Grilling a cut up Bell’s Chicken in my Brooklyn backyard I was drawn into reverie about another of My Most Important Food Memories: Around ten years ago I was way up in the hills of St. Ann parish in Jamaica searching for old records. At a little bar I met a older Indian-Jamaican who told me to come up to his house as he said he had records. We drove together up the winding hills to his home. He pointed me to a crawl space under his house and said the records were there. Now I have a general aversion to low spaces and the insects that teem in those dark regions, and in the tropical environment of Jamaica those insects proliferate even more and going under that house was like being thrown into the Insect House at Turtleback Zoo — Enormous roaches, spiders large enough to speak, crazy millipedes with pincers; in any case I persevered and dragged out 4 trunks of moldering 45s. In between the Patti Page vinyl, the horrific mold spores (which later gave me a rash lasting 4 weeks), the records so destroyed by insect and rat urine, I managed to find five records that I wanted. Negotiation time. It went badly. The old man demanded $200 each for songs barely worth $5 and when I wouldn’t agree…He just got mad. Yelled at me for wasting his time. I apologized and apologized and finally went to a little street side shed and got two cold beers for us to assuage any hurt feelings. Well…in the quiet moments as we sipped our beer and smoked a slow cigarette, the old man asked if I was hungry. And yes…I was starving. Jamaicans tend to eat a big breakfast and last on that all day, but I am not a breakfast man, so driving in that country I often found myself starving. The old man announced that ever since his wife died he refused to cook inside. “Everything taste better on the fire!” He then popped up and his formerly elderly frame belied a new energy and he simply bounded up a breadfruit tree and cut two fine specimens down. He gathered together some dried twigs and logs and quickly had a blaze going. He went inside and grabbed a rudimentary grate, some salt cod, margarine and a ratchet knife. He cut the fish and breadfruit into rough chunks and dropped them on the flames. The smell was heavenly — pimento wood, roasting flesh and the open, clean air of St. Ann’s. After a bit he removed the grate and heaped margarine onto the charred salt cod and breadfruit. I gathered up bit of both and devoured it — smokey, little bit gritty, salty, fishy, buttery, rough yet totally comforting and unbelievably perfect for the moment. We were silent — me and the old man — breathing the air, chewing, savoring the flavors and licking our black ash fingers. He broke the silence: “Dem nah eat this food in Kingston. This a pure Countryman thing,” He cackled, “Dem curry or fry everything in Kingston!!” He held up a particularly burnt piece of breadfruit dripping with margarine: “This a the real Jamaica!” and popped it in his mouth. And me? I had to agree.
Many people don’t like brussels sprouts (Or “fairy cabbages” as BSK’s grandmother called them). HG loves them in many ways. Roasted with garlic or bacon or chestnuts. Pan fried with garlic and shallots. Shaved into flakes and cooked in a good sofrito to be served over pasta. Last night, BSK gave the sprouts an Asian treatment and they were splendid. BSK sautéed them (Blackened slightly around the edges) with oil, garlic, ginger and some Japanese Mirin. Caramelized them with a slight dusting of sugar. They were a spectacular side dish for Tonkatsu, fried, breaded, thin slices of pork. Thrifty BSK saw Pork Scallopini on sale at Whole Foods and snapped up a batch. These were doused with beaten egg and rolled in Panko. BSK used very little oil in the pork fry (Usual recipes call for two inches of oil in a pan heated to over 300 degrees.) Less oil. Less heat. And, the Tonkatsu was crisp, greaseless and juicy. HG completed the dish with a bowl of soba mixed with sesame oil. BSK and Gorgeous Granddaughter Sofia dotted their Tonkatsu with fruity Japanese Bulldog Sauce while HG opted for Chinese Sweet Chile sauce. All the diverse elements of the meal blended together quite happily.
HG, a very senior fellow, knows that –”As It Must To All Men”–the Moloch Hamoves (The Angel of Death) will pay HG an unwelcome visit in the future. Not too soon, hopefully. Thus, there is the matter of Last Words to be considered. HG has been very fortunate. For more than a half century HG has lived with BSK, certainly the most beautiful, loving and multi-talemted woman in the world. HG has the best children and grandchildren, a source of unending joy. HG lives in two wonderful places–New Mexico and Prince Edward Island. In previous years, HG lived in New York (happily, before the isle of Manhattan became a theme park for oligarchs). Lived by the sea in Nantucket and Fire Island. Relished the equestrian life on a Colorado mountain ranch. Was fortunate enough to experience the glorious urbanism of Vancouver, B.C. and the Mile High City of Denver. HG has been fortunate in receiving much love and, of course, has gloried in the pleasures of the knife, fork, dish and glass. So, when the final moment arrives, HG presumes last words will not be eloquent. Possibly a grunt of anger at the end of it all. HG doesn’t believe famous last words ever got uttered. As a publicist who encouraged some profitable myth making, HG is aware that many heroic words can’t bear objective scrutiny. HG and most American children learned the eloquent last words of 21-year-old patriot and Continental Army officer Nathan Hale. During the Revolutionary War, George Washington sent Hale to New York to spy on the British. He was captured and hung. On the gallows he said (or didn’t say), these immortal words:”I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country.” HG is skeptical. All reports indicate Hale was heroic, but there is little positive proof he said those stirring words. In fact, the exact location of Hale’s New York hanging has never been identified precisely. Third Avenue and 66th Street? The site of what is now Grand Central Terminal or further downtown at City Hall Park? Some years later there was another hero whose last words gained some immortality. He was Yosef Trumpeldor (1880-1920). A very tough soldier, Trumpeldor, a Russian and a Jew, joined the Russian army in 1902 and fought in the war with Japan. He was hit by shrapnel, lost an arm, but kept fighting. He said: “I have another good arm to lose for the motherland.” (HG finds this quite improbable). Trumpeldor received many decorations (including the Cross of Saint George) and became the first Jewish officer in the army. Later, Trumpeldor became a Zionist and with Ze’ev Jabotinsky, the fiery founder of Zionist Revisionism, helped organize the Jewish Legion and Zion Mule Corps which fought with the British during the Middle East campaigns of World War One. Trumpeldor was with the Mule Corps at Gallipoli and was wounded in the shoulder. (The Zion Mule Corps provided many men who later became officers in Haganah and the Israel Defense Corps). After the war, Trumpeldor settled in Palestine where he became a member of Hashomer, the Jewish self defense force (founded in 1909) that was the predecessor of Haganah. In 1920, the Jewish settlement of Tel Hai near the Syrian border was attacked by a force of some 100 Arabs (Syrian Arabs were engaged in a war with France –which France won). The Arab attackers of Tel Hai believed mistakenly that French soldiers were being sheltered at the settlement. Hashomer sent Trumpeldor to defend the settlement. Some 8 Jews and 5 Arabs were killed in the battle. Trumpeldor was hit in the hand and stomach by Arab bullets. Before he died he said: “It does not matter. It is good to die for our country.” He became a Zionist hero and those words are carved in a monument at the site of his death. Some historians have said that Trumpeldor, furious at his fate after having faced death so many times in the battles with Japanese and Turks, uttered a Russian curse. Roughly translated, it is: “Fuck your mother !!” This seems more probable. A rough oath at the end of a rough soldier’s life.
On October 21, 1929 (just days before the stock market crash which ushered in The Great Depression) there was a sell out crowd at New York’s Madison Square Garden watching five 5-round boxing matches. In each bout one of the fighters was Jewish—Max “Slapsy Maxie” Rosenbloom; Yale Okun (fresh from his win over heavyweight champion to be, “Cinderella Man” James Braddock); Al Singer “The Bronx Beauty”, Ruby Goldstein “The Jewel of the Ghetto” and Jackie “Kid” Berg. The fantastic, Semitic fistic program, promoted by Samuel “Subway Sam” Rosoff, the Jewish builder of New York’s subways, was a benefit for the Palestine Emergency Fund and “The Stricken Jews of Palestine.” In six days (August. 23-29, 1929) some 132 Jews had been killed, 232 seriously injured and many left homeless by Arab rioters incensed at the Jewish presence at Jerusalem’s Western Wall and the increasing Jewish migration to Palestine. Some of the worst bloodshed was in Hebron. The 600 Jewish residents there refused help from the Haganah (then an illegal Jewish self defense group). The Jewish Hebronites said they would be protected by the Arab elders. They were wrong. Some 68 Hebron Jews were murdered. Let’s segue to 1948. “Slapsy Maxie”(Damon Runyon had given him the nickname because, though a very clever boxer, Rosenbloom was a light puncher) was a comic actor in the movies (usually playing a punchy lug). He fronted a comedy club in Hollywood, “Slapsy Maxie’s.” His boxing career was long over (Four years as light-heavweight champ, 298 fights with 229 wins). LA Mobster Mickey Cohen (once a featherweight boxer himself) was with Ben “Bugsy” Siegel a founder of Murder Inc. and leader of the “Jewish Mafia” and the alleged real owner of “Slapsy Maxie’s.” It was at the club that Ben Hecht made a legendary speech to an audience of Cohen, Siegel and other Jewish gangsters, bookmakers, hustlers and gamblers. Hecht was a prominent screen writer, novelist and journalist. He was an ardent supporter of Irgun (the Israeli terrorist cell headed by Menachem Begin). Hecht asked the audience of tough guy Jews to contribute money for the purchase of arms for Irgun. Some $200,000 was raised. There is a division of opinion on what happened to the money. Some claim Cohen simply kept the dough. A writer devoted a book to an implausible theory linking Mickey Cohen, Menachem Begin, the Mossad and the Israeli government to the death of Marilyn Monroe and the assassination of President Kennedy. Obviously, there is a glut of far fetched conspiracy theories concerning these events, one more outrageous than the next.
New Yorkers are vociferous in lauding the town’s pastrami sandwiches. The sad truth is that the art of pastrami has been faltering in New York for years and it is now possible that the best of all pastrami is found at Langer’s, a traditional Jewish delicatessen in a shabby Los Angeles neighborhood. Runner up to Langer’s is Schwartz’s Hebrew Delicatessen in Montreal, famed headquarters of Montreal Smoked Meat. Californians sneer at all hamburgers except those served at the California-Arizona-Texas fast food chain, IN-N-OUT. Angelenos become orgasmatic in describing the chain’s Animal Style cheeseburger. An HG pal said that when he lands at the LA airport after a trip east or abroad, his first stop (before unpacking) is at IN-N-OUT. “Must get my IN-N-OUT fix.” Yes, the chain makes a very good burger but BSK’s New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger tops it. BSK uses 80% lean-20% chuck. Dusts a big cast iron pan with sea salt. Turns the heat up high. Sears the burger on both sides. Tops the patties with abundant slices of Kraft Cracker Barrel Sharp Cheddar. Lowers the heat and cooks until the cheese melts and the interior is a juicy pink. Meanwhile, BSK is warming a saucepan of 505 Bottled Green Chile Sauce. The number 505 is the Santa Fe area code and this sauce is an authentic local product. Great flavor. Plenty of heat. No chemicals or artificial enhancers. BSK pours the sauce over the cheeseburger. Flanks it with home fried potatoes, gently caramelized onions, cole slaw. (HG likes a few smokey chipotle peppers on the side). No mushy hamburger buns. Just cold bottles of Anchor Steam Beer. Another BSK kitchen triumph.
HG/BSK’s summer retreat during the 1960′s and early 1970′s was Fire Island, the long, slim, always hurricane threatened barrier beach between the Atlantic Ocean and Long Island’s Great South Bay. Fire Island was dotted with about a score of beach communities, each with a very distinctive personality ranging from overtly gay Cherry Grove and Fire Island Pines (pioneers in out of the closet behavior) and prim and proper Point O’Woods. There were family oriented communities and those specializing in boy-meets-girl activities. HG/BSK had a house perched on a sand dune in Ocean Ridge, a community directly across the Bay from Patchogue, L.I.. Big, expansive windows and spacious front and rear decks. Spectacular ocean views and blazing sunset panoramas. Ocean Ridge was mixed: Some families. Lots of ad men and women. Journalists. Musicians. And, boys and girls playing the mating game. Booze and marijuana were very popular. Surprisingly, there were many outstanding cooks in Ocean Ridge (and Davis Park, a neighboring area). What made the culinary heights surprising was that there was only a bare bones convenience store in Ocean Ridge. Everything else had to come by ferry from Patchogue. There, Shand’s Market provided the basic foodstuffs. This was augmented by Karl Ehmer’s (sublime sausages and other German pork products); a fish store with Peconic Bay scallops and oysters and an Italian delicatessen (Mozzarella and many other good things). No autos on Fire Island (that’s why it was a paradise for the HG/BSK kids). Youngsters made spending money by meeting ferries at the dock and delivering food in their ubiquitous little red wagons. Here are some feasts HG remembers: Spectacular smorgasbord organized by New York Times journalist Glenn Fowler (and his Swedish girl friend). Catalonian fish barbecue by Catalonian sculptor Joan Junyer (friend and contemporary of Picasso). Joan and his wife, Dolores, grilled whole, gutted fish over blazing charcoal. Splashed the fish with crushed garlic, olive oil and paprika. Indonesian Rijstaffel cooked by two (names forgotten) Madison Avenue copywriters (and their wives). At least twenty dishes, all wondrously savory. Hobby Miller’s annual fish fry. Hobby was the developer of Ocean Ridge and operated as a real estate agent/builder and beloved unofficial Mayor. Manning some huge cast iron pans filled with hot oil, Hobby sizzled flour dusted fish fillets. The fish had just been pulled from the Bay and Ocean. A chic woman who had spent some years in Paris would issue an impromptu invitation to a mussel orgy. Big pots of mussels steamed in white wine, garlic, onions, parsley accompanied by crusty baguettes for dipping and icy, white jug wine. Yes, there were some misses. An eccentric woman gave a shrimp curry party. The curry was incendiary. Nothing to drink. Some bowls of yogurt. The yogurt will soothe the heat, assured the madwoman. It did not. Yes, lots of wonderful summer eating but the ultimate was HG/BSK’s platters of Clams Casino and linguine in white clam sauce, both made with hundreds of cherrystone clams plucked from the muddy bottom of Great South Bay by the HG/BSK family and their friends.
Nir Bareket, age 76, died last week and was buried in Toronto, the city where he had lived for many years. Nir, an eminent photographer, was HG/BSK’s dear friend for more than 50 years. They met when Nir was a photographer at the Young & Rubicam advertising agency in New York and BSK was a young actress. Nir wanted exposure for his skills so volunteered to provide “head shots” for BSK. The portraits ended up being too beautiful and creative for commercial head shots but valuable as art work and invaluable in creating a lifelong friendship — In HG/BSK’s New Mexico home there is a portrait of young BSK from that session—a sensitive face dramatized by a sweep of dark hair and BSK’s beautiful eyes. Nir once said about his career: “Photography isn’t a sprint. It’s a marathon.” His brilliant marathon of a career took place in Israel (where he was born and served in the IDF), Europe, New York and Toronto. In May 2014, Toronto’s Market Gallery featured a retrospective: Nir Bareket; My Eyes Have Seen. Celebrating 50 Years of Photography. The show included Nir’s theatrical photos (the director of Canada’s Theater Museum praised Nir for keeping alive memorable theatrical moments); Toronto street scenes; Ellis Island in New York harbor; New Mexico and more. The obituary notice in Canadian newspapers accurately described Nir Bareket: “An artist, photographer, mentor to many, honest friend, fierce soul, a dreamer and a realist, beloved partner, father and grandfather,” Irreplaceable, Nir will live in the memories of HG/BSK and many others.
Restaurant cooking is probably better than ever. Chefs are more creative and less provincial. They are willing to stretch themselves, using the spices, foods and flavors of numerous countries in their cooking. And, many chefs are seeing outside the confines of their kitchen and addressing global problems of climate change and health by sourcing sustainable (and local) produce, meat and fish. However, because of rising costs and (specially in New York) the crushing burden of rent, most restaurants lack the two important qualities that make dining out memorable: Generosity and Hospitality. These qualities always impressed HG/BSK when dining in Italy. So many happy memories of modest trattorias and osterias where HG/BSK were treated like family members rather than tourists with a very modest amount of Italian language skills. Chefs would often send a few additional gratis tastes to HG/BSK’s table. HG has a happy memory of the proprietor of a seaside restaurant walking through the room with a big bowl of seafood risotto insisting the customers have a taste. Paris bistros and brasseries (for the most part) have lost their welcoming spirit. Today, after being assured HG/BSK’s reservations are in order, the maitre d’ seats them in a ghetto reserved for non-Francophones—mainly Japanese and Chinese tourist plus boisterous Germans and Russians. This is in sharp contrast to the welcomes of yesteryear. HG recalls a lunch some 30 years ago at Chez Georges, then as now, an excellent bistro serving classic French food. Cold November day and HG/BSK arrived without a reservation. No matter, said the smiling bistro owner, the wait will be short. Made them comfortable standing at the bar. Poured two glasses of fine Brouilly and provided some dry sausage to nibble. Seated in about seven minutes, HG/BSK relished their salads of frisee with lardons and poached eggs. Ate other good things –rare duck breast, sole meuniere, pommes frites., etc. That old time French bistro spirit was always alive and well at the delightful Veau d’ Or on E. 60th Street in New York. When you were seated, the proprietor immediately provided you with an appetite sharpening saucer of mussels in a savory mustard sauce. Waiters enjoyed HG’s exuberant pleasure in Veau d’ Or’s lusty cuisine. When HG knocked off some delicious quenelles in record time, the waiter replenished the plate. Smiled, No charge. A happy time.(The photo is of the late Robert Treboux, the genial owner of Le Veau d”or. He said of his traditional restaurant: “Those seeking trends should go elsewhere.”)
In HG’s Bronx youth basketball ruled. Sure, there were plenty of softball games, rough and tough sandlot football battles, bleacher seats at Yankee Stadium (to watch the Yanks) and at the Polo Grounds (to watch the football Giants). But, the game that captured the hearts and minds of Bronx guys was basketball. Every Sunday, HG played three-man ball on the asphalt courts of Public School 86 (on Reservoir Avenue) or the Williamsbridge Oval (near Mosholu Parkway). Winning threesome kept the court. Losers left and another trio took their place. First team to score 16 points won. HG was no star. Just a very competitive and fearless journeyman. After games were over, the hungry young men shared huge, greasy pizzas at Joe’s Pizzeria on Jerome Avenue or numerous hot dogs with sauerkraut and mustard at nearby delicatessens. Saturday night was reserved for college games at Madison Square Garden. St. John’s, N.Y.U., C.C.N.Y., Manhattan, L.I.U. all had powerhouse teams and legions of manic fans. Apres game it was off to the Blue Ribbon, a German restaurant, for huge apple pancakes and beer. Currently, HG is watching the NBA playoffs. The players, in HG’s opinion, are the greatest athletes in the world. They combine size, strength, coordination, speed, grace, endurance and a fiery will to win. In recent days HG has seen ferocious, brilliant games culminating in last second heroics by Derrick Rose, Chris Paul, Paul Pierce and Lebron James. Yes, Europeans call soccer “the beautiful game” and Canadians are nuts about hockey…Fuhgeddabout it!! The game that’s got everything is NBA play-off hoops. And, depleted after vigorous TV watching, HG sits down to sumptuous eats prepared by BSK. Beats the hell out of pizza and hot dogs.
Okay. This is the last of HG’s ruminations about old (mainly Jewish) prize fighters. HG has been fascinated by the fighting names of two battlers (they fought as welterweights and middleweights) Soldier Bartfield and Sailor Friedman. Soldier (1892-1970) was born Jakob Bartdfeldt in Hungary. He grew up in Brooklyn and was one of the busiest (some 220 fights between 1911-1932) and toughest fighters of his era. Soldier fought the best including champions Ted “Kid” Lewis (6 times), Mickey Walker (3 times), Benny Leonard, Jack Britton (7 times), Harry Greb (3 times). Soldier beat Lewis once, Britton once and Greb once. Soldier’s nephew was the very good Brooklyn middleweight, Danny Bartfield. During a comparatively short career (1940-1948),he had a record of 41 wins and five losses. (An aside: Britton was Ernest Hemingway’s favorite fighter and is a prototype for Hemingway’s fictional portraits of fighters. Britton fought Ted ‘Kid” Lewis the great Jewish welterweight from London’s East End, some 20 times. Each was a close bout and the welterweight championship shifted between them.) Soldier got his military name from three years of US Army service in Texas (presumably chasing Pancho Villa). Sailor Friedman (1899-1968) was born William Friedman in Chicago, ran away from home at the age of 14, settled in South Philadelphia. Sailor got his nautical name from three years (1915-1918) service aboard a US Navy battleship. He moonlighted from the ship to have his first professional fight in 1916. During his career (1916-1928) he had 119 fights (winning about half). Highlights were a losing battle with Mickey Walker for the welterweight title and two losing efforts against another Philadelphia fighter, Lew Tendler. Sailor was not an exemplary citizen. His manager was Max (Boo Boo) Hoff, Philadelphia gangland boss, bootlegger, gambling house operator . Sailor worked in various Hoff gambling enterprises and was one of his bodyguards. Sailor was charged with a Chicago murder in 1922 (killing of an illicit booze transporter). Convicted but exonerated. In 1923, on the eve of a Milwaukee fight, Friedman was beaten bloody by three assailants and left senseless. Cops linked it to a Chicago gangland dispute. In 1928, Friedman was arrested for assault but released. Surprisingly, Sailor had a streak of patriotism (or a desire to leave troubling circumstances in Philadelphia). In 1942, at the age of 43, he re-enlisted in the wartime US Navy. Record books reveal another Sailor Friedman who fought in New Orleans five times. There was also a Sailor Freeman (no relation of HG) who had one fight. And, there was also an obscure Soldier Freeman (no relation). Go figure.