Dukkah is an Egyptian nut and spice blend. Composed of almonds, sesame seeds, fennel seeds, coriander, anise seeds, coarse ground salt. These ingredients are mixed into a pleasant consistency. The result is addictively delicious. It can be found in Middle Eastern groceries. (It is also carried at Trader Joe’s). HG tears off small chunks of Ciabatta bread. Dips them in Sicilian olive oil and then in Dukkah. Great with red or white wine. A favorite HG meal is Dukkah, feta cheese, Kalamata olives, sliced sweet onions and Kumatoes (ripe heirloom tomatoes when they’re in season); anchovies and capers; Greek yogurt. HG adds grated garlic and a splash of olive oil to the yogurt. Dusts it with Zaatar, another sprightly herbal mix from the Middle East. Zaatar is made of ground thyme, sesame seeds, sumac and salt. Not as assertive as Dukkah but equally delicious. Good Lebanese restaurants in London and Paris often pour olive oil on pita bread and then cover it with Zaatar. Though much splendid bread is baked in New Mexico, the pita available is a supermarket product, tasteless and insipid. HG sticks with Ciabatta from Whole Foods.
HG’S darling daughter-in-law, Exquisite Maiko (one of the world’s great cooks) doesn’t like cumin. Says it smells like “pencils.” (Go figure). Gorgeous Granddaughter Sofia has many aversions: Mussels, eggplant, cucumbers, fish. Sofia has a mad lust for Israeli couscous. Could live happily on tortillas that are dusted with cheese and popped into the toaster oven. Grandson Haru is finicky. Likes omelets (the way his father, SJ, prepares them); pasta with oil, garlic and anchovies; salmon caviar; grilled mackerel. And, that’s about it. (Loves ice cream and other sweet treats, of course). Daughter Victoria is a vegetarian and owns (with husband/chef Marc Meyer) four restaurants that feature many meaty dishes. (Go figure). Gifted Daughter Lesley R. is a wonderful cook with a robust appetite. Doesn’t like walnuts. (Go figure.). SJ is an omnivorous, ambidextrous eater. Will eat almost anything but found himself unable to get down more than a bite of French chitterling sausage, a mainstay on traditional French bistro menus — found them vile in terms of taste and smell. Brilliant Granddaughter Arianna (very, very slender) has a big appetite, a lust for Korean ramen, hot spices and smelly cheeses. Son-in-law Massimo R., the distinguished Italian Professor and scholar, has Italian and cosmopolitan tastes. Unlike most Italians, Massimo happily devours sushi, Indian food, etc. He lacks sentimentality and will eat with good appetite a variety of dishes shunned by civilized folk: Horse meat, donkey sausage and stew; offal. Shares HG’s passion for tripe (SJ and Sofia are also fans). But, the Professor has a typical Italian superstition. Won’t eat cucumbers. Claims they are semi poisonous and an enemy of good digestion. (Go figure). BSK is allergic to crustaceans. Does not like fatty, unhealthy foods (chicken skin, for example). Pickles and peanuts are a significant part of the BSK diet. Eats loads of fruit and vegetables. But, BSK’s English ancestry has made BSK lust for (a passion BSK keeps in check) a cloyingly sweet and nasty confection (in HG’s opinion) called Licorice All-Sorts. (Go figure). HG”s attitude toward food, wine and strong drink, is: “Bring it on (and in big portions) !!” However, the greedy fellow turns down beets (except in the form of borscht). (Go figure).
Aglio e olio, Garlic and oil. Two noble ingredients. Spaghetti aglio e olio is the favored late night dish of Romans following alcoholic carousing in bars and clubs. It is the ultimate bachelor meal — made to eat out the of the pan, over a sink, steaming in a plate while hunched over a book when wife and children are out of the house. HG loves it for lunch, dinner or anytime but breakfast. Like all simple dishes, the best ingredients are key. The garlic should be fresh. The olive oil should be superior (Extra Virgin Sicilian olive oil is HG/BSK’s choice). There should be plenty of chopped (not too fine) Italian flat leaf parsley—some cooked with the oil and garlic and some scattered over the completed dish for aroma and visual decoration. Red chile pepper flakes are essential. HG/BSK like to melt anchovy filets in the sauce for a slightly salty bite. BSK made the dish last night in true Roman style (following suggestions from Mark Bittman, The New York Times food writer). The pasta was linguine instead of spaghetti. BSK sliced a goodly quantity of garlic very thinly. Simmered the garlic, parsley, pepper flakes and anchovy filets in olive oil. (BSK made sure the garlic was cooked through but not browned or burned). BSK removed the pasta from the salted, boiling water before it was quite done and added it to the pan where the sauce was simmering. And, now came the Roman touch. BSK added some starchy pasta water to the pan and began mixing with swooping motions until the pasta was properly al dente and the sauce was the appropriate texture. Served it from the pan after a shower of chopped parsley. Followed it with green salad and cheese. The wine choice was Chianti. Once more, BSK created a perfect meal.
Beloved for both their flavor and their nutritional value, peanuts (and peanut butter) are much used in the HG/BSK household. Starting at breakfast, BSK munches a few with Greek yogurt and fresh fruit. For lunch, BSK often spreads peanut butter on slices of apple. A weight watcher, BSK never eats the kiddy treat of peanut butter and jelly (BSK has also abandoned the unusual peanut butter and sweet pickle sandwiches of BSK’s Canadian and Mid-Western youth). HG, on the other hand, sometimes spreads peanut butter and good jam on a crisp cracker as an accompaniment to meal ending red wine. (yes, Francophiles may sneer but it tastes good). HG also uses peanut butter mixed with soy sauce, vinegar, garlic, black tea, peanut oil, sesame oil, preserved Szechuan vegetables, hot Chinese chile sauce to create HG’s version of fiery Chinese Dan Dan noodles. HG/BSK find peanuts (whole or crushed) provide a delightful crunch when added to a variety of Chinese chicken, pork and vegetable dishes. Planter’s Cocktail Peanuts (the ones in the can and only these will do) are used by BSK for BSK’s classic Tin Roof: Haagen Dasz Vanilla Ice Cream smothered in Hershey’s Chocolate Syrup and topped with the salty nuts. HG’s all time favorite ice cream dessert is Talenti Sea Salt Caramel Gelato crowned with Feridie’s Salted Virginia Peanuts — the Potentate of Peanuts.
The New Mexico skies are very blue and the sunshine glistens. However, a north wind is blowing and there’s a chill in the air this morning. BSK meets the challenge of unseasonable low temperatures by cooking HG’s favorite breakfast: Cheese grits and poached eggs. The grits are the Geechie Boy brand, down home, stone ground, with true corn flavor. The Geechie Boy grits are a gift from SJ, the Brooklyn gourmand, reggae impresario, barbecue chef, urban poet. Geechie Boy grits are not the instant variety. They take a lot of patient stirring (a quality they share with true Italian polenta). BSK’s poached eggs are state of the art. When the yolk is pierced and the lush yellow mingles with the grits, HG”s appetite scales the heights. It is all reminiscent of a time (many, many decades ago) when little HG (for a brief time) lived in an Athens, Georgia boarding house. A motherly, large African-American woman presided over the kitchen. Her grits, biscuits and red eye gravy with fried ham gave little HG much morning joy. A very happy memory. Well, BSK is not African-American. BSK is Anglo-Irish-Welsh-Canadian. BSK is not a chubby lady. BSK maintains a very svelte form. However, BSK’s cool weather breakfasts have a touch of African-American soul.
A wonderful musical evening at the home of Polly B. and David F. — delightful, life enhancing friends and neighbors. In attendance was guitarist Marc Yaxley and vocalist/percussionist Julie Hawkins who sang and played for the assembled crowd from Tesuque, Jacona and Santa Fe. HG/BSK nibbled excellent cheeses and drank red wine as the beautiful sounds reverberated off the spacious living room’s adobe walls. Yaxley is one of the country’s best guitarists and he showed the instrument’s versatility by playing everything from Spanish and Mexican classics to Charley Parker and Duke Ellington jazz compositions. (Yes, the guitar is capable of illuminating early bebop). An HG neighbor told the food authority he was planning a trip to New York City and wanted to eat in some Greenwich Village eateries that had retained the old bohemian ambiance of the Village. HG recommended two places specializing in Spanish cuisine—El Faro on Horatio Street in the West Village and El Charro on Charles Street. Similar menus–chorizo, paella, seafood in garlicky green sauce. A heavy hand with garlic. Savory pork chops and fried chicken. Platters of saffron rice. Big pitchers of cheap sangria. HG/BSK enjoyed many festive evenings in these joints. When HG returned home from the music, HG looked up these restaurants on the internet because old time dining venues are increasingly vulnerable to the New York real estate monsters. Sadness. El Faro has been closed for some two years. Located in a very old building, El Faro was fighting a losing battle with mice and was shut down by the city’s health inspectors. The good news is that El Charro still flourishes. HG/BSK will round up some family members when next in New York and dine there. Sangria and smiles are anticipated.
Back in New Mexico where our gardens are ablaze with color. Daffodils, tulips, forsythia, lilac bushes. HG/BSK ambled through the apple orchard which is in full blossom. The fragrance is delicious. Fish are leaping about in the Koi pond and Toby, The Wonder Dog, is leaping in pleasure–delighted at the HG/BSK homecoming. BSK prepared one of HG’s favorite dishes: A roast spatchcocked chicken. BSK marinated the succulent Bell & Evans bird at room temperature in a marinade of olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and rosemary. The nicely browned, juicy chicken (and plenty of herbaceous, garlicky juices) was served with BSK’s smashed potatoes. (BSK crushes boiled potatoes with chicken stock and then adds sliced scallions). The next day, HG cut the left over chicken in slivers. Sliced Persian cucumbers, sweet onions, carrots and radishes. Cooked and quickly cooled (under cold water) some Chinese cellophane noodles. Made a dressing of Vietnamese Red Boat Fish Sauce, brown sugar, water, sesame oil and red chile flakes. Mixed everything together, Topped the platter with torn leaves of mint and basil.and a shower of chopped, salted peanuts. A bottle of Sriracha on the table for added heat, Drank cold Anchor Steam Ale with this vaguely Vietnamese dish. Pleasant eating on a warmish spring night.
For the last days of HG/BSK/SJ and family’s Florida sun and sea extravaganza the restaurant of choice has been Keegan’s Seafood Grille in the Indian Rocks neighborhood of St. Petersburg’s Gulf Coast. This super casual place is perfect after a beach day. The atmosphere is laid back and joyous. The smiling waitpersons seem glad to see you. However, there’s nothing careless or slipshod about the food. Doing simple things perfectly takes discipline, And, Keegan’s got a disciplined kitchen staff. Oysters arrive perfectly chilled and perfectly shucked (these are the best Gulf oysters HG has ever encountered). “U-Peel-Um” shrimp arrive warm, firm and bursting with flavor, ready for a bath in melted butter enlivened with hot sauce. Grilled or blackened Grouper and Amberjack taste fresh from the sea. There’s succulent, tender octopus (a signature dish). The octopus is steeped in olive oil and garlic, “charbroiled” and finished on “a hot lava stone.” Some outstanding conch dishes: conch salad, cracked conch, conch fritters. An innovative snack of deep fried Jalapeño peppers stuffed with cream cheese and crab. A Greek influenced dish of shrimp, feta cheese and hot peppers served in a terrine. Fried soft shell crab sandwiches. Gumbo (HG found it equal to N’Awlins’ best). Georgia low country She Crab soup. Oyster stew. There’s very good India Pale Ale on tap (no hard liquor is served, alas). Low prices. High spirits. Honest food. Keegan’s got it all.
HG is rapidly becoming the color of an antique mahogany chest. Ah, that St. Petersburg sun. HG/BSK’s grandson, Handsome Haru, is now a shade of appetizing butterscotch. Adorable granddaughter Teru is bossing everyone around and responding to compliments on her unique cuteness with maidenly reserve. Yes, everyone is having a good time. Today’s big meal of the day is at Pepo’s Cuban Cafe. The casual eatery is reminiscent of the Cuban restaurants HG enjoyed when doing business with real estate clients in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan. (This was where the first wave of Cuban emigres settled in New York City. Their New Jersey choice was Union City). Pepo’s menu features all of the classics—Cubanos (pressed ham, pickle, roast pork and cheese sandwiches); Picadillo, Ropa Vieja, Plantains–and, of course, black beans with white rice or saffron rice. A highlight of the menu is Pernil, slow roasted pork. Pepo’s calls the dish “The Original Pork.” That’s what HG ordered. A big bowl of shredded pork doused with flavorful juices from the roasting pan. The accompanying dish was a platter of saffron rice and black beans. Two salsas–red and green. Every element was perfect. Fluffy rice. Perfectly done beans bursting with a cuminy kick. Pork that captured the gusto of the tropics. And, the portions were super generous. SJ ordered the same dish while everyone else knocked off giant Cubanos. HG drank icy Yerba Mate soda (a sort of Cuban version of Cel-Ray Tonic). HG/BSK are hopeful the thaw in USA-Cuba relations will allow them to soon eat Cuban food in Havana.
More sun. More sea. More fun. And, a nice surprise. Beautiful Zena B. has accompanied SJ and family. (The lovely lass doesn’t swim but sunbathes and hot tubs). Ram Sea, the condo/resort BSK selected, is comfy, convenient and friendly. Not to be mistaken for Palm Beach or the Riviera. Unchic. Caters to families from the South, midwest and Canada. Lots of kids and teens and college-agers. These teenagers and collegians are not the Spring Break cliche of wet-T-shirt-contest-having, beer swilling, vomiting-on-the-beach barbarians; rather, they seem to be busy all day flirting, joking, playing volleyball, kayaking, paddle boarding, throwing footballs, etc. BSK remarked on how beautiful and fit the young women looked — lean and athletic. These are young women who exercise and play soccer, tennis, volleyball, basketball, etc. The girls of HG’s generation (and possibly BSK’s) seemed forced into the role of beach bunnies whose principal activity was nurturing a tan. Our fellow vacationers at Ram Sea are a kind, courteous and helpful group of folks. When HG tripped leaving the sea (nothing serious), a half dozen young people and a group of oldsters raced to his rescue. Sun, swimming and sunset drinks on the terrace created raging hunger. HG, BSK, etc., abandoned seafood and drove to Pho Kien Kang, a Vietnamese restaurant. Egg rolls; big, steaming bowls of pho with sliced beef; grilled pork on “broken rice.” HG mused how immigrants have improved American restaurant cuisine. There are now few American cities where one can’t get a big bowl of good pho. Hopefully, when the Mideast madness simmers down, we’ll get a deluge of good Syrian and Iraqui eateries.