Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Dancing Hard at the Edge of the World

When an experience exceeds expectations, the only thing you can do is be in awe that you are bearing witness to it and somehow absorb what is happening to you. Because at that moment, you have never ever dreamed you would be in that place doing what you're doing at that time. A place where the intersection of bizarre and sublime reach something new in grandeur, glamour, darkness and depth.

This is Chuck Palahniuk and Carlos Fuentes meeting at Burning Man and dropping acid in a kind of crossroads that only California, the land of borders, earthquakes and burning, can produce. It's the Gogol Bordello concert in Los Angeles.

Little Fi and I drove into downtown and settled into the normal club scene at a refurbished grand and ornate art deco movie palace turned salsa club called The Mayan. The show being at the Mayan had a particularly disorienting effect - surrounded by symbols of the beginning and end of time - see above photo - according to the ancient Maya, waiting to see this engaging and fabulously energetic world gypsy punk band born in the Ukraine. Not only that, but the band's leader, Eugene Hutz is an immigrant whose family were refugees from the Chernobyl accident, and who struggled to survive in refugee camps across Eastern Europe before finally settling in New York.

All of this in goddammed LA, the land of economic and ethnic crossroads, one of the factory cities of American culture, in an America once again troubling over its own immigrant populace. We were immersed in a multi-culti artistic and social barrage from every corner of the globe.

The wait, by the way, was hard enough. The warm-up band from New York provided an hour's worth of audio which had the musicality of flight in a low-pressure cabin of a twin engine puddle-jumper from Chicago to Traverse City, Michigan. You were glad it was only an hour. But then Hutz came and the room took off like a circus gone berzerk. Bug boys in goatees and t-shirts smashing into one another and everyone else. I was fortunate enough that Little Fi and a group of young couples took me and my weak knees under their wing, as we stood together as a rear battalion determined to not get knocked down by wild young punks on dope.

When Hutz started playing with the audience leading up to "Start Wearing Purple", we were all ready to go vertical. Fi had a hold on me and we bobbed upwards for the length of the song. Some young man continued to be bounced from the audience as he floated above us, the crowd dying to pitch him onstage where the two Chinese drum and cymbal players flanked Hutz on both sides. When he played, GB's Ukrainian violinist caused a swoon-like crush across the multigenerational spectrum of females (and some males) in the audience.

This was more than a punk event, there was enough range of folks from ethnicity to years there to deem it a high cultural event, a site specific retablo of a living cultural collage that is musical, visual and global. All of us immigrants in a grand dance palace that is a mecca for the entrenched immigrant population of Latinos that make up the majority of immigrants in Los Angeles and yet were part of this land long before the concept of California was even born. Hutz and his band members--all representing the major continents, were here before us under the ancient Central American symbol for the Wheel of Time, marking the Creative and the Destructive cycles that are part of the Universe.

Little Fi and I are dancing as hard as we can, looking out for each other in this crush of madness while the music plays and the hills surrounding us continue to burn. We are the daughter and granddaughter of immigrants ourselves. Our hearts lurch on, exhilarated and sad, like the feeling you get when you hear gypsy violins play a bittersweet song that grows faster and faster and faster. Even as your heart hurts and its getting harder to breathe, you must continue to dance.

We are indeed at the very edge of the world.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Family Time in the Land of the Inferno

Starting tomorrow, Alchemical Bites will be making a special pilgrimage from the land of Auntie Fi to the land of Little Fi. I will be visiting LF at her campus home in Southern California, making good on a promise made earlier this summer for us to go to the Concert of the Century at the Mayan Theater in LA.

It is with every last irony in the world that my visit coincides with one of the most devastating wildfires in the history of the state. Is there something Biblical about this calamity? We have yet to see.

All I know is that AF and LF will be doing some live blogging while we're together, and hopefully chronicle history--cultural, natural and everything else that crosses our path. Los Angeles - How could you be on fire and half-asleep?

I've got my face mask ready. Here I come.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Ruthie's Dilemma

For the last two years, the two of us have shared an office. I am contracts administration. Ruth is financial analysis. Understand me, from the first moment Ruth realized I knew and understood the word kvell, she and I have grown tight as family in this little home of an office we know as work. For all intents and purposes, she is my work spouse.

Ask Ruth about actuals, analysis, cost centers, and she will provide bottom lines. Ask to compare actual billings to contract and she will tell you exactly where your contract went south. Five minutes, tops. She can prepare a monthly report on hundreds of millions of dollars and she won't break a sweat. The girl's a goddamned genius when it comes to capital accounting and all the bells and monetary whistles it takes to keep the captains of industry swimming in cash flow without fear of overdraft. I am in constant, daily, unmitigated AWE of her.

But when it comes to 12:30 and I ask "where do you want to go for lunch?" we have this.

There's nothing wrong with not knowing what one wants for lunch. For me, its usually what's available within short distance, price-competitive, delicious, and incapable of putting me to sleep at the desk. That decision criteria brings up a cavalcade of options. But I just can't figure why Ruth, a woman who I would trust with billions in public funds to account for EVERY SINGLE PENNY, who can organize, cater and arrange decorations for a mega Harry Potter birthday party for her kid while flipping through payment logs on 563 contracts like thumbing through the yellow pages, a woman, in others words who is in such total command of herself---WOULD GO INTO A PSYCHOLOGICAL TAILSPIN IT WHEN IT COMES TO DECIDING WHAT'S FOR LUNCH?.

"F.--what am I going to do about lunch?" she would ask in a tone that sounds like she's got all her good clothes at the dry cleaners and has nothing to wear for the prom. There's even a slight whimper. Given Ruth's totality of life competence, I am perplexed.

Ruthie, my love, what is the dilemma?

I write to you now with love and deep concern, as an intervention of sorts to re-boot you past your decision insecurity. I reach out to you, knowing that together we can find the root cause of this lunch anxiety and with my support, go back out into the World of lunch and make clear, concise and satisfying decisions without fear of repercussion.

You can do it, Ruth. I KNOW you can.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Meats of the Veggie World

I’d like to wish myself a happy one year anniversary from when I first identified as a vegetarian. It has been an interesting and frustrating journey—especially in a meat-loving family. Although I am thinking about a return to meat (what pleasant symmetry), I will not reject the lessons I have learned as a vegetarian cook.

While struggling to create satisfying dishes that my meat-eating family could share and enjoy with me, I was reminded of important lessons that apply not only to cooking vegetarian foods, but for preparing any satisfying dish.

Through my many flops and successes as a vegetarian cook (and thanks to the critiques of my family), I have come to realize that meat isn’t really the issue. Of course meat is meat, and no one is going to be fooled by tofurkey—but it is possible to satisfy a meat-loving person in different ways, by keeping a few key factors in mind. I realized that what my dishes lacked (besides meat) was a comparable richness, texture and aroma, and that without protein, my dishes weren’t necessarily filling or satisfying enough. I hadn’t mastered bringing out these key components from vegetables—I hadn’t discovered the meats of the veggie world.

The “meats” of the veggie world are veggies or veggie dishes that provide those key things that meat-lovers crave: texture, savory taste and aroma, and filling protein. For texture, taste and aroma, my new favorites are mushrooms, especially shitake or portabella. My favorite (and simplest) mushroom “dish” is the portabella “patty.” They work just like burger patties: after a quick marinade, I throw whole portabellas on the grill and they make amazing, juicy “burgers.”
When replacing meat with veggies it’s also important to add protein. So, when I add mushrooms for texture I also usually add nuts (cashews are my favorite), tofu, or egg, and (when I can) I substitute ingredients for whole grain alternatives. These filling ingredients don’t usually have strong, overpowering flavors, and therefore can be easily incorporated.

Whether I remain a vegetarian cook or not, this year of meatless cooking has been important in reminding me of what we love about food. It’s not about the meat; it’s about being satisfied by the whole meal.

My Quick and Easy Marinade
Great for those portabella patties, or any other grilled veggies

1 Tbsp. honey
1 Tbsp. mustard
¼ c. balsamic vinegar
¼ c. olive oil
Salt and pepper

These proportions can be adjusted by taste. Keep in mind that on the grill the vinegar will become sweeter. When marinating mushrooms, it isn’t necessary to soak them too long—they are like sponges and will take up the flavor in no more than 5-10 minutes.