A spicy story… (about spice, you know, in culinary terms)

A spicy story… (about spice, you know, in culinary terms)

A Spicy Story…The Photo: Seafood (diver scallops and shrimp) Jambalaya @ Oyster Bay (Cape May NJ), a couple of years ago I challenged the chef to spice it to the max, the bartender leans in “are you sure about that buddy” (with an inviting yet menacing grin), being over confident and also a chili head, (and cornered into dumb testosterone driven male bravado mode)… I said “bring it on”… the bartender departed to deliver the news, and then the chef peaked out from the kitchen doors, eyed me up and down, “are you sure” (both warning me but I could see he was also charged up to meet the challenge)… I gave him the nod (how could I not, it’s like being all in and poker and then trying to pull your chips, you can’t do that!), the minutes stretched to hours… no, just minutes but it felt longer… and then the doors swing open, angels on harps played and light rained down from heaven, or not… dish delivered, looked just like the one below, but I knew it held a terrible secret of hellfire… and boy, talk about performance anxiety, now I knew how those guys on those Food network shows feel, the whole bar had apparently gotten the memo and an an entire room of eyes was set on me and my um.. prize? so… I make sure my beverages are full, all the accoutrements are set, and I dive in, ahhh, no problem, the first carriage of food passes through my mouth gate with no problem, sure, there is some warmth there, a nice tidy warmth, and the overall flavor is so delicious that maybe I did not see, or feel, the trojan fire-steed being wheeled slowly beyond my doors, to unleash the hellfire in my innards like a precisely timed demolition, but I am not there yet, the crowd, waiting for me to sweat, waiting for me to bow out, no way, no how, I can take this, after all I grow habaneros fer crissake, I take some more bites, I pause to gloat a bit perhaps, and to pace myself just in case, I have been down these roads to hell before, and performed well, so, but man, the problem is the enticing flavor, the roux was dark brown, sweet and savory, sure, spicy but the flavor was so round I kept digging in, then I noticed, a few traitors, a few beads of sweat growing on my brow, what is this ? in my exuberance I had let the flavors lead to a trap, and then I began to feel it, both in mouth and lower regions, a complete rebellion, or at least a wildfire threating the calm beauty of my inner forest, I can now picture the grin of the chef, knowing his plan has a chance to succeed, but no, I will not go gently into that spice night, I push on, I enjoy the burn but not the piling on, halfway done now, pausing a bit more often to check my brow and to have a drink, and thankfully some bread that they bake on site, a delight but more a lifeline this night, I can feel the grit of extra cayenne powder in the roux, this is not ultra level heat mind you, this is sustained abrasion, an invasion and an occupation, where as a ghost pepper can make you gag, properly applied cayenne can coat your insides with building layers of fire, but again… the flavor is so good I can’t help but delve more in, the eyes of the bar are not as trained on me anymore, I am hiding my semi-struggle well I suppose, but the bartenders, no, I am the entertainment for the night, they are watching me like hawks and jesters, I imagine not many people are dumb… I mean bold! enough to challenge the chef in this regard, but I am, and damn he knows his audience, the scallops are almost like butter, my fork slices them , no it actually gets near them and they part like the red sea, effortlessly, the shrimp ? huge fat things, with that snap when you bite into them, which makes you forget about the pepper powder keg packages you are bringing gladly into your own house…

Sorry to say… I won the day, did I suffer a but ? sure, but I loved every moment of it. To this day I go there and since it is a family place many of the faces remain the same. They all remember me, not immediately, but when I mention the story there is total recall there. Have I done it since? What do you think ? No.. Way… I just want to sit down and have a meal, leave the battles to someone else, I may have won but I certainly learned a lesson…

notes.. you people will never know what you will get here… because I don’t care about the audience…I mean, I do… but you know what I mean, you either get it or not… and I am cool with that, this is an outlet for me, a place for you to plug in and draw power out, gee, what a clever outlet analogy, or not…

Norbury’s Landing (beach), Cape May NJ

Norbury’s Landing (beach), Cape May NJ

Some NJ beach wildlife (cape may area)

Some NJ beach wildlife (cape may area)

music to accompany the photos by…. trust me, it vibes…

umbilical stretched.

umbilical stretched.

So… what a strange contemplation, what a strange feeling, at once I feel alone, isolated, never a real member of the village, always the guy who lives out in the woods or on the exterior portions, disconnected, but right here in the mix of the world, and yet… the exhilaration, as I climb over rocks to find nooks of a beach few eyes take in, not some new impossible spot, for surely they have all been found before (and they have) but there is this moment of discovery, like you are on the moon as armstrong once stood, ok, maybe not that grand, but still, the little kid in you, that devilish imp thinking you are doing something you shouldn’t, you are privy to the plot that no one else has seen, I can only imagine what a real explorer felt, even if they were not the primary, they must have felt this same rush, centuries are blind, humanity binds us, we have the same instincts, wants, desires, we just have different clothes to put on, call it technology, or progress, all the same, a chord links us all back to the first walking apes, until we become fully machines, which may or may not happen, not in my lifetime, I imagine myself downloaded into computer memory, my electrical impulses and what not, but I doubt I will see the day, as alone as I feel in seeking lonely places, I feel more connected than ever to life, to nature, to history, I am not expecting every one to understand, but this is how I feel out here, would I like someone else to understand ? and share this with? I would be lying if I said no, but I have learned in life you need to be happy with what you get, dreams are not a bad thing, no, they are a great thing, but your feet are on this ground so be there to… just try to accept life as it comes the good the bad, like the tide, highs and lows, always the highs and lows, but I must admit, being here, I feel my regrets, I wear them, but they do not wear me down, out there, back there, in the real, everything seems amplified, so I just suppose, I need a remote beach to repose, to retreat…no, to visit, when in need, once a year has sufficed but would I be better visiting twice… and more..

(later in the day) I saw a young couple walk past me on the jetty as I was filming, I say young meaning they were probably in their 20s, maybe late 20s, sort of goth dressed but not as goth as I recall back in the day when the Cure were huge, I don’t mean any of that in a bad way, just descriptive, plus dock martens are and always will be awesome, but anyway, they are dressed sort of androgynously, which makes sense in the scene, probably wearing heavier jackets than they should be, but yet she was baring her midriff, and she wasn’t thin, but it totally worked for her, well at least to my eye, and apparently his, they walked by determined to go to the edge of the jetty, I cut a waft of their cigarettes, or just his, hard to tell, but it brought me back, for sure cloves, there is something so special to me about cloves, I want to ask them where they got them but didn’t want to interrupt the moment, who needs some random jackass ruining your thing with your woman ? I don’t want to be that guy… but cloves, damn, I was a Black Djarum guy for some years, ever smoke em ? damn tasty… I went not many vacations without them, but that temptation has passed, my lungs are picky things, I watch, as the young couple meanders all the way out to the end of the jetty, the seas are not rough today, I would ponder each step myself, and haven’t had the balls to go all the way out… but good for them, shadows now, I can barely see them, as I fall back to my car, try to kick all the sand out of my shoes, look back once, not for a moment jealous, but for a moment of what if…

(always my beach song… always…)
thoughts from the porch (still on the beach) ‘world’s apart’…

thoughts from the porch (still on the beach) ‘world’s apart’…

what a strange turn of events this vacation has been, I come here to escape the masses and now they are here en masse, at least compared to this time of year most years, so where can I escape to? the only refuge left, as the bars and restaurants rev up, as the cars line up, the beach becomes a haven, most folks I suppose look for the sun and sand, I am more for the sound of the shore, the hotel pool bar is in full swing as I walk by, some country song is blaring, I couldn’t tell you which one, not my scene, I get to the boards that lead off to the beach, take off my shoes where the boards disappear into the dunes, no need to get them full of sand, the sand is cold, expected, I walk away from the direction of the town, as the sounds fade into the forward sound of the ocean crashing, I find the line just beyond where civilization has no longer hold on the audio, the beach is still lit from backdrop behind me, but here I am, just deep enough on the beach to blank out the world, only a matter of feet, but that is all that matters, I here some voices here and there in the dark, but no one approaches, or if they do they are mere shadows, what I mistake for a person turns out to be the warning sign for the jetty, all the artificial light behind me, all the smiles, the laughs, the music, all the normal draw, but here I am more enamored with the stars, and even the stardust in between, there seems to be motion, for surely there is, but the earth is also moving, spinning, so which of these is? both I suppose, but only my perception sitting here on the cold sand, I bury my bare feet in, I feel like I am evaporating into the sky, actually perceiving the world draining me into that expanse, something I have felt before, like those first nights of cold as you watch your breath take form, except this is like smoke, mist or steam, streaming off of my soul, but no panic, only calm, to become part of the cosmos, the possibilities, for as ancient as the ocean is, there is only so much to this marble, as amazing as she is, I wish to travel to the stars, in whatever form, past this limited life, there must be more, or I hope there is more, the answers, or even uncontemplated questions out there, up there, I feel the pull…
running my hands through the sand, reminds me of sandcastles, how we would build them on the water’s edge, always thinking we could out smart or out maneuver the ocean, never thinking for a minute we would lose, youthful optimism (some may say naivete, I say no), maybe that is just who I am, or always was, even now, that I know the inevitabilities, I still fight for the sandcastles, dredge trenches to oppose the incoming tide, for what else is there?
the beach looks lunar at night, frozen footprints from those who have been, the same stars, no sounds from animals, the birds have gone to sleep, craters and valleys all around, the same color, the same bland color all around, the only savior, here at least, the sound, the constant purr of the evening ocean sliding beneath the dunes, the tune that surely is the oldest known, to all land
.

triggers: the raw bar

triggers: the raw bar

there are different memories of mine of the jersey shore, the real one, not what you saw on TV, wildwood crest when I was a child (boardwalk with rides and games) and then later on Cape May, I never recoiled, as early as I can recall, at the raw seafood bar (specifically talking about The Lobster House), it took me a while to get used to oysters however, but clams? I suppose we were meant to be, I suppose texturally they are similar to oysters but not for me, I like the chewability of them, yes, I like to chew them, big ole cherrystones on the half shell raw, I notice many people kind of slurp them down quickly, only getting a bit of the ocean flavor doused in cocktail sauce, kind of powering through them like shots of liquor, I want more than that flash, I want to know where they are from to savor the flavor, for a moment more at least, this particular raw bar, was my first, and to which all others have always been compared, maybe the location has something to do with it, my home state, the vacation memories with my folks and now my own-some, all these years, the same, you order them up, they schuck them up, nothing fancy, a big plate of ice, a wedge of lemon, a container of cocktail sauce, no crackers (sorry Maryland), a dollar store child’s size plastic fork, and that all adds up to perfection, with social distancing in order, I had to take my order down the dock, literally the raw bar’s backdrop is the dock where the commercial fishing boats come in to deliver their catch, you sit in their shadows and can almost listen to their histories creaking in the hulls, certainly smell the fresh ocean and a bit of oil, seating is equally simple, tables made out of those rope storage spools painted over too many times to count, surrounded by the ubiquitous plastic white chairs, even in covid times there is comfort there in this setting, while not bustling it was busier than I might have thought, the every other minute decades old sounding announcement system bleating out about orders ready at the takeout window, “ticket 1916, ticket 1916, ready @ the takeout window”, but I concentrate on my plate, a glistening fresh 2 dozen, I could eat 100, or more, probably, I try to remind myself to slow down, take a sip of amstel in-between, but damn they are so good, all those memories triggered in a bite flood my entirety, the burst of sea water, a tinge of cocktail sauce, the meaty texture of the clam bellies, everything I remember, surely would be a disappointment if it were not, but my entire life, this one spot, nothing seems to change even in a pandemic year, and in a way, it calms my soul, letting me know everything will be just fine, at least for now, with a simple plate of clams, well, now… they are … gone.
(side note “the raw bar” would make a great strip club name, just saying)

thoughts from the porch (beach edition)…

thoughts from the porch (beach edition)…

6:50pm
the sand is cold, I could wear shoes, I know, but that is not the essence of the beach for me, the volleyball courts are empty, for some reason I think it bad karma to cross them, the lines defined that is, silly I guess, but we all have our idiosyncrasies, a stiff steady wind pushes in from the ocean, my journal’s bookmark flapping wildly about like some worn flag that has seen one thousand seasons and as many storms, so I walk toward the remains of the sunset, somewhere in the back of my mind this seems a warmer path, maybe it is just the exercise of walking in sand, feet sinking in, there are a few other travelers here, as I suppose there would be, or at least should be, there is the inner conflict of wanting to share such a place and yet commit it all for your own, both thoughts feel at home in my mind but I suppose I do not own this open secret, so here you are, welcome, the rush of the waves provides constant sound, I hear nothing of humanity at the moment, not a drop of the usual din seems to reach my ears, except the wind, not howling, not screaming, nor a gentle hand, somewhere in the limbo that lies between all those, a rising firm calm if you will, gulls glide silently above, a couple walks by with their young child, also silent, I can not accurately describe the golden shimmer of the leftover tide in the sand and fading sunlight, wave upon rolling wave, maybe this is the only timeless thing I may ever encounter or perceive, back there, just some hundred or so feet, the supposed real world, none of that has ever felt like this inside my bones, is this abject loneliness? I have always been an optimist, no, I am not lonely even if I am quite alone, I just feel something missing, perhaps…
I can feel the darkness of the rest of the beach creeping up my back behind me, I do not dare to look and become a pillar of sea salt, no, I look forward to the only hope I have, the only light left, even with a useless breath, might I, fight the inevitable –
with this, a moment, an experience, a performance on the oldest stage, might even Homer blush, for he knew, as do I, our temporal nature, among nature, while born of gods this realization, or born of science, much the same, these waves have seen many eyes before mine, and many more still when I am gone, for at least I was this once, graced with the best seats in the house.

staccato style.

staccato style.

Photo by Moussa Idrissi on Pexels.com

a glass of bourbon
on the hotel balcony
by the beach
a poor substitute
for a family
night prescribed
perhaps I have not tried hard enough
the way the dice fall
always a pair
and this is autumn
how many springs and summers
will I
for surely less than more
night has calling
sunset missed, I blinked
midnight scrapped, strapped, a bedouin
lies in my bed, perhaps.

notes: I am in Cape May NJ this week, one of my escape hatches, but that does not always let me free of my thoughts, as they are, and so here they are…