HG has long been a fan of the writer James Salter. Though he has written many books, scores of excellent short stories, screenplays, searching criticism (he recently did a beautifully objective appreciation of Ernest Hemingway’s achievement for the New York Review of Books), he has never been very well known. He has received many awards and honors and been described as a “writer’s writer.” An aviator and fighter pilot (combat during the Korean War), no one has ever written better about flying. He also writes very well about food. For bedtime reading, there is nothing better than the book he wrote with his wife, Kay: Life Is Meals: A Food Lover’s Book Of Days. There are 365 brief essays (one for each day of the year) in this beautifully illustrated volume (published by Knopf). James and Kay Salter are a wonderfully civilized couple without an ounce of pretension but much erudition. There are some nice recipes and acute observations about people, places, art, history and, of course, food and dining. The perfect book for a bedtime browse.
Betty Miller, a wonderful woman, died this week at her retirement home in Florida. The words “public servant” are very misused these days. But, that is what Betty was — a person who served the public. And, served it well. In Colorado, where she spent much of her life, Betty had many important jobs. She was a significant aide to former Colorado Senator Tim Wirth. She was the mayor of one of Colorado’s largest cities. She was a county commissioner of populous Jefferson County. She was an FHA official. She served on the board of a major educational institution. She was loved, admired and respected by many. An active Democrat, she was a tireless battler for the party and its principles. Even her Republican foes had to grudgingly admit that Betty was special. Betty was down to earth, effective and incorruptible. She got things done. Betty was a good friend and ally of HG and BSK.
Betty grew up in North Carolina and HG once mentioned his fondness for Southern cuisine. Soon afterward, HG and BSK were asked to dinner where Betty cooked a dinner of stuffed peppers and macaroni and cheese. Plenty of sweet iced tea. Pure Carolina soul. Best ever. Topped anything HG ever had in the citadels of down home Southern cooking. A delicious memory. Rest in peace, dear Betty.
HG’s mom served an exuberant bowl of chicken soup. The HG maternal soup contained a rich, homemade broth shimmering with the velvet haze of chicken fat, chunks of boiled chicken, noodles, matzo balls and (sometimes) kasha — plus slices of boiled carrots and onions. With some thick slices of challah this dish sure beat the hell out of the empty tummy blues.
Well, that soup met its match today at one of HG’s favorite dining spots, The Sopapilla Factory in Pojauque, NM. The manager told HG that the soup on the menu was just like his Madre used to make. Called Caldo Tilapena, this mighty dish (served in a virtual caldron) contained chicken broth mightily enhanced by aromatic, smokey, hot chipotle peppers. There was rice, chick peas, zucchini, carrots and at least a pound of gently poached chicken breast. For crunch, it was topped with crisp lengths of fried yellow and blue corn tortillas. And, for a voluptuous and cooling gustatory counter-weight, a half dozen slices of avocado were served alongside. No challah. But, a basket of warm sopapillas (Mexican popovers) with butter and honey. Ah, Mothers — whether Yiddishe or Hispanic — always know best.
HG just learned (though it has been widely reported) that New York’s Eleven Madison Park, the renowned four star restaurant, is serving an “egg cream” at the conclusion of dinner (just before dessert). The restaurant’s “egg cream” is composed of vanilla-malt syrup, organic milk, olive oil, sea salt and seltzer.
This concoction would receive a shocked “Gevalt!!!!” from my late mom. Like HG, she was a classicist and abhorred “creative” food aberrations. There is only one way, HG’s way, to make a proper New York egg cream (Younger readers: An egg cream contains neither egg nor cream). HG learned egg cream construction as a soda jerk at Bonder’s Candy Store in The Bronx in the 1940’s. The Bronx had many demanding egg cream experts and it was acknowledged in the Kingsbridge neighborhood that the Bonder/HG egg cream had scaled the heights and rested upon the pinnacle. Here’s how HG did it: Fox’s U-Bet Chocolate syrup at the bottom of the glass. Then milk. Here’s the vital part. The milk had to be semi frozen or mixed with finely crushed ice. The milk and syrup would occupy half the glass. The seltzer was sprayed slowly against the interior of the glass. Then a quick burst at the end. A stir with a long soda spoon. The result: A glorious chocolate drink with a dense, creamy head of foam. Many a housewife interrupted her shopping for an HG egg cream accompanied by a crisp, salty pretzel. The egg cream was one of the four popular fountain beverages HG dispensed: The 2-cents plain (a simple, unadorned glass of seltzer); the five cent chocolate soda (chocolate syrup and seltzer); the ten cent egg cream; the 25-cent chocolate malted (made with two scoops of ice cream, milk and malt powder). Simple treats for a simpler time.
Hey, amigos, Sunday was a day of sheer pleasure. Gave a pork butt a good rubdown with oil, garlic and adobo. Popped it in a 300 degree oven early in the morning (for a five hour roast). Spent the day pig pickin that piggie. Wrapped meat in romaine and butter lettuce leaves. There was kimchi (locally made and bought at Ziggy’s great international food store in Santa Fe) and naan, and sriracha, and Korean chili paste, and scallion/ginger/sesame oil/vinegar sauce. Yes, tequila and cold beer. And, on the TV, football playoff action. The Patriots won (am very fond of stylish Tom Brady even on his very few off days) and HG and SJ’s beloved Giants pulled off a last minute field goal victory. Close, exciting, unpredictable games.
Ray Lewis, the great, bruising Baltimore linebacker, commented on his team’s effort (lost by two last second plays–a dropped pass and a faulty field goal try): “We win as a team. We lose as a team. We will not blame any single player.” Classy comment from a future Hall of Famer.
HG truly hates the whole world of mega fast food. Vile hamburgers. Nasty, oily fried chicken. Doesn’t taste good and it’s not good for you. A nice hamburger made at home is a whole other story. HG uses ground chuck with a reasonable fat content. No fat spells a dry and tasteless burger. HG adds a bit of micro-planed garlic to the meat and gently forms the patty. Overworking creates toughness. HG’s trusty, old and seasoned cast iron pan is put on high heat with a thin layer of kosher salt (meanwhile some sliced onions are cooking in another pan). When the cast iron is good and hot the patty goes on (there will be smoke and sizzle). A good crust develops. The burger is flipped so the other side gets crusty. Then the heat is turned to medium (you want a crusty, not burned burger). After a bit of time, HG sticks in a fork to test for doneness (HG likes a pink, but not raw burger…steak tartare it isn’t). HG finishes it with some blue cheese which melts quickly. This delicious piece of meat is slipped on a slice of ciabatta and smothered in the fried onions. A few Bubbie’s sweet pickle slices on the side (HG must have his vegetables). When ripe and in season, some sliced tomato is a good idea or in the dead of winter, you can try Kumato tomatoes which are flavorful and available at Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s year round. This is a good, down home meal and all it needs to round it out is some fruity California Zinfandel. A pox on you. Mickey Dee.
One of HG’s favorite cookbooks is The Frankies Spuntino Kitchen Companion & Cooking Manual. SJ introduced HG and BSK to Frankies 457 Spuntino Restaurant on Smith Street in the Carroll Gardens neighborhood of Brooklyn. Wonderful, forthright Brooklyn/Italian food with an emphasis on lightness and natural flavors. Memorable salads. HG/BSK have used the Frankies recipe for romaine hearts with Caesar dressing with delicious results. It’s not a Caesar salad, just a tasty, simplified dressing that uses Hellmann’s Mayonnaise instead of raw eggs. No croutons. Good. HG despises them. HG shares the Frankies fondness for Hellmann’s. The cookbook notes that Nobu Matsushita, the great Japanese chef of Nobu fame, uses Hellmann’s in his signature shrimp and lobster dishes. Good enough for Nobu. Good enough for HG. Of course, if you are doing aioli or rouille, hand whipped, made from scratch mayo is essential. But, for sandwiches, cole slaw, potato salad and a multitude of other dishes Hellmann’s is the stuff. And, when it’s post-Thanksgiving and Christmas turkey sandwich time, haul out that other ornament of the supermarket — Heinz Ketchup. Mixed with Hellmann’s (and some optional, chopped sweet gherkins) the resulting Russian dressing makes even dry turkey breast very palatable.
Popeye not only loved it, he depended upon it! Remember the way his muscles would pop after sucking up a can of spinach allowing him to save Olive Oyl from the clutches of big, bad Bluto? Like the great, mumbling sailor man himself, HG is fond of the leafy vegetable. Loves it mixed into a risotto or rice pilaf. Spinach is one of the rare vegetables that freeze well, so HG always has some in the freezer. Frozen spinach (moisture wrung out) should be warmed gently and mixed with some warm olive oil and lightly browned garlic. Nice with a pan broiled steak. HG did not trust spinach as a child and actively rebelled against it. His imaginative Mom found a cure by concealing the tender vegetable in balls of mashed potatoes and calling the dish “buried treasure.” HG liked the name and the digging for treasure adventure and became a life long spinach fan.
So, watch out Bluto and keep your mitts off of BSK!!!
Have always found caramels too sweet. But, a few years ago HG discovered, in Paris, of course, caramel ice cream enriched with sea salt — fleur de sel. Super yum. Trader Joe’s now carries fleur de sel caramel candies. A treat. Haagen Dasz has a nice Dulce Con Leche ice cream. Give a bowl a sprinkle — a very modest sprinkle — of sea salt. An ice cream surprise.
HG’s beloved Giants rose to the occasion 0n Sunday and trounced the Packers in the chill of Lambeau Field. HG had a big bag of Turkish pistachios (a Christmas gift from SJ) and a bottle of 100% Agave Tequila for sustenance during the game. A pleasant fire flaming away in the fireplace. Then, a celebratory dinner of pork chops, beans, corn and okra. Southwestern chow with jalapeno, chopped onion, sliced avocado, fiery salsa toppings. Lots of very cold Samuel Adams beer. The day before, Tom Brady, the decidedly secular quarterback of the Patriots, dissected the Denver Broncos. Some 25 years of residence in Colorado have made HG a Broncs fan (it was inevitable). However, the deification of young Tim Tebow, a strange hybrid of a running back/passer, has disturbed HG. Tebow seems like a nice young man but he has been on his way to becoming the poster boy (a virgin poster boy, by his admission) of the Christian right. He starred in an anti-abortion commercial last year. There was a smarmy religious commercial during the broadcast of Saturday’s Bronc disaster. So, HG took some very grim satisfaction at the triumph of secular New England football.