Thursday, September 27, 2007

LJ-razz, 9.24.07: No rest this weekend, but much awesome-ness

On Saturday morning, I got up just after 7, chatted with Hun for a bit, then headed to the Public Market. I bought the fixings for ratatouille (yes, like the movie, and yes, like the dish), some nice herbs, some nice pears for the week's snacks, and a jar of pickles (swoon). I bought more wonderful wheat cookies and another breakfast burrito with salsa verde. Most of the vendors Mario introduced me to remembered me, and I talked to the new (returning, actually, now that it’s cooling down) vendors who weren’t there last weekend. Then I found Mario, and we headed to Grayhawk for more produce for the Equinox Feast. Grayhawk sells to restaurants and grocery stores, but they sell to Mario since they know he’s a local chef. We picked up a crate of corn, a carton of edible orchids, and 3 pounds (!) of spring mix. Then, we stopped by my place so he could get a tour, then stopped by the new Essence CafĂ© in Tempe to pick up a beverage and mid-morning snack, Fry’s and Food City for more general ingredients, and went back to his place to start prepping. The feast itself was amazing, but Mario feasts always are.

Highlights

-Sitting in Mario’s new hanging chairs under his olive tree.
-Mario’s garden, all sorts of herbs, and the rows of corn.
-The 15-minute rainstorm, which peaked with sheets of rain, an honest autumn downpour.
- Gorgeous weather to be outside.
-The menu: curried pumpkin with fried tofu, served in the shell; beef stew; roasted pork that melted in my mouth, the best pork I’ve ever had; all sorts of different, fresh mushrooms); antipasti, complete with fresh mozzarella knots—one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen him make, and really, the only time I’ve ever seen cheese made in real life—he said he learned the method while working at a pizza place where they really did make everything by hand; three kinds of tapenade; spinach dip; rambutans (which are gnarly looking, but taste a bit like lychees, and everyone was excited to try something new); apples; grapes; flat bread; rice; a variety of roasted eggplants (some were small, yellow eggplants, which I’d never seen before, and even doubted were eggplants until I noticed their familiar stems and started preparing them); a variety of roasted potatoes (even purple ones, which taste just like red or other low-starch potatoes); roasted corn (I haven’t had fresh corn on the cob in a really long time and have been avoiding it since it’s so carby, but I had an ear, and it was amazing); salad with orchids; more fruits and crackers. I was there all day, helping Mario cooking, and even after I sat down, Mario was bringing out food I had no idea he had in the works. I’m a little mad at myself that I missed the final preparations on the pork—I saw it all the way up until he took it out of the oven, but how he finished it and made the sauce was a mystery.
-Food City. It’s not pricey, and it’s not "scary" like some people claim. I saw a lot of produce I don’t see at the regular supermarkets, and it’s a lot more affordable. The fresh cheese section was great—true Mexican cheeses, and not a shred of yellow in sight. At one point while browsing, I picked up a bag and squealed in delight, turning to show Mario and to tell him I could restuff my pillows or hollow them out to make a seat: giant marshmallows, the size of my fist! Soft pink and white. Mario was ecstatic, and he bought a bag so we could roast them over the fire. They took a long time, but it was hilarious to watch.
-The transformation. I’m always surprised at how quickly Mario’s backyard moves from just a yard with plastic tables set up, to a place with feeling and ambience and mystery. At the last minute, the tablecloths were whipped out, candles were lit, beautiful jugs of water were set down, and the beautiful plates of Mario’s food came as people sat down after visiting the buffet spread. Sometimes, I get upset because he pays for these feasts out of his own pocket, which is pretty empty, and puts so much time and work into it, but he loves it, and everyone loves it. He’s an awesome example of how to make eating an experience instead of just a bland, boring thing to do, a few times a day. He’s careful about shopping around, so he gets quite a bang for his buck. Then he turns his humble ingredients into food that the people he invites rarely get to enjoy. There are so many transformations that occur throughout the day, and I enjoy them all.

The new Chez Mario is nicer than the last, that’s for sure. His kitchen is bigger, so it’s easier for us both and for others to move around in it. Even though, it’s already full and getting a bit crazy. He expanded his pantry into the big living/dining room. We spent part of the day shifting still-packed pantry boxes from that room to his bedroom, just in case the brief storm decided to revisit. The yard is huge, with a nice brick-floored patio, and Mario had a kitchen and serving space all set by the time I got there. After dicing more than a dozen onions, peeling and grating garlic and galangal (ginger’s milder, sweeter cousin), and hollowing and working with a giant pumpkin, my hands still smell like autumn—warm, earthy, and pungent.

I stayed later than I’d intended, but I was surrounded by friends who I usually only see at Mario’s these days. Conversation was awesome. Food was amazing. It was all awesome and amazing.


Sunday was rad in a different way—Sheka’s surprise party/barbecue (almost). A small, laughing, happy group of people, nonstop old-school video games (Nintendo and Super NES), and baked chicken. =) And, of course, ice cream cake with orange frosting. Woooot! Today is Sheka’s official birthday and party. Happy birthday, my friend! Much love!

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