Come find yourself...

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Food, Antibodies and Love

1. the quality or state of being specific.
2. Biochemistry, Pharmacology. the selective attachment or influence of one substance on another, as an antibiotic and its target organism or an antibody and its specific antigen.

In food, as in many forms of art, the act of employing specificity is vital. Why? Life is mundane enough, I know, but try to find the source of your current, secret angst and you will find, without a search for a sense of specificity, you are lost and wayward, floating from seminar to seminar with the new Dr. Phil, praying and hoping The Divine will give you the answer, an answer to a question you have yet to define.

The reason so much acting on television is painfully dull is the actors haven't committed, body and soul, to one specific thing, i.e., an urgent, visual need which must be fulfilled by the person across from them at the murder scene or in the bedroom or on the roller coaster at Coney Island (a rather underrated spectacle, if you have yet to see it).

If the actors commit to one specific need, if they employ the act of specificity, their performance will be impossible to turn away from. Doesn't matter one smidge if their choice is the wrong choice; it's the fact they made a clear choice and by God they are going to stick by it come hell or high water.

I mulled over the classic definition of 'specificity' (see the handy-dandy header) and was drawn over and over to the analogy of antibody and antigen. I am inferring my own meaning (which I'm fairly certain is correct), but I feel most would find it hard pressed to deny the act of employing specificity (i.e., 'antibody') will result in a cure for any annoying physical or metaphysical malaise (the 'antigen').

Oh dear, what does this have to do with cooking? A great deal, you will see, but the farther reaching implications are always of a personal nature. We are a very predictable species. Unless an outside tragedy forces us into a sudden bought of self-awareness, most of us prefer to putter along silently, hoping Life will work itself out, the clouds will part, the rains will vanish and the most beautiful rainbow we have ever seen will rise into the sky like a phoenix searching for her elusive and highly sought after perch.

This rarely happens. What happens is we feel pain, we cannot take the inner pain anymore, so we reluctantly admit something has gotta give.

Psychics have told me over the years, "Make sure and be very clear when you ask the Universe to give you something. Be very, very clear." I always interpreted this as meaning the Universe is overloaded, like a massive switchboard from the 40's when Manhattan was Manhattan without all the piss on the streets. They were saying it helps be clear.

Acting teachers have leaned over me on tiny stages for years, spittle gathering in the corners of their clenched lips, repeating again and again until their faces resembled mid-August beefsteak tomatoes, "Be on point! Be true to what you want. Get what you want no matter what."

University writing teachers have begrudgingly handed me short stories and scripts, red editing marks on the page like the face of some poor, unsuspecting New England kid who didn't mean to kiss Sue (but he did), despite the small pox warnings, resulting in him sitting in bed for weeks on end watching flaccid acting with flaccid narratives -- these university teachers would exhale as if the act of speaking was the height of physical exhaustion as they said, "You didn't raise the stakes. You didn't make me care. You didn't commit, but your funny, I will say that, but painfully too relaxed in your prose. Read Faulkner. Tonight. I beg you."

As someone who has acted, written, performed, run a university research center, worked for a famous literary agent, rented videos at a seedy store in the Lower East Side, slung hash, bacon and eggs in Brooklyn, took tickets as a theater usher, answered phones for more famous and rich people, worked as a dancing pretzel stick on 42nd street when it was lurid, worked a film festival in the Hamptons and talked to Kathleen Turner on the merits and fears of Edward Albee, poured Jessica Lange coffee and talked with her about Sam (as in "Shepard"), listened to Robert DeNiro complain about Jessica Lange and his late, great father, the painter Robert DeNiro, Sr. (rest in peace you tormented man you) edited student papers, taught screenwriting, taught fiction writing, worked as a journalist for a gay Internet magazine which sold ads to Croatian hustlers who lived in Queens, I have learned something: It helps to know what you want when cooking.

This is not a new lesson, nor is it novel, but it is a very deep and one most of us would prefer not repeating. The cure for ailments of any order is defining what is it which is ailing us and then taking appropriate and specific action to remedy the ailment, but undertaking this heroic act of specificity with great gusto and compassionate force.

The insight may be simple but the action of undertaking such a commitment and the way in which we commit to it is not.

As a novice to cooking (started cooking seriously 8 years ago), I find most recipes do not embrace Julia Child's famous quote, where she said "...the only real stumbling block [to cooking] is fear of failure. In cooking you've got to have a what-the-hell attitude." The key word here is attitude. Attitude in cooking is gone.

What persists today is careful adherence to careful adherence.

None of us like the truth of how creative change comes from informed, reckless abandon and from a devotion to a specific intention. In cooking, I find food responds when there's a fearless joy felt on the part of the cook. However, food flies to new heights when the cook enters into the cooking with a commitment to make whatever they are going to make and damn the torpedoes. If the dish is a mess it's a fantastical mess but more often than not, when food is cooked from this emotional place, at the very least, it's extremely interesting.

Which brings us to today's heady mix of a meal:

Heavenly Roast Chicken and Three Onion Mango Chutney Indian Salad
with Madras Curry, Yogurt, Serrano Peppers and Charnuskha Seeds over
Romaine and Mesculin greens...

In all fairness and because I'm worried in my next life, karma will force me to be a fat middle-aged man living in Ohio who rototillers his lawn wearing Bermuda shorts and black socks if I am not truthful, this recipe was inspired by the newest edition of Bon Appetit magazine, but it is not a copy. I have changed over 50% of it, so in the eyes of the Recipe Moral Police, I am okay.


Start to finish if you use rotisserie chicken: 35 minutes.

Start to finish if you poach your own breast meat: 45 minutes

(for 4 servings)
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 5 teaspoons water
  • 3 tablespoons prepared Major Grey mango chutney
  • 3 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons Madras curry powder, add up to 2 more for extra spice
  • 2 large heads of Romaine lettuce diced small
  • 2 cups Mesculin greens
  • 1 large supermarket rotisserie chicken, or 4 breasts (1.5 pounds) poached meat
  • 2 large mangoes, peeled and diced small
  • 2 medium Serrano peppers, diced small
  • 1 large red onion, diced small
  • 1 large white onion, diced small
  • 2 medium plumb tomatoes, seeded and diced small
  • 4 teaspoons Charnushka seeds
  • 1 cup low-fat plain yogurt
  • 1 large French white baguette, use for both salad and croutons

In the summer, I fully agree less time in the kitchen, the better. If you use rotisserie chicken, there is no cooking. Some chopping and mixing, but that is it.

If you want to do you own chicken, get 4 breasts (approximately 1.5 pounds) and poach in no-salt chicken broth for up to 12 minutes, or until white on the inside.

Mix together the ingredients for the dressing. Major Grey's mango chutney is very sweet. It's essentially a jam. If you like sweet dressing, this is for you. I like to taste my salad ingredients, so I use much less than most recipes.

In addition, recipes use way too much oil. I cut most by over half and use twice as much water, which is sublime. In curry powder, make sure you look for's the spicy version which holds the most flavor. Very tasty.

Make the dressing and put it on the side. Do not put on the greens. It's too thick and way too caloric to do so.

Make the salad. If you have a 4 pound rotisserie bird you'll get about 4 cups. Most recipes say you get 5 cups. I'm not sure how they get that much meat. They must shred the bones.

Mix all of the ingredients on the plate. Add the lettuce, the onions, the Serrano peppers (seed half if you want it less spicy), the mango, the chicken and then drizzle on a little dressing, plop a big serving of the yogurt on the side then add the truly inspired ingredient - the Charnuskha seeds.

Charnuskha seeds are very popular in NYC. They are used on the top of Jewish Rye bread, in Slavic sausages and a very big part of cuisine in Lebanon and Israel. They are tasty, inexpensive and add a great visual and taste layer to the dish.

You can find them at Penzey's: They are worth hunting down.

Here is what Andy's amazing plating served us up last night:

Aesthetically and culinarily delightful.

It makes for great left-overs the next day. You simply have to make sure you let the dressing sit on the counter for 10 minutes and perhaps add a bit of water as it can be very thick (sugar anyone?).

You can also serve this on thick Italian bread with a bit of dressing the same ingredients. A fantastic sandwich.

I tore up pieces of the baguette for the side and toasted some for croutons as well.

Now this is specificity of the highest food order.

Yours in food, love and philosophy...

Mikey Bryan
Your Food Therapist

1 comment:

  1. Looks delicious! Indeed the first step is articulating the you!