Retsina Novel and Brooksien Memories.

August 2nd, 2016 § 2 comments § permalink

Cloudy day on Prince Edward Island giving HG a needed respite from blazing sun. HG looks like a piece of mahogany furniture topped with a white doily. BSK says HG looks like a negative. HG settled down in an Adirondack chair facing the sea with an entertaining novel: “Spies of the Balkans” by Alan Furst. Set in the Grecian port of Salonika, the time is the early 1940’s. The usual Furst ingredients: A sympathetic hero, some steamy sex interludes, the convoluted world of shifting loyalties. What gives Furst’s spy thrillers their unique qualities are his capacity for meticulous research, great narrative skills and an accumulation of both tiny and telling details which bring the 1930s/1940s settings to life. In the “Balkans” novel, the Greek hero drinks an abundant amount of retsina and ouzo and nibbles on grilled octopus and dolmas. The thought of these foods brought HG back to the early 1960’s when HG/BSK and baby Lesley summered in an old Dutch Hugenot stone house in Highland, New York. These were summers of swimming in HG/BSK’s cold water swimming pool. Meals and music with friends enhanced by much high grade marijuana. HG would commute nightly to Highland via an hour and a half bus ride from the city. When HG had to work late, HG would dine in a Greek restaurant adjacent to the Port Authority Bus Terminal. Orzo with briny feta cheese, olives and anchovies. Then, a delicious Moussaka or Pasticcio (a sort of Greek lasagna) washed down with plentiful retsina. This was varied by lamb kebabs with grilled onions or a fried porgy. In those days HG sported a 60’s era head of very long white hair. On one such evening as HG sipped an ouzo, Mel Brooks was at an adjoining table with a group of friends. Brooks decided that HG was really Boris Thomashefsky, the flamboyant star of the Yiddish stage. Brooks, in Yiddish, questioned HG about his identity. HG replied, in Yiddish, that he was, indeed, the great actor. In the character of Thomashefsky, HG said he often ate at the Greek restaurant when he wasn’t dining at Cafe Royal or Moskowitz & Lupowitz. Much hilarity and many vulgar Yiddish words ensued.


Literary Noshing

July 26th, 2011 § 4 comments § permalink

Cuisine plays a big role in the work of two writers of crime fiction — Rex Stout and Lawrence Sanders. Stout, the creator of the cerebral private investigator/gourmand, Nero Wolfe, gives the reader full accounts of the meals prepared by Wolfe’s chef, Fritz. Fritz was a master of haute cuisine and the intricate details provided by Stout were quite appetite provoking. At one point, Stout wrote and published a book of Wolfe’s favorite recipes which was never read by HG as HG is no fan of elaborate cuisine and time consuming kitchen procedures. Sanders, on the other hand, favored plebeian fare in his fictions. HG particularly likes the “wet sandwiches” constructed by one of his protagonists, Francis X. Delaney. Brimming with sardines, tomatoes, onions, etc., these tasty items have to be eaten over the kitchen sink to avoid general messiness.

Ach…how could HG leave out all of the excellent food that saturates Donna Leon’s Venetian mysteries? Ms. Leon’s protagonist, Commisario Guido Brunetti, sure likes his vittles. His wife, Paola, sets a delicious table for Guido and their children, Raffi and Chiara. HG rarely comes to the end of a Brunetti case without cooking up a batch of linguine aglio e olio (dusted with a nice batch of chopped parsley).

Far from the gritty, urban milieu of detective fiction, Laura Ingalls Wilder used to make young HG’s palate tingle with her descriptions of farm food in the “Little House On the Prairie” books. There were extensive descriptions of the preparation and eating of smoked venison, cured hams and, best of all, a simply mouth watering (and mighty mysterious to a young, Bronx Jew) exegesis on “Johnnycakes” flavored with pork cracklings. HG was not the only one riveted by Wilder’s descriptions. In Michael Ruhlman’s and Bran Polcyn’s great cookbook “Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking and Curing” the two give Ingall’s “Little House In The Big Woods” much attention.

Alas, like a great tease, Georges Simenon’s Inspector Maigret pauses at many cafes and bistros in his yarns but there are no memorable mentions of food. (Many Parisian cafes and bistros claim to be the hangouts of the fictional sleuth).

Alan Furst, who specializes in spy thrillers set in Europe just before the beginning of World War Two, pays some attention to Paris brasserie food (particularly in his yummy descriptions of the fictional Brasserie Heinegger ) but his heroes seem more interested in sexual dalliance (taking excessive time out, in HG’s opinion, from their dangerous spy maneuvers) than serious noshing.

But, the best book about dining is the non-fiction “Between Meals: An Appetite For Paris,” A.J. Liebling’s memoir of his life in pre-World War Two Paris. Also worth reading are the various books by M.F.K. Fisher (pay no attention to her recipes–they are inferior).

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