CUCINA D’AMORE

By Seamus Muldoon, Himself
 Copyright © 1997-2010
All Rights Reserved

  

            This is a most unusual time.

            On one hand, it is the time when we Americans pulled our heads out of our asses and went to work in a most serious manner to demonstrate that we will not sit by in asinine political correctness, as is the manner of the French, and watch others attack us in our own homeland without an effective and decisive armed response. As much as we hate to wage war, when it is thrust upon us the opinions of others about what we should or should not do really don’t matter. Some messages simply cannot be delivered with words. Thank God that our government is realistic about it, and that we are not waiting until some third world miscreant walks abroad in our streets carrying a suitcase nuke. I shudder when I think what we would be like at this writing had the bloody Democrats won the last presidential election. We have much to be grateful for.

            This is a most unusual time.

            It would appear that the years I have recently spent inventing the first totally Internet law firm are now coming to fruition. My notion that, through resource teaming, one can muster all the power of a monstrous law firm whenever and wherever it is needed, without all that costly asset base having to exist in a brick and mortar mode and financially supported by me every day of every week, turns out to be true. When more effort is needed, more folks are brought on board. When less is needed, they aren’t sitting there on my payroll, in expensive office space that I am paying for. I have almost no overhead. I answer to no partners and no management committee. I account only to Christ, to Belinda and to the Internal Revenue Service. It is the happiest time of my life.

            I only wish that Mike Tulloch and some other of my deceased friends were still here to share in it.

            This is a most unusual time.

            I have just favorably concluded a “case of first impression” in the beauty pageant industry. That has been an industry in which every licensing company involved in multi-state pageant system licensing has been a franchise operation that was out of compliance with franchise and business opportunity laws. Fortunately for me, one of them tried to enforce a post expiration covenant not to compete against a departing licensee/franchisee, and that franchisee had the excellent good fortune to retain me. The covenant not to compete will not be enforced against them or against any other licensee in that industry whom I may represent in the future. Unfortunately, the licensor/franchisor gave up before trial and decided to accept feel good money and give up the fight. I would have loved to take that one to trial. But, when you really believe you have a great case, either you are dead wrong and lose at trial or your opponent realizes that you have a great case and decides to take the feel good money. What was once their claim that my clients’ continued business operations threatened them with irreparable harm unless they were put out of business for three years, suddenly became, oh, what-the-hell – Give me the money. Now the poor bastards have to deal with the fact that all their other franchisees/licensees, whom they promised that they would put my clients out of business, now know that their threats that their licensees/franchisees have to stay in their system or lose their businesses are just empty threats that are not enforceable. They will either come up with a new business model or spend that feel good money on lawyers. Don’t you just love it when the bully gets his comeuppance!!

            Now that that case is over, I have time to create the kitchen of my dreams – CUCINA D’AMORE – a kitchen of love. People make love in bedrooms, in parks, out in fields on old army blankets, in the back seats of cars et cetera. I make love in the kitchen. The most unbelievably intimate experience starts with food. When you can make a woman the centerpiece of the ambiance, an object of worship, you and she are both transformed.

            There is first a “sense”. When you approach you are met with an olfactory feast that elicits an immediate sensory response of “I want that!” And then, when you enter the kitchen there is a feast for the eyes, a “look” of the place that says something really fantastic is about to happen to you. It’s the colors and the array of the equipment that bespeak artistry and a culinary force majeure, something to which surrender is the first emotional response. Appropriate wine and music wash over and into you, and you are greeted as the most happily anticipated beginning of a truly lovely episode in which you are the feast of feasts. Symphonic gastronomy stimulates your every appetite, and yet you know that this is but the beginning of waves of culinary erotica and that you have to consciously restrain your gushing urges, your tumescent desire to be infused with what is before you. 

            Aromatics abound. The cultures of the Mediterranean waft through your senses like a warm breeze. You begin to be aware that your mouth is the center of your eroticism for the moment, and its wetness echoes through your entire being. Tiny flavor events lie strewn on plates before you, a garden in which your palate may play for a short while. The garden may lie in Asia or in the South Pacific even though the main course is of another geography entirely. You are following a sensory map across the passageways of civilization, speaking and thinking in a manner totally different from the direction you were following but a few moments ago. And somehow you know – you know even then – that this is a voyage through a countryside of delight.

            Welcome to CUCINA D’AMORE.

            It is one thing to conceptualize a kitchen that will serve as utilitarian food production facility and dramatic mise en scene, a stage on which a gastronomic cunning linguist may exercise his talents and passions, such as they are, to fulfill his ego gratification needs through presentations of culinary and oenological soirees. It is quite another matter to select and vet the equipment, layout, décor and installation. 

            A friend referred us to someone whose profession is to remodel elaborate homes of the high and the mighty to degrees of perfection seldom seen in modern craftsmanship. That person came and measured and counseled and estimated, coming up with a number beyond the available budget by many thousands of dollars. Since I had already selected the equipment and knew what it would cost, including installation if done by the equipment vendor, a decision was made to become my own general contractor and to dispense with the services of the master factotum. Immediately there was an enormous groundswell of apprehension and disbelief that one with the limited skills which I possess could “pull it off” so to speak. Visions of disastrous results and unbelievably costly remediation caused intense anxiety and lack of sleep and peace of mind, and even doubts about such things as color choices haunted the days and nights of the ultimate power of this domain. The reassurance brought by the factotum of the high and the mighty evaporated into doubt and disbelief. The respect, honor and deference that I enjoyed as the esteemed father of Dr. Muffy no longer sufficed for my pronouncements to be accepted as reliable. Every decision and notion was challenged and doubted, until ultimately I had to fall back on the argument that someone had to be in charge of making ultimate decisions; that a camel was a horse designed by a committee. No committee was going to design and perform the realization of this kitchen. By God’s holy trousers! Either I would do this kitchen or there wouldn’t be a kitchen and we could simply eat out from now on. And the bluff worked!

            The salesman who had handled the purchase of the overhead vent hood make up air system, as it turned out, knew of an occasionally sober – well almost occasionally sober – Irish tradesman to whom he had in the past referred simple installation work with no adverse feedback. And so that dear Irishman became my electrical sub-contractor, who, as it turned out, was allergic to telephone calls, thinking that it might be a Gombeen man calling to collect a bill. To overcome that fear we developed a code. I would call, wait for the answering machine to pick up and hang up. Then I would call again – same routine. On the fifth call within ninety seconds, reassured that it must be me, he would answer. After I identified meself and gave the appropriate reference, he agreed to stop by and measure and visit about the project. The venting system had already been delivered, so he could see what was required.

            On the appointed day the good man appeared, only four hours late [had to await the cessation of certain tremors, no doubt], and we proceeded to “walk the job”. According to his oral resume, he had been a builder in Louisiana, and so was quite accustomed to perform extensive work without bothering to obtain building permits which might in the end subject the job to being inspected by some miscreant who would have to be compensated to issue a certificate of compliance with the city code. A city code is a legislative construct designed to enable the city to employ inspectors for very small wages, knowing that they would supplement those wages with regular bribery. The excellent aspect of employing such a one as this craftsman is that if people complain to the enforcement authorities about shoddy work, he may find himself being chased by all sorts of Gombeen men. And so he is quite meticulous about everything he does.

            Unlike the factotum to the high and mighty, he not only measured, but also actually went up into the attic to inspect the roof and the pathway that would have to be cut to enable the overhead venting system to be installed. And it was there that we discovered that directly overhead, where everything had to go, were water and gas lines that would have to be rerouted or bypassed. I shudder to think how much time and money would have been lost had I hired the factotum to the high and mighty and this obstacle had been discovered only upon opening the kitchen ceiling.

            Rerouting would have been more expensive and time consuming. Our good soul Irishman, on a piece of grocery bag, designed a plenum, a rectangular construct that permitted installation of the vent system exactly over the center of the island cooking station as needed, with a juke of air flow around the water and gas lines. This ingenious device he had fabricated chez a drinking buddy’s metal working shop, out of brushed stainless steel to match the vent system, for but a few hundred quid. It works perfectly. And it is beautiful. And it is even more thousands less than the same work would have been if done by the factotum to the high and mighty.

            The new sinks and the new cooktop – the largest Thermador makes of its line of electronic ceramic cook tops had also arrived. When the time came for the take off estimator for the installation of the new Silestone decks to perform his slight of hand measurements, the sink and cook top templates were there and ready for consideration. Now how’s that for coordinating things like a general contractor should, I ask you?

            Silestone is a quartz product of Spain, made in sheets ¾ inch thick for use as counter/deck tops in kitchens and bathrooms. I chose a very extreme color, to look somewhat Mediterranean, brick in color to be precise, one of my more extreme choices to be argued over right up to its installation when its in-place appearance brought out the Ooohs and Aaahs of how bloody grand the whole construct looks. Naturally, the “engineer” who had come to “take off” the job knew less that I did about his product. He insisted that there need be no wood deck beneath the Silestone, while I insisted that without such support the damn thing would fail in the course of normal use. He was properly offended that the likes of me would overrule his product and installation opinions, and accordingly did a few improper measurements that would in the end delay the job while they recut pieces to fit in accordance with proper dimensions. In the end, the manufacturer’s own product literature stated that under decking was a necessary support requirement. I wonder how many of these jobs have been done in accordance with Don Juan’s opinions and are out there just waiting to fail the first time someone kneads a loaf of bread or pounds out a chicken breast on them. Maybe I should add a metatag to me web site to attract clients wanting to sue over failed Silestone installations that lacked underdecks. Ultimately, my installation is secure and magnificently beautiful – the brick colored quartz counters and the large black ceramic cook top with the brushed stainless steel venting system. Maria is right. Men with large equipment are very attractive.

 

            Now all I want to do is find mouths to feed. One friend has caught on to this big time and I get almost daily emails asking what time dinner is being served and volunteering to be a guinea pig for any new recipe I might try. Just before Easter I found a whole fresh leg of pork – about 20 pounds – much more than we could ever consume within the allotted time –hell, we can give some of it away. So I bought it and marinated it for three days in a Cuban garlic marinade called Mojo Criollo. It took about six hours to slow roast and is wonderful. I have an outlet for excess production now. Belinda’s sister is always happy to send one of her kids round to fetch dinner and bring it home – take out – YEA! Now what I have to do is include it in every recipe this week that calls for meat of any kind. Yesterday I found some Meloukhia, a North African pot herb very popular in that region. Try to find a recipe using Meloukhia in normal channels. Paula Wolfert might be the only western source. But Egypt has its own English language web site, with a page for Egyptian recipes. And there it was! YUMMIE!!!!

            I’d give you the recipe, but you probably aren’t anywhere near a store that sells Meloukhia. Here in Houston, we can shop anywhere in the world for anything that aint illegal (and almost anything illegal too) within a ten minute drive. Anyone who likes to cook should live in Houston. It is the most international city in the world, without exception. We have received the best of every society that went to hell in a hand basket, including Mexico and all of Central America, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Cuba (those who didn’t go to Miami). Consequently we have cities within the city that are mini cultures from those areas, complete with their food markets. I can hear 30 – 40 languages in Houston every day if I like, simply by shopping for groceries. What one does with Meloukhia is grind it to powder in a mortar and pestle and then sprinkle it into a clear or semi clear soup – chicken, fish, whatever – and squeeze a lemon into the soup at the same time, and then simmer it for two more minutes and serve it. It’s a whole other world of flavor when you do that. My friend Rafi Momjian once told me about Meloukhia – he grew up in Lebanon when it was beautiful. I once had dinner with his parents – his mom prepared the meal – it may be one of the best dinners of my whole life. You can use Meloukhia the same way in a stew, I am told.

            Next time you make scratch pasta sauce (red), add some roasted red bell peppers, skin removed and mashed up along with the tomatoes. You can thank me later. I once read that the compensation to advanced age is that one’s palate improves while everything else goes to hell. Wine and food are the rewards of advancing age. Everything tastes so damn good – if you don’t smoke. Hell, if you’re a smoker, odds are you aint here to taste anything by now anyway. When I think back on it, as a former three pack a day man, I’m damn lucky to be here meself. Some very few older folks have survived smoking all their lives by dint of their genetic makeup. They are getting to be quite rare. Between smoking and everything else that pollutes our systems, smoking and old age are getting to be a quite rare combination. Today, when you see a young person smoking, the reaction is that this is a very stupid person. This person is literally wearing a sign on his head that says “I am a fucking idiot. No one should assign to me any task of significance.”

            Even before the new kitchen it was nigh impossible to get Belinda to go out to eat. She likes the food better at home, and the wine is better too – and a lot less dear. Now it is practically a daily challenge to prepare something that she hasn’t enjoyed ever or at least for a very long time. She recently remarked that she would never get on a plane to go anywhere to eat. Restaurant food is better in Houston than anywhere else in the world, and the food at home is better than in the restaurants – according to her. Somewhat as a joke I explained to her that if one understood the blending percentages that are done in Bordeaux, Australia and Spain to create the delicious wines from those locales, one ought to be able simply to go out and buy bottles of assorted varietals and blend superb wines at home. And so as a joke I rounded up assorted vino cheapo magnums and started blending them according to what I thought were the proper relationships. Well, I can tell you that Baron Rothschild has nothing to worry about, but the stuff is better than the “house” wines at most restaurants and bars. “House” wines are usually purchased according to price more than according to any other benchmark. When we had B.I.’s Texas Café back in 1994, our house wines were pretty damn good, and we didn’t spend a lot of money on it. But we understand wines and how to handle them better than most restaurateurs and tavern owners. And so, Plonk de Muldoon is often served here to ourselves and to our guests who aren’t really wine aficionados. Several who were told how we blend very ordinary wines to make a decent tipple have actually sent emails asking for directions and ratios, and have then written back again to say thanks. If you are really into a subject to the point at which you will devote time and energy to learn a good deal about it, you can become quite adept at the most unusual things. We have gone way beyond what the frogs and Aussies do, and it is a delight to taste something quite drinkable that you just threw together to see what it would taste like. The varietals that we grow here and that come from South America and Australia may be different clones of similar varietals that come from Europe, but if you are astute enough to ascribe zero value to anything simply because it is European you can achieve really marvelous results. I regard most things European as simply vestigial remnants of museum societies that no longer have relevance to issues of significance. I think it is the highest point of humor that the frogs and the krauts are now the best of bosom allies in the reorganization of what is referred to oxymoronically as modern Europe. It is a sad commentary on the Germans that they have sunk so low as to ally themselves with the French. Man! How low can you go? Can you remember when Germans had standards? Eventually the frogs will double cross em, and, as far as I am concerned, the next time the Germans take Paris they can keep it.

            Actually, there is much to be grateful for these unusual days. As I close this article, we have rid Iraq of the Bath party regime of thugs and sadists, and in the process we lost very few people. For this the whole world should be grateful. America has in this instance lived up to its mission in grand style. May God bless those who made it possible and bring everyone home safely.  

 


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