Little Old Ladies Who......
First I want to point out that we linked with Chez Pim. I hope she does not sue me. Pim is in some not insignificant way connected to our favorite restaurant in our local world (Manresa).
Pim has far and away the best food fotos and food-related fotos I have ever found. She makes "Saveur" seem like Mad Magazine. She must have chrome balls, because she has memorialized dishes on film in places where I was grateful to even be allowed to sit quietly passing out hundred euro notes without disturbing the staff.
Anyway, Pim's foto of the Truffle Granny in a recent post started my day today....a day which is coincidentally the 85th birthday of my restaurant godmother, Momie Hilde. Hilde was the first woman chef in Germany...just before WWII, and a combination of steel, velvet, sugar, spice and soul that the world will never see again.
Today we got some fresh local anchovies and sardines in at Wharf 2. And, I had to drive to Marina to pick up my meat order, so my Bookkeeping Day became Driving Day. Hey, but while in Marina I could pick up some quail eggs.....
But.....gotta drive to town. As I left, Amanda said: "I hope you have good radio!" The best you can expect these days from a Wednesday on the road.
There was good radio. A lot about a 97 year old woman in Poland who saved a ton of Jewish babies from the Warsaw ghetto.....who is being honored by the Polish government. They interviewed a friend of the special lady. "She doesn't think she is special....the babies were special. Plus, she is still mad at the parents that would not trust her to save their kids....." The friend of the special lady was herself saved by an SS housekeeper who fiddled some books and stole the SS grocery money to save a family. No big deal.
After I picked up my meat in Marina I was driving back on Res Road from the quail egg guy. On the side of the road was a little old lady sitting on a walker, holding her head with both hands as if she were in pain. She looked like "The Scream...." I was talking to an annoying bride on my cell phone, so I signed off, flipped a bitch and pulled up to the old gal.
"Are you OK, ma'am?"
"Of course, vie do you ask?"
I spotted the "vie" and slipped into German. Turns out she was from Dresden and used to be an opera singer, and survived that whole Dresden firebombing thing.
"Well, you are holding your head like you are in pain, and you are sitting on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere in Marina."
"Yah....well, the wind is blowing, dummi. Look at your long hair...you should be holding your head, too! Your hair is blowing all around! It looks ridiculous!"
Are you here to kidnap me? I could use some excitement....I am 93 years old! I just came from the dentist...." at which point she spat out her upper plate.
"Then, with new teeth, I got hungry, so I walked to Denny's and had lunch. But, you know I broke my hip and arm last year......so I get tired. I am sitting here waiting to get strong again."
You know....I told my doctor when I broke my hip: I am not an old woman. I just look like one. I am only 92 and I still cook and care for myself. I don't let anyone into my house!"
Are you going to rape me? If so....you will need plastic surgery......"
I mentioned to my new friend from Dresden the radio broadcast about the 97 year old Polish woman.
"Sounds like she is just getting an award for being old. Or.... the young people are feeling guilty for being lazy and weak. We all just did what we could. I wish I could say you would do the same."
I said goodbye and went on to the wharf for my anchovies and sardines. My cost: Sixty cents a pound. Nobody buys them but the old Japanese and Filipino women. I tried to talk to Sal and Buster about the irony of some Irish guy being the only guy in all Monterey Bay buying the sardines that their grandmothers came to America to filet. Nobody buys sardines....too much work.
Back at the kitchen, I turned on the tunes and settled in for a couple of hours of old school manual labor on my own. I felt the ghosts of Momi Hilde, my crazy new Dresdner friend, and the Sicilian grannies looking over my shoulder. "Mensch, you are doing it all wrong! It is a nice fish! He died for you....don't screw it up! Vie are you so slow....it is not hard.....Look, let the knife do the verk.......It only goes where you tell it, dummi!"
I tried to maintain a pace and a rhythm while picturing a life in the canneries.....young immigrant women with sharp knives on a production line with their hands in cold water and guts all day. Certainly talking major shit as well....
I got to the point where I could do four pounds in twenty minutes......certainly laughable by granny standards, and I knew it. This is the same way I feel when I am peeling fava beans, making tamales, making gnocchi or spaetzle or angellotti. I can hear the old ladies cackling away at my fumbling incompetence.
The last whole fish I had fileted recently were at The Masters a couple of weeks ago. The fish were rouget, or salmonete, or red mullet....depending on your country of origin. These fish appear on every starred menu in Europe.....They were prized by the Romans, and you can still see a salmonete farm owned by a famous poet at Pompeii and Herculaenium. Think Koii, but tasty.
The Masters flew in their salmonete.....(well, since I was working for French guys I guess they were rougets).... from Egypt. They were about 8 inches long, pale red and still with the guts inside (the Froggies saved the livers and made fish liver crostini). The cost: about 10 bucks each. We had to scale them first with the back of a good knife....scales flying all over the kitchen, and then filet them.
The filets weighed maybe a couple of ounces, max when we were done. So.....$5 cost for two ounces of meat.....or $80 a pound for an Egyptian fish with some serious SkyMiles. From Fuckinbumfuckegyp......
Hey, no problem there......I am sure the farming, fishing, sanitation, packing and transport scene in Fuckinbumfuckegyp is just fine. Really. Just fine.
Meanwhile.....My sardines: Per each pound of whole fish I get about fifteen filets weighing half an ounce each. They have been out of the water for maybe a day.....and they have no SkyMiles. They have all the omega3 fatty acids....and a wonderful, subtle fragance that those fatty acids carry right back to your soft palate. Try and eat half a dozen tempura-ed filets, cooked Rafa-style in an iron pan. Rich and nice. Fragrant, tender.....
Lets do the math: Half a dozen filets=3 oz. Five servings per pound, if the servings are for sheetrockers or rugby players. Ten servings per pound if they are for typical esoteric food nazis. My cost? Twelve cents to twenty four cents a serving.
Now I know why those grannies hover over me while I work. I may be screwing up individual filets....but the rest of these people are screwing up the planet. They are flying a two ounce filet 15,000 km.....because......? The marketing is wrong? Dagos and college students eat sardines...... and cool people eat rougets?
I challenge anyone in the world, anywhere, any time: Blind tasting. Bring it, bitch!
Trust me. Like the surfers say: "Locals rule".
And, the little old ladies rule: "What....are you afraid of a little work? What....you got no knife skills?"
Happy Birthday, Momie....
I hope I am half as good as you were gracious enough to pretend that I am......