HG has often written about the wonders of grilled Italian sausages (with fried peppers and onions, of course) that were sold off the back of trucks in New York’s Greenwich Village many decades ago. Sausage and peppers are always on the menus of traditional Italian restaurants in New York and New Jersey and are served to the crowds at the feast of San Gennaro in Little Italy (an area that is losing its ethnic identity as it has evolved into a tourist enclavein the middle of an encroaching and vibrant Chinatown). Unfortunately, when you leave New York/New Jersey the quality of Italian sausages diminishes. Supermarket products are loaded with nitrates, filler and have a nasty flavor. Whole Foods sausages have good ingredients but the spicing is pallid. HG has checked online sources with modest success. Some Italian New York butchers will send sausages to HG’s New Mexico kitchen but only in thirty to sixty pound orders. That’s a lot of salciccia. Pat La Frieda, the eminent New York gourmet butcher (in business since 1922) offers a 3-pound batch (‘from Grandfather’s recipe”) for $40 (plus shipping). Quite pricey. The 6-pound batch is a better deal at $62. There are times on Prince Edward Island when HG wants to vacation from seafood and dive into the food of HG’s Greenwich Village youth when apartments rented for $30 a month and artistic young women wore black leotards. It may be sentimental nostalgia, but HG wants to eat sausage and peppers. Happily, HG made a fortunate discovery as HG examined the meat case at McPhee’s Supermarket in Souris. There, HG found all natural Italian sausages from Fingal, Ontario. Three brothers, Mark, Brian and Jason Caughell raise healthy pigs: grain fed, no antibiotics, no growth hormones. And, the sausages have no chemicals or other adulterants. HG thought: Give them a try. If the taste is insipid, invigorate them with hot pepper flakes and fennel seeds. Last night was the big test. BSK fried peppers and onions with a bit of garlic in good olive oil. A splash of wine vinegar to complete the cooking. Prepared penne with parmesan. Sliced a very superior John the Baker baguette from the Cardigan Market. HG assumed responsibility for the sausages. Six sausages were popped into a pot of boiling water. The heat was turned off and the sausages were left to poach gently until the water returned to room temperature. The sausages then went on the gas barbecue grill and were cooked carefully until they were crisp and dark brown. HG and BSK dug in with knife and fork. Silence. Then some happy smiles. This was the real deal. Sausages that brought back memories. Viva Ontario!! Viva brothers Caughell !!
Yes, HG is obsessive about food. At the end of one meal, HG plans immediately the next culinary experience. Not a harmful obsession (except, possibly, for the waistline). Far less harmful than monetary greed, lechery or a lust for opiates. HG’s family shares HG’s interest (if not obsession) with dining. And, HG benefits from the fact that they are all excellent cooks. HG’s role is to play the dual roles of Enthusiastic Feeder and Indulgent Critic. While HG loves SJ’s barbecue (and chicken gumbo), Lesley R.’s pasta dishes and seafood stews, BSK’s pork chops, smashed potatoes, poached eggs and other classics, it is Exquisite Maiko who brings cuisine to a lush and lofty level. Every EM dish is not only sublimely delicious but is composed as a visual treat, a work of art that provides pleasure to both the eye and the palate. Over the past few nights there were some typical EM performances which resulted in two of the best meals HG ever ate: For the first, there was a minimum amount of calories (happily) because HG’s appetite (and consumption) was even more robust than usual. These were the elements of the meal. EM’s signature of lightly sautéed sole filets flanked by steamed bok choy and adorned with garlic chips and bonito flakes. Eggplant was grilled and then marinated in sake, soy sauce, garlic, ginger, sesame oil and broth. Tiger shrimp sautéed with ginger, garlic, sesame oil and a tiny bit of butter. Dusted with smoked Spanish paprika (for a bit of heat). Bowls of fluffy rice. It is useless to detail EM’s recipes. They are dependent upon a combination of professional knife skills, intuitive timing and Japanese aesthetics. HG (and family) are the happy and admiring beneficiaries.
For the second amazing meal, HG was reminded of a blazingly hot late July day in New York some 50 years ago. HG and a very pregnant BSK (baby due next month) were shopping for baby furniture and other necessary equipment at Macy’s. Herald Square was an inferno. The tired and famished duo sought refuge at nearby Keen’s Chop House, a favorite restaurant. A strange choice, since the venerable restaurant specialized in hearty wintry fare like mutton chops, roast beef, steaks, Yorkshire Pudding, etc.. However, the restaurant air conditioning was functioning nicely. The dark oak paneling and antique lights created an Old-London-In-Autumn atmosphere. Cool and comfortable HG/BSK devoured great slabs of tender, rare roast beef with Yorkshire Pudding and leaf spinach. Fiery horse radish and English mustard on the table. Cold English ale. A very satisfying meal on an improbable day. HG recalled this meal at dinner on Prince Edward Island as the day was unusually hot, humid and sticky. EM found oxtails at a local supermarket so the inventive chef brewed hearty oxtail soup, big chunks of oxtail floating in rich broth enhanced with chopped scallions, herbs and Ponzu. Lightly marinated crisp Napa cabbage was added to the dish and a sprinkling of Japanese hot pepper mix. The meat was tender with a nice slightly gelatinous texture. The broth was invigorating. The discomfort of the day was banished. Somehow, a delicious comfort level was achieved. Finally, a cooling breeze swept over the dinner table and the happy group finished the meal with a platter of EM’s Mo Po Tofu. Delicious. Thanks, inventive EM, for defying the conventions of hot weather cooking.
Midday. HG sipped BSK’s savory sorrel soup and thought of schav the sour and tangy ice cold soup HG’s Mom served on steamy New York summer days. Mom’s soup was a variation of schi, a favorite Russian soup that is made with sorrel and spinach in the summer and cabbage (or sauerkraut) in the winter. Mom also made beet borscht in the summer (always served with a dollop of sour cream) and either a boiled potato or cottage cheese mixed with chopped onions and radish. Winter was time for kapusta, a very filling cabbage and beef soup. Chicken soup was enriched with a ladle of the Russian staple, kasha (buckwheat groats). Smetana (sour cream) is eaten with virtually everything in Russia and Mom followed that custom. All of her cooking was a blend of Russian and Jewish flavors but since she learned to cook from her mother in Belorussia, she favored Russia. HG’s father drank tea Russian-style: a sugar cube clenched in his teeth (sometimes cherry jam was added to the tea). HG’s father home brewed Russian cherry brandy, vishniak. Cherries, soaked and aged in sugared vishniak, were a special treat. (Seven-year-old HG once raided a bowl and had HG’s first, but not last, tipsy experience). Vodka was never seen in HG’s home. Presumably, the family associated it with Russian peasants, Cossacks and violence. The spirit of choice, besides vishniak, was Park & Tilford rye whiskey. HG’s father always had a robust shot before dinner and poured a tiny snifter for little HG (thus beginning a very pleasurable lifetime custom). Yiddish and English were spoken in HG’s home but Mom and Dad switched to Russian when they discussed subjects forbidden to children (sex?). HG’s father was profoundly anti-Communist. A Socialist and a youthful member of the Jewish Labor Bund, he hated Stalin and always called him the Momser (the bastard). “Der Fuhrer Hitler” and “the Momser Stalin”, in his eyes, were equally evil mass murderers. During HG’s youth, HG was more sympathetic to Stalin and Russia. HG cited Russia’s support of the Spanish Loyalists during the Spanish Civil War, the American Communist Party’s battles against racism and the fact that Russia, alone in Europe, was a bulwark against anti-Semitism. HG’s father shook his head and said HG had a good heart but was deceived by Stalin’s propagandists. Just wait, young HG was advised, you will learn the truth about Stalin (“that monster momser.”) Of course, HG’s father who had no formal education but much labor union experience, was correct. Stalin was a monster, responsible for the death of 10,000,000 Ukrainians by famine during his agricultural collectivization program and the death of untold millions of Russians in purges and gulag imprisonment. His destructively wrong headed strategy toward Germany during the early days of World War Two cost millions of Russian lives and could have led to a to a total German conquest of Russia. HG has been immersed in thoughts about Russia since a recent reading of “A Writer At War: A Soviet Journalist With The Red Army, 1941-1945” by Vasily Grossman. A superb war correspondent and great novelist (“Life and Fate” about the siege of Stalingrad), Grossman is particularly moving in depicting the courage of Russian soldiers, often poorly lead (they died by the millions but they defeated the better organized, technically superior Germans). Grossman personalizes combat through the intimate depiction of the participants. A critic described Grossman as “a perceptive observer with an eye for detail.” No writer, in HG’s opinion, has ever had a better grasp of what Grossman called “the brutal truth of war.” His journalistic masterpiece is probably his description of Treblinka, the Nazi death camp (874,000 Jews were murdered there and 2,000 Gypsies). Grossman’s precise detailing of the camp’s operations is a chilling, horrible piece of Holocaust history. After describing one almost inconceivable horror, Grossman writes:”It is infinitely hard even to read this. It is as hard to write it. Someone might ask:’Why write about this, why remember all that?’ It is the writer’s duty to tell this terrible truth, and it is the duty of the reader to learn it. Everyone who would turn away, who would shut his eyes and walk past would insult the memory of the dead.” Given his humanism and his passion for the truth, Grossman became a political outcast in the Soviet Union. It was ruled his novel “Life and Fate” could not be published for over 200 years. In 1961, KGB officers broke into his apartment and seized every copy of the manuscript plus carbon paper and typewriters. However, Grossman had left a copy with a friend and it was eventually smuggled into Switzerland. Published worldwide, it was acclaimed as one of the greatest Russian novels of the twentieth century. It was published in Russia only as communism itself collapsed. Grossman died of stomach cancer in 1964. He was 59, living in poverty. His earlier works were removed from circulation and he believed his great work had been suppressed forever. If you have not read Grossman, do so. He is a treasure.
As Woody Allen once famously stated: The heart wants what it wants. In a recent posting HG announced that he had abdicated as the Food Fuhrer following a refused request for a Mushroom Papardelle; well, although delayed, HG got the Mushroom Papardelle that he wanted. A week or so back, morning greeted HG with grey skies but by afternoon these had changed to glistening blue. Sun was hot and bright. HG/BSK; Lesley and Massimo R.; Gorgeous Granddaughter Sofia were off to a favorite beach: St. Peters Harbor. Broad beach. Powder white sand. Towering dunes. The sea was warm and, happily, free of seaweed and jellyfish. That meant HG, a splendid, robust figure in a Speedo swimsuit (Nasty observers might characterize HG as a fat old guy wearing inappropriate garb), was in and out of the water. This is an appetite building activity, By the end of the day, HG was ready to dine. HG shucked two dozen Savage Harbor oysters. These had an August, early autumn taste. Summer oysters have a tendency to be milky, but these were briny and wonderfully satisfying. This was followed by a pasta wonder: Papardelle with mushroom sauce. Thoughtful Massimo R., knowing HG’s food passions, had brought some extraordinary Italian Paparderlle to Prince Edward Island. Lesley R. created a classic mushroom sauce. Modest domestic mushrooms were cooked first in order to rid them of water and enhance flavor. Then came shitakes and at the very end: Morells, the king of mushrooms. The tasty fungi were joined by onions, garlic, white wine, a touch of cream, parsley and thyme.The broad noodles were cooked to al dente perfection, worthy marriage partners of the extraordinary sauce. A grating of fresh Parmigiano Reggiano.A grind of black pepper. Much Pinot Noir. A culinary triumph crafted by Gifted Daughter Lesley R.
Perfect sunny day on Prince Edward Island. HG was perched on the beach in front of HG/BSK’s home. BSK, GGS, SJ, EM, Haru and Teru drove to the broad sands off Maclaren Road. Everyone was in and out of the calm warm sea throughout the day. HG was engrossed in Granta, the British quarterly of adventurous writing. Fiction, reportage, poetry, etc. HG finds Granta an excellent beach companion. Thirty minutes (sometimes 40) of challenging reading. Then a refreshing swim. Repeat until shower and cocktails. Two dozen Colville Bay oysters were shucked and devoured. Then, a respite from seafood. BSK pan broiled hamburgers, topping them with cheddar cheese and an improvised, but tasty green chile sauce. SJ marinated chicken thighs in fresh herbs, garlic, olive oil, lemon and various spices and grilled them into crusty, brown and juicy nuggets. A big batch of fresh vegetables—zucchini, onions, peppers, etc. were served up as well. Plentiful Chilean Tempranillo. Another festive family feast.
The late George Burns on the subject of age: “They say the legs are the first thing to go.” Burns, who had impeccable comic timing, would pause for a second or two, and say: “The second.” Yes, age has a destructive impact on the male anatomy. HG will be 86 this November. HG has switched from saying “I’m getting old” to “I’ve arrived. I’m old.” Old age arrives with a tidy group of ailments. Unexpected arthritis pains. Faulty hearing. Rickety legs (HG walks with a cane). Lessening of upper body strength. Enlarged prostate necessitating frequent nocturnal trips to the bathroom. And, in HG’s case, an impaired respiratory system (the result of 50 years of incessant cigarette and cigar smoking). Okay. Those are some of the bad things about getting old. How about the good things? Here, HG cannot generalize but only report personal history. Pre-dinner drinks, wine with dinner, brandy post dinner. Age hasn’t diminished the pleasure of these daily rituals. (Novelist James Gould Cozzens described whiskey as “The old man’s friend.” In HG’s case it’s vodka). HG remains obsessively joyous about dining pleasures, at home or in restaurants. The pleasures of family and friends remain constant (as well as the ever growing love for wife BSK). HG’s family reports that HG remains politically incorrect and tasteless with an emphasis upon off color humor (not that they don’t still love the old fart). HG still enjoys writing (something HG has done professionally for decade upon decade). Quiet pleasures have gained intensity: Walking by the sea and swimming on Prince Edward Island. Gazing at cliffs and mesas in New Mexico while breathing tangy high desert air. Sitting by the fireplace on winter nights. Reading. Listening to music (Bill Evans, Django, Miles, Fats Waller, Mozart, Bach, Yo Yo Ma, Blossom Dearie remain favorites). Toby, The Wonder Dog, is a perpetually charming and amusing companion. These days HG is bemused, rather than made furious, by the state of the nation. Unabated racism (especially directed toward President Obama). Perpetual gun slaughter with attempts to lessen it blocked by the NRA. The useless, idiotic “War on drugs” which imprisons thousands of young African-American men while never acknowledging that addiction is a medical, not a criminal, problem. Despite progress, the ongoing denial of female equality and the continual media projection of women as a catalog of inflated pieces of fantasy anatomy. The dreary clownishness of Donald Trump and the descent of the Republican Party to know nothing stupidity rather than intelligent conservatism. Frightening income disparity, the rise of the oligarchs and the money corruption of the election process. On the world front there’s the futile response to global warming and environmental destruction. Islam, responsible for some of our greatest civilizations and most significant intellectual achievements, spawning splinter terror movements. Israel, once such a beacon of hope, now held captive by right wing politics. Russia reverting back to traditional autocracy. And, yes, there’s plenty of other dire news. HG can only conclude that the United States is still a work in progress (much work still to do). The world? It is inhabited by a very flawed species known as the human race, a species like few others, that seems to delight in the slaughter of its own kind. At this stage of life, HG tries to live in the present, enjoying the delights offered by each individual day. The French philosopher said: “When we think of the past, we regret. When we think of the future, we fear.” Wise words. As to the present, the sun is shining on Prince Edward Island. There’s a nice breeze. HG and Toby are off for some outdoor fun.
When you are on Prince Edward Island you are rarely far from excellent fried fish, French fried potatoes or crisp, deep fried onion rings. Rick’s Fish & Chips in St, Peters is (HG kids) the three star Michelin choice for these goodies. But, fear not, one can find worthy competitors all over the Island. There’s Wicked Fries, a food truck that appeared this year in Morrell, which has “awesome” fries (according to grandson Handsome Haru) and a fairly remarkable burger sourced from local PEI beef (according to SJ). There’s another truck in Montague Harbor where HG/BSK have had exemplary fried fish sandwiches with French fries and house made tartar sauce. There’s another French fry food truck in Charlottetown that lurks near a complex of big box retailers. Always busy so they must be doing something right. HG/BSK live nine months of the year in New Mexico where tacos and burritos are rarely out of reach. You can grab them from food trucks, garner them from drive ins or eat them in restaurants. They are good, better or sublime. If they are inferior the purveyor is rapidly out of business. In Paris, there seems to be a crepe stand outside of every Metro station. These are not favored by HG who prefers the superb galettes or crepes at creperies like Breizh Cafe in the Marais neighborhood. In Vancouver, B.C., where HG/BSK lived (part time) for ten years, there were score of sushi joints. Every bench in the numerous parks or on busy avenues seemed to be occupied by beautiful young women eating sushi and chatting gaily with their friends. Philadelphia, which has always seemed to HG to be a highly eccentric city, is dominated by the soft pretzel. This doughy, heavily salted baked good (or bad) is heavily dosed in mustard and enjoyed by the multitudes. Go figure.
A few nights back, before Lesley R. and family headed back to Rhode Island, HG/BSK felt that after days of seafood it was time to pay attention to that excellent bird: The chicken. But, first there was homage to the sun. Much play on the beach in front of the HG/BSK home. BSK, Massimo and Lesley R., SJ and Handsome Haru were off in kayaks, exploring the calm sea waters. HG was content to stroll and wade in the gradually warming surf. Exquisite Maiko prepared lunch: Japanese curry, an EM special using a Japanese roux package as a base and adding her own spicing plus onions, potatoes, carrots, bonito broth, breakfast sausage and a bit of water. Totally unlike Indian curry. Thick. Unctous. Delicious. Served in small portions (after all, it was lunch). Then on to the wide beach off Maclaren Road for beach glass collecting and shore hiking. Lesley R. preceded dinner with her tarragon-laced Newfoundland cold water shrimp salad. This was followed by a blast from HG/BSK’s New Jersey past: Stretch’s Chicken Savoy. The dish could only be found at the eccentric Belmont Tavern in Belleville, N.J. Composed of chicken, red wine vinegar, white wine, garlic (much), rosemary, anchovies (abundant). Major league flavors. Lesley R. recreated the lush dish in bravura style. It was accompanied by BSK’s signature smashed potatoes (chicken broth and scallions) plus a seasonal PEI treat: Yellow beans. Green salad. Local cheeses (plus some from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick) accompanied by a very special treat: Armenian candied pumpkin (introduced to Massimo and Lesley R. by Lesley’s lovely friend, Dr. Diane, a lady of Armenian heritage.) Great day, Great fun. Great food.
Lesley and Massimo R., Gorgeous Granddaughter Sofia (plus their endearing dog Pip) leave Prince Edward Island for Rhode Island tomorrow. So tonight there was an emphasis on lobster, a Lesley R. favorite food. Thus, there was lobster salad. (Lesley constructed it. No one does it better). A steamed lobster. (This was intended as a Lesley treat. But, the generous lady dismantled it and gave every one a taste). A cherry tomato, sweet onion and feta cheese salad. L and M brought back some tiny potatoes from Noel and Yossi’s garden. As big as the marbles HG played with as a youngster. Full of mineral PEI flavor. Quickly boiled and given a hit of olive oil and chopped parsley. BSK made a lush and comforting oyster pan roast. (Following the Grand Central Oyster Bar recipe). Cheese platter. Crusty bread. Lots of wine. Change is in our thoughts. GGS is off to begin two years of college studies in France. An adventure (fraught with the usual anxieties). HG/BSK know that GGS will triumph. In any case, Lesley and Massimo R. plus HG/BSK will join her in Reims for November vacation. HG has researched the Reims dining scene. A festive culinary time is assured.
HG did some contemplation today and came to the conclusion that HG is a very fortunate senior citizen (love that euphemistic, condescending description). For much of the year, HG is surrounded by HG’s children and grandchildren. (Happily, BSK is omnipresent). Collectively, they are an endearing group. They amuse HG and are amused by HG. They don’t take the old gent too seriously and take HG’s old fart eccentricities with equanimity. Fortunately, they share HG’s love of food and drink. (However, they are not vodka and brandy addicts but do enjoy wine and beer). After a perfect day on the Prince Edward Island beach and sea (the water was seasonally warm, almost Floridian in its temperature) the clan knocked off an evening meal that stressed the local specialties. Lesley R.(with assistance from sous chefs BSK and EM) prepared a big stew of mussels, quahogs (hard shell clams), spicy PEI sausage, tomatoes and herbs. Served over capellini with plenty of good bread to soak up the juices. BSK dressed a lovely green salad and Massimo R. presented a platter of local and maritime province cheeses. Red wine. The two charming dogs, Pip and Toby, gamboled about. The setting sun presented a palette of extraordinary shapes and colors. Did HG mention that HG is “fortunate”? That is a profound understatement.