Sunday Cooking With Karen Lee

September 19th, 2020 § 0 comments § permalink

Many decades ago when living in Montclair, NJ, HG/BSK would travel to Manhattan for Chinese cooking classes with Karen Lee. HG/BSK were part of an interesting group that gathered in Lee’s small Upper West Side apartment and learned how to chop, shred, stir fry, etc. We then ate our creations. They included chicken, pork, spare rib and noodle dishes. Simple and delicious. Some of the people in HG/BSK’s group were author and fashionable wit, Stephanie Pierson; actor Peter Boyle (“Young Frankenstein”, “Taxi Driver”, etc.); actress Verna Bloom. Much laughter. A favorite dish was Pon Pon Chicken, a staple of HG/BSK’s cuisine then and now. Pon Pon is composed of poached, shredded chicken in a lush, spicy sauce of peanut butter, soy sauce, sesame oil, Szechuan preserved vegetables, garlic, chili oil and other ingredients. It is served over room temperature linguine. As HG has noted, HG/BSK and BSK’s sister, Noel M., and her husband, Yossi M., alternate hosting Sunday dinners at their homes. Sunday (Sept. 6) at the HG/BSK oceanfront home on Prince Edward Island, the main dish was Pon Pon chicken. The group was joined by beautiful neighbor Leslie F. All expressed delight with the Pon Pon. Last night (Sept. 13) dinner was at N. & Y.’s Ocean Mist Farm. Very good local goat cheese and crackers. Sweet corn on the cob. Stuffed peppers in a roasted tomato sauce. Mixed salad. Ice cream with fruit sauce for dessert. Much wine, white and red. Tasty food. Good company. Happy time. And, HG received a gift from Noel M.: A jar of her strawberry/rhubarb jam, the best jam ever. HG puts a spoonful on HG’s breakfast bowl of yogurt. Delicious way to start the day.

Lundy’s: Triumph and Tragedy

September 17th, 2020 § 0 comments § permalink

Lundy’s, located on Emmons Avenue in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Sheepshead Bay, had a long run: 1935-1977 (the effort to revive it in the 90’s failed). It seated almost 2,000 diners. Despite the vast size, it served consistently perfect food with efficient, swift service (by long tenured African-American waiters similar to those at Gage & Tollner, another Brooklyn landmark). In HG’s opinion, this was the best seafood restaurant in the world. It was affordable. In the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, a glass of beer was 15 cents and a dry Martini was 45 cents. The “Shore Dinner” was vast: raw clams (or shrimp); oysters on the half shell; steamers; half a broiled lobster and half a roast chicken; French fries; cole slaw; lots of hot, buttered biscuits; pie (huckleberry was the best); coffee. HG would share one shore dinner with HG’s Brooklyn girlfriend. In the immediate post-World War Two years, the shore dinner cost $5.00. HG usually ate more modestly at Lundy’s. Five bucks was a splurge, so economic-minded HG often patronized the restaurant’s raw clam bar. One dozen little necks and one dozen cherry stones accompanied by warm, light-as-a-feather biscuits, dripping with melted butter. Icy Ballantine’s Ale. Nice snack and it cost in the neighborhood of two dollars. Lundy’s was founded by Irving Lundy and despite the financial success of the restaurant, the family was marked by tragedy. Early deaths from accidents, disease, and robbery-related murders.

Chock Full O’ Nuts

September 15th, 2020 § 1 comment § permalink

Chock Full O’ Nuts, the fast-food chain (at one time with 80 stores in New York) served excellent coffee and a signature sandwich of cream cheese and chopped nuts on dark raisin bread. During HG’s busy New York/New Jersey public relations career, it was a favorite stop for a quick lunch or afternoon snack (very superior whole wheat donuts among other menu items). Very efficient. Very clean (“Untouched by Human Hands” was its motto). Surly, grumpy African-American women were the servers and they used tongs to deliver the food. Jackie Robinson, after his retirement from baseball, was hired as personnel and general manager. He did his best to make the service friendlier. Chock Full was founded by William Black starting with theatrical district nut shops in the 1920’s. When the Great Depression hit, Black converted them into sandwich shops, selling the nutted cheese sandwich and a cup of coffee for five cents. Chock Full coffee was very good. When Gault Millau, French food critics, visited New York, they enjoyed the coffee and added that it was an effective laxative. Canned Chock Full was distributed in supermarkets. The singing commercial (by Black’s wife, Page Morton)–“Chock Full O’Nuts, that heavenly coffee, better coffee a Rockefeller’s money can’t buy”–was omnipresent on radio. The food chain closed down in the 1970’s. The coffee brand was sold to the Zanetti coffee conglomerate. The stores were revived in 2010 as Chock Full O’Nuts Cafes (there are now six, two in Brooklyn, two in New Jersey and two in upstate New York). The nutted cheese sandwich costs $4.95. A frankfurter, the same.

Wine Gifts

September 13th, 2020 § 0 comments § permalink

BSK returned from Montague, Prince Edward Island, liquor store with BSK’s usual, delicious, value-conscious wines. Wine is expensive in Canada because of import duties and other taxes. However, BSK finds tasty bargains from Italy, Spain, Argentina, Chile, France and Canada’s Okanagan region. Looking over BSK’s latest selections, HG was reminded of the late Ronald Goldberger. Ron was a prominent figure in the New York commercial real estate world; first as a broker with Edward S. Gordon Co.; later as chief executive of the New York headquarters of a giant international real estate firm. He was irreverent and had a well-honed sense of humor (both verbally and in well-crafted doggerel). He was an adroit negotiator and a dedicated colleague to his clients. Some years ago, Ron negotiated a lease renewal for a Manhattan-based advertising agency. The President of the agency was a wine expert with an outstanding collection of the greatest and rarest vintages. Ron did a bang-up job, saving the agency much money. In recognition, he was gifted with a case of top echelon French wines (Chateau Lafitte, Chateau Margaux, Chateau Rothschild, etc.). Ron protested. It was against his company’s policy to receive gifts from clients but he would accept if he could reciprocate. On the next day, the agency received a case of wine from Ron. It contained Wild Irish Rose and similar bottles of undrinkable plonk.

Jews. Chinese Food. Welcoming China.

September 9th, 2020 § 0 comments § permalink

Yes, Jews are very fond of Chinese food. Some believe that affection started at the time of the great 1900’s migration of Jews to New York from Eastern Europe. The lower east side neighborhood housed the incoming Jews in tenements and Chinatown was a short walk away. Chinatown food was cheap and tasty. Jews were not disdained because of their struggles with English. The Chinese were having their own problems. When HG was growing up, every neighborhood in the boroughs had Chinese restaurants. Chow mein and chop suey (heavy on the corn starch) were featured. HG and teenage Brooklyn girlfriend would feast on chow mein after a movie date. Dinner (Won Ton Soup, Chow Mein, Almond Cookie dessert, much tea) cost 50 cents. Mimi Sheraton, the distinguished food/restaurant writer, has recalled with nostalgic pleasure the comfort of celery, onion and bean sprout chow mein during her young Brooklyn days. HG/BSK’s first date more than 57 years ago was, of course, at a Chinatown restaurant: BoBo’s. The very good restaurant (long closed) was owned and run by a beautiful Chinese actress. Recently, HG discovered another reason for the Jewish affinity for Chinese food. In Simon Schama’s magisterial book, “The Story of the Jews: 1492-1900”, the historian traces the hundreds of years presence of Jews in China (Marco Polo, in 1286, commented on Jewish traders in China). Schama writes that there was a community of 2,000 Jews (with a synagogue, Torah, etc.) in the city of Kaifeng during the 1600’s and before. These Jews adopted Chinese names (along with their Hebrew names) and worked at scores of occupations (there were some prominent Jewish military leaders). Jews (and the Torah) were sympathetic to Confucian teachings while retaining their own identity. The Ming Emperors welcomed Jews to their land. Schama writes: “In China, Jews were not subjected to violence and persecution, not demonized as God killers. Their synagogues were not invaded by conversion harangues. They were not physically segregated from non-Jews, forced to wear humiliating forms of identification on their dress. They were not forced into the most degraded and despised occupations, not stigmatized as grasping and vindictive, and portrayed neither as predatory monsters nor pathetic victims.” A Seng emperor welcomed Jews with these words: “Come to our China: honour and preserve the customs of your ancestors, stay here and hand them down through the generations.” Can the Jewish love of Chinese food be linked to the unconscious memories of Jewish life in a benevolent China? Possibly.

Egg Noodles

August 17th, 2020 § 2 comments § permalink

Buttered egg noodles. An HG favorite since early childhood. For lunch, HG’s Mom would fill a bowl for HG. The noodles got a pat of butter and were topped with “pot cheese” from Daitch Dairy in The Bronx (Kingsbridge Road and W. 168th Street locations. Later in life, Daitch enhanced adult HG’s life with its Broadway and 79th Street location). During HG’s New York days, HG often had this dish at Jewish “dairy” restaurants and the legendary cafeterias, Belmore and Dubrow’s. The alternative was kasha varnishkes with mushroom/onion gravy and sour cream. Regrettably, New York’s Jewish eateries have been replaced by the fast-food chains. Sad. Cool day on Prince Edward Island so HG lunched on buttered egg noodles and cottage cheese. (What happened to “pot cheese”? It disappeared). Egg noodles can replace kasha as a brisket side dish. And, unbuttered, they enhance a bowl of steaming chicken broth. HG stirs a beaten egg into the broth for a stracciatella texture.

Reading

August 4th, 2020 § 0 comments § permalink

HG (a bit of an idiot savant) began serious reading at the age of five. The favorite place to read was the Highbridge Public Library near HG’s apartment home at 1210 Woodycrest Avenue in the southwest Bronx. By the time HG was eight, the precocious little fellow had read (and committed to memory) most major works of American and European history. Beloved late elder sister, Beulah Naomi, would dazzle her friends when HG would answer their history questions with precise dates, battles, narratives, etc.. Soon after HG’s eighth birthday, HG lost the photographic memory and swift reading skills of HG’s earlier years. Minimally recovered. HG still loves to read. Books, actual books, and not Kindles, computers, phones. Recently, HG reread Philip Roth’s novel, “The Counterlife.” This remains HG’s favorite novel, masterly work of imagination and fiction writing. HG continues to ponder the injustice that Roth never received the Nobel for literature. HG (when in New Mexico) reads from the collected work of Montaigne (the book is too thick and heavy to transport to PEI). However, HG has kept his love alive for the French master alive by reading Sarah Bakewell’s “How To Live or A Life of Montaigne In One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer.” Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592), a French nobleman, remains relevant today and is a comfort during a pandemic and a Fascist fool as a President. Montaigne lived under despots and experienced plagues, continuous bloody religious wars and multitudinous dangers. He has much to teach us. Bakewell’s book was best described by Evan Newmark of the Wall Street Journal: ” It not only takes a long-dead Frenchman and brings him back to life, it then beautifully relates how Montaigne’s philosophy can shape and affect our own lives today.”

An Esca Dish

July 26th, 2020 § 0 comments § permalink

Esca, on New York’s west side, has long been one of the city’s best seafood restaurants. HG/BSK (accompanied by HG’s daughter, restaurateur Victoria), had a delicious lunch there some years ago. Ate crudo (slices of very fresh raw fish with appropriate oils and condiments) that was better than any Japanese sashimi HG ever encountered. This was followed by a perfect fried flounder. Wines and desserts were splendid. HG/BSK recalled this meal a few nights ago. The head chef and proprietor (with partners) of Esca is David Pasternack. BSK went to Pasternack’s cookbook: “The Young Man & The Sea.” BSK was beguiled by his recipe for “Cod With Polenta and Wild Mushrooms.” With fresh cod in hand, BSK made some changes in the recipe. Made creamy white grits rather than polenta. Browned cod in pan rather than the oven. No wild mushrooms, but some buttery cremini mushrooms with garlic, shallots and lemon zest. Upon serving, BSK added a modest splash of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Another BSK triumph.

Earthy Yiddish

July 24th, 2020 § 0 comments § permalink

Very few speakers of Yiddish are left. The majority of speakers were wiped out by Hitler and further decimated by post-World War Two emigration. HG treasures this colorful, piquant, sardonic language of the Eastern European Jewish communities. HG grew up in a Yiddish-speaking home (yes, there was some English and a smattering of Russian). HG’s language today is speckled with Yiddish, words that have filtered from HG’s unconscious. (a psychoanalyst might speculate this is an effort to keep HG’s late mother and father alive). Yiddish provides an insight into a vanished culture. Violence: Many words for slaps, blows and punches. Sex: Just a few words for copulation, unlike the many English words for the act. Many, many words for prostitutes and brothels. Anatomy: Only one word for vagina and one slang word. On the other hand, there are a plethora of descriptive words for the penis. Intelligence: Scores of words defining an unintelligent person. Not as many defining wisdom, insight, etc.. Excretory functions: Voluminous. A mature man such as HG is referred to as an “alteh cocker.” That is: “an old shitter”. Not a dignified way to describe HG.

Robbins Nest

July 8th, 2020 § 1 comment § permalink

Okay, jazz lovers, here’s some old-time stuff. When HG entered the early teenage years, there were two jazz programs on New York radio. Symphony Sid (think he was sponsored by the Hollywood Al’s clothing store) and Fred Robbins’s Robbins Nest. Robbins was HG’s favorite. With the radio close to the pillows of HG’s bed, HG was beguiled by Robbins’s eclectic array of jazz greats. Billie Holliday, Maxine Sullivan, Anita O’Day were among the female vocalists. Mel “The Velvet Fog” Torme was HG’s male fave (plus the very eccentric Slim Gaillard). Robbins had a wide range. He played Dixieland (mainly Louis Armstrong), mainstream jazz (Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, Don Byas, Red Norvo, etc.) and even some European groups like The Hot Club of France with Django Reinhardt and Stephan Grapelli. The best was Robbins’s emphasis on small groups which he termed: “Intime and On The Beam.” Finally, he was one of the first to play Charlie Parker, Tad Dameron and other bebop pioneers. Fred had a long (and lucrative) career on radio and TV. He hosted game shows and produced and directed much TV. But,it was as a pioneering, adventurous jazz disc jockey that he gave HG maximum pleasure. (As for Symphony Sid: He had a 36 year history on radio–starting in 1937 on radio station WBNX in The Bronx. He was probably the first white disc jockey to play the music of Black jazz musicians. Like Robbins, he was a pioneering advocate of bebop).

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