Seafood

lump crab littleneck

Review of Brooklyn seafood restaurant Littleneck, by me in Gay City News:

Some gay men refer to women’s bodies as “fish” or “sushi,” and as a foodie, part of me is shocked that they don’t mean it as a compliment. To me, sushi, in the form of naked, unadorned salmon, tuna or shrimp surrounding vinegared rice and a dab of wasabi, is one of the sexiest foods there is. Lobster, oysters, clams, and scallops are even sexier, with a combination of bracingness, sweetness, salt and the teeniest little bit of funk or oddity that all good sex should have.

I thought about this recently while eating the extraordinary “full belly Ipswich clam roll” at Littleneck, which tasted oceanic. I intend the word in all its meanings here: Freud used “oceanic” when he was talking about religious feeling, which he related to the newborn’s sense that there was a limitless supply of milk available for it, and that it was absolutely at one with its mother. That is how I felt eating that clam roll, one of the few fried foods I am willing to eat on a regular basis (because it’s just so damn worth it). I admit I love cheap, random clam rolls, too, but this was a costly ($17), superlative clam roll, utterly fresh, and tasting clean and frisky at once. (It comes with homemade tartar sauce and two kinds of pickles.)

Littleneck, in Gowanus, Brooklyn, is a great date restaurant, with a smart, queer-friendly staff and an attractive room full of nautical gear. There are a lot of sailors’ ropes, a beautiful, tiny mirror inserted in a porthole, a waggish lamp with Captain Ahab as its base. I usually don’t like the decorating style known as Shabby Chic (why do rich people think it’s pretty not to repaint or fix things?) but Littleneck made me reconsider this reflex. There are white-enameled metal tables that suggest the ’50s, and white, not-fully-painted wooden chairs and hutches that suggest a dilapidated beach shack somehow made elegant. Edison bulbs, a punk-rock mirror over the bar partly smeared with black paint, and flowers on every table round things out.

The casual butch style made me feel at home, but the charm of the place made evenings there magical. One night when I visited, The Clash was playing at a gentle volume; another night, it was the Rolling Stones (less wonderful to me, but it did suit the overall aesthetic). In fact, the two polite and welcoming owners, who also serve as some of the waitstaff and bartenders, are punk musicians who had never worked in the food business before. Their generally good taste in music is another swell reason to visit (at Littleneck’s tiny sister location in Greenpoint, the extraordinary country singer Buck Owens was on the sound system one lunchtime).

A smallish lobster roll ($18) had me gasping in pleasure, with the sweetest, freshest crustacean meat in recent memory. Normally I’d be annoyed by the small size, but the lobster went straight to my brain’s pleasure centers, and I couldn’t care less. A grilled romaine salad was served in one huge paleo hunk, like a Fred Flintstone-size bone made of delicious charred vegetation ($13). It came with a strongly garlic flavored dressing (I silently applauded) and substantial chunks of bacon. My partner, Karen, insisted on attacking my plate.

For the rest of the review, click here.

Ecstasy in Your Mouth, From Egypt

Credit: Eating in Translation, Dave Cook

Credit: Eating in Translation, Dave Cook

 

This is from my review of Kabob Café in Astoria, published in New York’s Gay City News. Please pay no attention to the first paragraph about the rumored “vermin,” and go straight to the pomegranate molasses:

I was afraid of Astoria’s Kabob Café because of Yelp. I’m not proud of it, but I was. Several Yelpers had claimed there was “filth,” “cobwebs,” and even a roach spotted crawling on the unique Egyptian café’s art-laden walls. I try to be open-minded about restaurants, but I do draw the line at vermin.

Still, new friends Karen Taylor (the celebrated community organizer) and her wife, Laura Antoniou (the celebrated BDSM author), had recommended the place, and the food sounded thrilling: Lamb cheeks in pickled lemon sauce. Grilled goat cooked in honey. Oh vegetarians, I know I have neglected you in these reviews so far, so think on this: “Three kinds of mushrooms ground and spread… [with] spicy tomatoes and homemade yogurt,” according to Kabob Café’s menu, which only exists online and guides the physical distribution of food there only as a sort of spiritual template. Pumpkin dumplings, according to a Yelper. Humita (a Quechua Indian dish from South America, what was it doing on this otherwise Egyptian bill?): a “crêpe filled with stewed corn served in fresh tomato sauce and topped with homemade farmer’s cheese.”

When I met Karen and Laura there one wintry Saturday afternoon, I entered the tiny storefront on Steinway Street, in the far less yuppie and more Arab section of Astoria. I saw mismatched chairs with velvet cushions, and some variously beautiful and cheesy-looking paintings and souvenirs of Cairo, but no cobwebs or insects.

Many restaurants have been said to make you feel like you are guests in somebody’s home, but this is the only one that has ever really made me feel that way, for good or ill.

The chef and only staffer, Ali El Sayed, had just gotten back from vacation, and said his cupboards were barer than usual. As though he were our mom, he asked us to pick among the following things for lunch: cauliflower, beets with lemon, apples, garlic, and dill, green fava-bean falafel, lamb, duck, chicken, porgy, squid, and rabbit. Ali, tall, big-bellied, and gray-haired, in a black artist’s beret and chef’s whites, began to cook for us as my friends and I sat and talked. I knew from Yelp and from my friends that Ali’s meals take a long time, so we asked for hot tea, which he served us in glasses, with loads of mint leaves floating at the top.

The chef’s miniscule kitchen goes the length of the tiny room, and perhaps dominates it. I’ve eaten in restaurants with “open kitchens” before, but none has ever been as open as this. El Sayed is courtly and gracious, but he’s also occasionally overly talkative, on subjects ranging from politics (leftist, thankfully) to religion (he’s against it) and sex (he’s for it, in all of its varieties). Sometimes he even makes fun of his diners. Still, if you come with friends, he will not interrupt you much.

After Laura, Karen and I had discussed (solely among ourselves) A Song of Ice and Fire, Snape from Harry Potter, and a recent controversy in the International Ms. Leather contest, Ali brought out three naked plates for us, strewn decorously with the spice blend called zaatar and with sumac, plus a few drops of olive oil. Then he brought the first entrée for us to spoon onto those plates: roasted cauliflower in an extraordinary pomegranate sauce, with pinenuts, skinny slivers of red pepper, and sautéed chicory leaves.

I’ve had some amazing cauliflower dishes around town, but this one was different. This roasted cauliflower dish reminded me of a parable from the gnostic Gospel of Thomas where Jesus asks his disciples to tell him what he is like. One says, “You are like a righteous angel.” Another says, “You are like a wise philosopher.” But the disciple to whom Jesus gives the prize says, “Master, my mouth is wholly incapable of saying what you are like.” Jesus says (more or less), “That’s exactly what I wanted! You’ve become drunk from the intoxicating stream I have been tending.”

It was far better than (and amazing) similar dish at the Palestinian restaurant Tanoreen in Bay Ridge, hitherto my standard for the best Arab food in New York. I wanted to go on eating it until cauliflower came out of my nose.

Though in that gnostic text Thomas was rewarded for not trying to put into words what his own, spiritual version of that cauliflower dish was like, I will now put my foot in it and try anyway. With most attempts to make cauliflower taste good, the challenge is to temper its aggressiveness, but not so much that it loses its unique flavor. This cauliflower somehow blended with its tangy pomegranate friend (I believe lemon was also involved) in such a way that there was no tension between its pungency and the sweet, lappable sauce.

Next Ali brought duck, which, reader, is not my favorite animal to eat. But pieces of the roast thigh were succulent, with a wonderful, mysterious sweetness. They were served with dollops of a gelatinous-textured grain that Ali told us was a “polenta of cassava,” slim wedges of buttery roasted squash, and an appetizing wild green called horta. I like foods that quiver, and my fork went back again and again to that curious cassava jello-polenta. It bounced in my mouth.

For the rest of the review, click here.

Not A Pig Trough in the Subway: On Decor and Food (Part One)

nourish catering

When I was younger, I would have claimed I could eat something delicious out of a pig trough in the subway and it would make absolutely no difference to the taste. Now, I know I would have been lying.

(Then again, given my punk aesthetics at 16, things probably would have tasted *better* to me out of a pig trough in the subway.) But, in whichever direction the decor performs its influence, I have finally recognized at 50 that what a restaurant or café or food shack looks like plays a great role in how I perceive its food.

Here’s my Gay City News piece on a tiny West Village hangout with good food and ingeniously beautiful and comforting surroundings  that were a surprising part of the reason I loved it so much.

http://gaycitynews.nyc/healthy-respite-west-village/

Chez Panisse Robbed Me of My Dreams


This was the saddest thing. I’ve wanted to go to Chez Panisse since I was small (well, since I was 14) and reading about it in my friend Judy’s Gourmet magazines as she served us Camembert on toast. Recently, I finally had the opportunity (the money, the reservation, the chance to be in San Francisco…) to go there. This was the sad result.

New Restaurant Column!

Krupa eggs

I have a new restaurant column in Gay City News! I believe it’s one of the first food columns to appear in a gay newspaper. It will cover eateries throughout the five boroughs of New York City, and come out every month.

My goal is to do food writing that is sexy, political, and gay in every way.

Here’s my first, and it starts like this:

Any meats with the faintly louche name of “organ meats” are inherently queer. Think about it: “nice” people don’t eat offal, cuts of meat that come from far inside the body and are often chopped up to hide what they really are.

Offal partakes of funk, and “funkiness”  – closest to umami among the five tastes, but incorporating elements of sourness, gaminess, sex, even a little rot – is definitely a queer flavor.   [Read more here.]

Amazingly, Thanksgiving at Buttermilk Channel Was Not That Great

buttermilk Channel

Karen and I had Thanksgiving at Buttermilk Channel, a highly acclaimed yup restaurant in the strip of land between Carroll Gardens and Red Hook. We were quite sure that it would be delightful; it was more expensive than we could usually afford, but Buttermilk’s Thanksgiving menu was a little bit cheaper than those of other fancy schmancy restaurants in our city. So wearing our jewels, garbed in silk, we came on down.

I had on a gray silk blazer inherited from Karen’s sister, and a red Chinese vest inherited from Karen herself. Karen was wearing a gorgeous but not exorbitantly expensive brown flowered dress in which her figure soared, and Mexican gold-filled hoop earrings I had given her. I wore three rings, three more than I usually wear; it was Thanksgiving, after all. We ordered an entire bottle of wine, much more than I am usually able to drink at the age of 50 and on a medication that makes alcohol harder to digest.

The restaurant was dark with lovely candles throughout, and old swing music played from a speaker as small groups of people ate Thanksgiving meals. With a minerally white wine, we had popovers with sea salt and honey, which were extraordinary and made us feel rich. Then came the first course, which was the best course, for me at least: an autumn squash tart with ricotta cheese, covered strangely but toothsomely with shreds of raw red and green cabbage. Karen had a cream of cauliflower soup with pickled raisins that was only just okay.

Then we got hungry. We waited, and held hands, and drank, and drank, until the maître d’ had finally gotten the kitchen to deliver our main courses: turkey and stuffing mushed together on a plate, hard to tell apart in the dark and oddly hard to tell apart by taste. The stuffing tasted like nothing, and the turkey was dry; sadness. Cranberry sauce was only available as a miserly streak or two on top of some of the turkey slices. An “oyster bread pudding” was delivered and was good, but did not taste of oysters. A bowl of mashed potatoes was bland as porridge, some of the only mashed potatoes I have ever encountered that I did not want to eat. Brussels sprouts tasted good, but only because they came with a big mound of herbed butter.

Cornbread was moist but had no taste. A plate of sweet potatoes, I have to say, was nicely caramelized on top.

We held hands and drank the wine. Sweet potato-pumpkin pie was set down with a good dollop of whipped cream, which saved it, but only a little. We walked out into the night, singing, and came home and watched Star Trek.

 

Summer News

makeshift 15

Hi loveys.

I hope you’re having a great summer. I haven’t had time to share all my news of the past few months, so here it is!

First, I had a great review over at the radical, trans-positive feminist magazine Make/Shift by Allison McCarthy. You can find out a lot more about Make/Shift here, but they don’t put their articles online, so here’s a taste from the review: “Far from conventional and always insightful, Minkowitz sets herself apart from other memoirs through sharp language and a clear understanding of her family’s dynamics… I cheered for her triumphant reclamation of self.” Thanks, Allison McCarthy!

Second, here’s a guest post I did over at my publisher Riverdale Ave Books’ blog, on “Why Should Fantasy Writers Have All the Fun?” It’s about how you too can have enchanted dolls and child-eating witches in your memoir!

Third… want to take a free memoir writing workshop in September? I’m teaching one Saturday, September 13 at the Brooklyn Public Library, under the auspices of the New York Writers Workshop. 2 PM at the Windsor Terrace branch, 160 E. 5th Street near Fort Hamilton Parkway. We will explore ways to use emotion, the senses, critical thinking, and storytelling to write relatably about your life. For more information, contact growingupgolem@gmail.com.

If you’re really interested in taking a memoir course in NY, I am then teaching an eight-week workshop in Brooklyn, on Tuesday evenings starting September 16 (7 to 9 PM). The class will focus on craft: extensive feedback in a supportive atmosphere. Small class size. Fee is $300. You can use the same email for more info :-)

Finally – live in the Bay Area? On October 30 I’m coming to SF to do a Growing Up Golem book event with Keshet (the organization for LGBT Jews), Congregation Sha’ar Zahav, and the James C. Hormel Gay and Lesbian Center of the San Francisco Public Library. What do golems have to do with growing up queer, Jewish, and physically abused? Get your Halloween groove on and find out! More later.

Be well – Donna

On Making People Into Things

Play-Bill-Caliban-1916

Do you ever wonder why there are so many stories about things that want to be human (or real), but aren’t? Pinocchio, the Velveteen Rabbit, Data on Star Trek? Caliban in The Tempest, who to my mind IS human, but has been told so often he’s a monster that he believes it?

African-American slaves were told they weren’t persons, and Jews in the Nazi camps were told that they were “vermin.” My recent book, Growing Up Golem, is very much about this dynamic, and I spoke about this curious confluence of fantasy, bigotry, and the psychology of survivors of exploitation and abuse in a recent talk at the New York Society for Ethical Culture.

Ever wonder what golems and physical abuse have to do with Hegel, Marx,  robots and racism? I lay it all out here!  :-) Hope you enjoy.

The Queen’s Phallus

 

commanding woman

You can think of this as a prose poem, or a “lyric essay,” or whatever you like. It was just published by my friends at City Lit Rag.

I first heard the phrase “The Phallic Mother” in college, and it made my heart and liver turn over. Into my hifalutin lit-crit classes it brought the specter of my own scary mother, who in psychic terms possessed the largest phallus on earth when I was a little girl and well into my adulthood.

Yet I also really appreciated hearing the phrase, and felt grateful to the psychoanalytic writers who’d come up with it, because the words “phallic mother” gave voice to a reality all too frequently ignored in our overly-literal culture: mothers could be phallic, women could possess scary (and appealing) authority, and although our culture was sexist to the bone, that did not mean that individual women did not sometimes exert power in a traditionally masculine way over some men, women and children.

In recent years, though, a slightly different phrase has been — appropriately enough — delighting and consuming me. That phrase is The Queen’s Phallus, and I am so occupied with it because I now have a Queen whose phallus is giant, warm and kind as a summer day is long.

They say that bitterness is easier to write about than fulfillment, starving hunger is more beckoning to a song than being satisfied and given-to:

But I will say: Her scepter deep inside me is the sign and emblem of God’s Grace, the register of enjoyment, entry of the lost lamb in the fold, the salmon leaping in the icy jet, the sweet recorder playing in dark wood, the ear of corn resplendent in the cave.

With Fred Phelps For a Week

 

Photo: Jamie Leo

Yup, that’s me interviewing the frightening Fred Phelps for Poz magazine in 1994.

I spent a week with Phelps and his family in Topeka, Kansas,  speaking to them and eating cookies served by his wife.  I’ve never been more scared of violence  on one of my reporting trips. You can read my  contemporary account here.

Photo credit:  Jamie  Leo/Poz magazine