As the dread Turkey Day arrives my thoughts turn to Calvin Trillin. My favorite food writer once mused that if Italians had landed on Plymouth Rock rather than the Puritans we would be enjoying Spaghetti Carbonara on Thanksgiving Day. Obviously,a major improvement. However,in the interests of family harmony I will eat a lot of turkey (this year’s good vintage of beaujolais nouveau will help). Pass the gravy.
Experienced major league boredom last night as I watched an HBO Martin Scorsese documentary on alleged wit and all around smart person Fran Lebowitz. (Okay,Marty,you’re forgiven—as auteur of Goodfellas I will forgive you anything). Ms. Lebowitz sounds like a disgruntled bullfrog and in one hour said two fairly bright things. Bad batting average. Now,if witty women interest you get acquainted with my pal Stephanie (Stevie) Pierson. Stevie’s wit–on the printed page–and in person is light as a feather but can be as pointed as a poisoned dart. It was Stevie who wrote:”What does it say about America that Tina Fey is more credible as Sarah Palin than Sarah Palin is as herself?” ( Go to Google and Amazon to learn more about Stevie and her many books—and buy those books). Anyway,what does this have to do with Hungry Gerald and his obsessive interest in food? Well,Stevie is writing a new book. About brisket. It’s what the world has been waiting for. Stevie has discovered a link between brisket,lust and doing the naughty-naughty (Okay. The lady is just a wee bit interestingly kinky). It seems a prominent journalist has just sent her an account of a brisket dinner party that ended with a naked woman under the table. Do you have any tales of how brisket led to boffing (now there’s an antiquated term for a very traditional recreational activity) ? If so, send them to me at email@example.com and I’ll make sure Stevie gets them. Confidentiality will be strictly observed.
When I was growing up in The Bronx of the 1930’s a major controversy divided the Jewish population. It made the battles between Democratic Party loyalists-Socialists-Communists-Trotskyites seem very minor league. (No, children there was no such thing as a Jewish Republican. A Jewish quasi-Republican like Joe Lieberman would have been as rare a sight as a yamelkeh-wearing unicorn). What divided the Chosen People was the choice of pumpernickel bread. Some (stupid,gross) people chose the Stuhmer brand. Some (intelligent, elegant) people swore by Pechter. (these were not packaged breads like the dreaded Silvercup but delivered daily to grocers and bakery shops from lower East Side and Brooklyn ovens). Pechter, of course, was my family choice. The loaf sustained us. French baguettes? Feh! Bring back my Pechter (and my youth while you’re at it).
Shame on me. Correct spelling is Luchow’s (Some folks thought it was a Chinese restaurant). The cover of its menu stated:The Gourmet’s Rendevous Since 1882. It was illustrated with portraits of six illustrious patrons: Lillian Russell,Diamond Jim Brady,Paderewski,Julia Marlowe,Victor Herbert,Enrico Caruso. A nice group of talented fressers.
Young folks,there used to be a capacious German restaurant on New York’s East 14th Street. Luchows. Just writing the name makes my eyes go misty. Gone for many years it was the best restaurant in the world. H.L.Mencken said so as did scores of mid-century (and earlier) novelists,journalists,musicians and dedicated gluttons. Luchows was big. High ceilings. Oak paneling. Great chandeliers. Colorful,warm,welcoming. Christmas was magic time. Lots of Christmas trees. Over the top ornaments and glitter. The heady scent of pine,roasting pork,beer,sauerkraut and the perfume of women having a festive time. Waiters in black tie and the requisite long white aprons. An oompah band playing Christmas carols. Enough,Gerald. The food. The food. Firm marinated herring with onions,black bread and sweet butter. Rollmops (pickled herring rolled around a half-sour gherkin). Smoked salmon. Smoked trout served with horseradish-infused whipped cream. Caviar,of course (it used to be an affordable indulgence). Lots more. Then..roast pork or roast duck or roast goose with a robust sauce. Creamy mashed potatoes or buttered noodles. Red sweet-and-sour cabbage or crunchy sauerkraut.Sure,you could have roast beef but that really wasn’t the thing at Luchows. Better a platter of grilled wurst (there were a dozen delightful varieties) with crispy home fries,sauerkraut, sour gherkins and knock-the-top-of-your-head-off mustard. Certainly,you could opt for sauerbraten or a true Alsatian choucroute. As for fastidious Hungry Gerald,a discerning gourmand,inevitably he ate (as a starter) schlemerschnitte (forgive spelling errors..after all,it was many decades ago).This was a sublime steak tartare topped by almost a one-half inch of beluga caviar. Then, pfefferlinge (a melange of butter-sauteed wild mushrooms) served in a sour cream and dill sauce accompanied by a lavish plate of buttery noodles dusted with caraway seeds. All was washed down with Luchows’ own dark beer (beer,not wine,was my beverage at the time…I prefaced the meal with a few dry martinis). Dessert: A huge baked Alaska flamed in brandy by the waiter (once a waiter set his apron aflame and had to be doused with pitchers of water…hilarity ensued). The meal concluded with a double espresso,brandy and a pre-Castro,Maduro leaf cigar. Often,before leaving I was given a slim flute of icy pear eau de vie (on the house). I managed to get it down. Read it and weep,my children. Gone.Gone. Gone.
Sharon added tarragon–not thyme–to her sea stew. Sorry.
I love the magazine Saveur. However. In the last issue there was a nice article on the middle-and-eastern European background of the Jewish delicatessen,an institution that has given so many of the Chosen People serious heartburn.The closing photo in the issue was of a 1900’s era Jewish bagel seller in the city of Kishenev. This city was the scene of a pogrom so horrible that it caused US President Theodore Roosevelt to make a personal protest to the Czar. It caused a young Jew,Vladimir Jabotinsky,to devote his life to Jewish self defense. For better or worse,his heirs are active in present day Israel. Their basic posture is: We do not negotiate with the enemies of the Jewish people. We kill them. Not exactly the pathway to peace. So,Saveur..what’s your next photo? Latkes at the gates of Auschwitz?
Last night. Pinon logs blazing in my Santa Fe fireplace. Taking last sips of my second frozen Russian vodka. Sharon (my wife of 47 years) calls me to the stove and opens the cataplan (this is a hinged, copper plated pan with cover). In the cataplan is her fruits de mer stew. She has sauteed a melange of sweet onions, garlic, flat leaf parsley, diced pancetta in olive oil. Added a few pounds of Prince Edward Island mussels (the world’s best mussels cultivated a mile from our summer home) and some potatoes about the size of your little finger. She’s added fish stock, white wine, some chili pepper flakes. At the last minute, in will go squid and little neck clams (she believes that these elements must be cooked in a flash before they turn into chewing gum of the sea). Then a dash of thyme from her herb garden. Her magic is knowing just when to open the cataplan when everything has steamed into sublimity.
I have cut up some sourdough bread I bought at the farmer’s market and filled our glasses with Beaujoloais Nouveau (it’s good this year). My creative culinary tasks finished I rush with plate to the opened cataplan. First taste. Sharon asks:”How is it?” “Best thing I ever tasted,” say I.
Now. Flash backward to June 1963. Month before our wedding. Place: Fire Island,New York. Hot, late afternoon. Just come from the beach. Still wet from the sea. Sharon in a blue, gingham mini-bikini. Sharon in a bikini is a sight to make strong men weak or induce sudden paralysis. Sharon presents me with a plate of grilled Hebrew National hot dogs accompanied by Heinz baked beans. She’s mixed fried onions and ketchup in the beans. Cold beer in hand I take first taste.
“How is it?,” says Sharon. “Best thing I ever tasted,” say I….Right, Mr. Romantic.
So, how does she look in a bikini 47 years later? Better.
Available at El Parasol in Poajaque, New Mexico. (On highway 84/285 about 15 minutes north of Santa Fe): a chicken and guacamole taco paired with a small helping of menudo (sublime Mexican tripe designed to cure hangovers and a score of other ailments) supplemented by green chiles and posole. Total cost: $5.35 (you read right). A pox upon you,Taco Bell.
Re: Malbec and Tempranillo cheapo wine. It’s like sex when you’re 18: Even the bad is good.