Fast Food in Harlem

I’ve never considered cooking as a profession, because, as much as I like cooking, I don’t have the passion for it. I like cooking only for special occasions, say when company’s coming or for a special celebration. Then I can really get into it, and when I’m really into it, the thing I like most about cooking is the physicality of preparing it, balancing the creation of an ambiance, and the intensity of timing required to get it right.

In order to enjoy cooking on a regular basis, one needs to get the thrill I get only occasionally, all the time. So I guess you could say I’m a pedestrian cook. I know how to make a succulent dinner now and again, but on those days I’d rather be doing something else, I can make dog food!

Tonight, is an example of a time I don’t feel like cooking. It’s 7:30p already, and I haven’t thought about it. I don’t want to think about it, but I do have to do it.

So what have I got to start with? I’ll use what I can.

1 1/2 chicken breasts
an avocado
one red pepper and one green pepper
some fresh okra
some wheat bulgur
some fresh garlic
some onions, scallions (I hope)
some fresh flat parsley
some quickly rotting Campari baby tomatoes
some baby Confetti potatoes
some quickly aging lemons & lime
almost rotting sweet plantains
butter
olive oil
an assortment of dried spices
dried nuts
butter

And 41 minutes to feed a tight-jawed, finicky husband. What to do?

I pound the chicken breasts and season them with freshly ground black pepper and a seasoned salt (my favorite is Goya’s Adobe). Setting the breasts aside, I quickly chop 1/2 of the green pepper, crushed cloves of garlic, and rinse and chop off the inedible ends of the okra. Sautéeing the garlic, green pepper, and whole okra in about one tablespoon of olive oil, I add a bit (perhaps a teaspoon or two) of dried oregano, dried minced onions, some seasoned salt, freshly ground black pepper, about a tablespoon of curry powder in a tagine (a great cooking utensil, by the way), stir three or so minutes until the okra has softened but still not mushy and set it aside. Then go back to take care of the chicken breasts.

Sautéeing the garlic cloves in about 2 tablespoons of butter, I add the breasts. By now the sauté pan is quite hot, so hot in fact that it has turned the butter brown. The breasts cook quickly and require frequent turning. To add more flavor, I put in some sprigs of fresh tarragon and pour fresh lemon juice (of one lemon). Not having any white wine, I go with a splash of dark rum. This released the sugar cane in the rum and smelled really good, although the liquids it makes the sauce too watery.

Hmmmmm. Now the breasts are going to be overcooked. I should’ve taken them out and set them aside, while this liquid sauce reduces itself. Oh, well, next time….

So now, I have my side dish of curry okra, and I have my entree of chicken breasts, what am I going to do for the starch, since my time has been quickly eaten up?!

I go for the potatoes instead of the bulgur, because I’m not sure how long it’ll take to cook, or of the taste of plain bulgur, or how it’ll taste with the sauce, or if it’ll be okay color-wise, since everything’s looking kind of brown already. I’m thinking the potatoes are a better bet. I wrap them in Saran wrap and nuke them. The potatoes are so small,and they take maybe 4 minutes (probably more like 3 minutes) to cook.

While the potatoes are being nuked, I make an avocado salad, slicing the avocado into eighths, adding some sliced onions, quartered Campari tomatoes, a dash of salt salt and my homemade dressing of rice vinegar and olive oil.

I go back to the okra dish and add one half of a white onion, sliced lengthwise, and some of the Campari tomatoes, and let them cook about 2 minutes. The microwaved potatoes actually come out perfectly, and so very fast. The sauce of the chicken breast did reduce to a nice syrupy texture. I’d added a chicken bullion cube to it because as I was tasting, the sauce seemed a bit weak, despite the lemon and rum.

When I place everything on the plate, I see that another color or texture would’ve greatly enhanced the presentation of this meal. And I’m a bit leery about the texture, because okra can be such a slimy number to begin with, even though I really love it. When you consider the color of the chicken breasts (brown), the okra (green, red, some hint of white), and the potatoes (purple, and white) the dish is a bit too low-keyed. But hey, this is 40 minutes. For dessert, we have the option of cherry vanilla ice cream, or fresh peaches in a red wine sauce with peach sorbet.
When I bring the food to Mr. Hungry Lockjaw, he’d opened a fantastic bottle of Denis Carré Pommard Premier Cru 2003 “Les Charmots”, which proves an excellent, delectable accompaniment.

This is what the food looked like…

Dinner arrived on the TV stands around 8:30p (there was a football game on television!).

Oh, and what was his reaction? He said, “I really like the chicken.” LOL.
When I asked him about the okra, he said, “You know, I always like okra.” He also asked, “Is this all?” And when I told him there was avocado salad and a choice of dessert, he seem quite satisfied.

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When you reach September….

The summer is just about over, and mercifully the god awful heat and humidity are abating. There are wondrous moments of cool breezes. Imagine August being cooler than July?! Unheard of.

We kick off our fall line up on Sunday, September 26 at 3PM with Thomas Sayers Ellis, who has a beautiful new book called Skin, Inc. that has been published by Graywolf Press, our co-sponsor for this salon.

Ellis is calling these his Identity Repair Poems, and he’s really stretching and straining the very seams of language in his reach for freshness.

Ellis is a poet as well as the founder of the Darkroom Collective, a group of writers that included Carl Phillips, Major Jackson, Bethany White, Natasha Trethewey, Kevin Young,Tracy K. Smith, and others, According to an article by Cornelius Eady written for The New Yorker magazine, the writers of this collective could “well turn out to be as important to American letters as the Harlem Renaissance.”

Now this is just the kind of activism we need in the arts community to provide a platform for all that talent amongst us.

Can’t wait to hear Thomas read his work, talk about experimenting with language, the politics of publishing, etc. as well as get your take on it! Of course, we’ll give you a delicious home-cooked meal, some good wine and a signed hardcover edition of Skin, Inc.

WHERE, pray tell, can you find a better bargain for $30?! Bring a friend and get a 15% discount on the admission. Don’t forget to RSVP on our webpage or by emailing harlemartssalon@yahoo.com. You may also call 212 749 7771 to respond. Seating is limited.

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A Life’s Time

You know time’s a witch. She flies and flies and never apologizes for her speed. She’s like a mad driver on booze or whatever. So sometimes it takes a minute to recognize that our time vs her time isn’t within our control, and before you know it you’re looking back and thinking, “Jeez I wish I hadda …. ” and poof! It’s over!

Looking back if you can say, ‘Well I did this and that happened as a result, and I did this and that, and this happened as a result,’ and those results made a positive difference in the lives of others, then I think it’s okay to pat yourself on the back.

Quincy Troupe has been awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Before Columbus Foundation. Well, all of you who know Quincy know how incredibly instrumental he’s been in providing a platform for poetry, for literature, for emerging and established writers, and especially for writers of color, for his groundbreaking work as an editor of anthologies, magazines, and literary journal. The number of writers whose careers he has been instrumental in developing is staggering. His dedication, generosity and tireless work in the arts are unparalleled. As his wife and biggest fan, I know how much of his heart and soul have been devoted to this work. I’m very proud that this work has be recognized by his peers. Let me be among the first to send out a big cheer for Quincy and say, “JOB WELL DONE.”

I’m quite thrilled to accompany him to San Francisco in September to sit in the audience and cheer LOUDLY when he takes the podium and gets his plaque on September 19th.

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Looking out the back door in Goyave

Night view from the verandah in Goyave


On the eve of my departure from Guadeloupe, I was able to capture our night view of the the sea, as it is illuminated by a full moon.  This chance to take in nature is rare for us who spend so much time in urban cities we love. Coming to Goyave to sit on the porch at night and see what the moon does on the ocean, how the clouds entice the imaginations, and how many stars really do blanket the sky at night is a privileged reprieve from the wintry northeast.

I had a glorious last day in Gwada, because Rovélas was so gracious about letting me come back to take pictures of his studio. I got some terrific shots, both of his artworks and the ambiance of his studio space, in preparation of an interview I was preparing to do for Black Renaissance Noire journal published by NYU’s Institute for Africana Studies, and edited by Quincy.

Quincy, Rovélas, and photographer Mark

Magnificient is the light there both inside and outside on his studio’s terrace with acacia trees, purple and red bougainvillea, red Chinese trellises, shaded clay tiled terrace, green forged iron gated entries, open kitchen/bar patio.

And his taste, the inside space of his atelier is flooded with light and furnished with pieces of this and that collected from who knows where. Several of his paintings hang on a bright yellow-green wall. Chinese bronze figurines are are placed here and there. A bookcase lines one wall and is stocked with an eclectic mix of poetry, art catalogues, novels, encyclopedias.

Inside Rovélas's office

Other shelves in his office hold a self-portrait in water color, pictures of his Chinese ancestors, a photo of a younger him with his daughter, his 98 year old father, who he says is still “going strong!” Two high powered digital cameras rest beside his PC. We enjoyed some deep belly-laughs, a philosophical discussion of the state of the arts in Guadeloupe, drank too many ti-punches, and eventually, ate a succulent lunch of boudin (blood sausage), curried (colombo) beef, rice, and flan.

We stayed much too long, but it was so pleasant and delicious that we could hardly leave. We left finally, promising to return later in the evening to take him to the after-party for the FEMI festival for cinema at the beautiful mountainside home of designer Fabienne Chomaud, and husband, Jean-Marie Chomaud, an incredible architect who converted a decrepit old shack on stilts into the most gorgeous retreat in Canapé Verte, a commune at the foothills of the rain forest in Basse-Terre.

Chez Fabienne & Jean-Marie Chomaud

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Post from Guadeloupe Jan 2010

From the verandah

January in Guadeloupe is one of the best times to visit this lush garden of tropical sun, azure sea, and verdant mountains. The weather is spectacular, not too hot, yet in the 80’s during the day & extremely balmy & mild at night. On this visit, in the countryside it was downright chilly! It’s also carnival time and there’s an abundance of music and street parades in every neighborhood and community.

Most people I meet, when they hear Guadeloupe, think I’m talking about that island in the Pacific Ocean, off the coast of Ensenada, in Mexico. In fact, our Guadeloupe is the butterfly-shaped pearl in the Caribbean Sea. Among its many distinctions is that it’s one of the few remaining colonized countries in the North American hemisphere, having been designated a department of France since 1947. However, its oft-times contentious relationship with France dates back to the 16th century.

Guadeloupe from the verandah

View from Goyave

But Quincy and I’ve been coming to Guadeloupe since 1985, seduced as we were by its hot and spicy Afro-French creoleness, adding that extra layer of privacy afforded by being in a place where one can barely speak the language. Guadeloupe, or Gwada as the locals call it, has the best of both African and French cultures with a heavy dose of intriguing native Indian and East Indian flavorings.

Spicy Kabobs chez Jean-Marie & Fabienne

The cuisine here, influenced by Arawak, Caraïbe, African, Indian, and French culinary traditions, is typical Caribbean food: fish, rice and peas, goat & vegetable stews sizzling with Scotch Bonnet pepper, lime, curry,  thickened with okra (gumbo) and bright orange pumpkins. Banana, mango, and papaya trees laden with succulent fruit produce the sweetest breakfasts you can imagine. Even the honey here, of which I’ve become a major fan, is something special!

From my garden in Goyave

What makes traveling so enjoyable for me is meeting the local people who tend to be the “creative” types: artists, writers, musicians, chefs, designers, architects, of which Gwada has a plethora! Guadeloupeans are a handsome people. I remember being struck by the regal bearing of the men and women the first time I came here; how softly they spoke, how polite they seemed, how utterly generous and welcoming.

There are many fine restaurants, great beaches, shopping, dramatic nature trails, sailing, you name it, you can find it here. But unlike a lot of Caribbean island, Gwada maintains a certain appealing rawness. It has not been over-built with touristy hotels. It’s still possible to find quaint towns and villages, to shop in sleek malls or in street markets, roadside stands and the like.

Michel Rovelas

Lunch with Rovélas at Caveau Castelbon

On this last trip, I fell in love with the work of Michel Rovélas, one of Guadeloupe’s most accomplished visual artists. Not until I visited his studio on this last visit did I realize just how fine a craftsman he is. I expect to bring him and a show of his work to New York later this year or in 2011, so you can see what I’m talking about.

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