Thursday, December 26, 2013

A Delectable Evening of Imperfection (to honor Martha Wilson)


This past June I had the honor of staging a dinner at the Portrait Society Gallery in Milwaukee Wisconsin, one of several events fĂȘting artist Martha Wilson. Along with a touring retrospective at another gallery, this smaller show, “The Personal is Political” included contemporary Wilson photographs in one room, and two rooms with regional artists presenting pieces made in response to Martha’s influential work. The show’s title refers to a 1970’s postmodern Feminist slogan that pointed to domestic space and the body as sights of both empowerment and contention. Now-a-days, as Deb Brhemer the director of the gallery points out, the phrase is "more likely associated with the locavore movement, and resistance to fossil fuel consumption." 

Wilson is the founding director of The Franklin Furnace, a preeminent alternative artspace in NYC that has, for the past 35 years fostered performance and installation art (my own work included) as well as an artist’s book archive that is now co-housed in the Museum of Modern Art. Martha’s own art work, starting from the 1970’s has explored how women’s identities are shaped by cultural forces, power relationships, and now, aging. In photo, video and live performances Wilson has created role-playing self-portraits; the femme fatale, the butch, the bitch, the business exec to name a few, or staged pictures of herself bruised, as a man, or old when she was young; posturing or transforming one way or other. 

Martha is a friend, mentor, and a champion (the one and only piece of art I ever sold, a series of six framed prints about HIV, she purchased) so it was a great pleasure to look through her archives in search of images and ideas as I planned the event. It was fun, almost triumphant returning to Milwaukee where I'd lived for 9 long years, and none too happy ones. Deb Brehmer, who opened PSG after I left, was and is a good friend, and coming back to present a performance felt exciting. 

I decided on a three-course meal- one for each of the gallery’s rooms, and teased out themes from Martha’s work for each setting. It was a feat, working long distance with Deb, arranging for tables and waiters and wine. I did some of the cooking in Bklyn before jumping on a plane carrying a suitcase full of ingredients I was afraid I wouldn’t readily find in Milwaukee, then camped in a friends kitchen to prepare the rest. The gallery has no kitchen so we borrowed hot plates from an old catering buddy and dishes from an artist who’s made his home into a museum of collections. We poured over literally hundreds of plates and bowls to pick out a glorious assortment of mismatched chipped china, silver and crystal and torn and stained linens to set the tables for what was to become “A Delectable Evening of Imperfection.”  

Guests gathered in the vestibule for cocktails and hors d’oeuvres; tiny bite-sized gems of color and taste: crostini of fava and pea puree, wild mushrooms, and colorful vegetable brunoise sprinkled over roasted garlic butter served by three waiters costumed in Martha persona drag.

First Course: Imperfection

Here we set a long narrow table with seats for 26 guests. Down the center was a still life of unusual 
fruits and vegetables; puckered, thorny, oddly colored specimens (yucca, calabaza, chayote, purple 
asparagus…) interspersed with candelabras. Pink crystal water glasses and goblets filled with rose’ cast 
refractions of pale pink light on elegantly laid chipped china and battalions of tarnished silver.  
Waiters now in neutral black wore a changing display of cut-out Martha masks to serve a salad of foraged
watercress and hand picked local greens, shriveled tomatoes and toasted pepitas, alongside a vegetarian tamale (made locally by Mamasita's) with raw tomatillo salsa and pan seared shishito peppers.
Both food and setting played with surfaces masking delectable insides, a matter of disparity between presentation and value. 

before each course I came out wearing a mask of myself and explained what the guests were about to eat.

                                                   2nd Course: Transformation in Multiple Plates

                             Deconstructed Miso

In the next gallery guests were seated at small tables lined with layers of butcher paper, newsprint and pages from the arts section of the New York Times. On each table was a shiso plant (carried from my garden in Bklyn) with a pair of scissors, a dried shitake mushroom with a small hand grater, and a bowl of nori flakes with serving tweezers. Each place was set with a Chinese soupspoon and a bowl containing a schmear of blonde miso, tofu cubes and scallion greens. 

Now the waiters wore double masks (side to side or front to back.) Martha diptychs of contrasting images. Martha made up as Bill Clinton and Bill Clinton himself, a reflection on the double standards of attractiveness for aging men and women. Martha's torso 30 years apart. Ditto with her profile.  The waiters made the rounds, first pouring kombucha or beer, then dashi into the bowls so guests could stir miso soup, adding snippets and flakes from the tables' condiments.  When the soup dishes were cleared waiters bundled the top layer of paper table covering and began filling clear blue recycle bags with the discards.

Second small plate: sambal egg with green papaya salad served on compostable dishes. Again the waiters gathered the top layer of table covering.  
Small plate three: sushi rice with black sesame and homemade pickles (wild ramp, hakurei turnips, green daikon…) and again the bundling of disposables.
Small plate four: cheeses and dried fruit. 


Each of these courses represented different transformations: 
Fermentation (bacterial transformation.) 
Pickling (a form of preservation.)                                                         Drying/dehydrating.                                                                                                       Eggs.                                                                                                      Cheese (an enzymatic transformation of liquid into solid employing chemical agents and time.)                                                                                                So too kombucha and beer.  
So too, the accumulation of recyclables now strewn about the floor. 

Between plates Deb invited the artists with work on display to speak about the ways their work had been influenced by Martha's. There was a push to explore the legacy of feminism which is currently, mistakenly brushed aside as being no longer relevant. Contradicting this trend is Martha’s newest work with its insistence on calling attention to the aging feminine body, so often disparaged or ignored.

Guests were invited into the next room for course three: Reflect/Reveal.


No tables or chair for this course. Milling about guests were served cake and ice cream on mirrored plates, and a ceramic mug of sparkling wine. Decaled onto the mugs (for sale in the gallery gift shop) was a reproduction of Martha's "Marge, Martha, Mona."

This piece pictured Martha, enigmatically smiling under a towering blue bouffant, positioning herself within the cannons of art smack dab centered between high and low. For service, the waiters donned appropriate wigs and smiles.

The cake, a moist Ottolenghi Orange Almond Upside Down Cake used fruit that needed peeling and nuts needing cracking and I liked that these actions; the peeling and cracking were about revealing inner goodness. I liked that it was an upside down cake; a topsy turvy change of perspective is always revealing. The ice cream, a rich vanilla was served with a drizzle of fruity olive oil and sea salt. For me, this combination is a revelation, an unusual pairing of ingredients that transcends expectation. The guests were left holding mirrors, hopefully used to look upon themselves 
with the same gentle humor Martha turns upon us.  

Monday, December 9, 2013

Tymbals, Gongs + Ultrasound. The sound of one hand clapping?

CommunalTable is an umbrella for event producers that come together to help each other create salon suppers that "bring art, ideas, activism and food right to the table." Co-founded with catering partner Deena Lebow, we present three or four event a year. 

This one was held in a funky DUMBO loft and on the day of the event it so happened some movie company was filming a bus crash scene on the cobbled neighborhood streets, lending a dream-like air to the entrance of the converted industrial building. Inside you had to wind through a maze of rusted machine shop carcasses that cast elongated anthropomorphic shadows in the waning light. Pigeons, who'd flown through shattered skylight panels to nest in massive ceiling struts were buffeted by breezes perfumed with stray cat urine and odoriferous garbage trucks garaged the floor below. 

At last, first sight into the loft proper was a take-your-breath-away close-up of the Brooklyn Bridge through floor to ceiling windows. Waves on the river below glinted in the rising moonlight while inside, a robotic Gamelatron chimed random half tone harmonics. Chaise lounges and batik throw pillows offered comfy perching spots from which to sip Dragon’s Breath, a cocktail concocted by Mihir Desai from coconut flower aarack, (a fermented Southeast Asian beverage similar to whisky) and velvet falernum (a spicy, citrusy low-proof rum-like liqueur from Barbados) topped with a splash of Chartreuse (a pale green medicinal liqueur dating from the seventeenth c.) We nibbled unnaturally colored pastel shrimp crisps and a rainbow of naturally hued cruditĂ©s.

The first presenter was philosopher and inter-species musician David Rothenberg , a jazz saxophonist known for his duets with nature. Previously I’d heard recordings of his call and response duets with songbirds, and also a layered composition for birdsong, whalesong and clarinet using sounds stretched and compressed by a run through his synthesizer. For CT he was agog with the promised “Swarmageddon,” the reemergence after 17 years dormancy of the periodical cicada. (BTW: I searched hi and low, here and through a source in Indonesia for cicada powder, a protein-rich flour I’d hoped to make into fritters. Alas, to no avail.) David came with copies of his newly released CD, Bug Music, and serenaded us with screechy cicada inspired syncopations. What I love about David is his ideas about beauty and nature (I wrote about him here), and his passion for the musicality of all sound, but this nights breathy elongated wails set my teeth on edge. To my ears his music really was for the birds. David had brought quite a number of friends with him, all of whom felt they deserved discounted tickets. Gosh, I barely come anywhere near break-even on these events, but nor do I pay my presenters so this request put me in a bind of obligation and debt. One of these friends, loud and testy from Dragon’s Breath, fell mid program into deep, snore-punctuated sleep.

Next: our host Aaron Taylor Kuffner has traveled the world studying gamelan, documenting and working to develop written notation for these traditional Indonesian orchestral societies. Back in Brooklyn he co-created Gamelatron, a collaboratively developed iteration of gamelan using algorithmically programmed computerized robotic arms that strike imported cast bronze gongs. One wall of his loft is devoted to a beautiful Mandala shaped installation of gongs and arms and we had the good fortune to hear them chime.  I had listened to Aaron speak about this project several years back and at that time was profoundly moved by the beauty of the music and by his passion for learning about, sharing and helping to preserve an art form that is in decline.  Since then the Gamelatron has meet with rousing success, causing sadly a grievously swelled head.  Despite the beauty he has created Aaron exhibited a ghastly case of White Savior Complex, exemplifying cultural appropriation at its worst by claiming to have saved the gamelan tradition. He fancies himself THE voice of the music today.  For me, the sound of his arrogance drowned out the extraordinary sound of the gongs. 

Along with the cocktail, Mihir brought his sonicator for show and tell. This device, more frequently used in a laboratory than a kitchen uses sound wave vibrations for cell disruption, particle dispersion, and homogenization. You stick a probe in a beaker of liquid mixed with herbs that is placed inside a box that dulls the ear splitting sound waves that travel through the probe into the liquid, smashing up the cells. Unlike tea where you steep dried herbs in hot water to draw out the flavor, the disrupted cells release flavor without heat so the fresh and raw herbs taste just that, fresh and raw. In the case of the cocktail Mihir infused aarak with Thai basil, and a simple syrup with tropical pandan. Using the sonicator for particle dispersion or homogenization has other applications, for example, vinaigrette. Typically oil whisked with vinegar creates a bond that lasts just barely long enough to dress a salad. In the sonicator the bonds gain strength and longevity and the technique opens possibility for unusual bonds—say lemony duck fat mayonnaise or some such thing. What's cool is that we're used to thinking of cooking being done with heat or by chemical means (like the acid of citrus "cooking" ceviche,) or bacterial fermentation, (like bacteria and salt "cooking" pickles.) Now we can add sound to our arsenal.

Between speakers, guests were treated to Indonesian and Malaysian flavored small plates-- satays with a peanut dipping sauce made by a friend of a friend who cooks for the Malaysian Mission. Then fried sambal eggs with green papaya salad. Slightly undercooked hardboiled eggs are deep fried until golden and crisp and tossed in sambal belacan- a blend of shallots, chilies, toasted shrimp paste and palm sugar slowly fried in coconut oil.  The next plate was fish morsels steamed in banana leaf with sambal oelek, toasted coconut, crispy shallots and turmeric rice. Black sticky rice pudding with coconut cream and chilled mango, and chocolate-dipped biodynamic sundried bananas made dessert. My friend Barry Schwartz has a small operation selling hand-batched tempeh at area farmer's markets made from a recipe he perfected during his years cooking at a yoga ashram. He joined us and cooked up tasting portions of several different kinds of tempeh and told about his process making these fermented grain and bean cakes that originated in Indonesia.


Each element, despite my snippy complaints was more than interesting and the food was plentiful and delicious, so why do I feel the event fell short of my goal, which was to create an evening that broadened and expanded thoughts about sound?  Part of what was missing was cohesion. In planning, I'd gotten excited thinking of all these sounds and took delight drawing connections between sounds found in nature, and as a part of the richness of human culture, and in a unique science-of-sound kind of way, and I built the program on that. But during the event I didn't share my thought process or help the guests connect the disparate parts. Plus, at this event the food acted as decorative frill rather than as a voice in the telling of the evenings story. I realize now I need to spell out the conceptual base of the event both for the audience to fully engage and to guide the speaker’s presentations. This puts me in a position I'm uncomfortable being in, that of director and MC. I much prefer hanging in the back of the house with the food.

What was missing from the evening was that fantastic aha! moment when ideas stretch and expand. And this is precisely a place where food could and should have supported this process. Instead, I relyed on a simplistic obvious connection (Indonesian music = Indonesian food.) To come up with a menu that uses ingredients as well as the experience of eating to address the concepts at hand requires way deeper introspection, and also a willingness to engage and guide the audience. Without doing these more challenging steps, the work remains just an entertainment when what I want is for these events to be art.

Wondering about the sound of one hand clapping is a Zen koan meant to cause reflection. Some believe the sound is silence, a sound we have trouble hearing. In the case of this CommunalTable it was the sound of missed connections. An evening based on all things sound needed the crisp slap of two hands clapping for attention.

Fried Sambal Eggs is a simple and standard Malaysian dish though to me it was a revelation. I'd never thought of frying a hardboiled egg but doing so produces a nutty flavor and the craggy texture holds the sauce. I found making the sambal tricky. Every recipe I read speaks about cooking sambal long enough for the oil to separate and come to the surface, and every picture shows a glorious layer of chili-rich red oil but no matter how long I stirred, this separation never occurred. I've since discovered a tasty sambal in a box I buy in Chinatown. If you're near an Asian market-- look for Khim Yan Curry brand Sambal Nasi Lemak.  To figure out the eggs I used an amalgam of these two recipes (and recommend both sites.)

Green Papaya Salad is made from rock hard unripe papayas with honeydew colored flesh and white seeds, quite different from more commonly found ripe papayas with their shocking orange flesh and black seeds. The papayas vary tremendously in size and last a pretty long time. Basically the salad is a slaw. I prefer the texture of painstakingly hand-cut super-fine juliennes to Cuisinart grated shreds but really either way will make a nice dish.  Just like with cabbage slaw you can add a lot of ingredients or keep it simple. Traditional Indonesian versions include long beans and tomato. Shred 4 cups of peeled, seeded green papaya flesh and toss with 1/4 c. freshly squeezed lime juice, 1 T. fish sauce, 1 T. granulated palm sugar (or whatever sugar you have) and a handful of chopped roasted peanuts and cilantro. Taste for salt.

Monday, December 2, 2013

12 Bytes

CommunalTable’s 12 Bytes took place on Feb. 9, 2013 (though I’m just now writing about it.)

12 Bytes is a made-up name, a snippet of imagined computer lingo to name a salon supper that brought speakers and a chef together for an evenings exploration of computer inspired art served with a multi course meal of fantastic delicious b(y)tes. 

I'm an ashamed computer dork, a technophobe who wants to find a way to love my computer. And I want to get closer to molecular gastronomy too. In my dreamy minds eye spherified olives and computer savvyness merge into a cyborg utopia of unintimidating easy-use technology.  Perhaps my motivation for putting the evening together was to begin exploring these technologies in the company of friends.  Despite near blizzard conditions a full house of guests crowded into Vince-the-fishmongers Brooklyn loft and mingled over cocktails before sitting down at snug tables to eat and watch and listen.   

My friend Alice Lee, a food scientist research chef and molecular hobbiest was the evening’s chef. Alice and I collaborated on the menu using “digital terminology” as inspiration for each course, then she applied bits of “molecular technology” and other unusual cooking techniques and ingredients to execute the meal-  sous vide, blow torches, squid ink... 

Alice painting squid ink onto plates

Raw data.
Beausoleil Oyster on the half shell
Scallop. Grapefruit, basil, lime zest
Salmon. Soy, nori, yuzu avocado

Mixed pixels.
Pearl barley bibimbap
Miso soup
Radish kimchi

Binary code.  (Black & White.)
Squid fettuccini with black aioli
Potato vermicelli cake with black sesame miso

Red raspberry sorbet
Blue panna cotta with blueberry coulis
Green tea sable

The Presenters:
Artist Scott Draves has been floating in the back of my brain since I heard him speak a couple of years ago. He's the inventor of electric sheep, an ever-changing algorithmically created image-progression cum screen saver I stare into more than I care to admit. Encountering Scott’s work opened my eyes to computer’s abstract visual possibilities, but what’s most fascinating is the open-source element in his creation. Once programming was in place its been viewer participation that has abetted the screens visual evolution. Used to be ideas evolved slowly like the path of a recipe via migration and generations as new ingredients and life-styles replace old ones. The change was hard to pinpoint. Now Internet speed magnifies change and Scott’s artwork is about watching it occur.

Jessie Diener-Bennett provided connection to sound. My local barista composer friend, Jessie writes compositions coaxed from noise, drawn from a musicology expanded by electronics and computer technology. In his presentation he showed notations and played tones made possible by the arrangement and re-arrangement of data code. He demonstrated how the very possibility of sound has grown and changed with expanded technology (much the way molecular gastronomy presents new possibilities of taste coaxed from standard ingredients.) As musically challenged as I am computer illiterate I can hardly explain more than this broad outline of Jessie’s material. Mostly I was moved watching as many in the audience nodded in recognition at the digital half tones he played, and humbled by this reminder that human knowledge is both vast and obscure.

Mihir Desai is a molecular-chef computer-whiz who turns red in the face denying foods connection to art, but who I see as an artist. His plates are like late Kandinsky. Interactive offerings of sous-vided protein painted with gels and smoke. I brought him to the program (despite his misgivings) to be the connection between food an art. Standing before a power-point he shared chaos histiography and data schematics, then made a show-n-tell of visualizations he’s made comparing the canons of different famous chefs. He’s painstakingly downloaded each chef’s recipes into a computer, which analyzed the frequency of ingredient use to create, for lack of a more accurately descriptive term-- word clouds. Each visually arresting configuration reflects stylistic differences; classic French vs. Spanish Modernist or New Nordic and the like. Seeing the “clouds” broadens the horizon, allowing a glimpse into the confluence of ingredients, (which encapsulates seasonality and geography) with technique (history and technology).  

The evening came together on many levels, perhaps more successfully than other CommunalTable events. Alice’s elegant b(y)tes immersed the participants in an aesthetic of flavors and texture that built on and expanded our notion of a meal. In a similar way the speakers built on each others topics while illustrating how computer technology has expanded our notions of image, information and sound.

Originally the conception for CommunalTable dinners was to pick a theme, and to have the food both remark on that theme and inspire the guests to share related stories. The food would help create the story circle, acting on some level as a storyteller itself. But more often then not the guests push back, too shy or too sated to fulfill their part, and I end up frustrated and confused as to how to draw stories from the participants, and maybe more importantly, how to foster my guests to develop an ear to hear the stories food tells. With 12 Bytes the structure of the event shifted. The guests were audience, there for entertainment rather than as participants charged with contributing to the evening’s success. Perhaps taking people off the hook helped create an easier, more enjoyable evening that allowed the audience to immerse themselves and listen to the ideas presented in words and food.

Sunday, April 7, 2013


this months poetrysciencetalk reminded me what a joy it is speaking the language of food. Each month at these events I reach out to the presenter hoping to jumpstart a dialogue about the menu. I'm looking to iron out the specifics of what I might cook, but also by talking menu I hope, in a kind of 'ingredient shorthand' to have a larger conversation that reflects our personalities and illuminates where our viewpoints merge. We all know sharing food creates bridges and I like to think these bridges are also built talking about food. All one need do is mention an ingredient and suddenly you're placed like a map-pin at a particular vantage point on the time/space continuum.     

This months erudite pst speaker proposed to "look at the future of art, science, politics, medicine, and psychiatry in the emergent practices of Schizoanalysis, Orgonomy, Theosophy, Psychedelia, and Autopoesis and present a vision of possible utopian political-economic communities."   I knew I was in over my head... like what!!? Where in this was inspiration for supper?  Fortunately in his 'presentation description' the speaker mentioned Hegel, Nietzsche, and German Romanticism, which I latched onto and sent an email proposing slow-cooked traditional German: Sauerbraten, sweet-n-sour cabbage and herbed spatzel.  
But "No," he replied, "how 'bout something futuristic or sci-fi instead?" 
Which got me thinking: molecular gastronomy, Frankenfood and highly processed simulacra (cheezzzefood anyone?) In a brief volley of current buzz words: pharmaceuticals, fermentation, DIY, we pieced together an outline: the future, hippy commune, macrobiotic, Japan, California, psychedelic... 
Still even this needed coloring-in. I suggested dumpster diving and Mad Max and he countered with Barbarella- which gave me enough to begin.

Next I had the pleasure of sitting down with a food writer friend for a conversation figuring what the future might hold. We grappled with trends and ingredients to cobble an idea for a meal, a poem intertwining anxiety with hope: spiraling allergens, sodium alginate, probiotic smoothies, bacon decadence, shrink-wrap.
kelp noodles for the wild mushroom miso 

Spirulina tabs: highly nutrient-dense algae

Often I'm answered with a shrug when I try to engage a non-food person in foodspeak. Its not that they don't want to respond, its that its unfamiliar to think that food is encoded with layered iconographic meanings. Whereas they hear 'green papaya pad thai' (one of the dishes I served) and think "I like pad thai, I hate cilantro," or "green papaya?" I think about immigration waves, the economic disparities of manual labor (my fingers blistered during the hours spent hand cutting papaya shreds) and dietary roller-coasters where lower carb. gluten free green papaya is celebrated as an invention in swank trendsetting Brooklyn restaurants even though A. green papaya has been consumed all over Southeast Asia for centuries and B. pad thai is traditionally made with rice noodles which are gluten free anyway.

I was criticized by one of the pst co-founders who'd been cc'd on the original Sauerbraten email. True, he's a meddler, and also maybe he tastes sour grapes at how much fun I have conversing with the presenters, but he also just doesn't speak food. He read my list of selections as a fait accompli, accusing me of leaving the presenter out of the process. Too bad he couldn't hear the list I'd emailed as me humming a few bars enticing the presenter to hum along until we found a tune to sing together.
The menu included probiotic cocoa, avocado, and coconut milk smoothies,
bacon pecan brownies, and individually wrapped sticks of ginseng chewing gum.
Folks loved the meal. But they always do, each time more than the next. They are a remarkably non-critical appreciative audience happy at being fed (which is not to say they are placid or unthinking- the pst crowd is an amazingly esotericly intelligent and engaged group!) They enjoy hearing my brief pre-supper spiels describing each months menu in part because they are fascinated hearing foodspeak where food as signifier is expressively edible.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

"Any time or weather-- soup and sandwich go together..."*

peas and carrots with tarragon butter

Following the tail of last month's "open love" presentation comes this month's pst discussion on "The New Monogamy" wherein author and PhD Sexologist Tammy Nelson spoke of our desires to couple with a "perfect soul-mate" and our subsequent struggles to stay faithful over time. "50% of marriages fail," she says- and yet a great percentage of divorcees go on to second and third marriages. Our instinct for coupling prevails, so Tammy proposed new ways to define fidelity, keep desire and attraction fresh, and to open dialogue within a relationship.

Easy enough to make a menu of classic food pairings including fish-n-chips, peas-n-carrots and milk-n-cookies. A nice slam bam thank you ma'am, in-n-out kinda concept- though a bit of conceptual moralizing came with picking the final menu.  Salsa and chips was an early contender  but are the chips just a vehicle for the salsa? Is salsa complete on its own or is it just a flavor enhancer for something else? This dilemma was not true for the bread-n-butter I served instead. With bread and butter each element is delicious on its own- and while we shouldn't eat pure butter, in our hearts (and to our hearts detriment) we all want too!  Mac-n-cheese was scratched because as the ingredients merge their individuality gets lost. Arroz con Pollo seemed a strong candidate, especially because there are so many variations, but in the end the complexity of the seasonings including saffron in Spain, tomatoes and peppers in Latin America, and annatto in the Caribbean relied on third party ingredients. 

For the hell of it I posted on facebook asking for suggestions and there were a few stand-outs: chocolate and roasted beets, steak and arugula, and one insistent suggestion to include "sublime" solo foods like a French double creme cheese or perfectly ripe berries...  couples be damned. 

Along with the other pairings I made rice and beans for the vegetarians and the beans were quite yummy:

1# beans (I used Jacob's Cattle but black beans or another kidney bean varietal would be good too.) Soak overnight in enough water to cover the beans by an inch or two. Drain, rinse, then put in a pot and cover beans with fresh water.

Add a large handful of diced onion and a small handful of chopped garlic and minced cilantro stems.  Gently simmer until the beans are tender, adding water as necessary. Timing will vary based on how fresh the beans are but count on at least an hour of minimal pot watching. 

Take 1-2 cups of the cooked beans and some of the cooking broth and blend to a fine puree, then stir this back into the pot. Taste for seasoning-- add salt and pepper and a glug of fruity olive oil. Serve with rice. 

*the title of this post comes from a Campbell's soup ad from the 1960's that used the melody of "Love and Marriage," a song Frank Sinatra made famous in 1955.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

on-line open-love wearing google glasses

a meal about making choices- each eater had to
decide how to liven up their colorless plates.
My goal with the pst meal is to have the menu in some way reflect the talk, or at least the personality of the speaker. This manifests different ways-- sometimes the connection is literal, like for a talk about ecstatic Dervishes we ate Persian rice and kebobs. Other times the foods materiality illustrates the talk. One month the speaker explored how we make choices, so I made a meal with a base of blandly cooked colorless foods (poached cod fillets, white rice, vanilla ice cream, etc.)but I surrounded the platters with a platoon of unlabeled squeeze bottles filled with colorful sauces. Everyone had to figure out what might go with what and how they wanted to liven up their plates. 

Often it seems if I served umami laden mushrooms and chocolate instead of working to come up with a clever unique menu, I'd hit the nail on the head. So many of the talks delve into the earthy, savory and oft times consciousness bending quests we pursue here on Earth. So too was this true for this months pst when Lex Pelger gave a talk called The Future of Fornication: Open Love in the Drop-out Generation. Lex is a writer, a scientist and an active member of NYC’s Open Love Tribe. In his talk he outlined how the internet had opened possibilities for connecting with all sorts of fetishistic and alternative sexual communities and then he went on to imagine what new possibilities will open with google glasses. In his dream the glasses will work to connect us with like-minded sexual partners whom we chance upon in the crowded hustle-n-bustle of daily life. The more the merrier! 

Lex and I batted around the idea of oysters and chocolate- alleged aphrodisiacs, but in the end we chuckled over an image of people alone in front of their screens eating straight from take-out containers as they carried on cyber-trysts across the globe. I marched off to Chinatown and bought a bale of pre-folded take-out containers and a gross of chopsticks, then home-cooked dishes most of us call our local "Chinese" to deliver: fried rice, garlic eggplant, stir-fried beef with ginger and scallions, stir-fried bok choy...  and for dessert: orange slices and a giant Valentine full of chocolates.