Saturday, March 29, 2008

Ole, Posole and grant me one storaay

I found an unbelievable easy and awesome recipe for posole a few months back, and I now cook it at every turn. It's so simple, and yet it makes me feel whole and at peace with the universe to delve into the starchy goodness that is hominy. I can't even begin to express how deep my love for hominy is. It's as deep as that trench in the ocean that's really frickin' deep, and as wide as the widest of widths. How witty?
I'm feeling storytellish today, and not a little foolish: but in the reveling way, not the hangdog way.
I used to cook soup for a coffee shop in Memphis for a several months. This coffee shop, The Map Room, was the center of my social universe for the first year I lived in Memphis. This was 1998, and the indierock thing hadn't yet become so unbearably ironically hip, at least for me. The whole thing was very new to me anyway. I listened to a weird eclecticism of Motown, hardcore, and reggae, with a little early Elton John thrown in for whatever measure when I was a teen, and I didn't know anything about anything. I was more obliviously self-conscious then than I am now, and that's really saying something.
Anyway, downtown Memphis at that time, was a admixture of touristy Beale St., gov't stuff, and semi-abandoned buildings that you could rent for a song. I knew many people living in huge apartments with jury rigged bathrooms, kitchens, and light fixtures for 200 bucks a month. You could live the real bohemian life in that place, and several did. 1998 was probably the pinnacle of that and soon after things started to gentrify. It was only a few months after I moved there that the Parrallax Theatre, which was home to some twenty drifters and various characters, got shut down. They would throw huge parties every weekend with bands and whatnot for a few bucks to make rent. It was one giant indiestyle rent party, until of course they all got evicted for being generally crazy, noisemakingly obnoxious. It was all in the spirit of fun, but try to tell a landlord that.
Okay, so I've gotten away from my story here. Let's resume:
Every morning I would come home from work usually around five in the morning (graveyard, all the way), and start cooking soup. Sometimes I would have to traipse off to the grocery store, which in Memphis are all 24/7 operations but also at that time all the way out in Midtown. It was a gas: collecting soup recipes where ever I could, trying out new ones, always having to quintuple the serving sizes to make five gallons. That's right I would make five gallons of soup a morning.
Through the winter months it really was just a lot of fun. Generally big batches of beany concoctions got thrown together fairly easily. I could sit and drink a quiet glass of wine with John Coltrane or Miles, and eventually watch Martha Stewart as I was putting the finishing seasonings into the mix. I had a spice collection that you would not believe. It was the pride of my kitchen.
Then I would head over to the spot to bring in my wares and drink beers with the early morning coffee crowd. It was a tremendously good time.
As the spring became the unbearable heat of Memphis summertime and cold vegetable soups became the thing, the project started to sour. Chopping five gallons worth of veggies is not a little bit crappy, I can tell you. No more sipping lightly at the broth with my glass of wine, it turned into a dicefest, and I admittedly gained great skill with the knife. Still, one tired morning, as I chopped the eighty-seven thousandth tomatoe for a gigantic batch of Gaspacho at the speed of light: PHLAMM! Off went a huge chunk of my thumb, and my blood and flesh got all mixed up with tiny pieces of tomato.
That was about the end. After that, given that I had then sacrificed the nerve endings in my thumb for my craft, I lost the feel for the whole thing. It just wasn't the same, and when I was offered a job mentoring kids for an arts program for the summer, I jumped at it. Still one of the greatest compliments I've ever recieved came at the hands of one of my soups. After cooking up a batch consisting of Great Northern Beans (one of the greats of the bean world) and ham hocks among other unremembered things, someone told me that the soup tasted like the woods behind their grandmother's house (a grandmother who lived in rural Tennessee). I have never been so proud.

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