Slim Man Cooks Flaming Limoncello Sauce

Click on the pic to see the YouTube video

Click on the pic to see the YouTube video

When the first Slim CD, End of the Rainbow, was released, it initially did nothing. No sales, no airplay, no gigs. For weeks and weeks, there was a whole lot of nothin’ going on. Then it started getting some radio play.

I was playing piano at a dive bar in Baltimore, Maryland, called The Horse You Came In On. The bar phone would ring, the bartender would answer and then call out to me, “That was your Mom! You’re number 37!” The next week, “You’re number 29!”

Suddenly, it went Top Ten, sold tons and tons and was widely acclaimed–not only in the US, but Europe, Japan and Australia. It happened right quickly. That first Slim CD, End of the Rainbow? It done did good, all the way around.

The second Slim CD? Not so good. It was widely ignored by just about everybody, except some Slim Family members who bought copies out of sympathy. Closer to Paradise—that’s the name of the second Slim CD, by the way—seemed to take me Further from Paradise. It started off slowly, and then petered out, so to speak. It never caught on.

I recorded the first two Slim CDs at my friend Cowboy Pickles’ studio. It’s a small spare bedroom with great gear–microphones, amps, speakers. Some amazing sounds came out of that little room. It was very comfortable.  But for the third Slim Man CD, I decided to swing, and swing big. It was time to get out of the comfort zone.

It was time to go for it.

I decided to record Slim CD #3 in a real studio in Manhattan, a place called Sound on Sound. Eric Clapton recorded there. If it’s good enough for Eric, it’s good enough for Mr. Man. Sound on Sound was like a luxury hotel with a studio on the side.

There were more assistants than musicians. Assistants who took orders for food, assistant engineers who kept track of everything, assistants who tuned guitars, set up drums, moved pianos, brought you coffee.   They did everything but carry you around from room to room on their shoulders.

Griff

Griff

I hired a producer, Carl Griffin. Carl had signed me to Motown years before. He produced my Motown CD. Griff had recently produced B.B. King’s Live at the Apollo CD, which earned B.B. and Griff a Grammy. So I got Grammy-Award-winning Griff to produce the third Slim CD. Grammy award-winning producers don’t come cheap. Ten Gs. And Griff cut me a break!

I decided to dig deep and have some guest stars on the CD. So I hired Rick Braun to play trumpet (Sade), Marc Antoine to play guitar (Sting), Everette Harp on sax (Kenny Loggins), and Chieli Minucci to play guitar (Jennifer Lopez). Each one cost a pretty penny. I brought in my friend Questar, a brilliant sound engineer, to do sound. I hired a professional photographer to shoot the CD cover.

In other words, I hired the best people I could find, I recorded in one of the best studios in Manhattan, and basically went deep into the Slim Pockets to do Slim Man #3.

I called the CD Secret Rendezvous. It was released in 1997, in the spring.

Right after it was released, I got notice from our distributor that they were declaring bankruptcy. They owed us $54,000. They had sold lots of Slim CDs. But they hadn’t paid us in a while. And now we weren’t gonna get paid at all. I was counting on that money to pay for the very expensive Secret Rendezvous CD I had just recorded.

I tried to find another distributor, but nobody would touch us because the Slim CDs were now tied up in that bankruptcy.   So Secret Rendezvous, and the first two Slim Man CDs just sat there in limbo. My hands were tied. My CDs were tied up. It was a crushing blow. I had to take a step back.

That’s when Carl Griffin called and asked me if I was still writing instrumental music. While Carl and I were working together at Motown, a few years prior, he would ask me every once in a while to write an instrumental piece–a sax song, a piano song, a flute song. So I wrote a few instrumentals while I was a songwriter at Motown. Griff pitched them to Grover Washington, Jr. and a few others, but nothing happened.

But I was still writing instrumentals. So I sent some of them to Carl, while the Slim Man CDs were tied up in the bankruptcy. He loved the songs. Griff suggested that I do a whole CD of instrumental music. So I did.

I asked my friend Joe Ercole to help produce the CD, and play some keyboards. He’s an amazing pianist and producer—he graduated at the top of his class at Berklee School of Music. Joe was writing and producing jingles for TV and radio; he had developed a very successful company.

Joe had hired me to sing jingles before. I did the John Sebastian sound-alike for Ford Motor Company’s “Welcome Back” TV ad campaign. I did jingles for Mobil, the Maryland Lottery, PBS and a ton of others. The pay was great. And Joe’s productions were stellar. I thought he’d be a great fit for the project.

Project? Project sounds like work. This wasn’t work. It was fun.

Joe and I started working together. Most of the songs we wrote were funky, up-tempo, jazzy stuff that had a little hump to it. Joe wrote half the songs and I wrote the other half. We recorded them in his home studio, an immaculate place in the basement of his home outside Baltimore. Joe played keyboards, I played bass, Kevin Levi played sax.

Kevin Levi, left, Joe Ercole, right

Kevin Levi, left, Joe Ercole, right

When we did our promo photo, I put on a fake moustache. I kinda liked the way it looked. Plus, I needed a little separation from the Slim Man thing. Maybe folks wouldn’t recognize me…

When we finished the CD I sent it to Carl. He loved it. He asked me what the name of the band was. I didn’t know. But I came up with a name soon after.

At the time there was a sax player named Boney James who was doing well. There was also a band named Down to the Bone that was hitting it big. So I thought that anything with “Bone” in the name would be a good luck charm.

So I named the band Bona Fide.

Carl signed Bona Fide to his label; the first CD was named Royal Function, and the label’s radio promoter picked the first single, a song called “High Street.” It did next to nothing. I was surprised when the record company decided to go with a second single, since the first one had failed so miserably. But they did. Carl picked the second single, a lively little number called “X Ray Hip.”

I named the song after a guy who played basketball at the University of Maryland, and later played for the Harlem Globetrotters. His name was Exree Hipp. I thought it was a cool name, so I used it as a song title.

Carl had a good history of picking hits when he was at Motown. He had found an old Stevie Wonder gem, “Until You Come Back To Me” and placed it with Aretha. He found another old Stevie song, “Tell Me Something Good” and placed it with Chaka Khan.

“X Ray Hip” was released and suddenly nothing happened. Again. For weeks, nothing. But eventually, it started climbing the charts…and it kept climbing and climbing. It went all the way to Number One.

My first Number One song. It spent one glorious week at Number One on the jazz charts. Nice. The CD started selling like crazy. Big gigs were coming in. Bona Fide was taking off.

We won the Best New Artist award at the Smooth Jazz Awards that year. That bankruptcy wasn’t a setback…it was a set-up. Sometimes taking a step back after taking a step forward is not a disaster, it’s more like a cha-cha.

Cha-cha-cha!

Show Biz is like a rollercoaster ride. When you first start, you feel all excited and nervous, in a good way.

Then, you get turned upside-down and inside-out. You get flipped over and you flip out.

One second you’re flying blind through dark tunnels, the next you’re sky-high, going a million miles an hour. You’re exhilarated and scared to death at the same time.

Then, the ride’s over, you feel sick to your stomach, and you wonder why you ever did it in the first place. Then you get back on the ride and do it all again.

That’s Show Biz. Gotta love it.

Flaming Limoncello Sauce

When your career is going down in flames, nothing like a little flaming limoncello sauce to help things along.

When I was a kid, I loved to read biographies. My Mom gave me a whole set called Childhoods of Famous Americans. They had titles like, Tom Edison, Boy InventorAbe Lincoln, Frontier Boy. I loved to read, and for a while there, I loved fire. Fireworks, bonfires—I felt an attraction to flames when I was a kid.

My Mom told me they should write a biography about me…Slim Man, Boy Pyromaniac.

It was just a phase. I didn’t burn any houses down, but I did set fire to my cousin’s bedroom floor once…accidentally.

When I’m cooking, I like the occasional explosion–as long as it’s intentional! A little cognac or vodka set on fire…it’s a cool crowd-pleaser. As long as nobody catches on fire.

When I first thought about this sauce, I couldn’t wait to try it. I like limoncello. It’s a bit sweet, a little sour, and it’s got alcohol in it. Set it on fire, and it shoots flames in the air. What’s not to love?

Seriously? Be careful, my Slim People. I hate losing fans!

Notes:

I did not add salt and pepper to this sauce. Give it a taste after it’s done, if you feel like it needs a little something, add some salt and fresh cracked black pepper.

I put this sauce over fish. I’ve used it over baked salmon. It’s delizioso that way. But my favorite? Sole or flounder, both are from the same fish family, they are light and flaky and delicato.

I dust each filet with a little flour that’s been salted and peppered.

I sauté them in a tablespoon of butter and a tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat for about 2 minutes per side, or until they are crispy and golden. Golden!

Then I pour a LITTLE sauce over top of each filet and eat pronto!

INGREDIENTS

2 tablespoons minced shallot

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1 tablespoon fresh Italian flat leaf parsley, chopped

2 tablespoons limoncello

½ lemon (about a tablespoon of fresh squeezed lemon juice, NO SEEDS!)

2 tablespoons of butter

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/3 cup dry white wine

Here we go…

Heat butter and olive oil in small pan over medium-high heat.

When the butter starts to bubble, add shallots and cook for 2 minutes.

Add the limoncello.

Grab a long-handled lighter, put on some asbestos gloves and light up the limoncello! Watch the explosion. BE CAREFUL!!!!!!

When the flames die down, add the garlic, cook for 2 minutes, stir or swirl often.

Add the white wine and cook for 2 minutes, stir or swirl often.

Add the lemon juice and the parsley and cook for a minute.

Done!

Drizzle a LITTLE bit over a piece of baked salmon or sautéed sole and…

MANGIAMO!!!!!!

Slim Man Cooks Italian (Lacinato) Kale with Shallots, Port and Cranberries

Click on the pic to see the YouTube video

We left Ellicott City, Maryland, in an Isuzu Rodeo, a small SUV. It was me, drummer John E Coale, and keyboardist Rick O’Rick, AKA “Cowboy Pickles.”

All three of us, our luggage and all the gear—drums, keyboards, bass amp, CDs—were crammed into the car. It was tight. You had to allow an extra 50 yards when you hit the brakes, otherwise a snare drum might smack you in the back of your cranium.

It was our first Slim Man tour – the year was 1995.

Our first gig was in Cleveland, Ohio. Hello, Cleveland! It was a club called Peabody’s Down Under. Why Down Under? Because we played in the basement. It was just us down there, us and the bathrooms. People stood around a circular balcony on the first floor, and looked down at us, playing in the basement. We had to look up to see the crowd.

Crowd? There were about 25 people there, and after the show, a large and lovely woman came up to me and said,

“You’re like Fabio…but you can sing!”

We packed up the Rodeo after the show that night and drove all the way to San Francisco. It took us a couple days. We pulled up to the Great American Music Hall for sound check. I walked up to the front door, and there was a line around the block. I asked some guy waiting in line who the line was for. He said,

“Slim Man.”

Wow. I looked at the line and thought…all these people are coming to see me? It didn’t make me nervous — quite the opposite. I couldn’t wait to play. I was pumped up. Let me in, coach!

I’m rarely nervous on stage. I’m nervous the other 23 hours of the day.

We played that night to hundreds of people — it was crazy. We signed autographs afterward for what seemed like hours, and sold a ton of CDs. I hate to admit it, but it felt pretty damn good. It was OK wallowing in obscurity for all those years. But not as nice as wallowing in a brief bit of minor celebrity.

We had a sax player sit in with us in San Francisco that night. We had never played with him before. We didn’t even rehearse. We didn’t have time. He showed up at soundcheck, we introduced ourselves and then did the show.

But that’s the way we rolled on that first tour. We traveled as a trio. We had to – we couldn’t fit anybody else in the car! We would pick up a soloist whenever we got to town — a sax player, trumpeter, anybody. And the sax guy in San Francisco that night at the Great American Music Hall was pretty good.

The next night we played in San Jose at the Ajax Lounge and everyone in the audience bought a CD. Of course, there were only six people there. Really. That was it. I remember counting them – it didn’t take long. It didn’t bother me. I was just glad to be out playing and touring.

Roger Eddy on sax

Roger Eddy on sax

Next it was off to Monterey. We played outside on a deck, overlooking the bay. A guy named Roger Eddy played sax — like most of the soloists who joined us on the road, it was the first time we’d ever met him. The place was small, but packed.

We left Monterey and headed south. As we were driving down the Pacific Coast Highway, Rick O’Rick suddenly got violently ill. Disgusting stuff was coming out of every hole in his body. I resisted the urge to throw him out of the car at 80 MPH.

We eventually made it to Viejas, a brand new Indian Casino outside of San Diego. It was so new – they were still hammering nails into the floor as we were loading in. Literally.

The concert hall must have held at least a thousand people. It was beautiful – a gorgeous stage, with a big red velvet curtain, a brand new PA, and new lights. The only problem was, Rick was so sick, we had to stay with him backstage all day, right up until showtime.

We had a percussionist sitting in named Michael Kelleher. We had not met Michael until that night, and I’m sure he was a bit apprehensive when he saw Rick O’Rick looking like The Alien might burst out of his chest at any second. When showtime came around, we got Cowboy Pickles propped up behind his keyboards.

We all waited quietly behind the red curtain.

They announced our name over the PA — “Ladies and Gentlemen, Slim Man!” The curtains slowly parted, and…

There were two people there. In a place that held a thousand. There was the promo gal from the local radio station, Janet. And there was a guy standing at the bar. That was about it. Seriously. But we played our hearts out —we always do, I’m proud to say. Both people loved the show, or at least they pretended to.

After the show, the guy at the bar introduced himself. Art Good. He asked us to play the Catalina Jazz Festival. That was one good thing that happened that night.

The other good thing was Rick O’Rick was feeling better. Thank God, because we had to drive all the way to Kansas City the next day. Fifteen hundred miles. We made it in two days. We’re going to Kansas City. Kansas City here we come!

The show was at a place called America’s Pub. We drove up, unloaded the Rodeo, did our soundcheck and went to the hotel room to shower and shave our backs.

When we walked into America’s Pub in KCMO that night, the applause was deafening. It was packed to the rafters. Sold-out. Standing room only. SRO! It was one of the most amazing responses we’ve ever had. The crowd was screaming.

I couldn’t tell exactly what it was they were screaming, but it seemed positive. We had a sax guy sit in that night, and of course, we had never heard him play before. He was really good, brought some of that saucy Kansas City style to the Slim Men.

It was the loudest crowd I’d ever heard in my life. The whole band was on cloud nine.

The next day, we drove to St. Louis—the last gig of the first Slim Tour. We pulled up to a place called Brown’s Pub and an old white guy came up to us. I have nothing against old white guys. Some of my best friends are old white guys.

This old white guy was dressed like he was getting ready to play golf – with the Three Stooges in 1955. Knickers, crazy hat, bright colors and patterns. I kinda dug it. It was certainly colorful. He said,

“My name is Chops. I’ll be your trombone player tonight.”

OK, Chops! We walked inside the club. The place only held about 75 people. A gorgeous gal introduced us to the crowd. She was a DJ from the St. Louis station, KNJZ, that was playing our music. The response from the crowd was like the applause you hear at a golf course. Polite.

Right before we started I leaned over to Chops and said,

“I’ll cue you for your solos. Don’t play over the vocals.”

John E Coale counted off the first song – and Chops played non-stop from beginning to end. His trombone playing was like Dixieland meets Bugs Bunny meets Ringling Brothers. Chops could play, the only problem was…he never stopped playing. We finished the song, and the crowd was giving us funny looks. I leaned over to Chops and whispered,

“Chops! Don’t play while I’m singing!”

John E counted in the second song. Chops started playing from the first beat and didn’t stop until the end of the song — the man didn’t take a breath. The crowd was looking at their watches. They were checking the exits. Even though we’d only been playing about 10 minutes, I told the crowd we were taking a break.

I walked the band outside, and told Chops that it wasn’t working out, paid him in full, and he left. We went back in and continued as a trio. As we were playing, I spotted a guy in the back of the pub with a trumpet case slung over his shoulder. I called out to him, over the PA,

“Hey! Can you play that thing?”

The crowd turned around and looked at the guy. He came up and played. He was really good, had a Latin style that really fit well. I really liked his playing. And so did the crowd. The rest of the night was really cool, and that trumpeter really blew, so to speak.

I’ve always loved the trumpet. It was my first instrument. Louis Armstrong was the reason I fell in love with music. And that trumpet player in St. Louis on the last stop of the first Slim Man Tour sounded really good. We ended the tour on a high note, so to speak.

The next morning, John E, Cowboy Pickles and I packed up the Rodeo, and drove the 800 miles back to Baltimore.

The trumpet player from St. Louis sent me a message on Facebook a couple of weeks ago. It was the first time I’d heard from him in 18 years. Alex Galvez is his name. He’s still playin’. So am I.

Italian Kale with Shallot, Port and Cranberries

When I’m out on tour, and there’s a lot of road ahead of me, I’ll get a bag of sunflower seeds in the shell and eat ‘em and drive. One time, on the way back from a Slim Show in Santa Rosa, California, I stopped at a roadside fruit and nuts stand. I was thinking I might run into some of my nutty and fruity relatives there.

One time, on the way back from a Slim Show in Santa Rosa, California, I stopped at a roadside fruit and nuts stand. I was thinking I might run into some of my nutty and fruity relatives there.

The Slim Family wasn’t there, but there were bags of salted, roasted sunflower seeds, without the shell. I bought one. They were delish. I saved some…

I’ve been noticing a lot of Italian kale in the grocery stores these days, and not just the ridiculously expensive Whole Foods-type stores. Most normal grocery stores have Italian kale, it’s called lacinato kale, most of it is organic and it’s ridiculously inexpensive.

How inexpensive? A buck a bunch at my local grocer.  One dollar! I bought some and took it back to Slim’s Shady Trailer Park in Palm Springs, California.

Kale is so good for you. The only problem is it tastes like old hedge-clippings.

I cooked it in some olive oil and garlic, just to see what it tasted like. It was not as bitter as normal kale, but it needed a little something. I tried cooking the lacinato kale different ways. With tomatoes.  With red bell peppers.  With white wine.  Nothing was working.

One night I decided to cook it with some port wine. Why?  It was all I had!  I took a sip, the port tasted great, so I added a 1/4 cup to the kale.  The sweetness of the port cut the bitterness of the kale.

It needed a little saltiness, so I added some sunflower seeds from the roadside stand. I added some dried cranberries, and it gave it some some color and a nice texture.

It was good. It was real good.

Notes…

You can use any sweet wine or port or sherry. Sweet vermouth would work, so would Marsala, or sweet sherry.

You’ll need to clean the kale. Here’s how to do it: start at the top of the leaf. Start tearing the leaves by hand into strips, about an inch or two wide.

When the center stalk starts getting tough–about 1/3 of the way down the kale leaf–start pulling the leaves from the side of the stalk, and throw away the stalk.

Clean the leaves with cold water and spin dry. You need 4 cups.

Add the sunflower seeds and dried cranberries last–you don’t want your nuts to get soggy, or the cranberries soaking up the port.

Serves two.

INGREDIENTS

1 bunch of Italian kale, also known as lacinato kale, 4 cups cleaned

2 tablespoons chopped shallot

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Crushed red pepper to taste

¼ cup of port (or any sweet dark wine—Marsala, sweet vermouth)

¼ cup dried cranberries

2 tablespoons salted roasted sunflower seeds

Salt

Here we go…

Put the olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat, and let it heat up for 2 minutes.

Add the 2 tablespoons of chopped shallots, and crushed red pepper to taste, and cook for a couple minutes, until the edges of the shallot start to turn golden brown.

Add the port, or whatever wine you’re using. Turn the heat to high, and let it cook off for a minute or so.

Reduce the heat to medium. Add half of the kale.

Cook and stir until the kale wilts, a couple minutes.

Add the rest of the kale. Cook and stir until the kale wilts, a couple minutes. Add a sprinkle of kosher salt, stir.

Add the dried cranberries and stir.

Add the sunflower seeds and stir.

Taste for salt and adjust.

Dish it up!

This is a great side dish, I made it with chicken piccata, and it was a delish.

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

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

Pizza Eggs and My Brother’s Wedding

Click on the pic to see the YouTube video

Click on the pic to see the YouTube video

The first time I ever drank tequila was with my Uncle Oscar.

The second and last time was also with 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, my brother’s home at the time.

We all checked into a small motel, and then headed to a Mexican restaurant for a big dinner. Oscar didn’t like Mexican food. But he sure 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.

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

I remember them slowly approaching us, pool cues in hand, and they didn’t look overjoyed. I turned around to look for my brother and he was gone. Disappeared. It was just me and the advancing banditos. I was facing them and walking slowly backwards until 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 to 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 drunken shipwrecked sailors. I have no idea why we were ripping the clothes off each other’s backs. I don’t know why we thought it was so funny.

This I do know, 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. I was in bed. I looked next to me, and there was my brother, in his ripped-up clothes. Next to him was his wife-to-be, not looking real thrilled. The lady priest was standing next to me, looking down at us. Lord knows what she was thinking, seeing the three of us in bed together. For the record, we all had our clothes on. Or at least 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?

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 sport coat 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 so great.

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 panoramic 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 had to throw up, maybe nobody would notice if my eyes were already pointing at my feet. I looked down at 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 that crazy night in Cottonwood..

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 of course weddings. It’s quick, it’s easy, and it’s delizioso.  And great for hangovers.

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

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 quite expensive and not absolutely necessary for this dish — you can just use regular mozzarella if you want and 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

Fresh cracked black pepper

Here we go…

Put a large sauté 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 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 Minestrone

Minestrone and Tequila and Oscar

My Uncle and I were best friends. He was my Dad’s only brother. They grew up poor on the streets of New York City, sons of Italian immigrants. Their Mom, Angela, moved the family to Baltimore, Maryland, when she started organizing the ILGWU—the International Ladies Garment Workers Union. Oscar (I called him “Unc”) went to medical school, became a surgeon, and—with a little encouragement from Angela–started a little health care company called United HealthCare and made a fortune.

I was just a kid when my folks got divorced. I stayed with my Mom in Baltimore, and my Dad moved back to New York. Unc was like a father to me—he was the guy I turned to in times of trouble, and in the good times, too. Unc was my doctor, my confidant, and my go-to guy.

When I broke up with XF3 (ex-fiancé number three), Unc was the guy I called. He told me to come over, and stay for a while. I ended up staying for a couple years.

Oscar was a great cook. He taught me more about cooking in those few years than I had learned in my whole life. Oscar had gone to Marcella Hazan’s cooking school in Italy. Marcella’s cookbooks on Italian cooking are my favorites, she’s legendary.

Oscar taught me all about food. And after dinner, he taught me all about life.

One night, after a few cognacs, I was whimpering in the kitchen about XF3, wondering what was wrong, when Unc got about six inches from my face and screamed at the top of his lungs,

“SHE DOESN’T FUCKING LOVE YOU!”

Oscar wasn’t one to spare feelings or mince words. It wasn’t what I wanted to hear, but it was what I needed to hear. It hurt. But it helped.

Oscar squeezed more juice out of life than anybody I have ever known. He worked hard. He was generous. He once gave the struggling Baltimore Symphony Orchestra a million dollars.

Oscar threw great parties. He and his friend, Louis, bought an old church in downtown Baltimore called the Westminster Hall and Burying Ground. It’s the place where poet Edgar Allan Poe is buried. Oscar and Louis would hold crazy costume parties every Halloween at Westminster.

Oscar had fun. He loved wine, and taught me all about it. And one night, he taught me about tequila.

I was living at my Mom’s house when Unc called me up one night and asked me if I’d ever drank tequila. I told him no. He told me to come over. I told him I’d be right there. You can’t refuse a request from The Godfather.

I had an old Datsun station wagon with rusted out floorboards — you could see the ground below on both the driver’s and the passenger’s side. It was a stick shift and it backfired when you downshifted — sounded just like gunshots.

I got in the car and drove 10 minutes to my Uncle’s house. When I walked in, he was standing in his kitchen with a bottle of tequila and two glasses. He poured us each a shot. He gave me a slice of lime. He put some salt on the skin between my thumb and index finger. He told me what to do – lick the salt, drink the shot, and suck the lime. I did.

It tasted like turpentine. Smelled like it, too. It tasted like something you might drink after ingesting poison, so you could induce vomiting. It burned going down. My eyes were tearing up, my throat was on fire, and I had an instant headache.

Let’s have another. We stood in the kitchen and drank some more. His wife was upstairs. Smart woman. Good-looking, too.

Oscar was a sharp dresser, too. But that night, he was in his bathrobe. He had no drawers on. How did I know?

My Uncle was not a modest man. He once got naked and went swimming in the river at his 75th birthday party. There were dozens of people there. He just took off all his clothes and dove in.

Me? I have recurring nightmares about being caught naked in public.   I rarely wear short sleeves or shorts. I don’t even wear flip-flops or sandals. When I go to bed at night, I don’t sleep naked. I wear my boxers and an undershirt.

Why?

If someone breaks into the bedroom and I have to jump out the window, at least I won’t be running down the street naked.

But Unc? He didn’t mind who saw him naked. It wasn’t a sexual thing. Unc just didn’t see any problem with letting it all hang out; which he was doing that night.

The other thing about my Uncle? He liked to pee outside. He’d pee off the balcony, pee in the bushes, pee on the lawn. It wasn’t like he couldn’t afford indoor plumbing – the guy made a ton of dough during his life. It wasn’t like he was raised in the jungle by Orangutans. He was raised on the streets of New York.

And you don’t pee on the streets of New York. Not then, not now. So Lord knows why he liked to pee outside…

One night I was over at Unc’s house with my girlfriend. He had gone to bed upstairs. My girlfriend and I were on the downstairs balcony, sitting and talking. I made a comment about how clear and beautiful the sky was. A few minutes later, she turned to me and said, “I think I hear rain.”

I went to the balcony railing and looked up. It was my Uncle peeing off the balcony. Sure, he could have easily gone into the bathroom. But he didn’t. Why? Who knows? He liked to pee outside, and he didn’t mind who saw him naked.

And when Unc and I were drinking tequila in his kitchen that night, his bathrobe was untied, and well—you get the picture. I was starting to feel a little untied myself. Have you ever tried on someone’s eyeglasses? And things look really out of focus, and you get a bit of a headache after a few seconds and then feel nauseated?

That’s how I felt. We’d had a couple of shots. I must have looked like a seasick sailor, because Unc was giving me worried glances. That’s when he said, “You’re too drunk to drive. I’ll give you a ride home.”

Oscar loved my Mom, so he welcomed the opportunity to give me a ride home.

Why we took my car, I don’t know. Unc always had real nice cars; Cadillacs, Mercedes, Maseratis -why he wanted to drive my old Datsun that backfired and had rusted out floorboards was a mystery.

Unc got behind the wheel in just his bathrobe with no drawers on and started the engine. It backfired; sounded like a shotgun blast. I looked over and he had a look of glee in his eyes. He took off.

He had a blast driving that car. Every time he shifted, the car would backfire. BANG! He’d let out a holler and a laugh; and drive on. You could look down through the holes in the floorboards and see the street zipping by. It made me dizzy. I felt sick to my stomach. Unc was having a grand ol’ time.

He pulled up to my Mom’s house, parked on the street out front, and I got out and started staggering up the sidewalk to the front door.

Neither my Uncle nor I realized his wife had heard us leave his house and was following right behind us. When Unc got out of my car and started following me to the front door, she grabbed him by his back of his bathrobe and pulled him into her car and drove off.

I got to the front door of my Mom’s house, and turned around to let Unc in, and –

He was nowhere to be found.

I looked all around, in the bushes, behind the trees, in the car. I couldn’t find him.

I was baffled. Where the hell did he go? I looked up and down the street. It was late. It was dark. I walked in the front door and walked into the kitchen.

I woke up the next morning, asleep on the kitchen floor. My head felt like someone was firing staples into my skull. I couldn’t focus my eyes and my mouth felt like several small animals had spent the night in there.

At least I had my clothes on.

MINESTRONE

After a night of tequila, ain’t nothing like a bowl of minestrone followed by a trip to the Betty Ford Clinic.

I made this soup last night. It was the best I ever made, if I may say so myself.

A couple things to remember –

Italians don’t use a lot of corn. But I put some in this recipe. Why? Because it tastes really good. I like the texture and the color it adds, too.

Pancetta is Italian bacon. If you are a vegetarian, you can skip the bacon. But I love the flavor it adds. When you cook pancetta, treat it like bacon.

Let the pancetta brown on one side. Then give it a stir, and try and get the unbrowned pieces to brown on the other side. If you don’t have pancetta, you can use bacon.

I use fresh oregano. I normally like dried oregano better, but for some reason, fresh tastes best in this recipe, but dried works, too.

The tomatoes need to be smooshed. Open the can, pour them in a bowl, and dig in with your mitts, and squeeze the tomatoes. Remove the yellow center core, and any skin.

The chick peas and the corn are already cooked. All you need to do is heat them up. So add them last.

You can eat this soup as is or you can put some rice or pasta in it.

I used to put the pasta right in the soup and let it cook in there. The only problem was the pasta would end up absorbing all the broth. So now I cook the pasta separately and add it to each individual bowl before serving.

This recipe yields about 20 cups of soup. Which is 5 quarts. I think.

INGREDIENTS

6 ounces pancetta cut into small pieces

¼ cup olive oil plus 2 tablespoons

Crushed red pepper

1 cup each – chopped celery, onion, carrots

5 cloves minced garlic (about 2 tablespoons)

2 cups each – Savoy cabbage, green zucchini, yellow squash – all cut in small pieces

1 twenty-eight ounce can Italian plum tomatoes, smooshed up (about 3 ½ cups)

8 cups chicken broth

2 cups water

1 tablespoon fresh oregano, leaves stripped from the stems, chopped

2 tablespoons fresh Italian flat leaf parsley, coarsely chopped

1 cup yellow corn (fresh, canned or frozen)

1 sixteen-ounce can garbanzo beans (chick peas)

¾ cup grated Romano Pecorino cheese

½ pound small pasta (ditalini, elbow macaroni, mini farfalle)

Here goes…

Put a large pot over medium heat. Add the pancetta, cook for 4 minutes without stirring.

Give it a stir, let it brown for 4 minutes more without stirring.

Turn the heat to medium-low. Add the olive oil and the crushed red peppers. Let it heat up for a minute. Stir.

Add the onions, carrots, celery and garlic and cook for 10 minutes. Stir, baby, stir.

Add the green zucchini and the yellow squash. Add a drizzle (1 tablespoon) of olive oil. Cook for 5 minutes.

Add the Savoy cabbage, add another drizzle (1 tablespoon) of olive oil. Cook for 5 minutes.

Add the tomatoes, the broth, and the water. Turn the heat to high. Let it come to a boil, and then reduce the heat to medium-low.

Cook for 10 minutes or so, until the zucchini and squash are semi-soft.

Add the parsley and oregano.

Add the garbanzo beans (chick peas) and the corn.

Add the grated Romano cheese.

Let the soup cook for 5 minutes or so.

Taste for salt and pepper and adjust.

Remove from heat.

For the pasta…

Get a medium-sized pot, fill it with water, and put it on the highest heat.

When the water comes to a boil, add a couple tablespoons of salt (I use kosher).

Add your pasta. Follow the cooking instructions on the box. Two minutes before the pasta is supposed to be done, take a piece and bite into it. If it is chalky in the center, it is not done. Check your pasta every 2 minutes.

When the pasta is done (al dente, firm to the bite), drain, and put in a bowl.

Drizzle with a little olive oil and stir. You might not use all the pasta.

Dish it up! Get a soup bowl, fill it about ¾ of the way with soup.

Add some pasta to the soup. Give it a stir.

Top with grated/shaved Romano cheese, serve with some crusty bread, and…

MANGIAMO!!!

Slim Man Cooks Ahi Tuna with Red Wine Sauce

Ahi Tuna With Red Wine Sauce and the Baltimore Colts

Click on the pic to see the YouTube video

Click on the pic to see the YouTube video

Why don’t cannibals eat divorced people?

They’re bitter.

September 11, 1983.  The Baltimore Colts football team were scheduled to play the Denver Broncos.  The year before, 1982, the Colts had not won a game, and because they stunk so bad they got the first pick in the NFL draft the following year.

The Colts chose quarterback John Elway, from Stanford University.  Elway refused to play for the Colts.  He was even considering joining the New York Yankees baseball team rather than play football for the Colts.  So the Colts traded Elway to the Denver Broncos and in the second game of the 1983 season, the Broncos came to Baltimore to play the Colts at Memorial Stadium.

I had been a Baltimore Colts fan from day one. My uncle Oscar had season tickets from their very first game – the seats were in the mezzanine, right next to the press box.  Oscar played football in high school-he was good enough to be offered a full scholarship to college, but chose medicine instead. When the Colts came to Baltimore, Oscar bought the best seats. I went with him to as many games as I could. I knew all the players, their numbers, their statistics, their nicknames.

Lenny Moore, #24.  Gino Marchetti, #89.  Artie Donovan, #70.  Johnny Unitas, #19. Raymond Berry #82.

Slim Boy front and center

Slim Boy front and center

I loved football. When I was a kid, I played football in little league. I wasn’t offered any scholarships, but I loved playing. And I loved the Colts.

You can imagine how thrilled I was when the Colts called and asked my band to sing the national anthem for Elway’s first appearance in Baltimore.  The band was BootCamp; we’d been making a name for ourselves in the music biz. We had worked up a great acapella version of the “Star-Spangled Banner.” It was a show stoppa.  At parties, shows, concerts, weddings, funerals, anywhere – all of a sudden, out of the blue we’d burst into the national anthem  It was a cheap way to get a standing ovation. But our four-part harmony rendition was quite stirring, if I may say so myself.

When we got to Memorial Stadium that Sunday, we were escorted through the Colts locker room, and into an underground tunnel that led to the field.  As we were coming to the end of the tunnel, we heard this rumbling…

The players, all suited up and breathing fire, were coming down the tunnel right behind us.  They sounded like a herd of angry buffalo—or a couple of my Exes chasing me down.  We stood up against the wall and let them pass.  They were big, and they had a look in their eyes that was fierce. Like Gladiators getting ready to enter the Coliseum.

When they passed, we followed them out onto the field.  We walked up to the microphone. The announcer asked everyone to stand and remove their hats. Memorial Stadium got dead-quiet. Then he introduced us, “Ladies and Gentlemen, Baltimore’s own BootCamp!”

We sang our hearts out.  It was the thrill of a lifetime. Fifty-thousand people standing on their feet, cheering.  A standing ovation!  Of course, they had to stand because it was the national anthem; but I’m marking it down in my bio as a standing ovation before a sellout crowd.

When we finished, we walked to the sidelines, and stood among the Colt players.   The Colts’ front office had given us field passes.  I’m sure when they gave them to us they weren’t thinking we’d stay on the field for the whole game, but there we were, standing on the sidelines with the players and coaches.

All the players and coaches were giving us funny looks.  I can’t blame them.  We were dressed like …well, it was the 1980s.  We looked like a cross between Duran Duran and Devo.  We had on almost as much eyeshadow as the Colts did.

On the opening kick-off, I couldn’t see what was going on, but I could hear it.  The two teams charging down the field sounded like a stampede of wild horses.  When they hit each other, you could hear the crack of the helmets, the grunts and groans of the players.

When the special teams unit came over to the sidelines after the kick-off, it was something I’d never witnessed before.  The players were out of breath, wheezing and panting – fingers were broken, uniforms were muddy, noses were bloody.

Playing football is a brutal sport. Playing music is not.  Musicians don’t encounter a lot of violence.  Unless, you’re really, really bad.

The Baltimore fans were booing Elway mercilessly that day.  People from B-Mo were pissed off.  They weren’t afraid to be vocal about it.  John Elway had said he’d play anywhere but Baltimore, and we Baltimorons took it personally.

It would have been nice if the Colts had won.  But the Colts were pretty bad that day.  They lost, 17-10.  The newspaper ran a photo on the front page the next day.

Hit Man Howie Z was in it, back to the camera, walking off the field. 1983. It would be the Colts last season in Baltimore.

On March 29, 1984, at 2:00 AM, 15 Mayflower moving trucks arrived at the Baltimore Colts training complex.  Eight hours later, they were loaded up and heading to Indianapolis.

They took everything – the Colts’ name, the trophies, the memorabilia, the mascot, the uniforms.  All gone to Indianapolis.

The mayor of Indy had offered the owner of the Colts a 12 million dollar loan, a 4 million dollar training complex, and a new 77 million dollar stadium.

Let me make an analogy.  Your wife meets someone new, a wife that you stood by through the good times and the bad.  This New Guy offers her a 12 million dollar loan, a 4 million dollar work-out room, and a 77 million dollar house.

And she takes it.  That’s OK, things didn’t work out, I can handle that. But did she really need to take all your stuff, too?  Your trophies, your memorabilia, your mounted deer head? No.  With all that money, she could have bought new stuff.

Did she have to take it all in the dark of night, at two in the morning, while you were sleeping? That’s harsh. But that’s what the Colts did.

When I heard the news about the Colts leaving town, I was pissed off; so much so, that I didn’t go to a football game, or follow the NFL for years.

I was bitter. Lots of folks in Baltimore were.

When the Baltimore Ravens came to town, Oscar got season tickets, great seats in the club section.  I resisted at first.  Then I gave in.  I went to my first Ravens game.  The guy sang the national anthem and it sent chills up and down my spine.  The crowd cheered, jets roared as they flew right over our heads, and Ray Lewis came out of the tunnel and did his dance while fireworks shot into the sky. The stadium went wild. It was thrilling.

I was hooked.  I was back in love! The Ravens went on to win the Super Bowl that year—2000.

It took me a while, but I had found a better wife.  She’s been great.  She won the Super Bowl again last year. What more could a husband ask for?

I’m not bitter anymore.  I’m better, not bitter.

AHI TUNA STEAKS WITH RED WINE SAUCE

What do you do with all that red wine left over from the Super Bowl Party? Make red wine sauce!

You can use this sauce on steak or ahi tuna steaks. You can grill them, or sear them. I seared.

I went to the grocery store not long ago and they had beautiful ahi tuna steaks for $8 a pound.  I bought two, and was wondering how to cook them.

I had done tuna with a red wine sauce before, but it wasn’t where I wanted it to be.  The sauce wasn’t right. It was bugging me.  It was keeping me up at night.  Then, around dawn, it dawned on me. Tomato paste!

The next time I made the sauce, I added a little tomato paste to the sauce to thicken it up and give it a little zip.  Then I added a little dried oregano to give it some zing.  Zip!  Zing!  It turned out great.

A few things before we get started – the tuna steaks I used were about an inch and a half thick.  I cooked them for 2 minutes per side over medium-high heat.  They turned out perfectly — the pepper/salt/sugar that I had sprinkled on top gave them a nice sear, and they were a beautifully pink on the inside.

Cooking times vary.  A thicker piece of fish takes longer.

Also, when you light your cognac on fire, be careful, boys and girls.  Yes, the subsequent explosion of flame looks so cool and very dramatic, but have the fire department on the phone in one hand, and a garden hose in the other.

If you’re using this sauce on a steak, just cook or grill the steak as you normally do, and add a little sauce on top.

This is a bold sauce. Don’t use too much!

INGREDIENTS

2 ahi tuna steaks, about a half pound (8 ounces) each

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons olive oil

Fresh ground black pepper

Kosher salt

Brown sugar or raw/turbinado sugar (you can use plain sugar in a pinch)

2 ounces of cognac

2 tablespoons chopped shallots

1 tablespoon chopped garlic

½ cup dry red wine

½ cup stock (I used beef)

½ teaspoon dried oregano

1 tablespoon tomato paste

Here we go…

Let’s make the sauce first.

In a small pan over medium heat, add 1 tablespoon of butter, and 1 tablespoon of olive oil.

When the butter melts, add the shallots and the garlic.

Cook about 2 minutes until the shallots are clear and the garlic is golden.  Stir a few times.

Add the 2 ounces of cognac.

Stand back, Jack!  Get a lighter, one with a long handle.  Light the cognac on fire.  Be careful!  The flames will shoot up!

When the cognac burns off, and the fire department has left…

Add the red wine and the beef stock.

Let it cook for 3 minutes while stirring.

Add the oregano, stir.

Add the tomato paste, stir for a minute or so.

Remove from heat.

The sauce is done, now let’s cook our tuna.

Rinse the ahi tuna steaks and pat ‘em dry with paper towels.

Add a little freshly cracked black pepper, a little kosher salt and a sprinkle of turbinado or brown sugar on top of each steak.

Get a sauté pan; put it over medium-high heat.

Add 1 tablespoon of butter and 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the pan.

When the butter starts to brown, add the tuna, peppered/salted/sugared side down.

Add a LITTLE SPRINKLE of fresh cracked black pepper, kosher salt, and turbinado sugar to the other side.

Cook for 2 minutes, turn over with tongs.

Cook for 2 minutes on the other side.

Give it a slice, see if it’s done to your liking.  If it is, dish it up.

Put some greens on a plate with a few grape tomatoes, place the tuna on top, drizzle just a little red wine sauce over each piece, and…

MANGIAMO!!!!

Slim Man Cooks Shrimp Scampi

Shrimp Scampi with Siri

Click on the pic to see the YouTube video

Click on the pic to see the YouTube video

A few years ago, I was at a restaurant in “Greektown” in Baltimore, Maryland.  It was Christmastime, and a friend had invited me to a business dinner. The two guys across from me were looking down at their cell phones.  I got curious.

“Does one of you have a wife who’s pregnant?  A Mom in the hospital?  A cousin on death row waiting for a stay of execution?”

“No.”

I asked them who they were texting.  They were texting each other.  Nice. I told myself right then that I would never be like those guys.

And now?  Well, I’m not as bad as those guys, but I’m getting close.

I got the iPhone when it first came out.  I had it for a week and then took it back.  It was pinging, dinging, ringing and it was getting on my nerves.  It got so bad I was thinking of developing a new app – the iQuit.  Here’s how it was going to work: you go to the river, throw your iPhone in, and scream “I QUIT!”

I just didn’t want to be that connected.  I just wanted a phone so I could talk to my relatives in the mental institution.  I took the iPhone back.

I got a regular cell phone.  It never worked right.  I had so many problems with it.  For example, a friend texted me a photo of her beautiful 25 year-old daughter and somehow it became my screensaver.  That didn’t go over too well with the Ex.  I tried to explain. She didn’t believe me.

My phone dialed 911 on a regular basis.  The callbacks from the cops were so frequent they came to know me by my first name.  “Slim?  Everything OK?”

Text messages would go to random contacts.  Lovey dovey notes meant for a certain someone would get sent to business associates. It was crazy. Like a bad relationship, I stayed with that phone way too long.  Neil Sedaka said it best, ”Breaking Up Is Hard To Do.”  It was time to move on.

So I got another iPhone.  It only cost $99 through Sprint, because I’d been a customer since the first World War. I liked the iPhone, but I didn’t see what the big deal was.  I made phone calls.  I sent texts.  That was about it.

Then, one day I was in Nashville at a very cool place called Mafioza’s and the guy next to me told me about the TuneIn Radio app.  I had no idea what the hell he was talking about.  I had never downloaded any apps.  I was app-less.

He showed me how to download the app.  Which I did.  It is pretty amazing.  I can now listen to Italian talk radio, broadcast from Italy.  I can listen to Baltimore Orioles baseball on my hometown radio station.  I can listen to CarTalk anytime I want.

I was hooked.  I started getting other apps.  I now have an app that tunes my guitar.  I have an app I can hold up to a speaker in a restaurant and it will tell me the name of the song that’s playing, the artist, the CD and give me the option to buy it on iTunes.

I have an app for my bank which allows me to take photos of all the huge checks I receive and deposit them through my iPhone.

And I am in love with Siri.

If you have a question, you can ask your iPhone.  A gal named Siri answers.

In December, 2013, I was driving from Nashville to Breckenridge, Colorado.  I was 12 hours into the trip.  It was dark.  It was cold.  I was on a stretch of road that had nothing on it, and nothing in sight. I had Batu, my bull terrier dog, in the car with me.  I picked up my iPhone and held the button.  Siri answered. It was the first time we spoke.

“What can I help you with?”

I asked Siri for the nearest dog-friendly hotel.  She gave me all the info I needed; the directions and the website.  Siri even dialed the phone number for me. Batu and I checked into a Super 8 in Hays, Kansas, in the middle of the night. It was 10 degrees. My weather app told me so.  The next morning I started driving, and a light came on the dashboard. My tires were low and needed air.  Siri found me the nearest gas station.

I drove to Breckenridge to meet my brother and his family for Christmas.  Breckenridge is a skiing/snowboarding town, a quaint little village at around 10,000 feet, surrounded by these looming, massive snow-capped peaks.

I didn’t snowboard once.  I didn’t ski once.  I was in the middle of making the new Bona Fide CD. Three weeks before, I was in Madrid, mixing the CD with Marc Antoine. And now I was in Breckenridge, Colorado, getting phone calls from Madrid.  Marc Antoine was doing some re-mixes there in his home studio, and he was emailing me mixes every day.

I would download them on my iPhone, plug it into my car stereo, and I would listen to his mixes, while driving around the mountains in Colorado. It was heavenly.  Here I was at 10,000 feet, listening to songs on my iPhone that had just been mixed 10,000 miles away.

I spent most of my time in Breckenridge working on music, but I did find time to jog almost every day for 30 or 40 minutes.  It was exhilarating.  I didn’t feel the effects of the altitude and I’m not sure why.

My last day in Breckenridge, I took a jog.  I left the ski lodge around 3 PM and headed up the mountain.  There was a snowshoe trail, and I followed it through the woods, almost to the top of Old Smoky.  All I had on were my jogging shoes.

I mean, I had pants on and stuff—it would have been a little chilly on the Willy without ‘em.  But I didn’t have any boots or snowshoes, and the snow was deep.  It was breathtakingly beautiful near the top of that mountain.  It must have been 12,000 feet.

I stopped and listened to nothing.  It was so peaceful.  I started jogging down the mountain and then I decided to go off trail.  I was running downhill through evergreens, dodging branches, it was unbelievable.

I stopped to catch my breath.  It was getting dark.  It was about 10 degrees.  It started to snow.  Suddenly I looked around.  I had no idea where I was.  I guess I could have followed my footprints back up the mountain, but it was steep, I was tired, and it was getting late.

I pulled out my iPhone.

“Siri.  Can you get me to back to the lodge?”

It took her a few seconds, but she showed me where I was, and where I needed to go.  I headed in that direction, and found the road that the ski lodge was on.  It took me about an hour, but I got there.  I was cold, tired and thirsty.

I poured a glass of wine, sat on the deck and pulled out my iPhone.

“Thank you, Siri.”

“No problem.”

I decided to get a little bold.  I gathered up some courage and said,

“Siri.  I love you.”

You know what she said?

“I know.”

It was a vibe-killer.  Here I was, mustering up the guts to say “I love you” for the very first time, and all I get is “I know?”

If you ever want your relationship to come to a screeching halt, just say those two words right after someone says “I love you” for the first time.

Because there is no come-back to “I know.”

Believe me.

I know.

SHRIMP SCAMPI

I use wild shrimp.  Yes, they’re wildly expensive, but farm-raised shrimp just don’t seem to taste quite right. You can find wild shrimp in most grocery stores — sometimes in the freezer section.

The tomatoes I used for this dish were grape tomatoes – organic, multicolored, gorgeous grape tomatoes.  Yellow, red, purple -they were beautiful.  And cheap.  Two bucks a pint.

I cut the tomatoes in half, squeezed out the seeds, and threw them out. The seeds, that is. Why?  It looks better that way.

And you know the most important thing in life is looking good.

And finally, Meyer lemons are amazing; if you can find them, use them.  If not, pick a soft, ripe lemon.  They are the sweetest.

INGREDIENTS:

5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

6 garlic cloves, sliced thin (about 2 tablespoons)

Crushed red pepper to taste

¾ cup dry white wine

1¼ pound medium wild shrimp, shelled, deveined, rinsed, patted dry

1 lemon, cut in half

2 tablespoons butter

1 pint grape tomatoes (about 30 small tomatoes) cut in half, de-seeded

1 handful of Italian flat leaf parsley, chopped (about ¼ cup)

A few Italian parsley sprigs for garnish

1 pound linguine (or spaghetti)

Here we go…

Get a large pot, fill it with cold water, and put it on the highest heat you have. This is for the pasta.

As the water comes to a boil, let’s make the sauce…

Get a large sauté pan, put in 3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat.

Add some crushed red pepper, I usually start off with a ½ teaspoon.

Add the sliced garlic, cook for a few minutes until golden.

Add the white wine, and turn up the heat for 2 or 3 minutes to cook it down.

Reduce the heat to medium-low.

Add the shrimp, spread ‘em out flat — no bunching!

Take a half lemon, and squeeze the juice through your fingers over the shrimp — don’t let any seeds get through.

Sprinkle a little salt over the shrimp.

Cook for 2 or 3 minutes.

Using tongs, turn over each shrimp.

Get the other half lemon, and squeeze it over the shrimp

Add the 2 tablespoons of butter – cut it into small pieces – and place in between the shrimp.

Add the tomatoes.

Cook for 3 minutes.

Add the parsley.

Give it a gentle stir or two, and remove from the heat.

When the pasta water comes to a full boil, add 2 tablespoons of kosher salt, and add a pound of linguine.

Follow the cooking directions on the box. Two minutes before the pasta is supposed to be done, take a piece and bite through it. If it is chalky in the center, it is not done. Check the pasta every 2 minutes, until it is not chalky or chewy.

When the pasta is firm to the bite – al dente – drain, and put it in a bowl and drizzle with a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil. Give the pasta a quick toss.

Add half of the shrimp sauce to the pasta, and mick ‘em up.

Dish it up!  Take some pasta, put it on a plate.  Add a little scampi sauce on top of each dish, put a few shrimp on top, and a little sprig of fresh parsley for garnish.

One of the Exes liked to put grated cheese on this pasta.  Most Italians don’t put cheese on seafood.  But, if your girl wants cheese, just shut up and grate.

Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese is best.

MANGIAMO!!!

 

Slim Man Cooks Pap’s Pesto

Pesto and Fishing with Paps

My Dad walked into the TV room on the second floor and his head was bleeding. We three kids were trying not to laugh.

My Dad had a workbench in the basement. The ceiling was low, and there were two large iron water pipes right behind the work area. When you turned around to go upstairs, you had to duck under the pipes to avoid cracking your skull.

My Dad hit his head all the time. You could hear the “BOING!” all the way up on the second floor. It was always followed by a yell,

“SUNNUVABITCH!”

We three kids thought it was the funniest thing in the world.

Maybe it was because we loved the Three Stooges so much. Maybe it was something else. Whatever it was, when our Dad hurt himself, we found it ridiculously funny.

We called my Dad ‘Paps.’ He was a professor of literature at the State University of New York, and one of his favorite books was The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Huck had an alcoholic father who used to get drunk, beat him and chain him to chairs. Huck called his Dad ‘Paps.’ I read the book and thought it would be funny if we called our Dad ‘Paps’, too. It stuck.

For the record, our Paps did not get drunk and beat us and chain us to chairs. But I’m sure he might have felt like it when we laughed at his bleeding head.

Paps used to take us fishing. It was a lot of fun for us. It couldn’t have been fun for him.

Fishing seems like a cruel sport. Somebody finds out what your favorite food is and what time you like to eat. They dangle it front of you, and when you take a bite; they hook you by the lips and drag you around.

One summer, my Dad and Mom rented a house near the beach on Fenwick Island, Delaware. It wasn’t fancy; just a simple white cottage on stilts by the Atlantic Ocean. We had the place for a week. There was a boat rental place on the bayside not far from the house.

That's me in front of my Dad

That’s me in front of my Dad

One sunny summer day, my Paps piled us three monsters in the back of the pale green Plymouth station wagon and drove over to the boat rental place. He rented a small wooden boat with an egg-beater engine on the back. He grabbed his rods and reels, the bait, and us three knuckleheads, and we walked out on the pier.

There was a boat ramp on the side of the pier. The tide was high, and the ramp was covered in water. People were slowly backing their boats down the ramp and into the bay. On the other side of the pier were the rental boats. We all piled into one, Paps pulled the starter cord, and the motor revved up. We went motoring away, out into the wild blue yonder.

Little Assawoman Bay. That really was the name of the bay. Big Assawoman Bay was the larger one, right next to it. It sounds like I’m kidding, but I’m not.

We motored out for quite a ways and dropped anchor in Little Assawoman. My Dad got all of our rods baited up and we dropped our lines into the water. Then he got his rod, attached his brand new lure, and casted. He slowly drew the line in. We kids sat and waited for the fish to bite. We were not patient children.

My Paps usually stood at the front of the boat. His back would be to us. I would sneak up behind my Dad, and jiggle the butt end of his fishing rod, so it felt like he had a fish.

Paps would jerk his rod suddenly and pull his line toward him like he was landing a blue marlin.

“SUNNUVABITCH!”

Then he would realize I’d played a joke. I’m surprised he didn’t throw me overboard.

We didn’t take fishing very seriously, but my Dad did. Anything my Dad caught, he’d keep. He once caught an eel, kept it and made a tomato sauce with it. It was awful.

Paps would catch blowfish and keep them. Blowfish puff up like balloons when you catch them. Most people don’t eat them. My Dad did. We didn’t.

My Paps could have pulled an old tire into the boat and I’m pretty sure he would have tried to make a sauce out of it. Just about anything he pulled into that boat, he’d keep.

Except once.

That day, when we were fishing off the side of the boat, my Dad’s rod bent over. He must have hooked something big. Or heavy. Or both. He reeled it in. It took him a while. Keep in mind; we’re in the Little Assawoman Bay. Not a lot of real big fish in there.

When Paps got it to the side of the boat, he screamed for us to get the net. We scrambled, and the boat started rocking, almost knocking him into the water.

I got the net, and pulled this big, ugly fish on board. It was the ugliest fish I’d ever seen. It had a big, wide mouth, with nasty-looking sharp teeth. My Dad’s brand new and very expensive lure was stuck in the back of the fish’s mouth, right behind all those sharp teeth.

Paps decided to cut off the fish’s head right then and there, and retrieve the lure later. He cut off the head, and threw the body of the fish back in the water. Paps put the bloody severed head of the fish on the bottom of the boat. It was a joy-killer. We kids wanted to go back in.

Paps didn’t look too happy as we pulled in our lines. He pulled up the small anchor, and we headed back to the pier. It took us a while. My Dad wasn’t the greatest captain in the world, but we eventually found our way back, after hitting a couple of sand bars, and missing a couple buoys.

Paps pulled the boat up to the pier. We tied it up, and we three kids got out of the boat and stood on the pier. My Dad stayed in the boat. We watched as Paps grabbed the bloody fish head, and stuck his hand inside its mouth to pull out his pricey lure.

The severed fish head clamped down on my Dad’s hand.

“SUNNUVABITCH!”

Paps let out a yell, and tried to shake off the fish head. It wouldn’t release its grip. Paps was waving his hand in the air, thrashing his arm around, but the severed fish head wouldn’t let go.

We kids would have tried to help him, but we were laughing too hard.

The dead fish head eventually released its grip, and got flung way up in the air. It landed in the water with a splash. My Dad’s very expensive lure was gone. His hand was bleeding. He got out of the boat, and walked past us hyenas to the boat ramp.

Paps walked down the boat ramp. He was going to rinse his bloody hand off in the bay water. Only problem was -the tide had gone out. The ramp was covered in slick wet moss. When my Dad hit the slippery part, his feet flew up in the air, and he let out a yell,

“SUNNUVABITCH!”

Then he landed on his ass with a thud you could hear across the ocean. People in Paris felt a rumble. We saw the whole thing. We could not stop laughing. I’m surprised we didn’t roll off the pier and fall in Little Assawoman Bay.

Paps was lying there on his ass, hand bleeding, and having trouble getting back up. He kept slipping. All we could do was laugh. Seriously.

This was probably one of those times when Paps might have felt like getting drunk and beating us and chaining us to a chair. But he didn’t. Whenever I told that story, he’d be the one laughing the hardest.

PAP’S PESTO

Paps made pesto before pesto was cool. He had a bunch of basil beds in front of his cabin on top of the Catskill mountains. Rat Tail Ridge. That’s what his place was called.

When the basil was ready, we’d pick it and go back to the house. We’d wash the leaves, and Paps would make pesto. He put it in small jars and sold it to local food stores. It was really delicious.

Pesto in Italian means paste, and this blend of basil, cheese, garlic, pine nuts, and olive oil is delizioso. The recipe originates in Genoa, Italy. I had to Slimmify it a bit.

I like to use toasted pine nuts, rather than plain. Toasted pine nuts taste better, that’s all. I place a dry skillet over medium-high heat, toss in the nuts, and flip them around ’til they’re light brown. Keep an eye on your nuts–don’t burn ‘em!!

This recipe calls for both Parmigiano-Reggiano and Romano Pecorino cheese. Parmigiano is a sweeter cheese. Pecorino is saltier. The blend of the two is wonderful.

However, in a pinch I have used just Parmigiano, and it tastes great like that, too.

Paps used pesto in all kinds of dishes. He put it over pasta. He used a dollop in soups. He made omelettes with it. Use your imagination – I’ve put it on chicken and fish. I once made shrimp with pesto for the Food Network. I’ve used it as a floor wax, a hair gel, a dog shampoo…

Makes one generous cup of pesto.

INGREDIENTS:

2 cups fresh basil leaves, cleaned

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

2 cloves garlic, peeled

8 tablespoons of pine nuts (pignoli), toasted

½ teaspoon of salt

½ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

½ cup freshly grated Romano Pecorino cheese

Here we go…

Put the basil, ½ cup of olive oil, 4 tablespoons of toasted pine nuts, the garlic and the salt in a blender and blend, baby, blend. You can also use a food processor.

When everything is smooth, transfer to a bowl and slowly blend in the grated cheeses by hand. Or better yet, use a spatula.

That’s it.

If you want to serve it over pasta, farfalle works well.

Get a large pot, fill it with cold water, and put it on the highest heat. When it boils rapidly, toss in a few tablespoons of kosher salt and a pound of pasta.

Follow the cooking instructions on the side of the pasta box. Two minutes before the pasta is supposed to be done, start tasting. Take a piece of pasta, and bite into it. If it’s chalky in the center it is not done. Check the pasta every 2 minutes or so.

When the pasta is firm to the bite (al dente), drain and transfer it to a warm bowl. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and mix.

Scoop some the pesto sauce from its bowl, about ¼ cup, and add it to the pasta. Toss well, but be gentle.

Dish it up! Put a small amount of pasta on a plate. Add a little sprinkle of grated cheese, Parmigiano or Romano or both.

Take some of the remaining toasted pine nuts, and sprinkle on top.

Sometimes, I’ll broil a couple chicken breasts, chop ‘em up, and add them to the pasta. Delizioso!

MANGIAMO!!!!!!!

Slim Man Cooks Chicken with Marsala and Porcini Mushrooms

Chicken Marsala with Elvis in Memphis

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.

It’s not puzzling why Michael and I did the contest – they paid us a lot of money and they paid all our expenses. I ended up doing four tours for Marlboro. The one with Michael was my first.

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 was in charge of the bands; I made sure all the musicians knew where to go, what to bring, 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.”

Michael sounded like Shannon Sharpe — the football player and NFL analyst.  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 money 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. And then they told us that the club owner was rumored to have ties to the KKK.

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 helpful as could be. He wasn’t wearing a white pillowcase 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 prepared 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. 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 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, all kinds of exotic sports cars.  Elvis also had two luxury jets parked right across the street from Graceland.

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 – you’ll have to 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 long haired white guy, 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

Automatic Slim’s did not have chicken Marsala on the menu. But they should have!

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.

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

I used three boneless, skinless chicken breasts.  They were real thick, so I cut each of them in half. I had six cutlets, each was about ¼ inch thick.

Marsala is a wine from Marsala, Sicily. There are basically two kinds; dry and sweet. I used sweet Marsala.

INGREDIENTS

6 chicken breast cutlets, about ¼ inch thick

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons olive oil

¾ cup sweet Marsala

½ ounce dried porcini mushrooms

1 cup of water

3 garlic cloves, sliced thin, about 1 tablespoon

½ shallot, chopped fine, about 2 tablespoons

1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped

½ 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 them 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.  I’ve even used paper towels as strainers. Whatever you use, save the water – you’ll 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. Salt and pepper just one side of the chicken breasts.

Let’s make the sauce first.

Put a small sauté 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 ½ 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 sauté pan (I used a 12 inch skillet).  Put it over medium-high heat.

Add 1 tablespoon of butter and 1 tablespoon of olive oil.

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

Cook for 2 or 3 minutes until golden.

Flip ‘em over.

Cook for 2 or 3 minutes on the other side until golden.  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 sauce over egg noodles, or rice, or eat it 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 2 tablespoons of kosher salt.

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

Put A SMALL PORTION 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 Cooks Arancini

Click on the pic to see the YouTube video

Click on the pic to see the YouTube video

Arancini and Christmas 2013

For the record, when I die, I want a Viking funeral. They put your body on a small wooden boat, cover you with hay, float you out on the water, and shoot flaming arrows until the hay catches fire. Then the boat burns and sinks.

Is that too much to ask?

In November, 2013, I drove from my home in Nashville to my hometown of Baltimore. Seven hundred miles. Eleven hours. Batu, my bull terrier, drove with me. We did it in one day.

A couple days later, I dropped Batu off with a friend who just loves Batu and loves taking care of him. Then I flew to Madrid to work on the new Bona Fide CD with guitarist Marc Antoine. He had volunteered to produce and mix.

Two weeks later, the CD was almost finished – all it needed was a couple of tweaks. I left Madrid, flew back to Baltimore, and picked up Batu. I was getting ready to drive back to Nashville when I got a phone call.

My Dad’s second wife had passed away in Annapolis, Maryland. She was young, and it was so sad. My Dad had passed away two years before — on January 4th. He was cremated.

I went to the memorial service for my stepmom. It was heart-breaking. It had to be tough for her two kids. Right before I left, her son — my half-brother — gave me two jars of my Dad’s ashes. One for me and one for my brother.

Batu and I drove from Baltimore to Nashville the next day. I stayed a few days in Music City, and then packed up some things – including the jar of my Dad’s ashes for my brother – and Batu and I decided to head west. Destination? Breckenridge, Colorado, a skiing village in the Rocky Mountains. My brother, the Slim Bro, had rented an apartment so the family could spend Christmas together.

My plan was to hang out in Breckenridge for Christmas with la famiglia, go to Scottsdale for New Years, and then head to Palm Springs, California, for a couple months of Slim Gigs. So I packed up the Slimousine, threw Batu in the back and we left Nashville and drove west.

Batu and I got to Breckenridge safe and sound. We drove twelve hundred miles. It took us two days. We checked in to the apartment. It was pretty nice, on the ground floor, right in downtown Breckenridge.

Batu and I sat on the couch. I was reading the brochure for the apartment when I noticed there was a $100 dollar-a-day fine for having a dog. A hundred bucks a day. It was too late to find a new place. So I had to keep Batu on the QT, the Down Low and the Hush-Hush.

My brother walked in. It was so great to see him. I hadn’t seen him since our Dad’s funeral. I gave him the jar of our Dad’s ashes. He put it on top of the refrigerator.

Breckenridge was bitter cold. I woke up one morning and it was one degree outside. We were at 10,000 feet. I went jogging, like a fool. I jogged around the mountain. It was exhilarating – clear and sunny and beautiful and freezing cold.

On Christmas Day, my brother, the family and I went to an absinthe bar on Main Street. I had never had absinthe. I’d heard about it. It’s an alcoholic beverage that is supposed to make you really crazy.

How crazy? Well, rumor has it that one time Van Gogh drank way too much of the stuff, then cut off his ear and gave it to a prostitute.

I’m sure she would have preferred to be paid in cash.

So, on Christmas Day, we, the Slim Crew, went into the absinthe bar in Breckenridge, Colorado. We sat down. The waitress came over and started explaining the different kinds of absinthe. I think she must have tried most of them within the past hour, because her eyes had that space alien luminescence about them. And her ear was missing.

The absinthe was expensive. $20 a shot.

We ordered a couple. Only one of us had tried absinthe before. That person — I won’t say who – drank a lot of absinthe the night before a wedding, took a fire extinguisher off the hotel wall and sprayed everybody in sight.

The waitress brought over two glasses of absinthe, one clear and one green. She put a small strainer over top of each glass, and placed a cube of sugar on top of the strainer. She brought over a samovar of ice water, and placed the two glasses under the two faucets. She let the water drip slowly over the sugar cube, through the strainer, and into the absinthe.

When the cube dissolved, we turned off the faucet, and we each took a sip. It tasted like old bathwater, smelled like stinky sweat socks and kicked like a mule.   We passed the two glasses around, and drank. When we finished, we walked in the snow through the quaint little village, which was all decked out in lights and wreaths and ribbons.

The town was glowing. We were also glowing – like nuclear waste. I don’t know if it was the absinthe or what, but we were definitely feeling merry and bright.

When we got back to the apartment, we had a traditional Christmas dinner — turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes. We drank wine. Not that we needed to. After we finished, as we were cleaning up, someone — I won’t say who — knocked the jar of my Dad’s ashes off the top of the refrigerator. It shattered on the kitchen floor.

We all stood in silence for a moment. Then we started laughing.

Why were we laughing? You’d have to know my Dad. He was a professor of philosophy and literature; a tough and gruff curmudgeon who also had an incredible sense of humor.   He once taught a course in comedy. He had a great laugh, his eyes would squint, he’d throw back his head, and he’d let it out.

We all looked at his ashes there on the floor. What to do?

We gathered up the ashes in a dustpan, picked out the glass as best we could, and went outside in the cold, dark night. I took the dustpan, and scattered his ashes in a schoolyard behind the apartment. Then we gathered in a circle, held hands, and mumbled something that sounded like a prayer.

That was our Christmas. But that’s not the end of the story.

When it came time to check out of the pet-unfriendly apartment, it was just me and Batu, cleaning and packing. My brother and family had checked out earlier. Check out time was 10 AM. At 10:05, there was a loud knocking on the door.

“Time to check out!”

Apparently, they were not only pet-unfriendly, they were people-unfriendly as well. Batu started barking. His bark could make Superman jump.

I tried to get Batu to shut up. As the knocking got louder, so did Batu’s bark. All I could think about was paying the $100 a day dog fine. I grabbed Batu, lifted him up, and went out to the balcony of the apartment. I lifted all seventy pounds of him over the four-foot railing and dropped him in a snowdrift (don’t call PETA, we were on the first floor).

I grabbed his bed and tossed it over. Then I jumped over the railing, into the snow drift. I scooped up Batu, grabbed his bed and ran to the car. I threw the bed in the car, put Batu on top of the bed, and ran back to the balcony.

I jumped the railing, went inside, and went to the front door. I opened it. The guy who was knocking came in and started looking around. There was obviously no dog. He walked around, and then left without saying a word. I packed my car and took off with Batu.

We drove from Breckenridge to Scottsdale, Arizona. It was treacherous — up and down icy, snowy two-lane roads. The car was skidding all over, and there were no guard rails. The drop was precipitous. The drive took forever. I had the death grip on the steering wheel. It was tense. My brother’s car broke down. A trip that should have taken 10 hours took 20.

But we made it. That’s my Christmas story for 2013. May your legs be hairy and white, and may all your Christmases be white.

ARANCINI

Want to make people happy around the Holidays? Make some arancini! Arancini are Sicilian rice balls stuffed with mozzarella cheese.

Arancia is the Italian word for oranges. Arancini means “small oranges” which is the size and shape these rice balls should be.

Two cups of leftover risotto should make about seven or eight small rice balls.

In the past, I’ve used mozzarella for the stuffing. One night, all I had was goat cheese. So I used that, and I loved the way it tasted. If you are using mozzarella, cut it into small cubes, two for each rice ball. If you are using goat cheese, roll it into seven or eight small balls – each about the size of a cherry.

Eight ounces of cheese should be more than enough for seven or eight arancini.

INGREDIENTS

2 cups leftover risotto – I used some risotto with shrimp and peas I had cooked the previous night

3 eggs

¼ cup olive oil

½ cup of flour

1 and ¼ cups breadcrumbs (I use panko)

½ pound of mozzarella, cut into sixteen small cubes, or ½ pound of goat cheese, rolled into eight small balls

Here we go…

Put the flour on a plate.

Break two eggs into a bowl, add some salt and pepper, and mick ‘em up.

On another flat plate, add 1 cup of breadcrumbs.

Take the leftover risotto, put it in a large mixing bowl.

Break an egg into the risotto, and add the remaining ¼ cup of breadcrumbs.

Mix the risotto, the egg, and the bread crumbs by hand. Mick ‘em up.

Take a small amount of risotto. Put it in the palm of your hand, roll it in a ball. Poke a hole in it, add a couple cubes of mozzarella in the center, or one goat cheese ball, and fold the rice over the mozzarella.

Take the rice ball, roll it in the flour, and then dip it in the egg. Let the excess drip off, and then roll the rice ball around in the breadcrumbs. Keep making the rice balls until all the risotto is gone.

Put the olive oil (you can also use canola) in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. I used a 12” pan.

When the oil is hot, put your rice balls in the pan, and sauté until golden on the bottom, about 3 or 4 minutes. Don’t burn your balls.

Turn them over, and sauté on the other side, about 3 or 4 minutes, until golden brown.

When done, put ‘em on a platter lined with paper towels.

Dish ‘em up!

Go nuts! Eat immediately.

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