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The New York Times International Cookbook ‘by’ Craig Claiborne is among my small gathering of long-time book companions. I put the quote marks there because I’m not sure I see Craig anywhere in the book, aside from a preface where he lists a zillion names and gives thanks to a large city.

This is a book of recipes. Period. No commentary, no cultural notes, no cute little stories, no stressing over ingredients or substitutions, no ‘how to cook’ notes, no pages of equipment with details.

The collection of recipes is good and basic. So much so that the book feels substantive. But in terms of cooking from it – no, I never really did. It feels substantive, the book, but it is more on my shelves just because it feels substantive. Not because it is substantively useful to me.

There are several recipes in this book that were worthwhile to me, though. Very basic recipes but simple and delicious. Pastisio is the first – and the best of the lot. And if you don’t have pastisio every once in a while there will be a part of your soul lost. You will forget the glaring sun upon the open-aired sea, lose the taste of Retsina burning at the back of your throat, and rue the memory of cats sidling round your feet at the taverna.

Therefore it is important to keep the pastisio fires burning. One recipe. That’s why I keep this book.

You have to eat oatmeal or you’ll dry up. Anybody knows that. (Kay Thompson)

Kay was really talking about pastisio when she wrote that.

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For almost as long as I can remember, I’ve believed that I am Pippi Longstocking. My mother encouraged this belief as soon as I could scan pages in the Pippi book (this was before Pippi was immortalized in film). Pippi, after all, was from Sweden – and so was my mother’s father. Pippi was red-headed and freckled like me, and she not only was a ‘character’ (which was a good thing, in my mother’s mind) but she was the strongest girl in the world.

Before reading Pippi, I’m afraid the way I was shaping up was just not to my mother’s tastes. The things that seemed wrong to her had been introduced by my grandmother – including, at the grand old age of four years old, desperately wanting a lavender colored two-piece linen skirt suit with matching hat, tiny little clasp purse, and white gloves to wear to church – on Easter. My mother did not like church nor did she like the idea of girl growing up to be like a ‘church-woman’ in any way. So Pippi was the application of medicine she applied, and it took quite successfully!

Now Pippi had many adventures – the real Pippi. And so have I. If I had become a little lady with white gloves as opposed to becoming Pippi, I never would have been able to walk into a professional kitchen and learn to kick ass well enough in that environment to eventually become an executive chef. White gloves simply don’t cut it in many environments.

My big adventure, at this moment of my life, is raising my children. I raise them alone as a single mother. I’ve got my own ideas of what that encompasses, for me and for my children, and this adventure is of a rather quiet nature. It’s a private adventure. Not thrilling to talk about, in general. But I wouldn’t give it up for the world.

But a few days ago, Diana Buja left a comment (for ‘foodvixen the chef’) that mentioned going to Africa – where her own adventure takes place – and working for a month in the kitchen being grown there in Burundi at the gorgeous hotel built to charm tourists into visiting a fascinating and beautiful country  where hope lives right alongside terrible and deep challenges of the sort many of us will never have to face.

My heart soared in the face of this invitation. Pippi, me – I would go! I knew this adventure would teach me more than I carried along with me . . . for things like this always do. And I was ready to go!

After imagining just how it would be, after a bit of time reality set in. I may be Pippi, but I still have two kittens here at home – and I won’t leave them for this sort of adventure just yet. Because that is the sort of Mommy-Cat I am.

But what could I see, if I did go? Maybe I would see Gustav!

The hand of a crocodile at the Musee Vivant in Bujumbura. Urban legend has it in the countries surrounding Lac Tanganyika that within the lake lives a 30m crocodile known as Gustav. He is reported to have eaten over 100 people drowning after a ferry capsized en route to Burundi from Tanzania.

The hand of a crocodile at the Musee Vivant in Bujumbura. Urban legend has it in the countries surrounding Lac Tanganyika that within the lake lives a 30m crocodile known as Gustav. He is reported to have eaten over 100 people drowning after a ferry capsized en route to Burundi from Tanzania.

I’d have to decide whether I thought of myself as Stanley or as Livingstone, when I went to the place the two of them met in 1871

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And there would be many interesting things to eat!

Dried fish, Lates stappersii known in Tanzania as "mikebuka". This species is endemic to Lake Tanganyika.

Dried fish, Lates stappersii known in Tanzania as "mikebuka". This species is endemic to Lake Tanganyika.

This would be an adventure of a Pippi sort! I’d love to do it – and maybe it will happen . . . next year? Or the year after? As they say, ‘God willing’. Let’s change that to ‘Goddess willing’ and I’m going to cross my fingers, too! The adventures we are allowed – and even those we sometimes fall into unwittingly – bring us to life. As do the stories we believe!

Some music? Of course!

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Like any other thing we eat, there is the question of ‘why’? Why do we eat this particular thing? Do we eat it because we are really hungry? Or do we eat it because it just happens to be in front of us and available to eat? Or maybe simply because it happens to be the set time for a meal? These questions are the simpler ones. The more challenging questions have to do with tradition, history, culture, and power.

Power is not the least of things affecting what we eat – though in our culture that fact is not as apparent as it may be in other cultures.

In this short online documentary from National Geographic, the bush meat trade is summarized in a way that brings attention to some of the power issues circling around the eating of wild game or bushmeat such as rhinoceros in Africa. There was no mention of the lumber companies which have a hand in the story, but the players in this game – and the histories and traditions – all combine to create a not-so-small battle of ‘whose reality is the right one here’ – with very real results of the battle showing in day-to-day life in this place faraway from where we live and eat.

There is real hunger in some places. Hunger for food to stay alive. Then there are the other sorts of hungers. The complex hungers of status that play out in a number of ways.

Why would we want to eat rhinoceros? Or lion or tiger or bear? These things are not part of our cultural norms as edible things. Is the answer ‘I just want to know what it tastes like,’ a real answer – fully true and valid with no squirrelly levels of additional or alternate meaning underneath this flat-stated claim?

Perhaps in some cases it is for mere entertainment value.

We can buy wild game, including lion meat – online. Here, at this link, is a source. It is called ‘exotic meat’. Which of course has a different feel to the mind than ‘bush meat’ does. One of the satisfied customers giving testimonial on the website of this online exotic meat store was the pastor of a church in California, who states

“Anshu, The Lion Meat and the Python Meat was a hit. The guys found ways to cook it that were appealing. 500 people had a taste. Thanks for all your help.It was very nice to meet you and visit with you on the phone.” Yours, Jeff Beltz, Pastor, Hydesville Community Church

Dining upon the rhinoceros is certainly something to muse upon. We’ve come up close to the beast and have a few recipes ready if the need or urge arises.

The rhino is a homely beast,
For human eyes he’s not a feast.
Farwell, farewell, you old rhinoceros,
I’ll stare at something less prepoceros.

I think the rhino is rather cute, though Ogden Nash would disagree. Prepoceros, though – for sure.

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Ugh. Or at least that’s what I thought at first. Violet-Sweet Potato Latte sounds like something in a Tim Burton film. There’s something frightening about it that makes its name transpose silently into ‘Violent-Evil Potato Latte’. What would happen if you drank it? Perhaps a crack would start to form on the plaster of the wall, slowly opening to reveal another world filled with multi-color polka-dotted baby lambs gamboling on anodized-steel hills and hummocks.

But I digress, and of course the picture I paint is merely modern agriculture as viewed by many people.

The more I considered the Violet Sweet-Potato Latte the more I liked it, though. Tasting the flavors in the  mind brings the conclusion that they could work. Who knows! The flavors could possibly work as well as the Starbucks Pumpkin and Spice Latte – which I have about once a year.

Is there any other thing made from sweet potatoes and violets? I decided to search. A quick search turned up nothing, nada, rien. But this Sweet-Potato Mochi recipe might be revised to add a touch of delicate violet syrup along with the coconut milk to good results.

Shades of Tim Burton again. What is that thing in the middle of the plate of mochi do tell?

Nevertheless though I be scared I be brave and the recipe does look quite good. The original source of this interesting mochi recipe is the Hawaiian Electric Company website, which maintains quite a collection of recipes not often found elsewhere. Mind-boggling, really. I can not imagine Con Edison doing this.

I’ve been musing on recipes strange because of a wonderful place I fell across the other day: Delicious Corpse. It’s now on my list of places to visit every day, simply because of the joy it brings.

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Postscript: After writing this I got a note from a friend with the thought that the Violet-Sweet Potato Latte was not made from violet and sweet potatoes but instead from violet sweet potatoes. Hah! Apparently I’ve been viewing the world through violet-colored glasses in this search for things made with violets. I’m seeing little violet flowers everywhere, even when they are not there!

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I’ve wanted to make Son-of-a-Bitch Stew since forever.

It’s been so long I’ve wanted to make one that I can’t remember anymore where it was I first even heard of Son-of-a-Bitch Stew. And usually I can trot out the source of any recipe I’ve ever made or heard of because my mind is a Steel Recipe Trap.

I looked in all the cookbooks I’ve had for a long time. Nothing. Nada. Rien. Kaput. Son-of-a-Bitch Stew was not even mentioned by Waverly Root, and goodness knows he mentioned a lot of wonderfully, exceptionally odd things.

But that Son-of-a-Bitch Stew has been calling my name. I used to threaten people with the fact that I’d make it for them. Threaten or promise, that is. I was ready to do it at the drop of a hat (but only if it was a cowboy hat) and even knew butcher shops that had most of the ingredients.

That Son-of-a-Bitch (stew, that is) came awful close to hitting the stove once when a fellow from Wyoming came to lunch. Why Wyoming? (Say that fast five times . . .) Because Wyoming is a place where the Son-of-a-Bitch was known and loved. It’s not only in Texas, you know.

I was close to putting it on the menu, as close to it as a pig’s nose-ring is to the soil when they’re rooting around, but then I chickened out. Actually my mind was more running along the lines of making Son-of-a-Bitch-in-a-Sack, which would have been much more good old-fashioned fun, but darn it all. Something inside told me not to.

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I probably never would have found all the ingredients though, or at least not without saddling up my trusty steed and heading out for a long ride on the dusty trail in search of some of the more interesting tidbits. Then there’s also the fact that for sure the kitchen staff would have run for the hills themselves if I’d proposed the idea of Son-of-a-Bitch for lunch.

Son-of-a-Bitch in a Sack is sort of like Son-of-a-Bitch Stew, or it’s not. It’s not when it’s a pastry, a dessert – like the recipe Alan Simpson mentions enclosing in his letter. But the other way is like an Extreme Son-of-a-Bitch-Stew. You get real, with this thing. Here’s a recipe for Son-of-a-Bitch Stew from Clifford Wright.

What I remember most, but what I can not find written anywhere (did I imagine it, as I loped across the imaginary plains on my imaginary horse?) is that the Son-of-a-Bitch in a Sack (the one that is not a dessert) (the one you get real with) was cooked in a cow’s stomach. Therefore the name.

Though that Son-of-a-Bitch is still calling my name, the words are fainter now as time goes on by. Now, when I read the ingredients list, no low growl emits from my throat – the growl that says “I Will“.  Now, the corners of my mouth turn up a bit in delight at the unbridled sheer macho joy of the whole thing. And I say to myself “Maybe. Just maybe. Someday.

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Clifford Wright’s “Real Stew” book (source of the recipe above) is here on my bookshelves. And although I winnow constantly, it has been – and will always be – a Keeper. 🙂
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Yeeeeeeeee-haw! Rawhide!

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It’s good to know what sign you are, to eat accordingly.

BBC GoodFood can help with this. I like what they advise for me.

Happy Chinese New Year!

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Thank you.

Recipe from CoffeeGeek here.

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Image Source: foto_decadent/Tim Walker/UK Vogue December 2008/Tales of the Unexpected/The Marvellous Mischievious Magical World of Roald Dahl

It’s not like Boris and I don’t have our challenges. Most of you think the life of a girl detective is an easy one. But my job gets tougher and tougher each day.

The last time I’d had a really good mystery to solve was back in May when I solved The Case of the Missing Snack.

There’s not much call for those with my specialised degree –  the C.K.L.E. (Certified Kitchen Lounge-About Eater) is a path one follows because one must. The gathering together of dross is not a part of the thinking process at all.

We’ve been spending a lot of time lately burning bangers and mashing mashers as a matter of fact. But always, always! in the finest fashions, you should know. Stiff upper lip and all.

But Boris has become moody. Around the holidays he longs for the cooking of his childhood. Or what he thinks was the cooking of his childhood, anyway. He actually grew up in Flushing, Queens – which you get to by taking a pot-holed highway to after going over some midtown bridge in Manhattan – but he believes he grew up eating Russian food.

And he hungers for it in an awful way.

So, for the New Year’s, I am making a picnic! A Georgian picnic.

We are having a pickled cabbage rose set just so in the center of the quilt we’ll recline upon. Then we will dive into chicken with walnuts. Because no picnic is complete without a bit of cooking done en plein air we’ll start a little woodfire off to the side to prepare some skewered eggs along with some grilled cheese.  Maybe a bit of steamed purslane would be nice as a salad (as it seems to be growing among a rockpile nearby it would not be dear at all, either!) For dessert we’ll just stay traditional and have the New Year’s Day treat of Gozinake. (When you are Georgian, there is no such thing as too many walnuts.)

It looks to be a fine day, though a bit chilly.

Cheers to all of you on the first day of the new year. And do give me a call if you need a good mystery solved.

I’m always hungry.

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Darra Goldstein’s The Georgian Feast is a must-read, for anyone interested in the foods of Georgia.

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The last day of the year is a time for cautionary tales. Most everyone has their own to muse on, but if you find yourself shorted in this area you can always turn to The Tale of Samuel Whiskers and the Roly-Poly Pudding to give yourself a good fright.

Here is where the action begins in earnest. Tom Kitten has gone off on an adventure and in the process has been captured by hungry (aren’t they always) rats. The dough is gathered, the rolling pin pushed over to begin the task of making a fine Kitten Roly-Poly for dinner.

Poor Tom Kitten.

There are other sorts of roly-poly puddings to be made if you like the idea but without the kitten.

The Great British Kitchen has recipes made with jam, syrup, lemon, and mincemeat. And if all this is just too dainty for your taste, here you will find a good recipe for rasher pudding, also known as bacon roly-poly.

Any of these taste fine with champagne, ale, or tea.

Happy New Year!

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I love QQ food. I love Q food too.

Q is not a question. Q is a texture. Or as expressed much more succinctly and beautifully by Zoe Tribur in the Spring 2006 issue of Gastronomica

QQ is a unique oral sensation that
cannot be mistaken for any other. When you put something
in your mouth—cold or warm, salty or sweet, dry or wet,
it doesn’t matter—if the substance first pushes back as you
seize it with your teeth, then firms up for just a moment
before yielding magnanimously to part, with surprising ease
and goodwill, from the cleaving corners of your mandibles—
that is Q.

Many people do not like Q food. It is somewhat alien to the palate of the eater exposed solely to the foodways of the middle-class United States.

That’s okay. More for me. 🙂

I’ve found a recipe for a Q food served at the Winter Solstice way over on the other side of the world. Tang Yuen. It looks delicious. Yay, tang yuen!

It is a few days past the Winter Solstice, but better late than never. Perhaps this will be the start of a new tradition – our own post-Christmas Tang Yuen party!

Note: The article in Gastronomica on Q is downloadable as a PDF file. It is titled ‘Taste’ by Zoe Tribur and is definitely worth reading, for any gastro of any astral sphere.

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One can also explain why just Christmas ham wound up on the Christmas smorgasbord. The wild boar was probably tamed sometime during the Bronze Ages. Its meat was tender and succulent and soon became the cult animal of the Vikings. Valhalla was the Vikings paradise and where warriors met to hold nightly feasts. Every night they dined on a special boar named Sarimer which was roasted over an open pit. Beautiful amazons served mjöd, a beer brewed from honey and hops, to the warriors. Then, abracadabra, each morning lively little Sarimar reappeared in his pen once again, grunting happily and eagerly awaiting a new slaughter for the evening feast.

(Source: Nordstjernan.com)

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How our shoes define us! (Maybe even moreso than our haircuts? Arguable.)

Link to the online boutique of Jean-Paul Hevin, Master Choclatier

The feminist in me growls at this shoe. The image, the pain, the everything! The girl in me purrs at this shoe. My god. Or rather my goddess. How gorgeous. The chef in me bows in deep admiration at this shoe. My highest accomplishment in chocolate work was a chocolate cabbage (which is rather simple to make, if anyone wants to know). And the chocolate-lover in me wants to take a big bite of this shoe, if only I could dare to!

There was an old woman
Who lived in a shoe;
She had so many children,
She didn’t know what to do.
She gave them some broth,
Without any bread.
She whipped them all soundly,
And sent them to bed.

No, this was not the shoe of the old woman in that nursery rhyme.

Poverty is a hurtful thing. And those who can not afford chocolate shoes at this time, with all the careening power of the information superhighway slamming at them in every arena of life that they must do so, that they should do so – may be hurting right now.

Strangely, this hurt can come not from lack of anything really important or necessary but merely from the comparisons made between ‘them’ and ‘the Joneses’.

I know of no old woman who whips their children but I do know of a man who hits his wife at this time of year. He is angry. The anger is brought on by the season.

The season has its beauties, but every beautiful thing has a flip side.

I hope that nobody reading this (and nobody not reading this, for that matter!) has let the flip side bite them.

Chocolate shoes are fantastic things. But even better is peace of mind.

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If I can’t have too many truffles, I’ll do without truffles.

Penny-pinching has infiltrated every part of life if one takes as generic starting-point that of Colette and her crowd.

Over-truffled turkeys are Out. A hint of truffle oil, disparagingly dabbed here and there accompanied by a bit of heavy breathing, is In.

Trips to the Continent for months on end, scraping and bowing while dining with le Compte and his bevy of mistresses, are Out. Dining at home and worrying over how to stretch the untruffled turkey bones into a decent stock for gravy, are In.

But we’ll always have Paris.

After all, there is Le Monde online, and there is le blog attached to it.

It’s the In thing to do. Just imagine all the energy use in the food system you’ve saved!

Enfin. Clickey here for Clin d’oeil gourmand. You will be transported, tout de suite! a Paris.

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The Economist has an article this week on something we often take for granted: the kitchen stove.

IF USER demand were the sole driver of innovation, the biomass cooking stove would be one of the most sophisticated devices in the world. Depending on which development agency you ask, between two-and-a-half and three billion people—nearly half the world’s population—use a stove every day, in conjunction with solid fuel such as wood, dung or coal. Yet in many parts of the world the stove has barely progressed beyond the Stone Age.

Another part that matters:

In the refugee camps of Darfur, the dough for the staple food, assida, requires vigorous stirring of the cooking pot. “None of the stoves we tested had been built with this in mind,” says Ashok Gadgil, the head of the Darfur Stoves Project. Only after the stoves were seen to tip over during cooking did Dr Gadgil and his researchers go back to the drawing board and refine the design. Other findings from the Darfur project shone new light on cooking habits. The original stoves had been designed to boil water, but researchers found that for each meal, two-thirds of the fuel was used to make sauces by frying onions, a process that requires a more intense, continuous heat. One criticism of BP’s Oorja stove is that it does not get hot enough to make traditional Indian breads.

If such cultural factors are not taken into account, people will not use the stoves.

A worthwhile article to read. 🙂

Here’s the link.

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(This is part 3 of 3 posts.)

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Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty.

Here’s my favorite bit of the book – it comes from the chapter titled ‘The Edible Earth’ and the subject is wheat, which the author has nick-named ‘The World Conquerer’:

No relief of the Triumph of Progress, of the kind which often decorates the tympana of our academies and institutions, would be complete without some ears or sheaves. Yet I can imagine a world in which this perception will seem laughable. A few years ago, I invented creatures of fantasy whom I called the Galactic Museum Keepers, and invited the reader to picture them, as they look back at our world in a remote future, from an immense distance of time and space, where, with a degree of objectivity unattainable by us – who are enmeshed in history – they will see our past quite differently from the way we see it ourselves. They will classify us, perhaps, as puny parasites, victims of feeble self-delusion, whom wheat cleverly exploited to spread itself around the world. Or else they will see us in an almost symbiotic relationship with edible grasses, as mutual parasites, dependent on each other and colonizing the world together.

I’d love to go on quoting, but I’d have to go on forever.

Fernandez-Armesto writes of cannibalism and of the family dinner table. Not in the same sentence, of course.

He writes of Nenets who ‘chomp living lice lifted from their own bodies “like candy” ‘. Of the claim that ‘the only objectively verifiable fact which sets our species apart from others is that we cannot successfully mate with them’, of meals that can become ‘sacrificial sharings, love feasts, ritual acts, occasions for the magical transformations wrought by fire’. And this is all before page 12.

The forging of community through food is explored (and I’m not sure I agree with his final conclusions about this but that’s part of the fun of it all, isn’t it?).

I thought of locavores when reading in the chapter ‘Food and Rank’ that

Diversity in diet is a function of distance: it attains impressive proportions when the products of different climates and eco-niches are united on the same table. For most of history, long-range trade has been a small-scale, hazardous, costly adventure; so diversity of diet has been a privilege of wealth or a reward of rank.

Have locavores flipped this thing over in terms of social rank today?

Crop yield comparisons, the ‘Green Revolution’, industrialized food and hygiene, non-eating and discussion of the Campbells soup can as postmodernist icon (another place where I had some questions about his conclusion but my head is spinning at the moment just trying to even list the ideas to think of so far, the few I’ve pulled out from this marvelous, dancing history book).

Books with lots of facts and research are often written with little index cards spread all over the place, to create the architecture, to keep the structure in mind, to remember what to write.

But I can not believe it with this book. The way it swoops around and sings, the way it gives off sparks within the gathered thoughts – makes me think that the author not only knows his subject incredibly well but that it’s just possible he’s been blessed with a photographic memory.

To end . . . from the frontspiece of the book, by Wordsworth:

And oft I thought (my fancy was so strong)
That I, at last, a resting place had found;
“Here I will dwell,” said I, “my whole life long,
Roaming the illimitable waters round;
Here I will live, of all but heaven disowned,
And end my days upon the peaceful flood.” –
To break my dream the vessel reached its bound;
And homeless near a thousand homes I stood,
And near a thousand tables pined and wanted food.

I wonder if Wordsworth’s dusky hunger and sense of loss would have been salved by the glowing ball of light that is this book.

I’d guess . . . yes.

Supper at Emmaus by Caravaggio

Supper at Emmaus by Caravaggio

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by Katerina la Vermintz

I happened to chance upon my dear friend Captain Country the other day. Many people may be acquainted with Cappy from the famous recipe he claims to have invented after being sent home from his posting in India: “Country Captain”. Dear Cappy was never much one for fact versus fiction, but these days one can find the cause of that in the fact that he lives in the Tyson’s Corner Mall.

I am nonplussed by the fact he should choose to live there, but he claims that it is pleasant . . . and that in addition it is a very comforting place of abode as one only has to look at the throngs of crowds filling the place endlessly just like so many faux designer lemmings – to be sure that the economy is doing quite well and fine, merci bien!

It can be difficult to talk to Cappy these last years – and difficile to savez whether that is due to his time in the infantry – or whether the cause is the primal therapy he undertook some time back. He is prone to letting out a wild shriek now and then which can be quite distressing. Nevertheless, he is a good old fellow and one must keep up with old acquaintances.

He took me to dine at a place he called a Mongolian Barbecue. It called itself a Mongolian Grill on its neon sign. I was shocked to find nothing recognizable about it from my days spent in Mongolia when I was a yak-butter-maid.

The most fascinating thing about the place were the little plastic wood bowls with which the customers parry with each other – each one trying to pile noodles in the bowl to the highest level without spilling over. The clear winner during my visit was a man whose noodles balanced at least six inches in a tower much like the hairstyles Marie (Antoinette, bien sur, the little slut) and I wore some years ago! A fine game this noodle thing was indeed! It fit the frenzied mood of the mall so fulsomely!

But here are some differences. Rely upon the information generated by the world-wide-web I must, for I will not deign to type out information from these heavy books that give sources. You must believe or not, at your own risk.

This is an authentic Mongolian Barbecue. Note: No noodles, no griddle thingie, no plastic wood bowls.

I must say that all in all it was jolly fun to see Cappy again though, and whatever this “Mongolian Grill” thing is, it was rather good.

If you have children, beware of taking them to have this Mongolian Grill thing. They will like it and want more and more. Then you will need make it at home and my dears. The splatter on the stove. You may want to faint. You may want to call for your ladies maid. You may have forgotten, she is no more. No no no. No more.

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