Monday, March 21, 2011

Got My MoFo Workin'

I love Sacramento. I've always loved it. It's home. I've been lucky to travel around the country and around the world and I am always happy when I see our skyline (as it is) approaching by plane, train, or automobile after time away. Unlike many people I knew growing up, I never felt the need to leave and live away because this was a boring cowtown. I actually love Sacramento, because it is a boring cowtown...and I mean that in the most loving of ways. The problem with a lot of people is that they compare it to other places in California that it really ought not be compared to. We aren't and never will be San Francisco or Los Angeles. Our story is a different one. We have more in common with a city like Austin or Portland- cool medium size cities that have embraced their quirks and never looked back. Kind of like the hot, hipster girl in the librarian glasses with the cute sweater. She's not the idealized blonde bimbo that has been thrust upon us by the media as the measure of sexy (that would be L.A. by the way). Rather, she is the girl who, while not conventionally "hot" is way hotter because there's just something about know, those coy glances, that underlying confidence in and embrace of her uniqueness. You can actually have a conversation with her, because she has some brains, because her beauty is more than just skin deep...

(ok...enough with the analogy...I think we all get what I'm talking about)

Sacramento has grown a lot over the past 10 years. A lot of people have really stepped up and made an effort to really make this place a more culturally fulfilling place. In many ways, the city is coming into its own. This is because people are really embracing the idea of making this place a really cool medium sized city and embracing things that some of these cities have also embraced. One of these things embraced by cool cities like Portland and Austin are the concept of food trucks and food carts.

Now these aren't the dreaded "roach coaches" many envision when they think of mobile food operations. The trucks that schlep mediocre lunch fare from construction site to construction site. They are much more than that. In places like the aforementioned cities, these food carts have become places of culinary expression, where young chefs ply their trade as they follow their passions, often choosing to offer limited menus based on what they love to cook not big menus they have to cook.

These small businesses add to the food scene and the nightlife, often providing tiny islands of sobering-up-food in a sea of drunk; staying open and serving food way later than any restaurant would ever think least in Sacramento. These mini-culinary operations add to the cultural richness of a city.

Unfortunately, the powers that be in Sacramento have given this concept the cold shoulder. The City of Sacramento (not to be confused with the County of Sacramento, which has relatively permissive ordinances when it comes to mobile food vendors), has been slow to embrace this new form of food expression. Rather than take a stand and enable these innovative entrepreneurs to bring new food choices to our fair city, our city leaders have opted to have committee hearings about possible ordinances...which in political terms is a polite way to ignore a subject or put off any meaningful decision.

In an effort to jump start this too-slow process, the people over at Sacramento MoFo are doing their part to make Sacramento a cooler medium sized city. They are putting on a festival to showcase mobile food vendors and demonstrate to our city leaders and the public at large that we are really missing out on a cool thing.


If you happen to live in Sacramento, or be around Sacramento on Saturday, April 30, 2011, please be a part of this really cool happening.

Here are the details:
Date: Saturday, April 30, 2011
Place: Fremont Park (the city block made bounded by P & Q St. and 15th & 16th St. Downtown)
Time: Noon-6pm

Go visit their website:

and go "like" their Facebook page:

Support this worth undertaking and show your support for the food scene in Sacramento. I'll be there and hope to see you all there too!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Shameless Self Promotion...

When I was growing up, I remember reading Rolling Stone magazine, thinking how cool it would be to be a music writer or a music critic. Well, I became a musician instead, but never let go of the dream to be a published music critic. Well, thanks to Tim Foster, the editor at Midtown Monthly magazine, I can now say I am a published music writer.

Their March issue is the magazine's annual food issue. I was asked by Tim to write their Musical Chairs column, which is where a local musician is asked to write about five musical things that they would like the world to know about. Because I satisfy the food requirement as writer of this blog and the musician requirement, because, well...I'm a musician, it seemed I was a good fit to write this month's installment. I gladly accepted the assignment.

Here's the link to the article:

Midtown Monthly- March 2011 Musical Chairs

Go and check it out.

Don't forget to support Midtown Monthly and their advertisers. They are good people!

Again...thanks to Tim and the rest of the MidMo Crew!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Back to the Old Country

"I'm going back to the Old Country..."

I have always heard that phrase, or variation on it, uttered by generally older folks who emigrated, from whatever foreign land, to the United States. It wasn't until today that I realized sometimes the "Old Country" is just a few exits down the freeway, especially if you haven't been there for years and the place seems like a different world than the one you currently call home.

My companions for this trip to the "Old Country" were my friend and fellow food writer/blogger Sarah (known to the food blogging world as The Undercover Caterer...if you haven't visited her blog, go!) and her husband Guido, who is a great cook in his own right as well as a fellow lover of all things pork. It had been a while since we had all shared a meal together to blog about and we were way beyond overdue. I told Sarah that I'd wanted to go eat and write about Filipino food. She knew exactly where to go.

I grew up in South Sac; Valley Hi to be precise; off of Mack Rd & Center Parkway to be exact. To those who make the commute from The Grid (that would be Downtown to all you 'burb dwellers) to Elk Grove, the Mack Road exit off of Hwy. 99 may seem like a hot mess of mishmashed businesses randomly situated next to one other, and to a certain extent it is. It was weird to see what it had become since I hadn't taken the exit for at least 10 years. What was once, 25 years ago, wide open fields filled with potential is now a cluster of gas stations and strip malls on life support. As we took the off-ramp and headed west on Mack, I found myself reminiscing and pointing out to Sarah & Guido places that were there, but no longer there. I pointed out the strip mall behind Mr. Perry's where there used to be a Thrifty's, where I remember going with my grandparents for 25 cent ice cream cones. I remembered when the Food Source was once a gleaming new Jumbo supermarket, with a Longs Drugs next door (now empty) and a Round Table Pizza (still open) between.

Across from that strip mall was the "newer" strip mall, that used to house Lamppost Pizza- the pizza parlor that always had the coolest new arcade games, where every sports team had their end of season pizza party. That place now stands empty, though the Big 5 Sporting Goods store remains after all these years, as does the Denny's in the parking lot. At the other end of the mall stands the building formerly known as Target, which I also remember as being the brand, spanking new place to shop in South Sac until it was supplanted by Super Target just a couple of miles south. However, the reincarnation of business in that building may be more awesome than the original Target that once occupied it.

The building formerly known as Target

What was once a Target is now a way more cooler Seafood City grocery store. I had never heard of this chain before, but according to their website, it is "A unique lifestyle center for Filipinos / Asians in the United States" that was, "established over 20 years ago with the opening of its first store in San Diego in Southern California, Seafood City is recognized as the "home away from home" for Filipino / Asians in the United States." I had no idea that this chain existed. Now I wish I'd known about it sooner.

It was weird when I walked in, because I remember how it used to be laid out when it was a Target. They sure fixed up the place. The place is best described as a town center put under one roof. When you enter the main entrance hall, you are greeted by what is essentially a food court selling Filipino style fast food as well as a bakery.

Did you know ChowKing is an international fast food chain?

I don't got balot, but I do want...

This is a far cry from Safeway or Trader Joes. You will not see the following things at either of those two stores:

Yes...that is both durian ice cream and cheese ice cream!

I guess if the place is called Seafood City, you just have to have the fish out in the open...

Yes, you read that right: Pork Blood

mm...pork blood

Needless to say the place was pretty awesome for no other reason than its existence being a testament to the real diversity we are so lucky to have here in Sacramento. Growing up here you take that diversity for granted.

I picked up a few random items while Sarah and Guido tracked down ingredients for a lemon chutney that was to be made from friends' tree fresh lemons. Incidentally, I've seen the pics of this chutney and it looks delicious.

Having made our purchases we hit a couple of other Filipino businesses that had risen from the ashes of the once thriving strip mall of my Valley Hi youth. The first was a Starbread Bakery, a place that Sarah had visited before where she had tasted Señorita Bread, a light and buttery Filipino sweet bread coated with a dusting of sugar. We got a batch of warm bread that literally melted in our mouths.

(You'll have to visit the Undercover Caterer to see the offerings of Starbread)

Your neighborhood Filipino bakery

We next visited a Filipino butcher shop, TM Meat Market...

(again, please visit the Undercover Caterer for additional pics)

The second we walked in we were welcomed by the delicious scent of spicy marinades and the sight of fresh raw meats. The staff was friendly and eager to answer any questions about their cuts of meat.

Mexicans aren't the only ones who love tripe

Hello pig head

Cute figurines of yummy dead flesh

All of this food sufficiently adding to our already existing hunger, we set out for a meal at a real Filipino restaurant just one exit north off of Florin Road East; a place in the hood called South Villa.

South Villa- seriously in the hood...

Vacant store across the street

Sketchy apartments behind...

Sarah had been here before and knew the place could satisfy my two of my desires: the first being my desire to eat authentic Filipino fare and the second being my desire to devour pork.

The inside had a ramshackle charm about it. There was nothing at all fancy about the place. I always admire this quality about places in the hood that had clearly been in business for a while. It usually is a signal that the place is just about the food. Rather than gussy up the place with meaningless adornments, the decision was made by the proprietors to serve food that kept people from the neighborhood coming back for good food at a good price.

We settled on ordering a diverse selection from the menu. In all we chose four dishes:
-Chicharon Bulaklak
-Bouillabaisse Soup
-Lechon Kawali
-Kare Kare

The first dish to arrive was the Chicharon Bulaklak.

We were a bit scared to order this because of what it was- the lower intestines of a pig. Now being Mexican, my people are not strangers to the delicacies of the digestive tracts of farm animals. I love Menudo, the most wonderful soup in the world with its main ingredient being cow stomach. What Sarah. however, was quick to point out was that though this was part of the digestive system, we had ordered was more the lower intestine, or the "exit route" if you will. Neither Guido nor I were put off by this. One of the essential missions of food adventurists is to dare to tread where others dare not. If that meant nibbling on piggy poop chutes, then so be it.

The Bulaklak came with a vinegar sauce seasoned by a single slice of jalapeño. As you can see it was deeply deep fried. It was as you could guess, very crispy and also surprisingly airy. It tasted greasy and vaguely porky at the same time. Adventurous as we may have tried to be, I think we all had a hard time getting past the fact that it was the pig's posterior. This is not to say it wasn't tasty, but unfortunately the mental block was too much to overcome. I think this is one of those things that if you didn't tell me what it was I'd have sucked up the whole plate, unfortunately I had to ask what it was. I failed myself.

The Bouillabaisse Soup came out next.

This was the surprise hit of the meal. I don't think any of us were expecting to have a French staple at a Filipino restaurant, but sure enough, there it was on the menu listed under "Authentic Filipino Soup". It was delicious. The yellowy broth was thick; not quite chowder thick, but thicker than mere brothy. There was an underlying buttery creaminess to it that mixed perfectly with the fresh shrimp, squid, and humongous mussels. All that was missing was some warm, fresh sourdough bread to sop up every last bit of the soup. I think we all agreed we'd go back just for this soup.

Third up was the Lechon Kawali.

Sarah chose this dish knowing mine and Guido's love for all things pork. This was a simple dish of deep fried, crispy pork belly. This dish was great on a couple of different levels. I love pork and I love fried pork even more. On that basis alone, this dish delivered. What made this dish even better was the immediate sense memory that I got with the first bite. It immediately took me back to my youth when my dad would cook pork for the family. He would lightly batter it with peppery flour and deep fry it until the outsides were crispy and just on the edge of burnt while managing to keep the inside white and relatively moist. This dish tasted exactly like that pork my dad used to cook. All that was missing was the Mexican requisite of lime to squirt on top of. This dish made me very happy.

The final dish was the Kare Kare.

This was an ox tail stew with bok choy and eggplant. The gravy was a peanut based sauce that wasn't to thick or too peanutty. I'd never had ox tail before and loved it in this incarnation. The dark looking and flavored meat melted away from the bone and melted in my mouth. Having eaten this, I am going to make it a mission of mine to experience ox tail in its various forms. In fact I was kicking myself for having not experienced this part of the cow sooner. This dish delivered.

And thus my trip to the "Old Country" was over. Like with most trips for people who make that visit, the place is never quite how it was or how you remember it. The Valley Hi of my youth is long gone and likely long forgotten, people like me having moved away long ago to the "New World" filled with new experiences and opportunities. I am happy to see the place still fighting to stay alive, occupied now with a new generation of people who have made my "Old Country" their "New World". And I have no doubt, twenty years from now, one of the present day adolescents will look back at the home of their youth and find that the more things have changed in the "Old Country", the more they remain the same.

Seafood City is located at:
6051 Mack Road
Sacramento, CA 95823
(916) 393-8900
in the Southpointe Plaza

Starbread Bakery is located at:
6127 Mack Road
Sacramento, CA 95823
(916) 427-8598
in the Southpointe Plaza

TM Meat Market is located at:
6181 Mack Rd
Sacramento, CA 95823
(916) 393-3050
in the Southpointe Plaza

South Villa Restaurant is located at:
7223 55th Street
Sacramento, CA 95823
(916) 429-1949

Saturday, February 12, 2011

When The Student Met The Master

***NOTE- This is an EXTREMELY overdue entry. I pledge to try being more consistent with writing...I promise***

***WARNING- Due to strong language, parental discretion is advised for this post...if you don't agree that sometimes "fuck" is the right word in that certain sentence, then fuck you and go read something else***

So I was very fortunate over this past 12 months, for a lot of reasons. Putting the heavy stuff aside (which I've alluded to in previous entries), my biggest score in this period involved meeting my food writing inspiration- Anthony Bourdain.

It's always kind of scary interacting with people that you look up to who are celebrities, especially those who do the same things you do, or aspire to emulate. Whether you are a "small time" writer, actor, musician, or athlete who meets a "big time" writer, actor, musician, or athlete, there is always the danger that Mr. or Ms. "Big Time" will be a royal prick and shatter the myth you have built up in your mind about this person. We've all heard stories from friends who ran into certain celebrities only to find that they were total douchebags.

I've been lucky enough over the years, in my various adventures where I've traveled around playing music, pretending to be a rock star, to meet some of my musical heroes. On the whole, I've been lucky enough to discover that they were all cool- at least to me. There was one notable exception where one of the great blues guitarists of all time was an all time prick, which I won't dwell on. Suffice it to say, you never know what you're going to get when you happen to come across some of these folks.

I will say this, without seeming like a name dropping starfucker, I do want to point out that the following "famous people" were pretty darn cool: BB King, Rosario Dawson, Los Lobos.

(As an aside about Ms. Dawson...she is even hotter in person and has (god this is going to sound perverted, but I'm a male and I notice these things) one of the prettiest mouths ever...(and, yes...that sounded pretty perverted...sorry))

Me and the lovely Ms. Dawson

With all of this in mind, I was kind of apprehensive about any interaction with Mr. Bourdain, for fear that he might be, dare I say...douchey. I was lucky enough to catch him twice on his speaking tour in support of his latest book Medium Raw.

The first time I caught him on tour was in my home town of Sacramento at the Memorial Auditorium. The show was great and surprisingly well attended by a crowd of foodies who really appreciated his writing, his humor, and his opinions about food, travel, and the more famous food writers and t.v. personalities. His show was basically a condensed version of his book done over the course of a couple of hours. It was pretty impressive for a couple of reasons: his riffing for that long without notes and how clear it was that his written voice was the same as his speaking voice. He really came across as a guy you could seriously just hang out and drink beers with while discussing anything, food or not. The show was great, that is up until the Q & A.

Before it all went off the rails...

Now having been a performer for a long time, I have learned one thing that remains true: the microphone is one of the most powerful weapons known to man. Whoever controls the mic, controls the crowd, and when you give it up, things can go incredibly wrong or, in this case, incredibly boring. I was really pulling for my people to come through with questions that were probing, original, and/or insightful.

Don't ask him about eating oysters in France. He wrote about that in previous books and has discussed that on his t.v. show. Don't ask him about the sickest he's ever gotten. That's been covered too. And here's a tip for future Q & A-ers: Don't go on for two minutes about yourself, creating a barely constructed question where you ask the person on stage to agree with an opinion or world view of yours. If you want to talk about yourself, get your own G-D blog or write your own book...(oops, did I just insult myself? hm...dammit!!!)

There was a palpable sense of astonished embarrassment from folks in the crowd, many of whom were some of my fellow food bloggers and writers. It was a conundrum though. Did we dare risk our coolness and become sycophantic fan boys and girls in an effort to save our city's Q & A reputation? Or did we sit there, being too cool for school, praying Bourdain wouldn't call his wife at home later that evening, bemoaning the lack of any originality from the good people of Sacramento? I think the answer is clear...writers are pretty much too cool for school. We all ran into each other after and commiserated, incredulous at the fuckery that was perpetrated by the food Q & A-ers of Sacramento that night. A malaise came over me and I felt as though something had to be done to make this right. I wasn't sure what, exactly, but I knew there was something. Well a couple of months later that something came along...

My friend Byron is a Nevada "High Roller"...literally. He gets all kinds of things comped to him by the good people at Harrah's Casinos for having the intestinal fortitude to sit at a blackjack table and push little round, black pieces of plastic back and forth on the green felt for hours and hours. Suites, epic surf & turf meals at the finest casino restaurants, spa treatments, top top shelf liquors and much more can be yours when you do what Byron does. My inner degenerate lives vicariously through him when I watch him play blackjack. It is a thing of twisted beauty, trust me.

I was stoked when he called and asked me if he wanted to go to Tahoe for a food & wine festival put on by Harrah's. Bourdain was going to be the Saturday night headliner in the South Shore Room with comped tickets. I mean, how could I say no to this? More important than a comped weekend in Tahoe was my newly formed mission that came to me when Byron extended the invitation. I was going to make up (at least in my mind) for the shitty questions that were asked in Sacramento by asking a good question in Tahoe!

This was going to be a great opportunity to ask away without seeming like a fan boy in my own hometown. I wouldn't say I agonized over this, but I really put some thought into what I would ask. The criteria was relatively simple. No questions about food. I mean you think he wants to be asked about eating at the French Laundry for the 5,000th time? How many times do you think he's recounted the story of that drunken wedding reception with his nutjob, Russian drinking partner Zamir? It's like being a musician on the road. It's real easy to get sick of a song if you have to play it every. single. night...night after night. You need something to break up the monotony.

Saturday night had arrived. The trip was notable as well, because it happened to be the first time going to Nevada since quitting the drinking and stuff. It was the first time I had ever woken up in the Silver State without a hangover. As with everything I've done for the first time since getting sober, it was amazing and again made me wonder why I hadn't done it sooner. But I digress...Byron had arranged, through his casino host (yes...he really is a high roller) to get a private booth for us and our buddies Chris and Tony (my friend who really encouraged me to start this blog) to watch the show.

This show had the potential to go bad for a bunch of other reasons-the main one being a room full of middle aged douchebags in Tommy Bahama gear with one too many tumblers of Glenlivet in their systems...because we all know how much more clever you are when you are slurring drunk and trying to be the funny one. Nobody came to see you fail at funny, Tommy Bahama. Just shut the fuck up and do less blow next time, so you're not as jittery and talkative, ok?

The show came to it's inevitable conclusion and the part that I dreaded even more due to the presence of so many Tommy Bahamas: Drunken Q & A. I knew I had to mobilize quickly. Since I'd seen the show before, I knew when his talk was ending and when to start making my way down to where the microphones would appear. Sober and nimble I managed to snag one of the mics well before Tommy Bahama could get his fat, stubby, sweaty fingers on it. I was not to be denied.

My turn came and there I was...face to face with Mr. Big Time Writer; The Master and inspiration for my writing about food. It was time to put up or shut up. I was going to make up, unbeknownst to him or anyone else, for the bad questions he got in Sacramento. And so it went:


I got in two questions, both non-food related, and I know it may have just been me, but I really did feel as though he was relieved to hear questions, that were seemingly from from left field that were neither drunkenly slurred, nor retread of questions asked at the show before, before, before, before, and before. I got some good answers and even figured if Bourdain could quit the sweet Marlboros then so could I, though I used the nicotine patch.

So through all of this, I was so relieved that he was actually a cool guy during our brief interaction and I am determined to meet him again, this time in some dive bar, to ask him his favorite live music venue...who knows?

I mean who'd have thought I would ever meet Rosario Dawson, number 2 on my personal "Hottest Woman In The World List"?

The Universe has a twisted sense of humor...

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Where the heart is...

They say that home is where the heart is, and I would agree 100% when it comes to a real home cooked meal. Now, I'm not talking about just any meal that happens to be cooked at home. Not all meals cooked at home are home cooked meals, and conversely, not all home cooked meals are cooked at home. Real home cooked meals convey love an affection; a nearly indescribable soulfulness. You know it the minute it touches your lips and tongue. The time and effort and attention to little details unfolds as your senses take in every bit of yummy goodness that enters your body. There is an intimacy there that is as intense as any loving hug from your parents or grandparents; or a passionate embrace from a lover. It all depends on where the food is coming from.

So, you all may or may not know by now that I am a musician, amongst other things. It certainly has its perks. I've gotten a lot of free stuff over the years just for being able to make a guitar sound good- free travel, free booze, free lodging, free...uh...let's call them "party favors" get the picture. I'm not going to lie. All of those things were fun once upon a time, but I've gone legit and enjoy stability these days. However, the one thing that I have always gotten and continue to get for free, and will never tire of, is: Food.

It's not often I have a home cooked meal these days. I'll admit it. I'm just lazy sometimes. Also, I rationalize my inability to cook at home by pointing out that my stove has an electric range. I mean, how can one properly cook without a gas range? Needless to say, I have to rely on others to provide me with the home cooked meal experience.

This is where my friend Esther comes in.

Esther and her husband Ernie are amazing people. Hailing from Yolo, California, they are real fans of music and regularly make the half-our trek to Downtown Sacramento in order to support the Blues at the Torch Club. I'm always glad to see them, for many reasons, not the least of which is the home cooked food they bring. Be it tamales, or burritos, or salsa, they bring the real home cooked Mexican food. Even better is when they send me home with a care package of said home cooked goodness to tide me over for a few days. It's seriously the best musician perk ever.

Now, with New Year's Day comes assorted food traditions, most of them revolving around curing the dreaded hangover that comes along with New Year's Eve. For Mexicans, the magical cure for the New Year's hangover is either menudo or pozole. I'm assuming that most of you know what these magical soups are, but for those who are not well versed in Mexican cuisine, I'll let wikipedia handle the explanation:

Menudo is a traditional Mexican dish, made with beef stomach and hominy in a clear broth or with a red chili base (this variation is called menudo colorado). Usually, lime, chopped onions, and chopped cilantro are added, as well as crushed oregano and crushed red chili peppers. Boiled tripe has a tough chewy texture very similar to calamari, but with a completely unique flavor and smell.

Pozole is essentially the same soup, but with pork instead of tripe. It's usually served to those who are less adventurous and fear the tripe in menudo. I mean there's no real reason to fear tripe. People shouldn't let the fact that it's cow stomach freak them out. If you've eaten a hot dog, I assure you, you've eaten worse. Tripe is yummy, but has to be cooked right. Cooked to long and it becomes too gelatinous. Not cooked long enough and it is too tough to eat. It's for this reason that you should only have menudo cooked at home by real Mexicans.

Anyhow, as has become a tradition down at the Torch Club, there is a Hangover Party every New Year's Day with music and food and a Bloody Mary bar. It's a way to take the edge off if you partied too hard the night before. Now, I don't drink anymore, so I'd have neither the need, nor desire to be at a bar with a bunch of hungover for one thing: Esther's Pozole!

She'd been telling me well in advance that I needed to be there for it. It's not too often that I get the chance to have home cooked menudo and pozole. The timing was perfect, in a way, because I happened to have a bit of a cold on New Year's Day and the hot and spicy of the soups is a perfect antidote.

I got there early. I was going to be the first in line to get at the pozole...

It was unassuming enough, arriving in a large white crock pot. After a few minutes to get it back to the right temperature, I got the first of three servings. Yes, THREE, servings. People were shocked that I would have that much, but what can I say? It was GOOD! Epic good!

You just had to be there

I have to say, the picture doesn't do it justice. What you see is my second serving. The soup itself has the chunks of pork and hominy. The bits of green you see are oregano, which, along with lime, onions, and hot sauce (Tapatio for my soups), are used to enhance the flavor of the soup. What you can't know about this soup from the photo, is its amazing consistency.

If you've had menudo or pozole, you might know what I'm talking about. Sometimes, the soup itself is just too watery. Not to say it doesn't taste good, but it just isn't filling or fully satisfying. I suppose this is the case with any soup. This soup was amazing in that it was thick, but not too thick. Imagine the creamy consistency of a clam chowder and imagine the wateriness of your run-of-the-mill chicken noodle soup from a can. Now imagine a spot in the middle, but just towards the chowder. Got it? THAT was the consistency of the soup. If you didn't get a chunk of pork or hominy in a spoonful, there were very thin, nearly microscopic bits of pork and corn in the liquid. How do I know? Well, I couldn't see them, but I certainly tasted them and felt them along my tongue as I slurped. The soup was awesome.

I asked Esther how she accomplished such a feat. She responded simply, by saying she cooked it slowly, over the course of two days, letting it reduce to just the right consistency and flavor. Let me tell you, I could taste the time and effort and care and love that went into this soup. I know I wasn't the only one who appreciated the deep soulfulness of this truly home cooked meal. This food win was only compounded by the fact that I was sent home with a huge container of it, which will be my dinner for the next two nights. To-go food win!

So thank you Esther for the truly amazing food you make and your continued friendship. I'm looking forward to your barbecue this summer. Maybe make a little batch of pozole?

Friday, October 29, 2010

The King and I (and the Zombie Apocalypse)

I always liked Rodgers and Hart better than Rodgers and Hammerstein. Then again, Rodgers was the one who came up with the music, so naturally I gravitate towards the composer since I'm a much better composer than songwriter...

Let me back up for a moment...

For those who don't know, the aforementioned duos were Broadway Musical songwriter/lyricist teams. Between the 3 of them, they basically wrote all the musicals...seriously, they wrote all the musicals ever written for Broadway from about the mid-1930s to the mid-1950s...

Well, ok, so I'm exaggerating, but it's kind of true. Between these three fellows you got musicals like Oklahoma, The Sound of Music, South Pacific, and my personal favorite: Jumbo.

[For The Record: I'm not a fan of musicals...but why do I care about them? Because they are the source for many of the jazz standards I enjoy trying to play on my blues gigs. Sometimes 3 the three chord repetition of blues bores me and I need other chords to play through and around.]

Now, I've never seen Jumbo, and I probably never will. I know nothing about it, save for the fact that it revolves around an elephant and a circus, which I don't really care about. I do, however, know it produced one of my favorite jazz standards: The Most Beautiful Girl In The World.

No, not the Prince song. And not the Charlie Rich song either.

It's this one, done here by Sonny Rollins on his epic album Tenor Madness. It's the last cut on the record and features my favorite drum solo on record, done by Philly Joe Jones.

Such pretty, logical and bluesy changes with a great melody. I'll sometimes quote it if I'm playing a gig and I see a beautiful woman walk by. Granted the reference is never caught, but one day it will be and I will know that she is the raddest woman ever...I reckon hope springs eternal, or something.

So, where was I? Oh, yeah...Rodgers happened to hook up with Hammerstein to do the music and lyrics for the musical The King and I. You may, or (more likely) may not remember the movie of the same name starring Yul Brenner and Deborah Kerr.

(Stay with me...the food is on its way)

The King and I is...uh, I'll let Wikipedia get this:

A musical by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II based on the book Anna and the King of Siam by Margaret Landon. The plot comes from the memoirs of Anna Leonowens, who became school teacher to the children of King Mongkut of Siam in the early 1860s. Leonowens' story, The English Governess at the Siamese Court, was autobiographical, although her biographer, Susan Morgan, author of the 2008 biography Bombay Anna has discovered numerous inaccuracies and fabrications.

Now, you know, you can't technically go to Siam anymore, much like you can't technically go to Ceylon, Rhodesia, or Zaire. You can, however, go to Thailand, Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe or the Democratic Republic of The Congo.

Ooh, wait! I take that still can go to Siam and you don't have to fly across the Pacific to do it. You just need to drive down Franklin Boulevard, in the heart of The Hood...

There it is...Siam

Let me just begin by saying this: I LOVE Thai food. I don't know how it started. I remember even as a kid I loved Asian food and my dad would always say, "You're Mexican! Where did you even learn to like Asian food?"

Well, I don't know how I learned to like it, but I always have and I always will...and Thai is my favorite of all. To me (and some of you may disagree) it has the widest range of flavors- from fresh to sweet to spicy hot. It also seems to be the healthiest, outside of Japanese, but then again I'm no nutritionist.

We are really blessed to have a lot of great Thai restaurants in and around Sacramento. But honestly, who would ever expect to look for one on Franklin Boulevard, across the street from an epic torta shop (El Abuelo) and an amazing panaderia (La Esperanza)?

Thai food on Franklin? Huh?

It's not just Thai food you'll find on Franklin. It's great Thai food you'll find.

I was accompanied by my friend Krista and we got out Thai feast on while discussing, oddly enough, the finer points of how to survive the coming Zombie Apocalypse.

The unassuming entrance common to restaurants in the hood...

So this is another one of those places that (a) has been there as long as I can remember and (b) I've always driven by but never been to. More than anything, I'd always wondered what the place looked like inside. In my mind, I always pictured it as being kind of plain and slightly funky with a down home charm that you find in many of the fine dining establishments in The Hood. What I didn't factor in, though, was the fact that this was a Thai restaurant and that no matter what, Thai restaurants are always decked out with dark wood and bronze figurines.

The cashier/kitchen entrance just inside the front door

This place is really cool looking inside. Not that it has a necessarily nicer decor than other Thai places around town, it's just surprising that such a nondescript place in The Hood would have such, dare I say, ambiance...

Yet another place with a mural reminder of "home"


Our server came, attentive and prompt, with waters and Krista and I got down to the business of deciding what we were going to be feasting on this evening. It was one of those situations where everything looked and sounded good. We'd been anticipating this Thai feast for so long that when we finally got there, we were a bit overwhelmed by choices and paralyzed by indecision. After some discussions that involved arm wrestling, ro-sham-bo, and the flip of a coin we chose the following items for consumption:

Pad Thai (I know, typical...but it's just yummy and simple)
Green Curry (Medium Spicy with chicken)
Larb w/Duck (Spicy Thai salad with mint, chili and lime juice)

While we waited for our food and I blissed out on a Thai iced coffee (mm...condensed milk!), the conversation somehow turned towards survival of the Zombie Apocalypse.

Now, I had always been of the mind to get out of town and head for high ground where you can stay out of their sight and, if they do find you, see them coming a mile away. This is actually not practical as Krista rightly pointed out that there would be traffic jams as people tried desperately to escape the urban centers where zombies are more likely to gather. She even noted that a car wouldn't be the best vehicle to use; that a motorcycle would be better in terms of speed and mobility. Needless to say, I was amazed and in awe of the thought that had gone into this. I even found out where the ideal place to seek shelter during the Zombie Apocalypse. I will not, however, disclose that at this time. I want to be able to stake my claim on the place without having to fight people over it. Let's just say this: When and if the Zombie Apocalypse is ever upon us, text me. I'll be with Krista, because she's like the Eisenhower of Zombie Apocalypse strategy.

Our first plate arrived as the discussion turned to the type of zombie the coming apocalypse would likely bring- the slow 50s style ones or the more modern crazy/fast ones.

Larb...Quack Quack...

So, I had to be convinced to get the duck. I've never been a big fan. It's always tasted a little to gamey and greasy to me. That being said, if I could get duck like this all the time, I would be eating duck all the time. This dish was SO good! It looks simple, but trust me, there's a lot going on here. Foremost was the duck itself.

I remember my mom would cook turkey legs in the oven when we were kids. The way they came out, the outer parts and the edges of the leg were a little drier and barely crispy, but so flavorful as they seemed to suck in all of the flavor in the pan they were cooked in. The duck had that same quality- very, very slightly crispy on the outside and moist, but not too oily on the inside. The duck itself was spicy, but not overpowering. The dish was like an amazing balancing act with the spice of the duck and chilis being balanced perfectly by the sweet and fresh of the mint and lime.

[As a side note, I've been reading about the latest taco fusion trend where clever foodies are attempting to combine Asian food with the venerable street taco. I don't get Japanese tacos and Korean tacos kind of make sense. THIS, however would be perfect in a taco...maybe with some onions and a little green salsa. You're welcome in advance food truck people!]

Next up: Green curry w/chicken and vegetables

It may not seem so with the lighting, but trust me, it's green curry

The green curry was very good. My only mistake was that I ordered it medium spicy. This is not to say that it took away from the dish. It's just that we were trying to err on the side of caution here, and never having been here, we had no point of reference as to what the degrees of hot meant. When I go back I will definitely try the next level- Hot, before I decide whether or not to attempt the highest level on the menu- Thai Hot.

Again, this dish was all about balance. Each bite was an amazing mix of sweet and heat (albeit medium heat). The curry sauce was almost creamy and felt (this may or not make any sense, but go with me on this) pillowy. Also, the veggies weren't soggy, as sometimes can happen when they arrive swimming in soups. I was liking the whole thing.

Finally: Pad Thai

Who doesn't love Pad Thai?

The final dish was the classic Pad Thai. What can I say about this dish that hasn't been said already, probably millions of times? It was what it was. It was good and done right. I will point out a detail that I appreciated. There was no noodle clumpage (at least this night) that sometimes can happen to Pad Thai. As with the other dishes, the veggies retained their crisp and added nice texture to the dish as a whole.

I am going back to Siam. I may even invite my vegetarian friends (yes, I am a supporter of alternative lifestyles), because they really do veggies well and offer tofu as an option with their dishes. When I do, I will also order things one level spicier, because...well...I'm Mexican and I like spicy foods.

As for the Zombie Apocalypse, I'm calling Krista, because she's the woman with the plan, and she's not afraid to kick ass...literally. But like I said, I can't disclose the location just yet, unless you make me a very lucrative offer, of course.

Siam Restaurant
5100 Franklin Boulevard
Sacramento, California 95820
(916) 452-8382

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

350,632.511 minutes

No, not 525,600 minutes. I really hate that song, but it can't be that bad if it gets stuck in your head- which is one of the marks of a good song...

I'm talking about 350,632.511 minutes, give or take. This is the number of minutes that exist in the span of 8 months, the span which, as of today, I have not put any alcohol (or any other substance) in my mind and body. I know 8 months seems like such a non-event in terms of being sober. I know people that have been sober for years, decades even. I'm only at the beginning of a path that has been well worn by others before me and will be followed by many after me. For some reason, however, something struck me about this milestone that made me want to write about it today.

It was on January 7, 2010 that I woke up feeling terrible, yet again, after another in the long line of epic drinking binges that I was simply incapable of avoiding. My problem wasn't so much that I would drink every day (although it was starting to get close to that). My problem was that once I started I couldn't stop. I am incapable of having one drink. What would begin as an innocent evening at the bar after work on a friday would lead to an out of control freight train of drunk that wouldn't end until sometimes saturday morning, sometimes hundreds of dollars later. I was overwhelmed by the guilt and shame that this weakness and its results would leave me with. My marriage was beyond repair. My mental health was shaky, at best. My physical health was visibly bad. Things were getting worse with each day, each minute that I continued to deny the fact that I was, and still am, an alcoholic.

I will never forget how I felt that morning- mentally and physically. After a few hours of restless sleep, I creaked out of bed filled with nausea; my skin feeling like taut, dry parchment over my bones; eyes hurting regardless of being opened or closed; my head feeling awkward on my spine, clearly attached, but feeling barely so. The universe tilted on its axis as I walked into the bathroom, deciding whether or not I would vomit out the remains of the previous night.

It was a walk of shame as I passed from the spare bedroom, where I had been sleeping for the previous months, to the bathroom past the main bedroom where my soon-to-be-ex wife slept. No doubt she saw the shadow passing across the doorway, shameful footsteps that I had long since tried to hide. She knew I was a failure. I knew I was a failure. It didn't even need to be said by this point. She was tired of it months earlier and had no fight left in her. In fact, I'm surprised she had kept the fight up that long. She was just another in a line of failed attempts at domesticity, one more relationship, one more love, inevitably ruined by a desire to drink and get high and have a good time that far exceeded a desire to love.

In the mirror, I saw a mess. My eyes stared back at me- puffy, red, and empty. I splashed water over my grey, bloated and ugly unshaven face in an aborted effort to keep the nausea at bay. It didn't work. I found myself, within minutes, on my knees, face in the toilet bowl, knuckles white, gripping the sides as I vomited nothing but bile. The bottle had finally let me down.

The words floated closer to the top of my head, like they had so many times before when I felt like this. This time, though, I stopped trying to drown them. I said it to myself, looking into my bloodshot eyes, "I am an alcoholic."

And I said it again, this time to my then-wife, as I curled into a fetal position and wept. It didn't change the fact that she was leaving me, but I am grateful for her comfort in that time of complete vulnerability and humility. After I told her, I called two of my closest friends who had been down this road years before, and I told them. Each time I said it, I felt the weights of guilt and shame lifted from my shoulders, my heart coming out from under what had been a long and slow grind.

I chose life.

It was awkward at first. As much as I was advised to go to "meetings" at least at the start of this journey, I resisted. The Program just wasn't for me. Instead, I chose to confide in my closest friends. Thank you to all of you, and you know who you are. Thank you for not judging me with endless "I told you so."

The changes came almost immediately. I began to dream again. I'll never forget how good it felt to wake up and just be tired- as opposed to tired and hungover. It took a lot to keep everything together when both tired and hungover. The mental and physical stress of it was taking its toll. The further I entered sobriety, the more my moods stabilized. I was nearly manic-depressive from my chemicals being out of whack for so long. This clarity was a new thing, and the more I felt of it, the more I wanted.

The physical changes came next. People told me I looked different, which I didn't notice at first. I'd look in the mirror and just see me. But sure enough, I dropped 15 pounds. Gone was the puffy gray of my face, replaced by a healthy, slim glow with eyes that actually had life and desire in them. When I told my friend that I finally noticed the color returning to my face, she said, "'s because your liver is working again."

Was I really that far gone?

Yes. I was. I was just blind to it.

It was kind of ironic when people saw the post-sobriety me, having lost the weight on my body and face. If they hadn't seen me in a while they'd ask me if I was ok, if I had any health issues. I would tell them that, if anything, the weight loss was a sign of good health (there goes the universe being ironic again).

The other huge difference came in my guitar playing. I was blessed (if you want to put it that way) with the ability to consume large amounts of booze and...uh...stuff...and still play the guitar better than many (arrogant as that may sound, it's true). When I stopped, it took only weeks before I was able to execute musical ideas that had escaped me for years. I was coherent and able to string together musical thoughts from places that had long since been dulled by what I was putting in my body. When people asked what had gotten into me, I told them it was what I had gotten out of me. I was, and still am, playing with a fire and intensity I hadn't known in years. I am so blessed to have found that place of fearless expression again.

Perhaps the thing for which I am most grateful is the ability to be fully in the moment. When you're drunk, or hungover, or both, the world just passes you by. Everything is a blur. I was incapable of fully seeing and feeling the little details that life is made of. For the first time in a long time, I feel like I can feel again. I sometimes stop and just take it all in. The smells. The sights. The sensations on my skin. The tastes. I can honestly say, I am happy. Whereas I had been fooling myself into believing this before. I really am now. I actually smile and laugh...and I mean it and it means so much.

How amazing it's been to do the first sober vacation, party, night at a club, wedding, get the picture. I had been doing all of these things, but not living them or fully experiencing them. I was there for all of those things in the past, but not present. How lucky am I to have a chance to do these things again with a clear head.

Some aren't so lucky.

Why write about this here?

Well, this project came out of the desire to find an expression that came out of a new presence. I certainly couldn't have done this if I was still a drunk. I'd be too caught up in the vicious cycle of substance abuse to have any time to write anything...and I wouldn't have had the ability to experience these culinary delights fully in the moment. This blog is an expression of my new, and clear, mind- one that wants to really feel new things and remember them and share them.

Being a drunk is the most selfish thing you can do. I guess, in a way, this is one tiny part of being less selfish, at least with myself. I want to give, because I didn't for so long.

So, again, thank you to (insert the names of those who know who they are). Your faith and forgiveness continues to humble and inspire me. Know that every day I relish the opportunity to be a better human being that is capable of real feelings, real love, real friendship, real life. I'm not quite there yet, but I really feel like I'm getting closer with each of those minutes that have, and will continue to pass.

But then again, it's really all about the journey, not the destination, isn't it?