Yes, like women’s clothing, vegetables go in and out of fashion. Today, kale is very fashionable as a menu item (raw and cooked), as a chip (blech) and as juice. A few years ago, kale never appeared on restaurant menus or in the recipes of foodie magazines. Spinach ruled. A fine restaurant in a Denver suburb, 240 Union, made a specialty of spinach. The vegetable adorned almost every plate. HG took special pleasure in the sautéed or broiled fish of the day nestled on a mound of buttery spinach that had been given a slight hit of nutmeg. Brussels sprouts go in and out of fashion (they happen to be VERY in right now). Their image was destroyed by memories of mushy specimens (emitting a bad odor) boiled to death in the English manner. BSK is helping “fairy cabbages” (which is what BSK’s beloved grandmother called the vegetable) make a comeback. BSK roasts them with chestnuts or bacon; slices and sautés them with olive oil and garlic; stir fries the shredded leaves with oil, garlic, ginger, hot sauce and serves it over Chinese cellophane noodles adding dashes of soya and sesame oil. Good stuff. Chard is a staple on Paris bistro menus but rarely makes an appearance in American restaurants. Same goes for celeriac. Peasandcarrots (it seemed like one word) would always accompany meat dishes in traditional kosher Jewish restaurants. Vile. Even a pour of chicken fat couldn’t improve these pallid canned specimens. Escarole is a great leafy vegetable. BSK stews it in olive oil and garlic with sliced onions, adds chicken broth, fried pancetta. A final dusting of Parmesan and hot pepper. Sublime. Escarole is easily found at New York grocers but in Santa Fe, HG has to do much searching before sourcing escarole (rarely carried at Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s). Baby bok choy and bean sprouts have, happily, become fashionable and enhance many dishes besides traditional Chinese. Cauliflower, an HG favorite, has had a very fashionable year. Roasted cauliflower is splendid. Blanched cauliflower florets sautéed with blue cheese and a bit of cream makes a sumptuous topping for pasta. Last night, BSK made a gratin of cauliflower with eggs, tomatoes, goat cheese and many herbs. A fine one dish meal accompanied by green salad and red wine.
The Saturday Santa Fe Farmers Market is the happiest,and most diverse market HG has ever encountered (and HG has made it a point to visit public markets in such food oriented cities as Vancouver, B.C.; Barcelona, Paris, Rome, Florence, Venice among others). No, you won’t find the array of seafood you’ll find in Barcelona and Venice; the roasted chickens and cheeses of Paris and the parade of pasta that is a glory of Italy. But, what you will find in Santa Fe is a feast for people watchers. There are past and present movie stars (Shirley McClain; Robert Redford; Gene Hackman; Sam Shepherd; Ali McGraw and on and on). There are artists working in every conceivable media (many world famous). Eccentrics in fabulous costumes. Ex-hippies. Present day hippies. Native Americans. Latinos. Tourists. Lots of active and attractive older folk. (Santa Fe isn’t a place where oldsters sit around bewailing their failing organs. They’re out and about, populating the art galleries and museums, cinematequës, concerts, restaurants and cultural events). And, of course there are the young people, many accompanied by babies. There’s very good live music at the market (HG presumes they’re vetted by management since there are very few clunkers). On their visit this Saturday, HG/BSK split up. HG bought tiny Ratte potatoes, eggplants and Holy Chipotle (this is a locally made goat cheese spread of cheese and chipotle peppers which makes a happy marriage of heat and flavor). James Romero, a handsome, smiling guy, was perfuming the air with the roasting green chile peppers from his farm. (“This is what you do if you never went to college,” he shouted). BSK bought a big variety of peppers from him (there will be much lush green chile sauce in HG/BSK’s culinary future). BSK cruised the various stands and bought oyster mushrooms, leeks, fresh garlic and radishes. Shishito peppers are now in season.and BSK selected the best. BSK will fry them in olive oil and garlic with a dusting of sea salt (HG/BSK first tasted this treat in Madrid and became addicted). BSK was lucky. BSK got to Gary and Natasha Gundersen’s stand before these premier organic farmers (HG/BSK neighbors) sold out of their delicious wares. BSK snared a big bag of salad greens, cauliflower and other good things from the carefully tended Gundersen earth. A day of sheer fun under the omnipresent bright sun and blue skies of New Mexico.
HG likes to eat (and drink). And, when not indulging in these ever bright pleasures, HG likes to read about them. The most appetizing book about these subjects is Between Meals: An Appetite For Paris by A.J. Liebling, the New Yorker writer who had a prodigious appetite and a prodigious talent. He said of himself: “I write faster than anyone who writes better, and better than anyone who writes faster.” The book deals with Liebling’s culinary (and amorous life) in Paris. It’s witty, erudite and wonderfully evocative of that magical city. M.F.K Fisher is another writer who has written well of France, food, love and loss. Her prose is impeccable. Her recipes are terrible. Waverley Root has written definitive books about the food and wine of France and Italy. Nice analysis of tastes and regional specialties. Alexander Lobrano, Patricia Wells and blogger John Talbott are reliable reviewers of today’s Paris restaurants. Best of all New York restaurant reviewers was the late Seymour Britchky. Irreverent, funny and accurate. He died in 2004 and HG misses his acid reviews of pretentious restaurants. The New York Times, of course, has been the leader in restaurant reviewing. Craig Claiborne was the pioneer. Good judgment but much impressed by mediocre Chinese restaurants and Jewish delicatessens (probably due to a provincial Mississippi youth). Mimi Sheraton was HG’s favorite Times critic. Sheraton combined a love of “haimish” cooking with a taste for big, international flavors. HG also much enjoyed Ruth Reichl’s work at the Times before she moved on to Gourmet Magazine (sadly,no longer published). Current critic Pete Wells is at his best when he’s being destructive. Otherwise, he seems a bit too arch and precious. Sam Sifton, the food editor, is splendid. He’s made the Times a rich source of recipes and ideas for delicious home cooking (Melissa Clark is a standout. HG finds Mark Bittman uneven). Joseph Wechsberg, who wrote about European restaurants (and much else) for the New Yorker is ripe for rediscovery. And, HG recalls with fondness the down to earth midwestern flavored food writing of Clementine Paddleford (great name) of the long demised New York Herald Tribune. Calvin Trillin is the poet laureate of barbecue and other indigenous American foods (however, HG can never understand his love for the vastly overrated Mosca’s Restaurant near New Orleans). Jane and Michael Stern’s books about highway and roadside restaurants were lively and wildly influential but their selections are very uneven. They liked some terrible Tex-Mex and hamburger joints in Colorado but led HG/BSK to some very good eating in Montana and Washington. So, take their recommendations with caution.
Before returning to New Mexico, HG/BSK celebrated Brilliant Granddaughter Arianna R.’s birthday with a gala feast at Los Andes in Providence. This is one of HG’s all time most favorite restaurants (HG acclaimed it in a an earlier post). Once again, Los Andes provided a joyous feast of Peruvian specialties. The evening was made even more special by the presence of Jake, Arianna’s friend. A good looking, charming young man, Jake is studying to be a chef at Johnson & Wales, the renowned culinary school. Hope to taste his cooking on another occasion. Up early in the morning to travel to Boston and fly to Albuquerque. Toby, The Wonder Dog, had to be stuffed in a crate to make the trip in cargo. Looked very forlorn. Breakfasted at Legal Seafood. Excellent crab cake sandwich for HG and splendid chicken sandwich for BSK. Legal always delivers good airport meals (too early in the morning for their outstanding oysters and clams). As you can imagine, Toby leaped out of his crate at the Albuquerque Sunport to greet HG/BSK with happy barks. Picked up the makings for a comfort dinner at Whole Foods. Green Chile Cheeseburgers a la BSK: Pan broiled burgers topped with aged English cheddar and smothered in 505 Green Chile Sauce. Served on toasted onion brioche buns. The magical burgers were accompanied by bowls of cannelini beans topped with chopped sweet onions and 505 Green Chile salsa. A bottle of pinot noir. The ardors of travel were soon forgotten.
One of the depressing aspects of old age (HG will be 86 in November) is the passing of long time friends. Two years ago it was Peter Meyerson, the gifted TV comedy writer who was HG’s uproarious companion in irreverent mirth for almost 60 years. Earlier this year, Nir Baraket, the esteemed Toronto photographer, HG/BSK’s friend for some 50 years, died. And, last week Uli Monaco died. HG met Uli (she was then Uli Beigel) at Bennington College in 1954. Uli was 19, very original, very bohemian and very talented. HG and friends all had literary ambitions. It was Uli who realized those ambitions. Her early short stories were published in Mademoiselle and the New Yorker and collected in book form as Victoria At Night and other stories. We were all thrilled to see her very young face (with its usual expression of slightly amused irony) adorning the back cover. For whatever reason, that was the last fiction Uli ever published. She went on to motherhood (three children) and a long marriage to HG’s friend Donald Monaco (who survives her). Uli had an extensive career in pharmaceutical and medical public relations. She was always vague about her career. HG only knew she was well paid and very respected in the field. Uli had a razor sharp wit and a powerful intellect. It seemed brutally unfair that such a mind be assaulted by Alzheimer’s. Uli was not in good shape when she and Donald managed to get to New York two years ago for HG/BSK’s 50th Wedding Anniversary Party. It wasn’t easy for Uli but she was there to help HG/BSK celebrate. That was the last time HG saw Uli. HG (and many, many others) will miss her.
HG has a tendency to be both impulsive and stubborn. This has led to some bad decisions and some very good ones. HG met BSK some 52 years ago. Went out on a dinner date. Never spent a night apart from then on. Married three months later. Impulsive? Yes. But, it was the best impulse HG ever succumbed to. Some impulses (all about rather minor matters) didn’t turn out so well. When HG was 15, the adolescent fellow visited a barber and asked for a short crew cut. The barber didn’t approve. “Are you sure about that, young man ?”, he questioned. Stubborn HG insisted. His head was shaved and much to the scorn of friends and family, the young man was a premature skinhead. Years later, fashionable HG had a pretentious hair “stylist”. The artiste had one name: “Vicente”. While snipping HG’s snow white locks, Vicente suggested adding a look of ‘steel” to HG’s hair. Impulsively, HG agreed to the hair treatment. Came home to BSK. A loud shriek from BSK. “What have you done? You’ve got a blue head!!” A few bad clothing decisions by usually dapper HG: A pair of 1960s vivid plaid bell bottoms. Clownish. A pair of high heeled shoes (these had a brief 60’s moment). HG tottered for a few days, threw them away, and returned to being vertically challenged. HG has made two bad food decisions because of stubbornness. Both involved Chinese food. HG was warned by a waiter in a Szechuan restaurant that a vaunted shrimp dish was “too hot for Americans, only for Chinese.” HG insisted. Waiter warned. HG insisted. Waiter surrendered. The food numbed HG’s mouth. HG’s body was drenched in sweat. His color was crimson. Tears flowed from HG’s eyes. Water. Cold beer. Nothing helped. Only time HG could not put out the flames. At another Chinese restaurant, HG saw two Chinese men happily sharing what appeared to be a very good vegetable dish. HG told the waiter to bring him that dish. “You won’t like it. This has special taste.” Once more, after much tussling, stubborn HG got his way. HG dug in. The food was unidentifiable. It tasted like shredded rubber tires that had been stewed in fermented tooth paste. The smell? Bad barnyard. Malfunctioning toilet. With a sardonic smile, the waiter watched HG struggle. To maintain his dignity, HG ate a quarter of the dish before giving in. Never discovered what was in the horror dish.
Mimi Sheraton, who is one of HG’s favorite food/restaurant writers (she was the NY Times restaurant critic for many years), once recalled the chow mein she ate in Brooklyn restaurants during her youth: “I still remember the mild soothing taste of that food, primarily the flavors of celery, bean sprouts and onions. It is far removed from the sophisticated (and truly better) Chinese food now fashionable, but there are moments when I would trade six of the best Szechuan meals in town for one plateful of that old chow mein (pronounced ‘sharmane’) nostalgia.”) The quote is from Sheraton’s book, From My Mother’s Kitchen. an indispensable guide to Jewish family cooking. Yes, HG shares her chow mein nostalgia. HG often enjoyed the terribly messy but strangely appealing chow mein sandwiches dispensed by the Nathan’s Famous hot dog emporiums in Coney Island and Manhattan’s Seventh Avenue. Years ago, HG and gourmand companion Charles E., would meet for a stealthy lunch in a dimly lit Sixth Avenue Chinese restaurant. They would devour “combo platters” of chow mein, fried rice and greasy egg rolls. Like illicit lovers, they would leave the restaurant swiftly and furtively to avoid being seen by friends with elevated dining tastes. Yes, nostalgia has a kick: A week or so ago, a ferocious north wind was battering Prince Edward Island. Outside, the windows of HG/BSK’s home revealed a sea topped with a froth of whitecaps. For some obscure reason, the tumultuous weather made HG remember the plain-spoken comfort food HG enjoyed decades ago in New York bar-and-grills, diners and coffee shops: Corned beef and cabbage with boiled potatoes on Third Avenue (when the El rumbled overhead). Open faced pot roast sandwiches drenched in rich brown gravy. Ditto open faced turkey and roast beef sandwiches (accompanied by mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce or insipid vegetables). liver and onions topped with bacon. Salami and eggs served “pancake style.” Spaghetti (never al dente, always overdone) with big meatballs and “red sauce.” A simple “bowl of red”–chili topped with raw onions and grated cheddar. BLT’s on whole wheat toast with loads of mayo. That night BSK and HG devised a PEI dinner that provided comfort: Grilled weissurst (veal) sausages with sweet mustard. Sauerkraut. Boiled local potatoes. Yellow bean salad. Gahan’s PEI ale. There was a fire in the Danish stove and sounds of Mozart. The winds did blow. The sea surged. And HG/BSK (and Toby, The Wonder Dog), were snug in their comfort zone.
Off on the long drive from Prince Edward Island to Riverside, R.I. (home of Gifted Daughter Lesley R. and family) with an overnight stop at the Senator Hotel in Augusta, Maine. BSK is the world’s best, most alert, most tireless long distance driver. Toby, The Wonder Dog, is a happy traveler, perched on the arm rest and watching the changing scenery with interest. HG is a contented, passive passenger. BSK drove for seven hours through changing weather. Sunny. Threatening clouds. Light fog. Dense fog. Comfortable, dog friendly room at the Senator. Nice area in which to walk Toby. Excellent Maine dinner at the hotel restaurant. A pair of Maine lobsters (modestly priced) for HG. (Since BSK is allergic to crustaceans, BSK’s Maine voyages have always been marked by watching, with envy, HG devour the state’s most famous product). HG/BSK had a platter of freshly shucked oysters from Maine waters. Splendid. Comparable to PEI’s Colville Bay product. HG/BSK, on the next day drive, were surprised by the heavy traffic. (Traffic is very light, almost non-existent, in PEI and New Mexico). Lunched at the Blount Clam Shack adjacent to the lovely Crescent Park carousel in Riverside. Savory Rhode Island “Clambake Chowder” and (for HG) a wonderfully generous lobster roll, sweet lobster drenched in melted butter). Warm reunion with the Riva family. The Riva gardens, home and water views are particularly beautiful in the early days of New England autumn. Lesley and Brilliant Granddaughter Arianna hosted a woman’s group of 14 for dinner while HG/BSK and Profesore Massimo R. dined at Sun and Moon, a delightful Korean restaurant in East Providence. Korean pancakes and other down home Korean cooking (some outstanding stir fried pork bellies). HG drank much Soju with beer chasers. With Toby at the foot of the bed, HG/BSK slept soundly after a long day of travel.
All good things (and, thankfully, bad things) must come to an end. And, so HG/BSK and Toby, The Wonder Dog, are wistful as they say farewell to Prince Edward Island. A saving grace as HG/BSK and Toby motor to Riverside, R.I., is that Toby will have a chance to romp with Pip, the Riva family’s talented dog. And, HG/BSK will join in a birthday party for Brilliant Granddaughter Arianna. The site will be Los Andes, a great Peruvian restaurant (HG has praised it in a recent post). Looking forward to New Mexico and the colorful turning leaves of autumn; swims in HG/BSK’s heated indoor pool; seeing the fish gambol in the Koi pond; watching light flicker and change across the Barrancas (colorful cliffs and mesas). Much of New Mexico’s air will be scented by roasting chilies and BSK will make good use of them in flavorful dinners as piñon logs blaze in the fireplace. These last days on PEI have been busy with a variety of household chores, packing, etc. HG said goodbye to Gladys and Sheryll, the gracious ladies of By the Bay Fish Mart, who keep HG/BSK supplied with good things from the sea throughout the PEI summer. HG/BSK ate a big platter of By the Bay’s Malpeque oysters. (These will be much missed. Both for their taste and modest price.) Had a very good (and very big) piece of fried haddock and crisp fried onions at Rick’s Fish and Chips in St. Peters. HG had been concerned that Rick’s might be going downhill but it seems to have recovered its mojo. HG will miss PEI seafood but will be consoled by menudo and a host of other Northern New Mexico treats. Tonight, HG/BSK will dine at the delightful 21 Breakwater Restaurant in Souris. In the meantime, off to the Land of the Brave, Free and Trump (plus many other Republican dimwits and lunatics).
Rice vermicelli, the Asian staple, provides the basis for HG’s favorite fast lunch. Very good cold or hot. Makes a great salad. Cook vermicelli in boiling water. (Haiku is a good brand and each package contains a number of individual portions). The noodles cook fast. Drain under cold water. Mix with thin slices of radish, turnip, scallions, sweet onions and shavings of carrot. Dress with soy, ponzu, sesame oil, Vietnamese fish sauce, Sriracha (try various combinations). It’s nice topped with some sliced left over chicken. If you like it hot, stir fry the noodles with red peppers, bean sprouts, bamboo shoots, etc. HG also likes the noodles in a bowl of hot chicken broth. HG adds Tofu, sliced scallions (or watercress), thin strips of ham. Rice vermicelli is a healthier fast cooking option than packaged Ramen. Instant Ramen is consumed in great quantities in college dorms. Unfortunately, the food contains whopping amounts of sodium. Not good for you. Elevates blood pressure.