Family Feasting

August 27th, 2015 § 0 comments § permalink

Toby, The Wonder Dog, breakfasted this morning. Looked around his Prince Edward Island domain. Where has everyone gone? Just HG/BSK seemed to be at home. Toby trotted up the stairs to check bedrooms. Empty. Yes, daughter Victoria, the New York restaurateur (Cookshop, Hundred Acres, Vic’s, Rosie’s) and husband-partner-chef Marc M., left PEI early this morning. SJ, Exquisite Maiko, Handsome Haru and Teru, the wee dynamo, left last night. Unusual quiet reigns. Victoria and Marc braved a ferocious storm to arrive for a three day visit. Much beach fun and lusty feasting took place. It was agreed that chef Marc would cook only one dish, his incomparable brandade, during his visit. He, of course disobeyed. Made an wonderful ceviche of fresh sea scallops in a puree of jalapeno pepper, cucumbers, cilantro and lime juice to jump start the first feast. There were also some briny Malpeque oysters, EM’s signature sauté of sole and bok choy dotted with crisp garlic chips plus a very savory platter of EM’s stir fried shrimp. Oh, my. The next day a birthday party was planned for EM. Victoria, Marc, BSK, Handsome Haru were off to Panmure Island for clamming, swimming and paddle boarding (with a stop in Montague for sweet corn and birthday cupcakes). SJ, HG, EM and Teru were off to the fishing port of Naufrage (EM wanted to pick up some fresh-off-the-boat mackerel in order to make EM’s superb tataki). No mackerel came in that day but the group watched as a 500-pound bluefin tuna was unloaded, quickly processed (this is a gory spectacle involving chainsaws and sharp knives that didn’t faze wee Teru at all) and sold to a dock-side buyer. HG picked up a batch of just cooked lobsters plus Colville Bay oysters at The Lobster Shack in Souris. The clam team had good luck. Dug some four dozen quahogs. Ingredients for a big EM birthday feast were set. Once more, Marc got got busy in the kitchen and constructed a sumptuous stew of clams, corn, potatoes, herbs and plenty of smoked Spanish paprika. Wonderful taste of the sea. This was followed by lobsters with melted butter, loads of sweet corn, little potatoes from Yossi M.’s spud patch. Gifts for birthday girl EM. Much hilarity. Next day was breezy and sunny. (SJ and family left early for Brooklyn with stopover in Rhode Island). At the end of the day, Marc made his lush brandade with fresh haddock (rather than the typical salt cod). Ate it on the outdoor table facing the glistening sea. Magical moments. This was preceded by shucked Colville Bay oysters. Then, indoors to watch the sunset and eat Marc’s pasta with broccoli and chickpeas. More Marc mastery. Finished with green salad. Drank a lot of Spanish red wine. Goodbye hugs for Victoria and Marc. A joyous visit.

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Himalayan Curry

August 26th, 2015 § 0 comments § permalink

Except for an occasional bit of fried fish at Rick’s Fish and Chips or a scallop sandwich at Lin’s takeout (both in St. Peters, Prince Edward Island), HG/BSK confine their dining to sumptuous home meals of fresh fish, bivalves and local vegetables. So, last night was a special, unfamiliar treat. HG/BSK drove into Charlottetown for dinner at Himalayan Curry, a restaurant serving “authentic Indian food.” HG/BSK’s expectations were not high. There’s wonderful food on PEI (see the article on PEI culinary adventures in the Sunday, August 2 Travel section of the New York Times). However, good ethnic dining of the Asian variety is very rare. HG/BSK’s optimism was raised when they entered Himalayan Curry and found the small restaurant filled with happy diners, including an Indian family (ten people of all ages). Things continued to look up as BSK sipped nicely chilled pinot grigio and HG drank Corona Mexican beer from a frosty glass. Crisp, greaseless papadums were devoured. The sweet young waitperson brought a platter of Momo, Tibetan dumplings that were dipped in a flavorful sauce. Excellent. They then had butter chicken (hotly spiced for HG), chicken tikka, saag paneer (spinach and cheese), excellent potato stuffed naan, fluffy rice, raita, chutney, mixed pickles. Tasty stuff. Very appropriate for a warm summer night. No, this wasn’t the kind of great Indian food one finds in London. Michelin is not going to adorn HC with stars. But the service is sweet, the room is comfortable, the food is made with fresh ingredients. Quite pleasant and a nice change for HG/BSK.

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PEI Bivalves

August 25th, 2015 § 0 comments § permalink

Among the pleasures of summer on Prince Edward Island is the abundance of excellent bivalves–oysters, clams, scallops and mussels. Prices of these good things are much lower than in the United Sates. And, they are just-caught, right-off-the-boat fresh. While two of SJ and EM’s Brooklyn pals (with three lively kids) were visiting PEI, a festive dinner of bivalves fed the group. First course was Malpeque oysters shucked by HG. These were a revelation. They tasted like the very best Fines de Claire HG had consumed at Paris brasseries. HG usually favors Colville Bay oysters in the fall and late summer (they are a bit milky from spawning during mid-summer) or Savage Bay oysters, plump and mild. Malpeques are now first choice. They have long been the oyster most exported from PEI. At a 1900 food exhibition in Paris, they were awarded a prize as the world’s best tasting oyster (the flavorful guys haven’t gone downhill since then). BSK grilled some of the oysters on the barbecue (Modest disagreement. BSK and EM love grilled oysters. HG demurs). Earlier in the day, there was clamming on the shore of St. Mary’s Bay. The Brooklyn group learned fast and some 54 quahog were dug. They were steamed with four pounds of mussels. All of the bivalve juices enhanced BSK’s savory sauce of olive oil, garlic, onions, herbs, etc. Mussels, clams and sauce topped perfectly al dente Garofalo linguine. A caveat from HG. The mussels were disappointing. The flavor was pleasant but the mussels were tiny, a far cry from the plump juicy mussels that have long been a PEI signature. What has happened? The long, harsh winter? Ecological changes in St. Peters Bay and other mussel farming locales? HG hopes conditions change so the mussels return to their former splendor.

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Berry Bliss

August 24th, 2015 § 0 comments § permalink

It was the Edwardian dandy, Max Beerbohm (“The incomparable Max” as George Bernard Shaw dubbed him), who wrote: “Strawberries picked from a sunny, dew kissed meadow never taste as good as those bought at the greengrocer.” HG has always loved Max’s talents as a theater critic, essayist, novelist and caricaturist. His prose is elegance personified. He was very much an urban (and urbane) man. Loved London though he spent much of his life in a tiny house perched on an Italian coastal hilltop. Of course, his comment about berries, though cynically amusing, is totally wrong. HG thought about incomparable Max yesterday. A strange day on Prince Edward Island. Short bursts of rain and then breezy, briny calm. Perfect for strolling on the paths cut through neighboring land generously contributed to a nature conservancy by HG/BSK’s kind neighbors, Chuck and Gloria P. The bushes are adorned with blueberries and raspberries, Accompanied by Toby, The Wonder Dog, HG strolled and munched. The raspberries HG picked were, like Max, incomparable. Full of juice and pungent sweetness. (BSK and EM had been blueberry picking the day before. Kind souls, they left the raspberries for HG). The fickle weather patterns provided both a spectacular, best ever sunset but an early evening rainbow. The sight enthralled the family as they dined on clams Posillipo (quahogs steamed with tomatoes, olive oil, garlic and hot pepper flakes) and South Lake scallops, seared briefly and then mixed with fresh garden greens. While eating the succulent bivalves, HG thought about a comment of Beerbohm’s on dining in restaurants: “A restaurant dinner always tastes better when someone else is paying.”

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Depression Era Rockaway

August 22nd, 2015 § 2 comments § permalink

For a few years now, Rockaway, the proletarian beach peninsula that stretches off Brooklyn and Queens, has become one of the coolest spots in New York City. Peter Hellman, HG’s pal (Hellman is a brilliant journalist, wine expert and author of many books), was a pioneer in discovering it as a great surf spot. Now the Rockaway is filled with surfers and scores of boards rest on the the boardwalk newly restored after the devastation of Hurricane Sandy. Lots of restaurants lure hipsters (NY Times recently did a story on Tacoway, an innovative Mexican joint). Rundown houses (sold at steep prices) are being renovated as second home retreats. SJ, the Jamaican music retailer/archivist/impressario/deejay, does a few reggae shows at a beach venue every summer. And, that’s HG’s definition of super-cool. The new Rockaway bears little resemblance to Depression-era Rockaway where HG and family escaped from the steamy Bronx from July 1 to the end of the Labor Day weekend. HG has written many posts about the primitive, cramped but joyous boarding house lodgings occupied by the family (rent was $35 for the summer). The boarding house was on B. 114th Street, a very Irish Catholic neighborhood. Nine-year-old HG, the only Jewish kid on the block, had a rude welcome. A dozen fights. Then, a grudging acceptance. HG was the unquestioned star of the tough football games played on the beach. HG captained the team when the 114th Street kids challenged the hated guys from 113th Street. HG’s pal, Jimmy Rourke, insisted HG wear a Catholic Miraculous Medal. Didn’t want HG to be the target of dirty play if a Jewish identity was revealed. HG complied. The 114th Streeters won. Many happy memories, Fireworks every Wednesday night. Concert (every two weeks) by the boys from the nearby Catholic orphanage. The orphans were shepherded for their ocean swimming by stern nuns. Little HG was beguiled by the head to toe voluminous bathing costumes worn by the swimming nuns. Reidy’s Bar and Grill was on the corner (it was where HG would fetch a pail of cold beer for the family dinner). HG had his first romance with the proprietor’s daughter, Peggy. The cute freckle-faced miss gave HG a first kiss. Unforgettable. Gave HG a lifelong predilection for freckles (witness BSK). During those Depression years folks managed to live without television and other electronic miracles. They made their own entertainment. A few times every summer boarding house tenants put on an amateur musical entertainment–a house party. HG recalls Gaelic step dancing, tap dancing, banjo and ukulele strumming. Lots of song. HG’s Mom got applause for a romantic song about the Isle of Capri. But, the big hit was older sister Beulah’s rendition of “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling.” Little HG provided a moment of unconscious comedy (long a part of family legend). For some obscure reason, HG fancied himself a singer. HG entertained the crowd with an a Cappella version of “Paper Doll.” The totally off key version produced roars of laughter. HG was puzzled but accepting. End of musical career. Of course, the best thing about Rockaway was the sea. Little HG was in and out all day. Swimming. Body surfing. Splashing. The beach was crowded. Wall to wall people. Little HG found it festive. Fun by the sea has always been part of HG’s life. Fire Island, Nantucket. Vancouver. And, now, Prince Edward Island. As HG writes about these memories, HG looks out at sun shining on a serene, warm sea. Beautiful, empty beach dotted with the radiant bodies of HG’s grandchildren frolicking, BSK taking in the sun, EM paddling a kayak. Farewell memories. Time for a swim.

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Two Perfect Days of Music and Meals

August 21st, 2015 § 0 comments § permalink

Prince Edward Island has a modest population: 146,283 (Of course, it’s kicked up a notch during summer tourism season). It often seems to HG that everyone in the native population is a talented musician. Every church and community center sponsors “ceilighs” (informal celebrations of Celtic music and song). Beyond that there are scores of rock groups, folk artists and more. Wherever the public gathers, there is sure to be a musician. The best version of Leonard Cohen’s haunting “Hallelujah” HG ever heard was provided a few weeks ago by a young woman singing at the entrance to the Charlottetown Farmers Market. And, there are festivals galore (HG recently reported on HG/BSK’s attendance at the Rollo Bay Fiddle Festival.) Professional concerts abound, some involving marquee names (Rod Stewart was a recent performer). Yesterday, HG/BSK and the youngsters visited the farmers market in the charming town of Cardigan featuring John the Baker’s baguettes, fresh greens and hand crafted mustard pickles. EM and Haru whacked a tennis ball on the adjacent tennis court. BSK shopped. With wee Teru perched on HG’s knee, HG listened to some splendid live musical performers. First on stage was a slender young man who sang accompanied by his guitar. Great standards (very moving version of “Mr. Bojangles”) plus songs of his own composition. The performer, Nick Doneff, was a knockout. Even wee Teru acknowledged his artistry by clapping her tiny hands. Next up was Trio Bembe, a female vocalist, a male percussionist and a male guitarist. The music was lively Latino, songs from Cuba, Mexico, Colombia and Peru. Terrific. The show at Cardigan was part of promotional effort for Cloggeroo, “The Island Folk Festival”, staged for three days at the nearby town of Georgetown. Yes, good music is inescapable on Prince Edward Island. The afternoon was devoted to fun on the beach in front of HG/BSK’s home. BSK and Exquisite Maiko took Teru on kayak paddles on the calm seas. Handsome Haru rook off on a solo kayak voyage (the young man’s kayak skills have become advanced). HG interrupted his reading with long swims in the warm water (visitors are always surprised how warm the PEI sea is in mid-August). Dinner can only be described as a taste epic. EM performed tempura magic. Bowls of soba in broth (enhanced by crisp strips of nori.) EM kept busy in front of the bowl of batter and oil sizzling in a wok. Platters of superlatively crisp delicacies appeared (haddock, shrimp and scallops from By the Bay Fish Mart in St. Peters) plus slices of onion and zucchini, yellow beans and (surprisingly) clusters of sweet corn kernels. HG always feels a twinge of guilt (easily suppressed by appetite) when EM creates a tempura extravaganza. Everyone eats happily while EM works. This time, however, EM managed to stage the cooking so she could be at table to devour some of her savory morsels. A colorful sunset concluded a perfect PEI summer day.

The following day was simply a perfect beach day on the white sands off Prince Edward Island’s MacLaren Road. The sea was calm and warm, perfect for long swims. Little Teru was an aqua belle and Handsome Haru used his boogie board and snorkel equipment for long bouts among the waves. HG performed the leisurely HG backstroke. EM, Haru and BSK played Kadima, keeping the ball in the air for an auspicious amount of time. More family groups (about seven) on the beach than HG/BSK had ever encountered (not exactly Coney Island in the summer). Beach neighbors were a group of happy, attractive French-speaking children (probably from Quebec) supervised by a smiling grandmother. Busy kids. They built a huge sand castle. Buried each other in the sand. Swam. Played by the shore. A happy sight. HG and Toby, The Wonder Dog, strolled along the shore looking for beach glass (found a dozen modest specimens). Teru was unhappy about leaving the beach (and who could blame her?). Protested with a long, super loud bout of crying. Like Toby, Teru can manage to get a lot of noise out of a very small body. Became her usual sunny self as the group returned home. BSK was in charge of dinner and put the outdoor gas barbecue to good use. Grilled onions, peppers and asparagus. HG helped in grilling a thick flank steak (BSK had previously marinated it in soy sauce, garlic and a bit of olive oil). Best flank steak HG ever tasted (it was local PEI beef). Because of the thickness, there were slices to everyone’s taste (from blood rare for HG to medium rare and well done for the rest of the table). There were also outstanding boiled potatoes from brother-in-law Yossi’s garden. Freshly pulled from the earth and dressed simply with olive oil and Maldon Sea Salt they were a perfect complement to the meat and vegetables. Yossi, who grew up on an Israeli kibbutz, is an experienced agriculturist. HG/BSK are happy beneficiaries of his skills.

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Down Home Condiments

August 20th, 2015 § 0 comments § permalink

Prince Edward Island has many down home culinary delights created by no-nonsense ladies cooking in small kitchens. Every farm stand has shelves of jams (strawberry rhubarb is the best) and jellies (HG likes the fiery hot red pepper jelly, tasty on a cracker with a dab of cream cheese.) And, there are sweet pickles and relishes. Recently, BSK bought a jar of delight from two older women (who call themselves Donbar Crafts) at the farmers market in Cardigan (home of John the Baker’s fabulous baguettes). The mason jar is labeled: MUSTARD PICKLES: CUCUMBERS, ONIONS, RED PEPPER, DRY MUSTARD, TUMERIC, SUGAR AND VINEGAR. Please note. No chemicals, no additives, These are the best mustard pickles in the world. They are particularly good with Lesley R.’s codfish cakes or grilled bratwurst. They were a highlight of last night’s dinner. The meal started with some shucked Malpeque oysters. HG took some left over corn from the refrigerator and fried a dozen corn fritters (some Worcestershire Sauce in the mix gave them a flavor lift). EM performed her usual magic act. Cut fresh haddock filets into a number of equal sized portions. Dipped in beaten egg and then into a fish fry mix. Into sizzling oil (in a black cast iron pan, of course). This was fried fish with a difference. The crust was delicate and crisp. The fish interior was juicy and flavorful. Far better than the heavily crusted fish HG has enjoyed in English “chippies” and PEI fry stands and restaurants. BSK augmented the dishes with a lovely salad of sliced cherry tomatoes and spring onions. And, there was the mustard pickle. The condiment from heaven. Joy.

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Happy Sausage Discovery

August 19th, 2015 § 0 comments § permalink

HG has often written about the wonders of grilled Italian sausages (with fried peppers and onions, of course) that were sold off the back of trucks in New York’s Greenwich Village many decades ago. Sausage and peppers are always on the menus of traditional Italian restaurants in New York and New Jersey and are served to the crowds at the feast of San Gennaro in Little Italy (an area that is losing its ethnic identity as it has evolved into a tourist enclavein the middle of an encroaching and vibrant Chinatown). Unfortunately, when you leave New York/New Jersey the quality of Italian sausages diminishes. Supermarket products are loaded with nitrates, filler and have a nasty flavor. Whole Foods sausages have good ingredients but the spicing is pallid. HG has checked online sources with modest success. Some Italian New York butchers will send sausages to HG’s New Mexico kitchen but only in thirty to sixty pound orders. That’s a lot of salciccia. Pat La Frieda, the eminent New York gourmet butcher (in business since 1922) offers a 3-pound batch (‘from Grandfather’s recipe”) for $40 (plus shipping). Quite pricey. The 6-pound batch is a better deal at $62. There are times on Prince Edward Island when HG wants to vacation from seafood and dive into the food of HG’s Greenwich Village youth when apartments rented for $30 a month and artistic young women wore black leotards. It may be sentimental nostalgia, but HG wants to eat sausage and peppers. Happily, HG made a fortunate discovery as HG examined the meat case at McPhee’s Supermarket in Souris. There, HG found all natural Italian sausages from Fingal, Ontario. Three brothers, Mark, Brian and Jason Caughell raise healthy pigs: grain fed, no antibiotics, no growth hormones. And, the sausages have no chemicals or other adulterants. HG thought: Give them a try. If the taste is insipid, invigorate them with hot pepper flakes and fennel seeds. Last night was the big test. BSK fried peppers and onions with a bit of garlic in good olive oil. A splash of wine vinegar to complete the cooking. Prepared penne with parmesan. Sliced a very superior John the Baker baguette from the Cardigan Market. HG assumed responsibility for the sausages. Six sausages were popped into a pot of boiling water. The heat was turned off and the sausages were left to poach gently until the water returned to room temperature. The sausages then went on the gas barbecue grill and were cooked carefully until they were crisp and dark brown. HG and BSK dug in with knife and fork. Silence. Then some happy smiles. This was the real deal. Sausages that brought back memories. Viva Ontario!! Viva brothers Caughell !!

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Masterful Maiko

August 17th, 2015 § 0 comments § permalink

Yes, HG is obsessive about food. At the end of one meal, HG plans immediately the next culinary experience. Not a harmful obsession (except, possibly, for the waistline). Far less harmful than monetary greed, lechery or a lust for opiates. HG’s family shares HG’s interest (if not obsession) with dining. And, HG benefits from the fact that they are all excellent cooks. HG’s role is to play the dual roles of Enthusiastic Feeder and Indulgent Critic. While HG loves SJ’s barbecue (and chicken gumbo), Lesley R.’s pasta dishes and seafood stews, BSK’s pork chops, smashed potatoes, poached eggs and other classics, it is Exquisite Maiko who brings cuisine to a lush and lofty level. Every EM dish is not only sublimely delicious but is composed as a visual treat, a work of art that provides pleasure to both the eye and the palate. Over the past few nights there were some typical EM performances which resulted in two of the best meals HG ever ate: For the first, there was a minimum amount of calories (happily) because HG’s appetite (and consumption) was even more robust than usual. These were the elements of the meal. EM’s signature of lightly sautéed sole filets flanked by steamed bok choy and adorned with garlic chips and bonito flakes. Eggplant was grilled and then marinated in sake, soy sauce, garlic, ginger, sesame oil and broth. Tiger shrimp sautéed with ginger, garlic, sesame oil and a tiny bit of butter. Dusted with smoked Spanish paprika (for a bit of heat). Bowls of fluffy rice. It is useless to detail EM’s recipes. They are dependent upon a combination of professional knife skills, intuitive timing and Japanese aesthetics. HG (and family) are the happy and admiring beneficiaries.

For the second amazing meal, HG was reminded of a blazingly hot late July day in New York some 50 years ago. HG and a very pregnant BSK (baby due next month) were shopping for baby furniture and other necessary equipment at Macy’s. Herald Square was an inferno. The tired and famished duo sought refuge at nearby Keen’s Chop House, a favorite restaurant. A strange choice, since the venerable restaurant specialized in hearty wintry fare like mutton chops, roast beef, steaks, Yorkshire Pudding, etc.. However, the restaurant air conditioning was functioning nicely. The dark oak paneling and antique lights created an Old-London-In-Autumn atmosphere. Cool and comfortable HG/BSK devoured great slabs of tender, rare roast beef with Yorkshire Pudding and leaf spinach. Fiery horse radish and English mustard on the table. Cold English ale. A very satisfying meal on an improbable day. HG recalled this meal at dinner on Prince Edward Island as the day was unusually hot, humid and sticky. EM found oxtails at a local supermarket so the inventive chef brewed hearty oxtail soup, big chunks of oxtail floating in rich broth enhanced with chopped scallions, herbs and Ponzu. Lightly marinated crisp Napa cabbage was added to the dish and a sprinkling of Japanese hot pepper mix. The meat was tender with a nice slightly gelatinous texture. The broth was invigorating. The discomfort of the day was banished. Somehow, a delicious comfort level was achieved. Finally, a cooling breeze swept over the dinner table and the happy group finished the meal with a platter of EM’s Mo Po Tofu. Delicious. Thanks, inventive EM, for defying the conventions of hot weather cooking.

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Russian Ambivalence

August 15th, 2015 § 3 comments § permalink

Midday. HG sipped BSK’s savory sorrel soup and thought of schav the sour and tangy ice cold soup HG’s Mom served on steamy New York summer days. Mom’s soup was a variation of schi, a favorite Russian soup that is made with sorrel and spinach in the summer and cabbage (or sauerkraut) in the winter. Mom also made beet borscht in the summer (always served with a dollop of sour cream) and either a boiled potato or cottage cheese mixed with chopped onions and radish. Winter was time for kapusta, a very filling cabbage and beef soup. Chicken soup was enriched with a ladle of the Russian staple, kasha (buckwheat groats). Smetana (sour cream) is eaten with virtually everything in Russia and Mom followed that custom. All of her cooking was a blend of Russian and Jewish flavors but since she learned to cook from her mother in Belorussia, she favored Russia. HG’s father drank tea Russian-style: a sugar cube clenched in his teeth (sometimes cherry jam was added to the tea). HG’s father home brewed Russian cherry brandy, vishniak. Cherries, soaked and aged in sugared vishniak, were a special treat. (Seven-year-old HG once raided a bowl and had HG’s first, but not last, tipsy experience). Vodka was never seen in HG’s home. Presumably, the family associated it with Russian peasants, Cossacks and violence. The spirit of choice, besides vishniak, was Park & Tilford rye whiskey. HG’s father always had a robust shot before dinner and poured a tiny snifter for little HG (thus beginning a very pleasurable lifetime custom). Yiddish and English were spoken in HG’s home but Mom and Dad switched to Russian when they discussed subjects forbidden to children (sex?). HG’s father was profoundly anti-Communist. A Socialist and a youthful member of the Jewish Labor Bund, he hated Stalin and always called him the Momser (the bastard). “Der Fuhrer Hitler” and “the Momser Stalin”, in his eyes, were equally evil mass murderers. During HG’s youth, HG was more sympathetic to Stalin and Russia. HG cited Russia’s support of the Spanish Loyalists during the Spanish Civil War, the American Communist Party’s battles against racism and the fact that Russia, alone in Europe, was a bulwark against anti-Semitism. HG’s father shook his head and said HG had a good heart but was deceived by Stalin’s propagandists. Just wait, young HG was advised, you will learn the truth about Stalin (“that monster momser.”) Of course, HG’s father who had no formal education but much labor union experience, was correct. Stalin was a monster, responsible for the death of 10,000,000 Ukrainians by famine during his agricultural collectivization program and the death of untold millions of Russians in purges and gulag imprisonment. His destructively wrong headed strategy toward Germany during the early days of World War Two cost millions of Russian lives and could have led to a to a total German conquest of Russia. HG has been immersed in thoughts about Russia since a recent reading of “A Writer At War: A Soviet Journalist With The Red Army, 1941-1945″ by Vasily Grossman. A superb war correspondent and great novelist (“Life and Fate” about the siege of Stalingrad), Grossman is particularly moving in depicting the courage of Russian soldiers, often poorly lead (they died by the millions but they defeated the better organized, technically superior Germans). Grossman personalizes combat through the intimate depiction of the participants. A critic described Grossman as “a perceptive observer with an eye for detail.” No writer, in HG’s opinion, has ever had a better grasp of what Grossman called “the brutal truth of war.” His journalistic masterpiece is probably his description of Treblinka, the Nazi death camp (874,000 Jews were murdered there and 2,000 Gypsies). Grossman’s precise detailing of the camp’s operations is a chilling, horrible piece of Holocaust history. After describing one almost inconceivable horror, Grossman writes:”It is infinitely hard even to read this. It is as hard to write it. Someone might ask:’Why write about this, why remember all that?’ It is the writer’s duty to tell this terrible truth, and it is the duty of the reader to learn it. Everyone who would turn away, who would shut his eyes and walk past would insult the memory of the dead.” Given his humanism and his passion for the truth, Grossman became a political outcast in the Soviet Union. It was ruled his novel “Life and Fate” could not be published for over 200 years. In 1961, KGB officers broke into his apartment and seized every copy of the manuscript plus carbon paper and typewriters. However, Grossman had left a copy with a friend and it was eventually smuggled into Switzerland. Published worldwide, it was acclaimed as one of the greatest Russian novels of the twentieth century. It was published in Russia only as communism itself collapsed. Grossman died of stomach cancer in 1964. He was 59, living in poverty. His earlier works were removed from circulation and he believed his great work had been suppressed forever. If you have not read Grossman, do so. He is a treasure.

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