Saturday, September 14, 2019

Sometimes the Kitchen Calls Me

Hell of a day in the kitchen. My friend Devon, who is currently living here -- I wrote about him in glowing terms a few days ago becuse he's like one of my sons -- went away for a couple of days yesterday. My daughter Madeleina came home from university but had to return there today for somthing, so her live in boyfriend, Adrian, didn't come. Madelaina and I had a great meal of salmon with sliced red peppers, garlic, green onions, ginger, and Sesame oil on a bed of fresh spinach, watched a movie — something with Matt Dillon with a mustache that was REALLY wordy and I finally gave up — and then I went to bed.
Today, with Devon gone and Madeleina going to be gone for a few hours, I wrote a couple of recipes in the cook book I'm trying to get done, sang for everyone, stretched my back, wrote a blog piece or two, looked for a story for my newspaper, the Fort Worth Weekly, that I want to write, and then thought that I really felt like cooking.
What I wanted to cook was Sauce Espagnole, the basis for every damned French beef sauce, stew, soup, and anything else. It's a beef stock reduction done twice and it takes a lot of veggies, work, patience.
I thought I'd make that while I was cooking my fajita stew for dinner. that requires yellow jasmine rice. And then Boots the wonder dog's food, chicken livers, meat trimmings and a chicken leg had to be cooked as well. And I only have two working burners on my stove. So it was gonna be a day.
For the Espgnole, I bought about 10 pounds of beef soup bones with lots of marrow. I put those in the oven at 350 for two hours. Took them out, hammered them to loosten the marrow, then threw them in a stock pot with one head of organic celery, two organic sweet onions, 20 teeth of rough cut fresh garlic, five organic carrots, slice, and olive oil.
When all was brown, I added 6 liters of water, sea salt and cracked black pepper, brought it to a boil, then reduced to simmering.
While that was cooking, I trimmed the flank steak for the fajitas, a painstaking task, then marinated them in garlic, olive oil, fajita seasoning, black pepper, Peruvian achiote for color and taste, and white vinegar.
When the beef stock was done — reduced to 2 quarts after 3 hours — I strained it. Then I put 20 more fresh garlic teeth, two more onions, four more organic carrots, another head of celery, a half pound of Baby Bella mushrooms, a half-pound of very good ham, chopped, a full brace of parsely, chopped, four fresh beefsteak tomatoes and 6 ounces of the best tomato paste I can buy into the stock pot. I added the stock I'd made after the veggies browned, then added four quarts of organic grass fed beef stock (I was cheating a little, okay?????), brought it to a boil, then reduced to simmer. It's been on for three hours and probably has five more hours to go to reduce to one pint, which is what I am after.
While that was cooking, I cut the marinated flank steak into 1/4 inch slices and put them into a pot with their own marinade, plus two more heads of garlic. Thirty minutes Iater I added two onions slices into half-circles, achiote and white vinegar. Let that cook for half an hour, then put it on the back burner and started the yellow jasmine rice.
When the rice was cooking I stirred everything, washed all the used pots and strainers, got the chicken/duck food ready, fed the outside birds hummingbirds.
When the rice was nearly done I put it on one of the non-working burners and started the dog food: A chicken leg, beef trimmings and a pound of chicken livers.
When Madeleina comes home soon, I'll put the fajita mat back on the fire, add the red, orange, yellow, green peppers, the scallions, veggie stock, and later, a bunch of chopped cilantro. Vinegar to taste.
Also mde smoothies, a peruvian juice drink. I'm freaking tired. Feel like I was back in a Manhattan restaurant kitchen. Dang. But I still feel good.
I hope you all eat well tonight. Nice way, if slightly frantic, to spend a day now and then. Just you and veggies.

Small Bushmaster Bite

Someone asked about me being bitten by a bushmaster snake. It was just a baby. Still dangerous. Here's what I wrote:
Dear X: It was nothing. When I had my bar in Iquitos, Peru, people would bring in all sorts of animals and we'd buy them in exchange for a meal, then give them to a friend who would take them out into deep, non-inhabited rivers and set them free in their own environments every week or so. One time this guy came in with a small, two-foot long baby water snake he called it. It sure looked like a baby shushupe — bushmaster — to me, but I couldn't tell because he had it in a bag of water in a pail. So I took it out — I was pretty good at handling snakes, having worked with Rom Whitaker in India and watching him do it — it exposed it's fangs and I told him never to pull that nonsense on me again. Water snakes are often harmless, this was a baby monster. I put it back in the bag but he fumbled tying the bag off and the petrified snaked jumped out of the bag and onto the bar. It got past me and I realized that my baby daughter, Madeleina, was about 10 feet to my right, so I quick stepped and grabbed it before it could fall off the bar and kill her. Unfortunately, I missed the perfect catch just by the head by just half an inch, enough for it to snap into my right forefinger. I snapped it off quickly and killed it where it fell with my heel, but I knew I had a wet bite. My wife, Chepa, was called and rushed to the bar and took me to the Ana Stahl Clinic where my friend Jeremy Lenigan was volunteering. He shot me up with adrenalin, cleaned the wound, drew blood, and watched over me for hours. The venom was not injected in sufficient amounts to kill me — the bushmaster, even juveniles, can be deadly — but did get me sick for a few days. And I lost the ability to bend that forefinger for a few years. I almost have it back now, 19 years after the bite.

If I Take Jungle Medicines, Why Do I Get Sick

Sickness has come up in conversation
Several times in the last year, people have asked why, if I've done all this Amazon medicine, have I gotten so sick. They question the bite by the bushmaster, the septic spider bite that opened sores all over my arms and legs; they ask about my hemorrhagic dengue fever, my exploded intestines, my two serious bouts with flesh eating bacteria.
The crux of the questions seems to be: "If you do all these Amazon medicines, why do you get so sick? Maybe they don't work and you are just kidding yourself."
It is a legitimate question.
The answer is two-fold. One, if you play in the jungle as I have, every year for 35 years for a couple of months or more, walking from the Ucayali to the Galvez, or the Rio Midi from Tamishako, or from Herrera to Angamos via the long route, and then spend a month more on each of 20 trips in the jungle, you will expose yourself to some things you cannot imagine. Yellow fever is the only typical disease from the area that I have not had. Malaria, to me, is just like a bad freaking flu. Normal dengue is normal. We don't count that as serious. Bot fly infestations in my private parts and legs is to be expected when I rebuild a boat and take it out for 31 days on the Yavari, the border between Brazil and Peru, and tie up on trees overhanging the river.
My answer is this: If I was not using the Amazon medicines in the jungle and here at home — I did sapo, frog sweat, also called kambo in Brazil twice in the last two days, for instance — I think any of those issues would have killed me. They are all mortal infirmities. The medicines have kept me alive and ticking. No, the jungle medicines did not ward off the diseases and bacteria and animal bites, but they allowed my body to cope with them without succumbing. That is the medicine value.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

About a Friend

I am gonna say this: I like company that helps. My friend Devon Wright is staying with me in Joshua, Texas, now, and it's good to have him. I like the conversation, the company, the whole deal. What makes it easy for me, someone who lived alone for a long time, both before and after my marriage, or lived with kids as the solo dad most of the time, is that he simply pitches in. I got the cat food from the back room, both wet and dry, and he took it out. I was working on a story today and Devon went to the store to buy the stuff needed. I provided the stuff for the chickens, he cut the watermelon, cleaned the spinach, cut the hard crust off the bread -- and tossed the crust to the animals out back -- and I got dinner ready. Without a word of who should do what, birds, chickens, ducks, cats, and Boots, the wonder dog, got fed. Our dinner, a simple one, is en route. Dishes are cleaned. Kitchen swept. Appropriate drugs taken -- just kidding -- I mean the Peruvian indigenous Matses snuff, Nü-nü and nobody is stressed. That's teamwork, and that's a good thing in my book.
What are we having? (Vegans, close your eyes!) Paper thin roast beef on fresh country white bread with horseradish mayo, spiced Mediterranean cheddar, and tomato. Side of fresh organic cucumber with fresh lime juice.
Cool, right? I love living alone, but I'm getting to the point where I really love good company.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Guests coming

My friend, Al Giordano, has been posting wonderful food that he has been making. As a chef, I pay attention. He posted the ingredients to a sandwich that were so complicated today that I had to respond to him. This is what I wrote:
You make me out to be a pauper. I have 13 guests coming in for three days this weekend and all I got is: Friday afternoon: Hummus, meats, good cheeses, jungle guacamole, fruit, tomatoes with fresh basil, garlic, and mozzarella. For dinner stuffed shells with ricotta, mozzarella, asiago cheese, garden basil, spinach, shallots, eggs from my chickens, and green onions, with homemade tomato sauce, and mozzarella, served with chicken parmesan, spaghetti squash and a vegetable mix with garlic bread. Sat morning: Pancakes with fresh picked blueberries and Canadian maple syrup, double cut bacon, home fried potatoes, NYC bagels with Philadelphia Cream Cheese, three cheese bread and butter, baked, and fruit. Sunday: Baked eggs with ham and swiss and veggies, papas Huancaina from peru, papaya with lime. Sunday night: Barbeque of marinated chicken thighs, shrimp, beef sausage, grilled asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, scallions. With potato and egg salad, fusilli salad with red peppers, balsamic vinegar, and shallots, three beans with jowel bacon, garlic, and onions. Your cooking is way, way more complex for the taste buds than mine. So am jealous, all the way.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Curanderos falling off the path

Someone asked why a curandero with a good reputation might suddenly be acting very selfishly. This is how I responded:
There are several things at work here that I think are very important to remember. The first is to remember that the curandero is human. Knowing plants, having plant and other spirit allies does not change that. They get tempted by the same things that tempt the rest of us, and sometimes fall off the path because of that. Secondly: there is such a call for curanderos at the 100 plus centers around Iquitos alone — never mind the hundreds of other centers in Peru, Colombia, the USA, Europe, Central America, etc, who are serving ayahuasca, that some people serving have never even done ayahuasca. I know several camps around Iquitos where people I knew years ago are now serving and have never had the medicine, never seen a ceremony before stepping in as a curandero. Third, and this one is perhaps the most important, is that many curanderos work with the four magics (and there may be many more, but I will keep to the four that Julio LLerena, my teacher, and later my friend, used). Red magic is the magic of blood. It is the healing magic of the human and animal body. Green Magic, is the magic of nature. It is the magic that binds all of us together: The piss you take today will evaporate and be carried as rain to feed my children as spring water tomorrow. The piss I take, the spit I spit, will be the water that feeds your garden. White magic is the spark of life, the illuminating force of the universe, from the tiniest sub-atomic particle to the brightness of the stars. Black Magic is the molten, magnetic core of everything, the force that keeps things from spinning off helter-skelter, from the smallest sub-atomic particles to the earth, the sun, the entire universe. Now many real curanderos will wind up working with those magics and those magics will become allies. They will learn to heal with red magic, often utilizing the green magic of the plants and roots. They will bring light to darkness to illuminate problems, to expose fears, and so forth. They will utilize black magic to bring things together, to transform fear into fearlessness, cowardice into courage. BUTT there is an issue with black magic: It's magnetic force is so strong that in working with it, some of that magnetism will get on your fingers. You will be able to call things to you that you want. You will have that magnetic power to some extent. But the rule with black magic is that you may never call anything to yourself for selfish purposes. You can't choose to win a lottery ticket, you can't choose to get a girl or boy with that power. If you do, you lose all your allies and genios. But it is difficult to resist that temptation, and many good curanderos eventually fall under it's spell, and in so doing, fall off the path. So someone might be fantastic and loving and giving one day, and the next week they are out for themselves. It is a very difficult temptation to resist. And once you've fallen off the path, it is a very long and trying time to get back on it. I think that is why a lot of curanderos who work hard for years and decades, go through periods where they are not curanderos at all, but essentially leeches.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Poltical Insanity

Had a short piece to write today. Just 1,400 words about the kids on the border, which really irks me, because treating kids as sub human allows us to see them as non-human and that allows us to see their parents as monsters, and we don't care how horribly we treat monsters, do we? This administration is fukked with hurting the most vulnerable. Like treating a 3 year old badly--and the government just went to court and claimed that is nothing in the federal Agreement for treating immigrants with soap or toilet paper--despite the government's rule that all kids must be treated safely and in a sanitary manner, with decency.
So I finished that, hit my head on the wall 20 times because a concussion was better than thinking about the freaking Trump Administration's purposeful infliction of pain on the most vulnerable among us. Hell, last week they took a breastfeeding baby from his mother while he was feeding. This is stuff us Catholics register as real sin. And all you protestants out there, remember this: You are failed Catholics. And you evangelicals? You are failed protestants, you freaking losers. You are so far from a holy base of judaism/Islam that you are out of your minds.
Okay, but the thing is this. Despite my anger, righteous anger at the world, I made two dozen chicken wings, asparagus and sweet summer corn. So I am going to replenish with that and watermelon, and Madeleina just brought in half-a-dozen eggs from the chicken coop, and Bootsie, the Wonder Dog just ate four stuffed poblano peppers and Madelena painted our front door a light shade of purple and I cleaned the damned kitchen top to bottom.
Here is the thing: Politics can twist you into knots, and particularly people like me, who watch things. But you still have to grab a moment or two to be free, cook good food, take a walk in the woods, smell some flowers, so that you can come back strong and centered. Does any of this make any sense? I hope so. You have to be strong enough to fight good, worthy fights. And fighting this administration at every turn is a worthy fight.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

The Back Story with Peru's National Soda, Inca Cola

Here is the story on Inca Cola, which is bubblegum in a bottle. In every country in the world where Coca-Cola has products, it's the number one seller. It's a point of pride with the company. But Inca Cola is the national soda of Peru and Coca-Cola didn't like that. Sometime during the 1990s or early 2000s when I was living in Iquitos and running my Cold Beer Blues Bar on the Puerto Mastranza in the toughest part of town, Coca-Cola started spending millions and millions to unseat Inca Cola as the nation's top drink. They had billboards and sponsored live music shows and placed television advertisements all over the country for several years. And they still could not beat Inca Cola. So they decided to buy Inca Cola. But Inca Cola's family--the people who ran it, knew that Coca-Cola was just going to buy it and kill it. So they said, basically, we'll sell it on these conditions: You cannot kill it. You cannot come into the factories where we make it, bottle it, or distribute it. You cannot touch the formula for 50 years, long enough for our children and their children to run this company. The only thing they allowed Coca-Cola to do was to add a tiny "Product of Coca-Cola" to the traditional Inca Cola bottle design--although I don't have a bottle in front of me this second so the phrasing might be a bit different. But that's it. And Coca-Cola had to go along with that list of demands in order to say they were #1 in Peru. It was fantastic to watch that go down.

A Special Rock 'n Roll Moment for Me

One of my best rock and roll moments--and I helped build Jimi Hendrix' Ladyland on 8th street in New York, and built Island records studio on Grove Street and in the Carnegie Building for Bob Marley and Peter Tosh (and smoked joints with them while I was painting) was when Carlos Santana "Yes". 
 "This is Carlos Santana. I am going to Chlle for the first time and I need two things: I need to know how it is, and I need a lot of pot for my crew and band. I was told you could handle that." 
Now, as of yet I am not gay, but I almost creamed my pants. I mean, this was one of my freaking gods asking me for a favor. It was unbelievable. Just like when Catherine Deneuve called me because I had Woody Alan's last phone number and we wound up having phone sex. So Carlos called me and I hooked him up with pot in Chile and I thought that was a good thing.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

I'm Angry

You think life sucks? I'm gonna tell you another thing. The kids in cages at the border, the kids with no toothbrushes, no soap, no towels, no beds, no showers, no soccer or basketballs? The private prison industry that is housing those kids is charging $740 or so per night per kid. 1,000 kids: three-quarter of a million dollars nightly. Federal prisoner in a privately owned penitentiary cost $73 bucks a night. So who the fuck is taking 10 times that amount and telling kids a $12 buck soccer ball is too much, or a $0.15 toothbrush is too much when they are getting $740 a night per kid. Who the fuck is watching the hen house?
I will always reserve my right to be a fair and honest investigative reporter while still having feelings for human beings, whether housed for two-plus decades for nonviolent crimes, losing their property for a single pot plant on a 1,000 acre farm, or being a child who is brown. If I didn't have those feelings, I wouldn't waste my time being an investigative reporter. But yes, I am fair to both sides. If both sides are fair to the people involved.

It's Freaking Hot Here in Texas

Well, after five or so days, we will be dipping down below 100 degrees tomorrow. With the AC on, we are hitting 86 in the house for most of the day when it's that hot outside. Unfortunately, it's a cheap house with no insulation. I tend to fall asleep at my desk twice a day, just from the heat. And I wake up sort of sweaty and in a mean mood, ready to lash out because I'm so damned uncomfortable. I'm sorry, universe.
On the other hand, I've finished my story on the guys and women who were doing life in prison for first time nonviolent drug offenses, and I hope it gets the attention of some people who will work to get some people out of that hell. The people I wrote about got sentences commuted via clemency from Obama, and are all doing well on the outside.
So many people suffered from the stupid war on drugs. As one of my guys said: "All of the drugs they got in the conspiracy (crack cocaine, 1992) from FBI buys and what we had when they rounded us up, did not come to one kilo of crack cocaine (basically 1 1/2 ounces of cocaine cooked with baking soda to make crack). They charged us as kingpins with 15 kilos. Because crack was sentenced as 100-to-one of powder cocaine, we were all sentenced for 1,500 kilos of cocaine, automatic life in prison. Then they said we were kingpins, which meant life without parole. We weren't kingpins. Kingpins had ships and airplanes to bring in tons of cocaine. We had less than a kilo among all 31 of us. We still got life without parole for ghost cocaine that never existed."
Thank god for Obama's (late but better than nothing) 2014 Clemency Initiative, which released 1,794 people, 500 of whom were serving life without parole for first, nonviolent, drug offenses.