All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside.
~Sec. One of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constituition, ratified in 1868

More delectable fare from south of the border. I drool over Mexican cuisine, my fervor unflagging. It also is a sore reminder about another assault on ethnic minorities in this country’s ever so brief and curiously vainglorious history…following those historical precendents of demonizing Irish, Germans, Italians, Chinese, Japanese, Native Americans, African Americans, Jews, Muslims, Catholics, women and so on. Will we ever learn? Flag pins on every lapel will never cure our bigotry and will only further our chauvinism.

Recent disingenuous threats by GOP leaders to repeal the 14th Amendment as a means of denying citizenship to immigrant children—so called “anchor babies”—are disquieting at best. Trifling with one of the more singularly profound statements this country has ever offered the world about the meaning of equality is shameful even if it is purely political posturing. Some more wretched debris of hubris.

The authors of the Fourteenth Amendment guaranteed citizenship to all people “born or naturalized in the United States” for a reason. They wished to directly repudiate the abominable shackles of the Dred Scott decision, which held that no person of African descent, slave or free, could ever be a citizen of the United States nor could any of their descendants ever become a citizen. In the opinion, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Taney found that the original framers intended that blacks:

…had no rights which the white man was bound to respect; and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit. He was bought and sold and treated as an ordinary article of merchandise and traffic, whenever profit could be made by it. Scott v. Sandford, 60 U.S. 393 (1856)

That racially motivated opinion was issued before the Civil War. Afterwards, Section One of the 14th was adopted which guaranteed citizenship to anyone and everyone born on our soil, including the children of parents here unlawfully. It was intended to make sure that a simple objective fact assured citizenship, and that those rights would not turn upon legislative whim or judicial caprice. This language is a unique part of our national identity and makes certain that each newborn child is not subject to a chain of title like a parcel of land or chattel.

The birthright clause assigned legal status to millions of slaves who had just been freed during the Civil War. Oh, as an aside: the House, the Senate and the Presidency were all in Republican hands at the time of the amendment’s passage.

Senators, please show some restraint and do not overburden your tacos with fillings.

LOBSTER TACOS AL CARBON WITH AVOCADO & CORN SALSA

Avocado & Corn Salsa
2 ripe avocados, diced
3-4 T fresh lime juice
2 ripe red tomatoes, cored, seeded and diced
3 ears sweet corn, shucked, parboiled and cooled
1/2 red onion, peeled and finely chopped
2-3 jalapeño chile peppers, stemmed, seeded and minced
1/2 C chopped fresh cilantro
Sea and freshly ground black pepper

Place the avocado and tomato in a large mixing bowl and gently toss with lime juice. Shear the kernels off the cobs and again gently toss in the bowl. Cover well and refrigerate.

Just before serving, add the jalapeños and cilantro and gently toss to mix. If necessary, add a little more lime juice and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Lobsters
2 – 2 lb pound lobsters, parboiled and split in 1/2 lengthwise
Canola oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Corn tortillas
Canola oil
Añejo cheese

Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil and add sea salt. Carefully lower lobsters into pot, and parboil just until just red, about 2 minutes each. Cooking time varies with lobster weight. Remove lobsters from pot with tongs and plunge into a large bowl of ice water to halt the cooking process. Remove and dry well. Split lobsters in half lengthwise along the back.

Heat charcoal grill to medium high.

Brush the lobster flesh with canola oil and season with salt and pepper. Place on the grill, first flesh side up, turn and grill until just cooked through, about 3 minutes per side. The lobster meat should be firm, slightly charred and opaque when done. Extract the meat from the shells and coarsely chop.

Before filling the tacos, heat ever so briefly over the grill until they just become pliable. (Alternatively, place several wrapped in aluminum foil in an oven preheated to 400 F for about 8-10 minutes.)

Put a few spoons of salsa and lobster down the center of each tortilla with a sprinkling of añejo cheese over the top. Fold the tortillas over, brush with oil and grill, until slightly browned, about 1 minute. Brush with oil again, flip over and continue grilling until slightly browned again. Remove from the grill and serve.

The universe is but one great city, full of beloved ones, divine and human, by nature endeared to each other.
~Epictetus, Greek stoic philosopher (55-135 AD)

Stated otherwise, the city is but one great universe, full of beloved ones, divine and human, by nature endeared to each other. I am officially citified, a committed and content urbanite. The caste driven trappings of sprawling suburbia are gladly things of the past. From an elevated vantage I contemplate the urban aesthetics of sharp geometry, polygons, cubes, facets, shadows, hues, lights, lunar scapes. Autumn palettes, naked winter light, shrill sunrises breaking the horizon, seductive twilights, soupy skies, spring forwards, and summer street hiss all unfold before me. Church bells peal by day, and trains moan at night. And humanity, and more humanity heaps by. A story stashed behind each window and sometimes played out on gridded streets, sidewalks and random alleys at arbitrary times.

Each day, I awake to the world from on high here. It is a humble place with ample views and a simple kitchen. Swaddled in a warm nest right at treetop level I overlook a bustling, closely knit yet isolated, ethnically robust, ‘hood far from the homogeneous crowd. Not viewing experience from the ground upward as before, but looking down and across from my tree house…roofs of varying heights and shades, birds huddling in frigid air on sills, cats foraging, sirens blaring, faces passing, street scents, gentle showers, electric skies, chatter, piercing sounds of passion, then occasional silence. A vassal’s vertical oasis, a gentle place to embrace.

So, give me your lonely and homeless to my humble table.

Which brings me to two soulful sister au gratins.

POTATO & TOMATO AU GRATIN

1 plump, fresh garlic clove, peeled and lightly crushed
Butter, unsalted

1 1/2 lbs russet potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
2 lbs ripe tomatoes, cored, seeded, sliced 1/4″ thick, well drained

2 C grated gruyère cheese
1 C heavy cream

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Fresh thyme, stemmed and finely chopped

Preheat the oven to 375 F

Thoroughly rub a shallow gratin or baking dish with a crushed garlic clove, and then lightly butter the dish with the end of a stick of butter. Alternately arrange one half of the sliced potatoes and drained tomatoes slightly overlapped in a single layer. Sprinkle with half of the cheese and then half of the cream. Add salt, pepper and thyme. Add a second layer of potatoes and drained tomatoes with cheese, cream and season with salt, pepper and thyme.

Place the baking dish in the center of the oven and bake until golden, about 1 hour. Should the top begin to brown too rapidly, simply cover with aluminum foil. Remove from oven, let rest for 10 minutes, and then serve.

POTATO & CARAMELIZED ONION AU GRATIN

2 T extra virgin olive oil
1 T unsalted butter
3 sweet onions (Vidalia, Walla Walla, et al.), peeled, and thinly sliced
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 t sugar
3 T fresh sage leaves, stemmed and finely chopped

1 plump, fresh garlic clove, peeled and lightly crushed
Butter, unsalted
1 1/2 lbs russet potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced

2 C grated gruyère cheese
1 C heavy whipping cream

Preheat oven to 375 F

Over medium high, heat olive oil and butter in a large, heavy sauté pan. Add the onions, season with salt and pepper and cook slowly until tender and translucent, about 10 minutes. Blend in the salt and sugar, raise heat to moderately high, and let the onions brown, stirring frequently until they are a dark walnut color, another 30-35 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the sage. Let cool slightly.

Thoroughly rub a shallow gratin or baking dish with a crushed garlic clove, and then lightly butter the dish with the end of a stick of butter. Layer and overlap one half of the sliced potatoes, season to taste with salt and pepper, and spread one half of the onion mixture over the overlapped potatoes, strew with cheese and drizzle with the cream. Repeat by again overlapping another layer of potatoes, spread with remaining caramelized onions, cheese and cream. Season again with salt and pepper.

Place the baking dish in the center of the oven and bake until golden, about 1 hour. Should the top begin to brown too rapidly, simply cover with aluminum foil. Remove from oven, let rest for 10 minutes, and then serve.

Pourboire: For a change of pace, consider other fine melting cheeses, such as emmenthal, manchego, tallegio, asiago, fontina, mozzarella, bleu, chèvre.

How I wish that somewhere there existed an island for those who are wise and of good will.
~Albert Einstein

While I am on a lemon grass binge, let’s add some coconut milk, rice and peace…

Indonesia, the most vast of archipelago states, is bespeckled with over 17,500 islands in the Indian ocean, covering a maritime area of some 3.1 million square miles. Home to the world’s fourth largest populace and still growing, the land mass of Indonesia alone is three times that of Texas. Put those numbers in your lone star stetson and smoke ’em, George.

And here, behold coral’s homeland, the marine biodiversity hall of fame, and for some shame. The Coral Triangle — a stunning, yet sadly imperiled, underwater Eden.

The Coral Triangle has been aptly dubbed the global epicenter of marine species diversity and remains of paramount concern to conservationists and commoners alike. This fecund region of the seas covers a deltoid area equivalent to one-half of the United States and contains more than one-third of all the world’s coral reefs. An evolutionary hot spot due to the combination of light, high water temperature, and strong, nourishing currents from the confluence of the Pacific and Indian oceans. The seasonal influx of nutrients from these deep ocean upwellings along with equatorial sunshine and warm seas results in an abundance of plankton. So, it teems with more than 600 species of reef-building coral (compared to only 60 in the entire Caribbean) and over 3,000 species of reef fish. Sheltering nearly 75% of the world’s mangrove species, 45% of seagrass species, 58% of tropical marine mollusks, five species of sea turtles and at least 22 species of marine mammals also occur in the region, the Coral Triangle is an astounding display of diversity condensed into less than 1% of the world ocean’s surface area. This melting pot of biodiversity harbors species that appear nowhere else on Earth, including 97 species of reef fishes endemic to Indonesia, and more than 50 in the Philippines.

With this resplendent beauty comes the beast, as coral reefs and other marine habitats within this region are severely threatened by human activities. The most pervasive and perfidious threats are overfishing and baleful fishing practices, including blast fishing and fishing with poisons, which torment broad stretches of reefs in the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Indonesia. Sedimentation and pollution associated with overpopulation, coastal development and land use also put the region’s delicate reefs and marine habitats at risk. To worsen matters, acidification of the surrounding seas is occuring due their absorption of excess atmospheric carbon dioxide. More acidic oceans render it more difficult for coral to produce the necessary calcium carbonate shells, diminishing oceanic ecosystems and the existence of coral reefs.

Exploring the manifold cultural, ethnic, regional and historical underpinnings of Indonesian cuisine is for another day, another plug. For now, allow me to at least briefly touch on one ingredient in this dish. Daun salam (Syzygium polyanthum), sometimes mistakenly called Indian bay leaves, are leaves from a deciduous tree in the myrtle family which grows wild in the Southeast Asian peninsula, Indonesia and Suriname. Reaching heights of over 60 feet, this tropical tree has spreading branches and simple, aromatic leaves. The Indonesian phrase daun salam means “peace leaf.”

COCONUT & LEMON GRASS RICE

2 C jasmine rice

1 1/2 C water
1 C canned unsweetened coconut milk
3 thick stalks of fresh lemon grass (bottom 1/3), bruised, and tied in a bundle
1″ slice of ginger
1 t sea salt
8 whole dried daun salam leaves (or 2 whole dried bay leaves)

Roasted peanuts, chopped (for garnish)

In a large heavy saucepan, rinse rice several times with fresh cold water, gently swirling with your fingers. Once the water is no longer cloudy and fairly clear, drain completely.

Add water, coconut milk, lemon grass, ginger, salt, and daun salam leaves. Stir some to combine.

Place the pan over high heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon to prevent the rice from scorching on the bottom. Bring to a vigorous boil and allow to continue to boil for less than thirty seconds, still stirring. Reduce the heat to the low and cover tightly. Continue cooking at low for 15 minutes. Resist all temptation to peek by removing the lid as that would allow essential cooking steam to escape.

Remove from heat and continue to steam, covered, for an additional 10 minutes.

Discard the lemon grass, ginger and daun salam leaves. Gently fluff the cooked rice with a spoon. Mound the rice in a deep serving bowl, and serve warm. Garnish individually with chopped peanuts.