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Rhymes with Fortune

I stuck my thumb in a rotten orange today. I was in line at the register, waiting to buy a rare healthy snack, unconsciously using the fruit as Nature’s stressball, when my thumb found a perfectly thumb-sized patch of rot and submerged. I was offended: I had purposefully selected that orange as the most appealing among the others available on the ornate orange pedestal; I was trying to be Good; how dare this bourgeois deli exist anyway.

Orange you glad I…? No.

I backed out of line, replaced the fruit on the pedestal and selected another orange. I should have probably handed the spoiled one over to the cashier or at least pointed it out but I felt vengeful. The backup orange still sits on my desk untouched, a symbol of a bad decision. It has a scar and brown freckles and a vaguely obscene navel; I do not want to eat it.

At the end of a (day? week? month? year?)… let’s say, “period” of portent and ennui of varying existential severity, the rotten orange seems significant. Personal.

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Happy Labour Day, eh!

Shh, I think I hear something. It… it sounds like distant fizzing and the faint jostling of aluminum. Why, it’s the sound of a billion cans of beer carbonating in anticipation of the three day weekend! Woooo!!!  Barbecues! Beer! Wooo! Why? I don’t care! Beer!

HappyLaborDay2

I didn’t realize we were due for a holiday weekend until about a week ago, and even then was confused (“Wait, when? Are you SURE? It’s Labor Day?? Really? Okay! Woo!!!”). Maybe I could retain information like this if I knew a bit more about the holiday. We’re celebrating labor, right? And beer?

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The Final Countdown

I am about to head out for a mid-day trip to Broadway Panhandler N.Y. Cake for the last of the wedding cake supplies. I will have the following nearly nonsensical shopping list on my person:

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Umami? Ay mami

Sweet, sour, salty, bitter… I’m sure you’re wondering what the roadmap of my typical workday mood decline has to do with food.

Incidentally, these are also the names of the flavors most familiar to Western palates. But as is the case in so many instances, Eastern civilizations have had knowledge of something slightly more sophisticated for centuries and the rest of us are now playing catch up. In this case, the topic is a fifth flavor and its name is umami.

Hola, umami

Hola, umami

Thanks to their cultural fondness for foods like seaweed and soy, Chinese and Japanese diners have, at least subjectively, known about this fifth flavor for countless generations. Even Brillat-Savarin hit upon it when he referred to “osmazome”, the “essence of meat” that he required for many soups and stews. And some time around 2007, this “new” flavor finally began to eke its way into North American vocabularies.

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Brokeness (n.): A state in which one must scrape money together for the barest of necessities and anything decadent seems a cruel joke. – My definition, anyway

Early Illustration of Old Mother Hubbard / Recent View into My Apartment

Early Illustration of Old Mother Hubbard / Recent View into My Apartment

It happens to most of us at some time or another – we’re fortunate if it’s fleeting – and there is no shame in honest poverty. So why should a litte penny-pinching cramp anyone’s style? While eating is technically a necessity, it easily becomes a thoughtless extravagance even when budgeting is more appropriate. Feeling tired? Order in. Deserve a treat? Go out to eat. Stomach surly? Pamper it with delicate foods. $12/lb. cheese smells really, really good? Well it could probably make a meal.

So when there comes a time that belts must be tightened, it is often easy to resort to eating badly as eating well is too often correlated with spending copious amounts of coin. But noone among us is a god or an emperor; we are not entitled to a service of food from far flung lands, prepared to suit our exacting palates when, let’s face it, we (okay, I) have lapsed on student loans.

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Locanda Vini e Olii opened in 2001 and has been widely reviewed and visited by all manner of intrepid eaters. I am not exactly clearing away underbrush with my gastronomical machete here, but last night I visited the Clinton Hill Tuscan restaurant for the first time and I’ll be damned if I’m not going to tell you about it.

Locanda Vini e Olii

Locanda Vini e Olii

Without drawing out my own kidnapping plans I’ll just say that the restaurant is located in absurd proximity to my apartment. I could probably hear my dog barking from a seat on the sidewalk on a good/bad night. This is a plus for me, but not necessarily any credit to the restaurant, as my neighborhood – Clinton Hill verging on Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn – is no culinary mecca. Yet the dearth of Manhattanites is a comfort to a Brooklynite like me when coming upon a place like Locanda: tables are open for seating, the clientele as well as the service is unpretentious and there is no sense of urgency or sceney-ness to the experience. The focus is on the food, so the food had better be good.

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A Nose for Drama

Poised on steady legs
First your poet begs
Several eggs.
Froth them to a mousse,
And then introduce
Lemon juice.
Shimmering like silk,
Aromatic milk
Of almonds will
come next, and next prepare
Pastry light as air
To coat with care
Each pretty pastry mould.
Which sweetly will enfold
The liquid gold.
Smile, a father, fond
Wave your fiery wand,
Bake till blond.
Melting mouths and hearts,
Mmmmmm, saliva starts –
Almond tarts.

Edmond Rostand (1868-1918) Cyrano de Bergerac, Act II (translated by Anthony Burgess)

The legend of Cyrano de Bergerac is familiar: man with disfiguringly large nose falls for a lady, persuades a dashing but daft gentleman to act as his mouthpiece to woo the lady, feeds gentleman lines of poetry from the bushes, lady falls for handsome man thinking he is the poet, comedy then tragedy ensues.

"Maybe you'd like some wine with your nose? Cheese."

"Maybe you'd like some wine with your nose? Cheese."

Edmond Rostand wrote Cyrano de Bergerac in 1897, roughly based on the life of the actual Cyrano de Bergerac who lived in France from 1619 – 1655. Fittingly perhaps, the image of Bergerac that Rostand presents to the world through his verse (the entire play is written in rhyming couplets) is a rather deceptive version of who the actual man was. So who exactly was the man behind the man behind the character of the man behind the other guy?

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