will help you and restore you with the simplest, most unexpected gestures.

See you in New York, when it will be my turn to visit you. I’ve no doubt you’ll be the one leading the way. I can’t wait.

A Pop-up Dinner in Suwon

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Thirty kilometers south of Seoul, next to a rice paddy or two, on the roof, under a starless black sky. Bullfrogs and acoustic guitar. Infused liquors. Two chefs. Eight high school culinary students. Twenty-nine lucky diners. It was too dark to get a decent shot of the grilled stuffed flounder or grilled lamb chops, though I’m not sure I would have had the willpower to wait. Thanks Ryan, Zayd, Farah, and everyone else involved for such a memorable occasion.