Mario Cuomo, who died recently, was a three-term Governor of New York State. He was the greatest orator HG ever heard (Others might give the laurels to Martin Luther King. Both were majestic). The speech Mario Cuomo delivered to the Democratic convention in 1984 was a landmark in political oratory and as relevant today in 2015 as it was more than 30 years ago. In the speech Cuomo challenged the Republican vision of America as “a shining city on a hill.” Cuomo stressed the “hard truth” of another city—one of low pay, helplessness and fear. “A city where there are people who sleep in the city streets, in the gutter, where the glitter doesn’t show.” HG was always sad that Mario Cuomo never ran for the Presidency (even though his admirers continuously advised him to do so). Cuomo wanted Americans to embrace the idea that government could be a force for good. His obituary in The Economist Magazine put it well: “His alternative prescription to Republican frontier individualism which abandoned the poor, elderly and struggling to the side of the trail, was heartfelt Democratic liberalism, calling on Americans to become one community, exercise compassion and recognize that ‘at the heart of the matter we are bound one to another.’ ” Curiously, HG and Cuomo were opponents many decades ago in the Borough of Queens (then a highly contentious political arena, not the astoundingly multi-ethnic community it has become). HG, as public relations counsel to massive real estate interests, and Cuomo as a young lawyer making his first appearance in politics. Cuomo represented community groups in two communities–Corona and Forest Hills–who were battling real estate developers. In Corona, HG and his greedy clients, were demolished by Cuomo. HG shook Cuomo’s hand, expressed admiration and hoped that in the future they would be on the same side. Not to be. They were opponents again in Forest Hills. HG had learned a lesson. HG convinced his clients to accept Cuomo’s adroit compromise.
Most people think that peanut butter’s only function is as a companion to jelly in a kiddy sandwich. They are wrong. Peanut butter is one of the great cooking ingredients. It is used in many flavorful African soups and stews (Jambo Cafe , Santa Fe’s very good Afro-Caribbean restaurant, serves a coconut, peanut, chicken stew that is an HG favorite). It is the essential ingredient in many Indonesian and Malaysian dips and salads, often accompanying Satays (skewers of seasoned and grilled meat or chicken). When HG is confronted with left over roast chicken, as HG was last night, HG shreds the meat for a peanut buttery take on the Szechuan favorite, Dan Dan Noodles. HG learned to make it when HG/BSK (then West Side of New York residents) attended the cooking class of Karen Lee. To Karen’s delightful peanut sauce recipe HG added some finely chopped Szechuan preserved vegetables. Laid the shredded chicken on top of a platter of room temperature Chinese rice noodles. Mixed it all with the peanut butter sauce. Topped with sliced scallion and watercress leaves. Sriracha on table for added heat. Gorgeous Granddaughter Sofia (very hungry) returned to New Mexico from Christmas in Rhode Island. Joined HG/BSK in devouring the chicken and noodle dish. Not a smidgen left. Tonight, BSK will season and grill some thin pork cutlets. Serve them with some left over peanut butter sauce (for dipping) and a crisp green salad. Peanut butter rules.
BSK is, to put it simply, a master of chicken cooking. Chicken paillards (skinless, boneless chicken breasts, pounded thin, sautéed gently and served with a lemon-butter-capers sauce). Chicken curry (from the Vij’s cookbook). Chicken cooked with 40 cloves (!!) of garlic. Vietnamese chicken salad with lime juice, fish sauce, scallions, carrot shavings, chiles, etc. All of these dishes, and more, are part of BSK’s cluck-cluck repertoire. But, HG’s favorite is BSK’s roast “spatchcocked” chicken (spatchcocked being a flattened, whole chicken with the backbone removed). BSK marinates the bird in olive oil, garlic, lemon juice and herbs. Cooks it at 400 degrees for forty minutes. A bird from heaven. Crisp, golden skin and juicy meat. That’s what BSK served last night accompanied by sautéed, diced golden beets with onions; braised endive; tiny potatoes. Drank a super Charles and Charles Merlot blend from Washington State’s Walla Walla region. Hearty meal but HG still had some room for a finale of a Kozy Shack Chocolate Pudding (Sneer if you like — it leaves more of Kozy Shack’s Pudding and Flan for HG to enjoy!) and French VSOP Brandy laced with Peychaud’s Bitters.
High in the hills above Santa Fe is a bit of Japanese heaven, Ten Thousand Waves. Offering lodging and a variety of spa services, this meticulously maintained, aesthetically superior resort is inspired by the Ryokans, the country inns in Japan where the knowing go for total relaxation, superior (and locally inspired) dining, cleansing and meditation. Some months ago, Ten Thousand Waves opened a restaurant–Izanami. It is a winner, a can’t miss New Mexico experience. On a snowy day, HG/BSK lunched there with Colorado pals—Margot and Dick Z. Distinguished folks. Margot has been a very important force in the preservation of wildlife and the scenic Colorado landscape. Dick has recently retired from a long and active career as a maxillofacial (relating to the jaws and face) surgeon. They are eminent collectors of Native American art (HG also recalls some extraordinary cacti in their mountain home). Margot not only collects art, she wears it. For lunch at Izanami, Margot arrived in an ankle-length coat fashioned from a beautiful Native American blanket. Lunch was a delight. Izanami, in terms of decor, adheres to the Japanese (and Mies van der Rohe’s) philosophy of “Less is more.” Exquisite lighting. The room is balanced to take advantage of mountain views and the surrounding evergreens. The restaurant is based on japanese Izakaya cuisine — small plates meant to complement beer, Shochu and sake — and the menu is divided into three categories–cold, hot and fried. Since the tapas are easy to share, HG/BSK and the Z’s tried lots of good things–a beet and persimmon salad; potato croquettes, aagedashi tofu, pork belly kakuni, grilled Japanese eggplant, pork tonkatsu. Pleasant, efficient service. BSK and the Z’s opted for a smoky and flavorful green tea. HG indulged the typical HG affection for alcohol with a carafe of chilled Ban Ryu sake. Superb.
New Year Day marks the end of the holiday season thus the end of Holiday Feasting (but not the end of HG’s every day feasting, of course). Watched large, swift violent scholars bash each other about in the college bowl games. Have never quite figured out the connection between the intellectual ambitions of institutions of higher learning and coaches earning multi-million dollar salaries. HG believes the big time college football factories run very profitable athletic/entertainment businesses fueled by billions in TV contracts (as do the NBA and the NFL). The colleges have an advantage over professional sports as their players are unpaid. Since the majority of these athletes seem to be African-Americans, this leads to some uncomfortable speculation about historic parallels; however, for a day, HG put aside these speculations and enjoyed politically incorrect pleasure. Happy that the midwestern scholars from Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin upended their opponents. Oregon is pure show biz in terrms of uniforms and “hurry up” offense and so HG was glad these entertainers triumphed in decisive fashion. HG put aside grid drama and joined BSK and Dessert Queen Karen K. at the home of their neighbors, Polly B. and David F. Gracious hostess Polly B. presented a big platter of Nova Scotia smoked salmon (some of the best HG ever tasted). Polly said this was a gift from “her husband’s widow.” (Figure that one out, Gentle Readers). The group drank some very good champagne and toasted 2015. The smoked salmon was followed by a savory turkey soup, good bread, excellent cheeses, grapes, green salad. Red wine. Apple pie for dessert. Two ice creams–cinnamon and salted caramel. Talented, generous friends and neighbors dining deliciously in Polly and David’s beautiful home. A fire crackling in the Kiva. A joyous way to begin the new year.
HG’s final day of East Coast holiday feasting turned out to also be one of travel. Bus from Providence to Boston Logan Airport (via the very efficient Peter Pan line). Some six 1/2 hours of flight (with a 45 minute layover in Denver) on Southwest, the consumer friendly airline that does try to make flying a pleasant experience. HG/BSK continued to have nice airport dining experiences. Breakfast at Vineyard Grille in Boston consisted of gently soft scrambled eggs (as requested) with bacon in a garlic scented tortilla wrap. An abundant side of a crisp potatoes akin to a Tater Tot. Plentiful coffee and attentive service. Gave HG/BSK sufficient sustenance for the lengthy voyage ahead. However, HG/BSK did regret the timing. For some years HG/BSK would always have an oyster, clam chowder, fried squid feast at the Legal Seafoods airport location. Had to pass on it this time. Arrived at the HG/BSK New Mexico home in chilly 15 degree weather. Toby, The Wonder Dog, greeted the duo with ecstatic affection. The two lovely and talented women, Vicki B. and Sarah N., who occupy the home when HG/BSK travel or vacation, left some treats to welcome the home comers. Posole (vegetarian version by vegetarian Vicki and meaty, pork version by carnivore Sarah) had mucho heat and lots of New Mexican flavors. There were also nut bars baked by Vicki (spectacular). HG/BSK drank a fine Chilean red wine, wished each other a happy and healthy 2015. Nestled in their comfy bed. Home sweet home, indeed.
Los Andes is a Peruvian restaurant in Providence. One of HG’s all time favorites. It’s a big restaurant, jam-packed with an astonishingly diverse crowd of diners, all having an uproarious good time. This was the restaurant chosen for Profesore Massimo R.’s birthday dinner and HG/BSK and the Riva family were in high spirits. A big pitcher of very good sangria appeared. But, before sampling, HG and Massimo R. downed some beautifully made (and lethal) Pisco Sours. So good that HG had two. The Pisco Sour (Pisco Brandy, sugar, lime and whipped egg white) is HG’s favorite cocktail. The only other place in North America where you can get an authentic Pisco Sour is San Francisco. Peruvian sailors introduced it to San Francisco during the Gold Rush days. (San Francisco is also the city where you can taste another South American treat, the Ramos Gin Fizz. The venerable Tadich Grill makes it a specialty). The HG/BSK/R group started their meal with two ceviches: Ceviche Clasico (lime juice marinated clams, Prince Edward Island mussels, squid, shrimp and tilapia. Flavored with pureed garlic, and fiery leche de tigre). Ceviche de Pescano: (tilapia marinated in lime juice and cilantro and served with sliced red onion and strips of arugula in a leche de tigre sauce). There were three salads: Causa Limena (whipped potatoes and avocado topped with shredded chicken); a traditional Peruvian salad of sliced hard-boiled eggs adorning slices of purple potatoes; salad a la russe (the Russian salad of cooked vegetables in mayonnaise). Main dishes were powerfully robust and flavorful: Parillada Antica (a huge platter of grilled rib steak; homemade chorizo, marinated chicken thighs and fried yucca); Fricase (pork rib stew in a winy, dark sauce served with rice mixed with melted cheese). Wonderful tastes. A meal fit for a holiday and a birthday celebration.
The Yorkville section of Manhattan (the East 80’s) has gone through many changes. Historically, it had many restaurants serving hearty German food, bakeries specializing in strudel and butchers offering a staggering variety of sausages. Then, during the 1930’s, there was a shift to the dark side when the neighborhood, which housed many Germans, became the center of the Nazi affiliated German-American Bund headed by Fritz Kuhn. The war ended the life of the Bund and the neighborhood once more returned to gemutichkeit and jolly restaurants where HG dined on rollmops (pickled herring wrapped around dill pickles); big, crisp veal schnitzels topped with fried eggs and anchovies; opulent pastries toped with gobs of whipped cream. The real estate developers took over in the 1960’s and Yorkville is now a faceless neighborhood of “luxury” apartments houses. Amid all of the changes one constant has remained: Schaller & Weber. Located since 1937 at 1654 Second Avenue (86th Street), this is the last German butcher shop in Yorkville. It is a splendid institution. Schaller & Weber describes itself as “Masters of Charcuterie.” Accurate description for the delicious treats HG ordered online from them and enjoyed in a lavish choucroute. BSK prepared a pot of sauerkraut enriched by sliced onions, white wine and a touch of olive oil. Lesley R. boiled some tiny potatoes and showered them with chopped dill. Kassler ripchen (smoked pork chops) were warmed in the kraut. Knockwurst, Nurnberger bratwurst, weisswurst were grilled and lightly browned. Six varieties of mustard on the table, Bass Ale. Guinness Stout. White wine. Robiola cheese and grapes for dessert. Limoncello as a digestif. The holiday culinary delights continue.
Sedentary day for HG. Nestled in a comfy upholstered rocking chair, HG watched lots of NFL football on the Riva family’s newly acquired large screen / Hi-Definition TV. Patriots played desultory football in a meaningless game. Chiefs stifled Philip Rivers, the Chargers’ dramatic come-from-behind quarterback (not this time). And, in that northern Wisconsin refrigerator known as Lambeau Field, Aaron Rodgers and the Pack silenced the roar of the Lions. All of this grid drama honed HG’s appetite so it was off to Eli’s Kitchen in Warren, RI, for a major league feast. This is a little gem of a restaurant (seats about 30 people when filled which it usually is). No reservations. A modest wait is obligatory. Just about everything in the restaurant comes from local suppliers. This fresh food hops all over the globe. There are Thai, Indian, Mexican, Salvadoran and New Orleans style dishes on the menu. Vigorous spices. Generous portions. Creative cooking. And, prices are very moderate. HG devoured the ultimate bargain dish: Shrimp and Grits. The vibrant sauce was enriched with house smoked Tasso ham. The shrimp were big and juicy. The grits were creamy. The portion was huge but HG met the challenge with alacrity. The best shrimp and grits HG ever tasted since the wonders of Soul Kitchen in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood. The price of Eli’s Shrimp and Grits: 14 bucks. The restaurant has nice starters including crisp crab beignets and cauliflower in a tingling sweet chile sauce. Check out the Eli’s Kitchen website for the other wonders of the menu. Brunch specials include huevos rancheros (made with carnitas) and a stupendous version of biscuits and gravy. The family meal was made festive by glasses of chilled French sparkling wine and two bottle of good red–a California Syrah and a French Cabernet. Apres feast, the group settled down before the TV to watch Wes Anderson’s wonderful movie, “Grand Hotel Budapest,” An extravaganza of wit and imagination. Perfect way to end the day.
A gem of nature near the Riverside, Rhode Island home of Gifted Daughter Lesley and husband, Profesore Massimo R., is the Tillinghast Estate in Barrington. Owned by RISD (Rhode Island School of Design), this is a gorgeous expanse of wetlands, beach grass, gentle meadows and Narragansett Bay beach. With the sun shining brightly, the Freeman/Riva clan strolled along the beach. Haru F. tossed stones in the water. Little Teru F. examined shells. Pip, the Riva family’s super intelligent and eminently lovable dog, made friends with the many other dogs frolicking in the sand. BSK found some nice pieces of beach glass (they will be added to the vast collection that prominently adorns a Chinese chest in the entryway of HG/BSK’s Prince Edward Island home). Tillinghast Estate is magical and RISD is to be commended for its sensitive stewardship. Back to Riverside to watch the very exciting Sun Bowl contest between Duke and Arizona State, a game decided in the last seconds.HG always roots for Duke (this is satisfying in basketball season). A number of family members attended Duke. One female family member, later a law professor, exemplified the family’s leftist persuasion by leading an action protesting the low pay of workers in the Duke cafeteria. ( The Duke bowl game, alas lost by Duke, was watched on a new TV, a source of controversy, amicably resolved, between the Rivas). Another (gentle) controversy emerged at dinner. Lesley R. used left over brisket from the previous night’s dinner to make one of the most deliciously savory pasta meat sauces HG ever encountered. Lesley R. served it over Pappardelle (broad durum wheat noodles). HG exclaimed about the excellence of the pasta. Massimo R., a highly critical and knowledgeable analyst of Italian cuisine, disagreed and labeled the Pappardelle “mediocre.” (He did commend the sauce and his denigration of the pasta did not prevent him from devouring a large bowl with hearty appetite). Scholarly Massimo did note that the Italian approach to pasta can be excessive. He cited a friend who made a long journey to Naples each month to purchase the family supply of pasta. (He believed the particular water used by the pasta maker made the product superior). HG followed his pasta with green salad and a wedge of Gorgonzola. Dessert was the very good key lime pie baked by young Raphie W., a Riva family pal. It was topped with ample whipped cream (much to HG’s delight). Another happy holiday day and night..