Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Things that can be carried on a bike (#694)...

A camera bag with an extra lens, a couple books, an extra shirt, a scarf, a pair of gloves, a few vegetables and pieces of fruit, and 720 granola bars (on their way to a local food pantry).

Note to self...make sure your brakes are adjusted the next time you decide to carry more than 700 granola bars on your bike.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Garlic and oil are all you need sometimes…

Because this dish, or similar variations of it, is so easy to prepare, I'll begin without ceremony. Peel a few whole cloves of garlic. You can crush them if you like, but it is not necessary. Place them in a small skillet with a bit of olive oil. It's important that the pan and oil be at room temperature, not hot. This goes against everything a chef is taught, but it is essential to this dish. Place the skillet over a low flame and just let it be; let it rest there a few minutes. It will take a few minutes for the garlic to begin to bubble, but that's ok. This is good, actually. If it begins to bubble too quickly the flame is too high and the garlic will cook too quickly. By cooking the garlic low and slow you are drawing out its flavor into the oil; you are also removing much of its harshness.

Many of you know that I cook for a living. And I've been fortunate enough to cook in many different venues. My latest gig—for the past year—has been cooking in the prepared foods department of a grocery store. A co-operative and very fancy store, but nonetheless, still a grocery store. And it is busy. Really busy. Everything we cook is in extra large batches. Unlike restaurants and clubs that I've worked, where food is often cooked or served a plate at a time, here it is cooked in large batches, to be later sold. For lack of better words, in my current position I function as a production cook, or as friends and I once referred to, a bull cook. So for this reason, sometimes I have to cook slow, simple, and small. At least for myself I do.

 I was surprised, but also glad, that when I mentioned to my son that I was going to make pasta with vegetables for dinner he asked if he could help. So as the garlic slowly cooks, turn and baste it in the olive oil every couple of minutes while you prep whatever vegetables you have. When the garlic is golden brown and very soft, remove it from the pan but reserve the oil. The oil is bursting with flavor. Mince or mash the garlic and set it aside. Transfer the oil to a larger skillet.

Sometimes—often—I forget, or at least take for granted that I am a good cook. I've been doing it so long it is like second nature to me. From my start as a restaurant cook, while a teenager, cooking came easy to me. And this is what I remembered today while showing a young cook at work today how to hold a knife properly as he fumbled with the large sharp tool, and again tonight as I cooked dinner with my son. Cooking is a gift that was given to me at a young age, and one for which I am grateful.

While my son diced an onion I looked in our fridge and wasn't surprised to see the absence of food. In the same way an auto mechanic drives a jalopy, I really do not like to grocery shop. I put it off to the last minute, and I even work in a grocery store. But I did find a half of bell pepper, a couple heads of broccoli, a handful of spinach, and a half-dozen or so of sun-dried tomatoes. So my son and I chopped them together.

Vegetables cooked in this manner—with twice-cooked garlic—are delicious on their own, but when tossed with pasta and cheese they are even better. So before you start to cook the vegetables put a small pot of water on to boil.

Heat the skillet with the garlic-oil, this time over medium-high heat. If you are using onions and peppers (and why wouldn't you) add them to the skillet when the oil is hot. They should sizzle when they hit the oil. Toss and turn the onions and peppers in the hot oil, then lower the heat to medium and cook them until they are lightly browned. This will bring out their rich natural sweetness. While the onions and peppers cook add some pasta to the pot of water, assuming it has come to a boil. Cook the pasta about 8 minutes, or until it is just under-cooked. Italians refer to this as al dente.

 It was nice spending the few minutes it took to prepare this dish with my son. He's a college student in his early twenties and is always busy, and I'm often busy simply because it is in my nature. I sometimes think I have too many interests. Rather than turning on the radio, as I often do when I cook at home, I left it silent, and we cooked and talked.

When the pasta is sufficiently cooked drain it and set it aside. And if the onions and peppers are nicely browned, add whatever other vegetables you may be using to the pot along with the mashed and cooked garlic. I also added a good pinch of crushed hot pepper because I like things a little spicy. Stir everything in the oil, onions and garlic to coat everything in flavor and then add some liquid to the pan. You can keep this vegetarian by adding water or vegetable broth, which I often do, but tonight I wanted the added richness of chicken broth. So I added about a cup of broth to the pan along with a pinch of sea salt.

Adding chicken broth does a couple things. The first is obvious; it helps to cook and steam the vegetables. But it goes beyond that. When the broth reduces it concentrates, which translates into flavor. It also temporarily emulsifies with the olive oil and creates a sort of viscosity to the dish. A richness that would not be possible with water.

So when the vegetables are cooked to your liking, and the broth has reduces enough, add the cooked pasta. Gently fold the pasta into the other ingredients and allow it to cook a little. The pasta will absorb flavors from the rest of the ingredients. Remove the pan from the heat, fold in a little Parmesan or Asiago cheese, reserving some to sprinkle on the top.

My day today wasn't great. Nothing big happened or didn't happen. It was just one of those days. I rode my bike pre-dawn in the rain and it was gloomy most of the day. It was really busy at work. I felt stressed and my feet hurt. But relaxing at home and cooking slow and small with my son with very basic ingredients is really what I needed. And now, as I sit in a cafe a few blocks from my house, drinking a beer and tapping out these words on a keyboard, the sky has cleared and the sun is setting beautifully. And I remember—again—that life is good. Tomorrow is another day, and I get to start over.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Things that can be carried on a bike (#693)...

Five framed but precariously stowed pictures of my bikes carrying things on bikes....a picture of a bike carrying pictures of bikes carrying things. They are on their way to Velo Visions, a bike-themed art show at Sugar City, sponsored by Go Bike Buffalo, and part of our local celebration of National Bike Month.

After the rain...

You rained last night
I heard you as I slept
Lifting moisture from the air
And part of us
Into you
Becoming you
Carrying us
Holding us
As long as you could
Then releasing
Leaving us to fall
Together but separate
We came down in a torrent
Covering everything
Bringing life
And this morning
The morning after
I rode my bike
And I felt you
Hanging in the air
As a mist
As humidity
As humanity
Which rose with the day
Back into you
Repeating the cycle
Cycle after cycle
After the rain
But before the next

Urban Simplicity.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Saturday, April 23, 2016

The color purple...

"Dearly beloved. We are gathered here today to get through this thing called life"
 ~Prince Rogers Nelson

Okay, so by now--unless you've been hiding under a rock--you've heard of the artist known as Prince making his transition. You've also probably also not seen, heard about, or talked about the color purple as much as you have in the last couple days. I'm not a Prince fan in the classic sense of the word, in that I don't consciously go out of my way to listen to his music. But I have always appreciated his genius in the same way that I do when I watch videos of Micheal Jackson...I probably wouldn't put on one of their CDs, but when I watch clips of them perform I am quite literally in awe. But with Prince his music, or at least his earlier music, was sort of a backdrop to my life at a certain point. It reminds me of a wild period in my life during the early-to-mid 1980's (and yes, I saw Purple Rain at the theater when it came out--saw it twice, actually--and really enjoyed it). Anyhow, here's the story of these photos. The one above is of the Peace Bridge, which spans the Niagara River and connects Buffalo, NY (my home town) with Fort Erie, Ontario, Canada; it was lit Purple to honor Prince last night. The photo below is actually a photo from a couple summers ago when I was on retreat in Stony Point, NY; I colorized it making it a sort of "purple rain." The photo below that I'm almost embarrassed to post because of it's poor quality but still wanted to show's a handheld cellphone shot of city hall as seen from the front of my house as I mounted my bike at pre-dawn on my way to work this morning; it too was lit purple in honor of Prince (to see much better shots--inside and out--of our beautiful city hall, click here or here). And then the last two photos were shot just before I arrived at work. And no, I was not stalking someone's house, it is a business that was not open for the day yet (a hair salon, I think), and it's interior glowed purple. I ride this route each morning and had never noticed it. Maybe it's been there and I was just more "purple sensitive" this morning. Or maybe they too lit their shop to honor the artist. It's odd, I think, in that a musician whom you may not identify with their music exactly can really permeate your life...become part of it in a way. His music is part of my history, I suppose. And it's odd still, how someone who I've never met, but is just a few years older than I, can move me in their passing. The mystics say that we are all connected to one another and to everything, and as I've gotten (getting) older, I've come to truly believe this (know this). And I have always loved the color purple.

"This is what it sounds like, when doves cry..."

Urban Simplicity.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Things that can be carried on a bike (#690, #691, #692)

Two spare tires and a front wheel (which were recently "harvested" curbside), and a bag containing a laptop, a camera, a spare lens, and a couple books.

Groceries, dog food, and red wine (all the necessities)

A jacket, scarf, and gloves (it was chilly when I left for work pre-dawn), a camera bag, a pair of pants, and four foil containers of food on their way to a local food pantry.

A Letter to the Universe

Photos taken at Buffalo's Outer Harbor and Times Beach Nature Preserve

Some days I don't see you
Or feel you
Though I know you are there
I in you
You in me
In everything
But sometimes I forget
Fall asleep
With eyes wide open
So I have to ask you
Plead with you
To show yourself
But it's not necessary
Because you are always there
All I have to do is look
Wake up
But still I plead
And you respond
I see you in people
In their faces
Their eyes, mostly
And their laughter
Their kindness
But today
When you showed yourself
It was in nature
Just outside the city
On the edge
Where most things lie
I saw you as the reeds bent
In the breeze
Your gentle caress
The coolness on my skin
And smell of the fresh water
And the sound of the birds
So many birds
Like a symphony
There are a thousand names for you
Some call you God
But on this day
I call you Beauty

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Savory Oatmeal!

Yup, you heard me...oatmeal is not just for breakfast any longer. Quick and delicious meals can be made savory with oatmeal, too. But I'm jumping ahead as I often do.

Let's first talk about the difference between rolled oats and steel cut oats. Rolled oats are whole oat groats that have been husked, pre-steamed, and then rolled flat. This makes them much quicker to cook, but also yields a more mushy finished product. Steel cut oats, on the other hand, are simply whole oat groats that have been cut into two or three pieces by large steel blades, hence the title “steel cut.” Both rolled and steel cut oats are said to offer the same health benefits, which are many, but the downside to steel cut oats is that they take a lot longer to cook, sometimes as long as 30-40 minutes. The plus side, though, is that the finished product offers a more distinctive consistency, less mushy, more crunchy and nutty. The consistency, in my opinion, is akin to a short grain rice...creamy but at the same time the grains stay distinguishable, not mushed together. For this reason, I recommend steel cut oats in any savory recipe.

This said, there is a very simple way in which to cook (or pre-cook) steel cut oats. The ratio t cooking steel cut oats is 1-to-3, meaning for every cut of oats you will need 3 cups of water. Simply combine the water and oatmeal in a suitably sized pot. Bring it to a boil and allow it to cook for about 30 seconds. The shut of the heat, cover the pot, and allow it to rest for at least two hours. It is that simple. I'll often do this before I retire for the evening and when I wake in the morning there is a pot of cooked oats on the stove. Or I may start the oats and allow them to rest while I am out running errands. The best part is that you can make more than you need at the moment and refrigerate them in portions, simply reheating as necessary.

Regarding savory applications, once the oats are cooked simply treat them as you would any other cooked grain; add whatever ingredients you prefer. In the instance to what is in this photo (what I had for dinner last evening), I caramelized some diced onion, then cremini mushrooms and brussels sprouts along with garlic and hot pepper. Then I added slivers of sun-dried tomatoes and a splash of wine. And after mixing in and reheating the oatmeal I topped it with feta and asiago cheeses.

The sky really is the limit with this. While I've yet to add meat or fish to an oatmeal recipe (as I don't eat much meat at home) it likely would be delicious. My next recipe I plan on using vegetable broth in place of the water for a more full-flavored experiment. And I'm sure leftover oatmeal recipes will make excellent patties...mixed with an egg or tow and a bit of lour then pan-fried. I'm getting hungry just thinking about it...

Urban Simplicity.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016


Bright light of the future
Shining on the present
Always present
Sometimes in the background
But always there
Though I can't always feel you
or see you
I know you are there
Your cousin, melancholia
sometimes shrouds me
Like a heavy blanket
blocking out the light
Your light
But you are there
In the same way that the moon
is not illuminated on its own
But merely reflects the sun
I, in fact
reflect you
Your light
And in my darkest times
my own personal darkness
Your light
Like the sliver of a new moon
but with the promise of fullness
hanging low in the sky
Guides me
Saves me
For without you
There is only darkness
And my prayer
is that you make me shine
with your light
From the inside out.
Illuminating the darkness

Sunday, April 10, 2016

The view from my handlebars, or a few things I saw while riding my bike this past week ...

Urban Simplicity.

The Squirrel named George...

“This squirrel is inadequately afraid of humans! Squirrel, I am a threat to you! We are enemies! Please get off my bench!"
--John Green

Okay. So first a couple things. One is that yes, this is the squirrel named George. I didn't name him, my next door neighbor did. And no, I did not finally go crazy and start posting about city vermin. Well, okay, maybe I did a little. But crazy or not this is in fact a blog post about a squirrel; a squirrel named George. I first met George a couple weeks ago when he appeared on my front porch. I was surprised by how close he was to me, a little too uncomfortably close. I sort of shooed him away, but he came right back. Then he started appearing everyday. He'd hear the front door open and come running. That's him in the above picture on the steps to my front porch; the photo is shot from my front doorway. Was he trying to follow me in my house? Not sure but I quickly closed the door. Below are a few pics of him around my bike. The photo directly below is George at the bottom of the ramp (the Plank of Gratefulness) that I use to get my bikes up the front steps. He sometimes greets me when I pull up. Apparently he lives in the eave of my neighbor's porch. Neighbors know him, so does the mailman. As does my son. Apparently he follows the mailman down the street, and when my neighbor comes out for a smoke George scampers around his feet. Not sure what he wants; none of us have fed him to keep him coming back. It is sort of interesting, in a Dr Doolittle sort of way, to have a squirrel greet you as you come and go. But I'm glad when he keeps his distance. This is all I'll say about the squirrel named George.

Urban Simplicity.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Things that can be carried on a bike (#689)...

$132.76 in groceries...

Urban Simplicity.

In the end there is only love...

This is a photo I shot last night of a storefront very near my house. It is on Allen Street, here in Buffalo, NY. This is also the Buffalo that I know. The City of Good Neighbors. A city of immigrants, as it has been since the beginning. This is what makes our city great. Not it's "resurgence." It's the people that make it great. And the new wave of immigrants are shaping our city into a new one just as my ancestors did in the past. It's a city of love. Not the hate-filled rhetoric that the "the donald" (I'm consciously using lower case) will be spewing out and contaminating my beautiful and loving city when he speaks here on April 17th. He may try to segregate and separate. He may try to build a wall. But he cannot shut out the light. Because light always overcomes. It's a scientific fact that one cannot bring darkness into a lighted room and make it dark, but you can bring light into a darkened room and make it light. I and many others will be holding light on his darkness which will not overcome the light that is within us. Love always wins, not hate.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

A Quarter in the Quarter (a short story about a cook).

Sam stood in the alleyway looking in a picnic cooler full of fish. It was 11:30pm on a Saturday night and humidity hung heavy. The kitchen was so small they didn’t have enough refrigeration space, so a few years ago he started keeping fish iced down in coolers in the side alley. Most nights it stayed colder in the portable coolers than it did in the groaning reach-in coolers they had inside. He kept mostly produce and day-to-day prep in those, food that was less perishable. Every time the inspector from the health department paid a “surprise visit” he would start his usual rant about the temperature of the coolers, then he’d be offered a bourbon-on-ice and everything would be fine. He was as crooked as this old building. He didn’t know about the fish in the alley, or at least he acted as if he didn't.

Sam had given up on asking Tom to buy him a new cooler, let alone have a walk-in cooler put in. Tom owns the place. He likes to be called Mr. Robenchon in front of customers, or if you really want to stroke his ego call him Monsieur Robenchon. He’s Creole, and third generation owner of Café Petite, a French Quarter institution. He’s spent most of his life in the Quarter; he’s an institution. He likes to play the game, likes to act like he’s still a high roller. He likes people to think that he’s still as wealthy as his grand-dad was. It’s all part of the façade, part of the game. But it keeps people coming in, night after night, especially the little old ladies whose jewels around their necks are worth more than he’s worth in total. When they enter, with their drivers holding the door open, they raise their old lady hands ensconced in little white gloves, and he kisses them. They like the way he says bonsoir in the best Creole accent he can muster. The rest of the time he sounds like he’s from Brooklyn. The whole charade makes Sam kind of sick to his stomach. He’s known Tom long enough to know that he’s just scraping by like the rest of us. His family’s money is long gone. The only thing that’s left of it is their name. That’s why he doesn’t bug him about the cooler. He knows he can’t afford it.

Tom’s grandfather—Pierre Robenchon—started this place back in 1910 with an inheritance he was given from his father, a former plantation owner. His grandfather, Sam was told, was basically a playboy and a drunk. He just wanted somewhere to play, where he could be treated special. Supposedly the thing that kept the place afloat was that his grandfather had, as Tom’s father did, as he does, a knack for surrounding himself by very interesting and talented people. That’s why he hired Sam. People say he’s one of the best cooks in the Quarter; it’s just his life he can’t get a handle on.

Though it was almost midnight the air still hung heavy outside, it was thick with moisture. Typical summer night in the Big Easy, Sam thought. Something dripped on him from the building’s eve above. Standing in the tight alley he wiped his head and looked up. It could be anything dripping on him from up there he thought…anything. He wished it would rain.

Sam had developed this system of icing fish outside out of necessity, and he was proud of it. He used ordinary picnic coolers, albeit large ones, and set up a series of tiers in them with wire racks, two or three tiers to a cooler. It depended on how full the coolers were. The racks were removable, they had to be to fill and retrieve the fish. The fish was placed on the racks then layered with cellophane before being iced down. He set the coolers on bricks and left their little drains open. This way the water drained out as it melted rather than accumulating, which could really ruin a good piece of fish. He’d also learned, through trial and error, that he had to put a couple of bricks on top of the coolers, too, to keep the lids closed. Otherwise feral cats would open them up and grab fish. One brick’s not enough, they’ll push it right off and open the lid; it’s got to be a minimum of two. This is a pain sometimes during the dinner hour—removing bricks, grabbing fish, replacing the bricks—but it’s got to be done, if you forget to replace the bricks the cats will grab fish as soon as you go back inside. It’s like they're waiting in the shadows. It’s amazing how smart they are. Everyone—everything—is just trying to survive.

On his way back into the kitchen Sam nicked his knuckle on the door frame while carrying a pan of ice that wouldn’t fit in the cooler. It didn’t hurt too much, and he hadn’t noticed it right away, but it was bleeding pretty good. It glistened in the florescent light. He shook off some of the blood and watched as it hit the tiled floor. The floor itself seemed to be sweating with the heat. He held a clean ice cube on the wound. The coldness of the ice hurt worse than the wound. A lot of blood for such a small cut, Sam thought; he must have hit it just right.

He rummaged around one of the cluttered shelves above the bread warmer for a band aid. Even though the equipment had been shut off for almost an hour it was still sweltering in the kitchen. Why the fuck do we have this emergency medical kit up here if there’s nothing in it, Sam thought. It was a makeshift kit—an old big yellow toolbox with the words Medical Kit written across it in indelible marker. It was a good thought, originally, but now all that remained were smelling salts, a half tube of antibacterial ointment, a gauze tourniquet, and a couple of empty boxes of band aids. He was annoyed now. He held his hand in an upright position and warm blood slowly oozed out his knuckle and down his arm. “If I ever need a tourniquet or smelling salts in this hotbox just drag me outta here,” he said to himself in a muttering tone.

“You alright over there chef?” José inquired from behind the line. José was Sam’s sous chef, his shadow. There was only room enough for three of them on the line: the two of them and a pantry cook, who doubled as dishwasher. Because of the tight quarters and the volume of business they almost had to read each other’s minds during the busiest times. They worked well together. José was only a couple years younger than Sam. He waded across the Rio Grande with his parents and twin sister before he was a teenager. By the time he was fifteen he was on his own, and he’s done all right for himself. He respected Sam and Sam respected him, and out of respect José referred to Sam as chef even though Sam told him not to. After more than two decades in the kitchen Sam was still not comfortable with people calling him chef.

Sam didn’t answer José. He walked into the small scummy bathroom off the kitchen and held his hand under cold running water. The water felt good; it soothed more than his bleeding finger. He looked at himself in the mirror. His hair was still full and had little curls around the edges, but it was beginning to gray. His youthfulness has faded, he thought. In just the last couple of years he’s begun to show his age. And why shouldn’t he? The way he works, with the everyday stress and the heat. He ran water through his hair with his hands and examined the thin lines of wrinkles on his face. Water dripped down onto his face and a little dot of blood was just above his eyebrow from his hand. “What did I do to deserve this?” He said aloud. He wasn’t referring to his bloodied hand, or his job. He was talking about his life predicament. Two years ago his wife had left him to return to her home state of Michigan, and Sam had still not gotten over it. She was welcomed back by her former boyfriend. She also took their young daughter, Tia. He thought of Tia everyday. They spoke on the phone once a week, and she stayed with him a couple of weeks during the summer, but it wasn’t the same. He also thought of his relationship with his ex-wife, Carly. He remembered when he first met her. He had only been in New Orleans six months and landed a job as saucier at a restaurant on Decatur Street. She was a waitress and a college student studying impressionistic dance. From the minute he laid eyes on her he knew he was in love. It was the way she carried herself, so full of confidence, but mostly it was the way she smiled. Now, after everything he’s been through—after everything she’s put him through—it’s hard to remember those days…those days when everything seemed special and magical. He missed them both; Tia and his ex-wife. He missed them being a family.

Sam had come down here from Woonsocket, Rhode Island more than twenty years ago. But his family is originally from Montreal; France before that, he's told. They still speak French at home. He could put on a good but fake French accent when needed. It's that same fake accent that initially wooed Carly when they first met. He was only eighteen when he came here, fleeing his abusive father. One night, after enduring yet another of his father's drunken rages, he simply left. He took nothing. He hitchhiked and planned on going to Mexico, or maybe California. But he landed here and he stayed. And he will never forget that feeling of destitute of those first couple months here. He slept on the street for a few weeks, ate in food pantries, and spent a lot of time in St. Louis Cathedral, praying. He prayed for help and for guidance, but mostly he prayed for his mom and little brother that he left home with his bastard father. Then one day as he sat in the pew of the mostly empty church a nun appeared in the isle beside him and asked if he was okay. She spoke to him in French. How did she know I spoke French, he thought? Was I praying out loud? She seemed to be from a different time; the way she was dressed, and the lilt in her voice. They spoke briefly in hushed tones, and then she simply told him to have faith, that things will be fine, they always are. Think of the “birds in the sky,” she said as she smiled and walked away. She was referring to Matthew 6, where we are told not to worry, that it is useless. And then, as suddenly as she appeared, she was gone. But she made such an impression on him that he has attended Mass at St. Louis nearly every Sunday since. Sometimes even weekday Mass. Usually sober and sometimes hungover he's often there. There was a small worn sign near the front entrance the reads, Saints and Sinners Welcome. Sam saw this the first time he came here and glances at it every time he's entered since.

When Sam came back to the kitchen there was an icy beer waiting for him. The bottle, like him, was sweating. He chugged nearly half of it and walked behind the line to retrieve his clipboard with Monday's produce order on it. Along the way he clinked his bottle with Jose's, who was cleaning the counter and cutting board. Neither said anything. They simply clinked their bottles in acknowledgment that the night went well.

The kitchen door opened and with it came a rush of cool air and the flourish of Paul, the flamboyant waiter. He was from deep in the bayou and also fled an abusive situation. Sam and Paul knew this of each other and never really spoke of it, but because of it they had a sort of unsaid camaraderie. Sam fed Paul food and Paul fed Sam drinks.

As Paul rushed in he had too many glasses on his tray as usual. It teetered, Paul himself teetered in silent-movie-comic sort of way, and two glasses fell from the tray and smashed on the floor. Sam turned to look, without saying anything, but imagined Tom—who was in the dining room—sort of quiver a little. Even if he didn't hear the glasses break, his sixth-sense knew something had happened, something that cost him money.

“Paul,” Sam said, almost sighing. “Oui, chef?” said Paul, sheepishly. “Une autre bière s'il vous plait,” then he added in English, “Two, actually. One for Jose as well.” “Oui Chef,” and he returned almost immediately with two fresh beers, and also two small chilled glasses of Herbsaint, that pale green and syrupy licorice-flavored but potent drink native to Southern Louisiana. “These are from Tom,” Paul said, nodding towards the two glasses.

Sam and Jose drank the Herbsaint first; they drank it in one large gulp. Jose let out a short howl, a sort of yelp, and shook his head, which reminded Sam of a large dog trying to shake something free. But Sam relished it; the sweet licorice fire as it burned down his throat. It's no wonder the old-timers refer to it as le diable vert; the green's sweet as pie but sneaks up on you when you least expect it, like an opportunist.

For a few minutes Sam just stood there, leaning against the stove and enjoying his beer. It's the first time he stopped moving since this morning. The kitchen door was opened now, and it was cooler in the kitchen. For nearly 25 years Sam has lived and worked in this neighborhood; almost a quarter century. A quarter in the Quarter, he thought to himself, and it made him chuckle. Jose looked at him when he did but said nothing. Cool air from the air-conditioned dining room wafted in through the open kitchen door, so did Louis Armstrong's song, Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans, which was playing on the sound system. Tom liked to play this for his regulars. In a few minutes Sam and Jose would go out to the small bar in the dining room; regulars would be glad to see them. They'll compliment the food; they'll buy them drinks.

Tomorrow is the only day of the week the restaurant is closed. It's also Sam's only day off. Sometimes he'd come in to do some prep or inventory. But not tomorrow. He needed the day off and had plans on going to Mass, no matter how hungover he was. But that was tomorrow. Tonight he would chill out and enjoy himself. And as a couple regulars raised their glasses to Sam and Jose, Sam thought to himself that he too knows how to play the game.