The Kitchen Existential (an existentilal chef explains)

Culinary Existentialism

My daughter, like most children has a propensity to be actively inquisitive despite being somewhat apathetic as to my responses. Its something that comes natural to kids starting from the finger pointing “What is this” to “are we there yet” to “can I have some more money”. Now that she is a young adult her questions are more simplistically complex. The simple question she posed to me was “what is an existentialist and why are you the Existential Baker? A simple question perhaps, but it entails a complex explanation. Existentialism is often confused with Nihilism or Atheism as it shares many of the same philosophical concepts, but they are from being clones.
For starters while many existentialist do not believe in God, or any gods, existentialism is not Atheism. Actual Existentialism is a philosophy that embraces some of the aspects of Buddhism, some aspects of the Karmic Wheel associated with both Buddhism and Hinduism, and the faith in Kismet associated with some Turkish and Persian philosophies. Many existentialist will put forth a strong scientific argument that God as it has been taught to us does not in fact exist, but its not as simple as God vs. Science. It’s not a matter of whether an existentialist does or doesn’t believe God exists, its more that by the nature of the philosophy any organized religion or faith and its profound belief in an omnipresent master or masters is of no consequence to the living of ones life. A true existentialist views both the big bang and the creationist version of the essence of everything to be competing hypothesis‘. The existence or non existence of God is an argument for faith and science, neither of which can prove their point. I do good deeds, I treat people right, I accept people for who they are, and I try to never judge anyone. I do this without the assistance of any religious nudging because I choose to be this way. On the other hand I recognize that many people need constant reminders of how to behave in order to co-exist and for them religion, at least in theory, works well. To an existentialist bliss is achieved through love and companionship and we choose to either live a good and prosperous life or an evil and consequential life. We understand that consequences do accompany our choices and we accept both the good and bad that are attached to them. We chooe how we live our lives and we deal with issues as they arise.
Many people view existentialism as a philosophy of despair but its the exact opposite. It’s a philosophy that has you grab life by the hand and take it out for a romantic walk every day. To run barefoot with it while singing an laughing or allow it to transport us into all the magnificence it offers.
Take words for instance. I type words out but what are they really but symbols of how I feel or what I want you to know. I use these symbols to express my emotions to you. Your eyes pull these symbols from the screen and transfer them into words that your brain is charged with deciphering. In your brain they are analyzed and arranged into thoughts that make sense to you. If done correctly my words will coax an emotional response or two from you and have you fully understand what I am thinking in my own warped mind. This shit happens so fast that it’s impossible for us to even take the time to appreciate the profound exchange of thoughts that has transpired. Yet the messages are received thousands of times a day and ironically we give it nary a thought to the process.
The core belief of existentialism is that existence or the self precedes the essence of life. In other symbols it means that the me inside, the who that I am and how I integrate an react in the world around me is far more significant than how we came to be a a species. Not that I don’t care or don’t wonder where we came from and if there is a reason we are what we are, but being me, a good person who cares about other peoples dreams and desires is far more relevant to living. An existentialist does not need to be privy to the secrets or the meaning of life in order to live it. The meaning of life in a religious belief system on the other hand is determined by some form of deity or deities. A specific set of rules designed I suppose to explain to followers how they should live their lives and how the should express their gratitude. They make laws not telling people how to live, but telling people what not to do. They create consequences for any violation of those laws. Existentialists worship only life and the beauty it radiates as opposed to a specific entity who may or may not have created life. A nihilist believes life has no meaning or purpose at all. Nihilism embrace doctrines of hopelessness, despair, and eminent death. I have a hard time drawing any similarities between this and existentialism but many people for some reason seem to think they are alike. The existentialist is in contrast to other philosophies believe that there is no meaning necessary and reality is determined by the inner self, or individual. As in Buddhism one should accept that we are here, appreciate it, love life, and move on. Perhaps because they are so often confused with nihilists and challenged by Christians existentialists are sometimes misconstrued as religious combatants with disregard or even distain for life, faith, destiny, and even hope. It has become “hip” to be an existentialist and many use it as a way to gain coolness or appear intelligent. Many people envision existentialists as snooty intellects sitting in cafes in Europe discussing the important issues of the day. Personally I find those who are conveniently existential to be boring and chronically mediocre.
As an existentialist my time is never wasted to focus on circular or unanswerable questions, I just accept that some things simply exist. I have the freedom to choose what is important or meaningful to me and without restraints placed by any doctrines. I can freely use my time to appreciate that which I find beautiful. For instance when I see a waterfall I am free to contemplate it’s beauty. My not knowing why it is there or how it got there has no effect for me in its beauty. I accept an appreciate, the rest is insignificant. All of us witness millions of things daily that have deep rich histories and we barely even notice. How many tree’s did you see today? I can’t remember either, and I didn’t take the time to ponder the life of those tree’s or the trials and tribulations of their long existence, but it is wondrous none the less. The generations of birds that may have nested and raised families in the tree, the various squirrels and chipmunks that resied in it, the massive storms it endured, an the constant attacks from insects and bacteria. An old tree had a long arduous existence to become what it is today. There are so many amazing things with amazing histories and stories around us and as an existentialist it is not my responsibility to discover the value but rather the option to. I don’t lose sleep wondering who or what put them there or why they are there. What matters for me is that I take every opportunity to enjoy them. Free to choose what to place value on as it pertains to me as an individual. To this existentialist there is only one reason we are here. To enjoy and appreciate life during our existence and to interact with the things that come through my path. My responsibility is make as much of my life as possible be a positive experience. This philosophy focuses on inner search to discover how the self and the world can interact. Self actualization through meditation and an understanding of the complexities of life. It’s about how I integrate myself into the big picture. How I exist with the spinning orb of life we call Earth. Nothing organic ever leaves the earth because it’s a circle of life. We are recombinant beings made of matter that has been around longer than we could ever imagine. When something has reached the end of its life cycle it decomposes and feeds millions of tiny and some microscopic organisms which in turn contribute back to earth. These compost diners become food for larger beings and the circle goes on. So how does any of this relate to cooking and food? Let’s have a look.
Most people give little to no thought about what they are eating. Oh sure, we like what we like and we choose to eat what we like, and many people contemplate the nutritive or caloric value of their food, but they don’t really make an attempt to understand the food outside of what wine may or may not go well with it. An existentialist sees much more in the foods we eat. Food has history, is deeply embraced by cultures, is effected by weather and natural disasters, and has life cycles. Food was once a living organism. Very often foods are trained for our benefit to live its cycle for consumption. Whether farmed fruits and vegetables or farm raised animals these foods enter our body to be transformed into energy. Beyond that, as an existentialist baker (and formerly chef) we use our understanding of food and its interactions with human emotions to create foods that not only tantalize our taste buds, but bring out emotions in us. Joy, comfort, ecstasy. Words often used to describe how we feel after eating something especially delicious. It’s not just flavor, its preparation. As a chef or baker we understand that the emotion we put into our preparations will come through in the finished product.
Food has always been a major faction of world history. Famines and droughts have had major impacts on societies and countries, wars have been fought over food, and food was the very first form of monetary exchange. Whoever controlled the food had the power. Why the so called cradle of civilization only evolved us to a higher level of existence because humans learned how to control our environment and maximize the growth of food. The agricultural revolution. But these things are always taken for granted when we eat, even by me. That’s not where I take an existential approach, its more in the understanding of how foods interact with other foods, spices, beverages, and process of denaturization that occurs be it the cooking, agitation, cutting, or freezing to change the nature of the food.
For the sake of discussion I have chosen to deconstruct this meal. Sautéed chicken breast with crimini mushroom sauce, roasted asparagus spears, and mashed potatoes. Sounds delicious and relatively simple but lets see how much of a deeper appreciation we could have of this dish.
First the roast asparagus. Asparagus is a plant native to Europe and Northern Africa and is known to have existed as a food with medicinal value as far back as 20,000BC. That’s some old veggie spears there. Very nutritious and has a nice crisp green chlorophyll enriched fern head. Roasting this marvelous vegetable at very high temperature for 5 minutes with a splatter of oil and a sprinkle of sea salt leaves the bright color and full nutritive value in tact, while keeping it crisp and tasty. Now its ready to play a part in the overall look, taste, and balance of our dish. On to the potatoes.
What can you say about potatoes? The average person eats approximately 7 pounds of potato a year. This starchy tuberous delight can be prepared a zillion ways. Okay, not a zillion, but they are roasted, baked, re-baked, stuffed, boiled, scalloped, creamed, gratined, fried, and any combination thereof. The regal potato first came into existence in Peru and was brought back by the Conquistadores and spread rapidly throughout Europe. It nearly decimated Ireland which became dependant on this versatile veggie. So lets not take this common dining addition for granted, it’s a lot more than just a tasty and filling starch. It has a lot more power than we realize. So the potato adds two things to our dinner, a level of comfort and a feeling of strength. In our dish we have diced and boiled the potato and mashed it up with some butter, milk, and gruyere cheese for nutrition, and some salt and pepper and minced shallots for flavor. This will not only taste marvelous but assist in lending a sense of satiety in the meal so we will not be hungry 20 minutes later.
On to the star of the dish, the chicken. Along with our totalitarian form of farming we presently and for a long time have been raising “livestock” for our eating pleasure. We love our steaks and fried chickens and we don’t really want to know about the farms and slaughterhouses that regularly bring meats to out table. When you think about it its actually a cruel practice, imprisoning another living thing only to execute it when deemed ready for slaughter. But lets face it, who has the time or the wherewithal to hunt for the family food everyday? We need to eat after all, but again, we shouldn’t just take these domesticated fowls for granted. We sneak away the unhatched eggs (ew when ya think about it) for breakfast or other preparations and raise them for our eating pleasure. The chicken gives us much needed protein in order for us to grow strong and help develop us physically. The chicken has a rather neutral taste in an of itself which has lifted it to legendary status when used to describe just about any other food from alligator, to swordfish, to bear meat. Tastes just like chicken! That’s why we prepare it in different ways and add sauces or other enhancements to it. To sauté something is to panfry it on very high heat very rapidly. Sauté is French for jump, and the pan is so hot the food actually jumps up off the pan. This technique gives the outside a nice crisp texture and brings the natural sugars to the surface. We call this carmelization and it will add not only nutrition but texture and taste.
Our reconstructed dish is nearly complete. As it is the balance is beautiful. An array of tastes, aroma’s, textures, and nutrients are mingling and creating a powerful and emotion educing meal that has history vast and important. All it needs now is the finishing touch, the piece de resistance. A wonderful sauce made by deglazing the sauté pan (once the chicken breast has been removed and pan is still hot) with some Chablis wine. This will add some flavor and it will extract the flavors in the pan from the sautéed chicken. Once reduced we add some broth made from the chicken, and some heavy cream which will add richness and a coating texture. Add to that some cremini mushrooms. The cremini mushroom is a cousin of the typical white mushroom but a darker brown and firmer variety. If left to fully mature it will one day grow up to be a Portobello mushroom and take on an entirely different culinary presence. Now that truly balances all the flavors to create a perfect compliment to the dish. An existential delight. You need only accept that it is what it is and enjoy every last morsel.
A Mono-theist cooks because it’s a gift from their god, an Atheist cooks because he can, a Buddhist cooks because he needs to eat, a nihilist cooks but doesn’t know or care why, and an existentialist cooks because he knows he can bring life to food and food to life. That is the existential approach to cooking. An understanding of the importance of each and every component to the completion of the whole experience. It’s history, emotion, flavors, textures, and any other attributes work together as a team to be a treat especially created for your enjoyment. If something we have prepared with love and positive emotion brings out a feeling in the consumer then we have completed our task. Not merely just cooks or bakers, the existential culinary scientist brings much more than just food to the table. We bring a sensation of joy and happiness via the taste buds that hopefully find you smiling and maybe reminiscing of wonderful times in your past that foods prepared with love gave you a feeling of comfort. PEACE

Cupcakes and Valentines

The Passions of the Cupcake

Brrr. As the cold settles in and forces us into hot chocolate mode I am reminded we have a special day coming soon that will warm us up. Warm our hearts up anyway. I speak of course of that special one day in February celebrating a romantic festival of love. Valentines day! St.Valentines Day to be auto correct, which as I hope you know is quite different from autoeroticism which of course is the act of having sex with a car. But I digress, back to the big day. Historic reports of this particular globally celebrated love fest stretch way back, as do many of our traditions, to a celebration of pre AD Pagans. The celebration was said to have started in ancient Rome and was a five day festival from Feb 13th to Feb 18th. It’s unclear if it was wolves or humans but that was believed to be the ultimate annual epoch of fertility opportunity back then. It’s obvious they relied on the rhythm method. But like most other celebrations of that time it didn’t involve the exchange of cards and gifts or flowers, candy, and dinner. It centered around sacrificial slaughtering. Fortunately around AD 269 (you can’t make these dates up!) a more modern version of the celebration of love took flight. Updated by St Valentine of Rome (not Rudolf Valentino like my idiot brother convinced me of many years ago) the expression of love week was forged into a civilized celebration. It was inverted into a single day celebration in part to discredit Paganism, and in part to immortalize the execution of St Valentine who was persecuted for being Christian. Rumor has it he sent a letter to the daughter of his jailer and signed it “Your Valentine” Apparently that is the reason for exchanging cards, and calling the one you love your “valentine”. So romantic!!
Brrrr. It’s still cold. So that’s the condensed version of the history of Valentines Day. I’m not totally convinced about the card exchange thing cuz it sounds more like Hallmark Hall of Fames historic account. But since it’s cold and I need to keep typing to stay warm I think I will look into some of the other symbols and traditions of the day of love. Cupid, Roses, hearts, doves, note exchanging, Flowers, candy, and of course food (yes, including cupcakes). Why do these things seem synonymous with February 14th?
Brrr. It’s still cold. While the Superbo, oops I mean the Big Game (no lawsuits please) may pump up even the most scrawny fan into a ball of fiery hot fury and anger that is merely a temporary feeling of warmth. There is however coming however a heartbeat of hope and a body warming celebration. That’s right Valentines day is jogging around the corner getting ready to break into a sprint. What is it about this day anyway? And cupid, how on earth did a diaper clad child sporting a bow and arrow become such an influential icon of love? Cupid it turns out is the son of Venus, which in and of itself is pretty impressive. In Roman mythology Cupid is the God of erotic love and the name Cupid translated from Latin means desire. Carpe Cupid! Cupid represents to us the ultimate love inducer. Personally I believe the whole diaper thing was more a warning of what may occur if the passions are left unchecked completely. Legend is that Cupid did in fact allow passion to get the better of himself by pricking (no snickering please!) himself with an arrow an falling in love with Psyche. They had a female child they named Voluptas. Go figure! The image of Cupid has wings apparently so love can take flight once the arrows have hit their mark. Oh yes, the arrows! I’ll leave it up to you as to the exact significance of the arrows but suffice to say whether the arrows are one in a million of swimming omelet searching fertilzers or the more obvious looking phallic aperture ever, it’s believed that whatever one of those arrows hits its mark all control is lost. In short, once the pointed figure is shot an penetrates a female she will fall helplessly in love. Damn that’s one big, um…. ego!!
Enough on Cupid though, there’s more to Valentines Day then a half naked brat shooting arrows around. Why is everything associated with love heart shaped? Hot tubs, beds, pillows, all kinds of kinky heart shaped love paraphernalia. Hundreds of heart shaped boxes of candy will be bought and many a name in heart tattoo will be etched into the skin to profess eternal love. Why the heart? It seems the symbol goes back to Aristotle who determined the beating thing in one chest must be the center of emotion, thought and reason. But since surgeons hadn’t been invented yet there is no way they could have determined the shape of the blood pumping muscle that pulses life through our bodies. Popular belief is it resembles a flower or plant which was used as an herbal contraceptive. No matter, today the heart stands strong as a symbol of romance and love.
Not surprising it may have been designed after the shape of a flower. Flowers have always represented passion for humans. The beautiful aromas can sneak their way up into the olfactory glands and put us in the mood. Well it works for bees anyway, who are attracted sexually to the scents given off by flowers, and then one look at the unabashed beauty hanging out on a plant sends the bee into a visual frenzy of apiary sexual desire. And why not, flowers proudly display their genitalia out in the open for all to see and appreciate. That’s right, flowers let it all proudly and even salaciously hang out for any an all viewers pleasure. Easy to figure out now why we give our loves bouquets of beautiful flowers, but this added bit of information also makes us aware of the importance of choosing the right flowers to put in bouquet for the desired effect. Roses are the most often chosen flower because it was believed to have been the favorite of the Goddess Venus, who reportedly gave many to her son, our old pal Cupid!
Back to the day itself. I have watched Valentines Day evolve since I could walk. Back in Elementary school I went out and got a package of tiny valentine cards and was instructed by Mom to give one to each girl in my class, and my teacher if it were a woman. (Mr. Thompson and Mr. Williams didn’t want them from me anyway) If there was one special girl in class, I would buy a box of heart candies and blush as I read the inscription before offering her one. If she batted her eyelashes my vocal chords and my dignity would go away on vacation until I could get hold on my out of control beating heart. Back to the heart again? Those days of innocent Valentine celebrations are long gone. Over the years it became essential to up my valentine game. I have employed all the basic techniques that have been suggested over the years which we have all used. The number one hope of ecstasy practice used as an adult has always been food, which is where my specialty really lies. So before I tell you what treats We will be offering up, a little bit about food an how it figures into romance. One word in particular comes to mind. Aphrodisiacs.
To assist lovers on this day of burning passions and anticipation of desire fulfillment we in the food industry have scoured the culinary horizons in search of natures most effective consumable aphrodisiac’s. Asparagus, oysters, chocolate, cinnamon, avocados, ginger root, truffle, and pomegranates top the list of mood enhancing foods. Many of these foods reported to increase sexual appetite. The only proven and effective consumable products are chocolate covered Viagra, or Caramel coated Levitra, but lets see what help nature can give us in following natures course. Like the floral sex flaunting bouquets of flowers, food can increase sexual desire due to appearance and smell. Foods also has the extra advantage of taste to make us happy and a sense of comfort and satisfaction. In addition to just plain making us feel good some foods have nutrients or other substances that can have a physiologic effect on the body. Foods that can act as aphrodisiacs get blood flowing, hopefully to the appropriate areas. Others simply release hormones which make us feel……happy. Spicy foods get the blood pumping and activate the sweat glands. Oysters and other seafood are vital to the thyroid gland which is essential for energy, especially sexually charged energy. Chocolate and ginger root provide blood flow and may be what adds spring to ones step. The other usual suspects of sexual awareness are either a phallic visual aid or an aromatic gland enticing culprit, but nothing is proven as a 100% sure thing. That my friends, is where you come in. The correct amount of attention, an exclamation of how deeply you love, holding hands, affectionate kisses, and a few well placed compliments are your best chance of making Valentines day a successful night of love. But get a present as well so as not to seem insensitive.
Now comes the shameless plug, the moment of truth for Jarets Stuffed Cupcakes. Of course I use only the freshest and most aphrodisiac enhanced ingredients, and I always bake with love and passion and what one puts into cooking come out ion the eating. So just bringing home some of our delicious stuffed cupcakes will open some doors, but here at Jarets Stuffed Cupcakes we are true romantics at heart (get it??) Therefore we are offering some extra special valentine choices. If you don’t celebrate, of if you find yourself alone on valentines day we have you covered as well. So here they are.
In addition to our crowd pleasing Red Velvet and our assortment of delectable chocolate and vanilla cupcakes we are offering some lovers specials. The “C’mon Baby Do the Casanova” is a vanilla cupcake stuffed with banana’s foster (banana’ cooked in spice rum) and vanilla cinnamon icing which has been falsely reported as the treat Casanova used to seduce Brazilian Bossa Nova dancers. Brining cupcake love to a new level is our “Just Like Romeo And Juliet“, an Amaretto cupcake stuffed with a raspberry champagne custard and covered with a sensuous dark chocolate icing. And speaking of Elvis we will have the “All Shook Up“, a banana chocolate chip cupcake stuffed with peanut butter mouse an topped off with vanilla icing. The perfect compliment for your little “Teddy Bear”. In addition to just cupcakes we will have some other creative and seductive treats including our annual tradition of fresh strawberries dipped in Belgian Chocolate or White Chocolate.
Like I said, if you don’t like Valentines Day and don’t celebrate it or are in between relationships we have you covered as well with two special Anti-Valentine Day cupcakes. Buck the tradition with the all new “Love Stinks” the cupcake inspired from the classic cliché of sitting on the couch dipping a cookie into an ice cream sundae to peel away the guilt laden layers of being a solo artist, it’s a half chocolate half vanilla cupcake with a chocolate chip cookie baked into the center, covered in chocolate whipped cream and topped with a cherry. It’s a cupcake that simply drips of self indulgent bliss! Even if your not alone this is a crazy good treat because even if love does stink, the cupcake does not! The other Anti-Valentine Day cupcake is the “Emotional Rescue” a cupcake originally designed to offer a bit of emotional rescue to some special friends who needed it. The Emotional Rescue is a red velvet cupcake filled with Heath bar custard an finished off with a cherry brandy whipped cream. I have no doubt The Rolling Stones would be proud to sing a song about it.
So there it is, my soliloquy on the annual celebration of love we know as Valentines Day. Take it from me though, limiting your expression of love to a single day is not enough. Like life, love is incredibly precious and fragile and if you are fortunate enough to have it in your life you should nourish it and appreciate it every single day. Don’t merely say the words, follow them up with action. I leave you with a single line from one of my favorite lyrics from a Grateful Dead song professing the importance of love….“Without love day to day insanity’s king.” Stay sane my friends, hold on to love with all your might, but don’t keep it to yourself, share it!………PEACE

Considering a rework on a 72 story

Paranoia, New York
An eerie silence loomed over lake thandore, disturbed only by the gentle whispering of the tiny waves as they snuck up on the mountain stream bank. “Wake the fuck up, Rip off Van Winkle”, Sara pleaded in a horse and slightly slurred voice. She looked out at the strobe like red light as it reached through the early morning sky up to the wakening sun. She shook Billy again, and this time he rolled over, assuring Sara that he was still alive. Billy sat up, and struggled to replace the taste of the stale oaky bourbon he vaguely remembered from last night with a swig of warm stale water. Spitting out the objectionable makeshift mouthwash he noticed his mouth was swollen like a ball of dirty cotton had replaced his tongue. He attempted another unsuccessful swish of warm water, and finally gave in to the fact that what he needed, was some aspirin, a shower, and to brush his teeth. But where the fuck was he? He grabbed his head between his hands, and the pain reverberated from side to side, as if he was listening to a really bad hardcore band on an even worse stereo headset. “What the fuck happened” he inquired innocently? In an unusual show of compassion, Sara explained in her most gentle voice, “You took 5 oxycontins, drank a liter of Jack Daniels, and then decided to steal that cop car”. Sara pointed to the flashing red beacon that bounced off the trunk of a black and white police car, half submerged in the water. “What the????” Billy could not even finish his sentence, trying desperately to focus and remember. “Holy shit, Sara, when did that happen? What day…where the fuck are we?”. “Well wild bill”, the sarcasm making a triumphant return, “Not too long after you chased Doreen through the park in your underwear”.

Excerpt- Going out for a buzz, be back soon

Disclaimer…any similarities to any persons living or dead is purely….possible

In the backdrop of this little utopia was a huge cauldron of sizzling hot generation gap. A war in Viet Nam, a disregard for civil rights, women’s rights, and youth rights, and police brutality all over the country had boiled to the top and threatened to spill over into the kitchens all across Centerlawn pitting sons against fathers and daughters against mothers. It was no wonder all we ever cared about was getting high. My brother was in the army and if things continue the way they are we will all be in Viet Nam in two years. Being in high school sucked, but it sure was better than being shot at. Time for some old fashioned get high. Let the search begin.
Another boring day in school, and it was time to go and look for a little “buzz.” By now almost everyone in high school was smoking pot. So much pot in fact we wondered if that was how it earned the nomenclature of “high” school. We knew that was just a joke, but the amount of marijuana around was rather substantial, and I was known as one of the more prolific puffers. I could puff a huge doobie all by myself and still be able to go to any class. Except maybe gym. Yea the “jocks”, or sports enthusiasts as was the proper term loved to pick on longhairs. They always talked like what I assume the Cro-Magnon man spoke saying well thought out repetitive jokes like “Hey, is that a girl in our gym class? Hey girlie, the girls gym is next door.” So many times I wanted to say something like “Oh I know, I share a locker with your girlfriend”, but I am much too nice a guy. Or maybe it was because they would have kicked my ass with their Charles Atlas biceps. Not wanting to get sand kicked in my eyes I opted for keeping it an inside joke. They really would kick my ass if they ever found out I had smoked pot with their girlfriends at one time or another.
Whenever I got bored, which usually only happened on school days, I engaged in a ritual that my best friend Ken and the rest of my band of merry marauders enjoyed doing. We would go in search of anyone that had a joint, or a chunk of hash, and ask them to share. More often than not, when a good friend came by they would ask us if we wanted some buzz before we even asked, because we always shared our stash, and no one really likes to smoke alone. It wasn’t really unusual for Ken and I to run into each other in school, as we had a certain few places we always hung out at that were prime hiding spots while cutting class. Today would be no different. “Hey dude, I have a fucking brilliant idea.” Ken was always the idea man, and had tons of them. “And we should start saving money for it right now.” As always, Ken immediately garnered my curiosity, and so many times he had blown me away with truly great ideas. Ken was brilliant and creative. Many of the other students laughed at him back in Jr. high, because he was the first boy in school to have really long hair. All of five foot tall, he had long flowing blond hair that was parted in the middle, and cascaded over his shoulders and half way down his back. He had a rebel soul and I was drawn to it instantly. Like most of the male students, I had started growing my hair long in part to look cool, but more importantly to piss off my Mom and Dad. Most all of us had developed a twitch from keeping our long bangs out of our eyes. We all wanted to be “moptops”, but Ken was ahead of the curve and had already grown his hair long like……well like a girl. That was also part of Kens appeal; he seemed to know ahead of everyone else what was in style before it came in style. He had gone from a long haired geek freak that was made fun of, to a respected member of the hippie rebellion ranks. Proudly I admit I had much to do with his rise to “coolness” because I was considered one of the “cool” kids since fourth grade. It wasn’t that I actually was cool, but I had an older brother and even older sister who had created reputations with the teachers. Those reputations preceded me. I was cool by association. I played football and baseball with the “older” kids, got rides in my sisters boyfriends “Surf Woody”, and just always hung out with the older kids. So my becoming Kens friend had helped him gain acceptance and move up the hipster social ranks quickly with most of my other friends. It wasn’t long until they too saw how insightful he was to popular culture and trends. Before the end of the 9th grade we were all growing our hair long, and wearing cool clothes like bell bottom pants and double breasted balloon sleeve shirts. Checks, stripes, paisley prints, the brighter the better and no worries if it doesn’t match. Now we all had real long hair, afro’s, long straight hair, super curly locks or like mine long wavy banana curls.
My first thought was to relieve the boredom so I told Ken, “Cool dude, but lets go out to La Bomba and do a bowl first. You still got that hash?” As always, Ken would come through. “Of course bro, some nice opium streaked black Afghanistan. Lets go asshole.” I hated that phrase but he always sang it like a commercial jingle and everyone laughed, so I just went with it. So off we went to the parking lot to climb into my car to smoke some hash. My little red Simca, A French sedan type car that was Frances answer to the Volkswagen, “La Bomba” is what we called the car and it was our entire groups pot smoking haven. I never locked the doors because so many of my friends used it at various times of the day, even if I wasn’t there. But this day, at this moment, no one else was around. I could tell Ken was happy about that because he really wanted to talk about his idea. Tell you the truth, I was pretty anxious as well. As he filled his chamber pipe with a small piece of black hash I needed to know. “So Ken, what’s this new idea?” Not a ground breaking or earth shattering way to ask but I got my question out.. “ Well, here’s the thing.” I heard the match strike and light up as he put the pipe to his lips and lit the hash. He spoke as he was inhaling and his voice got lower and stranger and he talked as if gasping for breath as he spoke. The interior of my little red bomb filled up with the sweet herbal haze of hash smoke. In between inhaling and holding the smoke Ken laid out his plan. We would be graduating next year, and he had no job and wasn’t going to college. I did have a job, but it was just a job, and I was most likely not attending college either. I was smart enough, but I stopped putting in an effort last year after my Dad called me a worthless communist because I got an A+ on a project about the dreaded USSR. I took the point of view that they had some redeeming values. Instead of being proud he freaked on me. What an asshole! Anyway our fates will be in the hands of our government we would more than likely be shipped off to Viet Nam. Ken thought we could save up some cash, get a video camera and supplies, and head out to Chicago. “ Jesus shit man, we can burn our draft cards and just get the fuck out of town.” His idea was to start at one end of Rt. 66, and travel to the other end in Santa Monica where we could settle in with the hippies of California. Ken had a love of guitar and film and I wanted to write. We would make a kind of documentary of the trip, Ken with his camera and me with my pen. “Bro, you can write the whole thing down in your notebook.” I took my notebook almost everywhere, convinced I was the next James Michner, or more like Ken Kesey, who wrote about the life of the Merry Pranksters. I was blown away. To me it was brilliant, the chance of a lifetime. RT 66 was so historic, a television show, the route for all the dust bowlers of the 1930’s who fled to California to escape poverty. Route 66 was the sort of scenic route people took who just wanted to migrate to Los Angeles. I mean Jesus shit, the fucking stones do a tune about it. Brilliant choice, from Chicago to Los Angeles via Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Texas, and Arizona. Ken shot me his infamous shit eating grin and said, “whatcha think, lets go asshole.”

Excerpts continued..Restaurant/Bamboo Blast

Working at a Restaurant

From the very first day of my job, I knew I had stumbled across something inexpressible in words. It was an almost spiritual transcendence, having a job and being part of something that lifted me to a higher plane. I was fortunate enough to find myself in the employ of Cavalierdi’s restaurant in the socially envious position of pot washer. Four nights after school, and Saturday nights, I was the head pot washer. But, being the envy of my high school buddies was short lived, when I discovered that the “head pot washer” wasn’t really in charge of anything other than some sudsy water, and that it involved way more than merely washing pots. I was also permitted, implored even, to use my hands to scrape and clean the organic food remnants, and other indefinable residues left on the plates by our satisfied customers. So it was that this head pot washer was cleaning everything that anyone found objectionable in the restaurant. Poised at the suds busting helm, I decided that I was going to be the best pot washer they ever had.
On this particular night I felt compelled to let everyone in the kitchen know my lofty intentions of becoming a black belt in the art of pot and pan scrubbery. When I told the chef, the absolute ruler of the kitchen, I was certain he would beam with pride. I really looked up to the chef, even though he was so old. Man that dude must have been in his 60’s. I believe he always worked hard and the years had been kind to him, although not without consequence. Deep furrows stretched into spaghetti lines across his face, and he always seemed to be deep in thought. Quite fit for an older guy, and he was deceptively strong. Crazy coot could throw 50 pound bags of potatoes halfway across the kitchen with ease. He always wore a dirty and tattered black bandana which concealed the badly receding headline and his eyebrows sported the thickest hair he had. Like caterpillars on steroids those eerie brows housed some very dark and serious eyes. Eyes that narrowed instantly at the first sign of anger. Like holy shit man it wasn’t only the eyes, but that bulging vein that stood out and threatened you personally. I prayed that wasn’t the face that was building up inside his maniacal mind. Not siree, not the anger I was about to get a full emasculating dose of. He looked me directly in the eyes, and with his most compassionate paternal demeanor, his eyes teared up, and he laughed uncontrollably. A laugh that came all the way from the balls of his feet. In between his deafening guffaws the chef attempted to tell his sous chef Andre what my intentions were, and that was met with a roar of laughter that could cause a soufflé to fall. Regardless of their snickering daggers of contemptuous

The Bamboo Blaster

Patrick was a good friend. If Ken and I weren’t best friends, then Patrick and me would have been. We knew each other since kindergarten and I don’t think we ever had a fight once. Patrick was so mellow and just a real nice guy. His hair was intensely curly and so long it stuck out across his shoulders when it wasn’t tied back. He was very perceptive and liked smoking pot even more than I did. He had an older brother who was a true hippie. He had burned his draft card and evaded the draft by moving to Canada. Before he left he gave Patrick the legendary bamboo pipe he had bought while on a trip to San Francisco. While visiting Haight Asbury Randy had come across a store that specialized in unusual pipes. He told us of chillums, water pipes, hookahs, and his pride and joy, the bamboo carburetor. It was six foot long, and hollow with a pipe bowl at one end. The person taking the hit held the other end and sucked hard, waiting patiently. The first sucking resulted in nothing, so the second sucking was the key. After catching your breath the sucking continued. While sucking a friend held the bowl end with a hand over the open end of the bamboo pole. Keeping a match lit on the pot in the bowl he allows the length of the pole to fill up with pot smoke and once full, he removes the hand that’s over the open end. The entire contents of the pole, all six foot of that beautiful enlightening smoke rushed out in less than a second as it shoots through like a carburetor. It fills your lungs with more smoke than you could possibly hold and you put your hand over your mouth and nose and try to keep it in. Smoke begins escaping out of the nose and mouth and trickles through the fingers, and you feel like its also coming out your eyeballs and ears as well. You can hold the smoke for about 10 seconds (I think the record is 14 seconds) until your lungs implode and a cloud of cannabis nimbus smoke surrounds your head as you cough for the next 10 minutes and anyone else around laughs and waits their turn. It is one of the most intense rushes ever.
Patrick had snuck the bamboo out to the backyard and filled up the bowl. “C’mon JT, I gotta get this back inside quick. We can take one toke each.” We ravaged the pot in seconds, Patrick put away his pipe and we just hung out and talked. I relayed all of the days events as Patrick laughed his ass off. “Oh man, you have no idea how much I needed that Pat. I can never thank you enough.” Patrick stared at me with a fixed stare and looked me in the eye when he said, “You can give me back the Tonka truck you stole from me back in grade school.” I stared uneasy for a half a minute until Patrick could no longer hide his goof on me. I laughed so hard my check muscles began shaking. I swear we must have laughed for an hour just talking about the old days. Even that seemed ironic, not out of high school and already talking about the old days. Oh well, time to join the real world and head off to work.
I stalled at work and got home a bit later than usual in the hopes of avoiding contact with the master of the house. Mom was up waiting for me and told me I had a meeting tomorrow with her and my guidance councilor. Dad got home late and was asleep so I would have to wait until tomorrow to find out what sort of wrath he would be imparting on my life. So far, no harm no foul. Lets hope this keeps up.

Excerpt from the great american novel

Zen and the art of Culinary Maintenance
by JT Hilltop
We all had our demons. But sometimes I felt as though I had a lion’s share of destructive self abuses. It’s not like I grew up in a dangerous town or a bad situation. Centerlawn was a sprawling, suburban paradise beach community. It was once my father’s summer retreat from the perils of his Brooklyn childhood. A sleepy Long Island town of great cultural diversity. Irish, Italian, Jewish, German, and various Latin ethnicities flocked to the small north shore town, to escape the growing fears of living in the tough neighborhoods of New York City, The Bronx, and Brooklyn. It was an innocent and pioneer like community of urban sooners and boomers. They formed close nit and diverse neighborhoods where families looked out for each other. Too close for my comfort because it made it very difficult to get away with anything. Who saw whose son smoking a cigarette, or sister with a boy much too old for her. You couldn’t flirt with the next door neighbors daughter without the entire block asking your intentions. It was always a bad situation if my Mom said, “where have you been?” Do I run the risk of telling a lie and hope no one saw me, or fess up with the strong possibility that my nosey neighbor told Mom she saw me at the mall? If only these were the tough decisions, then I may have lived a mundane life, gotten a good job, settled down, raised a family. The American dream was right in front of me like a brass ring and all I had to do was reach out and grab it. But alongside that brass ring, was a tempting seductive lure far more dangerous than any forbidden fruit.
It was a world filled with money, drugs, crime, and the promise of sex in exchange for just a piece of your soul. If you put up your innocence as a down payment you were promised thrilling high speed ride with many twists and turns. It wasn’t hard for Ken and I to choose to take that ride. Adventure was in our blood and it thrived and tickled our adrenal glands, especially when we were high. Ah yes, getting high. More than just a kick or a pastime, we had turned it into an art form. Bongs, water pipes, chamber pipes, and assorted “drug paraphernalia” at the tips of our fingers. We could get rolling papers right up the road at the stationery store, or hitchhike into the village and go to a head shop for an assortment of pipes and rolling machines. We had special names for our smokes, Panamanian Red, Acapulco Gold, Green weed, Skunk weed, wheelchair weed, and on and on. One friend even had a six foot bamboo two person pipe that filled the whole length with a one hit shot that could challenge the lungs of a fucking elephant. That was my favorite, but it didn’t come out that often. What the hell, I guess I would have had an impossible time sneaking something like that out of my room. But Patricks parents were pretty naïve and he got away with all kinds of shit. Me and Ken had to be careful, our parents were stricter than most. That’s why this hiding from the cops is so much more alluring. If the pigs catch us we will be in all kinds of shit.

A Musical Parody of Baba O’Riley

Middle Age Waistband (Babar O’belly)
Sung to Baba O’Riley by The Who

Out here my waist reels
From too many meals
I can’t fit into my old jeans
Its no use to fight
Its way too tight
I need a diet of just plain beans

Don’t cry
Bout getting wide
Its on-ly middle age waistband

Sally take that ham
And toss it in the can
Shut off the oven
I can’t eat that pork shoulder
The fitness guru’s here
To help me lose my rear
I got to lose it
Before we get much older

Middle aged waistband
Its only an expanding waistband
Oh yea
Middle age waistband
We’re all wasting