Sunday, January 30, 2011

In the Moment Chili

My friend Jane, as is her custom, demanded that I blog the recipe that I mentioned in my Facebook post this evening. She is a tireless advocate for transparency in cooking, and has on several occasions forced me, despite my reticence, to give up the secrets that have made my cooking so remarkable. So, while I sit on the couch waiting for the above chili to simmer, I will do my best to share with all of you, the legions of devoted readers, how to make my version of "In The Moment Chili."

The cornbread I make is probably like any other one you might make yourself. 2 cups cornmeal (local and stone ground if you can get it....if you use horse-powered you win,) followed by 2 teaspoons of baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, more salt than you think, some pepper, followed by 2 eggs, about 1.75 cups of buttermilk, and a glug of maple syrup. Mix this all together, but don't over mix it, and then let it sit for 10-12 minutes while you do this below.

Here's the important part: You need a cast iron skillet that's about 100 years old, and that belonged to your great grandmother who lived in Atlanta your whole life in a house that you loved. If you don't have this, another cast iron skillet will do, but you know I can't promise anything. Put 3-4 tablespoons of butter, and big swirl of canola oil in the skillet, and then put it in an oven that you preheated to 400 degrees. Let the skillet get very hot in the oven, melting the butter and heating the oil. When you pour the batter in, it should sizzle. Then leave it in the oven about 20-22 minutes. When it take it out, turn the cornbread upside down on a plate, and let it cool. If you want to, you can drizzle over some melted butter, or, if you have it, some hot pepper maple syrup, like I did.

It's called In the Moment Chili because that's really what it is--it's whatever you have plus whatever you feel like. Taste it every time you add something, and see what your mood asks for--more heat, more acid, more salt. So, tonight, my version went like this:
  • 3 small onions, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 lb. ground pork
  • 2 chopped chipotle chiles
  • 2 cans crushed tomatoes
  • 1 cup of water
  • 1 big can black beans
  • 1 big can small red beans
  • 1 sweet potato, cubed
  • lots of salt
  • juice of two limes
  • big shake of ground coriander, some oregano, some curry powder, 2 shakes of cayenne.
  • a bit of garlic powder
  • Secret ingredients: 1/2 cup of cocoa powder, plus one mug of coffee.
So, you do all of this like you think you would--onions & garlic in some olive oil, plus pork, and then so on down the list, and then you let it simmer until it's super thick and delicious. I like to be able to stand a spoon up in the middle of the pot. Like this:

How you serve it is really up to you--I like a big chunk of cornbread in the bottom of a bowl, then pour two scoops of chili on top, then put some shredded cheddar. Be generous with everything--it's a bowl of chili, and it's Sunday night, right?

Monday, January 24, 2011


Thanks to my tireless and wonderful mother, these very very old stories of mine are finally seeing the light. At some point, I would sit and dictate to her and she wrote down whatever I said. Behold, Gorilla-at-Large:

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


After Kip's birthday two weeks ago, a bunch of us ended up at Odessa, eating potato pancakes, kielbasa, and peirogis, and drinking beer. There were too many of us to sit at a single table, so we split into two, our table talking mostly about theater--shows we did and didn't like, the great performances of 2010, Patti vs. Bernadette. I think we bored Joe. Sorry, Joe. I thought to myself: Please let it be like this for the rest of my life. I really did think that.

It felt like old times. When I first moved to New York, my roommates and I always ended up at Odessa, or Veselka, or Kate's Joint, after having seen something (good or great or bad) at Theater for the New City, or PS122, or The Ontological-Hysteric. Or somewhere else. Then, the long--it seemed at the time--ride home on the F Train to Astoria. We felt like part of the culture. We were part of the culture.

I admit, I'm getting sentimental. Later the same week, I watched the Martin Scorsese documentary "Public Speaking," which is about Fran Lebowitz. Fran talked (among other brilliant things) about the richness of audiences back in the day--about how they demanded the best, every single time, because they had seen everything. In Patti Smith's "Just Kids," which I was also reading at the time, she writes about the opportunities artists had in the 60s and 70s. Opportunities that could never be now.

My tendency is to think that all this nostalgia is just, well, that. But then, we went to see the revival of "Angels in America," and during the intermissions of "Perestroika," the couple sitting next to us talked on and on about how the liked or didn't like the various choices that the characters were making. He said "I don't know any of these performers." His date (sister? friend? girlfriend?) said: "I hate plays like this where everyone is just talking." I felt a bit deflated.

It's a good thing that the play is a masterpiece. It lifted me back up. The Signature Theater's production is terribly, terribly good--even if one wonder's if Zoe Kazan's earthy strength is right for Harper, and why Christian Borle seemed to be playing everything so weird to me, or if, as my agent wrote, "why Joe seemed to be given the most unhappy ending. Well...besides Roy." Zachary Quinto's performance as Louis is nuanced and obvious at the same time--his technical skills are sometimes on the outside, and I liked that about it. The thing is, though, all these things make the play, the experience of being in the theater with a piece as fucking brilliant and difficult and striving as Kushner's, and actors as sharp and skillful as this ensemble, more exciting. It was really, truly fantastic.

The rest of this story is about me noting how everything seems to be talking to itself. Novelists recognize this as a message from the universe that it's time to get serious. Or, at least, I do. This kind of doubling back, these overlapping strains of thought are your subconscious trying to tell you something about what you're thinking about. Your job is to translate that into the work. Not that it's easy.

The second novel has been such a struggle. Huge roller coaster emotions, false-starts, insecurities. It must be going just like the first one went, but I don't remember making the first one that much. Really. It just kind of came out of me, boom, like a sad, confused hustler bursting out of a party cake the shape of a rain-soaked New York City. (Lol?) And for the last three years before it was published, there was 250 pages of it--lots of clay, as it were. When I sat down to work with it, there was lots to work with. This new thing is still a mess, stretched out in too many directions, too many characters that don't know what their stories are. Sometimes I don't know how I'm going to do it. No, really. I feel like I might explode. I feel like I'm going crazy.

I try to feel buoyed up by the life around me. But we're so close to the edge of crazy, we're right on the other side of this thin membrane. I feel totally pressed against it sometimes. It's a good thing there are so many things to keep us, the collective us, together. Friends who, half-drunk, say things like "Would Arthur Laurents just go ahead and die already?" And Kip. And potato pancakes and vegan turkey sandwiches at Kate's. And the F-Train. And Fran Lebowitz and Tony Kushner. And Patti Smith. And Patti vs. Bernadette.

(Who are we kidding? Bernadette, all the way.)

Friday, January 07, 2011

Poem for the Singer

Like cards from a trick deck,
you deal yourself out to me
in measured, calculated hands.
As if gambling was too rich for you.
As if slight of hand was your trade.

Tossing away all these
un-nervy feelings, these,
what do you call them, low-Richter stuff,
like a boring receipt, or a toothpaste cap,
would be a silly, silly thing, I know.

So, I keep them,
wadded like a gum wrapper,
or filed like last year's daybook.
Things you are sure will come in handy
in the very near future.