BSK is a seasonal and inventive cook. For example, a few weeks back: Green tomatoes. BSK found some nice green tomatoes at the Pojoaque Farmers Market close to HG/BSK’s New Mexico home. Traditionally, green tomatoes are sliced, dipped in egg and spicy corn meal and fried (preferably in bacon fat). A staple of down home Southern tables. That’s not what BSK did.. BSK cooked a batch of the green guys with chicken broth, onions, coriander, cumin, cardamon, pepper and salt. When done, the mix went into the blender and was pureed. The smooth stuff was gently reheated. Voila!! Green tomato soup. Tangy. Spicy. Perfect way to start a meal.
HG often longs for the great breads of HG’s Bronx youth. Rye bread. Pumpernickel bread. Bialys. Onion “pletzels” (rolls). A number of grocers offer “Jewish” rye bread. HG believes this is an affront that calls for investigation by the B’nai Brith Anti-Defamation League or even more drastic action by the Jewish Defense League. Dismal present day for HG’s favorites. Pumpernickel bread? Insipid. Bialys? Other than Kossar’s, they are pale imitations without that unique oniony flavor. “Pletzels” ? They’ve disappeared. Bagels, of course, are a sardonic joke. HG doesn’t care because HG never liked bagels. Bagel lovers deserve the nasty chocolate chip and cinnamon raisin bagels now being offered. However, there’s hope. Recently, HG ordered Zabar’s sourdough seeded Jewish rye and Russian pumpernickel bread. Made HG’s eyes misty. These are the authentic loaves. Topped with scallion cream cheese and smoked fish. HG devours many slices with glasses of icy vodka (This regime draws frowns from BSK but HG shakes off disapproval). Another happy note concerning traditional Jewish baked goods. Restaurateur Daughter Victoria sent HG some “Traditional Raspberry Rugelach” (from Russ & Daughters). Spectacular. Sorry, Mom in Heaven, better than yours.
Hey, what’s this? Woke up this morning to see white stuff covering the trees and meadow. Snow. Rare in New Mexico in mid-November. But, once snow arrives, HG enjoys it. For HG this doesn’t mean skiing, snowshoeing, snowboarding or any other frigid and energetic activity. Snow means a fire in the fireplace and a long breakfast of softly scrambled eggs with red salmon caviar, sour cream, toasted ciabatta, numerous cups of coffee. This is the sort of morning where HG catches up with magazines, newspapers, art books. This is the first snowfall for Toby, our newly acquired (but already beloved) dog, a Dandie Dinmont/ Jack Russell cross breed. Toby much enjoys the snow, leaping at snowflakes, sniffing and tasting. By noon the snowfall ends and the sun begins to shine as the snow melts. In the high desert atmosphere of New Mexico, HG expects the snow to have totally vaporized by the next morning. Much different than New York where snow immediately turns into nasty slush or HG/BSK’s mountain ranch in Colorado. There, snow fell in October and drifts lasted until July. No, HG was never tempted to move to sunny Florida, a state where the sun turns older folks into semi-roasted vegetables before hurricanes sweep them into the sea.
Got a very nice comment today from Rev. DeForest Soaries concerning a recent HG post. Rev. Soaries (known to HG/BSK by his nickname, “Buster”) was a dear friend of HG/BSK’s when the duo lived in Montclair, N.J., some 30 years ago. Buster was the pastor of a small church and a very eloquent activist on behalf of Montclair’s African-American community. Buster and HG/BSK fought many political battles side by side. Won some. Lost some. Always had an exciting time. Since that time Buster has fashioned a very distinguished career in religion, housing, education, government and politics, not the least being the former Secretary of State of New Jersey. HG is sure he has lost none of his fire. In Montclair, HG/BSK lived in a turn of the century mansion. Beautiful gardens. Big swimming pool. Quite classy. Buster would sometimes bring a group of his young parishioners to visit to shed some perspective on race relations, class relations and aspirational hopes. Once, Buster and a group arrived when HG/BSK had just finished preparing a steaming pot of Soupe de Poisson. This is the Provencal fish soup that involves fish, onions, fennel, tomatoes, saffron, Pernod and other good things. Boiled. Simmered. Pureed, It is served with slices of toasted baguette slathered with a mayonnaise whipped with garlic and a load of the hottest hot sauce available. (An excellent Soupe de Poisson can be found at Brasserie Stella in Paris, one of HG’s favorite restaurants). BSK dished out some Soupe for Buster and his friends. The reaction was extremely negative — while HG’s lifestyle seemed quite ideal, Buster’s young parishioners found HG’s food to be quite the opposite. Tonight, as winter descends on New Mexico, BSK is preparing her version of seafood (cod, clams, scallops) in Spanish green sauce. One of the unusual flavoring elements in this dish is the juice from a can of asparagus. Not the asparagus. Just the juice. Sounds odd but trust HG. It works. Wish Buster could be with us to share this food.
HG is very fond of those enhancements to alcohol known as bitters. And, HG makes good use of them. Topping the list is Peychaud’s Aromatic Cocktail Bitters. HG enjoys perusing the old fashioned Peychaud’s bottle which mentions many honors such as the Diploma of Honor. The Grand Exhibition of Altona-Germany, 1869 as well as many other awards from long gone expositions in 1885, 1895, 1905 and 1907. L.E. Jung and Wolff Co. (the makers of Peychaud’s) are proud of their product which they proclaim: “Has no equal for flavoring cocktails and is used in every bar of any prominence.” HG uses the delightful product in flavoring modest brandies (originating in New Orleans, Peychaud’s was first used only with cognac for alleged health benefits). HG also likes a dash in vodka on the rocks. HG alternates by giving his shot of vodka a hit of orange bitters made by a company named Stirrings which originated on Nantucket Island (where HG/BSK once had a summer home). Bourbon, with a few drops of these Blood Orange bitters, mixed with a bit of sweet vermouth and plenty of ice produces a delicious, vaguely Italian cocktail. A refreshing non-alcoholic drink HG enjoys in the summer is a dash of Angostura Bitters in a glass of Pellegrino and ice. (Yes, HG sometimes drinks non-alcoholic beverages but doesn’t make a habit of it.)
85. Hey, that’s a lot of years. But, HG, the birthday boy, is not only Hungry Gerald but Greedy Gerald. HG wants more. More life. More years. More food. More wine. That’s because HG has the best wife, the best children, the best grandchildren and the best dog (Toby, a new member of the family). And, of course, HG/BSK divide their time between two delightful and very different paradises: New Mexico (the Land of Enchantment) and Prince Edward Island (The Gentle Island). In New Mexico, HG/BSK have the benefit of interesting, generous, amusing friends. Among them are Polly B. (the renowned photographer); David F. (novelist and historian); Karen K.(film producer). This trio gathered with HG/BSK and Gorgeous Granddaughter Sofia for a birthday feast of red salmon caviar (from Zabar’s) and home made blini (via the Roger Sherman recipe from Canal House Cooking, Vol. 3). Also Gaspe Nova Scotia smoked salmon and sable (from Russ & Daughters, a very generous gift from Restaurateur Daughter Victoria). On the table was creme fraiche and thick sour cream; scallion cream cheese; whitefish salad; pickles; capers; caper berries; sliced sweet onion and tomatoes; black olives. Jewish rye and pumpernickel bread (from Zabar’s). Genuine New York bagels (Russ & Daughters). The group toasted HG with Kristal champagne (a startling pre-birthday gift from Antony and Claudia C.) and then went on to a variety of cold, dry white wines. Dessert. Ah, dessert!! This was provided by Karen K., acknowledged as The Dessert Queen. HG has written about Karen K.’s wonders before but this time the talented lady outdid herself. Dessert was flan. A wondrous flan that hovered somewhere between traditional flan and an ethereal creme brûlée. A dream custard with toasted flakes of almond to provide a contrasting crunch. Providing some overkill, HG sliced pistachio halvah accompanied by Bushmill’s Irish Honey Whiskey. Polly B. and David F. gave HG a magnificent straw sombrero as a birthday gift. This will be indispensable on PEI’s beaches even though the hat makes HG look like an exotic variety of Jewish mushroom. Thanks to all (including little granddaughter Teru) who sent birthday greetings and wishes. A joyous birthday, indeed.
So sad. The Cafe Edison, affectionately known as “The Polish Tearoom,” is closing its doors. The landlord (the Hotel Edison on 47th Street and Broadway in New York) is replacing it with a fancy restaurant headed by a “big name chef.” Another haimish New York restaurant bites the dust. Haimish is a Yiddish word meaning many things: Down home. With family and friends. Warm, cozy, plain and unadorned. Like eating an overstuffed sandwich at the kitchen table with Mom, Pop, your wife and the kids. Cafe Edison was decidedly Jewish with matzo ball soup, kasha varnishkes, pastrami and all the other Jewish/ Eastern European staples. Theater folks of every ethnicity gathered there daily to eat, shmooze, make deals, exchange show biz chatter. There were other theater district restaurants, not Jewish, that were haimish. Delsomma (Italian) and Fornos (Spanish). Both gone. In fact, the Jewish-Irish-Italian Manhattan where HG spent many years has vanished. The Irish bars with their corned beef and cabbage, pig’s knuckles and hard boiled eggs belong to yesterday. Italian red sauce joints are no more. The Torissi guys (Italian Specialties, Parm, Carbone, Dirty French) have upscaled Italian food ($52 veal chops, for example). Thankfully, Manhattan’s African-American and Latino population is keeping the haimish tradition alive. You can still get splendid fried chicken and catfish in Harlem. Mofongo remains on the menu in Puerto Rican eateries. Cubans in Washington Heights are still dishing up Cubanos, moros and cristianos and other good things. But, if haimish is your thing get on the subway (and ferry) and head to the boroughs. Forget Manhattan. HG, to paraphrase the song, will take The Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island, too.
Sheer comfort on a chilly (or not so chilly) day is a big steaming caldron of pho and an accompanying tangle of mint, bean sprouts, basil and other fresh greens. HG consumed this Vietnamese dish many times in rainy Vancouver, B.C.; snowy Denver (that city’s Federal Boulevard is lined with good Vietnamese restaurants) and in New York’s Chinatown as winds whipped off the East River. Yesterday, New Mexico’s Indian summer took a turn to the frigid so BSK served some ample bowls of pho for dinner. No, BSK didn’t spend the day cooking bones and spices into a broth. Instead, BSK opted for packaged pho (the Pacific brand). Previously, HG/BSK found Pacific’s broths (chicken, beef and vegetable) to be rather insipid. Surprisingly, the Pacific pho was quite good and redolent of authentic Asian spices. No, it wasn’t the pho you get in Vietnamese restaurants and even the lowliest citizens of Ho Chi Minh city would probably sneer, but it tasted good to HG. Of course, BSK enhanced it with slices of steak, plenty of De Cecco Angel Hair pasta, ginger and a touch of cinnamon. Mint, basil, bean sprouts and sliced scallion were added. Indispensable sriracha for heat. Nice dining as HG/BSK and GGS (Gorgeous Granddaughter Sofia) glanced at the colorful and fragrant piñon ablaze in the fireplace.
A sunny autumn morning in New Mexico and a happy HG is sipping morning coffee while perusing the dismal news. Ebola, Elections, Jihadis, etc., leave HG unfazed. That’s because HG’s coffee is served in a circa-1930′s cobalt blue milk pitcher adorned with the face of that delicious, singing dancing child movie star—inimitable, curly haired Shirley Temple. Little HG loved Shirley Temple (the late star was just a year older than HG). HG’s Mom received a Shirley Temple pitcher as a giveaway with a box of Wheaties (“The Breakfast of Champions.”). HG always had his milk or hot Droste’s cocoa in that lovely pitcher. HG was not alone. Millions of little Americans drank their beverages from Shirley Temple pitchers. Shirley made 43 movies and Hazel Atlas Glass Co. and U.S. Glass kept those pitchers rolling out of their factories. Knowing of HG’s fondness for Shirley, Gifted Daughter Lesley R. and husband Massimo, sent HG a Shirley Temple pitcher as an early birthday gift. Adding to the delight of the gift is the fact that little Lesley R., also adorned with a crown of curly hair, closely resembled Shirley. Paragons of cuteness.
In 1954 HG partnered with a Broadway press agent and opened HG’s first public relations office in an odd little four story building, 236 W. 56th Street, on New York’s west side between Seventh and Eighth Avenues. The other tenants, like HG, were impecunious and vaguely connected with show business. The ground floor and part of the second was occupied by Patsy’s Italian Restaurant, celebrated for being one of Frank Sinatra’s favorite dining spots. It was a delightful old school restaurant featuring robust Neapolitan dishes. Though only ten years old at the time (it was founded in 1944 by Pasquale “Patsy” Scognamillo), it felt as if it had been there for decades. Prices were modest, affordable for even hand-to-mouth HG. The hosts were welcoming, generous people. They must have known that HG was struggling in his PR career because they always gave HG exuberant portions and coffee plus wine on the house. HG’s partnership dissolved. HG’s fortunes improved. HG moved to more appropriate offices on Madison Avenue. Nevertheless, HG continued to patronize Patsy’s, relishing its mozzarella in carozzo, clams arrreganata, chicken contadina and giant veal chops. Gradually, HG shifted his patronage to two other fine Italian restaurants — Delsomma on W. 47th Street and Paul & Jimmy’s on Irving Place (both long closed). While restaurants came and went, Patsy’s rolled along. It’s now in its 70th year and still owned by the Scognamillo family (It has only had three chefs in its history—all Scognamillos). Recently, HG checked the Patsy’s website. Food prices, of course, are much loftier than in the past. But, what gained HG’s attention was the wine list. Very few bottles priced less than $50 and many priced between $175 and $1,500. Yes, HG knows that New York has been taken over by the oligarchs, but still…. HG mused that New York is like an old girl friend. Cherish the memory but don’t arrange a reunion.