For a few years, one of HG’s favorite lunchtime treats has been a big, steaming bowl of instant ramen–specifically hot and spicy Shin Ramyun Noodle Soup, created and manufactured in Korea and consumed throughout the world. Low in calories. No cholesterol. Healthy stuff, thought HG, until Gifted Daughter Lesley R. pointed out that a package contains 1040 mg of sodium. That’s a super abundance of salt. Not helpful for high blood pressure. Instant ramen has been under attack from American nutrition scientists (causing consternation in Seoul). With all of this in mind, HG has not given up on Shin Ramyun but has made (HG believes) beneficial modifications. Each package of Shin Ramyun contains a little package of dried vegetables and a package of soup flavoring. These are the villains, HG surmised. The noodles themselves are just a modest source of carbohydrates. So, HG tossed those packages (but adding a 1/2 teaspoon of the soup flavoring for color). HG provided taste by putting some tablespoons of healthy kimchi (sourced at Whole Foods) in the ppt with the water and noodles. Turned out great. HG has been experimenting. Tofu and a smidgen of soy sauce to the noodles. A beaten egg swirled in the soup and a dash of Frank’s Louisiana Thick Hot Sauce or Sriracha. In the future is noodle soup with a poached egg and bacon (low sodium chicken broth instead of water). Also the soup with watercress and snippets of ham. David Chang, the eminent chef and founder of the Momofuku restaurants, demonstrated that ramen translated perfectly into a Roman style cacio e pepe; then again, Chang likes to munch on the uncooked noodles as a snack. HG will take a pass on that one.
New York 1953 or 1954. HG was combining two careers: journalist and night club (mostly jazz joints) press agent. HG was press agent for the short lived midtown Clique Club where the late Sammy Benskin, a superb jazz pianist and an HG pal, was headlining with his trio. Sammy called HG and told him to get down to the club the next night when a vocal duo, Jackie and Roy, would be making a guest appearance. You will be blown away, promised Sammy. And, so it came to pass. They did “Mountain Greenery” and it was a revelation. Did their takes on some standards and the tunes became as fresh as a Spring morning. How to describe Jackie’s voice? Champagne bubbles. A mountain stream. Silver. Warm, glowing verbal precision with the earthy hint of her Midwestern accent. No, words aren’t ample, HG was surprised at the couple’s appearance. Jazz performers either wore outlandish clothes (women in super snug “mermaid” gowns) or were drug addled and unkempt. Handsome Roy Kral looked like an Ivy League fashion plate and beautiful Jackie Cain wore tweeds. Yes, tweeds. Not sequins. The two best looking people in the jazz world. (No need to recount their career. The NY Times and LA times had good, accurate obituaries of Jackie this week). Listened to their albums but never saw them again until Fire Island in the 60′s. Jackie and Roy were beach neighbors and HG/BSK formed a close friendship that lasted through Roy’s death in 2002 and Jackie’s death this week. When HG/BSK moved to Montclair, NJ. in the 70′s, Jackie and Roy soon followed (and that’s where Jackie died). So many joyous memories. And, some tragic ones. Their strikingly beautiful daughter, Niki, died in an automobile accident. Jackie and Roy were wonderful to our children. Jackie, who had an ethereal beauty, was a surprisingly robust cook in the Czech/Polish tradition. Our families ate, drank, played and laughed together for many decades. Now, Jackie’s gone. Another bright light from HG’s life has been dimmed. Permit HG to share a memory: Roy once recalled that the first time he accompanied Jackie was at a Chicago night club. Jackie was 18 and fresh out of high school. Roy was reluctant. Didn’t think much of girl singers. She changed his mind. Jackie sang that great Harold Arlen/Yip Harburg song: “Happiness Is Just A Thing Called Joe.” Said Roy: “The place went nuts.” Years later, at an HG birthday dinner, sang the song (unaccompanied) as a birthday treat. HG went nuts.
The time: Early 1950′s. The place: Murphy’s Bar & Grill on 45th Street and Third Avenue (the El roaring overhead). The occasion: A drunken informal observation of HG’s birthday. While HG ate pickled pork knuckles with mustard accompanied by boilermakers (rye whiskey with beer chasers), Dan M., a Daily Mirror rewrite man, sang HG’s birthday present: A full length, heart ending version of “Kevin Barry”. The many verse song told of the martyrdom at the hands of the British of 18-year-old Kevin Barry, medical student and soldier in the Irish Republican Army. Barry met his fate during the Irish War For Independence. He was hung on Nov.1, 1920. The song noted: “A lad of 18 summers, Kevin Barry gave his young life for Ireland and the cause of liberty.” Memorable was Barry’s request of the British: “Shoot me like an Irish soldier. Don’t hang me like a dog.” The British hung him. Dan M., who had a varied repertoire, followed “Kevin Barry” with a rousing rendition of the Yiddish music hall hit, “Romania, Romania” as done in the style of Aaron Lebedeff. Present at the raucous festivities was Howard W., HG’s journalism and life mentor. An I.R.A. gunman during the War For Independence and the subsequent Civil War, Howard W. did not join in the “Kevin Barry” song. He hated all Irish rebel songs and, disillusioned with violence, called his experiences “a catastrophe of blood, treachery and politics.” He despised the Irish-American habitués of Third Avenue bars and their loud Irish patriotism. ‘Whiskey warriors,” said Howard. He figured in an extraordinary incident where, as he boarded the Third Avenue trolley (they used to run under the El), the driver suddenly leaped out of his driver’s seat, abandoned his vehicle and ran away. It seemed that the driver, who had been an informer for the British, recognized Howard as an I.R.A, enforcer. He thought his final moment had come. Howard made no comment about the incident. There was much saloon singing during HG’s journalistic days. Nat O.,a newspaper motorcycle messenger (and a former driver for burglars), was an HG drinking companion. Nat, who was Jewish, had a remarkable Irish tenor voice and a vast array of sentimental Irish sings of the “Mother Machree,” and “Danny Boy” vintage. Whenever Nat raised his voice, he and HG rarely paid for a drink. Unfortunately, after many songs and drinks, Nat would become hostile and evenings ended with fisticuffs. Somehow HG emerged always without injury. HG’s favorite saloon singer was a quasi girlfriend, Alice C. Only in her twenties when HG knew her, Alice (mature for her age), ran away from home at the age of 14 and became a Las Vegas showgirl. This was followed by a career as a singer in Jewish Borscht Belt hotels where she learned a number of schmaltzy, tear jerking melodies. Her next career was as a heavy drinking Broadway press agent (that’s when she and HG became pals). HG, Alice, police reporters, bail bondsmen, loan sharks and Jewish thugs had a late night hangout: Dubiner’s Bar and Restaurant on Stanton Street off Allen on the Lower East Side. The specialties of the house were gefilte fish with hair-raising horseradish, chopped liver with abundant chicken fat and garlicky, room temperature fried fish. HG enjoyed these goodies with lots of vodka. Alice, a determined bourbon drinker, would sing. “Yiddishe Mama” and “Papirosen” were two of her big numbers. She could really milk those songs. HG does not exaggerate: Tears rolled down the cheeks of the tough guys. What happened to Alice? She abandoned her dissolute ways (HG played a small part in that development). Went to medical school. Became a pediatrician. Lived a productive and conventional life in the suburbs with two children and an investment banker husband. Go figure.
Green chile menudo and carne adobado tostadas at El Parasol. Red chile menudo, sopapillas and Christmas enchiladas at Sopapilla Factory. The sweet fragrance of freshly roasted green chiles circling around sweet peas and Japanese eggplants from Pojoaque Farmers Market. More roasted green chiles, shishito peppers, tiny potatoes and world’s best greens from Santa Fe Farmers Market. Watching the colorful fish in HG/BSK’s pond; long swims in the comfy warm water of HG/BSK’s lap pool; watching (with pre-dinner drink in hand) the sun coloring the Barrancas cliffs and mesas. Your guess is right. HG/BSK are back in New Mexico or as the state’s license plates proclaim: The Land of Enchantment. Adding to the joy is the presence of Gifted Daughter Lesley R. (for a too-brief visit) and Lovely Granddaughter Sofia R. (happily remaining to finish her prep school senior year at Desert Academy). BSK is planning to add a dog to the family. Though once opposed to such a plan (selfish HG likes all of BSK’s attention to be focused on HG), the aged hungry chap is now looking forward to meeting a new furry friend.
HG is often nostalgic about the spicy, fatty, garlicky dishes HG’s Mom constructed during HG’s Bronx boyhood. A particular favorite was kishke (also known as “stuffed derma”). This was a beef intestine (or chicken neck) stuffed with matzo meal, chicken fat (obligatory in much of Mom’s cuisine); garlic, finely chopped onion and a plentiful amount of of salt, black pepper and paprika. This was roasted and served with long cooked brisket and gravy or pan broiled liver and onions. Good? Like Dashiel Hammet’s Maltese Falcon: “It was the stuff dreams were made of.” Kishke often appeared on the menus of the Jewish “Borscht Belt” hotels nestled in New York’s Catskill Mountains. The principal road leading to these resorts was nicknamed “the Derma Road.” “Kishkes” was a Yiddish slang term for stomach or guts. HG recalls fight fans at venues like St. Nicholas Arena and Sunnyside Garden cheering on headhunting Jewish boxers with the immortal phrase: “Hit him in the kishkes!!”
In the wake of frightening events in Missouri, HG/BSK watched a wrenching video of Billie Holiday singing the anti-lynching song “Strange Fruit.” It was in 1946 that young HG heard Holiday sing the song during her appearance at the Club Onyx on New York’s W.52nd Street (then known as “Swing Street.”). As was her custom. lights were dimmed (only a spot on Holiday’s face) as she sang “Strange Fruit.” At the end, all lights went out. No encore. HG nursed a beer at the bar and Holiday moved HG to tears. The song was written by a Jewish, Bronx high school teacher, Abel Meeropol. He wrote the song after seeing a photo of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith, two young African-American men, hanging from a tree following an Aug. 7, 1930 lynching in southern Indiana. The lynching of African-American men (most prevalent in the South) was very much part of American life for many years. Lynch mobs (and their leaders) were seldom prosecuted. The Dyer Anti-Lynching Law (which would have made lynching a federal offense), was introduced in the House of Representatives in 1918 and was passed but was defeated in the Senate by a Southern filibuster. This established a disgraceful pattern. Some 200 anti-lynching measures were introduced (the last in 1956) but all were blocked by Southern Senators. In 2005, the United States Senate issued a formal apology for its actions. Deemed superfluous by later civil rights legislation, the United States has, in fact, never passed an anti-lynching law. (A sidebar: Abel Meeropol, a Communist, and his wife, adopted the two sons of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg following their execution for espionage. According to the boys, they had a happy childhood with the Meeropols. They recalled Meeropol as an uproariously funny household comic and mimic. Our days were filled with laughter, said the boys).
HG/BSK agree: Best restaurant ever when hungry beyond delirium was the China Barn (Memory slips — it was either located in Waitsfield, Vermont or adjacent to Sugarbush Mountain. Anyway, it’s long closed). HG/BSK, very young SJ and daughter Lesley, would rush to the restaurant after a frigid, high energy day battling Sugarbush’s icy ski runs. Temperature usually hovered around zero. Slopes were demanding (HG ended an undistinguished ski career there after a right leg spiral fracture). When the HG/BSK family were seated at China Barn their collective appetites were honed to sheer madness. HG, a renowned over-orderer, kept the food coming. Dumplings, Noodles. Stir fries of pork, beef, shrimp, chicken and vegetables, won ton soup (a kiddy favorite). Did appetite have something to do with the family admiration of China Barn? As they say in the middle west: You betcha!! After the sumptuous Chinese feast, it was back to the rented condo for hot showers and ice cream in front of the TV. This was recalled by HG/BSK last night at a very late Chinese dinner following a long (no lunch) day of Prince Edward Island shore walking, sun bathing and swimming on a perfect, sunny, cloudless day. HG cooked a spicy Chinese eggplant dish. BSK stir fried Souris sea scallops and delectable snow peas with ginger, garlic, oyster sauce, etc.. BSK provided a pot of fluffy rice. Red wine. Gahan’s IPA brew. Sugarbush-type appetites were appeased.
The New Yorker Magazine writer, Adam Gopnik, HG’s favorite essayist, wrote a charming account of his psychoanalysis, “Man Goes to a Doctor” in his collection Through The Children’s Gate. The protagonist of this lightly comic but deeply felt memoir is Gopnik’s late, imperious analyst, a European Freudian of the old school. During an analytic session, Gopnik expresses a desire to visit Venice. The analyst immediately makes a reservation for Gopnik at his favorite Venetian hotel. He then gives Gopnik a list of good Venetian restaurants (all old fashioned and traditional). “Order linguine con vongole (white clam sauce). You will be happy, at last.” Excellent advice. HG has rarely been happier than when eating linguine con vongole. Many decades ago HG/BSK and family would collect clams from the bottom of Long Island’s Great South Bay, a short stroll from HG/BSK’s home perched on a sand dune facing the Atlantic Ocean. HG had a very effective clam shucking instrument and could shuck a few hundred clams in a short time. This meant raw clams on the half shell (with a dash of lemon juice); clams casino (clams dotted with bread crumbs, garlic, parsley, drenched in olive oil, topped with bacon and given a quick broil in the oven) and the main course — BSK’s incomparable linguine con vongole.
Last night, HG made a room temperature Chinese sauce of peanut butter, tea, soya, vinegar, chopped Szechuan preserved vegetables, peanut and sesame oil, chopped garlic, Vietnamese chili garlic, chopped scallions. A lot of ingredients but very simple to prepare. BSK poached and shredded a chicken. Mixed the shredded chicken with the sauce. Surrounded the platter with arugula. HG filled a bowl with room temperature vermicelli mixed with the great peanut sauce and topped it with slivers of cold cucumber. Poured some Gahan India Pale Ale (brewed on Prince Edward Island) and had a great warm weather meal. This brought back memories of cooking teacher/caterer/author Karen Lee and the class where HG and BSK learned to make this dish (and other savory Chinese treats). Many, many decades ago HG and BSK attended Lee’s classes which she held in her small Upper West Side apartment. Ms. Lee was going through some trying times then but her teaching was superb. Clear. Helpful. And the food (which the class ate with gusto) was delicious. HG/BSK’s classmates included the actor Peter Boyle (“Young Frankenstein”, “Joe”, “Taxi Driver”, “Everybody Loves Raymond”) and his wife, Loraine Alterman (she was a reporter for Rolling Stone and John Lennon was the best man at her wedding to Peter); actress Verna Bloom (“Animal House,” “High Plains Drifter”; Stephanie Pierson, the brilliantly witty advertising copywriter, author of many books (“The Brisket Book” is the latest) and long time HG/BSK pal. The class was lively, funny and irreverent. Sadly, Peter Boyle is gone but the remaining cast thrives. Karen Lee’s West Side classes continue but now she’s added a summer session in Amagansett, Long Island. The lady (deservedly) flourishes.
SJ’s teenage Japanese nephew, Taku, whose home is in Tokyo, has been visiting with SJ and family. Taku wanted to see an American baseball game and so it was off to the Yankee Stadium. Things looked grim for the Yanks that day but in the later innings, Ichiro Suzuki, the Japanese star, made an appearance. Ichiro, in the ninth, got a hit. Harassed the opposing pitcher with threats of a stolen base and then scored the winning run for the Yanks. Taku was overjoyed. This pleasure was topped the following day when Taku went fishing in Long Island Sound off New Rochelle. Caught a lot of porgys. (An earlier PEI fishing expedition was disappointing — hefty currents kept the mackerel from biting and not one fish was pulled from the choppy waters). This all brought back memories to HG. One happy year (probably 1939 or 1940), HG went fishing off City Island (HG’s first fishing experience) and caught three fish. HG also went to Yankee Stadium that year to see the Detroit Tigers play the Yanks. HG’s hero, the Jewish home run hitter, Hank Greenberg, starred for Detroit. Hank hit a homer that day. Memorable. This was one of the few days in which HG was disloyal to the Yankees. As part of their community relations program, the Yanks took a Bronx elementary school to a game once a season. HG munched peanuts (free) and gloried in the heroics of the Yanks of that golden age (DiMaggio, Henrich, Gordon Crosetti, Rolfe, Ruffing, Gehrig etc.). In maturity, HG has lost pleasure in watching baseball and has transferred fandom to the NBA.