I am a logical man, not given to flights of fancy in or out of the kitchen. But sometimes the supernatural throws me a curve I cannot quite ignore.
Trying to find a radio station in downtown Los Angeles recently, I became hopelessly lost. Driving along the Harbor Freeway, I finally pulled off an exit ramp to ask directions. The neighborhood in which I found myself was almost totally vacant; great yawning warehouses devoid of any street life whatsoever. The few pedestrians I stopped spoke no English and all public telephones were either smashed or inoperable. Growing desperate--for I was scheduled to be interviewed in less than half an hour--I noticed an old woman several blocks away. She was standing on a street corner, arranging piles of tattered magazines on the sidewalk, presumably for sale.
When I drove alongside the display and showed her the address I was looking for, she shook her head.
' . . . Like an Open Book'
"You're miles out of your way," She said gravely, "but you're in luck. I know this city like an open book."
The truth is, she did. After scratching her chin several times, she dictated the route verbatim. When I thanked her, she grinned.
"If you're so grateful, buy a book."
I stared at the dismal array spread out on the pavement without much real enthusiasm. Before I could choose, however, she seemed to read my mind. Reaching into a cardboard box, she handed me a tan pamphlet; not unlike some volume of privately printed poems.
"This one has your name on it," she said knowingly. "Only $5, too."
The cover had a design of cabalistic symbols inscribed with a legend printed over it. "Dr. Bert's Book of Magic, Dreams and Occultism," it said. That might have given me real pause if I had not been so late. Instead, I handed over the money, stashed the book in my raincoat pocket and took off for the interview. In the rear view mirror, I could see the old woman on the curb, laughing and laughing.
Actually I never thought of the book again until several weeks later when I returned home to New York. My cleaner discovered it when the raincoat had to be pressed.
"Did you write this?" he asked.
"No. Just a coincidence."
'Dreams of Cooks'
But was it? When I took up the book for the first time, the pages flipped open to a section entitled "Dreams of Cooks." Scanning that, I came upon a long list, some of which appeared to be underlined.
"To dream of prawns . . . means great ambition. To dream of onions . . . means tears without a serious cause. To dream of hot pepper or fiery seasoning . . . means you must be on guard against the devil's wiles."
Now you must understand that up until this point, I had absolutely no visions of those ingredients in any form. But I certainly did that night.
I dreamed I was in a well-appointed kitchen preparing a wonderfully spicy dish of shrimp, bacon, green onions and chili powder. While I cooked, the old woman stood at my side, nodding. When I awoke, I wrote down all the ingredients I put together in my dream and made the dish shortly afterward. So far it has not made me rich or famous. But it tastes supernaturally delicious all the same.
BERT GREENE'S DEVILISH CHILIED SHRIMP WITH BACON
1/2 pound sliced bacon
2 bunches green onions, white bulbs and green tops, chopped separately
1 large clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup finely chopped sweet red pepper
1 chili, seeded, deveined and minced
1 large tomato, seeded and chopped
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
1 pound shrimp, shelled and deveined
1 1/2 tablespoons chili powder
1/2 tablespoon mild ground chiles or paprika
1/4 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup vodka
1/2 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
Freshly ground pepper
Hot cooked rice
Saute bacon in large heavy skillet until crisp. Drain on paper towels. Crumble and reserve.
Discard all but 2 tablespoons bacon drippings from skillet. Add chopped green onion bulbs and cook, stirring frequently, over medium heat 2 minutes. Add garlic, sweet peppers and chile. Cover and cook 1 minute.
Add tomato and basil and cook 1 minute longer. Toss in shrimp. Sprinkle with chili powder and mild ground chiles. Continue to toss until shrimp turn pink, about 3 minutes.
Add chicken broth, vodka, chopped green onion tops and reserved crumbled bacon. Continue to toss, until slightly thickened, but not dry, about 2 minutes. Add hot pepper sauce. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve over hot cooked rice. Makes 4 servings.