Archive for January, 2010

Matt Haley: A final look at India

January 27, 2010

Matt Haley and a crew of friends near the northern Indian city of Jaipur.

Delaware Cape Region restaurateur Matt Haley recently concluded a winter food and culture tour through Nepal and northern India.  This is the third and final installment of his observations and photos gleaned from the trip.  Many who dine in Matt’s restaurants will look forward to seeing whether the trip influences any of his offerings and approaches to business in a world growing rapidly more international.

19 January 2010

In the middle of a dried lake bed, we stopped our motorcycles so Guarav Jani could ask directions to Sambhar.

“I am stuck in the fog in a small town about an hour outside Agra. We are headed to Agra to take a break after a long but very rewarding motorcycle ride through the small towns and villages throughout the state of Rahjastan. The fog has actually created time for the group to sit and rehash the trip and has opened up a multi-cultural discussion between us. Here there is no right or wrong, just appreciated thought with the exception of whether or not our stuffed roti (flatbread) should have more onion and whether the condiment, being fresh curd (yoghurt), should be eaten with or without chili. I opted for chili and sugar.

“It’s been a week without hot water or a shower and I don’t think I have missed a beat. I am glad for that as I am amazed at how much I can take for granted sometimes.

“In Agra we will be riding towards our first offical tourist attraction: the Taj Mahal. I am told it was built out of love for the wife of an obviously very wealthy man who then upon its completion had the hands of all the skilled workers cut off  so the monument could not be replicated. That raised the question from me to a village tribal leader: ‘where’s the love in that?’ I did not understand the response but I believe it was moot.

Salt train with salt lake in background.

“We have just spent a few days in the village of Sambhar. Sambhar is a lake town famous for its salt. Since our restaurants are very proud of the natural sea salts we use, I thought I would investigate. I had heard of Sambhar sea salt and wanted to know more so Guarav, Nicky and I hopped the salt train one day to see the operation. Sea salt is farmed almost like rice in a way where the shallow lake has beds built up to control the water flow. Once the water flows into these large beds and the sun dries it out, you are left with the salt. Then the salt is raked into piles that go to the filtering facility to be cleaned, then loaded in the open cars of a half-sized transport train that hauls the salt to packing plants. Later we will show the finished salt in Kadiah Paneer, a wonderful homemade spicy tomato cheese dish.

“On the way to Agra in the fog, which made it 30 degrees cooler and  a chilly ride, we passed 100 kilometers of mustard fields. Of course this meant stopping for a much-awaited visit. Mustard seed is an essential ingredient of Indian cooking. Chutneys, pickles and oils made with mustard are very common here. I believe mustard was being used here way before it was packaged in Dijon or by a company called French’s.

“It’s interesting, the tall flowering mustard plants throw off long seed pods that look like baby green beans. They must be very mature before harvesting. Right now the pods contain white and sweet seeds.  In a month the seeds will turn yellow or brown and be ready for toasting.

The author in a 100-kilometer-long field of mustard, one of the essential ingredients in Indian cooking.

While stopped for the mustard visit, I came across – not to mention the herd of wild peacocks that just walked in front of me – a very unusual truck. The farmers here are way ahead of the curve on multi-tasking. These stake-bed truck engines are not only used for trucking but also power water pumps to irrigate farms and then serve as generators for farmhouse electricity.

“After our mustard field break, we wheeled back onto the road to Agra. It was a great ride, and when we arrived and checked in the hotel I headed straight for the Taj Mahal. It is beautiful. What an amazing building. A must at some point on anyone’s travel plan.

This is our chef friend Dinesh making Kahdai Paneer. I love the outdoor exhaust fan.

“I am sad to say this will be my last blog on this trip. I am headed to Delhi tomorrow, then back to Delaware. I have had a blast with Guarav and Nicky and look forward to covering Southern India next year. I have done more than I can imagine on this trip. I can’t wait to get home and share the stories with my friends in Delaware and carry what I have learned here back into my community. As much as I love to travel, I also love coming home. Don’t be surprised if there is a new Indian restaurant in Coastal Delaware in the near future.

“I would repeat what has been said about India: “It is as majestic as it is mystifying; it is a humble country that is mis-interpreted; and it has opened my eyes to even more of life’s possibilities.”

A standard Indian roadside chai stand where samosas are also often served.

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Hindsight provides Bradley focus

January 21, 2010

Many years ago, traveling west on the Ohio turnpike, I looked at my odometer to gauge just how long the Lordstown, Ohio automobile plant is that stretches along the highway: more than a mile. I remember wondering, and marveling, at how such creations are made.  Little by little is the answer.

It reminds me too of former WBZ radio talk show host Larry Glick – now deceased – whose principal mantra was: Yard by yard, life’s pretty hard, inch by inch, life’s a cinch. Taking steps slowly and surely, great things – and not so great things – emerge, incrementally, over time.

Finally, I recall the memorable words of a man who was celebrating the Fourth of July by almost completely enrobing his house in red, white and blue bunting that he insisted had previously draped the nation’s capital during Ronald Reagan’s inauguration. When I mentioned that no one was going to miss the fact that he was celebrating the nation’s birth, he replied succinctly: “Nothing says excess like excess.”

Some friends were in town last week.  We drove south on Route 1, past the former BayBees pediatrics practice of Dr. Earl Bradley.  I motioned toward the complex of buildings as we passed and mentioned that Dr. Bradley has been charged with multiple counts of raping small children, at least one of them less than a year old.  Looking toward the buildings and grounds, festooned with toys, brightly painted and decorated cars, a rooftop sculpture of children playing, cartoon figures and other childish decorations, the driver made a comment something along the lines of: “Good God – it looks like a child trap to me.”

And so it does, especially through the often clear, but powerless, lens of hindsight.

Anyone who looks now at the Bradley pediatrics complex need not strain to see excess.  The compound appears more like an antiques emporium specializing in the furnishings of a child’s world than it does a health clinic. And therein lies the sinister, trap-like quality of the web within which Dr. Bradley is alleged to have perpetrated his crimes against the most innocent members of our community. Video recordings in law enforcement possession, allegedly made by Dr. Bradley, show him raping, molesting and otherwise sexually abusing small children. If they stand as a true representation of reality, they depict in the most graphic form possible the real manifestation of an unfathomably deep and monstrous psychosis. But unlike the dramatic, teeth-bared and foaming-at-the-mouth madness that comes on so suddenly and violently in animals diseased with rabies, the alleged crimes of Dr. Bradley’s psychotic disease appear to have developed slowly and gradually over time, with the mounting intensity of a volcano which ultimately blows wide open into public view. Volcanoes, as we know, simmer and boil  and build pressure over eons.

Piece by piece, over years, and without the careful planning and execution of noble endeavors, the Bradley pediatrics compound evolved into the fantastical, mishmashed and distorted attraction that now appears so excessively clear, misguided and horrible.

Not surprisingly, many people in the community are wondering how the compound and all of its attractions could be dismantled. We don’t want to be reminded of the crimes alleged to have been committed there and feel the pain accompanying the knowledge that our innocence, good faith and trust can be so violently violated.

In our ideal selves, we would all be like Holden Caulfield, the young hero of J.D. Salinger’s famous novel Catcher in the Rye. He wanted to be the one watching the children play in the grain field, keeping them from harm, away from the cliff. Life’s dangers can come at us dramatically and overtly, or in a more quiet and insidious fashion.  In the end, we learn that if we want to be the catchers in the rye, we must be eternally vigilant; and even then, we won’t be perfect.

Was this a Cape military artifact?

January 19, 2010

There has been discussion recently about historical artifacts found along the shoreline at Cape Henlopen following storm events and during times of extreme low tides. One of the most recent observations was of brickwork thought to be from the chimney of the keeper’s house at the Cape Henlopen Lighthouse.

You never know what you’re going to find when you walk the beaches.  Life on the edge is exciting.  On a low tide blown away from the shore by a strong northwest wind a few years ago, I came across a grove of roots from a previous forest – probably cedar – that fell victim to erosion and rising sea level. Caught in the roots was some kind of fabricated metal item.  (See photo above.)  Wondering whether it was an explosive device left over from World War II-related operations at Fort Miles, and discretion being the better part of valor, I decided to leave the artifact in its angle of repose, caught in the tangled roots of the old tree stumps.

Two observations: First – the item appeared to be made of copper.  That’s tough stuff to be withstanding so much corrosive action from sea water. And second – how tough are cedar roots to be withstanding decay and deterioration in that same hostile environment?

A memorable meal cooked over dung

January 14, 2010

From left to right, Sanjay, Matt Haley and Guarav Jani (brother of Rehoboth Beach resident Dr. Uday Jani) on the outskirts of Pushkar.

Delaware Cape Region restaurateur Matt Haley continued his trip this past week through south Asia and filed this following report:

“After leaving Katmandu I headed for Delhi, the capital of India, where I stayed two days before heading to Pushkar. I must say that I have not seen anything quite like Delhi. I have traveled many a place but nothing compares to Delhi’s number of people or nonstop movement. Imagine New York City on a busy day times 10 and you may be close.

“The cuisine choices there were simple for me: I wanted to eat in old-school, traditional, well-known locals restaurants. My favorite (all were great) was Hindi near the CP section of town. I had garlic nan with chutneys and pickle. Nan is a flat bread slathered with garlic oil and the chutney was the classic mint, chili and yoghurt and the pickle was lime. In India, pickle isn’t like our way. Instead of a vinegar base it is usually fermented and very spicy with an incredibly bold flavor.

Sugar cane ground to order by this Indian device is mixed with lime water to produce a concoction known as ghana.

“I followed the starters with mutton tika and pineapple raita. Tika is a spicy tomato-spiced, reduced stew and this was with lamb. Mutton is an older lamb with a gamier taste and it was accented well with the pineapple raita.

“Dessert was ‘Pan.’ I had it at a roadside stand. It consists of lime salt and some hard-core Indian spices which include tamarind and fennel seed. It is served on a leaf that reminded me of a thick basil leaf. The tastes combined to make one of the more power-flavor tastes I have had. Pan is also used for the help of digestion.

“After Delhi I took the train to Pushkar, a religious town on a lake in southern Rajastan. While waiting for Guarav Jani to show up with friends Nicky and Sanjay to start our motorcycle ride, I decided to relax and stroll around town. I found the street food of Pushkar a delicacy . Samosa chat, kabobs and a funny combination of fried rice (like rice crispies), chilis, onion, cilantro and a wild, spicy ketchup tossed together and put in a newspaper cone were all great. The rice-cone stand, I believe, is the Pushkar version of the American hot dog cart.

“After the Gang arrived we took our first ride into the desert of Rajastan, to a farmhouse owned by a friend of Sanjay’s. This was the meal I had been waiting for! But first let me describe the Rajastan countryside. The best way to put it would be like this:  Take beautiful, rock-lined dirt roads that swirl through amazing, small, stone and hillside villages that are praying for water, but being patient knowing the monsoon is just around the corner. Throw the desert beginning into the mix and there you have it. (I can’t call the hillsides mountains after just coming out of the Himalayas!)

Matt Haley and an Indian friend sit alongside a rural cooking stove known as a chula which is fired with compressed cattle dung. Haley said the dung produces a very uniform heat ideal for cooking.

“We were all circled in a small hut around a chula, a clay oven fired by compressed cow dung. Believe me, it burns perfectly for cooking. Guarav’s buddy Sanjay, who fancies himself the chef for the 60 KPH Motorcycle Club and avid rider, was making stewed chicken in a clay pot with roti, papadon and kanda nimbu. In the middle of this we went to the market to grab some extras. This is not like driving to Safeway. It takes a while and is an adventure. While there we ate Pani Poonie, which sounded a little R-rated. It was a hollow ball of thin crust that the vendor punched a hole in with his thumb and then stuffed with potato and mashed chic peas and then dunked in a cool water broth made with salt, chilis and spices. Great! Refreshing and energizing with a spice that also numbed the tongue. It was similar to the peppercorns from Katmandu.

“When we arrived back we started back up in the outdoor kitchen. The stove was running smoothly and the fires were lit around the outdoor lounge. What caught my attention most was the way Sanjay treated each element of the dish. Perfectly oil-braised onion and garlic perfumed the area as he added the spices of turmeric, cumin and chilis to the oil and continued to cook down for at least 20 minutes. Then tomatoes were added and all was simmered down to a paste. The chicken was added with a little water and was stirred carefully for an hour. The dish was served with the flat bread and kanda nimbu: shaved red onion marinated in chilis and lemon.

“As we sat in an outdoor dining room under the stars in a desert in Rajastan, eating a simple authentic Rajastani dinner, I realized how a great dinner can taste even better with good friends and a little adventure added to it.”

This is a bangra tree, growing in the Indian countryside, which has branches that grow down. It's derived from poppy. The leaves are ground into paste and steeped in water before being offered to the gods and finished by the villagers. It looked like one heck of a party. The liquid has a mood altering effect that really makes people energized and happy.

Cape Region Buzz: Politics, restaurants, people

January 11, 2010

Thank God the cold snap is forecast to break this week!

Political watchers are keeping a close eye on Attorney General Beau Biden, waiting for his announcement on whether he will run against Republican Congressman Mike Castle for one of Delaware’s two U.S. Senate seats. The younger Biden is in the spotlight because of the Dr. Earl Bradley case. One of the things he campaigned on when running for the AG’s position was tougher initiatives against child predation including internet child pornography and other crimes related to advancing internet technology.  He could use that to show his grasp of contemporary issues. The tough part though will be working to prosecute Bradley’s crimes while simultaneously investigating the systemic breakdown that allowed those crimes to stay below the surface for so long. And campaign for the U.S. Senate at the same time?  It would be possible to play all the cards simultaneously for the same ultimate goal – winning the election – kind of like a game of hearts when you decide to shoot the moon.  However, doing so will take tremendous mastery and focus. Given Biden’s year-long hiatus on the ground in Iraq and being away from home turf, it’s not hard to imagine his head is reeling at the moment. Meanwhile Mike Castle must be grinning – at least inwardly – at not having to roar full-bent into his campaign yet.  Each day that Biden doesn’t decide is one more day Castle can save his money for the summer and fall campaign ahead.  It’s obviously late for anyone to be launching a Senate campaign.

Much of Castle’s chance of regaining the seat held formerly by Vice President Joe Biden will depend on how hard the winds will be blowing against the Obama administration and Democrats as the Nov. 2 election day approaches.

JD’S FILLING STATION IN LEWES

The great thing about small town life is hearing comments from people up and down the street.  I’ve heard a number of people carping about the bright colors on the new Savannah Road restaurant, JD’s Filling Station, formerly the Blue Plate Diner.  “Lewes has this historical review commission that tells people what kinds of windows to put in their houses,” said one.  “How can they let that restaurant use colors like that?”  Me, I like it.  It makes the town’s historical structures stand out even more. If you don’t know what they’re talking about, ride into Lewes and take a look.

EMPTY STOREFRONTS IN REHOBOTH, LEWES

A Rehoboth Beach businessman told me that a recent count shows an estimated 17 businesses on Rehoboth Avenue haven’t renewed their leases for 2010.  High rents?  Tough economy?  The nature of a highly seasonal seaside resort?

In Lewes, on Second Street, the storefront previously occupied by Walt Palmer’s Mugs and Stitches is now vacant. Palmer, before Christmas, said he may be moving his operation to a Route One location where a family member has another business.  More on that later. A downtown dress shop is considering moving into the former Mugs and Stitches place. At the corner of Second Street and Savannah Road, the linen shop has closed up and an Italian deli is planning to move in.  Other properties fronting Second Street are also in flux.  There’s nothing constant but change.

ECONOMY BEGINNING TO IMPROVE

Many signs indicate the economy has bottomed out and is beginning to improve.  Auto sales are increasing and in our all-important resort real estate market, lower prices, stimulus money and attractive mortgage rates are stirring activity. The developers of the Vineyards at Nassau Valley on Route 9 are nearing completion of their first building, Sussex County’s first 60-foot combination retail and residential building.  Word is that they are about to begin construction of the second building in their retail/residential complex. All of this amounts to money starting to move more and that equates to an improving economy.

Haley’s food tour through south Asia

January 5, 2010

At an outdoor kitchen at the Reliance School for orphans, kids take turns learning how to cook. One of the kids is shown here with Matt Haley. "We were making Dhal Bhat that day which is a staple in Nepali cooking. Dhal Bhat consists of lentil soup, rice, stewed greens with spices and either chicken or pork but most just stay vegetarian. Here there are no spices. Spices are found in the wealthier environments. In Dhal Bhat the stewed greens would be flavored with garlic, tumeric, ginger and chili paste.

Delaware Cape Region restaurateur Matt Haley (Fish On, Catch 54, Lupo di Mare, Northeast Seafood Kitchen, Blue Coast etc.) recently headed off for a month-long cultural and food tour of south Asia including India and Nepal. Given the intense interest in our area in food, restaurants, farmers markets and related industries, I asked Matt to send back some observations.

Through the marketing efforts of the Southern Delaware tourism bureau, Delaware’s coast and all of its great restaurants have been dubbed the Culinary Coast.  Matt and many of his other restaurant colleagues often make trips to other regions of the U.S. and other parts of the world to bring back interesting foods and create new concoctions. Matt’s observations offer a sense of how restaurateurs see food and food customs and how some of those get translated back into our local restaurants.

In his first note, Matt wrote:

One of Matt Haley's adopted daughters, Lila, shows off some Samosa chat at a market in Katmandu.

“This trip has turned into something way bigger than I thought so far. I can’t describe the food without describing the state of the country, the beauty, the oppression and most of all the smiles. Visiting with my adopted daughters here has been a highlight of my life. I have had an incredible experience with them. Myself, Lila, Laxmi and a group of other children from the school just completed a three-day trek from Lukla in the middle of the Himalayas. It was my first time with a Sherpa. I tried to convince him to come to Rehoboth with me. The girls had a blast. It was their first time on a plane.

“Describing the conditions of the orphanages here would take a while. I couldn’t help but fall apart having a ten-month old baby not let go of my finger because she didn’t want me to walk away. I visited a room with flags hanging over it to find out they were hung for the children who had died recently.

“Needless to say I have also had an incredible food experience. One of the most prominent things I have noticed is that there is very little difference in third-world blue-collar kitchens. While I was rolling flat bread in a small mountain town in the Himalayas I could have just as easily been rolling tortillas in a small island town off the coast of Mexico. The staples are all the same. Flour, water, eggs, chilis, onions and potatoes. Right now in the winter time there is a lack of greens so root vegetables prevail. The chutneys remind me of salsas or Asian dipping sauces. The momo are the same as potstickers or dumplings in South Carolina or Beijing. My potato omlette yesterday reminded me of tortilla espanola in Barcelona. I am amazed how there is someone rolling dough in one of our places or wrapping dumplings today as well as here 10,000-15,000 miles away.

Pickled chilis with salt-cured radishes and carrots serve as a typical condiment for all meals served on Nepalese mountain tables.

“I had dinner in a Nepali household last night and found it such a loving, cultural experience. It is custom to serve the guest on a bronze plate. The women cooked and fed me before anyone else would sit at the table. When I tried to do dishes they explained to me that if the men in the village found out that the women let me do that, there would be a price to pay for the man of the house.

“I will be spending more time with the girls this week and then off to India for my motorcycle ride with Guarav Jani. I have a friend who is an American filmaker. He has taken a project filming a documentary, under guard, in Afghanistan on converting poppy fields into chicken farms or other edible-product farms. He asked me to meet him and help. I may be stupid or adventurous enough to meet him.”

Matt sent through a few more photographs showing some cooking scenes from his trip so far. They show how much more closely to nature people live in other parts of the world.  The first shows a wood-fired clay stove in a typical Nepalese kitchen. Matt wrote: “Note how the center air flow works to funnel most of the heat to the center of the stove top.”

As far as being adventuresome, here’s a sampling of other Nepalese dishes Matt has been enjoying. “Later that night I did step it up and went to a Newari restaurant and ate buffalo brains (which were unreal), fried lamb tongue, buffalo tripe, bone marrow and boiled boar’s head with rough chopped curry finished with hot peppered cashew curd.”

Stay tuned as Matt continues his culinary and cultural tour halfway around the world.