A Vancouver treat. The best breakfast, a response to Rain City weather, is available at Congeee Noodle House on Broadway in the Mt. Pleasant neighborhood. For HG: A steaming bowl of congee (rice porridge–also known as “jook”) containing plump prawns, Chinese mushrooms, gingko nuts and chopped parsley. Plus a portion of shrimp dumplings in a spicy sauce. Accompanied by hot tea, of course. For BSK: Congee with sea scallops and a rice crepe enclosing barbecued pork. Thus fortified, the duo were off to Vancouver Art Gallery to view the art museum’s always exciting special exhibitions. On this occasion there was an exhibition of contemporary Chinese artists. Extraordinary on-site works. The most memorable was Ai Weiwei’s monumental sculpture fashioned from hundreds of wooden stools. Also viewed the Pearlman collection, a dazzling array of modern European masterpieces purchased by New Yorkers Henry and Rose Pearlman during the 1940′s and 50′s. Some 24 works by Cezanne including 16 watercolors. Also, splendid works by Soutine and Modigliani among others. Dinner with Jamie S. and chic and soigné Karen St. John at the opening night of AnnaLena Restaurant on Cypress Avenue. Stark, beautiful (but very noisy space). Shared very good small plates including roasted cauliflower salad with sprouted lentils, cashews, pea shoots, buttermilk dressing, chili “threads”; buttermilk fried chicken with horseradish maple aioli and salt and vinegar chicken skins (a nice touch); spinach and asiago ravioli with baby arugula, tomato compote and “pangratatto” (?); southern fried sweetbreads with onion jam (this was only error as thick crust was not appropriate for delicate sweetbreads); inventive dessert of chocolate creme brûlée, honey, salted caramel ice cream and chocolate “dust.” Lovely contemporary food. AnnaLena will be perfect when the noise problem is solved and a lighter hand is used in their fried food.
A light mist over Vancouver which did not discourage HG/BSK from visiting the VanDusen Botanical Garden in the Shaughnessy neighborhood. Cherry trees and magnolias in full bloom. Shimmering ponds. Scores of unusual Asian trees. A bright green lawn studded with sculpture. And, one of the world’s greatest collections of rhododendron. Early in Spring so not all were in bloom but some dazzled the eye. Dinner with Jamie S. and Karen at Karen St. John’s townhouse. Jamie and Karen have been taking cooking lessons at the Dirty Apron Cooking School so this was a time to taste two of the dishes they had learned there. The starter was a Hawaii-influenced Ginger Soy Tuna Poke — diced Sushi grade tuna mixed with chopped cucumber, scallions, sesame oil and some other good things. This was served atop a crisp Sesame Rice Cake. A sublime combination of tastes and textures. The main dish was a Macadamia Nut Crusted Halibut—the crust of butter, nuts and bread crumbs perfectly cloaking and enhancing the firm fleshed, juicy fish. Heat and spice were added to the dish via a Chili Coconut Sauce—a sauce which combined the heat of Thai peppers and chopped ginger with the lush sweetness of coconut milk and palm sugar. Dessert was a cooling ice cream and chilled white wine was drunk throughout the meal. HG remarked that although HG/BSK might encounter some very good restaurant meals during their Vancouver vacation, HG doubted anything could top this home cooked meal. HG was right.
Ah, Vancouver. A truly glorious city where HG/BSK once owned both a glorious loft with views of mountains, water and shimmering skyscrapers and then a steel and glass townhouse designed by HG/BSK’s brilliant architect friend, Pablo Rojas. Enjoyed almost a dozen years of bicycling, dining, cooking and absorbing all the special pleasures of this very Asian, very cosmopolitan city where the population is politically leftist, architecturally adventurous, appreciative of the healthy outdoor life, environmentally sensitive….and totally Lucullan in relishing the joys of the table and the glass. Spring comes early to Vancouver. Time for HG/BSK to leave New Mexico chills behind and become immersed in Vancouver cherry blossoms, magnolias, rhododendrons and majestic trees. Kind and generous pal, Jamie S., made his beautiful three story condo townhouse available. Lovely spaces. Mountain and urban vistas. A modern design buff, Jamie has cutting edge furnishings and the definitive collection of Alessi kitchen utensils and table top adornments. Plus a shower/ steam bath that envelops the fortunate occupant with exhilarating streams of water from about eight different directions. If cleanliness is indeed next to godliness, this shower is an attractive homage to the Almighty. The shower washed away all traces of HG/BSK’s plane trip weariness and honed the duo’s appetites. Off to Congee Noodle House in Vancouver’s uber hip Mt. Pleasant neighborhood. HG/BSK ordered their traditional comfort food meal at the eatery (HG/BSK’s loft was located less than a 100 meters away so the duo ate there often): Chef’s Special Chicken (juicy poached white meat chicken with a ginger/garlic/ sesame oil/ scallion condiment); deep fried squares of squid with flecks of hot, dried pepper; Mo Pu bean curd and ground pork (silky bean curd and ground pork in a spicy sauce); bowls of fluffy rice; Tsing Tao Beer. A welcoming feast indeed.
Oh, joy!! In the chilly weather of early Spring (or any weather, for that matter) HG longs for a giant steaming bowl of Pho, the glorious Vietnamese noodle soup. (Apologies to my beloved late Mom: Your chicken soup was great but Pho is even better). HG has bewailed the lack of Pho in Santa Fe. Then, early this week, HG discovered the very plain spoken Saigon Cafe, a family owned and operated little restaurant on Cordova Street. Topping the menu was Pho Bo, a Pho with beef and rice noodles. HG was misty eyed as he surveyed a very big bowl and a platter of fresh mint, bean sprouts and sliced jalapeno peppers. The broth was powerful and flavorful. The noodles were properly al dente with great mouth feel. Lots of thinly sliced tender beef as well as some Vietnamese sausage. As good as any Pho HG ever tasted in New York, Vancouver or Denver’s Federal Boulevard (home to a score of good Vietnamese restaurants). HG will become a Saigon Cafe regular. There are about 20 Pho variations on its menu (including a very fiery chicken Pho with a curry base.) The menu also has about a dozen variations on chow fun (wide noodles) and egg noodle lo mein. Everything is modestly priced. Slightly more expensive is shrimp cooked in a clay pot and catfish in hot and sour soup. Intend to try everything.
In HG’s various nostalgia drenched accounts of the long deceased Romanian-Jewish restaurants (called “Romanian Broilings”) of New York’s Lower East Side, HG failed to mention that Pastrami, the delectable, peppery smoked meat, was introduced to the United States by these restaurants. The delightful author, Patricia Volk, claims her grandfather, a Romanian-Jewish immigrant and proprietor of a Delancey Street delicatessen/eatery, was the first to serve Pastrami, therefore ushering in happy heartburns for generations of American Jews and discerning non-Jewish fressers. Food historians claim Pastrami derives from Basterma, a dried beef beloved by Turkish warriors who brought the delicacy to Romania. (Pastrami is mentioned, favorably, along with Mamaliga [polenta] and Karenezelach [ground beef, onion, garlic cigar shaped hamburgers] in the rousing Yiddish music hall favorite, “Romania, Romania”.) Alas, first rate Pastrami is now tough to find — beyond the speciality Jewish delis like Katz’s on Houston Street and Langer’s in LA, but the majority of Pastrami being served is commercially made and a pale comparison to the real thing. Patricia Volk’s grandfather started a great tradition. The family fed New York in splendid restaurants for 100 years. Morgen’s (closed in 1985), run by Patricia Volk’s parents, was an HG favorite. Located in the Garment Center, it was always filled with designers, lovely models and cloak-and-suit big shots. (Read Volk’s books, “Stuffed” and “Shocking Life.” Also, don’t miss books by Volk’s pal (and HG/BSK’s) Stephanie Pierson. She’s a world class wit. Her latest is “The Brisket Book.”).
Leave it to BSK. HG’s lovely life companion of more than half a century has found the perfect theme song for hungrygerald.com. It’s Memphis Minnie (1897-1973), singing “Keep On Eating,” a musical tribute to appetite. Memphis Minnie recorded the song for Vocalion Race Records in 1935. Give a listen. The great blues lady didn’t mind a bit of double entendre as in her song “I’m Selling My Pork Chops But I’m Giving My Gravy Away.” As HG’s theme song, “Keep On Eating” beats out, barely, some other HG musical food favorites: “Dunkin Bagels” and “Matzo Balls” by Slim Gaillard (the inventor of the hipster “Vouty” language) and Fats Waller’s tribute to seafood: “Hold Tight (Want Some Seafood Mama)” with the immortal lyrics: “Shrimpers and rice are very nice. Hold tight hold tight hold tight hold tight Foo-ra-de-ack-a-sa-ki. Want some seafood Mama.”
Yes, the Gods give and then take away. Okay, the New England Patriots won the Super Bowl. The Gods got even by walloping Boston (and most of New England) with a brutal series of blizzards and sub-freezing weather. And, now there’s more bad news coming from New England. The Pawtucket Red Sox (the PawSox) is the Triple-A farm team of the Boston Red Sox. They will open the season in their home stadium, McCoy Stadium, on April 16, against a traditional foe–the Rochester Red Wings. In April 1981 the two teams played organized baseball’s longest game–33 innings. The teams stopped playing at four AM. The score was tied 2-2 after 32 innings. The game was resumed in June with the PawSox scoring in the bottom of 33rd to win 3-2. McCoy Stadium was built in 1942 and refurbished many times. It now seats 10,000 and average daily attendance is 7,000. My Rhode Island family tells HG that McCoy is the ideal place to watch a baseball game. They mention that the scale of the stadium and a certain humanity to the design encourages a rapport with the players and reminds fans that baseball is a game and not a television-fueled industry. Now comes the sad news. Investors have bought the PawSox and have announced plans to move the team from McCoy and Pawtucket to a larger and more “modern” site in the neighboring city of Providence. Pawtucket is a gritty little city that has fought hard to replace the manufacturing jobs once housed in the many local loft buildings. The PawSox give Pawtucket an identity. The team’s move would be an urban tragedy.
Sunday. That’s the day when HG gathers the week’s accumulation of garbage, newspapers, bottles, magazines, junk mail and drives it off to the nearby Pojoaque Waste Disposal Facility a.k.a. The Dump. A few Sundays back, it was cold with a hint of snow in the air. (No, not the murderous East Coast freeze but cold enough to chill aged HG). So, after the weekly chore it was off to warm and friendly El Parasol in Pojoaque. Earthy, down home New Mexican cuisine. HG’s favorites have long been El Parasol’s menudo, posole and arroz con pollo. Some time ago, HG mentioned to the proprietor Jose Atencio, a very genial and efficient host, that it would not be amiss if he added some vegetarian dishes to the menu. This might prove particularly attractive to the vegetarian Sikhs who live close to El Parasol in large ashrams, reasoned HG. And, so it came to pass. Señor Atencio now provides vegetarian enchiladas plus a very lush chile relleno burrito. On this frigid Sunday, surrounded by joyous Hispanic families, HG dug into the health food dish supreme: A Calabacitas burrito smothered in fiery real deal New Mexico green chile sauce. The big flour tortilla was stuffed with zucchini, yellow squash, corn and a bit of onion. A lusty layer of cheddar cheese was added, Rolled up and heated, the burrito put on a heavy overcoat of El Parasol inimitable green chile. Farewell, cold. Hello, savory satisfaction.
The temperature in HG/BSK’s New Mexico neighborhood has been in the low thirties lately. This may seem like tropical weather to those unfortunate folks who live in the Northeast but it seems frigid for the fortunate residents of The Land of Enchantment. That means comfort food for dinner. HG/BSK had a busy day so didn’t want to spend too much time in the kitchen. Sam Sifton’s New York Times recipe for “Vaguely Vietnamese Slow Cooker Pork Tacos” seemed like a good idea. Dusted off the slow cooker (haven’t used it in some time). The pork butt was popped into the slow cooker with the hoisin-fish sauce-ginger-garlic-onion-sesame oil mixture. Began cooking at 12:30. Turned off cooker at seven PM. BSK made a great cole slaw suggested by Sifton (This is a keeper. Perfect with any Asian food). Warmed flour tortillas. Pulled apart the tender and juicy pork. Ladled pork on the tortillas (with a few sprigs of cilantro). A great dinner. HG put a scallion and some dashes of Frank’s Louisiana Hot Sauce Ketchup in HG’s soft taco. The appetizing slow cooked pork can be utilized in a number of ways. HG intends to eat the pork tucked into some endive and romaine leaves. Should be good as a topping for room temperature sesame oil-slicked cellophane noodles with bean sprouts and chopped scallions. Looks like the HG/BSK slow cooker won’t be collecting dust anymore.
Angelo Di Benedetto (1913-1992), painter, sculptor, activist, was a frequent dinner guest of HG/BSK when they lived on a mountain ranch in the high Rocky Mountain foothills between Golden and Central City, Colorado. Angelo was BSK’s dedicated ally in her battle to preserve Clear Creek Canyon and defeat (successfully) efforts to destructively gravel mine the area. (Today, most of Clear Creek Canyon is owned by Jefferson County Open Space and the public has free access to one of the nation’s most scenic hiking destinations). Angelo, a man of Italian heritage, admired BSK’s Italian cuisine. Polenta with sausages in tomato sauce; Spaghetti Arabiatta; Rigatoni Amatriciana; Pork loin braised in milk; Linguine Puttanesca; Chicken Scarpariello. Angelo dove into these dishes with gusto. Angelo was a man of great artistic talent and strong convictions. In 1940, Life Magazine reproduced his paintings in an article about America’s most promising young painters. Angelo’s murals and major sculptures adorn public buildings and open areas throughout the United States. His paintings and smaller sculptures are in numerous museums and private collections. Angelo lived in Central City, founded during the 1859 Colorado Gold Rush. He bought the cavernous Sauer-McShane Warehouse there and lived and worked on two floors containing almost 15,000 square feet. Examples of Angelo’s extraordinary handiwork were evident everywhere. He welcomed visitors. (Among them were Mae West, Helen Hayes and Gypsy Rose Lee). Angelo enjoyed opera and when the Central City Opera was in session during the summer he brought many singers to HG/BSK’s home. (Once, in Denver, he punched and knocked down writer Jack Kerouac for insulting an opera singer friend). Angelo introduced HG to the Colfax Avenue Baths, in the once immigrant Jewish neighborhood of West Colfax Avenue, Denver. (Jewish sweatshop workers from New York, suffering from tuberculosis, migrated to Colorado starting in the 1880′s.They sought the clean air and sunshine that was supposed to cure the disease. The migration created two great Denver medical institutions founded by the Jewish community: National Jewish Health, one of the world’s most important respiratory disease research and treatments center; Rose Medical Center, a hospital which has been a pioneer in comprehensive women’s services including obstetrics and gynecology). The Colfax Avenue Baths is one of the few neighborhood reminders of the Colfax Jewish experience (there is also a small Hassidic synagogue nearby and there was a very depressed and dusty kosher grocery). Most of the patrons of the Colfax Baths are Hispanics with a scattering of Russians and old Jews. The Baths are women only on Thursday. Obviously, there are still some orthodox Jewish ladies who go there for “mikvah” (ritual bath) services.