The Legend of ‘Champ’: Eyewitness Accounts


Champ——the prehistoric god of the lake— didn’t bestow Lucas, Alex, Mario and I with any good luck on our ice fishing trip trip last February. We left without fish or new lake monster sightings to add to the record. Perhaps in the age of smartphone cameras, she’s been laying low. In the late eighties/early ’90s though…

“I started as a disbeliever, went right on past being a believer, to being a knower.” Walter Tappan, on Champ Eyewitness Sighting #235 July 5, 1988

“A lot of people believe that there is one wretched creature that’s been in the lake for millenia but that’s really absurd. There would have to be a breeding colony.” Richard Deuel, Champ Scientist


Pickled Pike Recipe & Stan Rogers

A briefing just popped up on my phone from the New York Times. It reads, “It will be colder in the Midwest today than in Antarctica.” Terms like polar vortex and instant frostbite are broadcasting from Zoraida’s radio upstairs. All of this frostiness has me reflecting on an ill-fated ice fishing trip I organized last February to the island of North Hero on Lake Champlain near the Vermont/Canada border.

I’ve idealized ice fishing since hearing stories about my French Canadian Great Grandfather Leopold Arbour’s exploits: lumberjacking for a living as he made his way to Schenectady from the Gaspe Peninsula (near Newfoundland), legendary Irish jig dancing at parties, and sitting on a cold, dreadful lake all day staring into a black hole as he drank copious amounts of blood-thinning whiskey. Last year I recruited the first three brave and mutually foolish souls I could find. I stoked their imaginations with tales of the sharp-toothed Northern Pike known regionally as the water wolf, and the (mythological?) Champlanian lake monster, Champ. The final team comprised: Lucas, a globe-trotting filmmaker who has roughed it everywhere from the high peaks of Nepal to the fast streets of Manila; Mario, a longhaired carpenter, history buff and roots music crooner; and Alex, our resident journalist, deep thinker, and political operative.


Sweater, Northern Pike (Waterwolf), Leopold Arbour (left to right)

Alex, Mario and I drove north to meet Lucas, his wife Kate, and their baby Ayla at their Vermont cabin. We gathered reports of snow-covered mountain roads and an incoming blizzard along the way; We verified these reports as we slid around the crisscrossing frozen-mud tire tracks leading up to the place. We arrived, spent an evening sharing food, drink, and stories around the woodstove, and fell asleep to the sound of Irish folk tunes sung and strummed by Mario. Before fading out completely I poured what was left of our bottle of Wild Turkey into Grandpa Leopold Arbour’s glass flask—an ancient relic wrapped with leather and emblazoned with a Canadian Maple leaf—and packed it in my coat for the next morning.

When I woke up the sky was pitch black aside from ghostly white wisps of snow. Lucas was on the phone in the kitchen having a tense conversation. I entered the room as he clicked the phone on its base and glanced away. It was his Vermont fisherman dad Ron, “You guys are crazy. You will never make it!” As predicted, the snow had fallen all through the night and was still coming down in full whiteout mode. I picked up the phone and called Bruce, our North Country contact on the ice, to gauge his reaction. With the earnest and oblivious cheer of a mountain man, he told me things were “all set!” Everyone else floated into the kitchen, each taking their turn glancing out the window silently, with extra pause, jaws hanging down slightly, but when no one made serious mention of the impending doom it became clear I had prepared a ship without an anchor—a well-chosen crew indeed. With a shrug, we departed.

The trip northward involved all the expected hazards—backsliding, getting stuck, low visibility—but the experimental conversation and humor that accompanies 4 unsupervised men was the biggest road hazard of all. Lucas recommended we “gun it!” just prior to spotting our first accident, Mario argued in support of previously assumed-terrible 90’s artists Alanis Morisette and Third Eye Blind, Alex gave his case for unfiltered communism, and I DJed seethingly violent gangster rap playlists with one hand as I steered the ship with the other.

We arrived and found Bruce. He explained with a chuckle that the Snowmobile had seized up and that we’d be dragging a sled a half-mile out onto the ice in the blizzard carrying a hundred pounds worth of equipment through a couple of feet of snow. With another shrug we started hauling; I noticed Alex was wearing suede ‘desert boots,’ but not complaining. We arrived and started a fire in the shanty wood stove. Bruce’s sidekick—a young man who is apparently always eager to demonstrate Vermont’s lax weed culture—informed us that ice fishing doesn’t just happen in the shanty; you have to drill holes in the ice of the surrounding lake and then stand outside watching the tip-ups—a small tripod that sits over the hole and shoots a flag up if you have caught something. If you catch something or lose the bait, you have to stick your hands into gelid ice-water and fidget uselessly with the hook until he feels enough pity to come over and help—imagine threading a needle using frozen hot dogs as chopsticks. After the first round of this bullshit we headed into the shanty to thaw out. There are four holes to pole-fish from in there but it is not usually where the action happens.


Left to right: Alex, Lucas, Mario

I pulled the flask from my pocket. Surely  the spirit of Leopold would come in the form of Wild Turkey. We each took a ceremonious swig followed by less ceremonious swigs until it was all gone. We sat there staring into our respective icy fates, spirits only thawed slightly from the whiskey when a giant black shadow circled under the ice. Champ? The Water Wolf? It disappeared and then circled back in a rush and all of our poles ripped down out of our hands snapping against the ice…just kidding. Lucas caught one fish that may have just been re-caught bait—it certainly looked that way when he held it up beside his 6′ 6” frame. According to Bruce, because of our late arrival, the prime feeding time had passed. We endured the rest of the day, checking our tip-ups faithfully, so as not to disappoint the spirit of Leopold. Maybe that spirit has more to do with enduring conditions that are horrible by every sensory measure and staying put with a gritty smirk and wild whiskey glazed eyes. Who knows? With a final shrug, we trekked back off the ice. The snow had finally let up.


The Pairing

 To feel the spirit of Leopold without having to go through all of that, I recommend pairing Pickled Pike (of the water wolf variety if you can catch it) or pickled Herring or Mackerel. My great-grandfather used to pickle everything and had a basement full of provisions.  Eat these with a sheath of saltines and perhaps some pickled eggs straight from a jar with cold, stubby fingers. The more you have to struggle the better. As you work, play some Stan Rogers, a Nova Scotian Folk musician I came across after investigating Irish chunes that Mario sent me. The nautical themes and Celtic feel recall the icy winds we endured that day, Mario’s singing the night before, and my great-grandfather’s jig dancing. Some of the best songs I encountered were Oh No Not I, (3:36) and The Jennie C. (14:17) both of which can be found on this album, Turnaround, below.

Stan Rogers

Pickled Pike (or other fish)

Recipe Author: Hank Shaw


  • 1 cup kosher salt
  • 5 cups water, divided
  • 1 pound pike, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (*don’t worry about the bones, they will dissolve-MD)
  • 2 cups cider or white wine vinegar
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seed
  • 2 teaspoons whole allspice
  • 2 teaspoons black peppercorns
  • 2 leaves bay
  • Peel of 1 lemon, sliced and white pith removed
  • 1 medium red onion, thinly sliced


 Heat 4 cups of water enough to dissolve the salt. Let this brine cool to at least room temperature, preferably colder. When it is cold enough, submerge the pike pieces in the brine and refrigerate overnight. Meanwhile, bring the sugar, vinegar, the remaining cup of water and all the spices to a boil. Simmer 5 minutes, then turn off the heat and let this steep until cool.

When the pike has brined, layer it in a glass jar with the sliced lemon peel, bay leaves, and red onion. Pour over the cooled pickling liquid with all the spice and seal the jars. Wait at least a day before eating—ten days is better. Store in the fridge for up to 1 month.


Fisherman’s Eggs Recipe & Andres Segovia


This pairing is inspired by the 1958 movie version of the Old Man and the Sea, starring Spencer Tracy (I never read the book. So what?); The old hazy camera tech makes it feel like a memory and the story deals with the willingness to risk annihilation in order to achieve something, be something, or find your old self again.

Santiago, an elderly Cuban fisherman, hasn’t caught a fish in 84 days. The town’s fishermen are losing respect; even his young apprentice Manolin has been told by his parents to stay away from him. Santiago is now officially salao, meaning cursed. He returns to his fisherman’s shack every night alone and defeated. Manolin sneaks over there in the mornings to bring him a newspaper and to prepare him simple food with coffee.

On the 85th day, Santiago heads out in his small wooden skiff viciously determined. After a long while, he feels a tug on his line; an enormous marlin that will purge his bad reputation. Unfortunately, he can’t reel the giant fucker in. But he’s not going back to shore empty-handed. If he does he might as well be salao forever and Santiago is not going out like that. He holds on to the line through two days and two nights, as it twists and turns in his grip, shredding the skin of his hands. The fish finally weakens and he pulls it in and ties it to the side of the boat. As he trolls it back to shore, sharks begin to circle. He fends them off with a makeshift spear but not before they devour the meat. He arrives to shore with a bare carcass. The townspeople pity him and back to the shack, defeated and alone, goes poor Santiago.

This must have been about Hemingway’s own struggle. Leading up to this book, he was a bit like the old man: aging, feeling depressed and going through a long slump of his own. This book was his own redeemer like the marlin would have been for Santiago. He won Pulitzer and Nobel Prizes for it.

A lot of people go through trying times that can drive them to greatness or defeat, that is why stories like this one are so popular. My own battle came in my early twenties. After spending four years of high school in four different countries, constantly re-adapting, I was spat back onto a familiar surface with familiar friends in Albany, NY. Although I knew it well, I felt far away and unable to reconnect. I began floating through life’s motions for years, moving around some more, feeling like I had potential but not knowing where to fit. I found something that I loved, that I could become great at through hours of practice, ignoring the outside world: the Flamenco guitar.

I neglected relationships, work, and money. I traveled back and forth from NYC for lessons and concerts two or three times a week after working a full day upstate; often, I wouldn’t get home until two in the morning. On regular nights, I would string together four hours of practice regardless of how late it kept me up.

I made quick progress, but when I witnessed the rapid-fire alzapuas and picados of more experienced semi-pro players, I realized I had a long way to go. Flamenco requires decades to master, and I was starting late. I had to cram— ignoring the famous quote of classical master Andres Segovia: “anyone who practices more than three hours a day is stupid or lying.” A dull pain crept into my wrists, arms, and back, part of a chronic pain condition that had leveled other guitarists. I played out once more couple of months later, but the following morning I couldn’t open my hands. As calls came in for my first paid work, I had to turn them down. My arms felt like the marlin carcass, tendons shredded and meat falling off the bones; My spirit felt like the old man’s. I had to drag myself back to my cabin and start over.

That was years ago, and though I still have the condition, I have a much more balanced, happy and healthy life now. I play guitar casually, cook more, and spend time with my friends and family.

One of the dishes I cook often is Fisherman’s Eggs. It reminds me of the rustic seaside setting of this film; It seems like the type of one-skillet meal Manolin would have prepared for Santiago along with some crusty bread to nurse his spirit back to health. I’ve included a quick recipe for pan con tomate, a Spanish staple that brings the right combo of crunch and acidity to this meal. Cook this for a quiet early morning breakfast before heading out to do your days tasks.

Andres Segovia

 Andres Segovia’s gentle melodies are perfect for nursing an ailing soul. Every note he plays is drenched in tone. Also, he kind of resembles Santiago with his stout stature and gray hair. He was enormously popular during the time the Old Man and the Sea came out. Anytime I talk to someone of that generation about flamenco guitar they say, “how bout’ that Segovia.” He was actually a classical guitarist not flamenco but whatever. You will still find his records in thrift stores and estate sales across the country and you might even find a VHS of this movie scattered in the same heap.

Fisherman’s Eggs Recipe



4 cloves garlic (minced)

2 -3 tbsp flat-leaf parsley roughly chopped. Reserve a couple whole sprigs.

1 can of sardines in oil

1 shallot minced

Olive oil

4 eggs

Hot sauce

  1. Prep all your ingredients
  2. Heat a cast-iron skillet rubbed with oil for four to five minutes on broil.
  3. Remove and add the garlic, chopped parsley, onions, and sardines with oil, breaking up the sardines roughly.
  4. Mix with salt, pepper, and more oil and return to the broiler for four to six minutes.
  5. Remove it again, stir and gently pour eggs over the top. Add two whole sprigs of parsley over the eggs and return to the oven until whites are cooked but yolks jiggle. 3-4 minutes.
  6. Add salt, pepper, oil, and hot sauce to taste. Serve with pan con tomate and strong coffee.

Pan Con Tomate


Baguette. Sliced in half lengthwise and quartered crosswise. Lightly toasted.

2 garlic cloves, peeled halved

2 tomatoes

Olive oil

  1. Rub toast lightly with garlic
  2. Cut tomatoes in half, remove most seeds with a finger and grate flesh side down on a box grater.
  3. Spread pulp over garlic toast and with more salt and pepper and a glug of olive oil.






Flamenco Food Vibes

Here is a documentary from Tao Ruspoli that features, Juan Del Gastor, my flamenco teacher in Sevilla. He comes from a long line of Flamenco Gypsys that includes gods like his uncle Diego Del Gastor. I got some hilarious cooking lessons similar to the one Ruspoli is receiving in the video. Del Gastor has a rustic style of cooking. As I recall, we were making soup one day and he boomed at me, “Sin Pelar!!”, basically meaning, “Stop peeling the vegetables you fool! Throw them in whole!”

The second video is about Flamenco in the coastal Andalusian town of Jerez; it highlights the Morao family.   The opening scene shows him eating pan con tomate as it is often eaten, at a neighborhood tapas bar over coffee and the newspaper.



Paella Recipe & Camarón de la Isla

IMG_0147-2Nothing will ever match my first wood fired paella. When I was twelve and my family lived in Spain, we took a road trip out to the farmhouse of some family friends in the dry Spanish countryside near Pamplona. When we arrived there was a stout old man standing over a fire, roughly shoveling heaps of shrimp and vegetables the massive pan on top. I watched all the ingredients simmer while the aroma of the saffron tied everything together.

I must have blacked out the wait because my memory cuts to sitting at the long indoor table, cheerfully cramped with about fifteen other people, all staring at the delicious heap of yellow rice topped with whole shrimp and mussels. I had learned to correctly peel the head and skin off a whole shrimp earlier that year, so there was nothing slowing me down. After eating to exhaustion my sisters and I climbed up into the large farmhouse attic where we each took our place on one of many guest beds. An old woman who lived there came upstairs and covered each of our bellies with warm blankets to help digestion. After a long nap, I went outside and found my place on a hammock where I swung blissfully.

A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of putting on my best re-enactment of that cooking performance for about twenty friends here in Beacon. My research tells me that original Paella was made from rabbit so I made sure to use one whole rabbit along with a whole chicken.  I cheated a little by cooking with an outdoor gas burner—mainly because I have not yet set up a fire area in the backyard of my new house. I must say that cooking this way is far easier but less thrilling—thrill being the more important factor. Nevertheless, this was one of the best Paellas I have ever cooked and the guests seemed to like it too!



Ingredients: Aside from the rice, I’m leaving off exact measurements because I want you to be able to adjust per the size pan you use. A few guidelines though: give half a cup of rice per person and rice should be cooked in a layer no more than 3/4 of an inch thick to ensure more rice is in contact with the pan and you develop some socarrat (crust). Use 2 1/2 cups of liquid for each cup of rice.

Chicken pieces and livers

Rabbit pieces

Mixed vegetables: artichokes, green beans, fava beans work well

Tomato sauce

Stock or water

Saffron, quickly toasted and crumbled

Rosemary sprigs

Whole garlic cloves

Short-grain rice

  1. Level the pan using a carpenter’s level.
  2. Heat the pan until nearly smoking and then apply a generous pool of olive oil to the center.
  3. After the oil is hot, add enough chicken and rabbit pieces to cover the bottom with a few inches between each piece. Brown for five minutes.
  4. Add the livers for three minutes.
  5. Add vegetables and garlic (5 minutes)
  6. Add enough tomato sauce to coat the ingredients without having everything swim in it. Stir occasionally until the sauce begins to stick. This will make your sofrito. The longer it takes the deeper the flavor. At least twenty minutes.
  7. Add stock up to the screws of the paella pan.
  8. Add several whole rosemary sprigs and bring it all to boil for ten minutes.
  9. Add a pinch of paprika and a pinch of toasted and crumbled saffron threads per cup of rice. Mix and taste for seasonings here.
  10. Add rice and bring to a strong boil for ten minutes.
  11. Remove rosemary and garlic
  12. The heat should get to a low over about ten minutes. Maintain this until the rice is cooked and the liquid is evaporated. If the paella is dried and the rice isn’t done add SLIGHTLY more stock and wait a little more.
  13. If it is nearly done and there is no crust (socarrat) at the bottom you can add a little heat at the end.
  14. Remove from heat and cover (use dish towels, brown paper bags, aluminum foil…) and rest for five minutes.
  15. Garnish with lemon wedges.
  16. Either plate it or pass out forks and eat straight from the pan (like they do in Valencia).

Camarón de la Isla

Camarón (José Monge Crúz), was regarded as a god in the flamenco world. He is to flamenco singing what Paco de Lucia was to flamenco guitar. The two played together during the seventies in what was one of the most productive and innovative times in the centuries old flamenco tradition. After Paco went on to focus on a solo career Tomatito served as Camaron’s principal guitarist beginning with the album below. This album is perhaps the pinnacle of the modernization of flamenco that happened in the seventies. It contains more pop and latin rhythms than a more strictly traditional flamenco would. This makes it a bit more fitting to play for a general crowd at your paella party.

Buttermilk Pancake Recipe & Willie Nelson


Don Fonda was a king in the realm of pranks and wisecracks.  He would spin yarns to us grandkids about his days working at the telephone company—like the time he switched around the gas gauge and the speedometer in a co-worker’s truck, or the time he drove a fussy trainee deep into the Adirondack Mountains, looking at him suggestively the whole way, and then finally lunging at him,”come ‘ere ya big lug!” He could tell a one-liner that would make you bust a stitch. One of his routines was to point out a buxom woman as we were driving around in his Ford F-250, Big Red, and say in his mock-hillbilly voice, “Mike, look at her; you can tell she’s a girl because of the long hair” and then slap his knee and pant out big a laugh.

He was immaculate in the way he kept everything from his garage to his marriage, and he had mastered methods for life’s maintenance that he generously passed along. He would show you a clever way to wind up an extension cord so that it could hang perfectly from a nail, or model how to use the right amount of humor and humility to keep the tone of a marriage soft.

When I was thirteen my mother and I lived with my grandparents for a while, during which time he shared many of these gems of wisdom.  On weekend mornings he would stand over the stove making steaming batches of pancakes, shoveling them off to the family without sitting to eat until everyone else had gotten theirs. I’d stand in the kitchen watching and I’d hear the same bit of advice each time: to always add buttermilk. Later he’d show me how to tie knots or we’d watch an old movie like Jeremiah Johnson. He’d always turn to me and imitate Robert Redford’s frontiersman mentor in the movie, “you know how to skin grizz’ boy?!”

He was a true classic and the undisputed patriarch of the family. We all look back on him in our own ways but I tend to remember him most when I’m cooking up batches of pancakes for my own little family now on weekend mornings. My wife wonders why I put on Willie Nelson every time I’m cooking pancakes but somehow the combination opens a portal into his spirit for me—although I think he was actually more of a Kenny Rogers fan.

Something about flipping pancakes on a buttery cast-iron pan while listening to Willie Nelson conjures up the type of American experience that my grandfather lived for.  I think his greatest joy besides family was being on the road. In retirement, he convinced my grandmother to sell their house and live in an RV for a year—which he smoothly turned into five. He probably would have fit right in with Willie Nelson’s Highwaymen had he played an instrument!

Willie Nelson: Both Sides Now

Buttermilk Pancakes with Scrambled Eggs


One cup buttermilk, one cup of flour, one egg and one teaspoon of baking powder.


1.Mix the dry ingredients adding salt and sugar according to preference. I use a tablespoon of sugar and a few pinches of salt.

2. Mix the eggs and buttermilk in another bowl.

3. Mix the wet ingredients into the dry.

4. Get a cast-iron pan nice and hot so it’s almost ready to smoke, melt plenty of butter to cover the surface and ladle in the batter.

5. Once the steam holes have poked through and they have hardened just a bit flip them once. Continue adding butter.

5. As each one finishes add it to a plate, put a pad of butter on top and then cover it with a large bowl. You’ll be amazed how warm they stay while you finish cooking.

6. After you’ve cooked your last pancake mix in a little pancake batter to the egg scramble and pour them into the same piping hot cast iron pan. They shouldn’t stick at all if the pan is hot enough. You should continuously move them for about ten seconds and voila.


As a side note, if the stove top is overly occupied what I like to do is cut the whole pack of bacon in half and add all of the pieces to a baking sheet to cook in the oven. They will come out crispier than you think. Just preheat to 400 degrees and leave them alone for about fifteen minutes.

I hope you like…

RIP Don Fonda 1931-2000



Sole au Vin Blanc Recipe & Rhye


The interesting thing about time is that it can expand and contract within the same number of counted minutes. How well we enjoy our minutes depends on how well we slow them down. When you are in the early stages of love, six months can seem like a blissful two years and one night can seem like a week’s vacation. Every moment is memorable and rich.

During the early days of my relationship with my wife Zoraida, we were only able to see each other on weekends. I would drive down to her brownstone apartment in Harlem and greet her at the door with a big paper bag overflowing with gourmet groceries. We’d both look at it knowing that we wouldn’t be leaving the house all weekend. We’d smile and laugh excitedly all the way back up the four flights of stairs. We would cook and eat slowly and indulgently, really listen to music, have easy conversation, fall asleep freely, and have plenty of breakfast in bed.

We’d lay there next to each other, feeling no urge to move, and discuss one illusory trip or another: motorcycle adventures through South America, remote beach hideaways in Brazil and private snowed-in cabins in Vermont. We would eventually drag the laptop into bed and start looking up flights and timelines. It became clear that we would need a lifetime to live out all of these dreams and to give the enormity of our love its due course. We decided to get married soon after.

One of our first trips together was a long bucolic drive through the Pyrenees, from Barcelona to Toulouse. The countryside was beautiful but after four hours we were ready to arrive. We pulled into the city that night, looked out at the unspoiled architecture and noticed the way the buildings and plazas are so tight they almost lean in, nudging you to interact with people. We parked the car and made our way down the dimly lit streets with our rolling luggage bouncing imperfectly on the cobblestones. As we entered the Carmes neighborhood and began looking for the house number a man leaned out of his third-floor window, pushing aside the storybook shutters, and cheerfully guided us to where we would find our place.

The “authentic eighteenth-century cocoon”—as it’s dubbed on Airbnb —was in a tall stone house overlooking a quiet neighborhood square. We knocked on its immense door and down came Jean-Marc, our host, who guided us up the stairs and handed us the keys. The ancient feel of the neighborhood was seamless with the feel of the apartment, allowing us to stay tucked away in our encapsulated time and place.  After verifying that the apartment contained no spoilers, we headed out eager to feel the neighborhood. We floated around the maze of narrow streets noticing for the first time that all of the buildings had a subtle pink hue—giving Toulouse the nickname Le Ville Rose as we later found out. As each of these details came to light we would hold each other closer with knowing excitement. Eventually, we came across a tavern that looked enticing so we entered down the steps and were greeted by jovial and curious drunks at the bar in front. A waiter steered us away to the only seat left in the place where we had a generous French country style meal of steak, potatoes, soup, bread, and house wine. After filling our bellies and re-asserting the virtues of life in Europe to each other we headed back to the cocoon.


We settled into a routine that week of waking up slowly, buying fresh groceries at the small neighborhood market, and eating a simple breakfast of breads and lavender tea—a Toulouse staple. After breakfast we’d stroll around, stopping only to rest or enjoy a long meal. We spent our days admiring every small detail: the approachable nature of the old man in a tea shop we visited frequently, the girl selling fresh baked cookies from her bicycle cart, or the way the doors in residential neighborhoods had ancient iron knockers in the shape of a knocking fist. At night we’d come back to the cocoon and cook a lavish meal together before each getting dressed in separate rooms and joining in the dining room for a candlelit dinner. The time was moving so slowly just as it had back in Harlem when we first met. Everything we saw was beautiful and everything we ate was delicious. We had all of the space in the world to notice and appreciate each subtle pleasure.

How is it possible that those short weekends in Harlem and that week in Toulouse could carry so much richness and depth in such small amounts of time? Looking back, we actually did very little other than lay around and walk around. That could be the key. The more we try to do, the less space we have to appreciate and enjoy the subtle pleasures around us. If we do less we can enjoy more, forcing time to slow down.

I keep a full plate these days between work, school and a baby, but I try to spend the free time I do have with my wife enjoying simple pleasures. When I come home after work, put on a record and cook with my wife, it fills my cup with satisfaction. I wake up the next day feeling as though I had a nice slow vacation the night before.

This year for Valentines Day, I found the recipe below for Sole au Vin Blanc from Toulouse’s most famous resident Henri Toulouse Lautrec in Saveur Magazine. Toulouse Lautrec would regularly hold exotic gatherings where his guests were encouraged to focus on the now and forget the world around them. One of the tricks he used was to put out pitchers of water with goldfish in them, signifying that there would be no sensible water drinking that night. He wanted his guests to stay put and really enjoy.

Check out the Saveur article for an absinthe cocktail recipe to go with it.

Rhye, Woman

I recommend pairing the Sole au Vin Blanc with Rhye’s Woman. The best songs on this album breathe slowly and melt into the background, allowing your mind the room to focus on the other pleasures around you. My wife first introduced me to Rhye during those early days in Harlem when we would lay in bed listening to music. It still sets the right mood. I don’t think anyone has mastered the slow and sensuous as well since Sade. I discovered when writing this that last Valentine’s Day Rhye had a show at Le Poisson Rouge in NY lit entirely by candles. It sold out for good reason, but perhaps it’s even better listened to in the intimate setting of your home.

Happy Valentine’s Day

Ingredients for Sole au Vin Blanc

8 tbsp. unsalted butter
3 tbsp. bread crumbs
1 tbsp. minced parsley
2 (6-oz.) skinless fillets Dover or grey sole
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
4 oz. white button mushrooms, sliced
14 cup dry white wine
6 oz. small shrimp, peeled and deveined, tails removed
8 cockles or littleneck clams, scrubbed
8 mussels, scrubbed


Melt 1 tbsp. butter in a 12″ skillet over medium heat; cook bread crumbs until golden, 1–2 minutes. Transfer to a bowl; stir in parsley. Add 3 tbsp. butter to skillet; melt over medium-high heat. Season sole with salt and pepper; cook, flipping once, until cooked through, 4–6 minutes; transfer to sperate plates. Add remaining butter and the mushrooms to skillet; cook until golden, 5–7 minutes. Add wine, shrimp, cockles, mussels, salt, and pepper; cook, covered, until shells open, 2–4 minutes. Spoon mixture over sole; garnish with reserved bread crumb mixture.
Recipe adapted from Saveur April 2014 article by Kelli Billstein


Soldiers and Dippy Eggs Recipe & Syd Barret


Philadelphia has a well-established reputation for grit. It worked out well that I spent the ages of 20 to 21 there being flat broke.  I had no phone but the payphone on the corner, no tv, no bed, just a roll mat and a couple of chairs found on the street. My roommate, appropriately nicknamed Crumb—and I, used to ration out food at near-famine levels; granted, part of this had to do with my anti-everything attitude and some leftover punk rock ethos from my early teens. I could have always just gone back and lived with my mom if I wanted. Also, the beer, tobacco and other recreational supply money always seemed to materialize so don’t ask me where the hell my priorities were. These were different times. Everybody was talking about revolution, our boys were being shipped off to a senseless war, people were finding new ways to live and love… wait, no that was the sixties. I really didn’t need to be living this way.

The culinary outlook was as bleak as you might imagine. There was a lot of rice and beans, and then basically eggs. The scene in Cool Hand Luke where Paul Newman’s character heroically downs fifty hard-boiled eggs inspired more than one foolish test of bravado. Thankfully Crumb’s British background came into use when he introduced me to a more refined way of eating eggs, Soldier’s and Dippy Eggs.

This appetizer consists of soft boiled eggs with the top cracked off, creating a natural yolk dish for thin slices of toast to be dipped into. Eating these can make even a poor man feel regal. They presented a drastic change from the way I would normally eat hard-boiled eggs and rice in the mornings for mere subsistence after a night of hard-drinking. Now, on many early mornings, I’d sit quietly in my chair by the morning light of my room’s window while letting the steam from the egg and tea, and smoke from a hand-rolled cigarette float around my head.  A lot of philosophizing and soul searching probably happened inadvertently during those cumulative hours. I would head down the street afterward around 7:30 am to my groveling dishwashers job feeling a bit more enlightened than the position called for.

To invoke the vibe of a frugal-zen philosopher, pair with a dark cup of tea such as Earl Grey and a hand-rolled cigarette from decent tobacco like Bali-Shag.

The original English bohemian Syd Barrett should add the right feel.

Syd Barrett

If you don’t know anything about Syd, he was the creative force behind most early Pink Floyd. In 1968 he was institutionalized for suspected mental illness. After returning from the hospital he produced solo work that I have always preferred to Pink Floyd as a band. You can hear the looseness of his mind in the way the verses and melodies float over the rhythmic structure. The songs all have the pace of a smoky empty room. They sound unpolished and feel like a more direct expression than you would get from a Pink Floyd album. His solo music career was short-lived and he spent much of his later life with his mother in Cambridge, England making abstract paintings. I picture him sitting with his mum in a humble English townhouse sharing Dippy Eggs and Soldiers at tea time before heading back upstairs into solitude.

As you play the record above, try this recipe for a slight upgrade involving asparagus. You can also feel free to skip the asparagus and just thinly slice some toast for dipping. If you don’t have egg cups you can use regular cups or ramekins filled with rice to hold the egg upright. You can also just tear off a section of the egg carton and place them in there.


  • 1 bunch of asparagus
  • 4 large free-range eggs
  • sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • optional:
  • crusty bread or thin slices of toast


Gently drop eggs into simmering water and leave for exactly 6 minutes. Meanwhile, get your egg cups ready – dippy eggs will wait for no one once they’re done! Using a slotted spoon, carefully remove the eggs and place in the cups, then tap each shell gently with a teaspoon and remove the tops. Serve straight away, with steamed or sauteed asparagus for dipping, thin slices of toast, or both. Use plenty of salt and pepper.


Arepas Recipe & Juaneco y su Combo


¡A COMEEEER! This menacing screech (meaning time to eat) followed by sequential ear-piercing claps was the rude awakening my father saddled my sisters and me with on weekend mornings throughout our youth; I can still feel the shivers going down my spine. In order to put an end to it, we’d carry ourselves downstairs like zombies to the kitchen where we’d find our equally disgruntled mother preparing the usual Colombian breakfast of arepas and huevos pericos; my father would be looking on incredulously in his wool poncho drinking his coffee. There was something sacred about the shared oppression my sisters, my mother and I all felt because of having to wake up in this manner. Together we would take refuge from the persistent annoyance by indulging in those most delicious Colombian cornmeal cakes, arepas.

After a long haul, my parents went separate ways, and for a while, I lived with my mother, during which time arepas were largely replaced with pancakes—I liken it to how the Spaniards started eating huge amounts of pork after they ejected their oppressor, the Moors.

At around 15 I moved back in with my father, now in Mexico, where the arepa eating commenced—this time without the early morning annoyances. My father must have given up on his ritual with the change in family dynamics. I crystallized my mastery of making the basic arepa during this time. Less adult supervision and an overabundance of cheap Mexican herb left me with both big appetite and big inspiration. Still associating the arepa with weekend mornings I’d make them on a lazy Saturday after waking up when I damn well pleased. On the side, I’d have some eggs and a creamy cup of Nescafé. After this leisurely ritual, I’d make my way out to the front patio and wait to hear the approaching bass rattle of whatever friend was coming to pick me up for a cruise. If it was Rata he’d be bumping some Cumbia out of the two fifteen inch subs in his trunk. I’d hop in the car and drive away into the Mexican sun feeling good.

I now try to replicate those lazy mornings when I can by putting on some psychadelic Cumbia, donning the wool poncho, and of course, making some arepitas and Nescafé.

As you cook the recipe below throw this on to feel the vibe!


Juaneco y su Combo

I came across this group years later but they tie in the whole picture for me. Cumbia is a music that has threads in Colombia, Mexico, and other Latin American countries—this group is from the Amazon region in Peru. Juaneco y Su Combo is classified as cumbia de selva (“jungle cumbia”) which carries the more psychedelic flavor that better represents the spirit of those teenage years for me. It has a cheerful mid-tempo punch that works well with sunny mornings and the punchiness of elaborate and heavy Latin breakfasts. The short repetitive phrasing of the verses reminds me of the quick hard stopping commands that I recall my father and some of his brothers habitually speaking in; “¡Cóme un desayuno grande Mike!” (eat a big breakfast!) or “¡despierte temprano!” (wake up early) or simply “¡JUICIO!” (meaning something like “discipline!”) Besides all that just check out the ponchos the guys on the cover are wearing. It’s just perfect.

About the arepas; the ones I grew up with were rather basic. The most we ever added was cheese. In recent years I’ve noticed restaurants like Caracas in New York taking the arepa to new heights. I have to admit they are tastier than anything I ever made growing up. Since trying those I have learned to be more creative with them and it’s been a life improvement. Follow the guidelines below for the arepas and pick and choose your own fillings using some of the suggestions. Make these when you have some free time on an early morning and not when you’re in a rush. Now…



Goya Masarepa -(buy the white one, not the yellow)

Butter- about 2 tbsp per cup of Masarepa

Salt- a pinch per cup of Masarepa

Warm Whole Milk -add a cup for every cup of Masarepa and adjust as needed

Cheese (optional) Cotijo or Mozzarella

  1. Put the Masarepa in a mixing bowl, mix it with the salt. Place butter—and cheese if you choose—on top of the mixture. Add an amount of hot milk or water equal to the amount of Masarepa, pouring it over the butter and cheese to help it melt. Knead the dough. Add more milk or Masarepa to the mix a little at a time until you have an even texture similar to moist play-dough with no lumps.
  2. Pre-Heat oven to 375 F.
  3. Form balls somewhere between the size of a golf ball and a tennis ball. Keep your hands moist during this process by running them under water occasionally. Form them into patties about the size of a hamburger. They should be smooth all around. If they crack severely, break them apart, add a bit more milk, and try again. If they crack slightly around the edges, just get your hands wet and try to smooth out the cracks (this is what you want). If they don’t appear to crack at all they may be too moist.FullSizeRender-3
  4. Set a pan or griddle to medium to low heat, add some butter and set them in without overcrowding. Do this in batches and take your time. Fry them until they are very lightly golden and crispy and then transfer them to the oven for another 12 minutes.

Arepa Filling

  1. You can eat these with some cheese, just butter or with fillings. If I do fillings it is usually leftovers. Good candidates include shredded, stewed meat, black beans, fried Latin cheeses (queso frito), and sweet plantains.

Salmon Tartare Recipe & Kamasi Washington


Salmon_Tartare_Cornet_(11901267514)My strongest New Year’s Eve association was created back in 1999 at Times Square. My father and I bundled up for the sub-zero temperatures and, with much determination but little sense, headed down there around five. When you secure a spot you are corralled in by police barricades and you can’t leave if you want to keep your place. A result is an intimate group of about a million progressively freezing and drunk people who have to pee.  I recall looking in one direction and seeing a resourceful group of women creating a human privacy circle and taking turns pissing on the cement; elsewhere shirtless frat types were screaming ceaselessly, oblivious to the cold. A man next to me kept discreetly passing me his thermos of hot Baileys and coffee to which I obliged. A debaucherous scene for a fifteen-year-old. I didn’t want to leave but I did stare longingly up at the cocktail party goers looking comfortably down at us from the windows of the surrounding buildings.

To invoke that same festive atmosphere with a seedy element for a small New Years get together this year, my mind went to Prince for the music and beef fried rice for the food—which is what I had after midnight that year; I shifted gears and thought I’d create a new, ritzier mental association for New Years, inspired by the folks in the skyscrapers. Classic sounding jazz seemed the better accompaniment for that purpose. I chose the Kamasi Washington record because it is long enough to get you through both the cooking and much of the gathering. Also, it gives you the refined feel with a just the right amount of modern hip—he’s known for his collaborations with Flying Lotus to give you an idea of some of the textures he peppers in. The jazz feel still controls the musical frame throughout.

The recipe I chose involves making “cornets” to resemble ice cream cones when filled with the Crème Fraiche and salmon tartare. They are festive and bourgeoisie enough to help us feel like we are looking down at the freezing proletariat from a cocktail party in the sky (in reality we just had two couples over at our humble apartment in Beacon, NY and hoped the babies stayed asleep).

The recipe was a hit. I encourage everyone to try this out. It was far easier than I expected once I got my hands dirty.

A few pointers to add on to the instructions below…

1. If you can’t find the cornet molds cut 4″ diameter circles out of manila folder material, roll them into a cone, and wrap them with aluminum foil.

rolled cornets


2. When rolling the molds leave large openings at the mouths of the cones—mine were a bit too small so I couldn’t fit as much tartare in as I would have liked.

These puppies are delicious and will make you feel elite, especially when paired with a flute of champagne and some Jazz. Happy New Year!

Salmon Tartare with Sweet Red Onion and Crème Fraiche  Adapted from Thomas Keller’s French Laundry Cookbook


1⁄4 cup plus 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon kosher salt

8 tablespoons (4 ounces) unsalted butter, softened but still cool to the touch

2 large egg whites, cold

2 tablespoons black sesame seeds

 Salmon Tartare (makes about 3 ⁄ 4 cups)

4 ounces salmon fillet (belly preferred) skin and any pin bones removed and very finely minced

3⁄4 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil

3⁄4 teaspoon lemon oil (see Sources page 315)

1 1⁄2 teaspoons finely minced chives

1 1⁄2 teaspoons finely minced shallots

1⁄2 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste

Small pinch of freshly ground white pepper, or to taste

 Sweet Red Onion Créme Fraîche

1 tablespoon finely minced red onions

1⁄2 cup créme fraîche

1⁄4 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste

Freshly ground white pepper to taste

24 chive tips (about 1 inch long)

 For the cornets: mix together the flour, sugar, and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk the softened butter until it is completely smooth. Beat the egg whites into the dry ingredients until incorporated and smooth. Whisk in the softened butter until the batter is creamy and without any lumps.

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Make a 4-inch circular stencil (using my method above). Place a Silpat on the counter and spook batter into the stencil scraping off the excess. Repeat this until you have filled the silpat. Slide it onto a baking sheet. Sprinkle each cornet with a pinch of black sesame seeds.

Bake for about 5 minutes, until batter is set and they are slightly browned in spots.

Quickly flip cornets over on the sheet pan, sesame seed side down, and using coned manila folder cones (or real cornets if you have them), carefully roll the rounds onto them and arrange them back on the baking sheet seam side down.

Bake for 3 to 4 minutes until golden. Remove the cornets from the oven and allow to cool just slightly, 30 seconds or so. Then remove them and let them cook for a few more minutes on paper towels. Allow the sheet to cool down before doing the next batch.

 For the Salmon Tartare:  finely mince the salmon fillet and mix it together with the other ingredients in a small bowl. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

 For the Sweet Red Onion Crème Fraîche: Rinse and dry minced red onions and whisk together with the other ingredients.

To complete: fill each one with onion cream first and then a dollop of tartare

Adapted from The French Laundry Cookbook by Thomas Keller

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