Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly




My neighbour is a dick.

That's the Bad. Seriously. I've been a good polite Canadian for 6 months, but I've had just about enough of my neighbour, who sees fit to blast his crapbox CD player at full volume as early as 6:45 in the morning. Every morning. The cheesy speakers, unable to deal with his feverish demands for greater volume, simply collapse under the strain and distort apathetically. It is painful. This has been going on since the first day we moved here, and shows no sign of letting up. To make matters worse, he appears to be the proud owner of only one CD, and therefore has no qualms about playing the same damn thing over and over and over again. It is pop music at its most insipid, and the lack of any redeeming musical merit annoys me just about as much as the volume. If he woke us up every morning with some Miles Davis, or Bach, it might not be so bad. Once he's sure that we're all awake, say around 8:30 or 9 AM, the music stops until evening, when his crapbox black and white TV plays Malayalam soap operas at similar volume levels with doors and windows open, broadcasting the inanity throughout the neighborhood for all to hear. I've come to believe that he must think he's actually performing a public service. I'm amazed that someone can have such profound disregard for his neighbours. At home, I would have had the police on speed dial and made a ritual out of calling to complain on a daily basis. But somehow, although I have actually briefly contemplated murder, I haven't. And I don't know why.

Oowee oowee ooooo.... wah wah wahhh...

Here's the Ugly. I have been pushed to the brink of madness with this. Earplugs don't help, as our bedroom window is within 10 feet of this Devil's Own PA System. I have worked up some elaborate revenge fantasies. Perhaps renting a PA system and pumping Lou Reed's "Metal Machine Music" at 3 AM would have an impact. Some Nine Inch Nails perhaps. One particularly bad night, I sat seething on the front deck, unsure as to how to manage my anger. The previous night, a couple of coconuts had fallen to the ground from our tree in the yard. I should point out here that my neighbour is a poor man. His house is ramshackle, and the tiled roof is like a patchwork quilt of blue pieces of tarp, badly patched cement, and pieces of wood and salvaged plexiglass designed to keep most of the rain out for one or two more seasons before the whole thing collapses in complete decay. There I was with coconut actually in hand, and contemplating lobbing it across the fence and onto his roof. In my mind, I imagined it shattering the roof tiles and plunging through the roof and making a direct hit onto the television set, causing the picture tube to implode right in front of him. At which point I would casually walk out of the gate, walk past the open door, wave, and say something like "Jeez, I guess the wind really caught that one, eh?". I casually passed the coconut from hand to hand as I tried to estimate which tile I would have to break in order to inflict maximum damage. After a couple of minutes, I put the coconut down. I just couldn't do it. I satisfied myself by hurling a small pebble onto the roof, sort of like warning shot across the bow. It rattled off a couple of tiles and then onto the ground. He never even heard it, and I didn't feel any better.

Shrinking back from the edge of this emotional abyss, I began to see things a little differently. This guy is poor. Dirt poor. He gets up at 5 AM because it's normal for him to do a few chores in the coolest part of the day. His CD player, TV, and one CD are possibly the only luxury items he will ever be able to afford. Why should he not be proud of that? I was going to return home to my vast collection of electronic convenience items, but he was going to still be here with his one CD and TV, trying to squeeze some sweet enjoyment from the massive lemon that life had handed him. It dawned on me that the ugliness was in my own brain. It was not a proud moment.

Oowee oowee ooooo.... wah wah wahhh...

And now the Good. This week Gee made good on his promise to show us the recipe for his famous Crab Roast and Scampi Fry. Earlier in the day, Gee had bought a bunch of smaller female crabs and several of what he calls "scampi", which are a like a cross between a very large (7-8 inches) prawn, and a langoustine. They have long, spidery claws that can double their overall length. It was the beginning of the rainy season, and this is the time where the crabs and prawns are at their sweetest, we are told. These are creatures of the brackish Kerala backwaters, and are quite different from the Dungeness crab and Pacific Spot Prawns that we are used to getting. Without cooking them at all, Gee popped off the shells of the crabs, and after making sure that all the yummy roe from the female crabs had been scraped out into the pot, the shells and the small legs were discarded. He then cleaned off the gills and cut the bodies in half. Each crab yielded 4 pieces: two body halves and two large claws. The claws were then cracked with the dull side of a knife blade so that the masala could mingle with the meat. Into a large pot they all went, along with as much of the juices from the crabs as could be salvaged. Next stop was the mixie, where Gee combined about 4 tablespoons of fresh ground black pepper, nearly 20 green chilis, a good chunk of ginger, and 4 or 5 small red onions into a coarse paste. Once the masala paste was made, Gee took half of it and used his hands to mix it in well with the crab in the pot. Then the pot was covered and placed over a flame or just long enough to cause a little steam to escape before the crab was removed from the heat. The other half of the masala was then fried in a large pot until it started to darken and get quite fragrant. Then the rest of the crab/masala was added, along with some salt. The whole thing is continually stirred and fried until the masala that coats the crab is quite dark, and the mixture starts to get a little dry. Mmmmmmmmm....

The scampi were left with their bodies still attached to the heads (the tastiest part!), and only the shell of the tail section was removed. Gee blended up shallots, garlic, ginger, and curry leaves in the mixie, and then added some salt, red chili powder, and turmeric. He carefully folded this into the bowl with the scampi and massaged the masala into the scampi, being careful not to be too vigorous, lest the heads become separated from the bodies. He heated up some coconut oil (2 cups or so), and when it was hot enough to sizzle, he gently placed the scampi into the oil to fry. It's hard to describe the wonderful smells that we were experiencing in that kitchen, but it was a seafood lover's dream. After listening for the telltale "pop" sound, Gee flipped them over to evenly cook. When he finally pulled them out of the pan, they were perfect. The masala coating them was crispy, salty, and coconutty, but the prawns were tender and perfectly cooked. The heads revealed another treasure trove of sweetness to boot. The were so good that Laurel and I unashamedly were picking bits of crispy masala off the serving dish long after the prawns had disappeared. The crab was equally marvelous. Black pepper is a most underrated spice, and the combination of a large amount of fresh black pepper with green chili made for a complex taste that seemed to go on forever. Even Gee's wife Chitra, the staunchest of vegetarians, admitted that the kitchen smelled so good, that for the first time in her life she was actually considering having a taste of seafood! The Good was really Good.

Oowee oowee ooooo.... wah wah wahhh...

My neighbour is still a dick. But I understand...

8 comments:

Brenda Jefferson said...

Have you considered giving your Dick of a neighbour a couple of CDs of your choosing? Perhaps this would improve your early mornings and bring him some pleasure too.

As usual I am drooling over your blog as the food is being described. Where on earth am I going to find food like that?

Rob Bailey said...

Nice idea, but there's more to the story, and that's best related in person! The music is playing as I write this....
Thanks for your support and good wishes. If you hop on a plane, we'll be glad to show you food like this! Otherwise, you'll have to wait until we return home. Don't forget to vote for the blog!

jcree said...

I'm thinking Feasts for Foodies, Chez Tuscany, in September. Good opportunity to show us your new talents. (Although i plan on having dinner at your house LONG before September.)

Rob Bailey said...

You're on Julie! We'd love to team up again cook up something yummy for Bowen Islanders. By September, I might be ready to eat Indian food again :-)

Jeremy said...

One thing to say about that seafood: dude. And I mean that in all its good conotations. Your own pig? Thats awesome. Lets see, bacon, fatback, ham, pancetta, sausage, guanciale (oh my god yum) etc. That is so rad. Can't wait to see you guys. Say hi to Laurel and the dudes!
Jeremy

Pushcake studio said...

Hi guys,
I know your back soon and we are planning a get together foodie style at our new place (yes we bought on Bowen) for July 20th. Mark it on your calendar.
Cheers
Charmaine

Laurel Bailey said...

Hi Charmaine! The date is in the calendar, we'll be looking forward to it! Can't wait to see your new place...

Laurel Bailey said...
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