Sunday, January 27, 2002

I have discovered a phenomenon of mine. It's not a big thing, but it is an oddity and rather peculiar. I am going to cook a meal for a friend today. I have massive amounts of food supplies here, including spices, eggs, fish, vegetables, potatoes, rice and the like; however, in my minds eye, I have a recipe that ALWAYS includes ingredients I DO NOT possess at home. So, it's off to the local market for MORE food.

Looking at cookbooks doesn't help either. In fact it usually makes things worse. Cookbooks ALWAYS contain either an ingredient I do not possess or an ingredient I have never heard of. I am discovering that my kitchen is way too small for the type of cooking I do.

Regarding books . . . I recently read Dave's blog (Diary of a Mad Monk) about people who blather on about the books they have read. Eeek! I do that sometimes. So, immersed in my shallow trough of guilt I have to say that anyone who knows me, knows I collect the damn things. This includes cookbooks. Dave's comments caused me to take a look at this, especially when he said he had read ALL of his books and some of them more than once. Not so for me. Oh, I've read some of them, but mostly I collect them. I tell myself that I will get around to read them and usually do.

This morning I decided not to buy any more cookbooks for the simple reason that I mentioned above. First off, I have enough of them and always end up looking up a recipe that does not tickle my fancy completely. I always end up closing the book, getting an idea of my own in my head, and making my own recipe that often is the farthest thing from the original found in the cooking book. Often, much better tasting. Christ, the cookbook would often have me hopping on a plane to the Florida Keys to select a particular type of lemon or traveling to Southeast Asia for a certain type of fish sauce that will impart the particular type of flavor that is unique of the recipe. The "Joy of Cooking" is world renown for this. Some cookbooks even impose guilt to those who would even THINK of substitution.

So, I'm making a citrus marinade for haddock today. I'm gonna use some fruit juice for a sweet flavor and some subtle lime to impart the flavor I think I want. Maybe I'll throw some lemon in there too with a bit of lime zest for looks. Screw the cookbooks. MAYBE I'll start selling them on so I'll have the extra money for that Southeast Asian fish sauce I'm looking for.

Speaking of Southeast Asian fish sauce, as you guys know I'm traveling to Southeast Asia again. Bangkok, Thailand this time. I have totally lost interest in the United States as I have seen most of it and I'm not impressed. The further away, the more dangerous, the more culturally diverse the better, as far as I'm concerned. I wanna see a green water buffalo again. I wanna ride in one of those rickety looking tricycle jobbies for pocket change as I watch the foreign scenes float by. I want to smell those acrid smells and walk along dimmly lit paths past street vendors hawking their wares and selling scrumptious looking tidbits that are cooking-as-you-speak and that you don't dare ask what you're getting.

I remember being in Laguna, just south of Manila while visiting with Ping Ping and Ronnie, Cely's sister and brother-in-law. I had two days left before my return to the U.S. after two weeks in PI and was wicked self-absorbed in my impatient American bullshit. We were hanging around waiting at Ping and Ronnie's and I was sick of waiting. We did a lot of that while there, but it always paid off. I later learned, upon returning to the U.S. that we Americans are slaves to the clock, whereas Filipino people are not. Anyway, I convinced Cely to take a walk with me and we strolled around the neighborhood in Laguna.

Laguna is upper middle class, in my opinion, as far as the Philippines goes. It is nice and the only thing standing out are the high security wrought iron fences, high walls and metal gates to protect from looters. We strolled by trees bearing fruits I had never seen before, by flowers that were not only fragrant but were bursting with color and beauty. Several blocks away we came upon a basketball court and watched some Filipino boys running about the cracked cement court, in a heated and sweaty game of hoops.

Eventually, we came upon a business section and toured through a pet store that sold fish for home aquariums and finally, a small cubby where a woman had set up a temporary shop to cook her local delicacy that smelled . . . . Oh-so-good. I remember standing there watching as she carefully turned the fried looking snacks on a metal grate as they sizzled. They looked delicious and I came close to buying a couple of them when I suddenly asked Cely what they were. Before she had a chance to answer, I playfully laughed outloud saying, "They look like batter fried chicken feet." Guess I spoke too soon. "That's what they are," said Cely. Needless to say, I did not feel like a culinary adventurer that day.

That same evening I consumed mass quantities of Jack fruit, a local fare that grows on trees and looks like huge greenish brown tumors hanging oddly about. Some of these fruits measure two to three feet in length and a foot or more in girth. We purchased a hunk of one at a local market and at a restaurant, our waitress offered to cut it up into individual serving sizes for us. After woofing down my plate of sizzling pork sisig, I inquired of Ronnie how to eat this interesting looking fruit. I first must describe how it looked when open and sliced up . . .

The fruit has white, fibrous bands runing through it, encasing the yellow edible part and hiding the huge, brown oval seeds. The yellow "meat" was smooth in texture and shiny. The taste was a delicious blend of vanilla and banana with almost a spice flavor that escapes description. I loved it and I'm NOT a fruit eater. At a certain point during the meal, Ronnie cautioned against eating too much Jack fruit as it is not easily digestible. The next morning I wished Ronnie had made his statement a tad earlier as Cely and I both were suffering some powerful stomach pains as payment for the wonderful taste of Jack fruit. -Jeeem-


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