Got a little lazy towards the end of that last post. It was a catharsis indeed, and a day removed, still feel the after glow of a stupendously tranquil drive through my country. After re-reading, I think I glossed over an important bit of info for those of us Yankees not versed in the culture of the eastern seaboard South along Rt 95; ie: BBQ. My experience is Texas, Mississippi, and St. Louis (not to mention various amateur forays). Carolina BBQ is something new to me. I fucking love smoked meat, BBQ sauce, anything cooked slow and low in carcinogens. Carolina BBQ is different, and also awesome.
My knowledge of Carolina BBQ is nil, but I can detect of couple things from my new experiences. Honestly I don’t know how it’s cooked, and as I drove along I95 North I was scanning the horizon for plumes of smoke, like smoke signals alerting me to some mom and pop meat burn house. I never saws those plumes, and the taste of the BBQ in North Carolina doesn’t have much of the tell tale, campfire taste of my previous BBQ plates. The difference is the TANG! That shit is tangy as fuck. Hush puppies are another difference, where instead of white bread for moppin’ you get fried corn gut bombs to regulate and figure it all out in your extended stomach. Another delicious oddity to me was Brunswick Stew. Seems to be an ever present side, consisting of left over pulled pork bits, corn, whatever else in a tomato sauce. I could eat of bowl of it, but it usually came in bite size containers.
I left Lumberton, and passed up an opportunity to have breakfast at Fullers. It seemed a reputable spot, but after my dicey night in the town (see previous) I was ready to get the fuck out of Dodge. As the exits ticked by showing signs for Mcdonalds, Subway and Taco Bell, I was getting nervous. I scanned for the aforementioned plumes of mesquite, but feared I was passing my opportunity for one last Carolina BBQ gorge-fest. Thanks be to Jah, at exit 173 N on Rt 95 there is an impressive joint called Ralphs.
The set up is legit. There is a sizable dining area for the frighteningly fecund buffet, but also a little counter to the left for take out. I was obviously a new comer as I took wrong turns to get inside, and tried to order from the take away line, but the cliche southern hospitality endured. It was all “Whatcha havin’ suga”, as southern accented conversation floated around me. Another sensory observation was the hint of vinegar in the air. I froze and ordered the first thing on the sizable menu, asking for a “BBQ plate”.
I was awarded a large white paper bag with the usual three part stryo foam clamshell inside. After walking out into the warm southern sun I plopped the package on my hood, and had an amazing lunch outside my car. While Irie ran around and did what she does in the spring grass, I soon abandoned the provided spork and started shoveling finger fulls of pulled pork into my face. The meat was again tangy, and had a just a hint of spice. The ubiquitous slaw was diced up in a blender or something which I’d never seen, but still the cool/crisp Bonny to the tangy pork’s Clyde. There was also hush puppies (and fries goddamnit!) as well as their version of Brunswick stew, and it was a tough decision to turn over the engine and keep driving instead of taking a nap after annihilating the entire meal. I may have fucked up on this, but no sauces to be had. On my drive down to Miami I got BBQ in South Carolina and it came with a mustard based sauce, again adhering to the tangy as opposed to smoky version of BBQ in these parts, but up here at Ralphs the meat did the talking. Can’t wait to be back.
As per usual in this line of work, after a period of relative stability the time on location crescendos in to and is punctuated by a raucous wrap party. And…poof. Free fall. You wake up the next day, bleary eyed, and its as if the previous few months had all been a dream. People are gone or going, local haunts devoid of familiar faces. Suddenly a stranger in a strange land. ”Free fall” might be a bad choice of words, having a generally bad connotation, but in my opinion thats not the case. I don’t like heights, not into sky diving, and certainly don’t have any interest in bungee diving off a bridge, but waking up after a bender with no clues leading to the next step is certainly a position I know and relish. I have a love/hate relationship with the moment when you have to drag yourself out of bed, run a comb across your hair and tell your dog, “Whelp, I guess we’re throwing our shit in a bag, and getting the fuck out of here”. The Reality (pun intended) is after weeks of deliciously exciting and intense weeks of work/play the bottom drops out, and one is left in the primordial period of worrying, plotting, wondering. Inevitably the Real Pawn Stars of Memphis comes a-calling and its back to the Circus, and you’re guiltily happy to avoid real life for a couple months more.
As I’m apt to do, yesterday I packed up the Element and hit the road. Brain still slightly askew post wrap party I dully mulled over my Miami experience as I cruised away from the quasi-latino-metropolis-by-the-sea. I felt (and feel) like I dropped the ball in my explorations of the destination. Bad weather, and work stopped me from doing all the shit I really wanted to do. Two terrible excuses. Or maybe what I was looking for wasn’t there, a la Vegas. Oh well c’est la vie. To live and to learn. After a few hours of introspective cruising with borchata bumping from a Fort Lauderdale station, I snapped to and realized the sprawl that had blanketed the 95 North had dropped away to an alley of pure palms and beach pines. This made me feel better. Miami was behind me, for better or worse, and I was in the long Florida wilds. Land of Ponce de Leon, pirates, adventures long past (at least in my brain). My poignant last connection with Miami was a concrete moment. Just before Jacksonville loomed out of the mangroves my borchata station quickly faded into fuzz. A spin of the dial only found a few country stations and some Jesus radio. I smiled to myself, knowing I had left the tangible boundary of southern Florida into The South. This made me happier. The trip was afoot.
I stopped in Lumberton North Carolina after a sublime, and sun-kissed cruise along the northbound artery. I’ve stayed in probably hundreds of random places in small trucker “towns” over the past decade or so, but had an eye opener last night. My ritual is to unload the valuables, grab a beer, and let my infinitely patient dog run around in what ever grassy bog we find our self in. I was catching up on what ever stupid social media needs were pressing as Irie did what ever the hell a road dog does in the presence of a myriad of new smells. A dude came up to me asking for gas money. His racket was that his scooter was dead. I brushed him off, in the sort of guilty way we all do when a homeless person accosts us, saying I had no change. Maybe it was the fact that I was checking my Instagram feed on my IPhone as I dismissed him (like an idiot), but this crack head wasn’t having it. In retrospect if this same situation had happened on some street corner in New York, I would’ve mocked the frail Meth/Crack/BathSalts addict, and easily handled whatever advance he slung my way if it came to it. He feigned having a weapon under his shirt. To be honest in this situation, as he pointed his fake weapon under his stained shirt, and told me he wanted every thing I had, I got spooked. This dude was cracked out and probably had a bottle of Crazy Horse under his shirt, but (stupidly) at the time I had more fear of Zombies, Bath Salts or Deliverance given my current GPS location. Ready to kill or be killed (for the love of god no Gimp please) I squared up, but before I could make a move my Damsel rescued her “Damsel” in distress (Me). Irie came out of nowhere in the darkness, and snarling like I’ve never heard, lunged at the crackhead. I don’t know for sure if she cracked skin (I hope not for her blood safety), but she made such an impressive display of bravado that the crackhead ran for the hills and the two of us we left the ponder what had happened. Umm Lumberton, nice place to visit but…don’t.
The next day I was feeling pretty damn good. Last night’s encounter had me thinking, “Fuck the world. Down with dope up with hope”. I spun the dial driving North Bound through North Carolina and locked into some Fort Bragg Army-Rock-O-La-Station. Can’t lie, cruising for a few hundred miles to Motley Crü and Guns & Roses was pretty dope As I watched Chinooks and B-52s land over the highway I could related to these wayward youth’s zeitgeists.
Whatever. Ate BBQ at exit 173 in NC, and plowed thru the concrete tangle that is the North East Corridor. Made it to NYC ripe with ideas and stupid like Kerouac. We shall see how far that gets me.
It had been a long winter. Hurricane Sandy, stolen identity, couple drives across the country, the frozen tundra of New York City in January. The Pirate Reality TV trade has brought me to Miami, and I find myself surprisingly disappointed.
I was very excited to come here. The obvious upgrade weather-wise from NYC was a plus, but I after recent trips to the Caribbean, Colombia, PR and DR, I figured I could see some minutia in Miami that I hadn’t noticed before. In a different life (about a decade ago…jesus) I used to fly in one week a year for the Winter Music Conference. Beside the ravers gone wild paradise, I really remember enjoying Miami’s (South Beach’s) vibe. I came in with high hopes.
I have to admit, so far, I’m not feeling it. I’m afraid I have the same frustration as I did in Vegas. Miami is pretty much literally the center of the world. North and South Americans, Wast Indies, Europe all converge here, and I figure that would create a cool mix of culture. Not catching that. SoBe is still SoBe, and I can appreciate it. If I want to pretend I’m on vacation for a day I’ll go there, but haven’t found that cultural mezcla I was looking for. I like the fact that people greet you in spanish before english most of the time, I’m hooked to coladas, and there are a bunch of idiosyncrasies I’m digging, but I haven’t found my groove.
Soon after I got here I heard about a ferry to the Bahamas from Miami. I didn’t even know that was possible, but put it high on my to-do list. I pictured a people watching gem, with a casino and bar. Basically assumed it would be like my ferry from Santo Domingo to San Juan. Determined, I went solo. Again, hard to say how I felt about it. All told the day took 18 hours, and I was only on the ground in the Bahamas for 3 of them. The ferry wasn’t anything like the one from Santo Domingo, but for fucks sake how could I really expect any ferry to be as dope as that voyage. They drop you off at a shitty tourist trap market called Port Lucayan, but after I trekked past the hair braider ladies, Senor Frogs, and gauntlet of resorts, I eventually found the beach. This made the whole trip worth it. 2 hours on talcum powder sand, with the sapphire ocean lapping and fluffy clouds gliding by on the trade winds. That was the moment. I found a beach shack, grabbed a rum punch, posted up in a quiet spot and it was good. Back in the market I drank some Sands beer, ate cracked conch, and listened to sunburned tourists talk loudly. Content. It took another 7 hours to get shuttled, processed, ferried, processed, shuttled again, then walk back home which put a bit of a damper on my vibe, but it felt pretty good to have sand in my shoes. All in all, don’t know if I’d do it again, but glad I did it.
So we’ll see. I’ll continue to try to find what I’m looking for in Miami. I know its here, I just have to look a little harder. Go to different hoods. My fear is that Miami is like Vegas, a “city” built on vice that has pushed the culture that built it far to the outskirts. By far my favorite thing about Miami is the incredible sunrises and sunsets.
More to come.
I’ve been making quick shrimp and grits this past week, trying to get my Southern on. It’s been my mushy, tasty go-to, but when making dinner for a friend the other night I was trying to think of a way to change it up. Make it less mushy-good and more fancy-good. Grits are hominy, ground corn treated with an acid. Hominy is in pozole and it’s a courser version of masa harina. In the mediterranean, “hominy” is polenta. Ground corn makes an appearance in a lot of good food traditions. I guess that’s where I got to thinking about this little freestyle.
1/4 cup (per person)- dry grits (I used the quick, cheap stuff)
1 cup water
Throw everything in a pot and bring to a boil. Stir a lot and keep adding water until it becomes a nice goop. Stirring keeps it an even goopy-ness, it should be about lava consistence (weird analogy I know, but its all I can think of). Oil a plate per serving and sprinkle the plate with pepper, salt and cajun seasoning. Smear a golf ball worth of grits onto each plate, and work into a disc shape. Oil the top and sprinkle the same seasonings on that bitch. Throw in the refrigerator. Pre-heat oven to 480-500.
I woke up groggy. Went downstairs of our row-home at 3629 Hamilton. Probably turned on FoodTV or something around 9:30-9:45. One of my room mates was already in class and called me proclaiming “the sky was falling”. He wasn’t making sense, but said his building was evacuated and to turn on CNN. I clicked over, and saw the terrible news. My heart skips just re-living this.
It was all going on before my eyes. I didn’t know what to do. I called my friend and cousin who lived in New York, but the new cell phone technology was jammed. I called my parents, but still couldn’t get through. I watched the carnage on the couch with Irie (my dog) obliviously curled up on my lap.
I eventually broke my stupor and went upstairs to my sleeping girlfriend at the time. We watched the news coverage of New York, DC and Pennsylvania in tears, holding each other and trying to compute what the fuck was happening. I’m sure it was the same in every town, city and metropolis in the USA, but we heard Philadelphia was next. I remember being in bed with the dog and girlfriend just waiting for the blast of armageddon shattering our window. Our last flash of life blown out by a dirty bomb or kamikaze airplane. By noon or so, there was a live broadcast of the senate, looking shellshocked, and I remember more tears and a feeling of abject hopelessness.
Myself shellshocked, I walked down the block to the bodega and got us some egg sandwiches, and I’ll never be able to shake the death silence of the block and sullen atmosphere in the bodega. Hours after the attack, there was a sense in my West Philly neighborhood that life must go on, but in a incredibly heavy way no one knew what was happening or what would happen next.
In the days and weeks to follow we were glued to CNN, and they told us to duct tape our windows, store water and canned goods, the growing body count. The beginning of the era of Fear.
These times were filled with fear and uncertainty, which I think have shaped the past decade plus. Everyone alive in the United States has a story that is similar at best, and tragic at worst. I’ve been in New York for the past handful of 9/11s and there is a proper sense of reverence. Especially with the memorial lights hauntingly rising into infinity above the night sky. I’m in Atlanta this year and don’t feel that. It’s just another day. I’ll be sad today, and I hope the rest of the US takes a second to think about that shitty fucking day, and feel for the heros, victims, family members that were in a historically wrong place at a historically fucked up morning.
Mmmm boiled peanuts. Special treat down south. Picked up a bag the other day, and decided to experiment with them today. The recipe needs tweaks, but came out pretty good. Cumin, roasted garlic or parsley might add the hummus, but for this try I wanted to preserve the boiled peanut taste (and forgot to buy any of those things…)
If you can’t go to your local roadside stand, to get boiled peanuts you just boil a bag (still in the shell) with a 1/4 cup of kosher salt 2-3 hours.
-spoonful of tahini
-1 lemon (reserve a pinch of lemon zest)
Shell all the boiled peanuts (this is the biggest pain in the ass of the process). In a bowl, add all the dry ingredients (including lemon zest), don’t use too much cajun seasoning because the nuts are already salty. Dollop in tahini, a bit of oil and half the lemon juice and start smashing (or use the food processor if you’re a bitch). Add more oil and lemon juice as you go until you have the right texture/taste. Easy money.
I was kicking myself for having been in the fine state of Georgia for a couple weeks now, and hadn’t had a peach (or boiled peanuts, next week). At some point I came up with the thought that peaches could take the place of mangoes in any recipe and give it a distinct spin. Finally got to the grocery store today and improvised this first foray into peach mastery.
-1/2 red onion
-1/2 red habanero (all I had, do a whole if you bad)
-2 shots tequila (one for you and one for the recipe)
-salt & pepper
Its easy. Dice up peaches (less ripe ones are better for this and easier to cut safely). Dice up habanero. Dice up onion. Dump in bowl.
Chop cilantro and throw in. Sprinkle salt and pepper. Squeeze two limes and dump in the shot/take yours.
Stir that shit up real good, and refrigerate or serve. I assume, if it’s like most pico de gallo, it’s better after being in the fridge for a while. I might do a cooked one with the left over peaches. Same recipe I think, just simmered for a while.
I’ve been baking tofu forever, trying to replicate my mom’s perfect technique. As far as I could tell, you casually sprinkle some soy sauce on the tofu, and simply bake it at some vague temperature for an undetermined amount of time while playing a card game. The process eludes me because it happens while I’m distracted by the fact that I’m so happy to be home. For years my go-to staple has been baked tofu, but not once have I got it close to my mom’s finesse. I like spicy tofu burnt, dry or fried so I’ve happily consumed all my relative failures, always thinking “shit, if only I’d done it this way it would’ve been perfect”. Tonight I think I hit the texture jackpot.
1 pack tofu
drizzle olive oil
drizzle soy sauce
cover in cracked pepper, sea salt, cajun seasoning
Pre-heat oven to 420. Slice firm tofu into 3/4 inches and place on baking sheet. Drizzle with oil and soy sauce. Roll the slices around with your hand to cover. Douse with pepper, salt and cajun seasoning (roll around with your hand for an even coat). Throw in oven for for 5-10 minutes (until it smells good and you hear a sizzle). Lower temp to 350 and continue baking for about an hour. Air-cool for a while and either serve or refrigerate for a day or two. Should be tenderly chewy on the outside with a spicy kick, and airy throughout. Tastes like home with a kick. Next project: learn to boil the perfect egg…
It sucked dick to leave NYC. That’s my fam and have had my peeps with me on location for the better part of the last 3 years. I know a bunch of folks that I’ll be working with in Atlanta, but this feels like my first solo mission in a long time. At least Irie is with me. That said, this feels alright. I’m stoked to be in the South. Drifting southbound on the interstate tradewinds with the Shenandoahs and distended moon holding me down to my port and heat lightning/setting sun on my starboard was pretty damn pleasant. It’s a short drive (relatively), and by supper tomorrow I’ll be in my new “home” in ATL, but this trip reminds me of the important fact that the world is small. NYC>ATL in 14 hours. I’ve had shifts of work longer, but it’s enough to get me from one world to another. The North to The South. Looking forward to exploring Georgia.