“Improv” is how actors refer to improvisation, the backbone of acting classes and, in the right hands, the source of both comic and dramatic masterpieces. Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner’s, The Thousand Year Old Man was total, un-scripted improvisation. Mike Nichols and Elaine May were nifty practitioners of the art. BSK has an extensive theater background (theater study at Ohio State; repertory at the Fred Miller Theater in Milwaukee; summer stock in Hyde Park, N.Y.; advanced study with Lee Strassberg and Lloyd Richards in New York.) While in college, BSK did comic improv in Columbus, Ohio, coffee houses. Her partner was puppeteer Bill Walters (later a New York actor and stage manager) and his monkey puppet “Thelonious Monkey”. More improv on Columbus live TV. These days (much to HG’s delight) BSK applies improv skills to cuisine. Witness BSK’s recent chicken masterpiece. HG/BSK (since coming back to New Mexico from Florida) have been eating out of the freezer. BSK defrosted a package of skinless, boneless chicken thighs. Dredged them in a bit of flour. Using a cast iron pan, BSK gently browned them in canola oil. Placed them in a Creuset casserole. BSK wiped out the cast iron pan. In olive oil, BSK heated garlic until golden and scattered it over the chicken. Simmered wine, chickens stock and an abundant amount of rosemary.`Turned off heat and swirled butter, capers and Dijon mustard into the mix. Poured it over the casseroled chicken and cooked it in the oven. While cooking, BSK made some additional chicken stock, butter and mustard sauce. Poured it over the cooked chicken on a warmed platter. A bit of chopped parsley for color. Ciabatta (to soak up the wonderful sauce) and chopped parsley (for color). Salad of sliced avocado and sweet onion. Finished the sumptuous meal with Trader Joe’s lush Brooklyn chocolate babka and the remainder of a bottle of Pinot Noir. HG looked at BSK and contemplated that old country song: “If My Woman Can’t Do It, It Can’t Be Done.” Sums up BSK’s endless talents.
At a fancy dinner party, an elegant lady asked Babe Ruth why he didn’t eat asparagus. The greatest Yankee of them all responded: “Because they make my pee smell funny.” HG/BSK are not concerned about the after effect of asparagus. They are now in season and BSK prepares the delicious vegetable in many ways: Roasted on the grill; gently steamed; mixed with garlic, ginger and a bit of soy sauce in a Chinese stir fry; as the filling in an omelet. Last night, BSK steamed a batch and seasoned them with melted butter and lemon juice. They proved a worthy companion to HG’s preparation of Coho salmon a la unilaterale. A very simple dish. HG melted a mix of butter and olive oil in a cast iron pan. When quite hot, HG placed the salmon in the pan skin side down. A minute of high heat; covered the pan and turned heat to medium low. After four minutes, HG checked the fish. Found it rare (but cooked to HG’s liking). Placed it on a warm platter (like a steak, grilled salmon continues to cook after its removal from heat). Sauced the fish with melted butter, lemon juice and a dash of cayenne. Asparagus and salmon: A perfect marriage. (like HG/BSK). Tossed salad in a pungent vinaigrette provided a healthy finale.
Thursday was Cinco de Mayo, a major fiesta in Hispanic New Mexico. HG celebrated at El Parasol, the delightful little restaurant on Highway 285 in Pojoaque (six minutes from HG/BSK’s home). HG’s favorite dish there is green chile menudo but, given its high cholesterol level, HG has to limit the intake of this lush treat. So, HG had a big bowl of the home made green chile stew with warm tortillas. Fiery and savory. HG ate on the sunny restaurant terrace with Toby, The Wonder Dog, at HG’s side. Little fellow was much admired by staff and diners. Toby accompanied HG to the bank where he was given a substantial dog biscuit as a Cinco de Mayo treat. The doggy is now a fan of the financial sector. The dinner theme tonight was Japanese/Chinese. BSK sliced a pork tenderloin into thin slices. Further thinned them by putting them between sheets of wax paper and pounding them with a rubber hammer. Now they were ready to become Tonkatsu. BSK dipped the thin little cutlets in beaten egg and panko crumbs. Fried until golden in hot canola oil. Meanwhile, HG made a “Chinese Grandmother’s treat.” Boiled some wide egg noodles. Sauced them with a hot/sweet sauce of green onions, butter, garlic, oyster sauce, Maggi seasoning, brown sugar and a discreet amount of sambal. BSK added crunch to the meal with a salad of sliced fennel and radishes. HG drank Guiness Stout. Perfect quaff with this collaborative effort between HG and BSK.
Back home in The Land of Enchantment (AKA New Mexico). Rainy and chilly. Welcome after baking in the Florida sun for a week. Rummaged through a week’s worth of catalogs, junk mail, bills and magazines. HG/BSK decided to eat out of the freezer. Long flight to Albuquerque led the duo too tired to shop. HG lunched on a package of pierogi that had slept in a corner of the freezer for a year. HG ate one. Vile. Left the rest for Toby, The Wonder Dog. He’ll find them yummy. BSK found some very tasty feta and spinach chicken sausage in the freezer. HG plucked some Louisiana boudin sausage that had found a home beneath a bag of corn niblets. Package prose vouched for its “Genuine Cajun Taste.” While these frozen foods thawed, HG swam many laps in HG/BSK’s heated (80 degrees) pool. Felt like the Gulf of Mexico. The exercise sharpened HG’s appetite. Blaze in the fireplace chased away rain dampness. HG sipped a new cocktail (drunk in Brooklyn and Paris); The Chin Up. Gin, dry vermouth, slice of cucumber crushed with a pinch of salt, Cynar (the French artichoke aperitif). A refreshing and not too inebriating drink. BSK grilled the chicken sausages and served them with a robust green salad enriched with roasted peppers and BSK’s super savory blue cheese dressing. Good eating. HG grilled the boudin. Turned out to be a mushy, tasteless horror. In the future, HG will stick to the French versions of boudin—boudin noir and boudin blanc. Of the two, HG prefers noir, a hearty blood sausage. Accompanied by sautéed apple slices and a rough red wine (HG likes Cahors) this is French down home cooking at its best. HG will leave true southern version of boudin to the Cajuns. The stuff doesn’t travel well. Doggy gourmand Toby will gobble up the left over terrible boudin and bark his appreciation.
Last day in St. Pete and the sunburned family checked out of the condo. Hot and sticky day. Headed to Ybor City, the historic section of Tampa which was founded by Cuban immigrants. Once a center of a thriving cigar industry (you can still get hand rolled cigars there), Ybor City is now famous for dining. The main attraction is Columbia Restaurant, the oldest (more than 105 years) continually operating restaurant in Florida. This is a vast restaurant serving Cuban/Spanish food. Good ingredients but a bit heavy handed with salt and chorizo. Very pleasant service. Ordered a pitcher of outstanding sangria. HG had some very generous small plates: Gambas Ajillo (prawns in garlic sauce, good prawns but the sauce was too salty); grilled super tender calamari (simple and perfect); PEI mussels in a broth of tomatoes, sliced chorizo and parsley (excellent mussels whose flavor was blunted by excessive chorizo.) Handsome Haru shared the mussels with HG and pronounced them “awesome.” Given the evidence of the mussels ordered at Columbia and in St. Pete restaurants, PEI mussels have regained their splendor. (Or, are they exporting the winners and keeping the losers at home? We’ll soon find out.) BSK had grilled grouper which she pronounced “best ever.” SJ knocked off a big plate of roast pork. Handsome Haru had a Mojo Chicken sandwich (looked mass produced and not very appetizing). HH wasn’t impressed with the sandwich but happily consumed a virgin mango daiquiri and a big bowl of the house salad mixed table side by a charming young man. Teru, the reigning Princess of Cuteness, devoured a big bowl of mac and cheese. Approved. HG and HH finished with flan. HG and SJ had cups of cafe con leche. Some of the best coffee HG has ever experienced. After the lengthy meal, the group spent hours at the Tampa Aquarium, located in the Port of Tampa. Kids wondered at the sharks and were pleased to pet the sting rays (this is allowed if you use two fingers and pet their backs gently). Long, tiring flight back to Albuquerque. Home after a drive in the rain. The reunion with Toby, The Wonder Dog, was super joyous.
The sun sizzled on St. Pete Beach today but it did not dull the appetites of HG/BSK and family. Brunch at The Frog Pond. Big plates of waffles, pancakes, eggs and grits (best grits ever), quiche, biscuits and gravy. Big culinary departure for HG who usually breakfasts on juice, coffee and oat cereal. Doesn’t eat until dinner. In and out of the warm sea all day. Splashed among the gentle waves with Haru, Teru, SJ and BSK. The essence of innocent fun. Despite the big brunch everyone was ready for some big time eating when the sun went down. Off to Cedars Restaurant in the Seminole neighborhood. Down home Lebanon cuisine. Halal meat. Hookahs on the outdoor tables. Wanted to taste everything so ordered baba ganoush, labneh, feta cheese with chopped tomatoes, hummus, tabouleh, salads. Excellent tastes. Perfect after toasting on the sunny beach. Main dish was kebabs (chicken, beef, ground lamb) on a bed of rice with grilled vegetables and a bowl of tzatsiki. Much, much food. All good, The garlicky chicken and the rare grilled steak were solid winners. Drove back to our vacation condo for salt caramel gelato and (for HG) a nightcap of Jim Beam bourbon. Nice finale to our last beach day. Back to The Land of Enchantment tomorrow. Hope Toby, The Wonder Dog, hasn’t lost his heart to Ina G., the charming jewelry designer, who has been HG/BSK’s temporary house sitter. HG/BSK miss Toby, their feisty, furry little friend.