Appetizing Writers

September 28th, 2015 § 2 comments § permalink

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.


Craig Claiborne Comfort

January 19th, 2015 § 0 comments § permalink

Grey skies. A light dusting of snow. Time for comfort food. And, what could be more comforting than meatloaf? Splendid for dinner. Wonderful for a luncheon sandwich. (HG likes it on ciabatta or rye with a slice of raw onion and Russian dressing). With all of this in mind, BSK snared the battered, stained, much-used “New York Times Cookbook” by Craig Claiborne. Published in 1961, this has been an HG/BSK perennial favorite. So, last night BSK consulted Claiborne’s recipe and gave it a few herbaceous, spicy tweaks of her own. Into the oven with the meatloaf for one hour and thirty minutes. Voila!! Accompanied by little potatoes and a saute of shitake and cremini mushrooms, this was American cooking at its best. Claiborne, who died in 2000, had a major positive influence on American cooking and dining. Appointed Food Editor of The New York Times in 1957, Claiborne made the food section a source of good, easy to follow recipes (often with the collaboration of French chef Pierre Franey). Claiborne expanded the repertoire of home cooks to include, Mexican, Asian, Russian and other international cuisines. He was also the Times restaurant critic and introduced the star rating system still in use today. In HG’s opinion, Claiborne had excellent restaurant judgment except when he dined at Jewish delicatessens or Chinese restaurants. Mississippi-bred Claiborne was blind in regards to these two cuisines — he loved them all indiscriminately. An overstuffed pastrami sandwich — no matter the quality (or lack thereof) — led him down the path of prose poetry.


Roth Nobel Snub Fury

October 9th, 2014 § 4 comments § permalink

The morning started with HG in a fury. Once more the Nobel Prize committee rejected Philip Roth, HG’s favorite author. Sheer injustice. There is no living author who has produced a body of work to match Roth’s. Yet year after year the Nobel officials reject Roth for the literature prize. SJ has suggested that there is the whiff of antisemitism in the rejection, a sense that enough Jewish authors have won. Maybe? In HG’s youth, HG confronted injustice with direct action on the picket line and in physical confrontation. Now, as a member of the “golden years” population, HG seeks solace in food, wine, strong spirits, New Mexico sun and vistas. And, of course, HG’s good fortune in having BSK, a loving family and a recent addition– Toby, The Wonder Dog. Tonight, HG will hope for better literary judgement in the future and soothe HG’s abraded feelings with Craig Claiborne’s Mississippi smothered chicken. The late Claiborne was a pioneering restaurant critic with the New York Times and author of some very good cookbooks. Claiborne’s chicken recipe calls for a three-pound chicken to be spatchcocked (backbone removed). The flattened chicken is placed skin side down in cast iron pan with sizzling butter. Weighted down with a plate and a five pound object (brick, tomato cans, etc.) so the skin is in direct contact with the pan. Chicken is removed and a roux is made with flour, pan juices and fat, chicken broth. Chicken is put back in the roux and cooked some more until tender. (Check here for a precise recipe). HG does not favor roux. Instead, HG will use white wine, mustard, pan juices, a squeeze of lemon, a few capers and 1/2 teaspoon of corn starch (as a modest thickener). Reduce it all. Enjoy it with BSK’s smashed potatoes, sugar snap peas, ripe heirloom tomato salad, A robust red wine. Fury will subside. Pleasure will rule.


New Yorker Food Issue

December 6th, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

The annual New Yorker Food Issue is out and has some good reading for the food obsessed. Calvin Trillin has a piece on the cuisine of Oaxaca, Mexico. Makes you want to grab the next plane to that city even if you have no desire to eat caterpillars and worms, two local specialties. Mimi Sheraton does a riff on sausages including a description of a goose and goose liver sausage she ate in Hamburg some years ago. Very appetite provoking. HG has always felt Mimi Sheraton was the best of the New York Times restaurant reviewers. She reigned between 1975-1983. She was fair, balanced and funny. She concentrated on a restaurant’s food rather than going on and on about the hipness (or lack) of the restaurant’s clientele. Sheraton has written some good books. From My Mother’s Kitchen is a delightful memoir and very evocative of a vanished New York. As a plus, it has some good, down to earth recipes. HG liked Craig Claiborne, the original Times reviewer. However, like many a New York transplant from the South, Claiborne never met a Jewish delicatessen or Chinese restaurant he didn’t love. The man had great judgement in matters concerning French cuisine. But, when it came to pastrami or shrimp in black bean sauce — Fuhgeddabout it!!

Finicky Foodies

September 21st, 2011 § 2 comments § permalink

So, Sam Sifton, the all-powerful New York Times restaurant critic, is no longer the make-or-break-restaurant Times fresser. He has been promoted to National Editor. All in all, HG liked Sifton’s reign even though his star ratings seemed erratic. Hope he continues to contribute recipes for the Sunday Times Magazine. They are simple, earthy and good.

At one time, Clementine Paddleford (love that name) of the defunct Herald-Tribune was the chief New York food scribe. But, it was Craig Claiborne of the New York Times who elevated the status and power of the American restaurant critic. (Does anyone remember the $4000 meal CC shared with his collaborator, Pierre Franey, at Chez Denis–long closed–in Paris?). CC had taste and knowledge but was a sucker for Chinese restaurants and Jewish delicatessens. Relentlessly overpraised them.

HG quite liked Claiborne’s female successors, Mimi Sheraton and Ruth Reichl. Another woman who could write about food was the lusty and lustful Gael Green of New York Magazine. HG misses her presence at the mag (HG gathers she’s now contributing to Crain’s New York Business).

The dining reviews in The New Yorker seem fey and uneven. HG is not fond of Zagat and finds all guidebooks misinformed or out of date.

In the end HG agrees with SJ: Best restaurant critic, bar none, is the great and adventurous David Sietsma of the Village Voice. He is a man whose palate knows no fear and is willing to travel to the ends of New York City to track down the best food from Burkina Faso or a particularly talked about slice of Pizza. He is the opposite of pretentious and a downright hilarious writer to boot. A true New York treasure and just about the only reason to pick up the Village Voice.

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