A few decades ago, HG/BSK and HG’s late sister and brother-in-law, Beulah and Daniel K., were seated in Le Vaudeville (Then very good. Now downhill.), the beautiful art deco brasserie opposite the Paris Bourse (stock exchange). Following some glorious appetizers (oysters for HG/BSK and Baltic pickled herring with warm potato salad for other duo), HG sipped chilled Muscadet and examined the carte. Saumon a l’ oseille was featured. This was grilled salmon with sorrel sauce, a dish made famous by chefs Pierre and Jean Troigrois at the brothers’ Michelin three-star restaurant in Roanne. Everyone at the HG table ordered it and it was a revelation. Salmon and sorrel were meant for each other. The slightly bitter and herbaceous sauce seemed the proper counterpoint for the rich (cooked semi rare) salmon filet. Sorrel is a rarity in American food markets. Here on Prince Edward Island, BSK cultivates a big crop of sorrel in the BSK herb garden. That means abundant sorrel soup and sorrel sauce. Salmon, of course, is the problem. Wild salmon has become ridiculously expensive and farm raised salmon is pumped full of artificial coloring, flaccid and tasteless. (HG/BSK are spoiled by their years in Vancouver where wild salmon is always available, inexpensive and delicious). The salmon HG/BSK purchase at By the Bay Fish Mart in St. Peters is farm raised in Nova Scotia in an apparently natural environment. Not as good as the wild but still tasty. HG/BSK grilled a big slab for dinner last night. BSK made sorrel sauce (sorrel, shallots, chicken broth, butter, egg yolks). Sublime. There were other good things on the table. Grilled asparagus. Fresh sweet corn (in season at last). Little potatoes dug from the Noel and Yossi M. garden earlier in the day. EM styled crisp fried pork bellies and mushroom caps smothered with chopped scallions and herbs. Another spectacular PEI dinner.
Days of family feasting and then everyone departed, leaving HG/BSK in a suddenly quiet home with not a kiddy toy, book or article of clothing in sight. HG/BSK are left with many happy memories as Prince Edward Island gently segues into early autumn. On a more mundane (but tasty) level, the family feasts have left HG/BSK with a refrigerator nicely stocked with lush leftovers. HG/BSK’s lovely neighbor, Lesley F., dined with the duo and was fed Marc Meyer’s incomparable brandade and savory clam-corn-potato stew. A great meal redux. (Marc’s leftover pasta with broccoli and chickpeas has been reserved for a future lunch). Yesterday was a day of unrelenting rain so HG spent time indoors with his two favorite Canadian women: BSK and Alice Munro. Few writers have received as many honors as Munro (Nobel, Man Booker, etc.) and, surprisingly, these have never been the subject of controversy in the usually rancorous literary world. It’s simple. She is universally acknowledged to be the greatest contemporary master of the short story.(This may be literary heresy, but in HG’s opinion, Munro surpasses Chekhov in the scope of her imagination and her ability to shift past and present in a single story giving it the depth of a novel). HG took time out from literature to pluck every speck of deliciousness out of leftover lobsters. This meant, for HG, lobster rolls for dinner (BSK, alas, is allergic to crustaceans and had to make do with grilled sea scallops served over garden greens). HG rounded out the meal by frying some of Yossi M.’s little potatoes. HG’s lobster rolls were state of the art. Good toasted hot dog buns from a local baker. The buns were lined with garden greens (to prevent sogginess and enhance flavor). Super generous filling of lobster. Melted butter (no mayonnaise for HG), squeeze of lemon, bit of Tabasco. Perfection. HG/BSK drank a BSK discovery: Newman Estate White 2014. An unoaked Chardonnay, this is a blend of Ontario and PEI wines. It’s a revelation.
HG has many fond memories of boyhood in The Bronx (a boyhood that took place more than seven decades ago). It was a very Jewish borough. Yes, there were substantial Italian, Irish and African-American enclaves but Jews were in the majority and the borough culture had a very Jewish tone. Affluent Jews lived on the stately avenue, The Grand Concourse (official name was Grand Concourse and Promenade). GC was the dividing line defining class and economic status. Working class to the east. Lower middle class to the west. HG always loved to walk GC from Kingsbridge Road to W. 161 st. Much to see. The little cottage on Kingsbridge where Edgar Allan Poe lived and wrote for a short period of time. Alexander’s Department Store on the corner of Fordham Road. Loew’s Paradise movie theater with its ornate interior and ceiling of sparkling stars. (It was near W.183rd and across the street were two culinary destinations—Sutter’s Bakery and J. S. Krum soda fountain and confectionary). Also on GC was the Ascot movie theater. It was an intimate movie house with a demure facade. It was here that young HG sat in the upper balcony, puffed cigarettes and watched great foreign films like “Grand Illusion” and “Blue Angel.” There was a lingerie shop nearby with window mannequins bedecked in fashionable bras and girdles (As can be imagined, young HG gave this enraptured attention). Further south were beautiful white brick art deco apartment houses (many with entry facades decorated with fanciful mosaics). There was also the dignified Andrew Freedman home for impoverished gentlefolk (fronted by a meticulous green lawn). Other landmarks were the lofty Lewis Morris Apartments where many doctors had their offices and the Concourse Plaza Hotel where teams playing the Yankees often lounged in the lobby before and after games. West 16lst Street concluded HG’s stroll. The striking art deco Bronx County Court House on GC and off to the west, Yankee Stadium on River Avenue. Nearby was the Earl movie theater (striking facade), the Jerome Cafeteria, the great Addie Vallins soda fountain and Nedick’s hot dogs. Excellent nourishment was always close at hand in The Bronx of yesteryear. The broad east-west shopping streets (Kingsbridge, Fordham, Mt. Eden, Burnside, W. 167th, W. 170th, W. 16lst ) contained splendid Jewish delicatessens, bakeries, “appetizing” stores (stores that specialized in smoked fish, pickles, olives, etc.). There were some good cafeterias (but few restaurants). And, of course, plenty of butchers, fish mongers and green grocers for the industrious home cooks. The Bronx was a borough of apartment dwellers. In the low rent areas, tenants treated the sidewalks as extensions of their living rooms. In warm weather, men in their undershirts played cards. Women chatted and overlooked the play of lively children. Little HG and his pals played relentlessly. Punchball. stickball, “association” football, “stoop” ball, ring-o-leevio, hide and seek, johnny-on-the-pony, kick the can. Later, there was softball, basketball and sandlot football. (HG was a sandlot backfield star and played in tough games throughout the borough. There was ethnic rivalry plus the teams bet on themselves, winner take all. The ref held the money. Many fist fights. A good preparation for the often rocky game of life that lay ahead). The Bronx was a Democratic Party fiefdom James J. Lyons was Borough President and Ed Flynn was “The Boss.” A smooth functioning machine that paid close personal attention to its constituents. An example: HG was a bright, obedient elementary school student, always receiving A’s for academic excellence and conduct. After the final term report card, HG’s parents would receive a letter from Borough President Lyons. It read in part: “Your son Gerald’s excellent school performance has come to my attention. You must be very proud. Congratulations. I am sure the fine home you provide has aided Gerald in achieving success.” HG’s mother treasured these letters and preserved them in a special folder (alas, destroyed in a fire years later). She would have walked over hot coals in order to get to a polling place and vote the straight Democratic ticket. During BSK’s years as a Colorado political strategist, BSK mentioned these letters to Democratic Congressman Ed Perlmutter. “Make it personal, Ed. Make it personal.” Ed followed her advice. He has never lost an election.
Toby, The Wonder Dog, breakfasted this morning. Looked around his Prince Edward Island domain. Where has everyone gone? Just HG/BSK seemed to be at home. Toby trotted up the stairs to check bedrooms. Empty. Yes, daughter Victoria, the New York restaurateur (Cookshop, Hundred Acres, Vic’s, Rosie’s) and husband-partner-chef Marc M., left PEI early this morning. SJ, Exquisite Maiko, Handsome Haru and Teru, the wee dynamo, left last night. Unusual quiet reigns. Victoria and Marc braved a ferocious storm to arrive for a three day visit. Much beach fun and lusty feasting took place. It was agreed that chef Marc would cook only one dish, his incomparable brandade, during his visit. He, of course disobeyed. Made an wonderful ceviche of fresh sea scallops in a puree of jalapeno pepper, cucumbers, cilantro and lime juice to jump start the first feast. There were also some briny Malpeque oysters, EM’s signature sauté of sole and bok choy dotted with crisp garlic chips plus a very savory platter of EM’s stir fried shrimp. Oh, my. The next day a birthday party was planned for EM. Victoria, Marc, BSK, Handsome Haru were off to Panmure Island for clamming, swimming and paddle boarding (with a stop in Montague for sweet corn and birthday cupcakes). SJ, HG, EM and Teru were off to the fishing port of Naufrage (EM wanted to pick up some fresh-off-the-boat mackerel in order to make EM’s superb tataki). No mackerel came in that day but the group watched as a 500-pound bluefin tuna was unloaded, quickly processed (this is a gory spectacle involving chainsaws and sharp knives that didn’t faze wee Teru at all) and sold to a dock-side buyer. HG picked up a batch of just cooked lobsters plus Colville Bay oysters at The Lobster Shack in Souris. The clam team had good luck. Dug some four dozen quahogs. Ingredients for a big EM birthday feast were set. Once more, Marc got got busy in the kitchen and constructed a sumptuous stew of clams, corn, potatoes, herbs and plenty of smoked Spanish paprika. Wonderful taste of the sea. This was followed by lobsters with melted butter, loads of sweet corn, little potatoes from Yossi M.’s spud patch. Gifts for birthday girl EM. Much hilarity. Next day was breezy and sunny. (SJ and family left early for Brooklyn with stopover in Rhode Island). At the end of the day, Marc made his lush brandade with fresh haddock (rather than the typical salt cod). Ate it on the outdoor table facing the glistening sea. Magical moments. This was preceded by shucked Colville Bay oysters. Then, indoors to watch the sunset and eat Marc’s pasta with broccoli and chickpeas. More Marc mastery. Finished with green salad. Drank a lot of Spanish red wine. Goodbye hugs for Victoria and Marc. A joyous visit.
Except for an occasional bit of fried fish at Rick’s Fish and Chips or a scallop sandwich at Lin’s takeout (both in St. Peters, Prince Edward Island), HG/BSK confine their dining to sumptuous home meals of fresh fish, bivalves and local vegetables. So, last night was a special, unfamiliar treat. HG/BSK drove into Charlottetown for dinner at Himalayan Curry, a restaurant serving “authentic Indian food.” HG/BSK’s expectations were not high. There’s wonderful food on PEI (see the article on PEI culinary adventures in the Sunday, August 2 Travel section of the New York Times). However, good ethnic dining of the Asian variety is very rare. HG/BSK’s optimism was raised when they entered Himalayan Curry and found the small restaurant filled with happy diners, including an Indian family (ten people of all ages). Things continued to look up as BSK sipped nicely chilled pinot grigio and HG drank Corona Mexican beer from a frosty glass. Crisp, greaseless papadums were devoured. The sweet young waitperson brought a platter of Momo, Tibetan dumplings that were dipped in a flavorful sauce. Excellent. They then had butter chicken (hotly spiced for HG), chicken tikka, saag paneer (spinach and cheese), excellent potato stuffed naan, fluffy rice, raita, chutney, mixed pickles. Tasty stuff. Very appropriate for a warm summer night. No, this wasn’t the kind of great Indian food one finds in London. Michelin is not going to adorn HC with stars. But the service is sweet, the room is comfortable, the food is made with fresh ingredients. Quite pleasant and a nice change for HG/BSK.
Among the pleasures of summer on Prince Edward Island is the abundance of excellent bivalves–oysters, clams, scallops and mussels. Prices of these good things are much lower than in the United Sates. And, they are just-caught, right-off-the-boat fresh. While two of SJ and EM’s Brooklyn pals (with three lively kids) were visiting PEI, a festive dinner of bivalves fed the group. First course was Malpeque oysters shucked by HG. These were a revelation. They tasted like the very best Fines de Claire HG had consumed at Paris brasseries. HG usually favors Colville Bay oysters in the fall and late summer (they are a bit milky from spawning during mid-summer) or Savage Bay oysters, plump and mild. Malpeques are now first choice. They have long been the oyster most exported from PEI. At a 1900 food exhibition in Paris, they were awarded a prize as the world’s best tasting oyster (the flavorful guys haven’t gone downhill since then). BSK grilled some of the oysters on the barbecue (Modest disagreement. BSK and EM love grilled oysters. HG demurs). Earlier in the day, there was clamming on the shore of St. Mary’s Bay. The Brooklyn group learned fast and some 54 quahog were dug. They were steamed with four pounds of mussels. All of the bivalve juices enhanced BSK’s savory sauce of olive oil, garlic, onions, herbs, etc. Mussels, clams and sauce topped perfectly al dente Garofalo linguine. A caveat from HG. The mussels were disappointing. The flavor was pleasant but the mussels were tiny, a far cry from the plump juicy mussels that have long been a PEI signature. What has happened? The long, harsh winter? Ecological changes in St. Peters Bay and other mussel farming locales? HG hopes conditions change so the mussels return to their former splendor.
It was the Edwardian dandy, Max Beerbohm (“The incomparable Max” as George Bernard Shaw dubbed him), who wrote: “Strawberries picked from a sunny, dew kissed meadow never taste as good as those bought at the greengrocer.” HG has always loved Max’s talents as a theater critic, essayist, novelist and caricaturist. His prose is elegance personified. He was very much an urban (and urbane) man. Loved London though he spent much of his life in a tiny house perched on an Italian coastal hilltop. Of course, his comment about berries, though cynically amusing, is totally wrong. HG thought about incomparable Max yesterday. A strange day on Prince Edward Island. Short bursts of rain and then breezy, briny calm. Perfect for strolling on the paths cut through neighboring land generously contributed to a nature conservancy by HG/BSK’s kind neighbors, Chuck and Gloria P. The bushes are adorned with blueberries and raspberries, Accompanied by Toby, The Wonder Dog, HG strolled and munched. The raspberries HG picked were, like Max, incomparable. Full of juice and pungent sweetness. (BSK and EM had been blueberry picking the day before. Kind souls, they left the raspberries for HG). The fickle weather patterns provided both a spectacular, best ever sunset but an early evening rainbow. The sight enthralled the family as they dined on clams Posillipo (quahogs steamed with tomatoes, olive oil, garlic and hot pepper flakes) and South Lake scallops, seared briefly and then mixed with fresh garden greens. While eating the succulent bivalves, HG thought about a comment of Beerbohm’s on dining in restaurants: “A restaurant dinner always tastes better when someone else is paying.”
For a few years now, Rockaway, the proletarian beach peninsula that stretches off Brooklyn and Queens, has become one of the coolest spots in New York City. Peter Hellman, HG’s pal (Hellman is a brilliant journalist, wine expert and author of many books), was a pioneer in discovering it as a great surf spot. Now Rockaway is filled with surfers and scores of boards rest on the the boardwalk newly restored after the devastation of Hurricane Sandy. Lots of restaurants lure hipsters (NY Times recently did a story on Tacoway, an innovative Mexican joint). Rundown houses (sold at steep prices) are being renovated as second home retreats. SJ, the Jamaican music retailer/archivist/impressario/deejay, does a few reggae shows at a beach venue every summer. And, that’s HG’s definition of super-cool. The new Rockaway bears little resemblance to Depression-era Rockaway where HG and family escaped from the steamy Bronx from July 1 to the end of the Labor Day weekend. HG has written many posts about the primitive, cramped but joyous boarding house lodgings occupied by the family (rent was $35 for the summer). The boarding house was on B. 114th Street, a very Irish Catholic neighborhood. Nine-year-old HG, the only Jewish kid on the block, had a rude welcome. A dozen fights. Then, a grudging acceptance. HG was the unquestioned star of the tough football games played on the beach. HG captained the team when the 114th Street kids challenged the hated guys from 113th Street. HG’s pal, Jimmy Rourke, insisted HG wear a Catholic Miraculous Medal. Didn’t want HG to be the target of dirty play if a Jewish identity was revealed. HG complied. The 114th Streeters won. Many happy memories, Fireworks every Wednesday night. Concert (every two weeks) by the boys from the nearby Catholic orphanage. The orphans were shepherded for their ocean swimming by stern nuns. Little HG was beguiled by the head to toe voluminous bathing costumes worn by the swimming nuns. Reidy’s Bar and Grill was on the corner (it was where HG would fetch a pail of cold beer for the family dinner). HG had his first romance with the proprietor’s daughter, Peggy. The cute freckle-faced miss gave HG a first kiss. Unforgettable. Gave HG a lifelong predilection for freckles (witness BSK). During those Depression years folks managed to live without television and other electronic miracles. They made their own entertainment. A few times every summer boarding house tenants put on an amateur musical entertainment–a house party. HG recalls Gaelic step dancing, tap dancing, banjo and ukulele strumming. Lots of song. HG’s Mom got applause for a romantic song about the Isle of Capri. But, the big hit was older sister Beulah’s rendition of “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling.” Little HG provided a moment of unconscious comedy (long a part of family legend). For some obscure reason, HG fancied himself a singer. HG entertained the crowd with an a Cappella version of “Paper Doll.” The totally off key version produced roars of laughter. HG was puzzled but accepting. End of musical career. Of course, the best thing about Rockaway was the sea. Little HG was in and out all day. Swimming. Body surfing. Splashing. The beach was crowded. Wall to wall people. Little HG found it festive. Fun by the sea has always been part of HG’s life. Fire Island, Nantucket. Vancouver. And, now, Prince Edward Island. As HG writes about these memories, HG looks out at sun shining on a serene, warm sea. Beautiful, empty beach dotted with the radiant bodies of HG’s grandchildren frolicking, BSK taking in the sun, EM paddling a kayak. Farewell memories. Time for a swim.
Prince Edward Island has a modest population: 146,283 (Of course, it’s kicked up a notch during summer tourism season). It often seems to HG that everyone in the native population is a talented musician. Every church and community center sponsors “ceilighs” (informal celebrations of Celtic music and song). Beyond that there are scores of rock groups, folk artists and more. Wherever the public gathers, there is sure to be a musician. The best version of Leonard Cohen’s haunting “Hallelujah” HG ever heard was provided a few weeks ago by a young woman singing at the entrance to the Charlottetown Farmers Market. And, there are festivals galore (HG recently reported on HG/BSK’s attendance at the Rollo Bay Fiddle Festival.) Professional concerts abound, some involving marquee names (Rod Stewart was a recent performer). Yesterday, HG/BSK and the youngsters visited the farmers market in the charming town of Cardigan featuring John the Baker’s baguettes, fresh greens and hand crafted mustard pickles. EM and Haru whacked a tennis ball on the adjacent tennis court. BSK shopped. With wee Teru perched on HG’s knee, HG listened to some splendid live musical performers. First on stage was a slender young man who sang accompanied by his guitar. Great standards (very moving version of “Mr. Bojangles”) plus songs of his own composition. The performer, Nick Doneff, was a knockout. Even wee Teru acknowledged his artistry by clapping her tiny hands. Next up was Trio Bembe, a female vocalist, a male percussionist and a male guitarist. The music was lively Latino, songs from Cuba, Mexico, Colombia and Peru. Terrific. The show at Cardigan was part of promotional effort for Cloggeroo, “The Island Folk Festival”, staged for three days at the nearby town of Georgetown. Yes, good music is inescapable on Prince Edward Island. The afternoon was devoted to fun on the beach in front of HG/BSK’s home. BSK and Exquisite Maiko took Teru on kayak paddles on the calm seas. Handsome Haru rook off on a solo kayak voyage (the young man’s kayak skills have become advanced). HG interrupted his reading with long swims in the warm water (visitors are always surprised how warm the PEI sea is in mid-August). Dinner can only be described as a taste epic. EM performed tempura magic. Bowls of soba in broth (enhanced by crisp strips of nori.) EM kept busy in front of the bowl of batter and oil sizzling in a wok. Platters of superlatively crisp delicacies appeared (haddock, shrimp and scallops from By the Bay Fish Mart in St. Peters) plus slices of onion and zucchini, yellow beans and (surprisingly) clusters of sweet corn kernels. HG always feels a twinge of guilt (easily suppressed by appetite) when EM creates a tempura extravaganza. Everyone eats happily while EM works. This time, however, EM managed to stage the cooking so she could be at table to devour some of her savory morsels. A colorful sunset concluded a perfect PEI summer day.
The following day was simply a perfect beach day on the white sands off Prince Edward Island’s MacLaren Road. The sea was calm and warm, perfect for long swims. Little Teru was an aqua belle and Handsome Haru used his boogie board and snorkel equipment for long bouts among the waves. HG performed the leisurely HG backstroke. EM, Haru and BSK played Kadima, keeping the ball in the air for an auspicious amount of time. More family groups (about seven) on the beach than HG/BSK had ever encountered (not exactly Coney Island in the summer). Beach neighbors were a group of happy, attractive French-speaking children (probably from Quebec) supervised by a smiling grandmother. Busy kids. They built a huge sand castle. Buried each other in the sand. Swam. Played by the shore. A happy sight. HG and Toby, The Wonder Dog, strolled along the shore looking for beach glass (found a dozen modest specimens). Teru was unhappy about leaving the beach (and who could blame her?). Protested with a long, super loud bout of crying. Like Toby, Teru can manage to get a lot of noise out of a very small body. Became her usual sunny self as the group returned home. BSK was in charge of dinner and put the outdoor gas barbecue to good use. Grilled onions, peppers and asparagus. HG helped in grilling a thick flank steak (BSK had previously marinated it in soy sauce, garlic and a bit of olive oil). Best flank steak HG ever tasted (it was local PEI beef). Because of the thickness, there were slices to everyone’s taste (from blood rare for HG to medium rare and well done for the rest of the table). There were also outstanding boiled potatoes from brother-in-law Yossi’s garden. Freshly pulled from the earth and dressed simply with olive oil and Maldon Sea Salt they were a perfect complement to the meat and vegetables. Yossi, who grew up on an Israeli kibbutz, is an experienced agriculturist. HG/BSK are happy beneficiaries of his skills.
Prince Edward Island has many down home culinary delights created by no-nonsense ladies cooking in small kitchens. Every farm stand has shelves of jams (strawberry rhubarb is the best) and jellies (HG likes the fiery hot red pepper jelly, tasty on a cracker with a dab of cream cheese.) And, there are sweet pickles and relishes. Recently, BSK bought a jar of delight from two older women (who call themselves Donbar Crafts) at the farmers market in Cardigan (home of John the Baker’s fabulous baguettes). The mason jar is labeled: MUSTARD PICKLES: CUCUMBERS, ONIONS, RED PEPPER, DRY MUSTARD, TUMERIC, SUGAR AND VINEGAR. Please note. No chemicals, no additives, These are the best mustard pickles in the world. They are particularly good with Lesley R.’s codfish cakes or grilled bratwurst. They were a highlight of last night’s dinner. The meal started with some shucked Malpeque oysters. HG took some left over corn from the refrigerator and fried a dozen corn fritters (some Worcestershire Sauce in the mix gave them a flavor lift). EM performed her usual magic act. Cut fresh haddock filets into a number of equal sized portions. Dipped in beaten egg and then into a fish fry mix. Into sizzling oil (in a black cast iron pan, of course). This was fried fish with a difference. The crust was delicate and crisp. The fish interior was juicy and flavorful. Far better than the heavily crusted fish HG has enjoyed in English “chippies” and PEI fry stands and restaurants. BSK augmented the dishes with a lovely salad of sliced cherry tomatoes and spring onions. And, there was the mustard pickle. The condiment from heaven. Joy.