Wednesday, December 31, 2014: Soup For Dayz, Day 1

This is the recipe for what I basically live on: it’s a hearty, vegetarian, salt-free stock with which I create meals. It’s cheap and healthy (xactly: just like me) and no-fail (yup: not like me at all). Even though I am providing some sort of a concrete process for the base, it, as well as the other stuff you throw in, can be played around with and you can use whatever you have in the fridge or whatever’s good and/or on sale at the market.

The base is a variation of a mirepoix or holy trinity, with celery and onion: I then add garlic at the last minute, instead of bell peppers or carrots, which I may or may not throw in later. The magic ingredient of this handiwork is time which you sneak in over the course of a few days. Many times, I’ll have one batch of this soup in the “build” stage on the stove and then another, more finished batch in the fridge, ready for chowtime. This soup does not go bad, it just gets better and better with time (again true: just like me).

My suggestion is to start this process on a lazy weekend morning or afternoon; you’ll need to tend to this for about three hours at its start and I suggest using a large 5 to 6 quart casserole pot for the cookage process. You’ll cook this for dayz, bunny: it tastes so much better, just like love, if it isn’t brand new.

DAY 1 – here’s what you need for the base:

1 big yellow or white onion, or two smaller ones

½ bunch of celery, give or take a few stalks – you want to have about the same amount of celery and onion

Chop these up as finely as you can bear: the finer the chop, the more potential for flavor so take your time, turn up some music and chop away; get it all down to tiny pieces – you’ll have roughly two cups or so of each vegetable. There’s nothing wrong with doubling this recipe, too; just bear in mind it may take longer to cook it all down.

In the casserole pot, gently heat up some olive oil on low heat for about a minute: use enough oil to generously coat the bottom of the pot, a good long pour; you can always add in more, as you need, since you don’t want your vegetables to burn or get dried out.

After that minute of heating the oil, add in the finely chopped onion and celery: the oil should never get too hot; you don’t want to shock or scald the veggies. Coat the celery and onion mixture, making sure all of it gets good and oiled; even add more olive oil if you need. Make sure your heat stays at an extremely low simmer, then top the mixture off with a good spanking of freshly ground black pepper (be generous because you won’t be using salt, so this will help the flavor as well as the cooking) and let this simmer, very low and covered, until the onions and celery get really soft. This will take some time; I let this go for well over an hour, usually close to two hours (remember: you won’t be eating this tonight, you are just building your base). Check on the mixture and stir every 15 to 20 minutes or so: make sure the heat stays super low and add more oil, if you need, to keep the mixture soft, and definitely feel free to re-pepper.

During this time, chop a half a head of garlic, about 10 – 12 cloves or so. If you are like me and living in a world where no such thing as too much garlic, use the whole dang head. Chop every clove by hand as finely as you can, itty bitty pieces, to almost a paste. Yes, it takes time so catch up on some crappy TV on your DVR and not feel guilty about it. Pretend each clove is an absurd old problem that you are literally cutting down to size. The finer the chop, the more tasty the final product: chop, chop, chop, chop and chop away with love in your heart.

After 90 minutes to two hours, your celery and onion (the dynamic duo for the time being) should be nice, soft and translucent: add a little more oil, pepper it up and stir for minute or two so that the added oil gets some heat.

We’re now about to enter phase 2: where the dynamic duo meets the superhero garlic and the angels above your head sing to the newly formed trinity.

Add in the garlic, stir well and stay put by the mixture. It’s important that the garlic not get burned or fried, so this phase only takes about two minutes, tops. Once you start to really smell the garlic, once all the fabulousness has been released by the heat after about a minute, give it another thirty seconds or so, stirring and smearing it all around, getting the celery and onion good and saturated with the miracle that is garlic.

Phase 3: another nice, long sleepy phase – add a little bit of water, like a half a cup or so, to this mixture no more than two minutes after you have added the garlic. You could even add white wine, if you’d like, for some zing. If you are a total cheater (and I ain’t hatin, playa), you could actually add some other stock, but it’s healthier if you stick to H2O because this will allow what you have slaved over to actually come through once you are finished. Believe me, it’s worth the wait. The addition of this liquid will allow the ingredients to continue to soften and mix.

Cut up a lemon into 8 pieces, making sure to remove all seeds. Carefully squeeze out each piece into the mixture, checking for and removing any errant seeds; squeeze out every last drop you can. You could use a juicer but I think you get more juice if you do this by hand; as well, there is something about the ceremony of squeezing, and chopping by hand. It just tastes better, in my opinion.

Phase 4: let’s call this mixture “soup” – we’ve earned the name and it certainly has by now. With both the water and lemon juice, the soup should be a nice and chunky dense mix. Add some more freshly ground pepper and let it continue to simmer, over that low heat, for another hour. Then turn the heat off, keep it covered and let it sit to cool enough to go into the fridge, for about another hour or so (no worries if this is longer: it’s not going to turn into poison if it doesn’t go into the fridge immediately after an hour).

Whew: Day 1 is ovah! Instructions for Dayz 2 and on are forthcoming.

Happy New Year, by the way! My resolution is to blog every day. Let’s see if that happens. I am just glad I finally started this thing this year and I am very excited to see what the next year brings. 2014 was the end of some stupid stuff for me so I bet 2015 will be the start of some not-so-stupid stuff, just like this post depicts the start of some not-so-stupid soup: the elixir of the earthling! Soup for DAYZZZZZZ!!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014: Wheels

I geeked out over the sunset yesterday. And I may do it again today: second day here at my coolbeans temp gig, with three huge windows behind me plus it’s another slow day at the office, kids. As I write, glorious upon mcglorious roiling clouds are foaming up the New York skyline and, as this amateur photographer can tell you, clouds are a sunset lover’s best friends.

I failed photography as a class the only time I took it in the 7th grade: I handed in a portfolio of only three pictures; one was of a puddle with no reflection. The best thing I remember out of that class was my teacher Mrs. Lazar’s exclamation when she touched a very hot lamp: she bellowed out in agony, in front of us not-so-innocent thirteen-year-olds, “Jesus Christ on wheels!” The picture which instantly sprouted in my head was that of the savior of all Christians stumbling around on key-tightened roller skates; for some reason, my mind decided that Jesus would not have fared well on wheels. The phrase however could have also meant he was hell on wheels, a real pro, albeit probably not too thrilled to be referred to as “hell” on anything, maybe even not thrilled to be newly on wheels. Maybe it meant he was in a car, or driving a van of sorts, as long-haired guys did back when I was a teenager. Googling the phrase hasn’t unearthed much: Leonardo di Caprio seems to have said it in a movie (couldn’t tell which) and a person dissing Taylor Swift also used it in a blog comment. The fact that my photography teacher was in pain has always made me equate this phrase with something bad, or perhaps something that is just incongruous, like a man from the first century flailing about on metal skates. It’s a phrase that’s never left me: it was my photography education experience in a nutshell.

Until I got my iPhone in the fall of 2011.

That changed everything.

Oh you iPhone camera you: you little taker-of-exactly-what-I-am-looking-at, you. You’ve changed my life. You put Jesus Christ back on terra firma. Now, I get it: now, I understand what all the fuss over photographic documentation is all about. Now I am addicted to capturing, or at least trying to, all the beauty around me, the majority of which involves the setting sun. I had already been a big fan of witnessing the sunset, especially now that I live out here, in the sweet borough of Queens, where we gasp at that large yellow orb lowering like buttah through the slits of majestic buildings, creating a sharp dark, promising urban silhouette; night wakes up gorgeously over in our neck of the woods.

For years, I had already been hauling my fat cheeks down to Hunters Point, to darling Gantry Plaza State Park, to behold the kir-colored skies, to see the far off lane of airplanes line up so to march their descent along the span of the purple East River, towards one of our two airports. I had been instantaneously sprung: open air, low buildings and an expansive water view were not elements I experienced growing up in Manhattan, and the sight of so much light and play of color made my eyeballs and heart join hands and sing. I never considered I could capture on film what I saw with any justice; when vacationing, store-bought postcards always depicted foreign beauty much better than any crappy camera I had brought along. I had given up on trying, quite content with my own memories being an alternate self-camera, all the documentation I needed.

But for some reason, one evening down by the gantries, out on my favorite third pier, the one where you can look straight down 42nd Street, as the river lapped in the dusk breeze, I pulled out my iPhone and took a shot of the Chrysler and United Nations buildings, as they seemed to paint a path of metallic light on the water.

When I got home, I looked at it. “Not bad,” I thought. That first photo is now my phone screen saver, all golden reflection and cobalt twilight sky. And that’s pretty much all she wrote: I have never stopped taking photos since then, chasing the sunset whenever I can.

And yesterday, I was ridiculous. I didn’t need to chase it: an insane bloody sky, spectacular spreading and fast-moving clouds were right over my shoulder, here at the reception desk, where I find myself lucky to be temping. (Notice that I am blogging too: #thankfulforaquietweek) I literally sat on the office window radiator, something that no humble object should ever be subjected to. Gasping “god!” while sucking in my breath, muttering in tongues, drooling like I had found gold (I had, kinda: red, sunsetty gold), I craned my neck and torso, getting as close to the window glass as possible and took pic after pic after pic. I knew around 3:00pm that the day’s demise was going to be something special: it was the clouds. The clouds bounce the light, the clouds give reflection to absurd colors and those insane colors give me evidence of something so much greater than this world, than us, than this life.

The most incredible part of a sunset is the aching quickness with which it changes: it’s over before you know it so you shouldn’t take your eyes away for a second. When it’s at its most unbearably beautiful, when the whole world seems to be consumed by a violet glow, it’s suddenly gone, like a death. It’s over: it was so amazing, so devastatingly pure and now it’s gone, now it’s just growing darkness, ordinary and predictable night setting in, like a hungry in-law.

That’s why I take photos: to catch that moment, that moment when the sky is neither blue from air nor yellow from sun. I use my phone to cement proof that pink exists outside of flowers, that blood oranges live above us for a few seconds, that red flows when it’s not blood. I want to make the ephemeral last, I want to debunk natural order, I want to stop time. And I want to keep it, keep it with me always, take it off its wheels and make it stay a while.

ineffable malignity

The Newtown Pentacle

Holy Cow!

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Saturday last, one found himself aimlessly wandering down Skillman Avenue in Long Island City’s Degnon Terminal and towards the Smiling Hogshead Ranch. The community garden was deserted, of course, and offered one such as myself little succor. My uncharacteristic desire for the company of others thwarted, my languid steps began to scuttle towards the Waldes Koh I Noor complex, whereupon I discovered a herd of cattle. A single one of them was scarlet in coloration, which might have some significance to certain shunned societies which live amongst the Uigar of North Western China’s cold waste.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As has often been posited at this, your Newtown Pentacle, the native art form of the Borough of Queens is surely illegal dumping. Nowhere else do you see the sort of attention to detail, the little splashes of color, the artful composition and…

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Monday, December 29, 2014: Temping, Blogging, Hungry and Halves

I’m temping this week in a quiet office; I am filling in for the vacationing receptionist. It’s a beautiful day here in NYC: it’s New Year’s week so the city, or at least the office workforce city, is more calm and unpeopled than usual.

I haven’t blogged at all in the past month, even though I have so much on tap, in draft form, to post about my neighborhood, about racism, about my family, about food I love, about being alive and getting older. I’ve still been flirting with the Master Cleanse: not quite fully committed, which is typical of me, in so many ways. But I have been working out more, doing my crazy Bound Lotus yoga routine and fairing very well in keeping my ice cream consumption in check. I actually have a half pint leftover in my freezer right now (Bourbon Pecan Praline, limited edition Haagen Dazs: double thumbs up), evidence that I can actually from time to time be a normal person who doesn’t snort up a whole pint in one sitting.

In this office where I am temping, I can’t log into my Gmail account via their desktop nor can I even post anything on Twitter or Instagram on my iPhone, so shame on me for not having my own wireless access. I can, at least, check my email on my phone so I don’t feel like a total Flintstone but I am a lil itchy to post pics from this phat 32nd floor sunny view: I can see so far into Jersey, I bet I could almost make out Ohio but I’ll have to wait until the workday is over to attack the rest of my social media. Yet somehow, happily, I can connect to WordPress here, which I guess these guys don’t view as social media or as a site of general-screw-offedness, so that’s awesome. The universe is thusly directing me towards bloggage: onward!

It’s lunchtime, I’m hungry and there’s no free office food but that really is another blessing. It’s not the worst thing in the world if my broke large butt can’t scarf down Luna Bars I didn’t pay for. I am very happy instead to be sitting at the dreaded receptionist desk, writing and getting paid for just being here. My broke large butt serves a purpose if only by existing to these gentle folk who’ve hired me for this week so I shall choose to feel touched and lucky. Plus I have all those limes at home, just waiting to be squeezed, waiting to be used for the purpose of cleaning me out, giving me a recharge, challenging me to fight my laziness. Being hungry is good for me.

And I am lazy. I hate to admit that. I’m complacent. I’m content when stuff isn’t great. I’m fine if things don’t work out or if I fail or if I lose. I busy myself with delusions that the next great thing is around the corner and I distract myself by walking to the waterfront at Gantry Plaza State Park, taking pictures of Manhattan at sunset, thinking I am contributing something to my future by posting photos of pink skies on Instagram, by taking long walks, by just existing. Sort of like my being in this office right now. In my heart of hearts, half of me thinks I deserve more than I am willing to work for, which is absurd. Whether it’s my own arrogance or how I was raised or the insane comfort I have known on this planet as a white, educated American, this half of me has a slanted, almost collapsed view as every year sees more and more of my innate drive being chipped away by my laziness and complacency. I never got married or had kids because of my inertia. That, and my ridiculous theory that something better is always looking for me so I shouldn’t make any drastic moves; I should just sit tight and wait for the grand reward to fall from the pink sky. This is the half of me I need to leave behind: this is the half of me that doesn’t live in the truth.

The other half of me is much darker but also more urgently poised, more alive really. This other half is the half that knows I am quite mediocre and isn’t surprised when someone is mean or rude to me; this is the half that is insecure, on the edge, alone, a little muddied. This half of me is angry, wants more, feels frustrated by the first half’s yawning slothfulness: this half can’t believe what the other half does or thinks. This half is sick of rolling through the other half’s life, with bits of ice cream and Thai food flying off the crooked, squarish wheels of its apparatus.

This second half is where my energy lives despite the fact that my self-hatred has planted a few nubby roots: this second half cares deeply, feels deeply. It is irritated: things count to it. It’s not satisfied. It’s yelling at me. It’s hungry. And it doesn’t want ice cream.