Yes, HG’s birthday was marked by a gift of some great spices from Gifted (and thoughtful) Daughter Lesley R. and family. Four savory spices: Berbere mixture, Aleppo pepper, ground Sumac berries and Charmushka. Berbere is North African in style and is powerfully hot and spicy. HG sprinkled it on grilled chicken. Gave it a big lift. Aleppo (from Turkey) is good on everything. Nice mixed with oil, oregano and garlic. Slather it on your broiled chicken or pan broiled hamburgers. Sumac (also from Turkey) is a whiff of the Middle East and is an essential ingredient in many Middle Eastern dishes and spice mixtures. HG likes its lemony flavor so plans to add it to Zaatar, add olive oil and coat gently warmed pita with the mix. Charnushka (from India) has many uses. In Eastern Europe, it tops rye and other breads. In India, it is carefully blended with other spices to create the complexities of great curries, vindaloos, etc.. The flavor is something between caraway and cumin. HG intends to sprinkle some on on Greek yogurt and also add it to broiled tomatoes. HG loves the sound of the spice’s name. Can hardly wait to say: “Hey, pass the charnushka.”
HG’s go-to lunch (when HG isn’t eating sumptuously at El Parasol, Sopaipilla Factory, Tune Up Cafe, Shokho Cafe, Shibumi Ramenya, The Talin Market or any of the other good noshing places in the Santa Fe area) is a big bowl of Spicy Flavor Saymyang Ramen, a hearty Korean, instant-noodle soup. HG orders it by the carton from H-Mart, the Korean online grocer. Some weeks ago, HG learned that Korean immigrants in Los Angeles often served their hungry kids packaged ramen topped with slices of American cheese. Sounds strange but HG gave it a try with some aged cheddar and gouda. Really good. (Purists like SJ and Exquisite Maiko might turn up their noses but HG finds the cheesy addition yummy). HG also likes another bit of culinary eccentricity. The oldster often accompanies the remains of dinner red wine with peanut butter and peach (or mirabelle) jam on a few crisp Keebler’s Club Crackers. Oenophiles would be shocked.
That was the headline of a brilliant and moving work of journalism by the Washington Post’s Eli Jaslow (read by HG a few weeks ago). Saslow details the impossible challenge of feeding a family of five on the standard government allotment of $1.50 per meal. Says Jaslow: “The cheap foods this affords tend to be among the least nutritious–heavy in preservatives, fats, salt and refined sugar.” This is a recipe for morbid obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol and other ailments. There are millions of kids in the United States whose minds and bodies are being destroyed by a reliance on unhealthy food. But, what can an impoverished mother do, someone living on foods stamps, when her child cries that he’s hungry and must eat? Pour some cheese sauce directly into a bag of Cheetos. Costs a buck. It is part of a vicious circle. The Republican war on the poor is going to mean more illness and higher health costs. What happened to “Family Values”? And, for that matter, “Christian Values”? HG must stop. Fury is boiling.
Calabacitas is the vegetable dish BSK creates when that excellent home cook wants to give a Mexican flavor to a dinner of pork chops or grilled chicken. BSK heats olive oil and sautees zucchini, red peppers, corn, onions and garlic. This gets a dusting of the magical, secret ingredient of all good kitchens — Goya Adobo powder. If the mood hits her, BSK will add (for a bit of heat and savory smokiness) a jolt of Spanish smoked paprika. A tip: BSK always uses Trader Joe’s frozen roasted corn niblets in cooked dishes. Fresh corn, while delicious off the cob, is wasted when cooked as part of a larger dish. If you want to forgo the chops and enjoy Calabacitas as a solo meal, here’s HG’s suggestion (nice while watching football or basketball on the TV): After the calabacitas is cooked, top it with lots of shredded Monterey Jack (or sharp cheddar cheese) and lower the heat until the cheese melts. Open a can of chipotle peppers and a jar of picante salsa. Warm tortillas. Tuck some calabacitas in the tortilla. Ramp up the heat with chipotles or salsa (or both). Mix up some Micheladas (Clamato and Corona beer served on ice with slices of lime in a salt rimmed glass). Roll up your tortilla and have fun. Go Broncos!!!
HG is very fond of many things Japanese. Foremost, HG adores his Japanese daughter-in-law, Exquisite Maiko, and HG/BSK’s enchanting half-Japanese grandchildren Haru and Teru. And, being an obsessive food nut, HG revels in the standard bearers of Japanese cuisine: sushi, sashimi, sake, tempura and ramen; in addition HG has been lucky to fall in love with the more obscure home-cooking side of Japanese fare through the culinary expertise of Exquisite Maiko. HG’s delight in things Japanese extends to architecture, furniture, wood-prints, calligraphy and much more. Recently, HG/BSK had the privilege of seeing a show of pottery by Bonnie Lynch in a sublime setting: the Galisteo (a town just south of Santa Fe) home of Japanese/American architect and master woodworker, Sam Takeuchi. Takeuchi has been working on his home’s interiors and gardens for seven years. He has combined some regional details (a door from a Mexican jail, for example) with seamless Japanese cabinetry in the most subtle finishes. Stone, brick, slabs of wood (reminiscent of Nakashima) all play a role in the deceptively simple, ethereally quiet interiors created by Takeuchi’s skill and imagination. Lynch’s pottery, many of which are fired to a near-transparent whiteness, were breathtaking in Takeuchi’s setting. HG/BSK are hopeful that an architectural photographer, who is sensitive and able, will someday photograph the Takeuchi home in order that its wonders reach an appreciative audience.
HG does not fancy canned goods — too many meals of “mystery cans” in HG’s youth (see the post Mom And Depression Canned Goods). However, there are exceptions. Alwadi Al Akhbar brand Baba Ghannouge is canned in Lebanon and is delicious. HG adds crushed garlic, olive oil, lemon juice and smoked Spanish paprika to this eggplant dip. Serves it with a selection from the Whole Foods olive bar (kalamatas, artichoke hearts, giant lima beans) plus warm pita bread dusted with zaatar (a middle eastern spice mix). Nice mezze. In another geographic mode, HG likes the Mexican products of Juanita’s Foods: Chicken (or pork) Posole. Hot and Spicy Menudo (tripe stew). Mucho flavor. Of course, HG is a huge fan of most Goya products, but especially their canned beans (white, kidney, garbanzos, black). Black beans mixed with rice (topped with raw onions and a few canned chipotle peppers) is an HG/BSK household favorite. (Cubans call it Moros y Cristianos — Moors and Christians). For chipotle peppers (plus other pepper varieties) look for the Herdez brand.
Some hearty dishes, traditional in New York City diners and “coffee shops” of HG’s youth, seem to have disappeared or exist so far from the pubic’s imagination, that they might as well have been taken off the menu. These include: Liver and onions plus bacon (with a side of French fries or mashed potatoes). Pot roast with a pool of dark brown gravy. Corned beef and cabbage (plus boiled potatoes). Boiled knockwurst with sauerkraut. Hot turkey sandwich (sliced turkey on white bread slathered with lots of giblet gravy plus a scoop of cranberry sauce). Hot roast beef sandwich (like turkey but with brown gravy, a side of mashed potatoes and pallid string beans). These were all cheap, filling dishes. Young HG, not a fastidious fresser, found them delicious.
Is there any dish more soulfully Jewish than kasha varnishkes? Don’t think so. For the unenlightened, permit HG to do some deconstruction: Kasha is another name (derived from the Yiddish Kashi literally translated as porridge) for buckwheat groats and is available in most supermarkets (Wolff’s is the outstanding brand). Varnishkes derive from the Russian pasta-like dish, vareniki. The approximation is butterfly shaped Italian pasta called “farfalle.” Thus, kasha varnishkes is a dish of kasha mixed with farfalle. An aside: There is a Jewish pasta product called egg barley or “farvel.” The name was possibly derived from “farfalle.” “Little Farvel” was a violent Jewish gangster (in the 30’s/40′) from the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. HG has always enjoyed that nickname. Back to kasha varnishkes. You will find an excellent recipe for KV on About.com. Top your KV with loads of fried onions and mushrooms. Stir in an abundance of chicken fat or butter. Eat with a big bowl of sour cream. Drink icy vodka with beer chasers. Play Mandy Patinkin’s wonderful CD, “Mamalushen” or, if unavailable, hum a few bars of “My Yiddishe Momma.”
Lots of folks don’t share HG’s love of chicken livers. HG credits this to the general American dislike of innards and the fact that the Health Police has condemned the high cholesterol content of these tasty morsels. HG is defiant and continues to devour chicken livers. Very good chicken livers are easily purchased in the United States and are modestly priced. They are versatile — can be sauteed with onions and mushrooms (a bit of garlic and white wine) and served over rice pilaf or pasta. Good with softly scrambled eggs. Nice on a slice of well buttered toast. Last night HG/BSK made a salad which is served in many working class Paris bistros. HG gave some chicken livers a quick bath in milk. Rolled them in seasoned flour. BSK fried some thick cut unsmoked bacon. HG fried the chicken livers (until just pink inside) in some of the remaining bacon fat. BSK made a mustardy vinaigrette. Mixed a variety of lettuces with the vinaigrette and crumbled bacon. The big bowls of greens and bacon were topped with the chicken livers. Good, hearty eating.
HG/BSK reflected on their good fortune at living in the Northern New Mexico neighborhood of Jacona after enjoying an innovative dinner at the home of Karen K., the distinguished film producer. Karen lives in Casa Barrancas, a cluster of homes — organized as condominiums — that dwell in the shadow of the Barrancas Cliffs. The homes exist just a few hundred yards from HG/BSK’s home. Casa Barrancas has an extraordinary artistic history. It is the former estate of Cady Wells (he purchased the land in 1935). Wells was a prominent member of the large group of artists (Georgia O’Keeffe is the best known, of course) who settled in the Santa Fe and Taos area of New Mexico during the 20’s and 30’s. Wells was a modernist and his work was compelling. (Google his work and be astounded). O’Keeffe felt that she and Wells were the best of the Southwestern artists. HG/BSK agree. Wells was an early appreciator of Santos, the carved religious figures of Hispanic New Mexicans. He left his collection of 250 Santos to the Museum of New Mexico which created a Department of Spanish Colonial Art to house them. Santos strongly influenced Wells’s series of spiritual paintings. Wells was a close friend, mentor and adviser to Martha Graham, the modern dancer and choreographer (She married dancer Erick Hawkins in the little chapel on the Casa Barrancas property). Architect John Gaw Meem worked with Wells to orient the buildings on the property outward to take advantage of views of the Barrancas (“badlands”), the colorful cliffs that have been carved into sculptured shapes by time and weather. (HG/BSK’s living room, bedroom and portales face the Barrancas, a source of great visual pleasure). Another person who left his stamp on Jacona is the architect Nathaniel Owings (Skidmore Owings Merrill). Owings purchased a considerable chunk of land in Jacona and he (and his talented wife) restored a number of historic adobe dwellings. HG/BSK’s home is on five acres Owings called “the orchard” (Lots of apple trees). His daughter built the main portion of HG/BSK/s home. Jacona remains a neighborhood with a wonderful mix of creative people (poets, novelists, photographers, painters, woodworkers, etc.), farmers and plain folks. And, in HG’s estimation, a very talented potter named BSK.