Thursday, February 3, 2011

A Thief Among Us

Things go missing in Mexico--pale skin, iPods, drugs, people. You leave something out in the open, unattended, and the next thing you know it's gone. People just take shit.

Last February I left my Lacoste flip flops beside my chair at the beach and when I went to pack up and go home they had vanished. Gone. I had to hail a cab to take me home. I wasn't about to traverse the dirty Vallarta cobblestones barefoot.

Even at work you don't want to leave anything valuable overnight--it most likely won't be there in the morning when you go to retrieve it. Tex, one of the managers, "lost" his aviator sunglasses the day he arrived back in town. He came into Joe Jack's, put them down and poof. Gone.

A couple weeks ago Ari, another server, had her iPod swiped from the bar. It's really kind of crappy. The thief or thieves are my co-workers. People I see almost every day. People I like. People I'd like to trust but how can you? A couple ruin it for everyone.

Sunglasses and iPods are one thing--kids stuff really--but now the thief is getting serious. $500 was stolen from the sous chef's purse two weeks ago. She's been with Joe since he opened the Shack five years ago and is one of his dearest employees. Stealing from Brisa is like robbing Joe's own mother. And then slapping her in the face.

Joe was so mad when he found out. He even offered $1000 to anyone who might know what happened. No one stepped up.

And then Tuesday night things got real serious. $3000 was nicked from the safe. I don't know all the details but there's only a few people in the restaurant with access to it, and obviously, these are some of Joe's most trusted employees. People who have been with him for years and who's jobs mean more to them than a few thousand dollars.

The speculation game is on.

Was the safe left open? Does someone else know the combination? Was it one of people who know's the combo? Is the thief the same person who stole from Brisa or someone else? Who had the opportunity and the motivation? Who will be the worst dressed at this year's Academy Awards?

It's anyone's guess.

I just can't wait to find out. Until then the rumor mill will be working harder than a hustler on the beach. And that's hard work! I've done it.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

That's Not My Name

At work the other day Joe says to me, "Ryan how long have we known each other? Over a year, right?"

"Ah, ya. That's right," I said.

"So what's my last name?" he asked.

A trick question I thought, so I paused a moment then replied, "Richards".

Joe shook his head in that distasteful way when he's appalled at the ignorance of someone.

"No? It's not Richards," I said.

"Richard is my middle name. Jack is my last name," he said.

I had edited a press release for him earlier in the week and changed several attributions to "Richards says"--tipping Joe off on my supreme lack of knowledge. I am writing a cookbook for the man after all. I should know his name.

My friend Paulina, and one of Joe's favorite employees was standing at the bar when this happened. I laugh as I tell her that I thought Joe's last name was Richards.

Her face is blank.

"Isn't that his last name?" she asks me.

Wasn't just me then. I feel a little less stupid.

The first lesson I ever learned in journalism school was that if you ever got someone's name wrong in a story you automatically failed. No question.

Good thing nothing's been sent off to printer at this point. And for your reference his full name is Joe Richard Jack.

Paulina and I both agree that Joe Jack Richards rolls off the tongue much nicer.

Anyway, here's the recipe for Spinach and Artichoke Dip--perfect for a Super Bowl party or something similar I suppose. It's damn tasty is all I know. Test it out and let me know what you think.

Spinach and Artichoke Dip

Makes 4 to 6 servings

2-1 lb. bags (1 kg.) spinach

3 Tbsp. (45 mL) butter

2 Tbsp. (30 mL) finely chopped onion

1 clove garlic, minced

1/4 cup (50 mL) all-purpose flour

2 cups (500 mL) heavy cream (35%)

2 tsp (10 mL) fresh lime juice

1 tsp (5 mL) Tobasco sauce

1 tsp (5 mL) salt

3/4 cup (175 mL) grated parmesan cheese

2/3 cup (150 mL) grated Gouda cheese

1/2 cup (125 mL) sour cream

1 jar artichoke hearts, chopped

Tortilla chips for serving

Preheat oven to 400˚F (205˚C).

Remove large stems from spinach and steam for 1 to 2 minutes. When cool enough to handle bunch spinach into balls and squeeze out excess water (spinach must be very dry). Chop and set aside.

Melt butter in a large sauté pan. Add garlic and onion and cook for 3 to 5 minutes or until onion softens. Sprinkle flour over onions and stir with a wooden spoon, cooking flour mixture for about 1 minute.

Slowly whisk in heavy cream, a little at a time, whisking constantly to prevent lumps. Bring slowly to a boil to thicken mixture, then add lime juice, Tobasco, salt and parmesan cheese. Remove from heat and add Gouda, sour cream, artichokes and reserved spinach, stirring to combine.

Pour spinach mixture into an oven-proof dish and bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until dip is hot and bubbly. Serve with tortilla chips.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Un Chingo of Work to Do

Yesterday, while writing the recipe for Frijoles de Olla (our house beans) I came across a word I didn't know so I plugged it into Google Translator. The list of ingredients called for un chingo de sal. It's some sort of measurement for salt but "what's a chingo?" I wondered. Turns out it's a shitload. Literally. I laughed. I'll have to ask Joe or the Lolas if they can be more specific. Though maybe we should leave it like that--those kinds of measurements work for Jamie Oliver.

Today I wrote the recipes for Cucumber and Carrot Coleslaw and Rice Pudding, bringing the grand total of completed dishes to 17. If I'm to stay on my target I need to get another three recipes done by the end of the week.

I had a couple of friends from Provincetown staying with me earlier in the week, so instead of writing I was hitting the beach with them and downing copious amounts of tequila. Por que no? Kelly and William are on a three-month journey through Mexico, Central and South America. You can follow their blog at I can't wait to find out
how the 356 hour bus trip from Guadalajara through Mexico City then on to Oaxaca turns out.

Anyway, back to the chingo of work I have on my plate.

Last time I posted the recipe for Mean Joe's Greens thinking
everyone could use a little veggie and some fiber in their diets following the glutinous holiday season. Now that that's over, lets indulge again with this totally delicious (almost scandalous) dessert recipe. We keep in the fridge upstairs by the waiter station and some staff members (I won't say who) nick small bowls of it and eat it undercover. It's has the texture of pudding when it's cold and is a toss-up as to which way is better.

At Joe Jack's we serve it hot with a small bowl of whipped cream and rum (which we pour the chocolate mixture over) and a few little almond cookies.

Mexican Hot Chocolate

1 orange

4 cups (1 L) whole milk

1/2 cup (125 mL) heavy cream (35%)

1/4 cup (50 mL) granulated sugar

2 Chiles de Árbol or 1/2 tsp (2 mL) crushed red chili flakes
1 cinnamon stick

1 Tbsp. (15 mL) whole cloves

1/4 tsp (1 mL) black peppercorns

1 lb. (500 g) bittersweet chocolate, chopped

1/2 cup (125 mL) cocoa

1 1/2 tsp (7 mL) vanilla

Peel rind from orange with a vegetable peeler and add to a large stockpot with milk, cream, chilies, cinnamon, cloves, peppercorns and sugar. Slowly bring mixture to a boil then remove from heat.

Place chocolate in a bowl and pour cream mixture through a mesh sieve to catch spices. Stir mixture until chocolate melts and all the cream is incorporated. Stir in cocoa and vanilla. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Heat about 1/4 cup (50 mL) of the chocolate mixture per person in a nonstick pot or sauté pan, stirring constantly to prevent it from scorching. Pour chocolate mixture into small cups and serve with a spoon.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Mean Joe's Greens

I could think of much worse places to write. Thisis the view from my work station and where the words for Joe Jack's cookbook will be digitized. It's also where I watch Spanish soaps and countless episodes of any of the CSI franchise when I need a break.

The garden is progressing nicely. The cilantro seeds I planted a couple weeks ago are now sprouts about 3 inches high, while the rest is my roommate Alfonso's doing, for which I can't take credit but enjoy nonetheless.

True to my word I woke up this morning, brewed a pot of coffee and came up here to bang out a few recipes. I've managed to get three done--2 salads and a ceviche--and since it's the New Year and many of us over-indulged during the holidays, the one I'm including today is for Mean Joe's Greens. A fantastic salad to help us detox, or at least get some fiber in our diets.

So please test it out and let me know how you like it. These recipes are all Joe's but I'm translating them from Spanish and adapting them to make at home. At the restaurant the Lolas (ladies who prep everything) make the vinaigrette in huge quantities so I've had to scale the ingredients down and make adjustments to suit 4 people instead of 40. As well, the greens and veggies at the restaurant aren't measured, the cooks just "eye" everything, so I've had to come up with those measurements on my own.

So go guinea pigs, get out there and start cooking. I need your feedback.

Serves 4

1/4 cup (50 mL) fresh lime juice
2 shallots, peeled and minced
1 1/2 tsp (7 mL) granulated sugar
1 tsp (5 mL) red wine vinegar
1 tsp (5 mL) Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp (2 mL) salt
1 1/2 cups (375 mL) extra virgin olive oil

2 heads Boston lettuce
1 head radicchio
1 cup (250 mL) arugula
2 plum tomatoes, seeded and coarsely chopped
1 carrot, peeled and thinly sliced
1/2 field cucumber, peeled, sliced lengthwise then cut into half moons

To make the dressing whisk together lime juice, shallots, sugar, vinegar, mustard and salt in a medium-sized bowl. Slowly drizzle in olive, whisking vigorously until combined. Refrigerate until ready to use.

To assemble salad wash and dry the lettuce, radicchio and arugula then place in a large bowl with tomatoes, carrot slices and chopped cucumber. Pour over enough of the vinaigrette to coat the salad then toss evenly and serve.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Cookbook Chronicles

I'm watching some Spanish nighttime drama with a hot soccer player named Santiago Something. He plays for Real Madrid with a Beckam look-a-like and just got tossed out of the game for some crime on the field I couldn't follow.

I'd like to say I'm trying it as a sort of Spanish immersion program, but truthfully it's because I'm lazy and too tired to get up and change the channel.

While the beginning of the season got off to a slow start, the holidays have been busy. (Last night was officially my best night at the Shack, cash wise). Fantastic. I'm finally making money, but damn, my body hurts. (Though a couple nights of tequila abuse during the Christmas festivities haven't helped heal the body either.) So tonight is about bad Spanish TV and getting some rest. Tomorrow begins the Joe Jack's Fish Shack Cookbook "Come-Along-for-the-Ride-While-I-Write-It" Blog.

It's gonna be huge.

Up until now I've been a little casual about getting recipes written and laying down the other sections of the book, and if I'm going to pull this off by the end of April I need to write more and procrastinate less. And so I'm going to add more work to my plate by blogging about writing the book while I do just that.

I figure if I make a commitment on here than I have to follow through. And so, I've got approximately 90 days to write 80 or so more recipes and document what it's really like to work--and eat and be entertained--in Puerto Vallarta's busiest restaurant. (Plus a bunch of other stuff that'll need to be in it too.)

Anyway, tune in tomorrow for the first entry and join me and Joe (but mostly me! ha) as I write his book. I promise to make you hungry. As well as offer up recipes and other pages from the book as I write it.

Test the recipes at home and let me know how they worked out. Tell me what questions you have about buying and cooking fish--or anything else you want to know. Maybe it'll end up in the book.

And yes, if you're wondering, I did just watch Julie & Julia. So maybe I got a little inspired. Sue me. Just read me. Oh, and buy the book when it comes out.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Tell Santa To Bring Scotch

When someone sends you free whisky you accept it. Then you drink it, write about it and plug the nice folks at for sending it in the first place.

Master of Malt sells whisky from all over the world (think Sweden, Ireland and the USA to name a few) and posts it right to your door. It's a fantastic service for any whisky aficionado who likes rare, limited edition and hard-to-find malts. But now they've raised the bar and offer samples of nearly every whisky they carry so anyone, aficionado or novice, can order online and receive a 30mL dram taste of said whisky. (And they come in these great wax-sealed sample jars.)

It's a wonderful program and a great way for you to sample something you've never tried before for a fraction of what a whole bottle would cost. If you like it, order a whole bottle, if not, you're only out five, maybe 1o bucks.

And for the whisky lover on your gift-giving list this season it makes the perfect present. Send him a selection of unique whiskies like Miyagikyo, a 20 year-old spicy malt from Japan with a rich caramel colour and a soft, smoky finish. Or the 26 year-old Bowmore Single Cask from Scotland. It's a rich, full-flavoured whisky with a fruity, vanilla-caramel taste with just a hint of peat.

But these little drinks by the dram are also an ideal gift for someone who is new to the world of whisky and wants to be able to try a bunch of different malts without investing a month's salary in his new hobby.

Bottom line: check out and send Santa your whisky wish list. Christmas never tasted so good with booze in the mail.

Friday, August 6, 2010

With Friends Like These

Apart from living at Patio since July 4th and waking up in cold sweats from waitress-related dark dreams, I've had some visitors from My Home and Native Land drop in on the Provincetown scene. I'm feeling lazy and want to get to the beach this afternoon before I have to return to the mojito mines, so here are some pics from the the last couple weeks on the sand dune.

Carrie and I have been friends since high school and when she learned I was in Ptown she decided to ditch her husband and two kids for a few days of freedom. She became a "townie" on her first night. We were riding back from the A House and she crashed her two-wheeler on Commercial Street, falling off onto the sidewalk outside Shop Therapy.

Bike accidents are a right of passage in this town.

Here we are at Herring Cove before hiking across the moors and dunes to get to the beach. In three days Carrie accomplished a lot; lost on the bike trails; saw Showgirls--her first drag show ever; danced surrounded by shirtless men at the A House, witnessed a dead skunk being removed from under my deck; and ate an oyster for the first time.

Where else on earth?

A week later Stacey dropped in for her first trip to the Cape and we met for drinks at Pepe's. It was a weekend jaunt for her and her friends Amy and Kristy who drove up from Brooklyn. (Stacey and I became friends one summer schlepping 99-stamped burgers at Wayne Gretzky's in Toronto.) Kristy snapped this pic with Amy's iPhone using an app that casts this fantastic glow.

Any photographer will tell you, lighting is everything.

This morning I bid farewell to my folks who arrived Monday. They came down for my birthday, which officially was yesterday but celebrated all week. Wednesday morning a gaggle of us sipped mimosas and wolfed down lobster Benedict at Edwige where Louise (mom) snapped this photo.

L-R, William, Kelly, Eric, me, Hunter and Will.

Later Wednesday afternoon the Eastland boys threw me a little Cape Cod-style backyard party. We slugged back potent Rose Kennedy's (vodka, cranberry, lime and soda) and slurped down oysters on the half shell. Instead of cake Eric whipped together a lemon-tequila meringue pie. Soon-to-be a new Cape tradition. Amaze-balls.

The best lemon pie I've ever eaten and a recipe the world needs. Stay tuned, it'll show up here at some point.

If you read one of my earlier blogs you'll know my summer is unofficially sponsored by Rolling Rock, the delicious lager from Pennsylvania. Hunter found me this bucket at the Unitarian Church bazaar. Best $2 birthday gift I've ever received.

My 35th year on this planet is off to an incredible start. With friends and family like I have, getting older only means I appreciate them more.

Drinking more is merely a coincidence.