HG has never liked string beans, haricots vert or whatever you choose to call them. When cooked briefly, HG finds them stringy. When overcooked, they are oblongs of mush. Yellow beans. That’s a whole other story. Don’t see much of them in the United States but here on Prince Edward Island they are a summer staple. Cheap and abundant, they are featured at every roadside stand from June to September. A delicious vegetable with a rich (almost buttery) taste. Here’s how BSK prepares them. Boils them and then douses them with cold water when they reach an al dente stage. They get a shower of olive oil, lemon juice, sea salt, smoked pepper, chopped scallions and an abundance of fresh cut herbs. HG/BSK dined on them last night accompanied by sautéed sea scallops (from the nearby PEI town of Souris), crisp fried PEI potatoes, butter lettuce from a local farm. Dessert: A pecan studded butter tart. O, Canada!!
Bittersweet sadness. Summer is ending here on Prince Edward Island. In too few days HG/BSK will return to the Land of Enchantment. As the wistful song has it: “The days dwindle down to a precious few.” In the meantime, HG/BSK are eating plenty of incomparable sweet corn from the Deb and Gary and Blum’s trucks in Montague. Yes, it will be many months before HG/BSK and family have another sweet corn orgy. Sweet corn has been particularly good this season. HG/BSK have had much corn on the cob; corn chowder (both clam and cod); corn griddle cakes; peppers and onions with corn kernels; a succotash with yellow beans. A surprise was corn tempura prepared by the magical Japanese chef, HG/BSK’s daughter-in-law Exquisite Maiko. That hit all the taste buttons: crispy, sweet, salty, savory. Garrison Keillor wrote: “People have tried and they have tried but sex is not better than sweet corn.” In HG’s opinion, Keillor overstates, But, then, the sage of “Prairie Home Companion” has not had the benefit of 51 years of marital bliss with BSK.
Here’s a flat, unequivocal assertion: The New Jersey tomato is the best tomato on earth. Better than San Marzano. Better than Provence. Better than the possibly lab-created Kumatos that satisfy HG’s Winter tomato lust. Yes, Joisey rules. When HG/BSK lived in Montclair, New Jersey, tomatoes starred on the HG/BSK indoor and outdoor dining tables. Fresh mozzarella (still dripping milk), made hourly at Belgiovine’s Grocery on Bloomfield Avenue. Slices of good italian bread toasted and rubbed with garlic. Sun warmed and ripened tomatoes and basil, harvested by BSK from her well tended garden. Dark green Sicilian olive oil from Manganaro’s on New York’s Ninth Avenue (sadly now closed). Beaujolais (or rose) with a few ice cubes. This comprised HG/BSK’s typical summer lunch enjoyed under a wisteria and trumpet vine bedecked pergola. Sometimes BSK made a quick Spaghetti Aglio e Olio and topped it with chopped raw tomatoes and torn basil leaves. When HG/BSK left Joisey for a new life in the West, a thoughtful business colleague sent them a case of tomatoes. Though missing that extraordinary fruit, HG/BSK console themselves on Prince Edward Island with matchless sweet corn, potatoes, oysters, clams, lobster and Atlantic fish. In New Mexico, HG/BSK enjoy the wonders of freshly roasted and harvested chile, local oyster mushrooms, hard-neck garlic, succulent al padron peppers and all the other delights provided by local farmers including Mr. G, HG/BSK’s neighbor who is famed through the state for his organic lettuces, escarole, bok choy and more. Though surfeited with good stuff, HG continues to miss those rosy red wonders from the Garden State.
Yes, that was New York’s Rockaway Beach in the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s–The Irish Riviera. The area between Beach 116th Street and 98th Street (the site of the Playland amusement park) was the summer home of hordes of working class Irish-Americans fleeing the steaming streets of New York. The neighborhood was called Irishtown and its center was Beach 102nd Street (Seaside Avenue). This was a street lined with Irish bars.The favorite of teenage HG and his pals and girlfriends was O’Gara’s Sligo House. Spacious, loud, raucous. Beer was 10 cents a glass. Live entertainment. Step dancers, Irish tenors and delightful comics singing satirical songs poking fun at the Irish (HG remembers a song which noted that the Irish were Egyptians long ago and built the Pyramids “because no one but an Irishman could carry all those bricks”). Housing for the Irish consisted of flimsy bungalows and ramshackle boarding houses. Air conditioning was non-existent. There was similar housing in the Edgemere and Arverne neighborhoods which were densely packed with working class Jews from New York. An HG friend who summered in an Edgemere bungalow said he learned the facts of life at an early age because there was no privacy in those surroundings. Said he: “I went to sleep to the sound of lusty, sunburned ladies having orgasms.” As one would suspect, the food sold along the Boardwalk in those proletarian Jewish neighborhoods was superior to anything available in Irishtown. The Jewish boardwalk sold garlicky kosher hot dogs slathered in hot mustard and kraut, knishes, frozen custard, corned beef and pastrami sandwiches and the famed “Takee Cup”. The Irish side consisted of low grade hot dogs (no sauerkraut, only insipid mustard and sickly sweet bottled relish). Gristly burgers on soggy rolls and greasy French fries. That was it. The emphasis was on perfectly chilled and perfectly drawn tap beer. Despite the cliches abut the Irish, HG encountered little drunkenness. Just family guys who liked lots of brew. No gourmands. Of course, Rockaway is now becoming cool. Young Brooklyn hipsters have discovered Rockaway’s ocean joys and creative restaurants have opened. SJ has deejayed vintage reggae music at a number of Rockaway venues. HG’s pal Peter Hellman, the author/journalist/wine expert, has been a Rockaway pioneer for years. A dedicated surfer, Peter subwayed out to Rockaway’s waves for more than a decade before the Williamsburg young adventured into the surf.
Cold winds and thunderstorms racing through Prince Edward Island this morning. Time for a comforting breakfast. And, what could be better than grits topped by softly scrambled eggs and Frank’s Thick Hot Sauce? Because of thoughtful and generous SJ, a bag of Geechie Boy Mills stone ground white grits was at hand. From Edisto Island, South Carolina, these grits are the real deal, infinitely superior than the bland stuff available at supermarkets. Geechie Mills is a farm-stand and traditional mill house and their grits have a sublime texture and the stone grinding (as opposed the industrial methods of milling which “cook” the corn through heat friction) preserves all the natural robust corn flavor. Eating this goodness from Geechie Boy made HG recall the time he spent on Edisto Island almost 70 years ago. Edisto is a barrier beach (very similar to HG/BSK’s beloved Fire Island) a short drive from Charleston. HG stayed in an oceanfront dune house (owned by HG’s late brother Bernard’s friend). HG retains some very pleasant culinary memories from that visit. A large African-American woman fried succulent fish in a spicy batter. This was served with grits and bacon gravy plus a side of collard greens enriched by smoky ham hocks. Young HG ate this savory food and drank sweet iced tea while watching whitecaps on the Atlantic Ocean. A fortunate fellow.
In a recent post, HG mentioned that Hamas spokesman Osama Hamdan stood by his statement that Jews had historically used blood from murdered non-Jewish children for making their matzos. Oddly, this ridiculous claim of blood libel (hearkening back to medieval anti-semitic insanity) drew little outcry from the determinedly anti-Israel European (and American) intelligentsia and left. Mused HG: How little have we progressed in 100 years. It was in 1913, in Kiev, Russia, that Menahem Mendel Beilis, father of five and superintendent in a brick factory, went on trial for the murder of 13-year-old Andre Yuschistky. Beilis, who had been kept in prison for two years before the trial, was accused of killing the boy with a knife in order to obtain blood for use in making ritual matzos. The accusation and trial sparked outrages against Jews throughout Russia. At the trial, a principal witness was a priest who was an alleged expert on the Talmud and Jewish ritual practices. His testimony was so blatantly fraudulent and incompetent that he was the object of courtroom laughter. The press in the United States and other western countries condemned the trial as an example of Russian anti-Jewish policies. Beilis was acquitted and moved to Palestine. He expressed gratitude to a number of non-Jewish Russians who supported him–namely detective Nicolas Krasovsky (who discovered the true murderers of Yuschistky) and the eloquent journalist Brazul-Brushkovsky. In later life, Beilis moved to New York where he died in 1934. He is buried in the Mt. Carmel Cemetery in Queens. HG’s father is buried there as well as the author Sholem Aleichem (whose work inspired ‘Fiddler on the Roof’) and Leo Frank, a Jew who was lynched in Georgia after a spurious murder trial. Some 4,000 people jammed the Eldridge Street Synagogue and surrounding street for the Beilis memorial service (SJ’s Deadly Dragon reggae headquarters is close to the Synagogue). Bernard Malamud loosely based his novel The Fixer (It won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award) on the Beilis case. A work of imaginative fiction, the book angered Beilis’s descendants since the protagonist had little resemblance to the real life Beilis. Malamud’s letter of apology did not appease them.
One of the shocking aspects, to me, of the Hamas-Israel bloodshed, is the failure of the European intelligentsia and the young “new left” to condemn Hamas for their specifically anti-Jewish ideology (aside from their anti-Zionist ideology) and its cynical use of the suffering civilians of Gaza to gain world sympathy and support. Hamas is a dangerous, ideology-driven terrorist organization. Emory University Professor Deborah E. Lipstadt pointed out in a recent Op-ed piece in the New York Times: Besides calling for the destruction of Israel, “the Hamas charter contains reference to The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a forgery by Czarist officers in 1903 and used by Hitler [and many other Anti-Semitic organizations] as Nazi propaganda. The [Hamas] charter accuses Jews of relying on secret societies to foment global economic and political disasters. It calls on adherents to prepare for ‘the next round with the Jews, the merchants of war.’ ” In addition, Hamas revives some of the oldest anti-Jewish libels. Writes Professor Lipstadt: “When a Hamas spokesman recently stood by his statement that Jews used the blood of non-Jewish children for their matzos, European elites were largely silent.” The plight of the civilian population of Gaza is frightful. While many Israelis sympathize (A recent headline in Haaretz, the Israeli English language newspaper read: “Images From Gaza Should Trouble Every Israeli.”), there are also many Israelis, furious at living with rocket fire, who call for more military ferocity. From my perspective, the people who do not overthrow a zealous government of ideologues eventually pay a terrible price in civilian death. The examples are many. The Germans under the dictatorship of Hitler. The Russians who died from famine, terror, purges and the gulags during the Stalin era. The suffering Chinese who had to endure Mao’s “Cultural Revolution.” I am not an Israeli apologist. I disagree with many Israeli policies and find many Israeli politicians opportunistic. But, I cannot condemn Israel’s violent response to Hamas’s terror attacks. Today’s conflict is not between Israel and the Palestinian people. It is a battle against Hamas terror. Unfortunately, as always, the innocent suffer.
Oh, happy days!! Sweet corn is in season and BSK has the source for the best ever. Every morning, in a shopping center parking lot in the town of Montague, Blum Farms parks a pick up truck laden with freshly picked corn. BSK makes a well-worth-it 20 minute drive from HG/BSK’s Prince Edward Island oceanfront home to grab a dozen or more ears before it all sells off (as it typically does by noon). The corn is sublime: yellow niblets so fresh that each kernel seems to explode with flavor and the sweetness of sugars that haven’t even dreamed of turning to starch. HG/BSK (plus family visitors) eat many ears slathered with butter and sea salt. Extra cooked ears are refrigerated and are used for many dishes including BSK’s sublime corn and clam chowder. Here’s how BSK does it: Lean bacon goes into a sauce pan and before it crisps chopped onions and diced potatoes are added. Salt and Aleppo pepper go into the the sauté as well as a splash of olive oil (if the bacon is very lean). Little neck clams are steamed in clam broth (the clam juice adds potency to the broth). Clams are removed when just barely open. Plucked out of the shells, they are cut in half (if using larger, tougher clams, BSK gives them a sturdy chop). The clam broth and a half cup of whole milk is poured into the deep sauce pan over the bacon-onion-potato mix and simmered until the mineral rich PEI spuds begin to soften. Some chopped thyme adds a nice herbal touch. Clams go into the pan with corn kernels from five ears of corn. When all is heated through the chowder is given a dusting of smoked Spanish paprika or Aleppo pepper (this is optional–favored by HG who likes spicy heat). The dish is a nice fusion of farm and sea, a good metaphor for Prince Edward Island itself.
Kale seems to be the trendy, green, leafy vegetable of the moment but HG still prefers spinach. HG did not always love spinach. As a little fellow, HG expressed negative opinions regarding spinach. A believer in the nutritional value of the leafy, green wonder food, HG’s cunning Mom would enclose spinach in a mound of buttery, creamy mashed potatoes. She called the dish “buried treasure.” The romantic name — evoking pirates, the Spanish Main and wealth beyond imagination — convinced HG the vegetable was good stuff. These days HG associates spinach with many splendid restaurant dishes. Creamed spinach of sublime quality would accompany a thick cut of savory boiled tongue (plus a boiled potato and fiery English mustard) at Al Cooper’s Restaurant (long closed) in New York’s Garment Center. Creamed spinach was very good at Ben Benson’s Steak House (also closed) in midtown New York. Palm Restaurant (branches all over the country) serves whole leaf spinach sauteed in high-quality Italian olive oil and plenty of garlic with its steaks and hash browns. The Compound, in Santa Fe, flanks its Chicken Schnitzel in parsley caper sauce with some leaves of sautéed spinach. When HG lived in Colorado he lunched daily at 240 Union, the very good restaurant in Lakewood. The chef at the time, Matthew Franklin, would nest broiled or sautéed fish on a mound of spinach. There was always a plentiful amount of mashed potatoes. What made the dish sing was the abundance of melted butter. Cooking at home, HG likes to place a grilled paillard of chicken breast on some spinach cooked with oil, garlic and a tiny bit of nutmeg. A spinach risotto is a comforting dish as is a rice pilaf mixed with spinach. A very simple dish is some good tortelloni or ravioli plus spinach in steaming chicken broth. Popeye was right. Spinach makes muscle. Take that, Bluto!! Wham ! Bam ! Kazam !
Exquisite Maiko, HG’s daughter in law, brings an arsenal of knife skills and Japanese flavors to the kitchen. Speed. Timing. Precision. These were all in evidence last night as EM prepared a soba and tempura feast. Typical of EM, the soba was presented on a platter in sightly individual whorls not in a big, ungainly clump. The soba went into individual bowls with broth and topped with finely chopped scallions. Wasabi and a citrusy Japanese pepper mix were on the table. On to the tempura: sole, cod, haddock, scallops, shrimp, mushrooms, sweet onion slices. All were dipped in EM’s special batter and received a brief cooking in hot oil. The result was, as usual, sublime. There is no tempura quite like EM’s. Spectacularly light and greaseless, every bit of seafood and vegetable flavor retained and enhanced. EM added an original tidbit: corn tempura. EM cut rectangles of corn kernels from some cold, cooked cobs and gave them the tempura treatment. Mouth heaven. The crispness and sweetness of the corn gave it a dessert like quality. Of course, this is a highly unfair meal. Tempura goes straight from the pan to the dish. No waiting. This means everyone is scaling the culinary heights while EM is in constant motion at the gas range. Only a momentary pause to snare a few chopsticks worth of food. Recognizing this inequity, sensitive husband SJ prepared some pre-dinner clams casino for EM (one of her favorite dishes). The only problem with EM’s cooking is that it dims the luster of HG’s favorite Japanese restaurants.