Perfect beach day. Bright sun. Cloudless blue sky. Modest breeze making the heat comfortable. Inviting sea. Gentle waves and warm water. HG read Hemingway’s book about Paris, A Moveable Feast. Conclusion one: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ford Madox Ford, Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound were all certifiably crazy. Conclusion Two: HG admires Hemingway’s prose craftsmanship. His account of a trip with Fitzgerald is brilliant. His generosity toward that troubled man is admirable. Despite that, HG finds Hemingway personally unpalatable–homophobic, ludicrously suspect macho. HG/BSK, Haru, Teru and SJ spent much time carousing in the gentle sea. HG ended the glorious beach day with a soak in the hot tub. HG and family were ravenous after hours of fun. So, it was back to reliable Keegan’s in the Indian Shores neighborhood of St. Pete Beach. Seated immediately. HG had the stupendous sea scallop ceviche washed down with an icy beer, Followed by charbroiled octopus. Best ever. Superlatively tender and full of flavor. SJ had a cup of the creamy She Crab Chowder. The group devoured Prince Edward Island mussels, conch fritters, fried calamari, grouper sandwiches, loads of French fries and cole slaw. HG had a generous platter of warm Gulf shrimp dipped in melted butter and dotted with Keegan’s hot sauce. Finished with hearty gumbo. Wonderful food. Friendly, efficient service. Keegan’s never disappoints.
Dinner at Guppy’s On The Beach Seafood Grill (in the Indian Rocks neighborhood of St. Pete Beach) was an up and down (mostly down) experience. Guppy’s is a large, popular restaurant with outdoor and indoor seating. HG chose indoor (an error). Seated in a bleak air conditioning chilled room. Historic photos on the wall of historic Indian Rocks bathing beauties (in one piece suits) was a nice touch. Ordered a pitcher of sangria. Eeks, horrors!! The restaurant tampered with the classic recipe and added loads of cinnamon (also some cloves). Smelled like a men’s room deodorant with overtones of potpourri in a New England tourist gift shop. Undrinkable. Replaced the witches brew with cold Stella Artois beer. After a lengthy wait HG and SJ were served bowls of hot and spicy fish chowder. Caribbean tastes. Heartening. Twenty minute wait. A bowl of plump, tasty Prince Edward Island mussels in a broth enhanced by tomatoes, greens and garlic finally arrived. Light at the end of a tunnel. Mood became optimistic. A 25 minute wait quenched the happy mood. HG rose to complain. Waitperson said she’d inform management. Rest of the meal arrived in a rush. Strange food. The dishes were over elaborate with too many ingredients on each plate. Festoons of shaved carrots. Slivers of olives. Sauces that did not enhance. Truffled mashed potatoes that tasted chemical. Fried green tomatoes and fried oysters destroyed by heavy breading. Broiled octopus (tender and good quality) that were savory after all the redundant sauce was scraped away. “Lobstercargot” failed. This was a dish served in a traditional escargot plate, little chunks of lobster in a traditional garlic and butter sauce. Something went wrong. Cheese (possibly cream) was added to the sauce. Glop. At end of the meal, very personable manager appeared and removed sangria and chowders from the bill. Apologized for the delays. Consolation for the bad meal was the very modest expense.
If you relish Italian food, visit Mazzaro’s Italian Market in St. Petersburg, Fla. This is a vast, busy Italian food emporium that is an Italian version of New York’s famed Zabar’s. No housewares, but unlike Zabar’s there’s a butcher, fresh fish counter, greengrocer, pastry section, coffee bar and an encyclopedic array of fine wines. There are indoor and outdoor dining areas where one can order exceptional sandwiches and hot dishes. Row upon row of shopping aisles with shelves carrying an endless array of olive oils, vinegars, canned tomatoes, capers, sweet treats, etc., etc.. The scope is international. HG discovered six varieties of middle eastern halvah, for example. HG/SJ visited this extraordinary place for dinner fixings. Sausage, prosciutto, tomatoes, olives, ricotta, mozzarella, mortadella, bruschetta topping, almond honey bars, cheeses and rose and pinot noir wines. All of excellent quality. Dinner at home was outstanding (as usual). SJ prepared a big platter of antipasto. This was followed by SJ’s supreme version of linguine with oil, garlic, anchovies and chopped flat leaf parsley. An epic Italian-accented extravaganza. Viva Italia!! And, Viva SJ !!.
HG/BSK plus SJ, Handsome Haru and delicious little Teru, are busy having sun and sea fun at the RAM SEA CONDO complex in the North Redington Beach neighborhood of St. Petersburg, Fla. The group has a nice and big beachfront space (three bedrooms and two bathrooms plus laundry room) with a spacious terrace overlooking the sea. Only thing missing is Exquisite Maiko. HG/BSK’s talented daughter-in-law is running ONI SAUCE at the Brooklyn Smorgasburg and delighting the crowds with her fabulous Japanese fried chicken, Gobo Chips and Beef Skewers all drenched in her incredible Chili (Rayu) and Onion sauces (also for sale). So, Florida fun this year without EM. Lots of sun and swimming today. Ocean water is warm and friendly. Ended sun fun with a hot tub soak and bracing shower. Raging dinner appetites. Off to Keegan’s Seafood Grille for a feast. Scallop ceviche. Conch fritters. Steamed, warm Gulf shrimp with melted butter. Gumbo. Broiled grouper with cole slaw and French fries. Fried calamari. Oysters–raw and steamed. (This was only disappointment. Not as tasty as last year’s bivalves. Must be getting them from another source). Back to the apartment for salt caramel gelato, almond honey crunch and bourbon whiskey. Joy. Joy. Joy.
Passover is upon us and HG is filled with memories of the traditional food and drink from the Seders of HG’s youth. The Seder is the traditional meal at the beginning of Passover when the family reads from the Hagadah, a celebration of the escape by the Jews from Egyptian slavery. (HG, in previous posts, has recalled raucous and irreverent Seders of the past). The food most identified with Passover is the matzo, the unleavened bread that sustained the Jews during their hasty exodus. HG’s late Mom always insisted on Streit’s, a matzo baked for decades in antique ovens on Rivington Street in the Lower East Side. Founded in 1915, Streit’s closed its Rivington Street factory in 2015 and moved to New Jersey, ending a 90 year Manhattan history. Wasn’t gentrification. For years, the family turned down numerous offers to sell their property to real estate developers. The old ovens didn’t work anymore and no one knew how to repair them. Mom always insisted on Horowitz-Margareten egg matzos (HG’s favorite). Horowitz-Maragreten disappeared from New York and (along with Goodman’s, another New York matzo company) was bought by the giant Manischewitz company. Manischewitz’s is owned by Bain, the Boston investment firm once headed by Mitt Romney (Oy Vey!!). Schapiro Wine Company was another Rivington Street landmark. Founded by Sam Schapiro in 1899, the company closed its Lower East Side winery in 2000. Had a brief run as a winery in Monticello, N.Y. Schapiro wine was very sweet (loved by HG’s Mom and despised by HG’s Father). Its motto: “Wine So Thick You Can Almost Cut It With A Knife.” The cool, cool Lower East Side is now filled with expensive condos, art galleries, trendy bars and restaurants, cutting edge fashion shops. The only remnants of traditional Jewish eating are Katz’s Delicatessen, Russ & Daughters Appetizing Shop and Cafe, Yonah Shimmel’s knishes and Economy Candy. A bit of happy news. Kossar’s Bagel and Bialy Bakery has re-opened (after closing for a few months) in totally refurbished premises at 367 Grand Street. Traditional products like bialys and pretzels (onion rolls) are still great but there are some aberrations. Apple/cinnamon bialys, alas.
April 24 will be the centennial of the Easter Rising Rebellion in Dublin which eventually led to the establishment of the independent state of Ireland. Among other events, there will be a gathering of Irish bagpipers at St.Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. HG will be sorry to miss that because there are few things more rousing than these bagpipers (specially when they are leading the New York St. Patrick’s Day parade) or saddening (when they play at the funerals of fallen police officers or firefighters). Alas, New York (principally Manhattan) seems to have lost the Irish flavor it had during HG’s younger days. HG misses the Irish politicians (Boss Flynn, Bronx Borough President James J.Lyons, Mayor Bill O’Dwyer, etc.) who had a human touch and a flair for creating consensus. HG misses the rich Irish brogue of the Transit Workers Union (TWU) chief, “Red Mike” Quills; the Irish tones of Fifth Avenue bus drivers; the Irish-tinged voice of the fighting liberal, Paul O’Dwyer. HG misses HG’s sandlot football teammates in The Bronx, tough guys with nicknames like Mick, Binny and Paddy. HG misses collaboration with his brilliant Irish public relations protege, Bruce Maguire, the president of the 61-year-old firm, Freeman Public Relations. HG misses the humor and insights of Irish journalists like Joe Flaherty (died at 47 of cancer). Like Jimmy Breslin (thankfully still alive and writing a Sunday column for the New York Daily News) he had an affinity for New York’s working class. Brooklyn-bred Flaherty left high school at 16 to work as a longshoreman and for years combined dock work with writing (he was a reporter for the Village Voice, author of four books and was the campaign manager for the Norman Mailer-Jimmy Breslin mayoralty ticket). Though the Irish are not noted for creative cuisine or fine dining, HG loved the food at Irish-owned Dinty Moore’s in Midtown (the only Irish joint with gefilte fish on the menu). HG misses the down to earth Irish saloons on Third Avenue (they vanished when the El came down and Third Avenue became the site of lofty office buildings and fashionable apartment houses). The saloons always had jars of hard boiled eggs and pickled pig’s feet on the bar (nice accompaniment to HG’s journalist dinner of rye whiskey with beer chasers). HG exhales a nostalgic sigh at the thought of saloon platters of corned beef and cabbage and open faced pot roast sandwiches smothered in brown gravy. The Irish seem to have vanished from Manhattan to enclaves in Queens, Brooklyn, The Bronx, Staten Island, Long Island, Westchester and Orange Counties, New Jersey, etc. Manhattan Isle isn’t the same without them.
As you all know, there are plenty of Jewish jokes; however, there are only a few Jewish jokes about food. Maybe food is so important to Jews (including HG) that it can’t be a laughing matter. Plenty of Jewish waiter jokes: “Customer: There’s a fly in my soup. Waiter: So, how much can it drink?” “Customer: Is the brisket good? Waiter: Too good for you.” “Customer: Taste the soup. Waiter: What’s wrong? It’s no good? Customer: Taste the soup. Waiter: Everybody loves this soup. Customer: Taste the soup. Waiter: Okay, give me your spoon. Customer: AH HAH!!!” There’s the Catskills hotel classic. A woman complains:”The food here is terrible. And, such small portions.”(Woody Allen used the joke as a parable for human life). Jews are irreverent about authority figures, even religious authorities (Okay, this isn’t true about the Chassids). There are lots of Rabbi jokes but few about food. Only two that HG knows: Aged Rabbi decides he should taste pork before he dies. Goes to a distant restaurant where he isn’t known. Looks at menu. Orders suckling pig. It is presented to him on a platter with an apple in the piglet’s mouth. At that moment the president of his synagogue enters. “This is terrible. What are you doing, Rabbi? The Rabbi responds: “I ordered a baked apple and look what they brought me!!!” The other concerns a confessional chat between a Rabbi and Priest on a plane. The punchline: “Beats the hell out of bacon, doesn’t it, Father?” You can fill in the rest.
As HG savored the last of the delicious gefilte fish (brought by visiting Peter Hellman from Zabar’s,the famous New York gourmet emporium), HG contemplated the wonders of chopped and poached fish. Memory was sharpened by a few snifters of icy Aakavit (the wonderful 84 proof Danish response to vodka) and chasers of dark ale. Zabar’s product matched in flavor and succulence the gefilte fish produced by HG’s late Mom in her Bronx kitchen. Mom chopped fresh water fish: whitefish, pike, carp and “buffel” (curious HG learned that “buffel” was Ictiobus, often called Buffalo fish). Mom mixed the fish with matzo meal, eggs and grated onion. Formed the mix into ovals and poached them in a broth flavored by fish heads, bones and skin. The fish heads, etc. were removed before poaching and the broth was strained and served with cooked carrots and onions. Her gefilte fish were served warm or cold. They were always decorated with slices of carrot. Very strong, freshly grated horseradish was obligatory. Chunks of Challah were dunked in the warm fish broth. If cold, the broth turned gelatinous (still delicious with Challah). “Gefilte” means stuffed. Eastern European Jews stuffed the chopped fish into the skin of a fish. Made one fish go a long way. “Galitzianers” (Jews from Galicia, the borderland between Poland and the Ukraine) added sugar to the chopped fish mix. Mom considered this a culinary obscenity. Excellent gefilte fish was served in New York’s many “dairy” restaurants (Alas, only a few still exist.) If your gefilte fish experience has been confined to the bottled supermarket product, you don’t know what pleasure you have been missing. Order the real stuff from Zabar’s online. Similar to gefilte, Chinese fish balls are an omnipresent street food in Hong Kong and in Chinese restaurants throughout New York. HG ate them often at Congee Noodle House when HG/BSK had a loft (and later a townhouse) in the Mt. Pleasant neighborhood of Vancouver. The fish balls are usually made of mackerel, corn starch, salt and pepper. After being chopped in a food processor, the mix has to be slammed on a plastic cutting board about 50 times before poaching (Good way to relieve stress). The slamming creates a unique springy texture. No surprise, the ultimate chopped fish treat can be found in France: Quenelles in Sauce Nantua, chopped pike ovals in a sauce of fresh crayfish and cream. These are a specialty of Lyon. The chopped fish is mixed with flour, eggs and loads of butter (of course). Best place in Paris for this lush dish Moissonnier, a Lyonnaise restaurant in the Fifth Arondissement. The portions in this bistro are enormous. Come hungry.
Yes, HG loves New Mexico and the four season weather. (Winter is brief and mild. Summer can be fiery so HG/BSK spend that season beside the Prince Edward Island sea. Spring and Autumn are the seasons dreams are made of). The Land of Enchantment weather god changes her/his mind quite often. Take today, for example. HG awoke to spring weather. The gardens were ablaze with daffodils, hyacinths, tulips. (Peonies will soon be on their way). BSK’s herb garden was sprouting rosemary,thyme, sage, mint, tarragon and parsley. The apple trees were in full bloom. Trees were beginning to green. The meadows looked colorful. HG sat under the wisteria pergola, sipped morning coffee and enjoyed the action of the fish in the HG/BSK Koi pond. (Industrious BSK keeps the finny fellows healthy and active). By noon, summer had arrived. Bright sunshine. HG changed into shorts. Strolled with Toby, The Wonder Dog. Sunbathed on the pool house sun deck. Hot. Hot. Sizzle time. Into the pool for a cooling 20 laps. Out for more sun. Back in the pool for another 20 laps. A bit more sun. Hot shower. Dried in the sun. A true recipe for relaxation. Glass of Campari and soda in hand, HG watched the sun disappear. Temperature zoomed downwards. Time for a blaze in the fireplace since it was now late autumn. Splendid dinner. Watched DVD’s of “Mad Men” (missed it when on TV). Off to bed. Would not be surprised to see dusting of snow in the morning.
During HG’s young years, HG’s late, beloved father, Hershele Zvi Freimann (anglicized at Ellis Island to “Harry Freeman”), would arrive home after work in a breathless state. It was a long, uphill trudge from the Bronx’s 170th Street subway station (later the Kingsbridge station). Hershele hung up fedora and coat. Opened the refrigerator to get a piece of schmaltz (or home pickled) herring. Tore off a hunk of pumpernickel bread (Pechter’s or Stuhmer’s). Poured a substantial glass of Park & Tilford rye whiskey (tiny glass for little HG). Hershele and HG clinked glasses and said: “L’chaim !! (To Life). Hershele knocked off the big glass in one mighty gulp and followed it with the herring/pumpernickel chaser (HG opted for a small piece of bread). Yes, immigrant Jews like Hershele enjoyed alcohol. The pre-dinner drink was known as a “brumfen.” At the end of dinner, a dessert of fruit compote was served with a glass of home brewed “vishniak” (cherry brandy). Thus, HG grew up believing alcohol was part of dining. Hershele (and HG in later life) always accompanied spirits with food. HG sips bitters and soda before a meal with one or two shrimp, ceviche from the Pojoaque (New Mexico) Super Market, or a simple, salted cracker. Wine accompanies dinner and HG sips an after dinner TV-watching-snifter of brandy (or Scotch) with a sweet: peanut brittle or Belgian Butter Cookies. Tonight, HG’s meal will be an homage to much missed Hershele. There will be a bottle of icy Aakavit on the table plus dark ale brewed by New Mexico monks. Two kinds of herring: Pickled and Matjes. Gefilte fish and Jewish Rye Bread (both from New York’s Zabar’s via visiting Peter Hellman). Sliced sweet onions (from Texas). Boiled potatoes. Sour cream. For dessert: a thin slice of New York cheese cake with a snifter of brandy. HG will raise his glass of Aakavit and say “L’chaim !!. With a second glass, HG will raise it and say: “To your blessed memory, beloved Hershele.”