Beach Memories

September 30th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

As HG and BSK prepare to leave their oceanfront Prince Edward Island home they gaze upon the limitless sea, the silent rocky beach, the blazing sunset. Serenity. Quiet. Isolation. Beauty. A dramatic contrast to the shores of New York’s Rockaway where HG spent his youthful summers. Rockaway was, and remains, a crowded barrier beach filled with a million (literally) sweaty New Yorkers seeking relief from the sweltering city. Every inch of the beach was filled with hairy (for the most part) men, robust (and busty) women, screaming children and hyperactive teenagers involved in the timeless mating dance. Every inch of the sandy beach was occupied. Armenian families roasted lamb in pits dug into the beach; Italians set up folding tables to hold mounds of sausage, peppers and onions; the Irish settled in with ham and cheese sandwiches plus growlers (tin pails) of tap beer from
boardwalk bars.

Little HG tasted everything. Life on the beach was noisy, friendly, communal. In this sweaty environment there were few anatomical secrets. And, of course, there was the Atlantic Ocean. HG was an active swimmer, body surfer and splasher of nubile young women.Saddest day of the year was Labor Day. Fun was over and the first day of school loomed ahead.

Bloody Battle In The Atlantic.

September 27th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Many years ago HG sat astride a big bucket perched on a raft floating in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Fire Island — the barrier beach heralded in fact, fiction and gay (in all senses of the word) memories. Two companions were armed with nets and they were energetically capturing blue shell crabs swimming busily in the waters. HG assisted in scooping the crustaceans into the bucket and in the process was nipped by the little devils. In fact, HG’s arms and legs were very bloody. Didn’t hurt too much but looked frightening — like the pig blood scene in Brian De Palma’s “Carrie”. Some 150 crabs were boiled and, annoyingly after all that work, there was little to eat. Not worth the bloody effort.

For a crab feast HG could get his stomach around, HG focused on New York’s Chinatown where the Phoenix Garden, Wing Fat and a number of other eateries did great things with crab (including an intriguing dish known as “Crab with Fried Milk”).

However, the best dish of all was BSK’s crab cakes, crisp and moist. Held together by her own amalgam of mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, lemon juice and a few — very few — bread crumbs.

Hot Pan. Deft Hands.

September 26th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Lucky, lucky HG. The Hungry One loves crepes, omelets, pancakes and all the other goodies that involve eggs, flour, a hot pan and deft hands. HG is fortunate in relishing these good things in his family’s kitchens. SJ makes potato latkes that top the product of any Jewish grandmother or Bavarian sauerbraten specialist. Daughter Lesley is Queen of Crepes. At the family Christmas Eve festivities these are topped with a choice of salmon caviar, smoked salmon, sturgeon or sable. Daughter in law Exquisite Maiko makes lush scallop pancakes and the very thinnest all-egg crepes she slices into salads and wraps into summer rolls. BSK makes the best, classic omelets filled with cheese, peppers and onions, ham, mushrooms or whatever good thing is available. With a baguette, red wine and a tossed green salad. A nice French oriented dinner.

As for HG: Nobody in the family tops his corn pancakes, buckwheat pancakes and a new discovery — The Egg Foo Young pancake. There’s information on these triumphs in previous posts.

Hanging With Hake.

September 23rd, 2011 § 18 comments § permalink

Hake is a member of the cod family and swims happily in the Atlantic. Absolutely delicious. HG first encountered hake in a nautical themed, upscale Madrid restaurant. After an appetizer of very lush (and expensive) baby eel (so slim and garlicky they resembled a bowl of vermicelli) HG was presented with a platter of hake gently sauteed in the best Spanish olive oil. The fish was adorned with capers, chopped parsley and garlic chips. It was surrounded by a melange of peppers, onions and fried potatoes. Oh, my! Flaky, juicy fish. Much flavor.

HG met hake again in Barcelona where the fillets floated on a bed of roasted tomatoes. Equally good.

Here on Prince Edward Island the hake is super fresh and is a staple of the HG/BSK table. Never encountered it at the Whole Foods fish counter and have never seen it on a New York menu. Must question Daughter Victoria, the brilliant restaurateur, about this piscine puzzle.

Finicky Foodies

September 21st, 2011 § 2 comments § permalink

So, Sam Sifton, the all-powerful New York Times restaurant critic, is no longer the make-or-break-restaurant Times fresser. He has been promoted to National Editor. All in all, HG liked Sifton’s reign even though his star ratings seemed erratic. Hope he continues to contribute recipes for the Sunday Times Magazine. They are simple, earthy and good.

At one time, Clementine Paddleford (love that name) of the defunct Herald-Tribune was the chief New York food scribe. But, it was Craig Claiborne of the New York Times who elevated the status and power of the American restaurant critic. (Does anyone remember the $4000 meal CC shared with his collaborator, Pierre Franey, at Chez Denis–long closed–in Paris?). CC had taste and knowledge but was a sucker for Chinese restaurants and Jewish delicatessens. Relentlessly overpraised them.

HG quite liked Claiborne’s female successors, Mimi Sheraton and Ruth Reichl. Another woman who could write about food was the lusty and lustful Gael Green of New York Magazine. HG misses her presence at the mag (HG gathers she’s now contributing to Crain’s New York Business).

The dining reviews in The New Yorker seem fey and uneven. HG is not fond of Zagat and finds all guidebooks misinformed or out of date.

In the end HG agrees with SJ: Best restaurant critic, bar none, is the great and adventurous David Sietsma of the Village Voice. He is a man whose palate knows no fear and is willing to travel to the ends of New York City to track down the best food from Burkina Faso or a particularly talked about slice of Pizza. He is the opposite of pretentious and a downright hilarious writer to boot. A true New York treasure and just about the only reason to pick up the Village Voice.

Eggy treat From the Past

September 19th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

When was the last time you saw or ate Egg Foo Young? It was an Americanized take on a classic Shanghai dish and a staple of the Chinese restaurants of HG’s youth. It was not, like the combo plate or the oft discussed Chow Mein sandwich, one of HG’s favorites.

Curiously, HG had a hankering for it yesterday. So, HG beat a bunch of eggs. Chopped onions and celery. Washed some bean sprouts. Shredded some Nori. Mixed it all together with a bit of salt and pepper. Heated peanut oil to the sizzling point. Made a big bunch of Egg Foo Young pancakes (mini omelets?) and served them with hot mustard, hoisin sauce and a tossed green salad. Don’t think it was the classic Egg Foo Young of yesteryear but it was mighty good. Give it a try.

North American Food Patriot

September 18th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

As Europe faces an economic meltdown, HG adds a further woe by declaring: North American food is better than European food!

North American oysters (South Lake and Colville Bay) and mussels (St.Peter’s Bay) from Prince Edward Island are better than anything Europe can offer. And, yes, HG speaks from experience as HG’s gobbled up oysters in the best London and Paris locales. Halibut, cod, hake and haddock caught in North America’s Atlantic waters overshadow anything from the Baltic, Adriatic and Mediterranean Seas. HG makes an exception for real Dover sole (insanely, ludicrously pricey). HG lauds Maine/Nova Scotia lobsters and all the clam varieties from New England to points north. Dungeness crabs from the Pacific and Chesapeake Bay soft shells are superb. Canadian and American lamb (especially from Colorado) make Parisian gigots seem like nasty mutton. And, no steak any where or any place tops a noble New York Strip. An American prime rib roast easily beats the John Bull variety (though English Yorkshire Pudding has decided merits).

With farmers markets proliferating Americans can (at last) get the freshest fruits and vegetables. HG is not a fan of Italian or English bread. Yes, a great Parisian baguette or croissant is a treat. But, not easy to find these days. Meanwhile, Whole Foods daily offers wonderful bread and muffins. And, compared to Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, European supermarkets are dismal.

HG makes one concession: Few American restaurants have the warmth of an Italian trattoria, a Paris bistro or the suave elegance of an upper class London restaurant.

Observing BSK.

September 17th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

BSK looks good. HG has been observing the woman for 48 years and she still has the body of a much, much younger woman. Her energy level is extraordinary. BSK can push, pull, lift, swim, kayak, etc., etc. at a high level. She is flexible and supple.

What are the secrets? First of all, be lucky in your choice of gene pools. BSK is the daughter of athletes. Then, there’s movement. BSK is rarely still for long. Stretching, walking, and various Yoga poses are part of her daily routine.

Food? BSK loves food and wine. But, unlike HG, BSK is rarely immoderate. BSK adores fruit and vegetables. BSK’s most frequent lunch is carrots, radish, celery, turnips, raw broccoli dipped into hummus. BSK is devoted to salads. Green salads. Radish and celeriac. Raw, sliced turnip. BSK grills chicken and flank steak. Serves it over mounds of greens in a mustardy vinaigrette. Fish and chicken are staples. Lots of chicken salad for lunch and often dinners of Spatchcocked roast chicken (dusted with Goya Adobo). Unlike naughty HG, BSK does not eat the lush, crisp, flavorful chicken skin. When in a hurry, BSK lunches on Greek yogurt and blueberries. Winter breakfast is blueberries and oatmeal. When corn is in season, BSK is voracious. But, she uses little or no butter. Just some coarse sea salt. Since yellow beans are now in season on Prince Edward Island, BSK prepares them in abundance. Steams them until tender. Stops the cooking with splashes of cold waters. Dresses the beans in (once more) the special mustardy vinaigrette. Showers the salad with an abundance of herbs.

BSK weaknesses: Ice cream, of course, and an old fashioned English perversion — a sickening licorice variety pack known as Licorice All Sorts.

A Happy Memory With A Sad Ending

September 14th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

In the early sixties HG was a regular attendant at a fitness club on E. 45th Street in New York. Racquetball, weight lifting, saunas and steam baths. Manly stuff. Every Saturday morning HG engaged in a vigorous weight routine with a large, jolly fellow club member. He was a big guy with a big laugh, big muscles and a big mustache. He had an enviable job with the Romanoff Caviar Company. So, after the steam bath, sauna and piercing hot and cold showers, clean and joyous HG and Big Guy, swathed in towels, sat down for their Saturday snack. This consisted of a pound (or more) of the best Beluga caviar (procured by Big Guy) and a bottle of frozen Polish vodka, Russian black bread and sweet butter (all provided by HG). At today’s prices, the two healthy gourmands consumed about a thousand bucks worth of caviar every Saturday.

Unfortunately, after one caviar feast Big Guy had a massive heart attack and died. He was much mourned.

Random Old Fogey Thoughts

September 13th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Why was New York’s Jewish population so fond of Chinese food? It was a Sunday night tradition to eat (in the ignorant parlance of the times) at the “Chinks.” When HG was growing up Moms cooked family dinners throughout the week and the whole family was present at these meals. Sunday was a vacation day for Mom. Therefore the journey to the “Chinks” and the joyful gastronomic mix and match game of putting together (from rows A & B, which were what how most Chinese menus at the time were organized) a fine “combination platter.”

The HG family bypassed Sunday Chinese cuisine for platters of corned beef, pastrami, cole slaw, potato salad and sour pickles from the neighborhood delicatessen (the HG family favored the Tower Delicatessen on Kingsbridge Road in The Bronx). Following that meal there was tea and pastries with family friends and vigorous games of pinochle. The Sunday-Vacation-Day-For-Mom theme was set by obligatory listening to the Sunday morning Horn & Hardart Children’s Hour which consisted of music (instrumental and vocal) from gifted kiddies. Horn & Hardart (renowned for its Automats) was promoting its take-out stores. The program’s theme song was: ” Less Work For Mother, She’ll Understand.”

Now, none of this actually explains the original question of why New York Jews loved (and still love!) Chinese food. For a searching analysis, HG turned to perceptive SJ. Here’s what SJ has to say on this cross cultural subject: SJ cannot definitively answer such a weighty and complex question. But, it is worthy of intellectual speculation. SJ suspects that it had something to do with immigrant Jews (who were trying desperately to fit into their new American homeland) feeling a sense of ease while dining in establishments where the Chinese staff was, if anything, more foreign then them; and furthermore, a staff who saw no difference between Jewish customers and any other customer — which could not be said for many restaurants of the time. Plus it was cheap, salty and delicious. The fact that linchpins of Chinese cuisine were un-kosher pork and shrimp, was blithely ignored.