Sunday, September 23, 2007

Deviled Morsels

I am always captivated by Love is the Devil, a most excellent film about the painter Francis Bacon. which I watched on DVD three times in the background while I was doing other stuff today. It has food content in that there are oyster slurping scenes set in a seafood restaurant: Bacon was a nightly regular at the now closed Wheeler's of St. James, traditionally a rich man's haunt. In print, I just finished The Devil's Picnic by Taras Grescoe, a wonderful journey exploring taboo food, drink and plant life. And I'm on to a new book, by Michael Pollan, The Omnivore's Delight, which is well written and interesting but far less engaging than Picnic mainly because Grescoe's prose is illuminatingly precise and economical but personally engaging unlike Pollen's fan dancish style, though it is full of fascinating facts, and, reader friendly. I look forward to Grescoe's new book on seafood. Picnic and Love are different media and it it amuses me to join the two in this entry as the word Devil figures in both titles. They both speak to life on the edge and are about dark and disturbing things.

Yesterday my mother told me she was going to make 200 deviled eggs for a wedding. At her age she should not be making eggs deviled , or sainted for that matter, but for her own family. And especially not the deviled ones since she is a devout Christian.

Monday, September 3, 2007

The Eternal Sunset

Yes, it is another national holiday and my desktop is packed full of open Adobe CS3 applications as usual. So I labor through Labor Day. I am thankful for the work and the fact that the power has kept up today. The air conditioner is cranking as we suffer yet another freak heatwave with temperatures of 100°f and climbing. In my own block we have had two four-hour power outages in a two day period. As a result I enjoyed an impromptu stoop party with the neighbors and discovered that Roni and Nina shared a fascination with me for things cuilinary. It was a pleasant, spontaneous, event and took the strain out of the situation. A strange silence pervades the air in these blackouts, one might be in Montana. I was still able to cook, but I'll get to that as you read on.

Such is life in The City of Los Angeles, a behemoth beset by small town logistics and blinkered, questionable, politics, growing way too fast for its feeble infrastructure. I first came to Los Angeles in 1976 and it was a very different place. With smog that you could cut with a knife, despite a quarter of the population we have now, it was then considered a provincial, albeit vast backwater where hedonists ruled. Large patches of open space still existed down the coast and even more so inland, all gobbled up now in the insane and continuous lebensraum. Film, Television and the Music Industry ruled the roost. No place stayed open after 10pm on The Sunset Strip apart from Ben Frank's Coffee Shop (Mel's took over the location and revamped the building) and Canter's on Fairfax in the general neighborhood. There wasn't much "culture". All that changed in the early 80s when some things were lost and some things gained, mainly tons of people who came for newly implanted industries especially the expansion of the military aerospace industry, and the resultant stress on the resources came with it. They brought their love of preservation to a town that chewed up and spat out after each bite. Live in The Now and Fix it Tomorrow Because it Might Never Come. Los Angeles is what it is, and it will be something else tomorrow. I love it for that vitality if nothing else, but it is Promethian in the worst sense.

My first taste of the southwest came with a trip to Phoenix, Arizona in 1976 with my family on one of their Grand Tours. My parents' connections in the west were limited, though they took their honeymoon here years before. They visited Paramount Studios as a guest of one of its executives and met Cecil B. DeMille, riding crop and all, on the set of The Ten Commandments. They also met Hitchcock, Stewart and gang on the remarkable set of Rear Window. Our trip in '76 was extensive, beginning in Phoenix and ending in Seattle, with the LA area, Grand Canyon, Portland and The Cascades all thrown in along the way. One of my most vivid impressions of being Someplace West came within two days of landing in the dry 100 degree heat of Arizona. It was also a shock: in the parking lot of Smitty's, in Scottsdale, a now defunct general goods chain, I locked eyes with a man who walked by me with his young daughter wearing a holstered revolver strapped to his waist cowboy style. The law in Arizona, a hangover from the olden days, made a lot of sense to gun lovers - you could not carry a concealed weapon, it had to be in plain sight, so that anyone had a chance if a fracas developed near or around you. The Southwest has gentrified itself over the last 30 years, but that is but a thin veneer over the ruff tuff frontier underbelly. Its best to remember that this is still boom or bust territory, and that includes Los Angeles.

If you picked up a copy of Sunset Magazine in those days, which seemed to be a ubiquitous coffee table staple, you might have thought that the west had been civilized with the goldrush. Gracious haciendas and majestic getaways, from Wyoming to Maui enhanced its pages and helped to maintain the staid fifties flavor the magazine still possessed in the seventies. Sunset- Living in The West is its full title, and it has stayed true to its purpose. If any magazine is successful its partly because it offers up instant pleasures. If one can't afford a holiday to Bora Bora one picks up a copy of Condé Nast Traveller and one is immediately transported in one's own head to distant exotic shores. Lackluster social life? Town and Country will give you a glimpse of your future with the glitterati. Lousy Cook? Gourmet will give you a taste of what super food is like. Jennifer Aniston not currently your friend? Get People magazine and it will give you tips on how to be her friend when you eventually do meet her. All this for a few dollars and a savings of thousands. Life by proxy.

Sunset is a special magazine that truly reflects middle class western life and it has kept up with the times. It has retained all those cozy traits of gracious living but these days it also offers up articles on some of the darker and more difficult things about living out here, such as the besieged ecology. In keeping with the dignified but never stuffy tone each article builds hope in every sentence. Sunset has become very sophisticated, by any European standard, and even more of a pleasure to browse as the west matures like a rebellious adolescent, around us. I have taken a subscription to it once again and eagerly await its monthly arrival.

Amongst the getaways and ideas for better living are the food pages which always offer a handful of nice recipes. This month's edition shows off varieties of the pears available out here with correspondingly luscious, sensual recipes to show them off. But it is the article on New Mexico chiles that caught my eye in amongst the How to Make a Pathway and How to Make a Fountain articles. I am not a connoisseur of chiles, mainly because I don't like too much pepper heat in my dishes, whether they be Indian, Thai or Mexican, but the article assured me that Anaheim chiles were mild provided you de-seeded them properly, and the recipe for Green Chile Enchiladas seemed just too mouthwatering to keep pagebound. It would not be fair to copy out the recipe here but follow the links and all is revealed. I went to market and bought 2 pounds of fresh Anaheim Chiles which I roasted on the open gas flame (this recipe calls for skin on chiles) and roasted a chicken and used its stock in the sauce. My only additions were a finely chopped carmelized onion and a little cilantro to fleck more green and flavor into the sauce. The results were fabulous and mildly peppery and I will make it again. Comfort food to be sure. Thank you, you people at Sunset Magazine, and may you comfort me on into my sunset years.

(While writing this entry we suffered a 12 hour power failure last night and really suffered for it all round).