I almost forgot: This weekend was really a return to the Astoria salad days, when I would spend the day toddling from one fascinating grocery store to another, and then spend hours cooking dinner. Back when I wasn’t jaded by the ready availability of frozen banana leaves or dried hibiscus, back when we didn’t gorge ourselves at least weekly. Back when I guess I didn’t have to work? I don’t remember how I had time.
Saturday I went down to the Spanish grocery store, Mina Espana, that opened a while back–they sell whole hams, but not parts of hams, in case you’re wondering. They also sell boquerones, those incredibly lovely pickled white anchovies that slither down your throat like sea water. They’re kinda pricey, but since you can only buy them in 100g packets, it takes the sting off a little. I bought 200 Gs, yo.
But briefly rewind a little: The day before, I’d been wandering around the Whole Foods megaplex in the new Time Warner Center ([cough]mall), which has gotten so much press as this wondrous cornucopia, but in fact it’s kind of depressing: Sure the vegetables are piled up in beautiful stacks, but it looks like no one ever buys them. All the New Yorkers are jostling for space over by the steam tables–really, the whole place is just a glorified Korean deli. This is the logical American equivalent of, say, the food hall at Harrod’s–no decadence, just functionality underpinned with a little moral smugness (lots of things at Whole Foods are good for you and good for the environment, you know). It should be renamed Safe Foods.
Meanwhile, I read a little piece on the NY Post gossip page about what a snob John Kerry is for ordering good food on the night he was doing the aw-shucks Wendy’s photo op, basically crashing John Edwards and his wife’s anniversary party. “Grilled diver scallops,” the columnists snarl with contempt. (OK, honestly part of me says, Suck it up, John, one Wendy’s burger won’t kill you…but I don’t want to see him torn down because he likes “fancy food”!)
So why was I talking about Whole Foods at all? Oh yes: My friend Adriana, visiting from the bountiful Bay Area (and who tipped me to the Amateur Gourmet blogsitters), and I were trying to compose a picnic. We picked out some tasty-looking cheeses (shit–where is my discipline? Should’ve written down the name of the sheep’s-milk brie), and AV said, “Mmmm, boquerones would be good with this.”
Well, we’re in the goddamn pinnacle of grocery stores for People of Taste, right? We ask at the fish counter; they send us to the cheese counter. We ask at the cheese counter; they send us to the fish counter. When called out, the cheese guy admits, “Yeah, we do that a lot. No boquerones.”
So we just bought some cupcakes and went to the park. And then some guy proceeded to sit down and pull out his enormous schlong and masturbate in front of us, and had to be chased away, even as he shouted, “I love you!” Somehow the incident made me feel better, like an actual urban experience, and out of that hollow suburban shell of Whole Foods where they don’t even have some damn pickled fish.
So, I was exceptionally happy to get my boquerones the very next day–and it’s not like I live in some Spaniard ghetto or something, where people are, like, flamenco-ing on the streets. There just happens to be a Spanish food store–just like there should be in any good place where people would want to live.
After the fish were procured, and some chicken pie sampled (bland-ish, but it made me feel like I was in Spain), Peter accompanied me on a few more random stops, stocking up for dinner the next day. A close shave when Peter stopped to check on the softball team status at the Rover, where even at 3pm there were jocular men on the steps offering to buy me a beer. Then a stop at a new Moroccan grocery, where the owner forced free eggplant and zucchini on me–I can only imagine what would’ve happened if I’d tried to speak Arabic to him. Eventually back home with plenty of vegetables, and then very eventually to bed….
Only to wake up in a vile pool of sweat at 7am Sunday morning (after three hours of sleep). The first serious slap of nasty heat this summer–why did I think it wouldn’t happen?
My first thought was, “There is no fucking way I’m turning on the oven to braise that duck I bought yesterday.” I lay there fretting, sweating. Grilling? Did a little Web research; meanwhile, it started to rain and the heat broke. I napped for a couple more hours.
When I woke up again at noon the weather was cool, but I went ahead: I brined the duck, and stuck it on the barbie, lid covered, with the coals off to one side and a drip pan underneath. I tossed in a couple of chunks of mesquite, just to remind me of the New Year’s pig roast. Put the lid on and walked away for a couple of hours–made a little reduction of duck stock and white wine, with garlic and rosemary and threw in some black olives (all the flavors that were in the braising recipe I’d planned on).
Eh, so the duck got a teensy bit overdone (up to 180, when it should’ve been 160 max). But it was soooo gooooood, and it got that gorgeous layer of pink all over from the smoking. And Joel and Deb’s dog, Laika, looooved the drip pan full of duck fat that I’d put off to one side and forgotten about. I hope there weren’t any repercussions…
The lord works in mysterious ways–if it weren’t for those couple of hours of oppressive clamminess I wouldn’t have taken this risk. Thanks for nothin’, Safe Foods.