Slim Man Cooks Chicken Stuffed with Goat Cheese

Click on the pic to see the YouTube video

3,059 days.

That’s how long I had Batu.  He arrived on Christmas Eve, 2005, from Chile, South America, and departed from Palm Springs, California, on May 11, 2014.

3,059 days, exactly.  8 1/2 years, roughly.

In some ways it seems like a long time.  But right now, it doesn’t seem nearly long enough.

Batu was born on Cinco de Mayo–the 5th of May–2004.  He was born in Argentina.  Batu’s grandfather was a famous bull terrier from Germany named Rock.   Batu’s owner paid $15,000 for Rock.   He could’ve bought a car for fifteen grand.

I’m glad he didn’t.  But that’s a lot of money for a dog.

So Batu’s owner had high hopes for the young pup.  Batu was entered in a few South American dog shows, but there was some technical defect in his bone structure, which prevented him from advancing any further in his show dog career.

Their loss.

Batu was a neglected champion, much like Yours Truly.  He was kept in a crate, not like Yours Truly.  No one knew what to do with him.  He just sat in his crate.

I had wanted a bull terrier ever since I saw the movie Patton.  Patton had a bull terrier named Willie.  When my cousin–a true dog lover who knew I wanted a bull terrier–found out about Batu, she decided to get him for me for Christmas.

She has a house in Chile.  She’s well-connected in the dog world down there.  She left Baltimore, flew down, rescued Batu, and brought him to me on Christmas Eve, 2005.  I was at my Uncle Oscar’s house on the river.  Cattail Creek, outside Baltimore, Maryland.

Batu and my cousin, Christmas Eve, 2005, Batu’s First Night

Batu came out of the bedroom that Christmas Eve, walked up to me, and stuck to me like Velcro.  He stayed by my side for almost every one of those 3,059 days.

Batu came with that name.  I don’t know how he got it.  So I Googled Batu and all that came up was the grandson of Genghis Khan.

Batu Khan.  So that’s the story I’m going with.

At the time, I was living in an apartment in Roland Park, an incredible place in an old mansion that used to be a country club.  The woman who owned the house lived upstairs.  She was 100 years old.  The apartment downstairs had three bowling alleys—a bit dilapidated—and two grass tennis courts, both of which had seen better days.

I loved the place.  When I brought Batu home, he would not leave my side.  If I walked into the kitchen, he’d follow me.  If I walked into the living room, he’d be right behind me.  If I went into the bathroom, there he was.

The first few nights I had Batu, he slept in bed with me.  But when I found a tick on the sheets one morning, I decided to get him his own bed.  I put it on the floor by my bed, and that’s where he slept.  If I woke up in the middle of the night, I would reach down and pet him.  For most of his life, he was always within reach.

I think Batu had separation anxiety.  Or maybe it was me.  Whenever I’d leave, he’d howl.  That’s what the 100 year-old woman upstairs said, and she was deaf.

Truth was, I missed him, too.

So I took him just about everywhere I went.  If I went to a recording studio, I’d call in advance and make sure it was OK.  DC, Philly, New York—if I had a session, Batu went with me.

If I went on vacation, Batu went with me.  If I went to visit my Dad in upstate New York, Batu went with me.

Whenever I’d sit down and play piano or guitar, Batu was there.  Almost every song I wrote for the past 8 years, Batu was at my feet, eyes closed halfway.  He was probably dozing off.  My music has that effect on people.

The apartment in Roland Park had a crazy little kitchen with a small four-burner stove.  I got a video camera, and I started shooting cooking videos; short, goofy little 5-minute home movies, that featured Batu.

I had heard about this new website called YouTube that had just started a few months before.  I started posting the cooking videos on YouTube.  One of my five or six fans saw the videos, and brought them to the attention of their friend who was involved in a new network, the Italian American Network.

They liked the videos.  They loved Batu.  The Italian American Network started posting the videos on their channel.  They encouraged me to do more.  So, Batu and I started making more cooking videos in that little kitchen.

And I started writing those recipes down, so the Italian-American Network could post them along with the videos.  Batu and I kept on making videos and posting recipes.

 

A few years later, Batu and I were at my Dad’s house in upstate New York on the Fourth of July, 2009. It had just rained, and there was a double rainbow reaching across the mountains.  I took a photo.

I walked inside my Dad’s house.  The phone rang.  My Dad lives on top of a mountain, a place called Rat Tail Ridge, and there aren’t too many neighbors.  And the phone doesn’t ring too often at my Dad’s.

I picked up the phone.  I got the news that Oscar had died.  I told my Dad.

My Dad said “Fuck!” about a hundred times in a row.  Then he cried.  I’ve only seen my Dad cry twice.  When his best friend died, and when Oscar died.

Unc—that’s what I called him–had fallen down his basement steps at Cattail Creek and died immediately.  He was extremely wealthy, in good health, had a beautiful young wife.  He was 88 years old.  My Uncle and I were real close.  He was like a second father to me,  my go-to guy, in the good times and the bad.  I had lived with him for a couple years.

I packed up Batu and my Dad, and we drove for six hours from Rat Tail Ridge down to Cattail Creek.  We didn’t talk much.  I was heartbroken.  I felt so bad for my Dad; Oscar was his only brother, they had grown up poor on the mean streets of New York, and Oscar was always looking out for his younger brother–throughout their whole lives.

Unc was like the Godfather—our world seemed to revolve around him.

After the funeral, there was a wake at Unc’s house.  The next day, I took off for a show in San Antonio, Texas.  I had no idea how I was gonna get through it.

I left Batu with the family.  They knew him, loved him, and I knew he would get more than enough attention.  Everybody loved Batu.

When I landed in Texas, I got a frantic phone call…

My sister started shrieking.  They were crabbing.   They put a chicken neck on the end of a string and threw it in the river.  And Batu jumped in after it.

They didn’t know…Batu can’t swim.  Bull terriers can’t swim.  They sink.

Batu sank to the bottom.  They all jumped off the pier, right into the river.  Clothes, wallets, cell phones…they were following the trail of bubbles.  They couldn’t find him.  But they finally dug down and found him and fished him out.  Mouth to snout resuscitation was not needed.  Batu survived.  I got through the concert in San Antonio, and flew back.

I’ve had dogs all my life, but I never had a connection like I had with Batu.  I never thought of him as a dog.  To me, he was more like a funny little man in a dog suit.

Batu had a bark that would make you jump five feet straight up in the air—it was loud and sharp and startling.

But he didn’t bark much.  He was a very calm, laid-back mutt.  Not much bothered him.  When we would walk the streets of Manhattan, there was so much noise–trucks, sirens, car horns, brakes screeching.  Batu never flinched.  I could have fired a gun next to his head and he wouldn’t have blinked an eye.

Batu had a sense of humor, he liked to play.  He was funny.  He was photogenic.  When I pulled out the camera he’d look right at it.

Batu loved to ride in the car.  To the post office, or to New York City, he was all-in.

I’d throw his bed in the back of the car, and I’d have to lift all seventy pounds of him into the back.  Then we’d take off.  It’s funny; I guess he never knew if we were going a mile away, or a thousand miles away.  He was just happy to be along for the ride.  He would lie there for hours and hours and not make a sound.

I’d have to reach back and shake him just to make sure he was alive.

In 2011, Batu and I packed up the Slimousine and moved to Nashville.  I wanted to re-pot the plant.  Wipe the slate clean.  So we drove to Tennessee.  Eleven hours.  Seven hundred miles.  We did it in one day.

I love Nashville.  But after we moved there, Batu’s skin problems started getting worse.  He’d always had skin problems, sores between his toes.  No one could solve the problem.  I took Batu to more vets in more states than any one dog known to man.  We tried soaks, meds, diets, boots, salves, nothing worked.  His feet were always pretty bad.  In Nashville, Batu’s skin got much worse.

How bad?  At one point, I took Batu to his vet in Nashville and asked him if we should put him down.  I told the vet that if we had to put Batu down, he might as well put me down, too.  Maybe we could get two for the price of one.

The sores on his feet were so bad he couldn’t walk.  He had sores on his elbows, his back, his chest, even his face.  It looked hopeless.  Batu was so miserable.  So was I.  The vet then suggested we put Batu on every dog medication known to man, and if it didn’t kill him, maybe he’d get better.

So we put poor ol’ Batu on antifungals, antibiotics, prednisone…I changed his diet to an incredibly expensive hypoallergenic dog food.  I gave him baths a couple times a week with ridiculously expensive medicated shampoo that I had to leave on for 15 minutes at a time.

And eventually Batu got better.  We started eliminating drugs, and after a few weeks, Batu was almost back to normal.  It was miraculous.

Once a month, Batu and I would drive from Nashville back to Baltimore.  My Dad was nearby–in Annapolis.  Rat Tail Ridge was too isolated, and hard to maintain, with all the snow in the winter, and all that grass to mow in the summer.  Stacking firewood alone was a full-time job.  So my Dad moved south.

Soon after my Dad moved to Annapolis, he fell and broke his hip.  The doctors placed him in a hospice.  I explained to the people in the hospice how much my Dad loved Batu.  To my surprise, they let me take Batu up to my Dad’s room.  My Dad would always brighten up when Batu arrived.  When I got there, I’d lean in close to his ear (he was hard-of-hearing), as he lay there on the bed with his eyes closed and I’d yell…

“WHERE DID YOU HIDE THE MONEY?”

My Dad would smile, frail, cheeks taut, squeezing my hand.

A few days later, when my Dad passed away, Batu and I were there.  The nurse walked out of the room and gave us the news.  I took a photo of Batu on the floor.

Funerals aren’t funny, in general.

My Dad’s was.  The service was serious, it was at a Quaker Meeting House in Baltimore, the same one where my cousin Johnny had his service years ago; my Mom, and Oscar had their services there.

I gave the eulogy at my Dad’s service.  Afterwards, people got up and told stories, funny anecdotes, crazy quotes.  It was touching, all the remembrances and memories.

My Dad had been cremated.  He wanted the urn of his ashes buried next to his mother, Angela.  I had been to that cemetery many, many times.  I remembered one February 14th years ago, roses in hand, walking through a foot of snow, trying to find her grave, which was a plaque set in the ground.  It was her birthday.  Valentine’s Day.  I stopped, reached down and scooped out some snow, and as crazy as it seems, there was her gravestone.

After my Dad’s service, we went to the gravesite.  It was freezing cold.  There was a small hole next to Angela’s grave.  It looked like it had been dug by a five year-old with a Fischer Price shovel.  Some spray paint lined the circumference.  Pieces of sod sat nearby.  Next to the hole was a small plastic orange sign, stuck on a piece of wire, like a flag, that read…

“Please contact our office.”

My Dad would have seen the humor.  We left a basil plant, to honor his pesto prowess.  Batu and I went drove back to Nashville soon after.

A year later, in December 2013, I left Nashville with Batu, and we drove to Breckenridge, Colorado.  I was on my way to California for some concerts.

Breckenridge is a charming and lovely ski resort, with a vibe like an old Western mountain town.  My brother had rented a place there for Christmas so the family could be together and hang out for a week or so.  I took a jar of my Dad’s ashes with me, to give to my brother.

Which we accidentally dropped on the kitchen floor Christmas night.  We scooped them up, and went outside, and scattered them at the foot of the Rockies.  Batu was there.

After Christmas, Batu and I drove to Scottsdale, Arizona, stayed for New Year’s Eve, and then drove to Palm Springs, California.  On the way to Palm Springs, we passed the General Patton Museum.  We stopped by the statue of Patton and Willie–those two were the reason I got a bull terrier in the first place.

Batu and I got to Palm Springs, and decided to hang out for a while.  The weather was wonderful; sunny, warm and dry, with fresh lemons and oranges and grapefruit everywhere.  Batu loved it.

The first four months of 2014 were the healthiest and happiest days of Batu’s life.  All of his skin problems disappeared—it must have been the climate.  I put him on a diet.  He lost 9 pounds.  He was in the best shape of his life.  Batu seemed to flourish in Palm Springs.  He was the King of the Springs.

Batu had only one health problem remaining.  He had an enlarged heart.  Batu would pass out occasionally, drop to the ground like a ton of bricks.  It was always very scary.  But he always came back.

Batu turned 10 on the Cinco de Mayo, 2014.  He never looked better.

On Mother’s Day, I left for a concert in San Diego.  When I left Batu with the dog-sitter, all was great.

I did the show that night at Humphrey’s, a cool little club on the bay.  That night was one of the happier ones in a long time.  I had just done a really good show, Batu was doing great, we were both digging California…all was good in SlimLand.

The next morning I got a text from the dog sitter.  I called her, and she told me Batu had fallen asleep the night before–Mother’s Day, May 11th–and never woke up.

I couldn’t believe it.  When I left he was healthier than ever.  There was no way he could be dead.

I drove from San Diego to Palm Springs.  Three of the longest hours of my life.

I walked in, and Batu was lying on the kitchen floor.  I scooped his lifeless body up, and put him in the car, as I’d done so many thousands of times before…

And I drove him to the vet to get cremated.  When they took him out of the car and walked away, you would have thought that everybody I had ever loved had just gone down on the Titanic.  I broke.

3,059 days.

Seems like a long time.  But it wasn’t nearly long enough.  I miss my sidekick.

I started this cookbook when Batu and I started making cooking videos for the Italian American Network.  It was early 2006.

This recipe was the last recipe I did with Batu.  I took the photos on May 3, 2014.  Batu passed away the week after.

Chicken Stuffed with Goat Cheese

I don’t like wasting food.  If I’ve got leftovers in the fridg, as long as they don’t have anything growing on them, I’ll eat ‘em.

I had some goat cheese that was…on the cusp, so to speak.  I took a sniff, and it smelled OK.

But I knew I needed to use it soon, so I came up with this brilliant idea…

Mix it with some scallion and red pepper and make a little stuffing for the chicken breasts I was about to cook.

The dinner was actually delizioso.

No one got sick, and no one died.  That’s my definition of success in cooking.

A couple things…

Before the lawsuits start flying in, always remember to check the expiration dates on stuff.  Your nose knows.  Take a schniff…when in doubt, throw it out.

My brother once made a hot dog, and as he was eating it, I noticed the bottom of the roll was all moldy and green.  It was pretty funny…until that night when he threw up in the drawer of the bedside table that we shared.

It’s important to check stuff before you stuff your face.

Whenever you handle raw chicken, make sure you clean everything it touches really well.

As with any recipe, if you don’t like an ingredient, leave it out, or substitute.

You guys are smart.  With incredibly good taste, I might add.  You can do this.

INGREDIENTS

¾ cup goat cheese

1 tablespoon chopped scallion—the middle part only

1 tablespoon minced red bell pepper

3 chicken breasts, sliced thin (about ¼ inch thick)

3 slices prosciutto

Flour

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

Here we go…

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.  Now let’s make our stuffing…

Put the goat cheese in a small bowl.

Add the scallion and red pepper.

Add salt and pepper to taste.

Mick ‘em up.

Set aside.  Let’s make some chicken!

Put your breasts on a plate.  Then put your chicken breasts on a separate plate.  Notice the difference…

Put a slice of prosciutto—one layer—on half the chicken breast.

Put a couple tablespoons of the goat cheese mixture on top of the prosciutto.

Fold the breast over, in half.

Do this with all three of your breasts.

Put some flour on a plate, about 1/3 cup.  Add some salt and pepper, mix.

Grab a breast.

Place it on the flour.

Turn it over, so both sides have been dusted with flour.

Do this with all the chicken.

Get a sauté pan, put it over medium high heat.

Add the butter and olive oil.

When the butter starts to bubble, add the three chicken breasts.

Cook for 4 minutes.

Turn ‘em over, cook on the other side for 4 minutes.

Put them in a baking dish, and place in the oven for 5 minutes.

Pull ‘em out, check for doneness.

If they’re not done, put ‘em back in the oven for a few more minutes.

When the chicken breasts are done, plate ‘em up!

I did roasted beets with carrots as a side dish, along with some risotto.

MANGIAMO!!!!!

Slim Man Cooks Pizza Eggs

Click on the pic to see the YouTube video

The morning of my brother’s wedding, I woke up in bed with him and his bride-to-be.  A woman priest was shaking us, trying to get us up.

I was trying to figure out just what the hell had happened the night before.

Twenty-five years later, I’m still trying to piece it all together.  Tequila had something to do with it.  The first time I ever drank tequila was with my Uncle Oscar.

The last time was also with my Uncle Oscar.  It was the night before my brother’s wedding. The family had flown in from the east coast–Baltimore and New York–to Cottonwood, Arizona, where my brother lived.

We all checked into a small motel, and then headed to a Mexican restaurant for a big dinner.  Unc didn’t like Mexican food.  But he liked tequila.  He ordered margaritas for everybody.

They came in glasses the size of goldfish bowls.  If they were any bigger, they would have had to put filters on them.  I drank mine, and it went right to my head.  I hadn’t had anything to eat, I had flown in from Baltimore, I was tired.

I had played until 2 AM the night before with my band BootCamp.

Unc ordered another round of margaritas.  Wow.  The last time I drank tequila with Unc, I swore I’d never do it again.

I should have kept my promise.

The rest of the night is still really fuzzy.  I remember some parts, and forget others.  But I do remember this…at one point, my brother and I were in a pool hall in a funky part of town.  We were playing pool with some banditos, and there was dinero involved.

My brother and I are not good pool-players.  But that night, we made some incredible shots, which was amazing because we were both pretty whacked.  Miraculously, we won the game, and the bet and the money.

But the banditos wanted to play another game, to try and win back their money.  We didn’t.  It got down to a Mexican stand-off.

I remember them slowly approaching us, pool cues in hand, and they didn’t look real happy.  I turned around to look for my brother and he was gone.  Disappeared.  So it was me and the advancing banditos.  I was facing them and walking slowly backwards…I felt my back touch the wall.

I got lucky.  I felt a door handle.  I opened the door, and did what any brave soul would have done in those circumstances.

I ran like hell.

Only one small problem…I had no idea where I was.  I had no idea how to get to the motel, or my brother’s house.  My memory gets a bit sketchy at this point.  I remember running like an escaped convict; and the next thing I remember, I was in my brother’s house, in the living room, and we were clowning around, ripping the shirts off each other’s backs.

Literally.  We looked like a couple of shipwrecked drunken sailors.

I have no idea how or why any of this happened.  I don’t know why we thought it was so funny.

But I know this…I woke up the next morning feeling like someone was driving nails into my cranium, and it would have taken a crowbar to get my tongue unstuck from the roof of my mouth.

If anyone had lit a match anywhere near me, I would have spontaneously combusted.

A woman priest was shaking me, trying to wake me up.  I tried to focus my eyes, but my vision was a little blurry.  I thought I was seeing things.  Or maybe I was dreaming.

Lord knows what she was thinking, seeing the three of us in bed together.  For the record, we all had our clothes on.  Or what was left of them…

I got out of bed and stood up.  My shirt was hanging from my shoulders, ripped to shreds. Both pant legs were torn and dangling, flapping in the breeze.  I thought the priest was gonna read me my last rites.  Or do an exorcism…

The wedding was in an hour.  I had no clothes, except my ripped up shirt and shredded pants.  I couldn’t find my shoes.  I called my Mom back at the hotel.  Help, Ma!

She called back.  She couldn’t find my suit.  I then realized that I had forgotten to pack it.  I may look like an idiot, and I may act like an idiot, but don’t let that fool you.

I really am an idiot.

I had forgotten almost everything except my shaving kit and a Swiss Army Knife.  My Mom was an angel.  She really was.  She pieced together an outfit from the various men in the wedding party.  The only problem was…

I’m 6 feet 2 inches tall.  I have really long arms and really long legs and really big feet.  The pants she got for me were about 6 inches above my ankles.  The arms of the sportcoat came halfway up my forearms—I looked like Chico Marx.

None of the colors matched.

The wedding took place on top of a mesa, which is a mountain that looks like the top has been chopped off.  The long drive to the top of the mesa was swervy and curvy.  I wasn’t feeling too good.  If I could have focused my eyes, I would have jumped off the side of the mountain.

My brother had an old pickup truck.  It was a beater, with an old chair in the back.  The woman priest sat in the chair in the back of the pickup truck, and my brother drove her like that up to the top of the mesa.

The rest of the wedding party was  already there.  When I looked out over the panaromic view of the valley, with the incredibly beautiful town of Sedona in the distance, I didn’t feel inspired.  I didn’t feel stirred.

I felt dizzy.  For the whole wedding ceremony, I had my hands folded at my waist, looking down at the ground—not because I was being reverent or emotional.  I was just thinking that if I projectile vomited, it would be less noticeable.  And at least it would just be on my shoes, which weren’t actually mine, and were ridiculously silly-looking and way too small.

After the wedding, we all went to my brother’s house.

That’s when he asked me if I’d tend bar.  The thought of alcohol was enough to send me to the Betty Ford clinic, but I said yes.  I can’t refuse my brother on his wedding day.

Do you know what everybody wanted to drink?

Tequila.

For what seemed like a couple of weeks, I made margaritas, and I poured shots.

I don’t think I’ve been near a shot of tequila since then.

My brother and his wife have been married for years—the first marriage for both of them.  They have one of the best relationships I’ve ever witnessed.  I am so extremely proud of them.  It worked out so very well.

How?  Why?  It must have been because we all slept together the night before their wedding.  So, if you’re getting married, and you need a good luck charm…

PIZZA EGGS

My brother created this recipe.  It’s the family go-to recipe for breakfast on holidays and birthdays and…weddings.

It’s quick, it’s easy, and it’s delizioso.

I make my own tomato sauce from scratch.  It takes about 30 minutes, start-to-finish, and it is so good and so healthy.

But if you’re in a pinch, you can use store-bought tomato sauce.

Bufala mozzarella is made from the milk of water buffalos.  Where the hell are they keeping these water buffalos?  And who’s milking them?  Bufala mozzarella is real expensive and not real necessary for this dish—just use regular mozzarella.  Save the bufala for a Caprese salad.

INGREDIENTS 

2 cups tomato sauce

1 ¼ cup shredded mozzarella

¼ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

6 eggs

Salt and fresh cracked black pepper

Here we go…

Put a large saute pan on high heat—I used a 12-inch pan.

Put in the 2 cups of sauce.

When it starts bubbling, lower the heat to medium-low.

Break the eggs right into the sauce, but keep ‘em separated from each other.

Add salt and pepper.

Add a little shredded mozzarella on top of each egg.

Cover and cook for about 5 minutes, until the eggs are done.

Remove from heat.

Add a little grated Parmigiano on top of each egg.

Serve it up with crusty bread, to your crusty, dusty amigos, and…

MANGIAMO!!!

Slim Man Cooks Chicken with Marsala and Porcini Mushrooms

The owner of the club was rumored to have ties to the KKK.

I was in Memphis in the late 1980s organizing a country music talent contest with my friend Michael.

Michael is black.  I’m white.  Well, Italian.

Marlboro sponsored the contest. Why they picked a black guy and a white guy—two city slickers, no less—to do a country music talent contest, is still puzzling.

But they paid us a lot of money.  And they paid all our expenses.

Michael and I traveled around the USA looking for the next big country music star. We went to more honkytonk hellholes than most cowboys.  We’d roll into a town like Memphis, find a club, organize the bands, and do the contest.  The grand prize was $50,000.  Fifty grand.

I organized the bands, made sure all the musicians knew where to go and what to do.  Michael was the MC.  He was the Ryan Seacrest of honkytonks.

When Michael appeared on stage, and introduced himself to the primarily white, all-country crowd, there was a little apprehension…on both sides of the microphone.

He’d come out and say…

“Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the Marlboro Country Music Talent Roundup.”

That’s when the crowd got a little quiet.  Michael was from New York City, and he sounded like it.  He’d continue…

“I know I don’t look like the Marlboro Man, and I don’t sound like the Marlboro Man, but tonight…”

He’d reach down and put on his white ten-gallon Hoss Cartwright cowboy hat on, and continue…

“I am the Marlboro Man.”

He sounded like Shannon Sharpe.  He looked like Cleavon Little in Blazing Saddles. Michael always got a laugh when he put the big white hat on.

Marlboro tossed a lot of do-re-mi at this thing.  We had all kinds of great merchandise—denim jackets, satin jackets, duffle bags, playing cards, T-shirts, polo shirts, denim shirts, posters…

And they gave away free cigarettes at every show.  All you could smoke.

They should have given away a Marlboro coffin.  Or maybe a Marlboro iron lung…

Here’s how we ran the contest…we had ten bands a night, three nights in a row.  Each band got fifteen minutes on stage.  We had three minutes in between bands, that’s all.

Judges picked the winners.  Kinda like American Idol, but not as sexy as J-Lo.  We’d find judges—usually three—from the local talent pool; DJs, producers, managers, agents.

The judges would pick one band to go on to the finals in Nashville, where they would compete with the other finalists from other towns for the grand prize of $50,000.

Before we got to Memphis, we got a call from Marlboro headquarters.  They told us to be careful.  It was the 20th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination in Memphis.

The club was called The Vapors, a country music honky-tonk in the middle of Memphis.  Michael and I pulled up to the club in our rental car.  We walked inside and met the owner. He was friendly.  He was as nice and as helpful as could be.  And he wasn’t wearing a white pillow case over his head.

Michael and I got set up for the show that night.  We had to hang all the Marlboro Country Music Roundup signs around the club, we had to make sure the sound company was good to go, the bands ready to play, and the judges ready to judge.

We finished soundcheck and had a few hours before showtime.  Michael had a friend who had a limo and tour bus company based in Memphis.  She rented these things out to bands and rock stars.  She invited us for a limo ride to Graceland, and a private tour.

She was a friend of Elvis Presley’s Mom.

Graceland is the house that Elvis built.  It’s now a museum.

Michael and I drove over to his friend’s house, and she had all these limos and tour buses parked all around her property.  She got behind the wheel of one of the limos, and Michael and I got in back.  She put the big black limo in reverse and floored it.

She rammed it into the side of one of her tour buses that was parked right behind her.  BANG!  We got out, and surveyed the damage.  It was substantial—to both the limo and the tour bus.

She left the smashed-up limo right there, and got into another one and drove us over to Graceland.  She gave us a private tour.   We went upstairs.  We saw the Graceland that not many people get to see.  It was surprisingly small, and had a sixties vibe to it—lots of yellow vinyl and white shag carpets and mirrored walls.  Elvis must have loved TV.  There were TVs everywhere.  He had quite a collection of cars.  And planes.  Elvis had two luxury jets parked right across the street.

After the Graceland tour, Michael and I went to visit the Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated.  There were TV news crews doing interviews about the 20th anniversary, and one of them came up to Michael and interviewed him.

It was eerie.

Michael and I went back to our hotel, a Holiday Inn.  We decided to take a jog before the big show that night.  We put on our running shoes, and started jogging down the streets of Memphis, side-by-side.

On our way back, we heard someone shout from a car…excuse the language, but this is the way it went down.

“Hey Nigguh boy!  Hey hippie fag!”

True story.  That’s exactly what was said.  I couldn’t believe my ears.  Then I heard it again.

“Hey Nigguh boy!  Hey hippie fag!”

Oh, shit, I thought.  Here we go.  A Black guy, and a white guy with long hair, running down the streets of Memphis.  I stopped and looked to where the voice was coming from.

It was the owner of the Vapors.  He was laughing, hanging out the window of his car, smacking his hand on the door.

“I got you!  I got you goin’!  See you fellas at the club later!  Have a nice run!”

He smiled and waved and drove off, laughing.

He got us, all right.

We did the contest that night at The Vapors.  The owner couldn’t have been nicer, the crowd was as cool as could be, and the show went as smooth as glass.

I love Memphis…Sun Studio, Graceland, Beale Street…and any city with a restaurant named Automatic Slim’s is OK in my book.

Chicken with Marsala and Porcini Mushrooms

I came up with this dish a few weeks ago.  I used porcini mushrooms and the water they soak in.  It was amazing, if I may say so myself.

The next night I cooked it for a very beautiful woman of excellent taste, and it was…just OK.  I overcooked the chicken, and it was a bit dry.  So don’t overcook your chicken.

Nothing worse than tough, dry breasts.

I like to serve this sauce over egg noodles–not a lot, just a little bit underneath each serving.

I used two boneless, skinless chicken breasts.  I cut them into 1/4 inch cutlets, which gave me six cutlets.

INGREDIENTS

6 chicken breast cutlets, about 1/4 inch thick

2 tablespoons of butter

2 tablespoons of olive oil

¾ cup of sweet Marsala

½ ounce of dried porcini mushrooms

1 cup of water

3 garlic cloves, sliced thin, about 1 tablespoon

½ a shallot, chopped fine, about 2 tablespoons

1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped

1/2 pound of egg noodles–pappardelle work well

Kosher salt and pepper to taste

Here we go…

Put your dried porcini mushrooms in a bowl.  Add the one cup of water.  Let it sit for an hour.

Remove the mushrooms from the bowl with a slotted spoon.

Take the remaining porcini water and strain through cheesecloth—I used a coffee filter, by the way.  Save the water–you’re gonna use a half cup for the sauce, and a half cup in the pasta water, if you want to put the sauce over pasta.

Rinse off the mushrooms and pat dry.  Chop into small pieces.

Grab your breasts.  Then grab your chicken breasts.  Notice the difference.  Salt and pepper the top of the chicken breasts.  Fresh cracked black pepper is the way to go.

Let’s make the sauce first…

Put a small saute pan over medium heat.

Add one tablespoon of butter, and one tablespoon of olive oil.

When the butter starts to bubble, add the shallots.

Cook and stir for 2 minutes, until the shallots just start to brown.

Add the garlic, cook for 2 minutes.  Give it a stir.

Add the marsala.

Add the 1/2 cup of porcini water.

Turn the heat to high and let it cook for 2 minutes.

Turn the heat to medium-low, and add the porcini mushrooms.

Cook for 2 minutes while stirring.

Add the rosemary.  Cook and stir for 2 minutes.

Remove from heat.  Sauce is done!

Let’s do the chicken…

Get a large saute pan (I used a 12 inch skillet).  Put it over medium-high heat.

Add one tablespoon of butter and one tablespoon of olive oil.

When the butter starts to bubble, add the chicken breasts, salted/peppered side down.

Cook for two or three minutes until pale gold.

Flip ‘em over.

Cook for two or three minutes on the other side until pale gold.  Give a cutlet a slice, make sure it’s done.

Pour the Marsala/porcini sauce over the breasts.

Remove from heat!

Plate ‘em up!  You can put this over egg noodles, or rice, or eat ‘em as is.

I like to put this sauce over egg noodles.  Get a large pot, fill it with cold water.  Add the remaining half cup of porcini water to the pasta water.  When it all comes to a boil, add a couple tablespoons of Kosher salt.

Add the egg noodles, cook until al dente, drain and drizzle with a little olive oil.  Stir.

Put A LITTLE BIT of egg noodles on a plate.  Put some marsala sauce over the noodles, put a chicken breast on top, spoon some sauce and juice and mushrooms on top and…

MANGIAMO!!!!!!!!!

 

 

Slim Man Makes Tomato Salad

A-rabs.

The “A” is long, like “A”–Rod.  Except A-rabs are a lot more like-able.

In Baltimore, they used to have street A-rabs.  These guys had brightly colored wagons, pulled by small horses, that were decorated with bells and feathers and scarves   The wagons were full of fresh fruits and vegetables.

The horses would slowly pull the small carriages through the alleys of Baltimore City, selling produce to the fine denizens of that quirky berg.

Baltimore has a lot of alleys–a whole network of alleys.  When we were kids, we’d ride our bikes for hours through the alleys.  We’d get home from school, and ride the alleys until dinnertime.

I always had a bike.  It was the way I got around as a kid.

One of my heroes as a kid was Lawrence of Arabia.  I thought of my bike as my camel.  I was a strange kid.

Sometimes, I’d put baseball cards, attached with clothespins, on the front and back forks of my bike, and when the spokes would spin against the cards, they’d make a flapping sound that I imagined sounded like a chopper.

Other times, I would put balloons on the forks, and when the spokes slapped up against the balloons, it made a much louder ‘popping’ sound—you could hear me coming from blocks away.

We never wore helmets, not like people do today.  Back then, I guess it was nature’s way of weeding out the knuckleheads.  Funny, nobody ever got hurt.

My Mom let me find my own way.  It’s not like she didn’t care—you’d never meet a more caring woman in your life—she just wanted me to figure things out on my own.  So if I needed to go somewhere, I’d figure out how to get there on my bike.

Plus, my Mom didn’t drive.  She stayed home a lot, and in the summer, she’d have the windows up, and the front door would be open.

My Mom hardly ever locked the front door.  It was that kind of neighborhood.

For folks that didn’t drive, having the store come to you was a good thing.  When the A-rabs came to the neighborhood, you could hear them from blocks away.  They’d holler…”Watermelon!  Cantaloupe!”  They’d call out the names of whatever stuff they had in the back of the wagon.

They were mostly small black guys—I don’t know if they were African-American, or Indian, or Jamaican or Aboriginal tribesmen.

My Mom would hear them coming, walk out to the alley, and buy fruits and vegetables.

I don’t know where the A-rabs got their produce from, but it was always so funky fresh.  My Mom would pick out some stuff, and the A-rabs would weigh it on the small scale hanging off the back of the wagon, and put it in a brown paper bag.

Summertime!  One of my Mom’s favorite things?  Home-grown tomatoes.

My Mom would make tomato sandwiches, just a thick slice of tomato on bread with a dab of mayo and a sprinkle of salt and pepper.  Bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches with home-grown tomatoes?  The best.

My Mom would also make tomato salad, which was so simple and so good.

She bought me a bike a few years ago.  I hadn’t ridden since I’d gotten my driver’s license–about a hundred years ago.  It was the perfect bike—a red, 18-speed trail bike.  I was living in Roland Park, not far from her house.

I used the bike to run errands–the bank, the post office, grocery shopping.  I’d also ride through the alleys to my Mom’s house, which was a couple miles away.  I’d check in on her.

That bike meant a lot to me.  My Mom bought it for me right before she died.  Right after she passed away, it got stolen.  My uncle Oscar found out about it, and bought me the same bike.

I still have that bike.

When I was living in Nashville, I’d ride my bike to run errands. The post office was a couple miles away from the shack.  Right across the street was a fruit and vegetable place.

One day they had baskets and baskets of home-grown tomatoes.  I picked out a couple, and put them in my messenger bag.  When I got back to the house, I made a little tomato salad.

Tomato Salad

Not every thing you cook or make has to be hard, or take a lot of time.  I’m not ashamed at how simple and delizioso this dish is. In general, I like fresh herbs.  But I prefer dried oregano on this dish.  Fresh oregano is OK, but I prefer the dried on these tomatoes.

That’s the way my Mom used to do it.

This is one of the simplest, quickest, freshest dishes you can make.

Serves two.

INGREDIENTS 

2 ripe tomatoes

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 teaspoons of balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon oregano

Salt and pepper

Slice each tomato into wedges, six wedges per tomato.  Get two small bowls, salad bowls work well.  Put six wedges in each bowl.  Using half the ingredients…

Drizzle with olive oil (1 tablespoon per bowl).

Sprinkle with balsamic vinegar (1 teaspoon per bowl).

Schpreckle with oregano (1/2 teaspoon per bowl).

Add salt and fresh cracked black pepper.

Don’t toss!  When you toss tomatoes, they lose their form.

Serve it up with some crusty bread to your crusty friends and…

MANGIAMO!!!

 

Slim Man Cooks Zucchini, Summer Squash and Eggplant

“Everything I am I owe to pasta.”

You know who said that?

Sophia Loren.

I’ve had a crush on her for a long time.  My Uncle Oscar once sat next to her on an airplane. They flew from New York to Rome.  A long flight, for sure.

But if I were sitting next to Sophia Loren, I would have been praying that we’d get stuck on the tarmac for a few days.

Or better yet–crash into the ocean, where just the two of us would be stuck on a small, deserted island for the rest of our lives, where I’d cook for her every day on an open fire on the beach next to our thatched hut while the waves gently wash on the shore as the sun sets gracefully on the horizon while I play my guitar (that miraculously washed ashore) as we drink wine that I made from wild grapes that I discovered when we were bathing in a nearby waterfall.

I can dream, can’t I?

Sophia Loren loves pasta.  So do I.

The key to eating pasta on a regular basis is…don’t eat a wheelbarrow full.  Italians eat small amounts of pasta.  Italian restaurants in America serve buckets full of pasta, all covered in cheese and sauce and goo.

Take your hands.  Cup them together.  That’s the amount of pasta you should put on a plate–unless you’re four feet tall and have hands the size of Shaquille O’Neal’s.

Let me tell you a little story, a heart-warming tale about a boy, a bike and a zucchini.

I was living in Nashville.  I rode my bike to the post office.  I dropped off some thank you notes—I write a lot of them, I have a lot to be thankful for—and saw some beautiful mums outside the fruit and vegetable stand across the street.

I walked in to the red and white striped tent, and there were so many vegetables and fruits; fresh, ripe, colorful, local…it was amazing.  They had baskets and baskets of home grown tomatoes.  So much stuff to choose from.

Only one problem…All I had was a five-dollar bill in my pocket.

So, I picked out a green zucchini, a yellow summer squash, and a brown eggplant.  I had enough left over for a bulb of garlic and a shallot.  The total was four bucks and change.  I put the stuff in my messenger bag and rode my bike home.

It was a beautiful fall day in Nashville; sunny, cool, and clear.  On my way home, I stopped by a friend’s restaurant, a great place called Mafioza’s.  These mobsters grow basil outside in planters that border the entrance.  I picked a small handful, put it in my bag, and rode my bike home in a hail of bullets, ducking and weaving.

I got back to the shack and decided to make a little sauce.  I put the sauce over pasta, but keep in mind, you can use a dish like this for anything…a side dish, on bruschetta, on pizza, over rice, as an appetizer, on your corn flakes…use your imagination.

The sauce was delizioso.  Batu loved it.  Start to finish, it took 30 minutes.  And it cost about five bucks.  My kinda dish!

I added some freshly grated carrots, about a ¼ cup, for a little color, and a little crunch.

This should serve about three people, unless those people are teenage boys, in which case this will serve one.

INGREDIENTS

1 green zucchini, ends cut off, chopped into 1” triangular pieces (about a cup and a half)

1 yellow summer squash, ends cut off, chopped into 1” triangular pieces (about a cup and a half)

1 small eggplant, ends cut off, chopped into 1” triangular pieces (about a cup and a half)

1/4 cup fresh grated carrots

Small handful of fresh basil

4 tablespoons of olive oil

6 cloves of garlic, peeled, sliced into thin slices, about 1 1/2 tablespoons

1 small shallot, peeled, minced, about 1 1/2 tablespoons

1/3 cup of white wine

1 cup of broth (chicken or vegetable)

¾ pound of spaghetti, or fusilli, or farfalle

Salt and crushed red pepper

Here we go…

Put a large saute pan over medium-low heat.  Add the olive oil.

Add the garlic and shallots and some crushed red pepper (to taste), cook for 3 or 4 minutes, until the shallots are clear, and the garlic is pale gold.

Turn the heat to high for 1 minute.  Then add the white wine, let it cook off for a minute or two.

Turn the heat down to medium-low, add all the vegetables.

Add the stock, and salt to taste.

Let it cook over medium-low heat for ten minutes.  Stir every so often.

Taste the vegetables.  You want them firm–not crunchy (underdone) or mushy (overdone).

Adjust for salt and pepper.

Take your basil, and snip it with scissors right into the sauce.  Give it a stir.

Remove from the heat.

If you want to use this over pasta, get a large pot, fill it with cold water and put it on the highest heat you got.

When the water comes to a boil, add a couple tablespoons of salt (I use Kosher salt, not for religious reasons—I just like the way it tastes).

Then add your pasta.  Stir it up every few minutes, so it doesn’t stick together.  People should stick together, pasta should not.

When the pasta is al dente—firm to the bite–drain it in a colander.

Put the pasta in a large bowl.  Drizzle with a little olive oil and mix it up.

Add most of the sauce, save a large spoonful for each plate (save three large spoonfuls).

Mix it up.  Then plate it up!

Put a small amount on a plate.  Add a spoonful of sauce on top.  You can add some freshly grated cheese if you like—Parmigiano-Reggiano or Romano—and…

MANGIAMO!!!!

 

Slim Man Cooks Ahi With Lemon Honey Sauce

I saw a tour bus driving north on Route 29.  I don’t know why, but I started following it.

I had just come from the recording studio in DC.  I had written a song for a singer named Brian Jack.

The two of us lived in a house on Sue Creek, in a town outside Baltimore called Essex.  People in Baltimore made fun of Essex.  They told nasty jokes about Essex.

But the house we shared was incredible—21 Woody Road.  It was right on the water.  We had windsurfers, Sea-Doos, all that stuff.  None of it was ours.  People parked their things on our pier, and they’d let us use them in return.

Jessie Dog

The previous tenant had been hauled off to jail for insurance fraud.  I remember the first time I met him.  He was standing in the huge living room.

It had cathedral ceilings, a big fireplace, and massive floor-to-ceiling glass doors that overlooked the deck and the pier and the river.  I’ll never forget what the guy said…

“I laid a lot of pipe in this house.”

I thought maybe the guy was a plumber.  Then it hit me—he wasn’t talking about metal tubing.

Brian and I moved in soon after the guy was taken off to prison.  I wrote songs for Brian, he sang ‘em.  Things were starting to take off, he was getting airplay, packing the clubs…

Brian in the middle

Brian and I were heading home from the studio when we saw the tour bus and started following it.  When it pulled over to the side of the highway, I pulled right behind it.

The driver got out of the bus, came over and asked me if I knew the way to Meriweather Post Pavillion.

As a matter of fact, I did.  I told him to follow me.

I saw the Doors at Meriweather Post Pavilion on their first tour.  I saw Led Zeppelin at Meriweather.  They opened up for the Who back in 1969—the only time that ever happened.  Procol Harum, Paul Simon, Frank Sinatra.  I’d seen them all there.  I’d even played on that stage before.

I even knew where the backstage entrance was. The big-ass tour bus followed me in my little blue Honda station wagon.

We reached the security gate, and I told them what was going on, and they waved us through.  They didn’t even ask any questions.  I’m guessing they were well aware that whoever was on that tour bus was running late.

I got the them to the backstage area.   The bus driver parked, got out, and thanked me a million times.

And then guess who stepped off the bus?

It was B.B. King.  When I was a kid, my Mom had brought home an album of his called Indianola Mississippi Seeds.  Man, did I love that record.  I must have played it a million times.  “Chains and Things”, “Nobody Loves Me But My Mother”, “Hummingbird”–which was written by Leon Russell.  Joe Walsh played guitar on that album, Carole King played some keyboards.  It was one of my favorites.

I loved B.B. King.  And here he was standing right in front of me.

He thanked me.  He asked me and Brian if we’d like to stay and see the show.  Then he walked us to the side of the stage, and dropped us off, right behind the curtain.  We waited in the wings.  I looked out at the crowd.  It was buzzing.

A few moments later, B.B. King’s band took the stage and played one song.  Then B.B. King came out, and played and sang his heart out.  All night long.  Brian and I watched the whole concert from the side of the stage, a couple yards away.  It was an amazing show.

After the show, B.B. King invited us back to his dressing room.  He signed autographs for everybody waiting in line.  He told stories.  He was charming and laid-back and as gracious as could be.

B.B. signed a photo for me.

A crazy thing…

The guy who signed me to Motown way back when was Carl Griffin.  Carl went on to produce a CD for B.B. King called “Live At The Apollo”.  It won a Grammy for both B.B. and Carl.

Carl Griffin

Baked Ahi Tuna with Scallion Lemon Marinade

This sauce goes well with just about any fish.  Even delicately flavored fish like salmon would be good with this sauce.

After I made this sauce last night, I couldn’t stop test-tasting it.  I should have put some vodka in it and made a mixed drink.

I guess you could call it a marinade.  But it’s not.  You could call it a glaze, but it ain’t.  So I’ll call it a sauce.  I mixed this sauce in a small dish, whisked it around with a fork, poured it over the fish, and baked it in the oven for 10 minutes.

It’s quick.  It’s simple.  It’s healthy.  It’s delicious.  You can find the ingredients anywhere.

OTHER THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND…cooking times are always relative.   Some ovens run hot, some run cooler.  Also, the thickness of the fish also has to be kept in mind.  A thicker piece takes longer, a thinner piece less time.  The Ahi tuna I used was about an inch thick, and took about 10 minutes.  Before I start, I always rinse off the fish and pat it dry with a paper towel.  I use filets, with the skin removed.

INGREDIENTS

1 pound Ahi tuna filets, or any fish you like (I used two 8 ounce filets)

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice (remove the seeds!)

1 tablespoon honey—I used raw organic honey

¼ cup white wine

2 tablespoons chopped scallions, also known as green onions—cut off the bottom root part and the tops of the leaves

Here we go…

Pre-heat your oven to 400 degrees.

Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl.  Whisk for a minute or so.

Line a baking dish with aluminum foil.

Rub a teeny bit of olive oil on both sides of the fish, so it won’t stick to the foil.

Place the fish on the foil.

Pour the marinade over the fish.

Put the baking dish in the oven.

Bake for 8 minutes—less for a thinner piece of fish, more for a thicker piece.

Take it out of the oven and test for doneness.  Don’t be afraid to slice into the fish.  Cut with the grain.

Take a good look at the piece of fish you’ve cut, and see if it looks done.  Keep in mind; the fish is going to keep cooking after you’ve taken it out of the oven.  So you want it a touch underdone.

Then, plate it up.  Use a scallion as garnish, or a slice of lemon, or both.  Drizzle a little of the marinade from the dish over the fish.

Serve it up.  And…

MANGIAMO!!!!!

 

Slim Man Cooks Potato Leek Soup

Click on the pic to see the YouTube video

I was walking down the streets of Paris with Hit Man Howie Z when I heard a woman’s voice calling my name.  Which was weird, because it was my first time in Paris.  I didn’t know anybody there.  Who the hell could it be?

I turned around and was staring at two of the most beautiful women I’d ever seen.  One I knew.

Her name was Barbie, and she used to be a cocktail waitress at a club that Howie and I used to play in Baltimore, Maryland, a place called Girard’s.

The other gal I didn’t know.  Barbie introduced us to her friend.  When I asked Barbie what she was doing in Paris, she told me she was doing some modeling for Vogue magazine.  She told me her friend had just been on the cover of the Italian Vogue.

I invited them to dinner that night.  It would probably cost every penny I had, but how many times are you gonna have an opportunity like this?  Paris?  Supermodels?

Min and Slim in Paris

When Barbie asked me what Howie and I were doing in Paris, I told to her that we were in London, trying to get something going with our band, BootCamp, and that Howie and I had come to Paris to meet my cousin, Mindy, who was having her art exhibited at a gallery.

That’s what I told them, which was all true, but not the whole truth.  The whole truth?

We had rented a cheap flat in London for a week or so.  It was me, Howie (drums), Bob (guitar) and a crazy friend of ours named Mac.  We were struggling musicians, except for Mac.  He wasn’t a musician.  And he wasn’t struggling.

The rest of us were on a real tight budget.

One evening we went to a pub and had some drinks.  We were having a good ol’ time in LondonTown.  I noticed Mac in the corner, talking to some Rastafarian; it looked like they were up to no good.  The Jamaican gave Mac a little package wrapped in aluminum foil, and then all hell broke loose.

A couple of British policemen started running towards the pub, blowing their whistles.  We took off running.  We exploded out of that pub.  We ran through yards, gardens.  We sprinted down alleys, leaping over cars.  We jumped fences.  It’s amazing how fast you move when cops are chasing you.  Not that it happens to me very often…

We made it back to the flat.  How, I don’t know.  It was then that Mac told us he had bought some hash from the Jamaican.  I wasn’t too happy about the situation.  It seemed like a good time to get out of London.

So Howie and I took off for Paris.  We got on a Hovercraft to cross the English Channel.  A Hovercraft is a huge boat.  Massive.  It sits on what looks like an immense flat tire.  You board the boat, and they inflate the tire.  So you start rising and rising into the air.

Then they turn on these gigantic fans on the back of the boat, and it blows you across the water, like you’re on a huge inner tube.  The English Channel was choppy that day.  It was a real rough ride.  And Howie was real hungover from the night before.

He laid down on a row of seats behind me.  Every few minutes, he’d poke his head up, and each time he did, he was a different shade of green.  He looked like he was gonna die.  We finally made it across the Channel, and caught a train to Paris.

My cousin picked us up and gave us a ride to the apartment where she was staying with a friend.

Hit Man and Jaime

His name was Jaime, and he was quite a character.  He was an artist, and did very surreal paintings, kind of like Salvador Dali.  He had a goatee and long brown hair, and wore scarves and black crushed velvet smoking jackets with colored pocket squares.

His apartment was cozy, comfy, and cool.

A few days later, Howie and I were walking down the street when we met the Vogue supermodels.

A few hours later, we were in a swanky restaurant in Paris called Chez Georges and it was intoxicating.  The Russian chef guy came over to the table.  If I were the chef, I would have come over to our table, too.  The girls were that gorgeous.

Chef dude started talking to us.  He spoke into a mic that was hooked up to a speaker that hung around his neck.  I didn’t understand a word he said; the speaker was distorted, and I couldn’t even tell what language it was.  I thought it was some kind of comedy routine until I realized the guy had some serious vocal issues.

We ordered dinner, and it was lovely.  One of the many wonderful things about Europe is the way they take their time when they eat out.

At the end of the dinner, Russian chef guy came back with a bottle of vodka.  No label, just an old, clear bottle.  It had all sorts of stuff in the bottom—black peppercorns, red peppers, green pepperoncini.  It looked like birdseed soaking in grain alcohol.

He placed a big metal shot glass in front of Howie and poured it full.  He shouted something in Russian and motioned for Howie to drink.  The table got real quiet.  We looked at Howie.  He looked at us.  Then he drank…

After he swallowed, his eyes started to tear up.  His face turned red.  He started sweating. I thought his head was gonna explode.  Then the mad Russian turned to me…he poured me a shot in the same metal glass.  I looked around the table.  He barked something in Russian and I picked up the glass and drank it all down.

It was like swallowing a red-hot piece of charcoal.  My throat was on fire.  My eyes watered.  I felt like I was gonna projectile vomit.  But I didn’t.

Then we got the bill…and I almost had a heart attack.

After dinner, we invited the girls back to Jaime’s apartment.

That’s when the circus began.  We walked in the door, and Jaime had a certain look in his eye.  He looked at those girls like the Big Bad Wolf looking at Little Red Riding Hood.  We poured some drinks, and then Jaime turned into Pepe LePew.   He tried to get the girls to sit in his lap.  Then he started chasing them around his apartment.  That crazy Frenchman!

The supermodels ran out of that place like it was on fire.

If they had lept from the balcony I wouldn’t have blamed them.

I never saw them again.  Just as well, I guess.  Supermodels must be expensive girlfriends. Should I pay the mortgage?  Or buy her a new handbag?

Potato Leek Soup

The French call this vichyssoise…

This soup is so quick, so easy, so inexpensive to make, I can’t believe I don’t make it more often.

You can serve it hot.  You can serve it chilled.  You can serve it room temperature.  You can serve it chunky.  Or you can put it in a blender and serve it smooth.  It’s delicious.  Which is the most important thing.

The last time I made this soup, I thought it needed a little crunch on top.  So I cut a leek into matchstick-size pieces, dusted them with flour that I had salted and peppered, and fried them for about a minute.

When I served the soup, I stuck the slivers into the soup so it looked like a little teepee in the center of the bowl.  My Dad would have smacked me on the back of the head and given me grief over that.

But they tasted great, and it looked cool.

You’ll need 4 leeks for the soup.

Cut off about an inch of the white root at the bottom, and cut off most of the green upper part of the stalks.  You’ll have about 6 or7 inches or so of stalk left.  RINSE WELL, especially in between the leaves.

Peel off the outer leaf of each leek.  You’ll use these for the garnish.  You’ll also see just how dirty leeks can be.  You gotta clean ‘em good!

Chop up 4 of the stalks, into chunky pieces, which should give you 4 cups.  Slice the leek leaves you pulled off into matchstick size slivers—you’ll fry these for the garnish.

INGREDIENTS

For the soup…

4 tablespoons of butter

4 cups of chopped leeks

4 cups of chopped potatoes

4 cups chicken broth (or vegetable)

Salt and pepper

INGREDIENTS

For the fried leeks:

2 handfuls of leek leaves, cut into matchstick-size slivers

1/4 cup of flour

4 tablespoons of olive oil

Salt and pepper

Let’s do the soup first…

Put the butter in the bottom of a large pan over medium-low heat.  Add the 4 cups of chopped potatoes, and the 4 cups of chopped leeks.

Cook for 10 minutes, stir often.

Add the broth— I used chicken—and put the heat on high.  When the soup comes to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low, add salt and fresh cracked black pepper, and cook for 30 minutes.  Stir often.

While the soup cooks, let’s saute our leeks.

Get a saute pan, put the olive oil in the bottom, and turn the heat to medium-high.

Put the flour on a plate and add salt and pepper.

Put the leek slivers in the flour, roll ‘em around, shake off the excess, and place in the pan.

Cook for about 30 seconds to one minute–until golden brown, then turn them over and cook for another 30 seconds to one minute on the other side until golden brown.

Remove them from the pan and place them on paper towels.

Now back to the soup…

When the soup has cooked for 30 minutes, it should be done.  Stick a fork in a piece of potato to make sure.

At this point, you’ve got a decision to make…smooth or chunky.  In cold weather, I like it chunky and hot—just like my women.  In hot weather, I like it chilly, like a supermodel.

If you want it chunky, take a slotted spoon, or a masher, and mash the potatoes and leeks, right there in the pot.

If you want it smooth, put the soup in a blender and give it a couple of pulses.  If you want it chilled, stick it in the fridg for a little while.

Put some soup in a bowl.  Garnish with the fried leeks.  Serve it with some hot and crusty bread to your hot and crusty friends and…

MANGIAMO!!!!!!!!!!

 

Slim Man Cooks Eggplant Parmigiana

Click on the pic for the YouTube video

My old apartment had three bowling alleys in it.

They were built in the 1930s, and were a bit dilapidated.  The balls and pins were made of wood, and they weren’t in the best of shape.

But you could play a game, if you didn’t mind setting up the pins after each shot.

There were two grass tennis courts out back, and they, too, were dilapidated.  Overgrown.  You could play a set if you brought a machete.

The house was huge.  It had a fireplace on the first floor that could hold a Volkswagen.

The house belonged to Peggy Waxter.  She was outspoken, feisty, cynical, and almost 100 years old.  Peggy lived upstairs, and I lived downstairs with my dog, Batu.  Peggy was hard-of-hearing.  On her hundredth birthday, her son–who was one of my least favorite people in the world—gave her a present.  She was on the screened-in porch upstairs…

“Mom!  I got you a present!”

Silence.

“Mom!  Open it up!”

Silence.  Then I could hear her opening the wrapping paper.

“Mom!  It’s a hearing aid!”

Silence.

“Mom!  What do you think?  IT’S A HEARING AID!”

Silence.  And then Peggy spoke softly…

“I’m a hundred years old.  I’ve heard enough.”

I loved Peggy.  I loved that apartment.  So did Batu.  It was my favorite place to live.  The house used to be a country club called Stoney Run Club.  Peggy and her husband bought it, and did some minor renovations—like adding bedrooms—but it still felt and looked like a small old country club.

The kitchen was great.  It had a small four-burner stove that worked like a charm.  Batu and I started making cooking videos there.

I used to cook on the little gas stove, and I’d take Peggy a plate.  I’d go up the ancient wooden staircase, take her a dish, and have a chat and chew.

The Baltimore Sun newspaper called her “peppery.”  She was not afraid to speak her mind.

She was named one of the Top Ten Most Powerful Women In Baltimore by Baltimore Magazine.  Not that that impressed her.  She once said…

“I’m the most-honored person who has never graduated from a school.”

Her husband, Thomas, graduated from a couple of schools…Princeton and Yale.  Both Peggy and Thomas came from money.  And they both dedicated their lives to helping “poor people.”  That’s the way she put it.

“He was the most important man in Maryland,” Peggy Waxter once said about Thomas. “He loved the poor people, and he went to Annapolis and fought for them.”

When he died in 1962, Peggy harnessed her grief, and focused on community action.  She fought for women’s rights, civil rights.  She once got pissed off that a big department store in downtown Baltimore wouldn’t allow black people to try clothes on.

So Peggy took a black friend and went shopping.  They tried on clothes.  They didn’t get arrested, but it brought attention to the situation, and it changed soon after.

At 100 years old, Peggy got around pretty well.  She used a walker, but she got around.  Whenever she had a problem, she’d bang her cane on the floor, and I’d come up and help.

Sunrise, Ocean City, MD

Once a year, in late September, I’d grab Batu, and we’d head to Ocean City, Maryland.  My uncle had a small apartment overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.  It was a great time of year to go–no crowds, no traffic, the weather and the water still warm.

I’d hang out for a week or so; surf, fly my kites, cook, eat, drink, and then lock up the joint and head back to Baltimore.

I was driving home from the beach one early evening, listening to the Orioles and the Yankees baseball game on the AM radio.

I stopped at a roadside stand and picked out two large, ripe, and lovely home-grown tomatoes and an eggplant.  I drove home, crossing the Bay Bridge as the sun went down.

The next morning I heard that Peggy had passed away.  She was 103.  I was shaken.

That day I was scheduled to mail out the new Slim Man CD single to 175 radio stations around the country.  I stuffed 175 CD singles of “Every Time It Rains” into 175 envelopes and went to the post office.

The Post Office was a little old brick building in the heart of Roland Park, one of the oldest neighborhoods in Baltimore City.  I was friends with all the clerks.  They used to come out to Slim Shows.  They’d even call me on my cell if I had a package.  They let me bring Batu inside.

Roland Park is that kind of neighborhood.  Big old Victorian houses, big old trees, and it’s right in the middle of Baltimore City.  I went to school in Roland Park.  I’ve always loved the neighborhood.

I got home from the Post Office and needed to cook.  I was really sad.  I was gonna miss Peggy.  I looked at the tomatoes and eggplant that I had picked up from the produce stand on the way home from Ocean City.  What do you do with tomatoes and eggplant?

You make Eggplant Parmigiana.

After Peggy died, her son sold her house for half of what it was worth.  Batu and I had to move in a hurry.  As I was going through my stuff–it didn’t take long, all I own could fit into a Hefty trash can liner–I came across a card Peggy had given me for my birthday.

“Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you may die.”

Love, Peggy.

Eggplant Parmigiana

My Mom gave me some great relationship advice. she said…

“Never go to bed angry.  It’s much better to stay up and fight all night long.”

No wonder I’m so tired all the time.

My Dad used to say…”You never know true love until you’re married.  And by then, it’s too late.”

After a break-up, when I need some comfort food, this is the kind of dish I like to make.  It’s warm.  It’s friendly.  And it won’t yell at you if you leave the garage door open.  Or change channels on the TV every two minutes. Or wash your dog in the bathtub.

Two things…

I used fresh tomatoes.  I left the skin on and just chopped them up.  If you want the skin removed, just drop the whole tomatoes for a minute in boiling water.  Use a slotted spoon, take ‘em out, and the skin should peel off.  Then chop ‘em up.

If you’re using canned tomatoes, use Italian tomatoes–San Marzano are best.  Most cans are 28 ounces, which is about 3 or 4 cups.  Open the can, put the tomatoes in a bowl, and smoosh ‘em up by hand, removing any funky stuff–stems, cores, blemishes.

Some folks fry the eggplant slices first, some folks bake ‘em.  I’ve done it both ways. In the video, I fry the eggplant.  But baking is by far my favorite, it makes the dish much lighter, not quite as heavy.  Eggplant throws off a lot of liquid.  But when you bake it, it evaporates.

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

INGREDIENTS

For the tomato sauce…

4 cups of tomatoes, canned or fresh

6 cloves of garlic, sliced thin (about 2 tablespoons)

Fresh basil leaves, a handful

4 tablespoons of olive oil

Here we go…da sauce

Put a large saute pan over medium-low heat.

Add the olive oil, the sliced garlic and the crushed red pepper.

Cook until pale gold, 3 to 5 minutes.

Add the 4 cups of tomatoes–canned or fresh.

Add some salt, and stir.

Put the heat on high.

When the sauce comes to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer.

Take half the basil leaves, and tear or snip them with scissors into the sauce.

Cook for 20 minutes, stir often.

Then, taste for salt and red pepper and adjust.

Take the rest of the basil leaves, and snip them into the sauce.

Remove from heat.

You might not use all this sauce…

INGREDIENTS 

For the eggplant…

3 small eggplant

3 eggs

3 cups Panko bread crumbs, or whatever bread crumbs you like

A handful of fresh basil

Mozzarella, two large balls sliced into 1/4 inch slices

1 cup of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, freshly grated

Here we go…

Slice off the ends of the eggplant, and cut the eggplant into circular slices, about 1/2 inch thick.

Take the eggs, beat ‘em in a bowl, add salt and pepper.

Take your bread crumbs, put ‘em on a flat plate.

Dip an eggplant slice in the beaten egg, let the excess drip off.

Dip it in the bread crumbs.  Coat both sides.  Do all the eggplant slices like this.

If you’re baking, put them in a nonstick baking pan, and stick ‘em in the oven at 375 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes or so.  Then, flip them over and bake for another 12 to 15 minutes, until golden brown.

If you’re frying, put some olive oil over medium heat, and fry on both sides until golden, about 4 minutes a side, then put the slices on paper towels when done.

Fried or baked, the eggplant–she’s a ready!

In the bottom of a baking dish (I used a 10″X13″) add a layer of baked/fried eggplant.  Then add a cup of tomato sauce, spreading it out evenly. Then add some basil–snip some leaves with a scissors, or tear them with your fingers.  Then take a 1/3 cup of the parmigiano, and spread it on top.  And then add a layer of sliced mozzarella, about one third of what you have.

Go back, Jack, do it again…a layer of eggplant, a layer of sauce, a layer of basil, a layer of Parmigiano, and a layer of mozzarella.

Do three layers.  Sprinkle the top of the final layer with grated Parmigiano and a few bread crumbs.

Put the eggplant Parmigiano in the oven.  Let it cook for about 25 minutes.

Then, put the broiler on high, and put the baking dish underneath the broiler for just a quick minute, to brown the top layer of Parmigiano and bread crumbs.  Keep a close eye on this!  When the top browns, take out the dish.

If there is any excess liquid in the bottom of the pan, use a turkey baster to suck it up.

Let the eggplant sit for a couple minutes.  Then…

Dish it up!  Make it look nice, add some grape tomatoes around the side, put some freshly torn basil leaves on top, add some freshly grated Parmigiano, and…

MANGIAMO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

 

Slim Man Cooks Grilled Vegetable Pasta Salad

Click on the pic to see the YouTube video

Most Italians I know have a garden.  I don’t know why; it just seems to be the case.

I remember one spring my Dad wanted to build a vegetable garden.  He lived in an apartment above a big barn on a farm in Long Island, New York.

There was a dog kennel in the barn downstairs, which was a lot of fun when the volunteer fire department sirens would go off in the middle of the night, and the dozen or so dogs would start caterwauling.

There were also horses in the barn below.  And when you have horses, you usually have…horse flies.  So in the upstairs apartment–which had walls that slanted up to the ceiling so you couldn’t stand up straight—my Dad had put fly strips to catch the flies.

Fly strips are basically rolls of sticky paper that unravel and hang from the ceiling.  But since the ceiling was slanted and low, whenever you walked by, the paper would stick to your hair.  Which wasn’t a problem for My Dad, who had no hair.  But for us long-haired kids, it was a problem.

I had a hairdo that resembled all three guys in the Jimi Hendrix Experience put together.  Whenever I walked by these fly strips, my hair would get stuck, and I’d have to call for my Dad to cut me loose.  Fun.

The other thing you have when you have horses downstairs?  Fertilizer, to put it politely.  And with all that free fertilizer, my Dad decided to build a garden.  He wanted to border the garden with railroad ties.  So one day he borrowed a pickup truck, and we drove to a deserted area of the Long Island Railroad tracks.

We found a stack of old railroad ties.  They smelled like creosote, and weighed what seemed like a ton.  We put the back gate of the pickup truck down.  We were able, the two of us, to get one railroad tie onto the bed of the pickup truck.  The only problem was…the railroad tie was hanging off the back of the pickup.

It was like a see-saw.  We drove off, and when my dad went over a bump, the end of the railroad tie closest to the cab of the truck would raise in the air, and the other end that was hanging off the back of the truck would hit the ground.

So my Dad had a brilliant idea.  He wanted me to get out of the truck, and stand on the end of the railroad tie that was close to the cab, using what little weight I had to keep the railroad tie from flying up in the air.  He told me to hang on to the roof of the truck for stability.  Brilliant.

My Dad was a tough guy, an Italian who started off really poor, grew up on the streets of New York, and forged quite a life for himself.  He was a lawyer.  He worked for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.  He wrote speeches for Vice President Hubert Humphrey.  He helped start the Peace Corps.  He was a professor of philosophy and literature.

And he wasn’t the kind of guy you say “no” to, so I got out of the truck, and stood on the end of the railroad tie, holding on to the cab for dear life.  The first bump we hit, I shot into the air like a rocket.  It seems kinda funny now.  It wasn’t real funny to me back then.  I was terrified.

That’s when I thought it might be best to prop up the end of the railroad tie on the top of the cab of the pickup, and close the back gate to hold the other end in.  And that’s the way we rolled.  We ended up getting four railroad ties, and made a huge square outside of the barn, and shoveled horseshit from the barn into the garden.

That garden was incredible.  We had Brussel sprouts the size of cabbages.  Everything grew to amazing proportions, and tasted incredibly fresh and delightful.  When I think of vegetables, I always think of that garden.

Grilled Vegetable Pasta Salad

I like to grill.  I like pasta.  And I like vegetables.  So…I thought…why not combine all three?  So I came up with this recipe.  I put the “j” back in genius with this dish.  Serve it at room temperature, but add the mozzarella balls when the pasta is hot, so the balls get gooey, so to speak.  Fusilli pasta works best.

I cut the vidalia onion into large slices, and the orange bell peppers, too, because they’re easier to grill and flip that way.  When they’re done, I chop ‘em up into smaller, bite-size pieces.  Also, the cherry tomatoes only need about five minutes on the grill, just to heat ‘em up.

Ingredients

1 small zucchini, scrubbed, ends snipped off, sliced in circular slices

1 small yellow summer squash, done the same way

1 small eggplant, done the same way

2 orange bell peppers, stems and seeds removed, cut in large pieces

1 vidalia onion, sliced into large circular slices

2 dozen cherry tomatoes

About a dozen small balls of mozzarella

A bulb of garlic, the root end cut off

Basil leaves, a large handful–save some whole leaves for garnish

A large handful of pignoli (pine nuts), toasted to a golden brown in a dry pan over medium heat

Extra virgin olive oil

Balsamic vinegar

1 pound of fusilli pasta

Some freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Here we go…

Take the bulb of garlic.  Slice the root end off.  Put the whole garlic bulb on top of a piece of aluminum foil.  Drizzle it with olive oil.  Then wrap it up, and put it on the outside part of the grill–the place with the least heat–and let it slow-roast.

For the pasta, get a large pot, fill it with water, let it come to a boil…

Now…for the vegetables.  Put them all on a large platter.  Drizzle with olive oil, make sure they’re all covered.  Then sprinkle with salt and fresh cracked black pepper.  Then flip ‘em over and do the same on the other side–drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

If you’re using a charcoal grill, light the coals, and let them burn.  When the fire starts to die down, put the vegetables on.  You don’t want the fire to be too hot, or you just end up burning the vegetables.  If you’re using a gas grill, put the heat on medium.

Put all the vegetables on the grill, except for the tomatoes.  Let everything grill for about 5 or 7 minutes, depending on the heat of your grill, then flip ‘em over.

Now put the tomatoes on the outside of the grill.  Grill all your vegetables for another 5 to 7 minutes.  When the vegetables are done, put them on a large platter.  Cut the onion and the orange bell peppers into bite size pieces.

Now, for the pasta, when the water is a-boiling, add a few tablespoons of Kosher salt, and then add a pound of fusilli.  When it’s al dente (firm to the bite) drain, put it in a large bowl and drizzle with a little olive oil, and toss.

Take your garlic bulb out of the aluminum foil, grab the bulb by the top, and squeeze the cloves out through the bottom, right onto the pasta.  Mick ‘em up.  Then add your mozzarella balls, and toss gently.  And now…add your grilled vegetables.

Then add the toasted pignoli–save some for sprinkling on to each plate.  Take the basil leaves (save a few for each plate for garnish), and snip ‘em with scissors into small pieces right onto the pasta.  Toss gently.  Add just a little more olive oil if you like, and toss gently.  Add some balsamic vinegar (about a tablespoon or so to taste) and toss gently.

Plate it up!  Make it look nice!  On each plate, add a couple basil leaves, sprinkle a few pignoli on top, and add a littlle freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese on top, if you like.  And…

MANGIAMO!!!!!!!!!!!

Grilled Salmon with Marsala and Grilled Vegetables

Click on the pic to see the YouTube video

My Dad told me that when his 217th MP Unit was going across France behind General Patton in World War II, the towns that they liberated were really grateful.  How grateful?

In one town, as they went past an exuberant, cheering crowd, a woman grabbed my Dad, dragged him into her bedroom and made love to him right then and there.

Now that’s gratitude.

 

I shop, I cook, I even do the dishes and don’t get that kind of treatment.

I got it tough!

I would never say that to my Dad.  I said it once, and he got mad.  I remember—to this day—what he said when I complained about some problem I was having…

“Tough?  You ain’t got it tough.  Try sitting in a trench with bullets buzzing over your head, and you’re shittin’ and pissin’ in your helmet, and your buddy just had his head blown off by the Nazis.”

I remember thinking…why are they pooping and peeing in their helmets?  And then it hit me…you can’t just walk outside your trench, give the Nazis the “Hold-Up!” signal, and go poop in the woods.  And being stuck in a trench, you don’t want all that stuff stinking up the place.  So they’d go in their helmets, and throw the stuff outside, wipe off, and continue fighting.

Third on a match is bad luck.

It was one of my Dad’s expressions.  It seemed like everybody in World War II smoked.  They’d give out cartons of cigarettes to soldiers along with the rations.

Matches were tough to come by.  So they would light as many guys’ cigarettes as they could with one match.  At night, the Germans could see the matches.  When they saw a match light up, they’d get ready.  When they saw the second guy light up, they’d take aim.  And when the third guy lit up, they fired.

The toughest times of my Dad’s life were the times that made him most proud.

World War II.

My Dad cussed.  That’s the way he talked.  It didn’t sound vulgar.  It sounded like he meant it.  It wasn’t gratuitous.  He had a gruff voice, and he didn’t mince words.

My Dad followed General Patton’s 3rd Army through France.  Patton spearheaded the liberation of France.  My Dad’s company—the 217th MP Unit–was behind Patton’s.

Patton is one of my favorite movies.  It was one of the reasons I got Batu–Patton had bull terriers.  Batu and I even visited the Patton Museum in California.

I once watched Patton with my Dad.  There is a scene in the movie where there is a traffic jam of tanks coming in from different directions.  Patton gets out of his jeep, walks to see what the problem is…

A donkey is blocking a bridge.  Patton shoots the donkey, throws him over the railing and starts directing traffic.  As a donkey-lover, I found the scene kinda brutal.  But when human lives are at stake, you need to take charge.  And Patton did.

My Dad was there when that happened.

For so many American men who served in WWII, the experiences they had defined who they were.  Who they came to be…

One of my Dad’s favorite war stories…

He was in Luneville, a small town in northeastern France, about 50 miles from the German border.  The town had been liberated by the Allies, but it was still being bombed by the Germans.  My Dad was patrolling the streets, when he heard a German bomber approaching.  My Dad saw a one-armed Frenchman, frozen with fear.

My Dad ran over, grabbed the Frenchman, and wrestled him to the ground, and covered him, bombs exploding.  When the bomber passed, the guy thanked my Dad, and insisted he come to dinner.

My Dad went, had dinner with the Frenchman and his wife, and after a lot of wine, they told him the story of their missing daughter, Jacqueline.  She was in Verdun, a French town near the German border.

They gave my Dad a photo.  She was beautiful.  Her parents wrote a letter, and gave it to my Dad.  He left her parent’s house, and told them he would look for her.  He went back to camp, and took a jeep…

He didn’t ask if he could take the jeep.  He just rolled it down a hill, so he could start it and no one would hear.  My Dad, photo in hand, drove toward Verdun in the night.

Verdun is about 75 miles northeast of Luneville.  The Battle of Verdun was one of the longest and bloodiest of World War I.  Since the 1700’s, Verdun has been the scene of many furious and brutal battles.  Like Luneville, it’s about 50 miles from the German border, but further north.

In September, 1944, Verdun, too, had been liberated by the Allies.  But it was still being heavily bombed by the Nazis.

My Dad spoke fluent French.  He had the photo.  He had the letter.  He drove the jeep through the night.  How he didn’t get killed, I don’t know.  I’m not quite sure how he did it–he’s not either–but he found Jacqueline.  He put her in the back of his jeep, covered her with a blanket and drove back to Luneville.

He re-united the parents with their daughter.  The story made the papers.

When the Army found out my Dad had taken the jeep without asking, he caught hell.

But it was one of the proudest moments of his life.  He told me lots of war stories, but not the kind that you hear about in history books, or see in the movies.

My Dad told the truth.  He would give it to you right between the eyes.  He pulled no punches.  He didn’t spare feelings.

So when he told you something, you knew it was true.

Before the war, my Dad was drifting.  He went to St. John’s College.  He wasn’t a good student.  They put him in charge of the college café.  He took some money out of the coffers, and, in a valiant effort to try and double the cash, lost it all in a late-night poker game.

Then came World War II.  It was a hellish experience that made my Dad a man.

After the war, he went back to St. John’s.  He became a great student.  He graduated.  He went to law school.  He became a lawyer.  He did all of this with no money—he was the son of poor Italian immigrants.

He fought for Civil Rights.  He helped start the Peace Corps.  He wrote speeches for Vice President Hubert Humphrey.  He became a professor of philosophy and literature.

And World War II, the worst time of his life, turned out to be the proudest moment of his life, the turning point that changed his life in the best way possible.

GRILLED SALMON MARSALA AND VEGETABLES

Have you ever cooked something so good you couldn’t wait to share it with somebody?

Me, neither.

I was at my Dad’s house when I concocted this recipe.  He lives on top of a mountain, up in the Catskills in New York, and it’s incredibly beautiful.  It’s also incredibly isolated.  Which can make you crazy after a while.  Just look at me…

When my dad first got the place, he wanted it to be rustic.  And that it was.  It was just a square, cinderblock two-story structure that looked more like a garage than a cabin.  The ground floor was…well, it was the ground.  It was dirt.  The second floor was unpainted plywood, and there was a gas stove up there, and that’s where I slept.

The stove is what we used for heat.  For the whole place.  Keep in mind; it gets down below zero in the winter.  There’s snow on the ground from November until March.  And there was no plumbing.  None.  There was an outhouse, and it was pretty scary.  Especially late at night, when you had to walk 50 yards through the snow to go to the bathroom.  But that’s the way my Dad wanted it.  Rough.  No frills.  No phones.  No TV.

That didn’t last very long.  The thought may have been romantic, but there’s nothing romantic about getting up in the morning and walking across the frozen tundra to go to the bathroom in what is really just a hole in the ground.  A stinking hole.

And now?  My Dad has three bathrooms, all indoors.  The one on the second floor has a claw-foot bathtub with a view of the mountains.  He has a big screen hi-def TV, he has a satellite dish that gets a thousand channels, and the whole house has wireless internet.  He has a phone.  He even has a cell phone now.

So now my Dad is all plugged in, hooked up, and well-connected.  Which is a good thing, especially during the brutal winter months.

Rat Tail Ridge is a great place to grill in the summer, when it’s cool and breezy on top of that mountain.  You’ve got a beautiful view, quite breathtaking.  And Batu loves it up there.

Note…the salmon steaks I used were thick, about an inch and a half, or two inches.  Keep in mind that thicker pieces of salmon take longer, and thinner pieces take less time.  Also, some grills run real hot, some not-so-hot.  No wonder it took me so long to get this recipe right.  Good luck!

Ingredients:

4 salmon steaks, the ones I grilled were about an inch and a half thick

6 Roma tomatoes, cut in half length-wise

A dozen small potatoes cut in half (I used purple potatoes–found them in a local market)

A bunch of asparagus (16 or so), stalk ends broken off

Extra virgin olive oil

Kosher salt

Fresh ground black pepper

 The sauce for the fish:

1 cup sweet Marsala (a sweetish wine from Sicily)

¼  cup extra virgin olive oil

¼ cup fresh squeezed lemon juice (use ripe, soft lemons, or meyer lemons)

2 cloves of garlic

1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano, plus a couple sprigs for garnish—you can use dried oregano if you can’t find fresh.

Add all the sauce ingredients (except the garlic) in a small bowl.  Mix.  Put the garlic in a garlic press, and add to the sauce.  Put the sauce in a small pan over medium heat and reduce by half.  Start reducing right before you start grilling.

Take the salmon steaks, rinse off, pat dry, and drizzle both sides with olive oil.  Then give a shake of salt and pepper on each side.

Keep your vegetables on separate plates.  Take the potatoes, drizzle with olive oil, add salt and pepper, and make sure they’re coated.  Do the same with the asparagus.  And then the tomatoes–but be gentle.  We don’t want to mangle our maters.  EVOO and s&p!  That means extra virgin olive oil and salt and pepper…

Now, let’s time it out.  Make sure your grill is hot, but not too hot.  The potatoes take the longest, about 20 minutes, put them on first, cook for 10 minutes (depending on the heat of the grill), and then turn ‘em over.

Rub the salmon with a little olive oil.

The asparagus and the salmon take about 5 minutes per side, so put them on next. After 5 minutes, turn over the asparagus and the salmon, and add the Roma tomatoes to the grill, flat side down.

Cook for 5 minutes.  Don’t turn over the tomatoes!  Just remove everything to a gorgeous platter.  Drizzle the vegetables with a little olive oil, and a shake of salt and pepper.  Drizzle some reduced Marsala sauce over the salmon steaks.  Garnish with fresh oregano sprigs.

MANGIAMO!!!!!