HG/BSK attended the Rollo Bay Fiddle Festival near the town of Souris on Prince Edward Island. This is a two day event, the ultimate ceilidh, a celebration of Scottish and Irish music featuring scores of fiddlers, pipers, singers, step dancers and musicians from all over the Island, Nova Scotia and Cape Breton. Wikipedia defines “ceilidh” as: “Traditional Gaelic social gathering involving playing Gaelic music and dancing. Originated in Ireland and Scotland.” The Rollo Bay event is joyous with lots of folks arriving in motor homes from distant points. In addition to the music, HG/BSK enjoyed a unique treat: Scallops on a stick. These were sea scallops breaded in a spicy mix, quickly deep fried and skewered. Dazzling. Reminded HG of other wonderful, casual, often unexpected treats. As a very little boy in Depression era southeast Bronx, HG enjoyed sweet potatoes (with a big pat of butter) cooked by an old man in a charcoal stove on wheels. In that same time period, hot chickpeas doused with chicken fat were dispensed in paper cups. These were winter treats. In the summer, Italian vendors sold chunks of fresh coconut and sweet ices. During HG’s later New York days, HG sneered at “dirty water” hot dogs but loved the wondrous Italian sausages with peppers and onions served on crusty bread and cooked on the back of Greenwich Village trucks. HG encountered some great snacks during international travel. Hot chunks of garlic sausage were sold with robust bread and mustard on the streets of Prague (just months after Czechoslovakia became a democratic country). There was another interesting treat in that beautiful city: “Vaffels.” A window would open in a nondescript building. A sign was hung: “Vaffels.” A crowd would gather. And, out would come the treats. Warm waffles covered in bittersweet chocoate syrup and fresh whipped cream. The cost: Five cents American money, Preposterously delicious. Possibly the best of all street treats are the northern Chinese BBQ carts in the Flushing section of Queens. Truck pulls up at a corner with a retro-fitted charcoal oven. Old lady begins laying out various meats, veggies and seafood over the smoking coals. Dusts them in a mysterious blend of cumin, hot pepper and other spices. Served on a wooden skewer. She’s famous. There’s a long line. Worth the wait. Best chicken in the world.
So far, this summer in Prince Edward Island has not been the most summery — weather has featured rain, wind, grey skies and quite cool temperatures. The sun appears for only a few furtive moments each day. However, the Prince Edward Island air is full of the scent of salt and flowers and the simple beauty of the island provides enormous pleasure. Walks on the bluff overlooking the sea or on the beach in front of the HG//BSK home are invigorating. Happy family reunion. Present are: Lesley and Massimo R. plus Gorgeous Granddaughter Sofia (and equally enchanting Pippy, loving and intelligent dog, the perfect companion for HG/BSK’s Toby, The Wonder Dog). SJ and Exquisite Maiko plus Handsome Haru (celebrating his 9th birthday) and Teru, world’s most imperious and enchanting three year old daughter. The weather has not dampened spirits. It has also sharpened appetites. Last night, hunger was appeased by a seafood extravaganza utilizing family talents and the freshest creatures from the sea (including a halibut caught hours before in front of the HG/BSK home). HG and Massimo R. shucked dozens of Johnny Flynn’s Colville Bay oysters (the Island’s best). Profesore/Dottore/Ufficiale Massimo is as adept at oyster shucking as he is at illuminating and interpreting Itlalian culture. BSK grilled a dozen big Savage Harbor oysters. The raw oysters got a dab of BSK’s shallot and red wine vinaigrette. The grilled got hit by soy sauce. All of the oysters were consumed outdoors. Then the crowd filled the indoor dining area for appetizers: Lesley R.’s spectacular and herbaceous lobster salad plus her tingling tarragon infused Newfoundland shrimp salad. There was more: Exquisite Maiko’s halibut sashimi paired with Yuzu pepper. As always, EM’s dish afforded visual as well as culinary delight. Using the deftest knife skills, the perfect slices and rosettes of halibut were adorned by the tiniest slivers of radish and scallion. Then, on to the main dish: Calamarata in Fish Sauce. Massimo R. brought the Calamarata from Providence. A De Cecco brand, this pasta is shaped like a thick calamari ring (thus the name). Italians only eat it with seafood sauce. They are right. It was the perfect shape for Lesley R’s fish sauce composed of halibut, olive oil, garlic, onions, fennel, white wine, chopped herbs and a discreet amount of tomato. Plenty of red pepper flakes for spice and heat. Knockout of a dish. No room for dessert. But, HG managed to close the feast with a few snifters of brandy and Peychaud Bitters.
Ten for dinner. The extended HG clan plus Noel and Yossi M., BSK’s sister and brother-in-law (owners of super verdant PEI property south of HG/BSK’s home). After many nights of seafood, it was SJ’s turn to create a pork feast. SJ knows how to glorify the piggy wiggy. The dinner group, maddened with hunger honed by salt air, walks along the bluffs and beaches, awaited the food with (understatement) eagerness. SJ had rubbed a pork shoulder with a mix of brown sugar, chile powder, white pepper, garlic powder, celery seed, mustard, cumin and salt. Smoked it on the barbecue for five hours. This was the basis for pulled pork enhanced by a homemade vinegar based barbecue sauce. In the oven was another slow cooked pork shoulder prepared in the Mexican/Oaxacan/ Puerto Rican (pernil) style. The pork was stuffed with slivers of garlic and baked with onions, orange juice, lime juice, salt and cumin. Produced lots of sauce to enrich rice. As a side SJ also produced a spicy stew of black beans and Hungarian sausage and some fresh pico de gallo. BSK did a salad of PEI’s wonderful yellow beans and Lesley R. sliced heirloom tomatoes, sweet onions and avocado into a sprightly mix. There were plenty of tortillas on the table plush icy Gahan’s beer and Spanish Tempranillo wine. Finished with Lesley R.’s blueberry and strawberry gratin — a perfect desert balancing the sweet, the buttery and the sour. Though the day was grey, SJ created food that brought Mexican and Caribbean sunshine to the table. Viva SJ !!
There are two things Americans never order in Paris bistros: Andouillette (chitterling sausage) and tete de veau (boiled calf or veal head). Andouiellette is a horror, HG agrees. It is a sausage that smells like a bad toilet. Wikipedia explains: “The aroma is due to the pig’s colon utilized in the sausage which incorporates some of the same compounds that contribute to the odours of excremement.” Bluntly: It smells like shit. (French gourmands have told HG that the sausage is a robust, earthy treat. Nevertheless…). On the other hand, tete de veau, which offers copious amounts of cheeck, tongue, brains and other bits, is a treat. It is usually served with Sauce Gribiche (an HG favorite). This is a vibrant sauce composed of hard boiled eggs, mustard, olive oil, vinegar, capers, cornichons and herbs. HG always requests the amount of Gribiche be doubled. David Lebovitz (food blogger –David Lebovitz: Living the Sweet Life in Paris — and Author of the book: The Sweet Life In Paris) did a nice post on Gribiche entitled “Sauce Gribiche, Au Pif”. The phrase means “by the nose”. In the post a French friend tells David to make Gribiche “au pif”. That is, trust your instincts and individual taste in making the sauce. That’s what HG did last night when HG prepared a copious amount of Gribiche. It was served over lightly poached cod. Brought the fish to heavenly heights. On the plate were little PEI potatoes drenched in olive oil, Maldon sea salt and chopped herbs. BSK gilded the lily by doing BSK’s signature Asian sauté of bok choy and snow pea pods with garlic, ginger, sesame oil and Vietnamese fish sauce. A sumptuous meal.
Prince Edward Island is often called, with affection, “Spud Isle” because of its abundance of potato fields. Potatoes have been grown on PEI since 1760. It is now a billion dollar industry with some 330 potato growers cultivating 88,000 of mainly family owned acres which makes PEI the largest potato growing province in Canada. PEI’s soil is red, sandy with a high iron content giving the PEI potato a unique mineral tang. HG has never seen PEI potatoes in American supermarkets; instead we Americans consume spuds (which often have been stored for up to a year) from Idaho and Maine. PEI potatoes are better, attests HG. A favorite companion of roast chicken is BSK’s “smashed potatoes.” BSK roughly crushes boiled potatoes and mixes them with warmed chicken broth and sliced scallions. HG likes this better (and it’s healthier) than butter/cream potato puree. HG often slices PEI potatoes on a Japanese mandoline slicer and pan fries them with an abundance of chopped garlic (influenced by Paris bistro L’Ami Louis). Great with steak. A local favorite dish here on PEI is a “PEI Galette”: a casserole of thinly sliced potatoes, parmesan and mozzarella cheeses, herbs, garlic, olive oil, pureed onions baked in the oven and browned under the broiler. Sounds good. Have to try it.
Salmon with sorrel sauce (sauce oseille) is on the menus of many French bistros. Popularized by the chef Pierre Troisgros, the sauce is a lush mix of butter, cream and fish stock flavored with a chiffonade of sorrel leaves. HG/BSK have always enjoyed this bistro classic in Paris; however, when cooking farm raised salmon (alas, the only kind available on Prince Edward Island), BSK have modified this lush sauce to create a healthier, easier-to-prepare taste treat that still manages to elevate salmon to culinary heights. BSK grows sorrel in the BSK herb garden and it is grows like a weed — fast and furious. With this abundance, BSK makes sorrel soup (sauteed sorrel, butter lettuce, onion, butter and chicken broth pureed altogther). It is a great soup whether served hot or cold. To make a sauce for salmon, BSK reduces some soup and simmers it with additional butter and beaten egg yolks. Draped over a poached salmon, it is summer heaven.
HG/BSK were at the lovely St. Peters Harbor Beach (A.K.A. The Bad Boy Beach according to grandson Haru) yesterday. Powdery white sand. Towering sand dunes and beach grass tossed by the breezes. Would have been perfect except for broiling heat. Hottest day HG/BSK ever encountered on Prince Edward Island. Even a plunge in the cold surf couldn’t cool HG sufficiently. HG/BSK’s home on the Island’s northeast shore proved to be an oasis. Shade, insulation and architecture that places windows to strategically pick up breezes and ventilation from every direction. After showering, HG listened to Scarlatti concertos and sipped Pernod (Pernod with lots of ice, cold water and a dash of Angostura Bitters) while watching gulls and herons skim over the sea. HG/BSK then proceed to a leisurely, deeply satisfying hot weather meal. Savage Harbor oysters on the half shell with shallot/vinegar condiment; grilled oysters with a dab of butter and lemon; grilled local asparagus dressed with garlic, olive oil and sea salt. Main dish was a platter of simply dressed garden lettuce topped with gently browned sea scallops. Drank some cold Pinot Grigio and finished with glasses of Argentine Trapiche and slivers of Oka cheese. Delightful dining on a rare scorcher in PEI.
Pernod, the French anise based distilled spirit, is symbolic of summer for HG. Emulating the sun bronzed habitués of the Marseilles waterfront, HG likes to celebrate the glorious few hours before dinner (or supper, as the evening meal is called on Prince Edward Island) watching the sun go down with a soothing but stimulating glass of a Pernod beverage in hand. Simplest way to enjoy Pernod is on the rocks with water. The green spirit changes color in a happy way. HG sometimes gets sightly more elaborate by adding a dash of sugar syrup and Angostura Bitters to the drink. This is a more sober approach to supper than HG’s usual vodka on the rocks. HG often adds a small spoonful of Pernod to fish stews. Brings a touch of Provencal flavor. When added to olive oil, vinegar and fennel seeds, Pernod makes a pleasing marinade for salmon and other broiled fish.
Some like it hot. Count HG among that number. HG likes food prepared with spicy ingredients or accompanied and enhanced by condiments packing much heat. HG/BSK have a kitchen arsenal that attests to love of culinary fire. There are the peppers: White pepper (ground); black pepper (in the form of peppercorns); smoked black pepper (ground); Aleppo pepper (red and vibrant from Turkey); Berbere (very hot); Italian red pepper flakes; Szechuan peppercorns; whole dried red chiles used in Chinese and Mexican cooking. Powders: Red chile (medium and hot); Chipotle (dark and smoky); Coleman’s English Mustard Powder. Condiments (in bottles, cans and tubes): Frank’s Louisiana Hot Sauce; Frank’s Red Hot Ketchup; Frank’s Red Hot Sweet Chile; Chinese Sweet Chile Sauce; Fire Oil (Roasted sesame oil mixed with very hot chile. This is used in flavoring Dan Dan noodles); Sriracha; Matouk’s West Indian Hot Sauce (An HG favorite, it’s from Trinidad); Tabasco (for Bloody Marys); Queen Majesty Scotch Bonnet & Ginger Hot Sauce (fiery stuff from Jamaica by way of Brooklyn); Wasabi (for Japanese food); Sambal Oelek (Indonesian); Chinese Chile Garlic Sauce; Harissa (for Middle Eastern food); Chipotle peppers in sauce (also various bottled “picante” salsas as well as pickled Jalapeño peppers and Italian cherry peppers and horseradish). HG’s secret heat weapon (served only to masochists or heat veterans) is skhug. This is bottled hot sauce originated by Yemenite Jews. Just a tiny dab will give food a delicious blast of smoke and fire. (HG’s thoughtful brother-in-law, Yossi M., brings this back from Israel for HG). A wonderful hot sauce is chile de arbol. This is served (upon request) at New Mexico’s Sopaipilla Factory restaurant. HG adds some to a bowl of menudo to banish chill, gloom and hangover. It works. Viva la vida picante!!
During HG’s younger years in New York, there were many Hungarian (and Czech) restaurants on Lexington, Third and Second Avenues in the East 80′s and 90′s. The Czech restaurants specialized in tasty duck dishes. HG characterized the Hungarian eateries as “goulash by candlelight joints.” One of their common features was violin music provided by a “Gypsy” musician. The “Gypsy” would swoop down on individual tables and with many swooping gestures and soulful glances provide the diner with renditions of schmaltzy middle European cafe favorites. The object was to enhance the romantic mood of the diners. Somehow it worked (or maybe it was the copious amount of Egri Bikaver “Bull’s Blood” Hungarian red wine HG consumed). The “Gypsy” would continue to saw away until he was tipped. HG far preferred the “oompah, oompah” music provided by the band at Luchow’s, the glorious German restaurant on 14th Street. There were few jollier places in New York than Luchow’s during Christmas season when the venerable walls were adorned with holly and sparkling lights and the band focused on happy carols. Another pleasant winter music dining venue was the Edwardian Room of the Plaza Hotel. A cocktail pianist tinkled away in the background as diners ate in the handsome room gazing out at snow falling on Central Park. HG recalls a little steak house (name, alas, forgotten) where the owner, accompanied by a portable keyboard, sang show tunes to individual tables. His whiskey roughened voice was perfect for “Fugue for Tinhorns” from “Guys and Dolls.” And, then there’s Sammy’s Romanian on the Lower East Side. For many decades Sammy’s has featured music from singers, violinists and pianists singing old Yiddish music hall chestnuts and some popular melodies interspersed with low end, politically incorrect humor. The latest incarnation is Dani Luv, an Israeli born pianist with a killer Louis Armstrong impression. His audience, liberally stoked with vodka, garlic and chicken fat, is raucously appreciative.