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  1. <img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1316355444/med_gallery_29805_1195_10577.jpg" hspace="8" align="left">The Daily Gullet is proud to present an exclusive excerpt from the recently published (and terrific, we think) memoir Cooking on the Line by Society member . . . Wayne Cohen Nowadays, molecular-gastronomy is all the rage with adventurous foodies. Sometimes referred to as high-tech cuisine, this modern school of cooking utilizes the latest scientific innovations and molecular biology to transform traditional approaches to cooking. New dishes are created through avant-garde preparations, equipment, and plating. Some are whimsical, some are startling, and some are simply new and pleasantly surprising to the palate. As June rolls around – and I learn that Tony has decided to hold off opening his doors until he gets his liquor license, which could take a while – I decide to make a reservation for my birthday at a new place opening up in Chicago that I’m extremely curious about. Graham Elliot Bowles is a young super-star chef on the rise in national food circles. A big, beefy, tattooed hipster, this thirty year old prodigy has an impressive resume for such a young man, having kicked around Chicago for several years with some of the biggest names in the local restaurant scene. He was the Executive Chef at Avenues in the Peninsula Hotel, a four star restaurant. He’s worked with Charlie Trotter for years, and also as the Chef de Cuisine at Tru, another four-star Chicago restaurant. A nominee for numerous James Beard awards, he’s been featured in all the magazines and has appeared on the Food Network’s “Iron Chef” and as a competitor on the wildly popular Bravo TV series “Top Chef Masters.” He is a judge on Fox TV’s “Master Chef” with Gordon Ramsay. When I learn that Bowles is opening his own restaurant in Chicago, I have to check it out. The place will be called, fittingly, Graham Elliot, and is being billed as Chicago’s first “bistronomic” restaurant. I guess what this means is simple American bistro fare elevated by scientific razzle-dazzle, as well as a sense of fun. Some people call it “food as art,” but I never liked that phrase. I never wanted to eat a painting. But when I read about the menu at Graham Elliot’s on line, I get really excited. So one afternoon I go down to the near-north side to the gallery district, where the place is located, to see if I can get a reservation. I’m wearing shorts, a t-shirt and a baseball cap, and when I get there I recognize the man himself inside the window. The place is beautifully designed, with exposed beams, floor-to-ceiling windows, and hundred-year-old brick walls, but I can’t tell if they’re open or not… so I knock on the door. And Graham himself comes up and opens the door. He’s a big guy with cropped hair and very hip glasses. He reminds me of many of the offensive linemen I had battled against in my football days. But he is very friendly and unassuming. He tells me that they’re opening up that night, and he would be happy to make a reservation for me. We chat as he’s taking down my information. “You know, I’m actually a cook,” I blurt out at one point in the conversation, thinking, what the hell? “Yeah?” he says, punching my name into the reservation file. “That’s cool.” I tell him about the Hofbrau, Mon Oncle, and my current status waiting to start at Tony’s. “Yeah, I’ve heard of Tony,” he says. “The guy from Coco Pazzo, right?” “Exactly . . . and you know what, in the meantime, if you need some help, I’d be happy to come in and stage.” He stops typing for a second and looks at me. “You mean like come in and just trail a guy and help us out?” “Absolutely, yeah. I’m not doing anything right now. And I’d really enjoy it.” Without a pause he says, “Yeah, that’d be great. Sure. We could use the help. When do you want to come in?” By now it’s probably becoming apparent that one of the overriding themes of this book is this: If you have in-depth food knowledge, and some skills, and the passion, and the cojones, it’s not that hard talking your way into professional restaurant kitchens. Even the best of the best. The work is there. You just have to be open to the possibilities. Here’s another example: It turns out a buddy of mine in my apartment building frequents the same health club as another top Chicago chef: Martial Noguier. Paris born, movie-star handsome, and a graduate of the French Culinary Academy, Martial Noguier has, for nearly a decade now, been one of the most underrated chefs in Chicago. Bar none. The executive chef at a place called one sixtyblue, he has gotten rave after rave from food critics and guidebooks alike over the years. Ironically, the day after I meet Graham Elliot, my buddy calls me up and says one sixtyblue has lost some people lately, and he mentioned me to Martial. Martial wants me to call. He wants me to call him? Located on Chicago’s west side, in the trendy market district, one sixtyblue is part owned by basketball legend Michael Jordan. Inside, it’s plush, and sleek and low lighting – a place I have always admired – so when I hear my neighbor has the ear of the Star chef Martial Noguier, I’m thinking, hmmmmmmm . . . I get on the phone, and I get the chef on the line. “Hi, Chef Martial, this is Wayne Cohen, a friend of John’s.” “Can you work Thursday?” the deeply accented voice interrupts. I practically flinch. This is just too easy. It should be more difficult than this. “Well, actually, I’m sorry to say I can’t on Thursday.” “And why not?” “Well, to be honest with you, I’m working at Graham Elliot’s on Thursday.” “You’re working with Graham?” He accents the word Graham with that wonderful, intense, musical, French lilt: Grrrrrrrrrrrayham? “Yeah,” I say, “I am.” “Then come in Friday.” “Well…” “You must! You must come in Friday!” So I agree. How could I not agree with a great chef who speaks like this? <div align="center">* * *</div> Wayne Cohen, aka Wayne Cohen, was born in Chicago, and has been a lover of food most of his life. He started cooking at thirteen. His passion for cooking continued to grow; fueled by his obsession for great food, from Hong Kong street vendors, to a truffle menu in the south of France. From great restaurants to burger shacks, with a pile of cookbooks, food magazines, and newspaper recipes, he pursues the best food. Buy Cooking on the Line here.
  2. by David Ross I was pushing my shopping cart through the aisles of Yoke’s Supermarket on a recent “Fresh Friday,” when a spritely-sounding young woman announced over the public address system, “Attention shoppers, attention shoppers, two minutes until the next Cakewalk, two minutes.” Frozen with suspense and the anticipation of winning one of Yoke’s chocolate crème de menthe cakes, I stood pat on the number 36 yellow flower pasted on the floor in front of me. I wasn’t going to budge off that number 36 -- I wanted a cake. While I waited to hear my number called, I was overcome with a sense of nervous anxiety --the same emotion I had felt as a young boy waiting to win a cake when I was seven years old. I wondered why a boyhood fascination with winning a cake still left me with such a deep, lasting hunger some 47 years after I first danced a Cakewalk. What was it that tugged at my heart, telling me to delve deeper into the meaning of the Cakewalk? Why did I sense that there was an underlying truth I hadn’t discovered as a child? The only way I could unveil the mystique behind my relationship with this odd little dance to win a cake would lie in retracing the footsteps of my childhood, setting forth on a quest to discover the history of the Cakewalk. + + + We moved to Salem, Oregon from The Dalles, in the Summer of 1964, when my Father, Edgar Ross, accepted a position at the Oregon Department of Agriculture in the Commodity Commissions Bureau. My parents settled on a ranch-style, three-bedroom home on the corner of Ward Drive and 46th Avenue in the new community of “Jan Ree” Gardens. Our lot was bordered by new homes on two sides and to the East was a field of Blue Lake bush beans that would soon be consumed by the encroaching development. Mother and Father shared a few details about our new home. It had a second bathroom, a wood-paneled living room and an unfinished family room that my father promised would have a metal wood stove. But they kept one little secret from my sister and me until we were a block from our final destination on the day we drove to Salem -- our new house was next door to the grade school. I didn’t know whether to feel good or sick at the thought of living next door to the school where I would spend the next five years. Hayesville Elementary School was typical of the architecture of grade schools built in the early 1960’s-an L-shaped, non-descript building painted in drab green and grey. The assembly room, cafeteria and administrative offices anchored the building with the classrooms jutting out from the principal’s office. I started the school year in Mrs. Rhonda Sample’s second grade class. She was young, blond and attractive, totally unlike the spinster vision I had of the teacher that awaited me at my new school. The highlight of the school year was the annual “Open House at Hayesville.” Students showcased their talents, dazzling parents with displays of frogs and snakes in aquariums, samples of cursive writing on paper chains hung over the blackboard and paper mache busts of historic American figures like Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. Mothers and fathers could take a tour of the gleaming, stainless steel kitchen where Mrs. Fox prepared our hot lunches each day-warm, billowing cinnamon rolls dripping with powdered sugar frosting and her buttery, oven-fried chicken. But the most anticipated event of Open House at Hayesville was the annual Cakewalk Raffle -- a silly fun dance around the classroom. The winner won a cake and the proceeds went to fund other activities at school. We cut footprints out of colored construction paper and pasted them in a large circle on the spotless, pink vinyl-tiled floor. Each “foot” was given a number from one to twenty. Red, white and blue streamers were tacked on the outer walls and then brought to the center of the ceiling to define the center point of the cakewalk circle. When the room was ready, Mrs. Sample turned on the lights and opened the door, welcoming a parade of Mother’s who pranced into the room carrying Tupperware cake caddies, Pyrex baking dishes, glass cake domes and disposable aluminum trays coddling their precious cake creations. Three long tables were placed against the wall and covered with proper linen tablecloths. The tables served as the stage upon which the cakes would strut their stuff. The chorus line of cakes went on and on through the annals of cakedom-Chiffon, Angel Food, Devils Food, Sponge Cake, Pound Cake, Marble Cakes, Chocolate Torts and Jelly Rolls. There were cakes garnished with coconut, dusted with nonpareils, frosted with peanut butter, sprinkled with peppermints, and dotted with spiced gum drops. I entered the Cakewalk over and over until I won, seemingly always at the end of the evening when very few of the best cakes were left on the table. While Mother’s “Burnt Sugar Cake with 7-Minute Frosting” was good, it would be a total embarrassment in front of ones classmates for a kid to choose the cake made by his mother. No, should I win the Cakewalk and should it still be available, I would choose the Spiced Praline Crunch Cake made by Bernie Bennett’s Mother. The historical importance of the Cakewalk wasn’t a part of Mrs. Sample’s second-grade curriculum at Hayesville in 1964. Living in the Pacific Northwest, we were insulated from the racial struggles of the South at that time. I was a young white boy in a middle-class American family. I led the colorful life of a kid, yet I lived in a country that saw only shades of black and white. Only three years before my second grade, in the Spring of 1961 the Freedom Riders set out on a campaign to test the Supreme Court Ruling that upheld the segregation of blacks and whites at bus depots, waiting rooms, lunch counters and restrooms throughout the South. The Freedom Riders were met with ignorance and violence. African-Americans couldn’t drink from the same water fountain I drank from. I never knew. + + + The Cakewalk played an important role in the history of America -- a long-forgotten chapter that tells the story of the struggles forced upon the enslaved, who in spite of their burdens rose above the oppression of race and found a new form of the expression of freedom. The seeds of the Cakewalk were sown in the segregated deep South sometime around 1850, as a parody of the way plantation owners escorted their ladies into a formal ball. The women wore long, ruffled dresses of silk and glass beads with long, white gloves that reached above the elbow. The gentlemen were outfitted with top hats and tail coats. Couples pranced and paraded into lavishly decorated ballrooms, arm-in-arm in high-stepping fashion, marching into the center of the party, often to the music played by a banjo-strumming fiddler who worked in the fields. The winner of the dance contest sometimes won a cake presented by the master of the house, leading many to think this is where the name the “Cakewalk” comes from. African-American slaves who watched the proceedings took the dance on as their own in the yards outside their shacks, mocking what they saw as the frivolous customs of the plantation owners. According to the oral histories of slaves and their descendants, the Cakewalk was a marriage of traditional African tribal dances and rhythms combined with the dance steps of the upper classes. When the land barons and ladies saw the slaves dance, they missed the satirical element entirely, but the popularity of the Cakewalk had been established among the elite and it now transcended the boundaries of class. Wealthy farmers went on to sponsor competitions between plantations and the dance moved to large cities in the South and then to the East where it became a staple of traveling minstrel shows and ultimately to Vaudeville, the lights of Broadway and throughout Europe. On January 1, 1863, President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation with these humble words, “all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.” Inspired by the renewed freedom gifted to them through Emancipation, a freedom that allowed them to express themselves openly through dance and music, African-Americans led a creative revival that would usher in new forms of dance and music that had never before been seen or heard. The artistic contributions of former slaves and their descendants would forever change the creative landscape in America. From this humble beginning in the sweltering, humid heat and back-breaking work of picking cotton, African-American artists penned the notes of a new from of music called ragtime that would eventually evolve into jazz. It was the Cakewalk, unintentionally and ironically, that crossed the bounds of race and class status as it burst into the popular consciousness of America By the 1890’s, African-American actors, dancers and musicians had started forming their own production companies and staged versions of the Cakewalk became all the rage. Scott Joplin, (1867-1917), was an early musical pioneer of the Cakewalk style of music. Known as the “King of Ragtime,” Joplin wrote and performed in the style of rag—a combination of dance and marching music entwined with the “ragged” rhythms and soul of African music. One of Joplin’s most famous pieces was “The Ragtime Dance,” (published in 1902), that included a Cakewalk: “Turn left and do the “Cakewalk Prance, Turn the other way and do the “Slow drag, Now take your lady to the World’s Fair and do the ragtime dance. Cakewalk soft and sweetly, be sure your steps done neatly.” The vaudeville team of Mr. Egbert Williams and Mr. George Walker were two of the first African-Americans to take their musical show on the road in a grand scale. Crowds packed into The New York theatre in 1903 for 53 stunning performances of song and Cakewalk dances in William’s and Walker’s new production “In Dahomey” -- the first all-black musical to be performed on a grand scale in a major Broadway venue. After its raging success in America, “In Dahomey” crossed the Atlantic, performing for seven months of standing-room-only audiences at the Shaftesbury Theatre in London before returning to New York. By the turn of the century, Americans were moving off farms and into towns and cities in record numbers. Ragtime music transformed into a new genre called “Jazz,” with emerging talents like Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington playing at the Cotton Club in New York. By 1930, the public fascination with dance theatre began to fade as America was lured by the intrigue of other forms of entertainment like talking motion pictures. But the early concepts and the heritage established by the Cakewalk endured throughout the twentieth century and into the 21st, namely, as a contest to raise money at church socials and school functions. The Cakewalk also delivered new words into the American vocabulary-“take the cake,” and “it’s a real cakewalk,” are terms used to refer to something that is “the best,” or a job easily done. Cakewalk software is a cutting-edge firm today that produces award-winning digital audio and recording software to the music industry. + + + I’m nearing my 54th birthday in November, some 46 years removed from my second-grade class. I had been lost until that Cakewalk at Yoke’s, yet now I’m found. I’ve learned a lesson in respect through the Cakewalk -- a lesson that taught me how emancipation allowed the enslaved to express themselves through music and dance. A lesson that freedom is an unalienable right bestowed upon all Americans. I’ve gained a deep appreciation for the place that this little ditty we call the Cakewalk plays in the history of America, opening our eyes to a world that was color blind. I found my personal truth in the Cakewalk -- a truth far richer and deeper than the dreams of a boy winning a cake. * * * David Ross lives in Spokane, but works a one-hour plane ride away. When he's not tending to his day job -- or commuting -- he writes about food and reviews restaurants. He is on the eGullet Society hosting team.
  3. <img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1306039425/med_gallery_29805_1195_10408.jpg" hspace="5" align="left">by Margaret McArthur If you were to pin down the spot on my culinary being’s map from which my every journey extends, it’s the thriving burg of Meat and Potatoes. Yes, my culinary GPS has led me down blue highways and brown dirt roads, across lakes and oceans to oysters, sea urchins, and caponata, but this woman knows her roots. My mother became an adventurous cook the year Lulu and Maurice Gibbs got married -- none of her kids will forget the first Boeuf Bourgignon -- but before that milestone year she was all about the spaghetti and meatballs, the meatloaf, and the Salisbury Steak. She didn’t like hamburgers, which may be why I can’t now make it through a week without three -- one great, one so-so and one off the 99 cent menu at Burger King, no fries. (I can be a slut for chain hamburgers but I’m as pure as a novice when it comes to fries; only the “holy crap good!” need apply.) Salisbury steak night provided a happy combination of a giant patty sans bun, with enough onion gravy to fill up a sauceboat and mashed potatoes a sure thing. Carrots were a shoo-in too, because she adapted her Swiss Steak technique -- vegetables braised in the sauce -- when she made Salisbury Steak. I don’t have her recipe, and she now dines in the celestial halls off bijou servings of Peking duck, sole meuniere and savarins, so I can’t spend forty minutes talking food with her on Sunday night, as I did for thirty years. (My sister-in-law Hilary, a caterer, called her chats with my mother “Marilyn’s Recipe 911.”) But I don’t need her recipe, because I made it often enough for family dinners in my teens. Its elegance: six ingredients, if you include the carrots, a bowl, a spatula and a frying pan with a lid -- a twelve year old could, and did, make it. Mix together a pound and a half of ground round, a half cup of breadcrumbs and a quarter of a package of Lipton’s Onion Soup Mix. Pat it out into a dinner-plate sized patty in the frying pan. Turn on the stove to commence the browning, then slice an onion. Add a teaspoon of vegetable oil and sauté the onions until almost tender. Peel a few carrots and cut them into fine julienne; my mother had an immutable distaste for circle-cut carrots. Toss in the carrots, the rest of the package of Lipton’s and a cup and a half of water. Here, my mother would add the occasional heel of a bottle of Gamay. The soup mix ,water, wine and pan scrapings made for a gravy good enough to eat from piece of bread in the kitchen when I knew no one was around. Cover, and cook for the length of the first act of the Callas/Gobbi recording of “Rigoletto,” which measured my parents’ cocktail hour. The only tricky part is flipping that disk without breaking it -- I used two spatulas. Brother Ian was the mashed potato prodigy of the family -- he focused that early testosterone into pounding potatoes and pushing the dairy. If you tried this today your kids would like it a lot. You’d transcend the depressing bad rap conferred on the dish by college cafeterias and TV dinners -- loser food -- and appreciate it in a hip sixties groove. Enjoy it, while you put Blind Faith on the turntable, pull your hippie aunt’s granny square afghan over your knees, and grab a Fresca. Party like it’s 1969. My father always pronounced it “Sallusburry,” not because he didn’t know the pronunciation of the great cathedral town, but because he’d met someone who didn’t, and that lady’s take on the name tickled him. I’d assumed that the dish was the product of post-war rationing, English mince and mashed, and the coming of age of cooking from a box, can or envelope. I was wronger than mini marshmallows in a Waldorf Salad, dumber than a box of Ding Dongs, more misled than Harold Camping’s congregation. I was a continent and a century off, The name is not that of an English bishopric but an American doctor and health reformer who’d have 86ed the carrots and potatoes. It can be so fun to be so wrong. <div align="center">+ + +</div> It’s not like Dr. James Henry Salisbury (born Scott, New York 1823, died 1905, buried in Cleveland Ohio) started his career undereducated, flakey, or faddy. He earned a Bachelor of Natural Science from Rensselaer, in 1844, and worked for the New York Geological Survey until 1852, retiring as Principal Chemist. Like any common- or garden-variety Victorian overachiever, he’d picked up his MD in his spare time, from Albany Medical College in 1850. He was one of the earliest adopters of Germ Theory, later won the McNaughton Prize for his essay “Diphtheria and Scarlet Fever.” He was the very model of the modern -- well, nineteenth-century -- Science Guy. But war changes everyone, and triage and trauma on the battlefields of the Civil War did its number on Dr. Salisbury, transforming him from an admired academician to a nutritional nutball. Napoleon might have said that an army travels on its stomach, but both armies on both sides of the conflict found that it also drags its sore ass. Reading about the losses from diarrhea and dysentery, one marvels that either side could command a standing army. Squatting is more like it. In 1862, 99.5 percent of the men in blue and grey were doubled over from germs or viruses and dying by the thousands, many helped on their way by the most modern pharmacopeia, a mixture of mercury, chalk and botanicals called “blue powder” or “blue mass.” Here’s a description of its manufacture from an article in The Telegraph: It was also prescribed as an antidepressant, and the Telegraph piece speculates that the outcome of the Civil Was could have been different had Lincoln not gone off his meds. He said blue mass made him “Cross.” What a grim choice: death by diarrhea, or death by mercury poisoning! Salisbury was appalled, and when the war ended he devised the Salisbury Diet as a lifetime regimen for everyone, not simply soldiers. Dried corn and peas were the real villains of a soldier’s diet, he decided, and decreed that fruit, vegetables and starches should take up no more than a third of one’s daily diet. Carbs were to blame for everything from tumors to tuberculosis. He was a true believer that dentition was destiny and in 1888 he published <i>The Relation of Alimentation and Disease</i>, proposing that our teeth made us carnivores. It’s in that paper that his recipe appears. The good Doctor in his own words: Well, he didn’t overpack his ground beef, said “moderately well” not “well,” and promotes generosity with condiments. But Doc, where’s the gravy, the mashed potatoes, the carrots, the onions? Verboten -- after all you might bust out a new bunion if you ate too many vegetables! (As important as the beef was the beverage on the Salisbury Regime: lashings of coffee or hot water with every meal. And sorry, readers with a curiosity about condiments, I couldn’t find much about Halford Sauce online except for this ad: “ Halford Leicestershire Sauce: The Most Perfect Relish of the Day. An Absolute Remedy for Dyspepsia. Invaluable to all Good Cooks. A Nutritious Combination for Children. Invaluable for Soups, Hashes, Cold Meats, and Entrees.”) Anyone alert to the fad diets of the twentieth century will have twigged to the fact that Stillman and Atkins owe Salisbury big time. But unlike them, it wasn’t all about weight loss for J.H. He believed that this was the great dietetic cure for all that ailed us. He was called in to treat Brigadier General Ely Parker, the Seneca hero of the Civil War, who was dying by inches from diabetes. Salisbury took on Parker pro bono, but ultimately failed. I love what Parker said about Salisbury: “I am continuing the diet of beef and hot water. I see the Doctor often. He is very kind and good." But I gotta ask: the propagator of Germ Theory didn’t consider that human and equine corpses, shit and vomit in the water and on the battlefield might have been the reason troops dropped their pants in the shrubs and died by thousands? Why didn’t he see that we have teeth that grind, like those of vegetarian ruminants, as well as the pointy canines of the meat-eating wolves? Why would he have thundered blame if his patty shared a plate with mashed potatoes and carrots? Perhaps his guts turned to water for years as he cared for the dying, and he attributed it to the legume diet he shared with thousands of soldiers. If my daily battlefield choice was to face a plate of pulse or starve, I might blame my bloats on the beans too. How did Salisbury’s record hold up against the other messianic American food reformers of his era? Eighty-two was an excellent lifespan for anyone in the nineteenth century, especially a man who was theoretically in ketosis for a third of his life. Sylvester Graham, of the eponymous cracker, who preached against meat from his Presbyterian pulpit, died at 57. Horace Greeley, journalist, vegetarian, teetotaler and Presidential candidate died at 61, before the votes from the 1872 elections were even counted. (He lost in a landslide, poor guy.) C.W. Post shot himself in his sixty-eighth year. Only John Harvey Kellogg, the Baron of Battle Creek, outlived Salisbury -- he ate his final bowl of cornflakes and hung up his spoon when he was 91. If you’d ordered Salisbury Steak at a lunch counter before 1916 your waitress would have responded “Say what?” It took another tragic war to put Salisbury’s name on the menu and into the freezer case, eleven years after his death. Just as my maternal great-grandfather, descendant of Pennsylvania Dutch Tories, changed his name from Maus to Moss during the anti-German sentiment of the First World War, the ancestors of the food nationalists who most recently gave us the Freedom Fry decided to rename a popular entrée. What blue plate special was de-Saxonized and renamed for Salisbury? The humble Hunnish Hamburger Steak. What a shame that neither the men at Manassas nor the soldiers of the Somme ever ate one in uniform. <div align="center">* * *</div> Margaret McArthur, aka maggiethecat, author of the blog Cheap and Cheerful, cooks and tends her garden near Chicago. Her Daily Gullet piece "Eggs Enough and Time" appears in Best Food Writing 2009.
  4. by Dave Scantland “I’m embarrassed,” she admits as she dips her fingertips in the salt cellar, her voice barely perceptible over the breathy drone of the stainless exhaust fan, her brow shiny with a film of perspiration. She pinches the seasoning at eye level above a half-sheetpan on which six chicken thighs have been arrayed. She inclines her head. “Like this?” “Yep,” I confirm, hovering close to the pan responsible for the condition of her forehead, checking the viscosity of the oil it contains. Typical kitchen newb that she is, she scatters the salt with a little more care than necessary, then reaches for more. I tilt the pan (it’s warped). When she finishes seasoning the skin side, she moves to flip the thighs, and I caution her. “Wet-hand -- dry-hand, remember?” She nods and resumes, tucking her right arm behind her. “Embarrassed about . . . ?” “I don’t have one of these,” she explains, turning toward me and holding her hands apart, fingers splayed, to indicate the cooktop: five high-output gas burners, two of them blazing beneath iron grates as thick as my thumb and ensconced in an expanse of brushed steel. “Is your fat ready?” I ask. She peers over the rim of the pan; I fear that the tiny drop of sweat depending from the tip of her nose will fall, splatter and send her running from class. + + + I teach at a local cookware store. For the most part these are two-hour avocational affairs -- how to throw a cocktail party, main–dish salads, that sort of thing. But the most popular course I direct is anything but frivolous: a three-day marathon for “beginning” cooks. The students range from complete novices whose expertise ends at mixing the cheese powder into the microwaved macaroni; to widowers and recent graduates with a sudden need to feed themselves; to experienced cooks looking to fill holes in their repertoire. But these students are hardly empty vessels even when they report for class. A majority of them carry a burden of fear: fear of heat, of sharp pointy objects, of making something that tastes awful. They’re also jam–packed with myth and misinformation. Perhaps you’ve heard the story (versions abound on the internet) of the woman who grew up knowing that to prepare a pot roast for cooking, you trimmed an inch from one end. It’s what her mother had taught her; her mother had learned it from her mother. After a few years of propagating this custom, the woman grew weary of the chore, not to mention the waste. So she confronted her mother, who referred her to her mother. “Because otherwise it wouldn’t fit in the pan,” the lady disclosed, solving a three–generation mystery while simultaneously delighting fans of Occam’s Razor. If you cook or eat, you will trip over misinformation and misrepresentation in every direction. These are rarely the result of malice; rather they evolve as folk “wisdom,” errant utterances that are repeated often enough to become indistinguishable from the truth, or specious customs of dim origin that are nevertheless too stubborn to dislodge. That’s why people cook in cast–iron pans encrusted with Grandma’s crud; how people end up spending more than they need to for equipment and appliances; and what might explain greasy fried chicken, a broken sauce, lumpy gravy, overdone chicken, underdone pot roast, exploding potatoes and gray asparagus. People even continue to believe things we know for sure that just ain’t so. A myth, like grandma’s crud, is scraped off only with great effort. Cooks who should know better just from their own experience still swear that searing a steak seals in the juices, though it was disproved many years ago. The list goes on: dried beans must be soaked; bread must be kneaded; pork must be cooked to sawdust; great sushi has never been frozen. None of these things are accurate, but it’s a piece of cake to find true believers in these and many other falsehoods. And so we encounter our shameful student, who fears she won’t be taken seriously -- who won’t even take herself seriously -- as a cook because she lacks a fire-breathing dragon in her kitchen. It’s ungracious to blame her; cooking shows run almost exclusively on gas (the ranges, and often the chefs), foodie forum denizens casually denigrate electricity (unless it powers an induction burner) as a Hobson’s choice, the way Henry Ford offered colors for the Model T. Those beleaguered with a coil- or smoothtop range pine for deliverance. It’s too bad, really. When it comes to professional-style ranges in home kitchens, the case for gas is mostly hot air. + + + “Skin side down?” She has the tongs, and the chicken they clasp, in a death grip, her fingers stiff with apprehension, her elbow raised. Nevertheless, she flips the thigh back and forth, her head tilting in counterbalance, the corners of her mouth frozen, I nod. “That’s right. Start at 12 o’clock -- I’ll tell you why later.” She commits food to pan. Soon, six chicken thighs are chattering away. The sauté pan is immense -- at least a foot across. “Chef,” (students always call me “Chef” until I ask them to stop because it makes me giggle) “Do you always use pans this big?” “Only when I have to feed two dozen people,” I answer, gesturing at the other groups of students, assistants and store staff. She nods. Her interest is genuine; that she’s committed three days to a beginner’s class is proof. But her question also reflects the common neophyte wish to fast-track competence with emulation. Imitating professionals is the honorable pastime of enthusiastic amateurs. A-Rod-autographed baseball mitts, Les Paul electric guitars, and spoilers on the family sedan all testify to the power of the halo principle: if Rafa Nadal plays with a Babolat AeroPro Drive GT, getting one will surely improve my forehand. Practicality limits application, though. Few people replace the windows on their Ford Fusions with reinforced netting and install removable steering wheels; Marshall stacks are the province not of basement-bound Stevie Ray wannabes, but of working musicians. When it comes to furnishing our kitchens, we aren’t so bound by sensibility. The odd and often overlooked fact is that in many ways, the home kitchen of an advanced amateur cook features better equipment than the typical professional shop -- fully-clad pots and pans instead of bare aluminum; utensils with comfortable handles rather than knife-like edginess; digital scales that don’t remind one of either a medieval barber or a jack-in-the-box; ventilation that doesn’t require shouting to be heard. Yet we still want -- many of us, like my student, would say need -- a professional-level cooktop in all its flaming glory. To quote the eminent philosopher Hannibal Lecter, “We begin by coveting what we see every day. Don't you feel eyes moving over your body, Clarice? And don't your eyes seek out the things you want?” We want what we see on TV. We want what we can glimpse through the service door porthole or across the pass of an open kitchen. What Clarice discovers is that what we want isn’t always what’s good for us, and that ascertaining the reasons why we want a particular thing can comprise a harrowing journey, rife with mistaken assumptions and baffling diversions. If you covet a restaurant-style range, it’s helpful to understand why they’re designed the way they are, because the design decisions that manufacturers make can be irrelevant -- and sometimes at direct odds -- to what a home cook wants or needs. + + + She’s browned the chicken and removed it to a plate. During the sear, we accumulated rendered fat, and using a kitchen towel on the pan’s helper handle, she poured most of it off. Onions, sliced in an earlier lesson, went in to soften and color a bit. She’s absorbed a lesson on reductions through successive additions of sherry and sherry vinegar. “Now the stock, tomatoes, sugar and mustard. A few grinds of pepper.” It takes but a few minutes to bring the mixture to a boil. She’s biting her lip as she stirs. “Isn’t gas more, um, responsive?” she asks. “I mean, you turn the dial and the flame pops up. Turn it off, it’s off.” “Yes,” I agree from across the counter. “But let’s try something. Kill your heat and push the pan off the burner.” She obeys, and the braise calms. “Now pull it back toward you.” Within seconds, the stock returns to a lively simmer. “The burner is off,” I say. “But you can’t fight physics.” A controlled flame is responsive. So is a good cook, who reacts intuitively to the presence or absence of that blue flame with corresponding notions of “on” and “off.” But a stove burner is part of a system, and there’s the rub. The problem is not the fuel or the burner, it’s the grate that reposes above it. It’s five and a half pounds of cast iron -- weighing more than a 10-inch Lodge skillet. Cast iron is a great material for cooking, if you’re prepared to take advantage of its particularities: low conductivity and high specific heat per volume. The former means that it takes a long time to heat up (and cool down); the latter means that once you do get it hot, it holds that energy for a long time (and it will hold a lot of it). You can flick the flame out, but the grate above it will ooze residual heat for many minutes -- which makes one wonder why a range manufacturer would choose a responsive heat source, then saddle it with such a pokey playmate. It’s because (setting aside the fact that as a system, a gas range isn't very responsive) responsiveness and precision in a heating source is of little value to a restaurant line cook. When restaurants have to be precise, they turn to sous vide, where the simplicity of controlling a electrical heat source rules. Go to the website of any commercial range company: Garland, Vulcan, Southbend, Wolf, U.S. Range (note that none of these companies make ranges for the home, any more than Five Star or DCS manufacture true professional products; among major producers, Viking alone maintains both domestic and commercial lines). Read the blurb that introduces their range or cooktop products. If verbiage relating to toughness isn’t within the first 25 words (almost always before you find BTU ratings), I’ll eat a gas regulator valve. Despite recent steps towards energy efficiency (Garland touts its second Energy Star Partner awards), the picture is easy to parse: what restaurateurs prize above everything is durability. Home cooks care about it, too, but their cooktops aren’t subject to a couple of dozen pan-slammings every night, nor to the predations of heedless dishwashers. A commercial grate must be sturdy; it’s constantly abused but cannot fail -- a replacement costs hundreds of dollars and can take weeks to procure. While a restaurateur wants a stove that’s built to last, on the other side of the kitchen pass, a good line cook desires consistency. Without it, a restaurant is by definition a failure. Cooking is a nettlesome panoply of variables; removing even one from the equation that starts with raw materials and ends at the table is manna from heaven. So when a pan is on the burner, the burner is always full-on, converting a variable to a constant. That’s why those massive grates, so hardy and dutiful, please the cook as much as the owner. They mitigate the very thing that home cooks adore about gas: responsiveness. If you want to stop pumping heat into the food, take it off the stove. These substantial bastions provide two additional benefits. The first addresses another shortcoming of burner design. Proponents of gas cooktops praise its flexibility; one can adjust the flame size to the diameter of the pan in use. This is true, and it’s helpful for heating things quickly. What lies unacknowledged is the inherent flaw in the shape of the flame that the burner creates. When you crank up the fire, a bit more heat will be delivered to the pan where the flame touches it. That’s going to be the outer edge of the flame, because the burner itself sits below the flame. Much of the time, the difference isn’t an issue. Radiance, convection and conductive materials team up to even things out well enough. But at low heat settings, there’s an unavoidable mismatch between flame and pan diameters: the ring o’ fire dilemma. Burner design (like BlueStar’s eponymous profile) and heavy grates, thermal sponges that they are, mitigate scorching of a pan’s contents – but they can’t eliminate it because they still emit energy. It takes a cook’s careful attention to do that. The second benefit -- and it confers more to the commercial kitchen than the home cook -- is that grate topography forgives warpage. In partnership with the flame’s natural flexibility, the open center and limited number of contact points let the cook claim a few more weeks’ use out of a nine-inch Wearever with a bottom rendered as round as J Lo’s by thermal shock and employee abuse. (Electric burners demand flat or even slightly convex surfaces, which level out as they heat up, for efficient contact.) The domestic chef’s solution to warped cookware -- not that for home-pampered All-Clad, Sitram or Demeyere it’s a common occurrence -- is replacement and a humble promise to be more careful. + + + She tears a paper towel from a handy roll and pats her cheeks and forehead, She lifts her pony tail and fans the back of her neck. “Aren’t gas cooktops more powerful? All those BTUs and stuff?” According to the US Department of Energy, only about 35 to 40 percent of the heat generated by a gas range actually reaches the pan. A domesticated commercial-style range will have at least one, and sometimes four, 15- to 18,000 BTU burners on a 30-inch model (a commercial range burner will be at least double that). With 60% of those energy units being employed in doing things other than heating your food, the practical rating of a unit like that is really six or seven thousand BTU. The rest goes out through the vent hood, and heats up the room -- and anything in it; hence the sheen of sweat on my student’s forehead. There’s not much to be done about this. You can’t enclose the burner because it needs oxygen to operate, and a system to feed air (in a safe way) to a confined fixture would be a prohibitive expense. The one thing you can do is capture some of that heat and store it . . . in a colossal chunk of dense metal. (The downside of this is that every BTU used to heat a grate is one that isn’t heating your pan or your food in a direct way.) But even after the efficiency hit, isn’t gas more potent? Let’s compare. A typical electric burner is 70 percent efficient (we’re excluding induction ranges, which approach 90 percent efficiency). Electric burners aren’t rated in BTUs; they’re rated in watts. This is confusing, because the proper comparison is BTUs to watt-hours: one of the former equals 0.293 of the latter, give or take. So those 6000 usable gas BTUs are worth 1758 watt-hours, again, give or take. A typical high-performance electric cooktop will have at least one burner that consumes between 2500 and 2700 watts (though some boast up to 3000 -- this one, for example). At 70% efficiency, we’re looking at, hey, 1750 watt-hours, a negligible difference. + + + “I don’t get it. Gas is responsive, but it doesn’t matter. It’s not more efficient than electric. Whatevs. Why do restaurants use gas in the first place?” “How ‘bout you get the sauce from the sauté into the Dutch oven? Then add the chicken without getting sauce on that skin you did such a good job of browning. Then we'll top it and move to the next step.” (We have a logistical issue: that giant pan we used to sear the chicken and construct the braising liquid won’t fit in the oven. On the other hand, flipping chicken thighs in a Le Creuset or Staub pot is awkward tong-wise, and distracts from the lesson.) “While you do that, I’ll tell you a story.” + + + It might happen before dawn, or maybe just before lunch: a guy (it’s almost always a guy), quite possibly hung over, surely sleep-deprived, shuffles through the back door. He carries a bindle of cutlery that he totes from job to job like the kitchen hobo his résumé proves he is. He flips on the lights. Lumens, vicious as rabid sugar gliders in the hot Aussie sunset, ricochet from multiple steel and glass surfaces, incising his bloodshot eyes. He blinks in pain. But he recovers, and before withdrawing to the locker room to don his checks, he lights the stoves. The ovens are set to 350°F; the front of the flattops are on medium and the rears are on high. Once they reach temperature (it takes quite a while for a steel griddle to suck in all the heat it can hold), they will stay there for many hours, until the last lowly commis to exit the kitchen extinguishes the flames (assuming he remembers). In the United States, this happens about a quarter-million times a day, at least six days a week. And that’s why restaurants use gas: if you’re going to blast three or four stoves’ worth of professional-level BTUs for eighteen hours at a stretch, you want the cheapest power source you can find. In the US, that’s natural gas. Should you require an exception that proves the rule, note that when Alain Ducasse opened his eponymous restaurant in New York City’s Essex House -- a cost-be-damned enterprise if ever there was one -- he chose . . . electric ranges. In the home, the difference in the cost of running an electric range compared to a gas range is dwarfed by the voracious maws of water and home heating, air conditioning and keeping food cold. Cooking consumes less than five percent of the average household energy budget. (If you’re really concerned about how much carbon it takes to satisfy your appetite, consider vegetarianism. The little bit of power used to cook meat is but a fly on the pile of energy expended in raising and transporting it -- irksome, but not the root cause of the problem.) + + + “So what are you saying? I should just get over having a crappy electric stove?” She’s crossed her arms; the silicone spatula in her hand sticks up like a flag. “Hmm. Chefs used to call their ranges pianos. If you play piano, you’d probably rather noodle a Steinway grand than an upright Yamaha, and a Yamaha more than a two-octave plastic Casio sampler. Good tools are a pleasure, but they’re just that -- tools. You’re the cook, and even a four-hundred dollar Kenmore is miles ahead of what Jacques Pepin apprenticed on: a wood-burning behemoth it was his job to stoke.” “Crappy is as crappy does?” “We need to get this in the oven. You know,” I wind up for another pontification. “It’s a poor craftsman that blames -- ” “Chef,” she says, hefting the pot toward me and smiling at last. “Dave, I mean. Put a lid on it.” * * * Chicken with Sherry Vinegar Sauce 6 to 8 large chicken thighs (or 4 large thigh–leg quarters) kosher salt 3-4 tablespoons chicken or pork/bacon fat, or olive oil 1 small onion 2/3 cup dry sherry 1/3 cup sherry vinegar 1 to 2 cups chicken stock 1 14-oz. can diced tomatoes, drained 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard 1 teaspoon brown sugar fresh–ground pepper Preheat the oven to 300˚F. Slice the onion and set aside. Sprinkle the chicken pieces with salt. Melt the fat or oil in a large skillet (or oven–proof braising pan if you have it) over medium heat. You want a thin, even coat of oil over the bottom of the pan. When the oil is hot, add the chicken pieces, skin–side down, and fry to a light golden–brown on both sides and remove from the pan. Work in batches if necessary; don't crowd the pan. Pour off all but a light coating of the fat. Sauté the onions or shallots until slightly browned, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add the sherry and stir to dissolve the browned fond from the bottom of the pan. Simmer for a few minutes to reduce by about half. Then add the sherry vinegar and cook for several minutes to reduce again by about half. Add 1 cup of chicken stock, a pinch of salt, a few grinds of black pepper, the tomatoes, sugar and mustard and stir to combine. Bring to a simmer. If your pan is oven-safe, add the chicken pieces skin side up. If not, transfer the liquid to a large oven–proof pan (with lid) and add the chicken. Add more chicken stock, if necessary, to bring the level of liquid about half to two-thirds up the sides of the chicken pieces -- do not submerge the tops of the thighs. Cover the pan and bake for 25 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and turn the oven up to 400˚F. Take the chicken out of the sauce and set aside for a few minutes. Strain the sauce into a large grease separator and allow the sauce to clarify. Reserve the solids. Pour the defatted sauce back into the pan and add the chicken and the solids. Return the pan—uncovered—to the oven for another 25 minutes. The liquid will reduce and the chicken skin will get brown and crisp. Take the chicken out of the oven. If you want to reduce the sauce further, remove the chicken, put it on a rack and stick it back in the oven (with the oven off). Put the pan on the stove over medium–high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce as desired. Season with salt and pepper to taste. * * * Dave Scantland (aka Dave the Cook) is an Atlanta-based writer, graphic designer and cooking teacher. He is also a director of operations for the Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. Recipe courtesy of Janet Zimmerman. Illustration by Dave Scantland. Eye photo by Doortjah, used under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 license.
  5. by Peter Gamble Prince Edward Island is a dreamy place in the summer. Miles of sandy white beaches and delicate rocky red cliffs wrap their way around the small Atlantic province. You can pedal tip-to-tip along the Trans Canada Trail and marvel at the rows of flowering potato plants, or stop at a quaint teahouse for blueberry scones. Grab a bonnet and embrace your inner Anne Shirley with a shot of raspberry cordial and a walk through Green Gables. When Labour Day passes and the riptide of Avonlea-obsessed tour buses subsides, people come for the Fall Flavours. The host of this province-wide food festival is chef and native son Michael Smith who says in the brochure “PEI is a food lover’s paradise, especially during harvest season when the fruits of our many passionate food artisans come to fruition.” I like the sound of that, and I like Michael Smith. For years I’ve watched him cook At Large, At Home, and Abroad. One episode had him cheffing for Canada’s lone NBA franchise, my beloved Toronto Raptors. At six-foot-seven he looked like a guard or possibly a small forward. More recently he was Bobby Flay’s challenger on Iron Chef America. Team Canada lost the Battle Avocado, but we’ll always have our hockey gold from the Vancouver Olympics. The 2010 Fall Flavours boasted more than two hundred and fifty culinary events to choose from over four weeks. “What should we do?” I asked my wife. “I’m thinking Culinary Boot Camp - Seafood 101. It’s a full day workshop at the Culinary Institute of Canada, and I get to keep the white coat.” “That’s great, but what are me and the kids going to do?” she pointed out. “We could all go to the Giant Bar Clam Dig & Cook-Out. What about the Charcuterie Curing and Smoking Class? That sounds like fun. Says here there’s a Festin Acadien avec Homard -- I like eating lobsters and speaking French. Or maybe we could try Shucking with Rick, whoever he is.” Friday after work started packing for The Prince Edward Island International Shellfish Festival, billed as the "Biggest Kitchen Party in Atlantic Canada”. Although not listed as an Official Chef Michael Smith event, I was sure we’d run into him eventually. It’s not a big island and the man’s easily spotted in a crowd. That weekend coincided with the 30th Annual Terry Fox Run meaning the family could cross the Confederation Bridge and raise funds for the fight against cancer. This impressive 13 km long concrete structure connects PEI to New Brunswick and it’s rarely opened up to foot traffic. Some exercise to counteract the impending seafood binge. “We’re only going for one night, forget the roof rack. Say no to Michael Bublé.” Our bulbous luggage carrier from Wal-Mart has a name. Fortunately, the double jogging stroller and all our bags fit nicely into the back of the wagon. All set for an 8 a.m. departure. First stop, coffee from Tim Hortons at Mastodon Ridge “conveniently located halfway between the equator and the North Pole”. The Ridge is named for the elephantine herbivores that roamed around in large herds until they were hunted to extinction 15,000 years ago. Several specimens have been unearthed in these parts -- I recall eating at a pub with a huge tusk hanging on the wall over the bar. I wonder what mastodon meat tasted like. I wonder if the proprietors realize that mastodon ivory has become a hot black market commodity and their tusk could be worth thousands. According to CBC Radio One, the receding glaciers have revealed enough fossil ivory to devalue the poached kind from Africa. Evidently, some Russian dude is buying it up, having it carved in India, then selling it in Europe. For every Starbucks in Canada there are nine Tim Hortons. Coffee from the T-Ho is a reliable medium roast that tastes the same anywhere in the country. To order a cup with double cream and sugar in French, one can say “doub-double”. I carelessly ordered a “doobla-doo” last time I was in Quebec. My perky server smiled with her big brown eyes and repeated my words using a breathy French Canadian Scooby-Doo voice. The kids thought it was pretty funny. Second stop, over the Cobequid Pass to Oxford, Nova Scotia. They claim the title “Wild Blueberry Capital of Canada”. To back it up there’s a cyanotic statue at the town’s entrance twelve feet in diameter with a sign that reads “Please keep off Blueberry to prevent injury”. We got some gas, a pint of berries and drove to Charlottetown. Third stop, the Shellfish Festival. When we arrived at noon the Big Top was buzzing with people and seafood. The stage had an all-day line up of step-dancers, cloggers, fiddlers and folkies. No sign of Chef Michael but there were a few NHL hockey players from the Dallas training camp being held at the University up the road. The real Stars of the show were the local oysters and mussels, with lobster in a supporting role. Imagine a sloppy joe with lobster standing-in for the beef and a russet potato instead of a bun. Not much to look at but it sure hit the spot. The presentation was fresh and simple with an array of toppings and sauces on the side. One guy was serving raw cherrystone clams on the half shell – a new and pleasant experience for me. Frankly, I was hoping to try some more unusual creatures. Where were the moon snails, whelks and razor clams? They were outside the tent in a saltwater petting zoo along with the starfish, urchins and sea cumbers. It seemed half the tank was trying to eat the other half. At least I picked up a few tips on how to find and prepare some of these critters at home. Razor clams are the hardest to catch because they burrow down in the sand faster than most people can dig. The solution is saline. One lad said to pump super salty water into the sand and watch them pop up like birthday candles on a cake. Good to know. The beverage of choice for this daytime seafood extravaganza was the Unofficial National Cocktail called a Caesar, also known as a Clamdigger. It’s essentially a Bloody Mary where the beef broth has been replaced with clam juice. There was a busy Caesar station on site but it’s just not the same from a waxy paper cup, so I’ve included my own family recipe. Rim a tall glass tumbler with lime juice & celery salt 2 shots of Alberta Vodka 1 dash each of Worcestershire & Tabasco Fill with crushed ice and Mott’s Clamato juice Garnish with celery and a straw Sunday morning we did the Terry Fox. Pooped and peckish, we stopped for lunch on the way to the Wood Island Ferry. “Does that sign say hamburger and soup $2.99?” I asked. The curt reply was “No. Our soup today is hamburger.” I guess they weren’t part of the Fall Flavours. We shared a big plate of poutine and waited for the boat back to Nova Scotia. The week prior Michael Smith was Chef On Board and cooked up a storm for the passengers, I later learned. Shortly before the ferry docked people made their way down to the car deck. I buckled in the kids and inadvertently bumped the truck beside us with my backpack full of food tourist paraphernalia. There, inside that big green Toyota was The Man himself. I had so many questions. Chef Michael was reclined in his chair and engrossed in his hardcover book. He was probably hiding from people like me, so I did the polite Canadian thing and left him be. Maybe next year. * * * Peter Gamble is an eater, a husband and a father to 5-year old twins. His origins are in Toronto but he now runs a building design company from his home in Shad Bay, Nova Scotia. Photos by the author.
  6. by David Ross The Native Americans and the Huckleberry "Ischit Wiwnu" -- Path, Huckleberry. In the Sahaptin language spoken by Native Americans of the Warm Springs tribe, “Wiwnu” is the word for the Huckleberry -- the elusive berry that symbolizes sustenance, community and the passing of seasons. The ancient path of the huckleberry is covered by the foot-steps of generations of Native Americans. In late summer when the huckleberries came into their peak, the indigenous people left their villages along the Columbia Plateau in North-Central Oregon in search of the “Wiwnu” on Mount Hood. Under a towering canopy of old-growth Douglas fir that cloaks the mountain, they set out on a trail through the forest, snaking a path through thick vegetation of fern, Pacific dogwood and vine maple. The path spiraled upward, hugging the breast of the mountain, a thin layer of mist blanketing the Valley floor below. After they had risen thousands of feet in elevation from the forest below and reached the timberline, the path of “Ischit Wiwnu,” led them to the blessed ground. They called it “Wiwlúwiwlu Taaktaak” -- huckleberry meadows -- lush alpine carpets of native grasses bursting with a stunning palette of orange agoseris, broadleaf lupine and Henry Indian paintbrush bordered by huckleberry bushes holding a bounty of berries. They set camp at “Wiwlúwiwlu Taaktaak,” staying into early October picking huckleberries and filling their baskets for winter. A Basket of Huckleberries for Prineville Native Americans used dried huckleberries to provide nourishment throughout the winter, mixing them with meats into “pemmican” -- a combination of ground meat, fat and dried berries. Venison, elk, and salmon from the mighty Columbia River were common types of proteins used by the Warm Springs in making pemmican. In the 19th Century, the Warm Springs people found a source for selling fresh huckleberries that would provide them with income -- and the path of the huckleberry would lead to my Grandmother’s farmhouse in Prineville. The Slayton ranch sits just to the East of town, carved into a narrow valley bordered by the Ochoco Mountains, the homestead was born out of a land claim staked by my Great-Great Grandfather Samuel Slayton in 1868. My Grandmother, Mildred Lura Slayton, told the story of a Native American woman who went door-to-door every autumn selling fresh huckleberries out of a hand-woven basket. The dark purple beauties had been gathered on “Wiwlúwiwlu Taaktaak” in the huckleberry meadows on Mount Hood. I considered Grandmother to be a very good cook. She was born in 1898 in a farmhouse with no running water and learning how to cook was a necessity. Yet she was a unique woman and cook for the times. Grandmother learned the technical skills of cookery by becoming the first woman in her family to graduate from college, bearing a degree in home economics and teaching from Oregon Agricultural College (today Oregon State University) in 1919. As I got older, I came to appreciate Grandmother’s cookery skills even more. Her degree in home economics taught her the fine science of confectionery -- her fondant, walnut penuche and fudge were specialties. She never made fudge with marshmallow crème and refused to make a batch on a rainy day because she said that too much moisture in the air would cause the sugar to crystallize and the fudge wouldn’t be creamy. Yet it was her huckleberry recipes that I remember the most. She put up huckleberry jam and preserves, but for my taste, her fresh huckleberry pie was the most memorable. Grandmother’s huckleberry pie was perfect -- a buttery, flaky crust rolled into a soft blanket then gently pressed into a glass pie dish. She never used cornstarch to thicken her pie, just enough sugar and a few pats of butter to give the season’s berries respect. The scent of Grandmother’s warm huckleberry pie pulled out of the oven was unmistakable: the aroma of exotic spices and herbs with a hint of juniper—the essence of the mountains. Imagine the thoughts running through the mind of a young boy watching a huckleberry pie as it cools, knowing this is a slice of pie he will eat just once a year. The crust was delicate yet crisp, light as a feather. The warm juices of the huckleberries streamed onto the plate, melting into the big scoop of vanilla ice cream served with the pie. It was heavenly. My Grandfather, Floyd Angus Ross, was an accomplished huckleberry cook in his own right. While we were fast asleep, Grandfather would be up before dawn tending to his field of Russet potatoes, carving out irrigation channels with his shovel. Grandfather returned to the kitchen before we arose and began breakfast, mixing a batch of fresh huckleberry pancakes that he cooked on a well-seasoned griddle on top of the old stove. A huckleberry pancake is a pancake like no other. Grandfather’s huckleberry pancakes were light and fluffy yet still had the texture of a soft “cake,” with the even, tan color of a diner pancake. The heat of the well-seasoned griddle would temper the berries just to the point that the sugars inside would burst, sending an explosion of huckleberry into every bite of pancake—the tart, yet sweet rush of fresh mountain huckleberry juice mixing with sweet-cream butter and maple syrup. A Huckleberry Grows Wild The huckleberry is a member of the Ericaceae family of plants—part of the Vaccinium genus. Other plants in the family include the blueberry and cranberry. There are over ten different species of huckleberry that grow wild in the Pacific Northwest, most on the Eastern slopes of the Cascade Mountains in Washington and Oregon, East to the Selkirk Mountains in Northern Idaho and the Bitterroot Mountains in Western Montana. The huckleberry is a fastidious berry, preferring acidic soil commonly found in volcanic regions. It thrives in elevations above 2,500 feet with a long, cold winter and a heavy snowpack, which preserves the buds with a heavy coat of snow. A dry spring increasing to a warm June, building into a hot August then tapering back down to a warm September lazing into October is the most favorable weather conditions for the huckleberry, delivering the perfect balance of sweet, yet tart berries. Wet, cool summers stunt the growth of the berries and blistering heat that lasts over the course of months withers the concentration of sugars in the fruit. One of Mother Nature’s natural barometers of the annual huckleberry crop are bears. Black bears and Grizzlies share a voracious appetite for the huckleberry, feasting in the meadows until they are literally intoxicated with the delirious joy of the huckleberry feast. The huckleberry provides a bear with important vitamins and nutrients as they store calories away before retiring to the deep-sleep of hibernation. Experienced huckleberry pickers outfit themselves with a bell, air horn and bear “spray” before stalking the path of the huckleberry. One does not really compete with a Grizzly Bear for few buckets of berries. Should a bear choose to stake a claim on your huckleberry patch, you best retreat back down the trail. The effects of El Nino last winter were not favorable to the huckleberry crop this summer in the Pacific Northwest. After a record snowpack in the mountains in 2009, the winter of 2010 brought far less snow. The spring was especially wet with rain falling into late June. As a result, the resulting crop was far less than anticipated—the berries small and with a pronounced tartness. In Montana, State Wildlife officials reported that due to the poor huckleberry crop this year, a number of problematic bears came down off the mountains in search of food. Unfortunately, recorded encounters with humans were higher than normal and many of the attacks were attributed to bears looking for huckleberries. In just two weeks in September, at least five Grizzly bears that were searching for food were too close to humans and had to be captured. Four of the bears were released and one had to be humanely euthanized. Because of the unique environment in which it grows, mere mortals have never been able to successfully cultivate huckleberries on a commercial scale. Huckleberries grow on shrubs that can be little devils to reach—long sleeves are required—and the berries are small and delicate so they don’t naturally lend themselves to the commercial machines employed to harvest blueberries. Without a doubt, the huckleberry is a highly prized commodity to those of us who crave them in our pies, tarts, cakes and candies. Owing to the consideration of its wild nature, the fact it is only picked by hand and the miles it must endure to be brought off the mountains to the marketplace, the huckleberry is incredibly expensive. This year, a gallon bag of fresh huckleberries at the farmer’s market in Spokane sold for $35.00, literally a bargain. (A good year will yield a price of $50.00 per gallon). When I went to a food event in Las Vegas in late September, a Chef was serving small bites of smoked duck breast on dainty little toast points with a huckleberry relish. I told him what I paid for fresh, local huckleberries in Spokane. He winced. He didn’t tell me what the restaurant mark-up was for fresh huckleberries. Mr. Beard and the Huckleberry As we walked into the Portland Airport terminal building, a towering bald figure enrobed in a flowing black cape rushed past. Mother leaned down and asked, "Do you know who that was?" I was no more than 9 at the time and had no clue who he was. In a matter-of-fact tone that told me this must be a movie star, Mother simply said “that was James Beard.” In “Delights and Prejudices,” (1964, Gollancz), Beard wrote this about the huckleberry- “Blue huckleberries were the most elusive of the wild berries. They usually grew in places difficult to reach, in the midst of a mountain wilderness. But once you found a patch, you were in luck.” As I grew older and started to develop my own sensibilities for cooking and writing about food, I came to know James Beard. I never personally met Mr. Beard nor did I ever shake his hand, yet I know him. I share a common bond with James Beard, one that ties us to a special place. We are Native Oregonians. When I read his delicious writings, the voice of Beard takes me home as he relishes in the beauty of a crisp Bartlett Pear from the orchards of Hood River. I hear his footsteps as he walks on the wet sands of Gleneden Beach caressed by foam from the tides of the Pacific. And I know I’ve walked together with James Beard along this wondrous path of the huckleberry. “No matter how they were prepared—in a deep-dish pie, which we had often, or in a strange English version of the clafouti, with a batter poured over the berries and baked, or in little dumplings which were dropped into cooked huckleberries, or in the famous Hamblet huckleberry cake—they were fantastically good.” The Huckleberry Kitchen, the Old and New When one ponders the question of cooking with huckleberries, the natural inclination is to think of the same kinds of sweet dishes that Grandmother Ross kept in her wooden recipe box on hand-written index cards; jams, jellies and pies. Certainly those cherished family recipes have withstood the test of time, yet we should also consider new methods for pairing the huckleberry with ingredients and techniques that Grandmother Ross would not have had at her disposal in the kitchen at Prineville in 1929. A perfect example of adapting the huckleberry for today’s tastes is in a turnover: a pillow of flaky puff pastry enveloping a layer of cream-cheese resting under a dollop of silky huckleberry filling. When I competed in the Grande Finale of the MasterChef USA series on PBS, (the first “reality” cooking competition on American television), I crafted a purely Pacific Northwest menu—a starter of “Dungeness Crab Mosaic,” (crab, tomato, cucumber and pear cut into the shapes of a mosaic of tiles), with Marjoram Mayonnaise and Pear Chips -- fresh crab dip and chips if you will. The main course was “Cedar Plank Halibut, Mashed Potato, Garlic Broth and Frizzled Onions.” The dessert course had to be a stunner -- the dish that would define my path during the 13-week competition -- a dessert that would pay homage to the Northwest. I settled on a simple, humble sounding dessert: “Toasted Hazelnut Ice Cream with Huckleberry Compote.” The hazelnut, (we still prefer to call them “filberts” in our family), is a natural partner to the huckleberry since they both grow in the Northwest -- huckleberries on high mountain meadows and the hazelnut in orchards throughout the Valleys. However, the consideration of pairing huckleberries with nuts is more than one of geography. It’s a matter of the contrast and balance between flavors and textures. The huckleberry brings notes of sweet, tart fruit and the fragrance of perfume to a compote, while toasted hazelnuts lend an herbal, woodsy accent to cool vanilla ice cream. . My “Huckleberry Sundae” was the quintessential personality of the Northwest and it opened a new chapter in my journey along the path of the huckleberry. The huckleberry is equally adept in savory recipes like sauces fortified with stock, demi-glace or the spicy, black cherry notes of Pinot Noir. Wild game is a natural partner to the huckleberry. A rich venison stew with buttermilk biscuits slathered in salted butter and huckleberry jam is a rousing success at hunting camp. I personally favor thick slices of tender elk loin, quickly sautéed in butter and olive oil with just a bit of garlic, and then served with a few pebbles of fresh huckleberries tossed into the pan with a swirl of blackcurrant jelly and a swale of Calvados. The nutty, rich meats of game birds like quail, duck and goose also take well to the piquant flavor boost provided by the huckleberry. Squab wrapped in rashers of apple wood-smoked bacon and roasted no more than 12 minutes to tender the dark meat a hint beyond rare is unforgettable when served with a savory version of huckleberry compote. My favorite pairing combines huckleberries with foie gras. It was autumn a year ago and I had just prepared a batch of huckleberry compote to serve with a brace of Wild Scottish Red Leg Partridge when I came upon the inspiration that would lead to a new discovery. The thought was to stuff the little devils with a mixture of foie gras mousse studded with black truffles and breadcrumbs and then serve the birds with warm huckleberry compote. The day after the Scottish game feast, I was left with half a loaf of brioche, a small log of foie gras mousse and enough huckleberry compote to last through the Holidays. Yes! We‘ll make a sandwich! I began the making of the “sandwich” by slicing thin rounds of brioche no bigger than a few inches in diameter, then toasting them in a sauté pan swimming in butter. The “jelly” for the sandwich would be a layer of the savory huckleberry compote and the “butter” of the sandwich would be chilled slices of the unctuous foie gras mousse. The huckleberry “sandwich” was a revelation -- another dish I discovered along the path of the huckleberry. ‘Ischit Wiwnu’ Sleeps, Then Re-Awakens On a clear day in autumn, I return to Prineville. The chill from the approaching winter whispers through the thin branches of the poplar trees that border the lane to the farmhouse. Perched on a small bluff just to the East, I sit under the gnarled branches of a centuries-old juniper, looking West. The grassy scent of the last cutting of hay lingers in the air, reminding me of my Grandfather and his huckleberry pancakes. The fields are dotted with grazing Angus and Hereford that have been brought down for the winter from the summer pastures up on the Ochoco’s. The expansive view showcases the regal peaks of the Central Cascades—the Three Sisters, Broken Top, Three-Fingered Jack and Black Butte. Jutting toward heaven is majestic Mount Hood, a fresh coating of snow covering her summit. As I look toward Mount Hood I think of the story of the woman from the Warm Springs, filling her basket with huckleberries picked at the sacred grounds they called “Wiwlúwiwlu Taaktaak” -- the huckleberry meadows -- and it reminds me of my Grandmother and her huckleberry pie. I do not weep for the passing of the Seasons and the memories of a journey less travelled. I know that the end of autumn signals winter and a fresh blanket of snow will cover “Ischit Wiwnu.” The huckleberry will sleep and the path will be still. In the spring, “Ischit Wiwnu” will re-awaken and feel the drumbeat of a thousand footsteps. A new day will dawn and we will rejoice again along the path of the huckleberry. * * * David Ross lives in Spokane, but works a one-hour plane ride away. When he's not tending to his day job -- or commuting -- he writes about food, reviews restaurants and does food presentation. He is on the eGullet Society hosting team. Photos by the author.
  7. <img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1286609993/gallery_29805_1195_32275.jpg" hspace="8" align="left" width="285" height="285">by Erin Garnhum Dear Gully, I have the sneaking suspicion that everyone around me is having much better breakfasts than I am. It's a meal I just can’t skip, but I always feel hesitant and risk-averse. Since I’m usually pressed for time, I’ve become a coward. It’s hard to talk about living in a different country without addressing breakfast. I’m originally from Cole Harbour, Canada, (Have you got a map? You’ll need a pretty good one.) Breakfast to me there meant toast and coffee while listening to Information Morning on CBC, before bundling up for the bus. Now, I live in Suzhou, China (Still got that map? It’s near Shanghai.) and my life is, in many ways, (all instigated by me of course, no sympathy necessary) turned upside-down, dig all the way to China, on its head. A fast, familiar breakfast is what I cling to. Suzhou is a city of several million people; you’ve probably never heard of it. Likely you’ve heard of other locales of four million or more: Toronto, or Los Angeles, or, say New Zealand. They’re bold dots on that map you’ve got, places maybe you’ve been to, places you’ve seen on TV. If I asked you, you’d probably say that people eat maple syrup and beavertails there, or Pinkberry and Gogi tacos, or legs of lamb and expensive pinot noir. The official population statistics for Suzhou are actually somewhere around six million; in fact, the city boundaries around us never quite fade to fields. East and Suzhou slips into Kunshan, then solidifies and hardens into the wall of brick, glass, steel, and dumpling steam that is Shanghai. North, and West, the streets of people give way to streets of factories, and turn slowly into Wuxi, and then on into the distance filled with names of places that I wouldn’t ask you to pronounce without a good primer to PinYin in your hands (along with that map). They’re doing a census here this year: big red banners are all over our buildings and courtyards asking us to comply with civility with the census takers. I’m sure they’ll count all the people; what I’d really love them to enumerate is all the different things you could have for breakfast. It would be possible to drive through Cole Harbour and remain entirely ignorant of what the population is eating. In Suzhou? Impossible. In Cole Harbour, you might catch a quick glimpse into a car alongside, the driver sipping a Tim Hortons coffee or balancing an egg sandwich, but your attention will be on driving. In Suzhou people seem more concerned with the eating than the driving on their commute. A drive down the street in Cole Harbour will show you shop after shop of chain restaurants with drive-thrus, but no signs of actual consumption. Still have that map? Maybe it’s a Google Map? Scroll in on Suzhou until you come to the centre of town, my centre axis, the street where I live, and running a straight line down from it, the street where I work. I live in the Master of the Flower Garden Building complex, a poetic name for what is no more than five or so buildings with the odd rosebush and ornamental pomegranate thrown in. It’s in an alley next to the Song Dynasty “Master of the Nets” Garden. The Garden is a Unesco World Heritage Site; my apartment complex is coasting on their reputation. The street is Shi Quan Jie -- Perfect in Every Way Street. I don’t know if it’s actually perfect in every way, but if you need a hot soup and meat filled baozi for breakfast on your way to work, hand-pulled noodles slipping through spicy peanut sauce, crisp fried sesame and spring onion pancakes, deep fried you tiao donuts. Fruits you’ve never seen before -- if this is what you call breakfast, Perfect Street is perfect for you. These days, I get none of it. I’ve eaten toast and drunk coffee hunched in pajamas at my computer, with iTunes playing CBC’s As It Happens; it’s my only tether to Cole Harbour for the rest of the day. My work day starts at 7:30 am, and the thought of making it out the house and then acquiring breakfast is a non-starter. I trade delicious for sleep and comfort. In China, I don’t take the bus. When I open my garden gate in the morning, I heave on to our family e-bike, piloted with nerve and grit by my husband. We whistle down the centre of Suzhou to Number One High School (est. 1035 -- also the Song Dynasty, in case you’re counting Dynasties. Maybe we should have a Chinese history book along with that map and PinYin primer?) We dodge more e-bikes. We careen around grannies in pajamas on push bikes, baskets full of qing cai and green onions. We skid past kids on scooters, texting on their iPhones, Coco bubble teas swinging in plastic bags from the handle bars while they stuff fresh-fried you tiao donuts into their mouths. We brake heroically as homicidal taxis -- battered Volkswagen Santanas, not driven so much as buffeted by drivers drinking tea made with leather-brown leaves in old beanpaste jars -- turn left suddenly in front of us. Black Audis driven by chain-smoking men in suits -- they don’t have time to eat, they are DOING BUSINESS? Those we give lots of space. We slip through holes and cut through clots of chaos, and ogle what everyone else is having for breakfast. <img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1286609993/gallery_29805_1195_31814.jpg" hspace="8" width="429" height="285" align="right">We fly by the Yang Yang Dumpling House, but the doors are shut. The metal safety door is at half-mast, and the day’s vegetable delivery is being carried in by young men in chef’s whites, their morning cigarettes dangling. No simple boxes here: so many vegetables go in, they’re carried in twenty gallon plastic tubs -- cabbages, cucumbers, Chinese leeks, grosses of white onions. In the kitchen are thirty twenty-somethings fresh off a bus from Shandong or Hubei (check your map); they’ll spend their whole day at the cutting board armed with their cleavers and red-pack cigarettes. But they don’t do breakfast. As we cross over Renmin Boulevard, I’m cheating now -- the street gets narrower in width and scope; and it’s no longer Perfect in Every Way Street. But my sense of direction is linear, and we haven’t turned left or right, so in my head, we’re still on Perfect Street. The Clots of Chaos are coming faster and stronger now, like meteors burning up -- the brake squeals are more furious, the brushes with other people’s breakfast closer. We’re next to the market. Every morning, I want to tap my husband on the shoulder and ask him to stop, but I can’t; we’re already late, and I’d never get through the throngs. I want to stop and walk into the bamboo steamer towers and get a plastic bag full of baozi -- pork with rich broth; chicken with pine nut and ginger; chive and smoked tofu; sweet black sesame and peanut. I can see men in stretched white undershirts and neat trousers picking their way carefully through the mixed-density traffic, hefting bags of ten or more of these dumplings, on their way to breakfast tables of people who are lucky to have later starts to their day than I do. I have entertained the fantasy of reaching out and plucking a bag from their hands as we whiz by: Grand Theft Dumpling. But I know the traffic would never allow a clean getaway. They have earned their dumplings and anyway, I have eaten my toast. Traffic will play out such that at this point in the commute we’ll be forced either left or right, dodging the cars slowly emerging from the sanctity of their apartment complex parking. Lanes are but a suggestion, and the yellow line down the centre has been painted not to divide us into groups of people going This Way or That Way. The yellow line is in fact there for the cars to follow down the centre of the road. The sides are taken up by bicycles and people going in both directions in semi-regular intervals. <img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1286609993/gallery_29805_1195_64006.jpg" hspace="8" width="285" height="426" align="left">As we make it through the last intersection and cross onto a street that even official signage admits is no more than an alley, we pass a street corner thronging with people. If we’re forced left, a wooden table is covered with rows of small white baozi lined up like breakfast soldiers waiting for their turn in the steamer. There’s a lady there in an apron, and she’s rolling out lumps of dough, filling them with scoops of pork filling from a red-and-white enamel pan. When each is filled, she twists the top and drops it onto the steamer tray. A long line of students, ID cards around their necks, is waiting for its breakfast. If they haven’t made the run to Coco, they’re here. At the front is a man tending a wok full of oil, set just off the street on the sidewalk, shielded from the rain by a rainbow beach umbrella. He’s dropping in ropes of white dough, and plucking out glistening donuts -- you tiao. No neon “hot” signs are needed; we can all see his are fresh. A hot you tiao would be just the thing with some milk tea, but they slip past us, just like the baozi. If we’re forced right, I peer in the open fronts of noodle shops. The cooking is done outside; more woks on the sidewalk. Giant pots of steaming water also mark the place as a noodle shop, if you find the old-fashioned calligraphy on his sign a challenge to read, as I do. The laoban has his mise en place set up on his table in small steel bowls; his cooking oil is in an enamel cup that commemorates either a shop opening or a party congress. I can read only the date. Red chili oil, brown peanut sauce, green chopped cilantro: a painter’s palette of garnish. I have occasionally run over, in the perpetual Suzhou rain, for a bag of his noodles for lunch, and I know for a fact they are nothing short of a restorative tangle of carbohydrate. I can see the neighborhood bent over the tables set inside out of the rain. Only the tops and backs of heads are visible, as everyone tries in vain to keep splatters of chili oil off their shirts. I am simply not up to this challenge at breakfast. Arriving at our school, the neighbourhood duck comes out to honk a morning hello. My husband comes to a seat-sliding halt in front of the Cold Drink Fridge, run by a young family who sit around the fridge door. Since all the water coolers in our school maintain the temperature of the water at a qi-optimizing 25 degrees Celsius, this is our last chance for a Cold Drink to round out our breakfast. Purveyors of the Cold Drink Fridge care not for our qi (um -- Chinese-English dictionary? Any chance of…? No? Actually, I think it means energy. Or life force. Or something). They are happy to make a few kuai off of our blatantly unhealthy lifestyle; at lunch they also sell fried chicken sandwiches. Bottles in hand, I join my students walking through the gate, and say a “Ni Hao” to the Gate Guard as we walk by. They are stuffing their you tiao into their mouths and manically sucking on their Coco straws, hoping to get the jelly bubbles down before their homeroom teachers bark out orders to jettison cold drinks. I have enough time to get my own tea jar going before the day starts for me, and thoughts of breakfast evaporate like the dumpling steam. I hope your own breakfasts are not as filled with regrets as mine. Best, Erin <div align="center">* * *</div> Erin Garnhum (aka nakji) lives and teaches in Suzhou, China. She is an eGullet Society manager.
  8. We've just received a copy of Best Food Writing 2010. Right there, in black and white, starting on page 219, is "All That Glitters." This is the second piece of Janet's to be selected for the anthology, which is edited by Holly Hughes. "I Melt With You," Janet's revisionist take on the origins of an iconic diner dish, was in Best Food Writing 2008.
  9. <img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1277496460/gallery_29805_1195_17089.jpg" hspace="8" align="left">by Priscilla I believe I’ve said elsewhere, more than once, OK more than let’s say, twice, that soup is my favorite food. Something about its fluid sapidity splashing across all taste sensors at the onct, I suppose -- subtlety (or extreme heat) of a broth, savoryness of a smooth puree (or chunky mélange), snappy saline creaminess of a chowder or restrained smoky umami of shiro miso. Really, all kinds, but soup made entirely of vegetables is what concerns me today. Concerns me many days, you could say, because I make it a lot. Always have, but with increased regularity since we’ve been eating veg two nights a week. We eat veg fairly often anyways, just works out that way, but for all sorts of reasons that everyone is familiar with so NO need to post a litany of them. Here it’s been a goal. An easily-met goal, may I say, which is a major bonus. Aside from those alluded-to yet not explicated reasons there are also those that don’t appear on lists nearly often enough but are fully as compelling. Here’s one: I LOVE VEGETABLES. For me there is no cooking, no good cooking, without vegetables as the foregoing central focus. I get a weird excited feeling inside when regarding the offerings of my friends the farmers at the farmers’ market not unlike the one I used to get perusing the Vogue Designer Originals section of the Vogue Patterns book. Another has developed over the years I’ve been cooking: A tendency to seek subtlety as often as takes-off-the-top-of-my-head bombast. Oh I have nothing against bombast, God knows, and pride myself on my heat tolerance, for example, but there is beauty and value also, maybe more so, in catching a light, elusive, upper-palate flavor and really tasting it. From the start my vegetable-soup jag was not an exercise in privation, but rather creating an opportunity to shoe-horn more vegetables from my friends the farmers into a week’s aggregate menus, while at the same time without even trying simultaneous-like collaterally satisfying Those Reasons Which Shall Remain Unenumerated. My soup varies in its constituent makeup and is descended in my cooking from Madeleine Kamman’s classic garbure, which I like to make but is not 100% veg and a bit more of a catch-all, in fact is the best way to make use of refrigerator odds & ends. Something is owed to familiar old minestrone too, and in that way there is no reason there couldn’t be beans and small soup pasta. Sometimes my soup takes a borschy bent, as when Ivan craves his native beet-cabbage-potato flavor profile, with sour cream, and fresh dill if he’s lucky, at serving. There is often cabbage, even without the beets; I try to buy my $1 cabbage (which is sometimes $1.50) every week. People: buy yourself a cabbage. Often potato, though not always. Always at least a little carrot, I’ve been having kind of a thing with the mature gorgeous carrots from one of my favorite veg vendors for a couple of years now and there’s always at least one in the fridge. Celery, maybe, fennel bulb, frequently. Leafy greens, even the outer leaves of Romaine that didn’t make it into salades. Kohlrabi, purple, white, pale green. Green beans. Squash, winter or summer. And onion family, come on down: Just now the giant fresh onions of springtime are so delicious, but there is nothing at all wrong with a brown winter onion, neither. Or leeks. Or the 1/2 bunch of scallions kicking around. Overripe, or under-, for that matter, tomato. A clove or two of garlic. Whether I’ve purpose-bought or am gleaning from what’s in stock, I take a gander at what I’ve got, and prep commences. In the universe I create in my Veg Soup, everything is chopped to the same size. Sometimes larger dice, sometimes smaller, but I have a real bugaboo about things not cut to the same size in some preparations. This is one. There should be quite a lot of raw veg -- the reduction in volume during cooking is astounding even for solid-seeming stuff. Onion is set to sauté with some butter, some oil. Could SO easily be all olive oil and then hey presto it’s vegan. Garlic is added after some time, doesn’t need much sautéing. Unlike the onion, whose golden brown will inform the entire soup in a very good way, the garlic’s contribution will come during the simmer as it softens and dissolves. When the onions are golden brown and the garlic is in, the rest of the prepared veg can go, and get seasoned with salt and pepper and a hit of cayenne and stirred a few minutes until everything is sizzling. This is the first chance to NOT underseason, the first and the most important. So, don’t. Add water to cover, plus -- not by several inches, maybe one inch. I like plain water, rather than vegetable stock, which could certainly be used. The subtle fresh broth that results just from the vegetables in the mix is one of the main points, to me. Liquidity will be adjusted later; less is better during cooking for extracting the vegetables’ essences without destroying their structural integrity. Simmer, covered, until everything is very very very tender. Longer and slower is better than faster and hotter -- better for flavor, better for texture. As things start to get tender, be ready to season again. At times I put in herbs, what I felt like or what was burgeoning in the garden, but honestly I think it’s better without. Herbs can be very strong, even fresh ones in judicious quantity. Parsley stems, I have liked, when I made a celery-dominant version after Ivan and I had sort of an O. Henry celery story at the farmers’ market; he thought he was supposed to get celery, I thought I was, so we each did. Parsley stems, if you have the Gigantica variety especially, support celery in a way that makes so much sense to the palate that the combination must be as old as stone. Another of Ivan’s favorites, the celery version. When all is very tender (this is not a crunchy-vegetable trip), and one has stinted neither on the salt nor the black pepper, i.e. seasoning has been adjusted as we say euphemistically but which really just means DO NOT STINT ON THE SALT, we can call the soup done. With it we always have bread, sometimes a toasted crouton with or without cheese in the bottom of the bowl or on the side, or the fantastic rustic multi-grain from the Japanese-French baker, sometimes a bread I have made. This first round we eat as it is, clear broth with the veg dice. For a second meal, I sometimes puree and add a little cream (and need I say it, seasoning.) With the addition of cream, several minutes’ simmering is necessary to activate, and pepper might need checking. If you reach critical mass with black pepper you can get away with minimal cream for maximum creamy effect. Not enough pepper and you can add lashing after lashing and it’ll never taste as creamy. I think I might prefer the puree. Might be the cream, might be the flavor development over a day or two in the old Cambro. Or might be I finally apprehend the flowery ethereality that’s been in there all along. <div align="center">* * *</div> Priscilla writes from a Southern California canyon with desultorily paved roads and pleasantly anachronistic cultural lag, and is the founder of hyperlocal, Orange County-centric OCFoodNation.com. Previously by Priscilla: Give It Up for Lent Roadhouse Blues Danger Zone Rarus Fructus The Last Caprese Fava-vavoom Sourdough Ducks Sincerely, Flounder
  10. <img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1274278568/gallery_29805_1195_26912.jpg" hspace="5" align="left">by Margaret McArthur It’s never inspired a wild fandango, let alone cartwheels 'cross the floor. Calling it Béchamel doesn’t make it chic and rolling the "l"s in balsamella won’t make it sexy. It’s White Sauce, pale, pure and reliable, the Vestal Virgin of Escoffier’s Mother Sauces. It’s a Mama sauce, a Maman sauce, a Mom and Mummy sauce. There’s no macaroni and cheese, no creamed spinach, no creamed potatoes or onions without White Sauce. No lasagna, no rissoles; barely a scalloped potato. No soufflés. No crap on clapboard. No sauce for chicken-fried steak or salmon patties. No choufleur gratinée or cute little coffins of chicken a la King. No éclairs, cream puffs, or Boston Cream Pie, because isn’t pastry cream white sauce with sugar, egg and vanilla? In this order, place butter, flour and milk in a saucepan, some salt, maybe a twist of beige from the nutmeg grinder -- all it calls for is some attention with the wooden spoon and an eye to the size and activity of the bubbles. The proportions are way simpler than the multiplication flashcards my father drilled me with in third grade. My mother called them out over her shoulder as she chopped parsley and cleaned the big can of salmon. I remember: “One tablespoon each of butter and flour for thin, two for medium, three for thick. Keep stirring. Watch the heat -- you don’t want to burn it.” Some Maternal Units would never besmirch the snowy stuff with black pepper -- though not my mother, Julia Child was passionate about the white pepper only rule. I like the black specks, (always) a grating of nutmeg, and (often) a pinch of cayenne. When I have extra time I add a fillip of my own: I throw a bay leaf, a sprig of thyme, and a few fresh tarragon leaves into the milk, warm it up to the small bubble stage, then let it cool down and infuse. I strain out the herbs before I add the milk to the roux, pondering the greatness of the bouquet garni, and what a clever cook I am. <div align="center">+ + +</div> It will surprise no one who buys that story that all French cooking started as Italian cooking that Catherine di Medici‘s Italian cooks introduced it to the French when she married Henri II in 1533. Well, could be -- but why do Italians call it balsamella, not caterina? Larousse Gastronomique relates the tale of Louis de Béchameil, Marquis de Nointel, who got a plum job as Louis XIV’s Steward of the Royal Household. "The invention of béchamel sauce is attributed to him, but it had, no doubt, been known for a long time under another name. It was more likely to be the invention of a court chef who must have dedicated it to Bechemeil as a compliment." And who was Louis’s chef de cuisine? You might have heard of him: a chap by the name of Varenne. Francois Pierre de la Varenne (1615-1678) included a recipe for Sauce Béchamel in his Le Cuisiner Francais. I wonder if it was a printing error in the first edition that dropped the "i" in the Marquis’s name? (One hopes the Marquis was flattered enough to give Francois a shift off.) My research was heaped on the kitchen table (otherwise known as my study). I pulled books from the stack at random, checking recipes. The room hummed harder; the ceiling of my self-respect as a food historian flew away. Careme’s formula for a white roux and milk sauce reads like a formula for papier mache binder. He starts with a veloute made from white veal stock then pumps it up with a liaison of eggs yolks and cream, a walnut-sized piece of butter and "a few tablespoons of very thick double cream to make it whiter. Then add a pinch of grated nutmeg, pass it though a white tammy [sic] and keep hot in a bain marie." Fast-forward eighty-odd years to Escoffier’s Le Guide Cuilinaire (1907) translated by H.L Cracknel and R.J. Kaufmann (John Wiley and Sons, 1979). Um: meat? Yes, the ‘Scoff adds chopped lean veal, two sliced onions and thyme to the roux and milk mixture, allows "them to simmer gently for two hours, and pass through a fine strainer." Maybe Cesar Ritz liked the veal gelatin. While Escoffier was wowing London, Charles Ranhofer was chef de everything at Delmonico’s in New York; the late nineteenth century’s Achatz, Keller and Waters combined. He was a white-whiskered tyrant with more energy than a grill cook at the Billy Goat Tavern under Wacker Drive. Here’s his take on béchamel, on page 293 of his 1183-page master opus The Epicurean: "This is made by preparing a roux of butter and flour, and letting it cook for a few minutes while stirring, not allowing it to color in the slightest; remove it to a slower fire and leave it to complete cooking for a quarter of an hour, then dilute it gradually with half boiled milk and half veal blond. Stir the liquid on the fire until it boils, then mingle in with it a mirepoix of roots and onions, fried separately in butter, some mushroom peelings and a bunch of parsley; let it cook on a slower fire and let cook for twenty-five minutes without ceasing to stir so as to avoid its adhering to the bottom; it must be rather more consistent than light. Strain it through a fine sieve then through a tammy [sic] into a vessel." Not content with the veal presence and the mushroom peelings, Ranhofer adds a mirepoix of root vegetables? Will the madness never end? Let’s jump ahead another thirty years and hop the train from Manhattan to Boston to check out cooking school of Mrs. Fanny Merrit Farmer, and her The Boston Cooking School Cookbook -- my edition’s from 1913. Fanny infuses a cup and a half of veal stock with carrots, onion, bay leaf, parsley and peppercorns for twenty minutes. (So much for any pretensions to originality I may have had about steeping a few herbs in the milk.) "Melt the butter, add flour, and gradually hot stock and milk. Season with salt and pepper." James Peterson’s recipe in Glorious French Food (2002) requires shallots, celery, a carrot, a garlic clove, thyme, bay leaf and "4 oz. (115 g.) of prosciutto end, pancetta or veal and pork trimmings." C’mon Jim, am I making a sauce or a stuffing for ravioli? The Rombauer Ladies don’t include a recipe for béchamel in the 1975 Joy of Cooking. If you look it up in the index you’ll find “Bechamel sauce, see White Sauce.” You know, the recipe with the roux and milk and salt and pepper? What I’ve called Béchamel since I was a hoity-toity teenager in the kitchen? Maybe Joy set the modern formula for Béchamel in this country; it’s awesome they called it White Sauce. If there’d been a waiter with a tray, I would have called out for another drink. I felt like someone who’d spent her life telling people how to make pate by grinding up Spam, or insisting that Mario Batali heats up Chef Boy-R-Dee at home when he wants pasta that’s really authentic. Or a schoolmarm who’d been teaching creationism forever, saw the light, and realized she’d been talking out of her ass for years with her skirt tucked into the waistband of her pantyhose. Had I never made a Béchamel? Eventually, I found the writer who, for the first time, called White Sauce Béchamel. I’ll give you a hint: the year was 1961. Want another? Her kitchen is on view in the Smithsonian. You got it: Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume I, a tome with a treasured spot in my not-Smithsonian-sized cooking library. Julia, Louisette and Simka are my first in-house references for "plain" Béchamel Sauce. But: in a preface about Sauces Blanches, the Gourmettes say, "Sauce Béchamel in the times of Louis XIV (yeah, Varenne) was a more elaborate sauce then it is today. Then it was a simmering of milk, veal and seasonings with an enrichment of cream. In modern French cooking a béchamel is a quickly made milk-based foundation requiring only the addition of butter, cream, herbs or other flavorings to turn it into a proper sauce." Then they provide a recipe that mentions neither butter nor cream nor herbs, nor other flavorings. And now that there is no reason and the truth is plain to see: the word “Béchamel” will never again pass my lips. I’ve never known squat about real Béchamel: I’ve known about White Sauce. <div align="center">* * *</div> Margaret McArthur, aka maggiethecat, author of the blog Cheap and Cheerful, cooks and tends her garden near Chicago. Her Daily Gullet piece "Eggs Enough and Time" appears in Best Food Writing 2009.
  11. by Janet A. Zimmerman Students of philosophy (of which I was one) rarely get through school without a class on the ancients, which often includes a day or so on the alchemists. If you’re not familiar with these guys, here’s what you need to know: they spent all their time looking for a magic element that would turn base metals to gold. Seriously. Sometimes this element is referred as “elixir” but mostly it’s known as the philosopher’s stone. Today, this seems like a fruitless and frivolous pursuit, but for hundreds of years the best minds in science were certain that it was only a matter of time before the philosopher’s stone would be discovered. Midas would be real. I started thinking about the philosopher’s stone after reading a post on Michael Ruhlman’s blog about roasting a chicken. The subject of the post was that American commercial enterprise is conspiring to convince us all that it’s too hard to cook from scratch so that food manufacturers can sell us processed food. He chose roasted chicken as proof that it’s not hard to cook. With tongue ensconced in cheek, he wrote a set of instructions called “The World’s Most Difficult Roasted Chicken Recipe.” “Turn your oven on high (450 if you have ventilation, 425 if not). Coat a 3- or 4-pound chicken with coarse kosher salt so that you have an appealing crust of salt (a tablespoon or so). Put the chicken in a pan, stick a lemon or some onion or any fruit or vegetable you have on hand into the cavity. Put the chicken in the oven. Go away for an hour . . . When an hour has passed, take the chicken out of the oven and put it on the stove top or on a trivet for 15 more minutes. Finito.” Ruhlman is not the only one to champion roasted chicken as the quintessential easy meal. In the Les Halles Cookbook, Anthony Bourdain says: “. . . if you can't properly roast a damn chicken then you are one helpless, hopeless, sorry-ass bivalve in an apron. Take that apron off, wrap it around your neck and hang yourself. You do not deserve to wear the proud garment of generations of hardworking, dedicated cooks.” Bourdain’s recipe for roasted chicken is, however, by no means easy. To start with, he has you lie down on the floor, bend your knees and bring your legs up, so you know how to position the chicken. Then, keeping that position in mind, you cut holes in your chicken and place the ends of the drumsticks in them (this so you don’t have to truss). You smear herb butter under the skin of the breast, and fill the cavity with herbs, onions and lemon pieces. Place the giblets and some more onion in the bottom of a roasting pan and pour some wine over it. Finally, the chicken goes on top of that and into the oven. But wait! You have to turn the temperature up halfway through cooking. Oh, and you baste, and then you have to make a pan sauce. Now, I’m sure all that work produces a decent roasted chicken, but easy? Call me a sorry-ass bivalve if you want, Tony, but I am damn sure not going to lie down on the floor imitating a dead chicken. Not in this lifetime. I went back to Ruhlman. I don’t know if Ruhlman thought anyone would follow his directions; they seemed to be an afterthought to his post. But despite big gaps and some questionable instructions, I gave it a whirl and did exactly what he said, pretending that I knew nothing about chicken roasting. An hour and 15 minutes later I had a roasted chicken that was edible, so in that sense, it worked. It wasn’t good: it was overcooked, the skin was too salty, and the thighs were soaked in chicken grease. It yielded a hot scorched lemon, which I threw away. However, it was easy. (It would have been even easier without having to find fruits and vegetables for the cavity. What is it about lemons that makes people want to abuse them so tragically? Here’s a better use for a lemon: make a Sidecar and drink it while the fruit-free chicken cooks.) I understand why Ruhlman says it’s easy to roast a chicken, why he wants -- even needs -- it to be easy. He’s taken it upon himself to prove that cooking isn’t hard. Chicken seems like a slam dunk. I also understand why Bourdain goes to such lengths in preparation. He thinks that all of those things make for a better bird, and since he starts out by ridiculing anyone who can’t produce a good roasted chicken, he’d be in serious trouble if he couldn’t deliver. Other authors and chefs are not so quick to call roasted chicken easy, but neither will they come right out and call it difficult. They tend to be coy. In Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Julia Child and Simone Beck say, “You can always judge the quality of a cook or a restaurant by roast chicken.” Like those two dames de cuisine, most authors agree that a “perfectly roasted chicken” is a crown jewel of the kitchen, a feather in the cap of any serious cook. But no one admits the bare truth: you can’t have it both ways. If it’s easy, it can’t be the hallmark of a successful chef. If it makes or breaks the reputation of a restaurant or cook, then -- news flash -- it’s not going to be easy. Paul Simon could just as easily have sung about 50 ways to roast a chicken (just slit it up the back, Jack; throw it in a pan, Stan; learn how to truss, Gus). Before you get that bird anywhere near an oven, you have to make decisions. Do you brine it? Salt it? Rub, butter or marinate it? If you butter, does it go on the outside, or under the skin? Plain or herbed? What, if anything, goes inside the chicken? Then comes trussing: you can tie the legs together loosely or you can draw them up tightly so they almost cover the breast. (Or do nothing.) Even putting the poor chicken in a pan is problematic. Deep or shallow pan? Rack or no rack? Vegetables under it, or not? Next, when you get it to the oven, what temperature do you use? Not only can you can roast at high temperature or low, but you can start out low and turn it to high, or start out high and turn it to low. But you’re not done yet: baste? Don’t baste? Whew. You might think you’ll get definitive answers if you turn to the experts, but agreement among them is as elusive as phlogiston. The recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking has you salt the inside of the bird, butter the inside and outside, place the bird on a bed of vegetables, start it out at a high temperature, turning and basting for 15 minutes. Turn the oven down and continue to baste and turn. Somewhere in there, you salt the outside of the chicken. James Beard has a similar method of turning and basting, but before cooking, he has you rub the inside of the chicken with lemon juice, seal a chunk of butter inside, and sew the chicken shut. Alton Brown suggests building a “stone oven” from fire-safe tiles inside your real oven, heating it up with the oven cleaning setting, then enclosing the chicken in the tile box to roast it. (Yeah, right after I get up off the floor from my chicken-yoga exercise, Alton.) The lemons-in-the-cavity idea originates with Marcella Hazan. In her recipe, however, you don’t toss the fruit in haphazardly. You must roll a pair of lemons on the counter and prick their skins all over with a skewer, then pack them into the cavity as tightly as commuters on the 5:25 train. As the chicken cooks, the lemons heat up and spray the inside of the bird with hot lemon juice. Apparently, this is a good thing. Heston Blumenthal trumps all others for length and complexity. He has you brine the bird for six hours, then rinse and soak for an hour, changing the water every fifteen minutes. You bring a pot of water to a boil and prepare an ice bath. Dunk the chicken into the boiling water for 30 seconds, then into the ice water. Repeat, as if you’re trying to sober up a drunken sailor. Put your recovering bird to bed on a rack and cover it with muslin, letting it dry out in the refrigerator overnight. The next day, preheat the oven to 140°F and cook the bird for four to six hours, or until a thermometer in the meat reaches 140 degrees (by some accounts this can take even longer -- there are tales of cooking for twelve hours). Let it sit for an hour. Then brown the chicken all over in oil in a heavy skillet. Meanwhile, you've chopped up and cooked the wing tips in 100 grams of butter. The final step is to inject this chicken-flavored butter into the bird in several places. Every cookbook author in the world, it seems, has a special way with roasted chickens. Some have more than one -- Thomas Keller is on record with at least four methods, from “salt it, truss it, throw it in a hot oven” (wherein he says, “I don't baste it, I don't add butter; you can if you wish, but I feel this creates steam, which I don't want”), to the Ad Hoc version of roasting the bird on a bed of vegetables -- after rubbing it with oil. What? If Keller can’t make up his mind about how to roast a chicken, what hope do we mere mortals have? In the French Laundry Cookbook, Keller says, “. . . even a perfectly roasted chicken will inevitably result in a breast that’s a little less moist than one you would roast separately, which is why I always want a sauce with roast chicken . . .” Had he ever taken a logic class, he would have recognized the inherent contradiction in that sentence. For what he’s said is this: “even a perfectly roasted chicken is not perfect.” And there we have it: there is no method that results in perfect roasted chicken. It’s the philosopher’s stone of the modern kitchen. All the lemon-stuffing, trussing, turning, basting, and temperature manipulation in the world won’t change that. Blumenthal spends two days brining, rinsing, boiling, chilling, drying, cooking, and searing -- and he still has to inject butter into the chicken meat. Lie down on the floor and become one with your chicken, build a citrus Jacuzzi inside your bird, or massage it with butter like a pampered spa client. At the end of the day, you still won’t have gold. All those chefs know the reasons why. First, chicken thighs and breasts need different treatment, and any method that cooks them the same way, at the same temperature, for the same time, risks overcooking and thus drying out the breast by the time the thighs are done. Second, treatments designed to keep the breast meat moist, such as brining or cooking at lower temperatures, result in disappointing skin. And of course, the main point of roasted chicken is the crisp, brown skin. But you need to achieve it without ruining the rest of the chicken. They know this and we do too, if we’ve put much effort into roasting chickens. Yet we persist. We keep trying to roast these birds whole, trussing and turning, brining and basting. Why? It’s the size. Chickens are small. Along with turkeys, they’re the only whole animal most of us will ever cook in a modern kitchen. If cows were the size of chickens, would we roast them whole, wondering all the while why those legs are so tough and the loins all dried out? Maybe so; maybe if cows were chicken-sized, we’d find a familiar myriad of misdirection: stuffing them with lemons, trussing them up, starting them on their stomachs, then flipping them udder-side up, swerving from high to low heat and careening back. But cows are not the convenient two- to four-pound size of chickens, so we cut them up and treat the parts appropriately. On the other hand, if chickens were the size of cows, we’d know how to handle them. We’d butcher them and cook the various parts the way they deserve. We wouldn’t roast a whole one. We’d put that search for the poultry philosopher’s stone behind us. I know what you’re saying. “But a perfect roasted chicken is not impossible. I had one in 1997.” I myself have had two roasted chickens that -- if not perfect -- were so close to perfection as to be indistinguishable from it. One was at Alain Ducasse’s Essex House restaurant in New York. It was one of the special French chickens with blue feet (or so it said so on the menu; it arrived at the table footless). It had shaved black truffles under the skin. It was breathtaking. The second I actually made myself. A friend showed me how to use the charcoal grill that had been abandoned in the backyard of my rental flat, and also showed me how to cut out the backbone to spatchcock the bird. Brined and grilled, it was flawless. But a major scientific principle is that results have to be replicable to count. If you can’t get the same results from an experiment after the first time, then -- scientifically speaking -- your results might as well have never happened. And that’s where all these philosopher-stone attempts fail. Yes, that first chicken I spatchcocked and grilled was awe-inspiring. But the next time? It was good, but there was no comparison. I kept trying, but I never again reached that pinnacle. Anyone who’s had a roasted chicken that neared perfection knows what I mean. Oh, sure. You can fool yourself that because the chicken you had back in 1997 was perfect, it must have been the cooking method, and you can religiously follow that method for the rest of your life. You can pretend that all the subsequent chickens cooked by that method are as good as that first one. But you’d be lying. Perfect roasted chicken is more than the bird itself. It depends on a confluence of elements that only happens once. My ADNY chicken was perfect not just because of the quality of the bird and the truffles under the skin; it was perfect because I had it at my first visit to a really high-end restaurant, because I was with wonderful friends, because we stayed at the table for four hours while servers doted on us. My grilled chicken was perfect because for the first time in my life, I mastered a charcoal fire and spatchcocked a chicken by myself. So, maybe you have had a perfect roasted chicken. Dream about it and count your blessings, but don’t ever expect it to happen again. We live in the real world. Perfect roasted chicken moments may happen, but rarely more than once, and not to all of us. What are the rest of us supposed to do if we want roasted chicken? Paul Simon said it best: The answer is easy if you take it logically. Think of a chicken as a four-pound cow with wings. Get over the idea that roasting a whole chicken is a worthwhile pursuit and recognize it for the philosopher’s stone that it is. Save your time and sanity: roast thighs, which really are easy, or breasts, which take a little more care and preparation but are still not difficult. Before you try lemons, trussing, butter, fire bricks, or a two-day brining-dunking-drying-cooking-searing-injecting binge, take a deep breath. Cut that chicken up and don’t look back. Get yourself free. + + + And yet. That ADNY bird was incredible. So was my first grilled chicken. They weren’t figments of my imagination. What’s more, I made one of them. Why shouldn’t I be able to do it again? It wasn’t that difficult, really. Just brine, then remove the backbone. Start a fire. Yes, I know what I said. The second time the magic was gone. But what if I’m just forgetting something, or what if one little change would elevate my next chicken to those heights? I’m sure I can do it. Maybe I could buy a blue-footed chicken and a truffle. No. I won’t get obsessed. Besides, simpler is better. I know that. I’ll do what I did before, but I’ll pay more attention to the temperature and the time, and that’s it. If that doesn’t work, I’ll go back to roasting thighs. Wait, I know -- I could rub some butter under the skin. Everyone swears by that. But that’s all I’ll do. I’m not going to get insane over this. But maybe I could dry it overnight so the skin stays crisp. What if I put some butter and herbs inside the chicken and then trussed it? I have some lemons . . . * * * Janet A. Zimmerman (aka JAZ) is a food writer and culinary instructor based in Atlanta, Georgia, and a Bert Greene award winner for her Daily Gullet article "Any Other Name." She is an eGullet Society manager.
  12. by David Ross Recently, I had dinner with a friend at a funky Seattle café that follows today’s popular farm-to-table movement, sourcing only local, seasonal ingredients from small farmers who ply their trade organically, with the Chef crafting those products into simple, comfort-food style menus that change weekly. The storefront restaurant was housed in a building that had been given new life in one of Seattle’s resurgent urban neighborhoods. From the outside, it looked like a 1930’s travel postcard hand-painted in pastel colors. The staff numbered two -- the chef and a waitress -- and the tiny little dining area had no more than five tables. The focal point of the room was a 1960’s-era wood stereo cabinet boasting a small collection of albums from the days when spinning vinyl LP’s were how we listened to music. Tony Bennett’s All-Time Greatest Hits (1972) spun during dinner. (At the time, we were the only customers in the place, so we weren’t worried about offending other patrons with a scratchy rendition of “Love Look Away.”) The setting was perfect for ending dinner on a sweet note with a “vintage” dessert appropriate to the retro stereo, the décor of the room, and the vibe of the neighborhood. We settled on the “Hazelnut Bundt Cake” served with fresh “Honey Ice Cream,” a confection that would have been comfortable reposing on a luncheonette counter in the mid-60’s, (although back then we would have called it a “Filbert Bundt Cake”). What came to the table was a meek, withered slab of cake; the only redeeming part of the presentation was a cool scoop of golden honey ice cream. A heavy hand with the hazelnuts overpowered the delicate balance of the the cake, rendering it dry and gummy. A thin veil of powdered-sugar glaze did nothing to rescue it from the dry depths of despair. We turned to the ice cream, hoping it would earn the dish a passing grade, but something had gone terribly wrong in the process of crafting the ice cream. Little ice crystals had formed throughout the custard. Instead of smooth, silky, sweetness, our plea was rebuffed with a mouth of cold sand. The Chef had made some glaring errors in technique and the results were embarrassing. The urge to use the season’s first fresh hazelnuts in strict accordance with the restaurant’s mission of “farm-to-table” had resulted in a cake so disappointing that it wouldn’t even merit the back table at your local elementary school cakewalk. No doubt, responsibly raised bees and an organic hazelnut orchard are beautiful things to behold. But sitting in that little café in a building erected decades ago, listening to the bluesy sounds of Tony Bennett, I wasn’t thinking so much about today’s “farm-to-table” culture as much as I was imagining a slice of one of America’s favorite cakes and what a delightful ending to this meal, in this quaint, cozy little setting, it would have been. Unfortunately, Pineapple Upside-Down Cake wasn’t on the menu. + + + Pineapple Upside-Down Cake once shared Formica-lined diner counters with other luminaries of the cake world like the “Burnt-Sugar Cake with 7-Minute Frosting,” the “Strawberry Bavarian Icebox Cake,” and the often-praised “7-Up Angel Food Cake with Pink Lady Whipped Cream.” It’s impossible to document the precise day that the first slice of Pineapple Upside-Down Cake was served. We do know that it’s a youngster in the history of cake, with its likely roots in the roaring 20’s. It’s a quintessentially American cake -- the product of innovation by an entrepreneurial spirit with both business and agricultural interests who developed methods for growing, harvesting and canning pineapple on a commercial scale never before seen. Mr. James Drummond Dole (1877-1958) is widely known as the “Pineapple King.” Armed with an impressive educational resume from Harvard (degrees in both agriculture and business), Dole moved from his home in New England to Hawaii in 1899 and invested in a 64-acre farm on the island of Oahu. Commercial pineapple canneries of the time employed hundreds of workers to harvest fruit in the fields. Hand labor continued in the canneries where the pineapples had to be peeled and cored by hand. Dole introduced automation, changing the face of the industry. Prior to Mr. Dole’s innovations, the thought of a Midwestern family in the Midwest enjoying a fresh Hawaiian pineapple would have been absurd. But now Americans could enjoy the exotic taste of canned Hawaiian pineapple in all its sweet, tangy, tropical glory within just a few days of harvest. (In the ensuing years, Dole expanded his empire, eventually becoming the steward of more than 75% of the world’s pineapple crop.) Mr. Dole’s contributions were monumental advancements for the American food industry. The introduction of canning fresh pineapple in a sugar-water syrup gave the home cook a delicious new product at low cost that would result in the birth of the Pineapple Upside Down Cake. Dole was also an early adopter of the new art of advertising canned food products to America. Hand-painted billboards, colored posters in shop windows, and magazine and newspaper ads were just a few of the forms of advertising used to promote the wondrous flavors of Dole pineapple. Yet Dole needed something more -- something big -- to advertise the virtues of his canned pineapple to American home cooks. He would find that big break in a recipe contest. In 1925, Dole ran a national advertising campaign, offering up prizes of $50 for each of the 100 recipes that would be selected for the cookbook featuring dishes using his pineapple products. The contest was a rousing success, garnering upwards of 60,000 entries -- including somewhere in the neighborhood of 2,500 recipes for Pineapple Upside-Down Cakes. One of those found its way into Dole’s cookbook – and the overwhelming number of Upside-Down Cake entries in the contest tells one that cooks had been baking the cake at home far earlier than 1925. Prior to 1925, home cooks might have used fresh pineapple (a rarity in those days) in their cakes, or maybe they used homemade canned pineapple (also rare); most likely, Dole’s product was a convenient replacement for a variety of other fresh or preserved fruits. But it was Dole’s ad campaign that garnered national publicity for his new packaging, and formalized the name for this delicious new cake. Dole’s gift to America’s kitchens would go on to inspire thousands of new recipes using pineapple. + + + While Mr. Dole was harvesting and canning pineapples in the Hawaiian Islands, some 2,500 miles to the North, in the small college town of Corvallis, Oregon, Ernest H. Wiegand, Professor of Horticulture at Oregon State College (today Oregon State University), was developing modern technology for brining and processing maraschino cherries on a large scale for distribution in America, obviating the need for importation of a European luxury. Into the late 1890’s, the Italian Marasca cherry was served in fancy cocktails at exclusive hotel bars, and was known primarily to upper class Americans and the royal families of Europe. Marascas were beyond the means of most Americans since they were imported; preservation in liqueur added even more to the cost. Since the turn of the century, American cherry producers had been experimenting with cost-effective methods of preserving cherries, substituting American grown Queen Anne and Royal Anne cherries for the more expensive Marascara varietals. They tinkered with different flavoring agents like almond extract as a substitution for the liqueur and began adding red dyes to give the cherries a more attractive appearance. When Prohibition came in 1920, importation of Marascas stopped, yet America had developed an appetite for little red gems in their highballs and shots of bathtub gin. Some camps will argue that Professor Wiegand was looking for ways to get rid of excess cherries that weren’t good enough for canned pie cherry production or for fresh eating cherries. Others say he was trying to develop a cherry due to the limits of Prohibition. However, the studious Professor was simply experimenting. He wasn’t trying to make political statements or setting out to make a profit. Ever the typical tinkering Oregonian when it came to agricultural improvements, Wiegand was attempting to develop a brining process that could operate on a large scale and would result in a sweet cherry with a crisp crunch and bright red appearance. Sound scientific research and development in his Corvallis campus laboratory during the 20’s led Wiegand to a modern method for processing maraschinos, a replacement for the soft fruits that were were being marketed in lieu of the Italian original. Wiegand’s cherries – with stem attached so they had the appearance of ripe red cherries just off the tree -- would change the candied cherry industry in America. Professor Wiegand’s maraschino cherry technology was introduced in 1925, the same year that Mr. Dole’s recipe contest blazed through America’s kitchens. Today the production process hasn’t changed much from the formulas Professor Wiegand developed more than 80 years ago; today, Wiegand Hall on the campus at Oregon State serves students studying food technology and horticulture. + + + The cake that won the 1925 contest was not garnished with maraschino cherries. They were most likely added to the recipe in 1926 or 1927 when the “new” style of maraschino cherries were first bottled and found their way to market shelves. Professor’s Wiegand’s cherries quickly became the signature garnish for Mr. Dole’s cake. These two unlikely partners — the businessman from Hawaii and the Professor from Corvallis — changed food technology and food production in America and, by a simple twist of fate, perfected an American classic, the Pineapple Upside-Down Cake. In the years since Dole’s 1925 recipe contest, cooks have concocted all manner of variations of the Pineapple Upside-Down Cake, including such dreadful sounding dishes as the “Orleans Fruit Cake” -- a 1957 entrant in the 9th Grand National Pillsbury Bake-Off. The Orleans Cake is loosely based on the Pineapple Upside-Down Cake -- fruit placed in the bottom of a pan and a sponge-cake batter poured on top. But that’s the only distant relationship between the two. The Orleans cake replaces pineapple with pecans and watermelon-rind pickles. Watermelon-rind pickles, a delicious accompaniment to a tuna-salad sandwich, have no business in a Pineapple Upside-Down Cake. Cooks have also tampered with the proven taste foundations of the Pineapple Upside Down Cake by adapting the technique for savory dishes -- all efforts resulting in questionable results. In a recipe for “Pineapple Upside-Down Ham Loaf,” (in the 1942 edition of The Good Housekeeping Cookbook), the cook is instructed to mix combine dry mustard, vinegar and sugar and sprinkle this mixture in the bottom of a baking dish. Canned pineapple slices are placed on the dry sugar mix, and on top of that, a layer of ground cooked ham, pork shoulder, eggs, milk and cracker crumbs -- a sort of Hawaiian meat loaf if you will. This is an affront to the Pineapple Upside-Down Cake. (Personally, I’ve never understood the affection for the pairing of ham and pineapple, in cakes or on pizza, and calling it “Hawaiian.”). To the uninitiated, a Pineapple Upside-Down Cake appears to be an unwieldy concoction that is difficult to re-create, but from a technical standpoint, the Pineapple Upside-Down Cake is actually quite easy to make. The list of ingredients is typically no more than 10 or 12, all of which can be purchased at any supermarket. Still, the guises in which cooks cloak the Pineapple Upside-Down Cake are endless. In a rush to create the latest trendy derivative of this famous cake, we are subjected to such concoctions as the Daffodil Upside-Down Cake, the Fuzzy Navel Upside-Down Cake, (apparently a blend of peaches and liquor), Pineapple Upside-Down Mini Bundt Cakes and a regional favorite of the upper-Midwest, the Pineapple Upside-Down Wisconsin Gouda Cake. Fresh cherries -- even the original, noble Marasca -- are a poor substitute for Wiegand’s maraschinos, when used to stud the rings of pineapple in an upside-down cake. They leak juice when baked, watering down the sticky caramel syrup that binds the pineapple to the cake. Fresh cherries don’t have the snappy crunch or that sweet taste of the maraschino. No, only maraschino cherries will do for your Pineapple Upside-Down Cake -- and they must be red -- not green or one of the new-age fluorescent colors of maraschino cherries that are becoming popular in markets today. Day-glo blue cherries were definitely not a part of our food culture in 1925, nor should they be today when you make your special cake. + + + A few weeks after the Hazelnut Cake disappointment, I wrote my friend to tell him I was writing about Pineapple Upside-Down Cake, wondering if he had any special memories of Pineapple Upside-Down Cake when he was growing up in 1950s Philadelphia. To my surprise, I learned that his Mother had never baked him one. “Why,” she asked, “Would I make you a cake upside-down when I can make you one right-side-up?” Ida Richman was only being practical -- why would any sane homemaker go to the trouble of baking a cake upside-down? What if upside-down cakes required special pans, ovens or mystical techniques? And I suppose we fear that which we have not baked -- and let’s not parse the argument that all cakes are baked “upside-down” and then turned out, before being slathered in frosting. We needn’t pity her son. A childhood bereft of this iconic dessert did not scar the dear boy for life. Still, I hope that the next time I have dinner with Ida’s son Alan, dessert will be a nice slice of Pineapple Upside-Down Cake. * * * David Ross lives in Spokane, but works a one-hour plane ride away. When he's not tending to his day job -- or commuting -- he writes about food, reviews restaurants and does food presentation. He is on the eGullet Society hosting team. Photos by the author.
  13. And we have a winner! Congratulations, Janet. (The complete list of Bert Greene awards is here.)
  14. Today the International Association of Culinary Professionals announced that it has selected "Any Other Name" as a 2010 finalist for a Bert Greene award in the category Culinary Writing about Beer, Wine and/or Spirits. Congratulations, Janet! The complete list of IACP award finalists, including a few other Society members in the cookbook category, is here. This is the second year in a row that a Daily Gullet article has been so honored. Last year, Dave Scantland's "One Man's Meat" was an essay finalist.
  15. <img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1265489637/gallery_29805_1195_29942.jpg" hspace="5" align="left">by Margaret McArthur "You brought what back with you from the U.P.?" I replied to my friend’s email: "It’s pronounced with a soft a, as in Patsy. Pasties. I don’t have to drive to Escanaba to buy the twirly sparkly things -- I’ve got a drawerful of them." The pasty is a true regional specialty, as synonymous with the Upper Peninsula of Michigan as moutarde is in Dijon. It belongs to the baking class of "hand pies," an unappetizing handle that conjures Sweeney Todd, rather than those pasty relatives the empanadas, samosas, saitis and peach turnovers. Like these other handy little pies a pasty is poor folks’ food: hot, filling and amenable to variation. The Yooper pasty is a direct descendent of the Cornish pasty and comes by its ancestry from the right side of the blanket. In the nineteen century Cornishmen (nicknamed Cousin Jacks) left their cold Celtic tin mines to work in the colder copper mines clustered around the Keweenaw Peninsula of Lake Superior. They brought with them their miner’s lunch: the pasty -- a D-shaped lunch delivery system perfect for the dirt and sweat of the pits. Don’t even consider rolling out your soft and flaky pastry for this recipe: the crust developed in Cornwall was tough enough to drop down a mine shaft without cracking open. In fact, in the Cornish tin mines before the advent of aluminum foil or Monty Python lunchboxes, the miner wouldn’t eat the pastry because it was so dirty -- he ate the filling, peeling off the pastry like the toughest of banana skins. The crust was tossed into the depths to satiate the Knockers -- malevolent spirits who lurked in the shadows and pulled down pilings unless they received their tough dirty dough. When the copper mines closed, the Cornish left the Upper Peninsula, taking their pasties with them as they migrated through Montana, Wyoming and Arizona to pick up a pick where there was a lode to be mined. Jamie Oliver’s new "America" book includes a recipe from a woman who makes pasties for cowboys. They aren’t Cornish -- or even Yooper -- filled as they are with chicken and squash. They’re mere hand pies. You think I’m strict? Not as strict as the folks at the Cornish Pasty Association. They’re seeking the equivalent of an Appellation Contrôllée; here are their tough but fair guidelines: A genuine Cornish pasty has a distinctive ‘D’ shape and is crimped on one side, never on top. The texture of the filling is chunky, made up of uncooked minced or roughly cut chunks of beef (not less than 12.5%), swede or turnip, potato and onion and a light peppery seasoning. The pastry casing is golden in colour, savoury, glazed with milk or egg and robust enough to retain its shape throughout the cooking and cooling process without splitting or cracking. The whole pasty is slow-baked and no flavourings or additives must be used. It must also be made in Cornwall. I flunk Cornwall, but I’m down with their dictates. The classic Michigan pasty is very, very close, though Yoopers sometimes branch out into flights of ground pork. The Cornish thing gets blurred, because after the copper mines closed in the Upper Peninsula, a huge immigration of Finns adapted to the local cuisine and call the pasty their own. I checked out the menu at the award-winning Dobber's Pasties in Escanaba, (back my day, The Red Onion) and they’re pandering to the Lite and Veggie world with chicken and vegetarian versions. They’re probably pretty good, but a snob like me calls them turnovers. <div align="center">+ + +</div> Pasty Pastry -- the Tough Part The classic filling requires more or less equal parts of onion, potatoes, turnips or rutabagas (I like the bright orange color and slightly sweeter flavor of the rootytootoots -- their nom de cuisine chez moi,) and beef, all cut into quarter-inch dice. A word about the meat: the pasty is the perfect vehicle for boring lean cuts like round steak -- the small size of the pieces and the steamy interior of the pasty works beautifully to tenderize it. Season with salt and pepper. Done. Restrain your hands from pinching off a little fresh thyme or summer savory, at least at the first time of baking. If you later succumb to a misguided desire for pumped-up flavor, know that purists like me, The Cornish Pasty Association and pasty stand owners from Manistique to Houghton will sneer. Just sayin’. The drama is in the pastry; I had to unlearn everything I know about the flaky, the tender, the buttery. I tried a vegetable shortening boiling water pastry (good flavor, too crumbly) a half-butter half-shortening pâte brisée (too rich) and a straightforward 1950s shortening piecrust (too flaky, too soft.) I didn’t want toughness that could dive down a mineshaft; nevertheless, sturdiness was in order. Nor had I been impressed with the dough produced by the Michigan pasty patisseries -- it was serviceable and sturdy: a container for the thing contained. It wouldn’t survive a fall of six feet, but I didn’t feel guilty about rejecting the thick crimped edges as tough and tasteless. I checked the pantry and discovered that I had just enough flour to dust one onion ring. I grabbed my cars keys and made the further unwelcome discovery that my car wouldn’t start -- what is it with that battery? It was a glorious early November day, the jack-o’-lanterns provided a suburban gallery crawl and what the heck’s a ten minute walk? A ten-minute walk was long enough for me to ponder pastry and self-administer a head smack. D’oh! I’d reduce the classic fat/flour pastry ratio from 1:3 to 1:4 for a less short dough. A tub of manteca from the local supermercado lurked somewhere behind last week’s leftovers in the fridge, and I knew I’d find some Crisco behind the family- sized jar of neon green Chicago pickle relish. It felt good to have a plan: the 1:4 fat-to-flour ratio, and cheap mixed fat at that. My deductive reasoning skills mostly fail me, except in cooking problems (or speculation of my friends’ love lives). Reader, I got it right: the pastry was sturdy, not tough, and that porky presence from the manteca added an elusive meaty flavor. I tried the proportions again using straight shortening, and it was darn near as good. This is the time to use an old-fashioned pastry blender, two knives or your fingertips to blend the cold fat into the flour; one pulse too many in the food processor could overmix the shortening. I don’t fuss with side dishes on Pasty Night, because a pasty is a balanced meal, almost Pollanesque in its scanty meat to lavish (delicious nutritious) vegetables. If you crave more vegetables, remember that the only condiment permitted with pasties (put that jar of homemade chowchow down!) is ketchup. <div align="center">+ + +</div> Michigan Pasties Makes six nine-inch pies This is adapted from the recipe in American Cooking: The Eastern Heartland, one of the books in the peerless, out-of-print Time-Life series "Foods of the World." Pastry 4 c. all-purpose flour 1 c. cold vegetable shortening 2 t. salt 10-12 T. very cold water 1 egg With pastry blender or fingertips, work the shortening, lightning-fast, into the flour until it looks like "flakes of coarse meal." Mix in 10 tablespoons of water, toss the ingredients together, and try to gather up into a ball. If it’s too crumbly, add another 2 tablespoons of water and re-form the ball. Wrap in plastic wrap and put it in the fridge. Set the oven to 400˚F. Filling: 5 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into ¼ cubes. (About 1-½ pounds) 1 smallish rutabaga, peeled and cut into ¼ inch dice (About 1-½ cups) 2 lbs top round (or similar cut) in ¼ inch dice 1-½ cups chopped onion (you can guess the size by now) 1 T. salt 1 t. fresh ground black pepper Mix everything together in a big bowl. Assembly: Beat the egg lightly for an egg wash. Divide the dough into 6 approximately equal pieces. Find a plate or pot cover 9 inches across. Between floured pieces of plastic wrap, roll out each piece of dough until it’s large enough so that, using the plate as a template, (remove the top layer of plastic wrap!) you can cut out a neat circle. Repeat five times. Place about 1-½ cups of filling down the center of the pastry, leaving a half-inch hem at the circumference. Fold in half, then crimp the edges together, firmly. Place the pasties on cookie sheets and slash a small slit on the top of each. Brush on the egg wash. Bake for 45 minutes, or until golden brown. If you have leftovers, wrap them in foil and refrigerate. They reheat beautifully in the oven. <div align="center">* * *</div> Margaret McArthur, aka maggiethecat, author of the blog Cheap and Cheerful, cooks and tends her garden near Chicago. Her Daily Gullet piece "Eggs Enough and Time" appears in Best Food Writing 2009. Illustration by Dave Scantland, based on a photo from the Consolidation Coal Company collection, National Museum of American History. Photographer unknown.
  16. by Janet A. Zimmerman The Gimlet is my favorite cocktail. There: I’ve said it. I know what you’re thinking. It’s like admitting that you like fondue or iceberg lettuce; that your favorite dinner is pot roast made with Lipton Onion Soup mix. It wasn’t always like that. When I turned 21, the Gimlet was considered daring in my crowd, a step up from the Rum-and-Cokes and blended Mai Tais my friends preferred. If it had lost some of the cachet that inspired Raymond Chandler to make it Philip Marlowe’s drink of choice in The Long Goodbye, it remained a sophisticated option for a college girl. These days? Sure, you can still get one -- even in “serious” cocktail lounges that wouldn’t be caught dead with it on the official menu -- but it’s now served with a hint of condescension alongside the lime wheel. Scores of old-school drinks have been rediscovered in the current cocktail renaissance. Martinis, Manhattans, Old Fashioneds and Sidecars have been rescued from the obscurity that shrouded them during the last quarter of the twentieth century and regained their stature as bar classics. Even the long-beleaguered Tiki drinks have been rehabilitated. The Gimlet might be unique in failing to make a comeback. Why all those cocktails and not my favorite? What is it about the Gimlet that keeps it from taking its rightful place beside those other stalwarts of the bar? One word: Rose’s. From the “half gin and half Rose’s Lime Juice and nothing else” of Chandler’s Terry Lennox to a more modern two-to-one or even four-to-one mixture, Rose’s Sweetened Lime Juice is the sine qua non of the drink: it’s what makes a Gimlet a Gimlet. So, you may ask, what’s wrong with Rose’s? In a sense, Rose’s has suffered not for what it is, but for what it is not. Rose’s Lime Juice (Lime Cordial in the UK and Canada) is exactly what it sounds like -- a sweetened lime juice -- and therein lies the problem. Sugar and preservatives give Rose’s a shelf life several orders of magnitude longer than fresh lime juice, making it attractive to bar owners who pay more attention to their accountants than their taste buds, and to bartenders who find it easier to pour from a bottle than to squeeze fresh citrus. Thus in the dark ages of cocktail culture, Rose’s came to be regarded as a substitute for fresh lime and found its way (along with the ubiquitous sour mix) into all sorts of drinks where it did not belong. But when used as a substitute in a drink that’s designed to be made with fresh lime juice, Rose’s throws off the balance, fails to provide the acidity of just-squeezed, and turns a bracing, tart tipple into a sweet, cloying travesty. It didn’t help that competitors came out with cheaper knock-offs that contained little if any actual lime juice, and those same penurious bar owners often substituted imposters for the real thing. Thus, Rose’s gained a reputation for being artificial and inferior. This abuse of Rose’s and its imitators maimed if not killed cocktails like the Daiquiri and the Margarita, which demand fresh lime juice. As the new generation of enthusiasts rediscovered classic drinks made with classic ingredients, fresh lime juice reclaimed its rightful place in these and other libations. It’s not surprising that some of these apostles went overboard and insisted on replacing Rose’s in the Gimlet as well. But a drink made with gin, fresh lime juice and sugar or simple syrup is not a Gimlet; it might be tasty, but it’s spiritually akin to a Daiquiri. A Gimlet requires the funkiness, the bitter undertones, of lime cordial -- not the brightness of fresh juice. Those who would take Rose’s out of the Gimlet, those who condemn it because it’s not fresh lime juice, are misguided. They don’t blame grenadine for not being fresh pomegranate juice; why then expect lime cordial to be fresh lime juice? * * * Anyone with an internet connection and a search engine can, with a few keystrokes, find a thumbnail history of Rose’s Lime Cordial from one of what seems like hundreds of “official” Rose’s web sites. (The reason for the multitude of sites is that virtually every country seems to have a different distributor; in the US, for instance, Rose’s has been sold more often than a 37-year-old outfielder. It’s now owned by Snapple.) This one is typical: “In 1867, Scottish businessman Lauchlan Rose had been in the juice business for two years. That same year, two things happened: Rose patented his process of preserving lime juice without using rum and the 1867 Merchant Shipping Act was passed. Although the sailors grumbled a little about losing their rum, it wasn’t long before sweetened juice from Rose’s West Indian limes was a shipboard staple.” Nice little story, but factual? Hardly. While it’s true that in 1867 Lauchlan Rose patented a process of preserving lime juice, and that a Merchant Shipping Act was passed, the rest of it is fanciful fabrication. First of all, The Merchant Shipping Acts had nothing to do with the British Royal Navy. In nineteenth century Britain there were, essentially, two maritime operations: the Royal Navy, which protected the realm, and the merchant navy, which was commercial in nature. The Royal Navy began providing its sailors with lemon or lime juice (to prevent scurvy on long voyages) much earlier and more consistently than the merchant ships; the merchant ships, after all, were about profit, and antiscorbutic measures were expensive. Furthermore, the 1867 Merchant Shipping Act was not the first of the acts, nor the last; more important, it wasn’t the first to stipulate that citrus juice had to be provided for merchant marines. What it did, among other things, was to lay out in precise terms how the lime juice was to be treated and stored before it was loaded on board. Among other criteria, “no Lime or Lemon Juice shall be so obtained or delivered from any Warehouse as aforesaid unless . . . the same contains Fifteen per Centum of proper and palatable Proof Spirits.” “Proper and palatable proof spirits” equaled brandy, or more often, rum. When Lauchlan Rose looked for a way to preserve lime juice without alcohol, his motive was not to conform to the Shipping Act. Nor was it to keep sailors sober -- in the Royal Navy, at least, sailors received a daily allotment of rum, a practice that continued well into the twentieth century. The true story behind Rose’s Lime Juice Cordial (its original name) is more like this: Lauchlan Rose was one of several merchants who sold lime juice -- in bulk, laced with rum -- to ships. He wasn’t the only or even the first businessman with the idea of marketing sweetened lime juice to the general population, but he was certainly the first to figure out how to preserve lime juice without alcohol (actually, to preserve it, period. The amount of alcohol in the goods destined for the ships was probably not very effective). So if his motivation wasn’t naval stores, why pursue that avenue? With the temperance movement in full swing by the late nineteenth century, it’s much more likely that he wanted a drink he could market as a healthy option for land dwellers. The next patents he received bear this theory out. All nine of them had to do with bottling and stoppers, which indicates an eye to the popular market, not to ships and sailors at all, since juice destined for sea was supplied in safer and more economical barrels, not fragile glass. His bottles, embossed with a motif of lime leaves and blossoms, soon came to dominate the new “soft drink” market, helped by advertisements lauding the healthful properties of his cordial. Over time, the sweetened lime juice sold by L. Rose & Co. outlived all its competitors, and by the first years of the twentieth century, it was being imported into the United States. * * * So, enough about Rose’s Lime Juice Cordial. Where’d the Gimlet come from? The proposed histories of the Gimlet are even less plausible than those of Rose’s Lime Juice. This is not surprising, since they rely on the putative histories of Lauchlan and his beverage, which we’ve already seen are suspect. This condensed version of the history of the Gimlet from the web site That’s The Spirit! is the poster child for inaccuracy: “In 1867, the Merchant Shipping Act declared that, in an effort to prevent the dreaded scurvy, all ships of the British Royal Navy had to carry stores of lime juice. Sailors, to make the lime more palatable, added gin and named the mixture after the corkscrew-like device used to open the barrels of juice. In the official Royal Navy story, it was T.O. Gimlette, a naval surgeon who came aboard in 1879, who created the concoction to encourage shipmates to take the lime rations.” Web sites are not alone in propagating this falsehood, as this mention from the San Francisco Chronicle proves: “Fans of the cocktail will be relieved to learn that the gimlet was originally the health drink of the British Royal Navy. To stave off scurvy, the Merchant Shipping Act of 1867 required ships to carry lime juice and ration it to sailors. The same year this law was passed, Lauchlin [sic] Rose patented a method of preserving lime juice without the addition of alcohol . . . Lime juice isn't terribly tasty on its own, so crafty sailors made it more palatable with the addition of gin. The cocktail name originated from the tool called a gimlet that was used to open the casks of lime juice, or from a ship's surgeon named Sir Thomas Desmond Gimlette, depending on which story you believe.” You shouldn’t believe either. This sort of speculation isn’t unique to the Gimlet, of course. Stories abound about the origin of all kinds of cocktails and cocktail names, from the Martini to the Margarita, and logic dictates that most if not all of them are false. But I don’t care so much about those other drinks; I care about the Gimlet. Fanciful stories about lime-toting doctors or corkscrews notwithstanding, it seems certain that the Gimlet didn’t originate with sailors on board merchant or Royal ships -- which is not to say it didn’t have a link to the navies. My guess is that it was invented by the officers of those ships. As Dave Wondrich (member name Splificator), cocktail historian extraordinaire, points out, the earliest British written version of the drink calls for Plymouth gin. “The Navy had a huge base in Plymouth, and Plymouth Gin had a long history of popularity among its officers,” who drank gin, in part, to reinforce the class distinction between them and their rum-swilling men. It doesn’t seem farfetched that they might also have traveled with a store of Rose’s Lime Cordial, the popular new health drink and probably yet another mark of luxury that set them apart from the rank-and-file. Also, as he points out, in the earliest version of the drink, ice is optional. Without access to that frozen commodity, maritime officers would have made their drinks ice-free. Picture a clutch of officers relaxing in the captain’s quarters, or more likely, at the Officer’s Club in the exotic country where their ship is docked. The first mate pulls out a bottle of light green juice in an embossed glass bottle. “What’s that, then?” a fellow officer asks. “It’s a new drink they’ve been selling in the fancy markets. Supposed to be good for you,” he answers. “My mother-in-law gave it to me. Says I should drink it instead of gin,” he adds, with a roll of his eyes. When the men’s laughter subsides, the captain lifts up the bottle. “You mind?” he asks the mate, and opens it to take a sip. “Not bad,” he says. “But it would be better with gin.” Another round of laughter, and then with a thoughtful look, the mate retrieves the bottle. He nods to the bartender. “Could we get a round of gins here, Thomas?” Pouring the contents of the bottle among the glasses, he says, “May as well make my mother-in-law happy, eh?” The officers sip, then gulp, then call for a bottle of gin and pour another round. “I like it,” says the mate. “It’s sharp. Bores right into your head. Just like a gimlet.” “Or the way your mother-in-law looks at you,” jokes the captain. The mate laughs. “Here’s to the Gimlet. And to my wife’s mum’s gimlet-eyed stare.” Whether it’s the refreshing nature of the sweet and sour drink, or just the novelty of it, the Gimlet becomes the “it” drink in officers’ clubs throughout the Empire and eventually makes its way back to England, and then across the Atlantic. * * * Cocktail enthusiasts are no strangers to making their own ingredients when the commercial versions are either unavailable or of dubious quality. Professional bartenders and dedicated amateurs alike make their own grenadine and orgeat, falernum and bitters. It’s not surprising, then, that recipes are cropping up for lime syrup or cordial. The nature of these formulations depends on the motivation of those who make them. The easiest recipes simply infuse sugar syrup -- cooked or not -- with lime zest. It’s a favorite of people who truly dislike Rose’s. This is not a bad syrup, but it lacks complexity -- the bitter edge and dark tropical must of Rose’s. Since it contains no lime juice or other acid, it must be balanced with lots of lime juice. By the time you add enough juice to balance the sweetness, you may as well be drinking limeade with gin – not a bad drink, but not a Gimlet. Other recipes call for citric and tartaric acid along with lime juice and zest to balance the sugar. The ingredients are simmered, then steeped and strained. These recipes are often put forward by and for those who want to avoid the high fructose corn syrup in American Rose’s. The implication behind these recipes seems to be that HFCS has ruined Rose’s and that a cordial made with sugar will be closer to the original Rose’s. (Interestingly, the British Rose’s Lime Cordial, which is still made with sugar, tastes one-dimensional and flat when compared with its American cousin.) Whether these resemble the original Rose’s is something we’ll never know, but it’s curious that these recipes call for citric and tartaric acid, since neither the American nor the British versions contain tartaric acid, and only the British version contains citric acid, a sour cheat probably employed to save money on the cordial’s most expensive -- and eponymous -- ingredient. Me? I never had any desire to try my hand at making lime cordial. I like Rose’s; it’s been a steadfast occupant of my refrigerator since I had my first apartment. I drink it not only in Gimlets but with seltzer and ice in the summer. I’ve defended it against those who vilify it. I was not ashamed of my love affair with the Gimlet. I never wanted to find a replacement for Rose’s. But one day, a replacement found me. I was at Tales of the Cocktail attending a seminar on gin (yes, I know -- way cool, and tax deductible, too). Francesco Lafranconi concocted his version of lime cordial, which he then used to build the most spectacular Gimlet I’d ever tasted. He added makrut (kaffir) limes and leaves to the typical Persian lime juice; a pinch of mango powder and salt added layers of complexity. A couple ounces of gin elicited more flavor from the ingredients as they cooked. What ended up in our glasses was almost enough to make me forget Rose’s. My course was clear: to recreate that syrup. It took me longer than I’d expected. I had the ingredients written down, but no amounts. By the time I found a source of kaffir limes and leaves, I was a bit hazy on the details. But after a few tries (and multiple, bank-breaking shipments of kaffir limes from across the country), I had something. It wasn’t Rose’s Lime Cordial (for which I still have a huge soft spot). But I bet those guys in the Officers’ Club would have liked it anyway. * * * Lime cordial If you can find fresh kaffir limes, just cut one in half, squeeze in the juice and add both spent halves. If you can’t, a few pieces of dried rind will work. And if you can’t find the rind, the syrup is still good with just the leaves. You should be able to find amchoor in the Indian section of an international market in the spice section. 1 cup granulated white sugar 1/4 cup demerara sugar 2 ounces gin 3/4 cup water 5 kaffir lime leaves Rind of one kaffir lime (dried or fresh) Zest of one Persian lime 1/8 teaspoon salt 1/4 teaspoon dried mango powder (amchoor) 5 ounces of lime juice, divided In a medium saucepan over medium heat, dissolve the sugars in the gin and water. Add the leaves, rind, zest, salt, amchoor, and 2 ounces of the lime juice and bring to a simmer. Simmer, covered, for 20 minutes and then remove from the heat. Add the remaining 3 ounces of lime juice and let cool. Strain through a very fine strainer or cheesecloth. Keep refrigerated; this will last at least a month. Any Other Name (JAZ’s Gimlet) 2 ounces dry London gin 1 ounce fresh lime juice 1/2 ounce lime cordial (above) Place in a shaker with lots of ice and shake hard. Strain out into a chilled cocktail glass. If you close your eyes, you may be transported to a dark, seedy LA bar, raising a glass with Philip Marlowe. Skip the ice, and you might find yourself sharing a round at some far-flung outpost of the British Empire. * * * Janet A. Zimmerman (aka JAZ) is a food writer and culinary instructor based in Atlanta, Georgia. She is an eGullet Society manager.
  17. <img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1245604228/gallery_29805_1195_16296.jpg" hspace="8" align="left">by Brigit Binns “Nice to meet you. I brought a pig.” When my husband, Casey, and I arranged to have dinner at the home of our soon-to-be neighbors for the first time, I’d offered to bring the main course. They may have imagined roast chicken. + + + In 2005, we decided there was something wrong with a world in which our 1300-square-foot bungalow in Venice Beach, California was worth $1.2 million. We also felt two self-employed people would be better off with a mortgage one-fifth the size of the one on that — admittedly, very sweet — bungalow. So we sold up, packed up and bought 28 mostly wooded acres of long-defunct mushroom farm in New York’s Hudson Valley. Then we built a really big kitchen with a bedroom on each side, and settled in to wait out what I suspected would be an Impending Economic Unpleasantness. We were a little early (say, three years) but everything I feared — and worse — has since come to pass. I may miss California at times (the climate, mostly), but I don’t miss the mess we’d be in if we still lived there. Even before we moved, I started researching the local pork possibilities. The Hudson Valley, I’d been told, was the “New Napa” and the breadbasket for New York City’s finest eateries. Immediately, I found Fleisher’s Grass-Fed Meats in Kingston. I called from California. “Sure, we can get you a nice big shoulder, but I can also get you a small, whole pig,” said Josh Applestone (he was at the time, rather disturbingly, a vegan; he has since mended his ways). Wow, I thought, this is going to be fun! When we stopped in to pick it up on the way upstate for our first weekend in the new country (not yet my own), I could see that this small pig was far too large for any oven our new neighbors might possibly possess. “Can you quarter it for me?” I asked Josh, while Casey parked. “And please don’t let my husband see the head; he’s a little squeamish.” “Sure,” said Josh. I was definitely feeling better about the prospect of living so far from a Whole Foods. Where there is a good butcher, there is civilization. Then Casey, who had parked in a miraculously short time, walked in. I turned to Josh, intending an introduction. On top of Josh’s shoulders, instead of his head, was the head of the pig. “Squee-squee-squee,” said Josh. When I stopped laughing, I saw that Casey’s poor, sweet Irish Catholic face was paler than a ghost. Oh goody, a vegan butcher with a bizarre sense of humor. At the new neighbors’ house, I poked garlic and bits of anchovy into every possible nook and cranny, grilled one of the quarters, roasted two and lovingly placed the last in their chest freezer. All the guests got a doggy bag of succulent, garlicky pig. I hoped I’d made a good first impression on the group. Small town life can be Danté-esque. In a limited pool of people you are either well-liked or lonely; I was willing to feed for friends. Fast forward a couple of years. I was now a pro at sourcing excellent pork in my valley, which had plenty. Often, it came directly from Turkana Farm in Germantown, right across the Hudson river, which flows not too far from my living room window. There Peter and Mark, a couple who lost their love for — and desire to live in — Manhattan after 9/11, set out to raise Ossabaw pigs along with British White cattle, guinea hens, ducks, heirloom breeds of turkey, a gazillion vegetables and those sheep with the fat tails. Ossabaws trace their lineage directly back 400 years to the Spanish Iberico hogs that were introduced into an area destined for colonization, so that in a few years when the first residents arrived there’d be lots of dinners running around on the hoof, thus ensuring the colony’s survival. Only on Ossabaw island, off the coast of Georgia, did the pigs retain the characteristics of the Spanish ancestor, because there were no local pigs with which to interbreed. Much has been written about the Ossabaw: its superior flavor plus excellent marbling made it, at least for a time, the darling of cutting-edge chefs and the pork-loving press. In early 2008, I told Peter and Mark I’d take half a pig at the next slaughter. These pigs are much, much larger than the one Josh had found for me two years earlier. In the interim, I visited the hairy little piglets and took great joy in watching them root, scamper, and wallow. (Casey wasn’t invited; I was now afraid he’d become a vegan, and then where would our marriage be?) Seeing happy piglets doesn’t bother me, because if I choose to eat pork (and I do, I do), not only do I want it well marbled and tasting of pig, but I also want the pig to live a good life. And when the time comes, I want its departure to be dignified and painless. Cut to California, where I was at the time of my pig’s departure from the living. I was driving along Pacific Coast Highway with the wind in my hair, my eyes narrowed against the glare of sun on the ocean, when my cell phone rang. It was the manager of the slaughterhouse: “How do you want your pig butchered?” he asked, and he needed to know this, like, now. Conjuring up an image of a whole hog bisected by little dotted lines, I stumbled through the cuts. Most of them were very large pieces I planned to spit-roast, in front of a fire, as is my wont. “And please leave all the fat and skin on.” “Are you sure about that, lady? These hogs got an awful lot of fat on ‘em.” “Fat is good,” I admonished him with, I’m embarrassed to admit, a slight note of condescension. + + + Back home again and preparing to spit-roast, I unwrap the first of many festively bright green-wrapped packages that now compete for freezer space with goat butter, D’Artagnan duck sausage and diced prosciutto. (It’s two hours to the nearest Whole Foods. One must be prepared.) Immediately, it is clear that my Ossabaw pork doesn’t have a problem with marbling. In fact, there is a 5-inch fat cap before you get to any of the lovely meat, and from a 10-pound roast I may, if lucky, be able to feed four. I call the guys at Turkana Farms, and they tell me everyone’s got the same problem, as if we could ever have imagined that a lot of fat on pork could be a problem. Next year, they tell me, they’re planning some changes in breeding and feeding to retain the benefits of the Ossabaw (its saturated fat content is relatively low) but end up with leaner meat. Meanwhile, I have a freezer full of fat. Really tasty, and comparatively healthy — but fat. I resolve not to waste an ounce of it. Immediately, my mind turns to confit. Duck confit has become quotidian in the last decade, but pork confit is the mother of all fat-simmered comestibles. French peasants originally slow-cooked chunks of lightly salt-cured pork in its own fat as a way to preserve the meat from the spring slaughter throughout the winter. It’s always been something of a conceit to say “in its own fat,” however, because just one animal could never yield enough fat to completely cover its meat during cooking and, later, storage. Fat from another animal was always necessary. Until now. Recipes are consulted. As a cookbook author, I am unwilling to put all my eggs in one basket, and end up following a hybrid method hailing from Paula Wolfert, Judy Rodgers (of Zuni Café) and Jennifer McLagan (the relative newcomer who has taken the cookbook world by storm with two simple, elemental words: Bones and Fat). I quickly realize that if I am going to have a confit-making marathon, I might as well make rillettes, too. Really, they’re just a much smaller, highly spiced version of confit. I spend four days up to my elbows in lard. At the end of this time, my refrigerator boasts three ceramic crocks of confit and four smaller, rounded glass jars of rillettes (plus a jar of juicy goodies not identifiable as either one, labeled “Mysterious Tasty Stuff,” that will later elevate a simple bean soup to transcendency). I take the adage Thou Shalt Not Waste very seriously. If a pig gives its life for my table, I will eat the whole animal, not just the luxury cuts that are easy to love. A month later, it’s time for my editor’s annual Porkapalooza. This five- to seven-course all-pork lunch on his expansive summer lawn, always generously accompanied by pale pink Provençal wine, is the perfect event at which to unveil my very first jar of rillettes. Since I potted them, a two-inch covering of snow-white lard has protected the spiced pork paste from exposure to air, thus allowing the flavors to mature. As the jar approaches room temperature, the fat begins to soften. In the kitchen, I dig down through the fat for a first, experimental taste. “I’m afraid it’s a bit salty,” I say to my hovering editor, in a hang-dog tone of voice. Achieving the right salt balance in confit and rillettes is an art, clearly one which I’ve not yet mastered. My editor looks wildly about his kitchen, obviously trying to dream up an alternate first course on the fly. But I have a solution: I fold the softened, protective layer of lard right into the meat paste. It pales considerably, but the salt balance is perfect. Spread onto warm toasts just off the grill, my rillettes instantly liquefy and dribble down into the porous surface of the rustic bread: salt, crunch, fat, pork. If it’s not exactly rillettes, then it is something new of my own accidental invention (just like Tarte Tatin, or so legend has it): It’s Pork Butter! A sudden hush falls over the long table. Just moments ago they were boisterous and irreverent; now everyone sits very still, eyes closed, jaws slowly moving, savoring. They appear to have fallen into some sort of revelatory primeval trance. For our hunter-gatherer ancestors, adequate fat in the diet spelled a chance for survival. The slick coating on the roofs of their mouths now ignites an ancient, hard-wired instinct: We’re gonna make it. There is fighting about who will get to lick the jar, which I whisk away when attention is elsewhere. Sadly, it gets quietly licked by Stella, our terrier, on the drive home. When I relate this story to my editor on Monday, I can hear his voice break. More phone calls follow: Is there a recipe? I am coy. “Well, you start with a very fatty pig . . . ” <div align="center">* * *</div> Brigit Binns (http://www.brigitbinns.com) is the author or co-author of twenty-one cookbooks and editor of countless others. She’s collaborated on cookbooks with some of the country’s most respected chefs, including New York's Michael Psilakis and Los Angeles’ Joachim Splichal. Brigit has been called “Pig-Lit’s First Chick,” and although she’s written well over two thousand recipes, her true passion is the opinionated drive-n’-eat blog Roadfoodie: “Feel the wind in your hair, the sinews between your teeth.”
  18. <img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1240950800/gallery_29805_1195_15851.jpg" hspace="8" align="left">by Chris Amirault Dear Al, I've been thinking for months about whether or not I should write this letter. Should I just let our relationship drift into nothing, without regret or remorse, failing to memorialize what we once had? Or should I take a deep breath and remember those magical moments we once shared, all those years ago, and tell you what it's like to have it all slip away? I was just an ignorant, insecure college kid when you took me under your confident wing. That first night, I grabbed the cash I'd hoarded, put a suit jacket over a collared shirt, and walked eager and anxious down to your place. I could smell your smoky perfume blocks before arriving: it intoxicated me. That first visit set the romantic, glorious tone for all that followed. When I walked in I was told about the wait. I smiled at your flirtatious no-reservations policy, your dare to find a better place in town, wait or no. As I sat there for nearly an hour, your teasing wait became a dance of seduction. I sat down at the bar and mumbled something to the bartender. He didn't know me from Adam, but he treated me like a cousin, considering my naive questions about Italian wines with care and letting me try a couple tastes before pouring one glass into a little tumbler—"the sort of glass they use in Italy," he told me. Cute, unpretentious, and full of taste: that little glass encapsulated everything wonderful about our relationship for years. And the food: I remember exactly what I ordered that first night, the world famous grilled pizza margherita. When it arrived, I chuckled at its sloppy exuberance, spilling over the plate that was too small for it, and its cockiness. Dough crisped and blackened on the grill, cheese and San Marzano tomatoes splattered on top, a sprinkle of scallion julienne, oil, salt and pepper—that was it. One bite, and I was in a full-on, head-smacking, seeing-stars crush. I came back to my apartment that night swooning; a roommate's boyfriend was there, snickering when he saw my flushed cheeks. He was always one step ahead of everyone else I knew when it came to food, talking about what Jeremiah Tower was doing at Stars before I had heard of California Cuisine, and never failing to express his skepticism about the Lydia Shire/Jasper White Boston restaurant "renaissance." In particular, he was utterly jaundiced about Al Forno's "New Italian" cuisine, and upon seeing me he jumped with his coked-up, staccato delivery into the middle of a conversation we hadn't yet started. "Oh, I bet Kyle treated you right, huh, got the little glasses 'just like back in the Boot,' with some Nebbiolo or Lachryma Christi or some such shit, got you all wet and wanting while you waited an hour." My cheeks flushed further. "Yeah, an hour." "At least. Probably got the pizza, right, didn't you." It wasn't a question, but I answered. "Sure." He laughed. "Pizza margherita.... Did you like the scallions? Real 'authentic,'" he mocked, making finger quotation marks. "Fucking scallions. Wait 'til you see the cilantro. Christ." He ambled off. "Whatever," I said, then I wandered into my room and fell back on the bed, dizzy and happy. I admit his words nagged at me—in particular I couldn't figure the cilantro reference. But no matter: our courtship was instant and our relationship sealed forever. I knew I loved you, and I was sure that you loved me. + + + For years I tumbled through bliss, and our nights together fell into a wonderful pattern. I'd arrive right at 5 p.m., trying to be on time so that I wouldn't have to wait while you focused on other people. Sure, I wished I could guarantee we'd spend time together by making a reservation, but heck, you were busy and couldn't be bothered to take my name and number. You were unique, and your idiosyncracies were part of your charm. Once I sat down, looking over the river to the lights of the power company and the hurricane barrier, we'd consummate the glory of our relationship all over again. Everything I ate seemed executed perfectly just for me, and all staff there sought nothing else but our happiness. And what form that happiness took! Fiery habanero sausages whose juices commingled with littleneck clams to make sweet heat explode in my mouth. Fleshy, thick steaks cooked blue directly on red hot coals, sitting in slices across mashed potatoes laced with butter. Rustic crusts encasing luscious fruit that changed with the seasons of our romance. Like our relationship, all of the dishes were rich, intense, satisfying, and overwhelmingly good. Soon your family would recognize me when I walked in and smile, knowing that I loved you just about as much as they did. Not that they ever knew my name—I wouldn't have wanted them to go to such trouble—but they seemed to know me through and through just by looking at me. I remember when George came by one night as I sat at the kitchen table, asking me how everything was going. The food was great, as it always was in those days, and we got to talking about Lucky's, your Frenchified sister restaurant with which I had flirted with years before. "Did you ever think about putting that cassoulet back on the menu?" I asked. George looked up and smiled. "Damn, I haven't thought of cassoulet for years and years," he said. He stood up and squeezed my shoulder. "Cassoulet back on the menu. Interesting idea." My next visit required a wait. It seemed that a few parties actually had managed to acquire reservations, but I shrugged my shoulders and grabbed a menu on the way to the bar. I spied the cassoulet on the "Big Plates" list, and eagerly ordered it to eat on a wobbly barstool. When it arrived it was just as I had remembered it, all velvety beans and tender meats. I was so happy to see and smell it that I barely noticed the leafy sprig of cilantro resting atop the toasted breadcrumbs. + + + I don't remember when everything started to change. Sure, for years my friends acted surprised when I said I was going, asked me what I could possibly see in you. But when you're in love you don't see what others see, do you? When did I first notice that we were crushed into a cold corner of the bar while others walked past us to take that four-top that had been empty for half an hour? When did the chatter of the waitstaff get so loud that I had to block out conversations about hair cuts and inept landlords? When did the once-charming tables, so many and so wee that I often sat elbow-to-elbow to other customers, become subtle jokes about packing us in like sardines? When did the prices for the cheapest items—$8.95 for mashed potatoes—become outrageous? And what's up with that .95 suffix? It's hard to say when I saw those things in a different light. But I know exactly when things tasted differently than before, exactly what clinched my dismay. My wife and I walked into the spare dining room right at 5 o'clock the other day, looking for a special treat after a rough few days at work. We decided on the basics: some calamari frito, a shrimp and mushroom salad, and a mushroom duxelles pizza. Nothing worked. The calamari sauce was a one-note acid that couldn't be bothered to pay attention to the squid. The pizza had boring, raw button mushrooms sliced too thickly atop an inept crust that, if I were the jealous type, I'd have sworn had been prefired and finished on the grill. The salad had the same lame mushrooms, combined with a few shrimp and some olive oil that didn't know what to do with each other. The food wasn't inedible; it was merely, sadly indifferent. The more I looked, the more I noticed that everything else was just wrong, too. The server didn't know how to pronounce "duxelles," and the chef, given the bland puree, was similarly unclear about its meaning. The bread arrived after everything else did. Our water glasses were empty much of the meal, despite a very slow room and a gaggle of servers chatting with each other at station. Once, when filling my glass, the server grazed his armhair across my nose just before trying to take away my plate—which still had food on it. The entire experience was pockmarked by the sorts of failures of attention to detail that had never happened before. Or had they? I wasn't sure; my head was spinning. And then I noticed, sitting forlorn on the salad serving plate we had barely touched, a long, lonely sprig of cilantro. It had no leaves on it. + + + As I walked out, I felt a fool. It couldn't be more obvious: I didn't matter to you anymore, and I probably hadn't mattered for a while. I hated to admit it, but my friends were right. The thrill was gone. So I say adieu and wish you well. You'll find others, I'm sure, who will fall under the spell of a freshly grilled crust or a briny clam's bite. I'll be happy for you both. You certainly deserve it, and even a glimpse of your past glory would be enough for most people. Once, it would have been enough for me, too. <div align="center">* * *</div> Chris Amirault (aka, well, chrisamirault) is Director of Operations, eG Forums. He also runs a preschool and teaches in Providence, RI.
  19. <img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1240950800/gallery_29805_1195_114464.jpg" hspace="8" align="left">by Joseph Carey Gino and Julian. If you run across these two guys hide your virgins and jewels, gird your loins, and run like hell. You will be gavaged (is that a verb?) a steady stream of bullshit and have your pockets picked. Buy one of those club things for your steering wheel, too. Naturally, I went to work for them. My house was in escrow; I had determined to leave California and move to Memphis, Tennessee. Work to be done on my hundred-year old farmhouse meant that I'd be in escrow for a while. I saw that a restaurant was opening in Lafayette, an upscale bedroom community between Walnut Creek and Oakland, just a few miles from home. Never being one to learn from experience, I decided to give another restaurant a go before I fled the state. Besides, I had to uphold my culinary masochistic manhood. So, I dropped by and introduced myself to a young man named Gino. Also present was his younger brother, Julian. As you will see later, these may not have been their real names. I did not ask the name of Gino's tailor. His clothes looked expensive, but awful: tight pants and a shirt with a couple of buttons unbuttoned that most resembled remnants from a disco awning. He was short. Julian was tall; he seemed to be a nice kid. I asked what kind of operation he intended and if he needed an executive chef. He said yes, he wanted to have the best restaurant in California. Well, yeah, you'll probably need a chef for that. Inside, there was room for maybe twenty guests at most, so the majority of the seating was outside in a -- hastily constructed, obviously -- Plexiglas-enclosed patio. Three space heaters stood tall. He seemed to be impressed with my CV and said he'd call me. Fasten your seatbelts. Gino hired me as executive chef. He had no idea how to run a restaurant. (He later made me general manager, too, akin to curing a migraine by driving a railroad spike into your forehead). Lafayette is as suburbia as suburbia gets -- the suburbiest. While I'm sure there were dope dealers and other nefarious types hiding somewhere, they were under deep cover. Soccer moms, investment bankers, attorneys, stock brokers: these would be our clientele. I told him I could start in a week. I had a date in Southern California. + + + I was to be on a quiz show called Sale of the Century. My old friend Jim Miller had agreed to put me up for a few days. I had last seen him it was in New York; he had put me up for a few days then, too. He was a pretty clean-cut kinda guy, just back from some kind of gig teaching in Turkey. Now he had a Volkswagen repair shop in an alley in LA. His hair was down to his ass and he lived with several dogs. The night before I was to be on the quiz show we headed down to -- hell, I have no clue where we went -- but he picked up a hooker and took her back with us to his place in Echo Park. There is actually a park in Echo Park and it has a lake. The hooker pointed out that this was where they had filmed Gilligan's Island. We rapped a while, but I had to get some sleep. I lay down on the couch and turned my back. A few minutes passed -- I may have dozed -- when I was awakened by an eerie creaking sound. You got the picture? Good, take it away from me! In the morning, I went down to Burbank with my five changes of clothes -- in case I won five times. Turned out I only needed one change, but I did win that first day and came away with a bunch of booty: - Washer and dryer - A portable, battery operated mini television set - A week-long trip to Hawaii, including airfare. - A sewing machine. - A small amount of cash. And a case of Dinty Moore Beef Stew. + + + Gino, like every other restaurateur wannabe in Northern California, wanted to recreate Chez Panisse. He asked if I could do that. I showed him what I had done at Mudd's and allowed as how I could. Gino had run across an Argentinean baker, Alex, whose specialty was croissants. So, now we were going to have a bakery/bistro. And the place now had a name, too -- Le Croissant. Gino was maybe 25 and Julian about 21. I had also figured out by now that although Gino claimed to be Italian the native language he spoke with Julian was Turkish. They claimed their father was Italian. I had only known a couple of Turks in my life. One was the wife of a friend. The other worked for me as a lead line cook and was quite good and very responsible. I liked them both. I could not associate them with anything like Midnight Express. Gino, on the other hand . . . To go along with our Argentinean baker, we hired an Italian waiter who spoke fractured French and said "oo-la-la" about ten thousand times a day. A nice middle-aged Italian woman ran the bakery counter. Alex hired his son to help him in the bakery. Gino's "assistant" was a Chinese woman of about 45. We hired two young French waiters. We hired a Croatian waiter. We hired a Belgian waiter. We hired a Brazilian waitress. I hired an American pastry chef and a half-dozen line cooks, some of whom had worked with me before. I hired several Mexican dishwashers. I should have hired a linguist. I came up with a constantly changing menu. It consisted of a half-dozen appetizers/salads, a soup or two, a half-dozen main courses, and a half-dozen desserts daily. I bought fresh food every day and typed the menu myself. We made all our own fresh pasta, pizza doughs, and, of course, croissants. The food was very good. The main décor was the large professional baker's oven in the middle rear of the restaurant and a reversible full-size sheeter just behind the counter. (Big mother) My cooks were good -- they were pros. The pastry chef was good; Alex could make some dough. The dishwashers could wash. But I truly believe all the waiters had been mercenaries in some African war before they came to the Golden State. Maybe they were acquainted with Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner. I sometimes wished I had his gun. The word venality does not do them justice. The Italian waiter got his job by showing Gino a bogus letter of recommendation from Maxim's in Paris. I'd seen them before -- it was a kind of boilerplate. I checked out some of his references. He had none. All the others claimed they had waited tables before. I doubt it. But Gino was very into anything "Euro" and that was enough for him. All the waiters wore tuxes, by the way, and carried napkins over their arms. No socks or underwear, but they had tuxes. Since the Italian had appropriated "oo-la-la," the French waiters had nothing to say. Oh, they slung around copious "Madames" and "Monsieurs," but they hated the Italian for taking their best phrase. (They would use it when he wasn't working.) I don't know what to say about the language we spoke. I knew menu French and a little Spanish. I could lumber along in German, but that was one nationality we had somehow neglected to include. I would say we spoke Anglo-Franco-Italo-Turkic-Porto-Serbo-Hispanish. The Chinese woman didn't speak very good English and nobody could talk to her. But everyone knew how to smile and say "yes." We would have meetings where I would discuss the menu items. I got lots of nods when I asked if everyone understood. But brooking the babel was not the hardest part. This joint was like a garden where paranoia was cultivated. The French guys and the Belgian didn't like each other. Nobody liked the Italian. Alex didn't trust Gino. Gino didn't trust Alex. Alex and his son, as is the wont of bakers, worked at night while the restaurant was closed. Gino and Julian used to park across the street and watch. I don't know that they ever learned anything. The only people I trusted were my cooks -- to put out good food, though the Croat was actually very affable and I liked him. We sold a lot of pizzas. He would always order it pronouncing it "peach-ka" -- which he said was Serbo-Croatian for pussy, then laugh. And though all was not well in the land of Babel, we did have international relations going on. Several of the cooks, waiters et al were banging each other and switching beds willy-nilly, sometimes before Willy was finished with Nilly. Strife. We were doing a quite brisk business, but it was soon apparent that we were falling behind on things like, for instance, paying bills. It seemed to me that there was ample money coming in the doors. Gino and his Chinese concubine were handling the loot. The Chinese woman was assigned to clean out the registers every night. Gino was nothing if not a party animal, out at the bars every night trying to pick up broads. It turned out that Gino was also coming in every night just before closing and picking up something else -- handfuls of cash out of the register to fund his nightly bacchanals. First I talked to the Chinese woman -- no easy task -- and told her this had to stop. She said she'd talk to him. She looked up from the money she was counting and also asked me to prepare her some "big meat." (It took me about a week to figure out what she meant when she ordered "big meat." I led her in the kitchen and she pointed to the steak.) The unrecorded withdrawals didn't stop. And the Chinese woman had come in looking a little the worse for wear: she was adorned with several bruises. I suspected Gino of boxing her around and hoped it wasn't because she had confronted him about the cash. I decided I had to go to Gino. I told him he was killing the restaurant. I told him I was going to walk out. He said let's go over to my apartment and talk. We got in his black Mercedes convertible and headed over there. He should have called Julian and told him to hide the crack pipe before we arrived. About this time the city of Lafayette decided to take exception to Gino’s having thrown up this Plexiglas shield without getting a building permit -- and in fact the joint was not licensed to serve folks outside. Hearings ensued. I went along and tried to help. During this period I learned some Turkish. Well, one word to be precise. Baksana. I must have heard it a thousand times as Gino and Julian yelled it at each other. As the creditors circled and closed in they each would hide and if one of them was nabbed he would say that particular area fell within the other's purview. As I understand it, baksana means "look" or "see" or "pay attention." At Le Croissant it meant red alert. In the meantime one of the French waiters decided he wanted to be joint general manager along with me. So he threatened to quit unless that was implemented. Gino said sure. Then came the inevitable time when Gino stopped paying employees. You may not believe this, but very few people in this modern era will work for nothing. I started losing cooks and dishwashers. Then I didn't get paid. "Chef, you know I will pay you." I heard that a bunch of times. Gino would then insist that I take a ride with him in his Mercedes -- with the top down. He seemed to believe the fresh air was going to clear my head and reveal to me why I should work for no money. I did for a while -- a little over a month. That will come as no surprise to those of you who have read some of my other stuff. You already know I'm dumb. Now we're ready to enter another chapter -- the one titled Chapter 11. I'm not an attorney but at least I've yet to shoot one, either. I do know that when a business enters Chapter 11 all payments cease, all debts are held in abeyance. They are "stayed" as it were. Unfortunately, this includes all past wages. All the sane rats had already deserted this sinking ship; only us loonies were left. Gino assured us that now we would all be paid weekly and the business would make up the owed wages over time. I didn't see an alternative. If I were to have any hope of collecting the 7K he owed me, I'd have to hang on a while longer. Shut up. I got one week's pay. Gino and his attorney had to file a plan indicating how they were going to pay all the debts. Gino had a plan all right: he displayed heretofore unknown -- and considerable -- talents as a magician. Poof. He and Julian and the Chinese woman disappeared with all the cash on hand. Not only that, but he made his uncle's Porsche disappear too! Poof. I doubt that being a polyglot would have helped me much. What did I learn from all this? Just before I left for Memphis I sold all the quiz show appliances at a yard sale. And, in a pinch, you can eat Dinty Moore's. A whole case of it. <div align="center">* * *</div> Joseph Carey, aka ChefCarey, is the author of Creole Nouvelle: Contemporary Creole Cookery and Chef on Fire: The Five Techniques for Using Heat Like a Pro. He cooks, teaches and writes in Memphis, Tennessee.
  20. by David Ross "Your crab was dry," Mike says as I walk into his shop, Williams Seafood Market and Wines in the Spokane Valley. He tells me the crab cakes I made on TV back in December looked delicious . . . but the giant Dungeness Crab that he donated for the on-camera display "looked dry and the shell wasn’t shiny enough." Mike’s brutal critique doesn’t shake my resolve to do another seafood dish. I tell him I’m at the store to purchase the shellfish that I need for the dish I’ll be doing on Sunday: "Grilled Shrimp Stuffed with Crab." But thanks for the constructive criticism, anyway. I guess I should count myself lucky. My small fan base includes a wisecracking fishmonger. Such is the life of a cook on local television. + + + Today I’m preparing for my 34th show on "Sunday Morning Northwest" on KXLY-ABC 4. During the week, the program is called "Good Morning Northwest." The show focuses on news and weather, and serves as the lead-in to "Good Morning America," on ABC. On Sunday, the show takes a different turn-much like the local programs that first aired on television back in the early days. The laid-back, carefree attitude and spontaneity of live, local television, lives on at "Sunday Morning Northwest." The first half-hour of the show always includes a reading of the newspaper headlines from the small, rural, farming towns that surround Spokane. If a moose decided to take a dip in the community pool in Omak, you can be sure it will make the headlines of the Okanagan County Chronicle -- and it will certainly by noted live on "Sunday Morning Northwest." The weather is usually done from a live remote at a local community event. Of course, the Sunday show is never complete without a cooking segment featuring a local Chef or nervous home cook. We’ve seen everything from "Roasted Loin of Elk with Huckleberry Demi-Glace" presented by the Chef of a fancy resort in Northern Idaho to the Woman who won the Spam cook-off at the Interstate Fair. It’s all done in the spirit of promoting local Chefs and restaurants while having fun with food and cooking. (And as fate often demonstrates on live TV -- the viewers have a few laughs at wacky cooks who muster-up enough courage to come on live television and make some sort of horrendous tuna casserole). We try to make the recipe simple enough that it can be done in a reasonable amount of time, but we don’t restrict ourselves to doing recipes in 30 minutes or less. If you have to chill the custard base of the ice cream overnight, that’s what we tell the viewers. While we may use short-cuts on-camera to demonstrate the steps of the recipe, short cuts in the actual recipe aren’t allowed for the sake of convenience. If crab cakes taste better when they’re sautéed in clarified butter, so be it. We don’t forsake flavor at the cost of cutting fat and calories. We present the most flavorful dish possible. I e-mail the producer about three weeks before the show with a general idea of the dish I’m planning. Then about three or four days before the show, I send the recipe of the final dish. This allows KXLY to do promos up to two days in advance of the show: "Coming up on KXLY Sunday Morning Northwest, our favorite local chef, David Ross, will be preparing a delicious dish using fresh Dungeness Crab and Shrimp from Williams Seafood in the Valley." The recipe we post on the station’s website is usually written to serve 6-8 people. But, when you cook on local television, there is a very, very important consideration that you must factor into your shopping list-enough food to feed the crew. That means a recipe written for the public to serve precisely one "Shrimp Stuffed with Crab" to each of 8 guests, is a much different, and much larger recipe, behind the scenes. It’s more than just a matter of prepping 8 stuffed shrimp. It’s a matter of stuffing 30, maybe even 40 shrimp. I triple or quadruple the quantities called for in a recipe so that I can feed the cameramen, the floor director, the producer, the hosts, the sports guy, the weather lady, the DJ’s in the adjacent AM radio station booth-every person working in the studio on Sunday morning will have at least one of these delectable stuffed shrimp. (It’s vital to send the crew home sated; they are the ultimate taste-test panel. If they like your food, the viewers will like it too.) After the recipe for the dish I put together an "Invoice," a shopping list of ingredients that lists the cost of the products I’ll be buying for the recipe. This serves as my contract, if you will, for KXLY. The final piece of the written paperwork for each show is the "script" that I write for myself. This isn’t the same type of "script" that might be rehearsed by the actors on "The Bold and The Beautiful." The only person that reads this script is me. (And maybe the co-host who glances at the script tucked under the plate displayed on the set). When you cook on local television you don’t rehearse with other actors. If you choose to rehearse you do it at home ahead of time. Remember, this is live TV. We don’t have room for errors. We don’t do re-takes or re-shoot scenes. We’re LIVE! For my own piece of mind, I need a script as a sort of crutch to lean on. (Hey, Martha always has a cheat sheet on the counter). The script is my guide to all the points of the dish that I want to convey. This Sunday, I want to mention Williams Seafood and the array of products that Mike offers. I’ll talk about using wild American shrimp because they have a sweeter taste than farm-raised, and I’ll demonstrate how the prosciutto serves as a natural wrapper to hold the crab stuffing in the shrimp. The script helps me with my timing when I’m on-camera -- and timing is critical when you cook on television. I rehearse the script over and over and over in my living room, while a little white kitchen timer ticks away. I can’t tell you how many professional chefs and amateur cooks I’ve seen on television who didn’t rehearse their bit-and the results on live television were disastrous. (Like the chef who -- at the moment of presenting his dessert -- realized that he left the ice cream in his car. In the sun. He literally ran out of the studio, on live TV, to go get the ice cream.) The only small measure of direction I get from the Floor Director on the set is when I’m told to "look into the camera" seconds before the red light comes on. + + + I’ll need two of Mike’s best crabs for Sunday’s show -- one for the meat in the crab stuffing, and another one for the display of ingredients on the set. This morning Mike takes literally 20 minutes to scrub and wash the shell of the prized "display crab." As he toils away, I vow to honor his crab by insuring that the shell will be kept wet and shiny during its appearance -- or I won’t be able to show my face in Mike’s shop again. I’ll be making a crab cake mixture to stuff the shrimp. I’m wondering if Mike can top himself after the wondrous crabs he’s already given me, but he doesn’t disappoint today -- his fresh Wild American Shrimp fished out of the Gulf of Florida are just the right size to hold my savory crab cake stuffing. In the case of Sunday’s dish of Stuffed Shrimp, the recipe calls for grilling the shrimp on the outdoor barbecue. But we won’t be barbecuing the shrimp on camera this Sunday. I’ll grill the shrimp at home and then we’ll go through the motions of the cooking process during our live segment. I try to have all of my prep work done by late Saturday afternoon so I all I have to do on Sunday morning is pack the coolers and drive to the studio. There won’t be a Hummer limousine at my doorstep on Sunday morning waiting to whisk me in comfort to KXLY. I’ll be driving myself to the studio in a Dodge pickup. My home office serves as the "staging" area for packing the coolers. Make note of the supplies on the floor next to the cooler-dishes, toothpicks, silverware, tongs, spatulas and kitchen towels. And yes, I am following the direct instructions of Mike the fish guy -- I bought a spray bottle at the "Dollar Store" so that I can keep our precious "display crab" wet on camera. + + + I’ve never cooked on the "Today Show" on NBC in New York. I’ve heard that cooks who appear on "Today" are escorted into what is called a "Green Room," catered with lush displays of fresh fruit, vegetable and cheese trays, pastries and a never-ending assortment of beverages to await their few moments of fame. We don’t have a "Green Room" at KXLY. What we have is a room used by the weekday news staff to script out the flow of the news programs. Not having a Green Room is a blessing in disguise. The atmosphere in the studio is very casual and I don’t have to sit in a cold, lonely room waiting for a perky intern to escort me to the studio. I wait in the studio. You learn to be patient and immodest around the crew -- these are the people who watch you unzip your pants in the studio. You pull out your shirt so they can thread a small microphone from your waist, underneath your shirt, up to your neck and then clip the little mouthpiece to your collar. The only style advice I ever got was from my co-host, Teresa Lukens, who cautioned me not to wear a striped or checked shirt on-camera-something about the pattern of my shirt being a distraction to the viewers. (And I thought the girth of my waist was more of a distraction to the viewers than the pattern of my shirt). I don’t wear a Chef’s coat, because I don’t consider myself a Chef. I’m a cook and I want the viewers to relate to my story and my personality with ease and comfort. I want them to feel comfortable going into their kitchens at home and creating the types of dishes they might have at a restaurant. I don’t want to scare them by thinking only a guy in a chef’s coat can cook good food. Our kitchen at KXLY comprises an electric, flat-top stove inserted into a formica cabinet on wheels, held in place with sandbags. We don’t have an oven, refrigerator, freezer or running water. We make do with what we have-and that’s why I bring my own spatulas, spoons and water bottle to spray the crab. After the "Pet for Adoption" segment, I’m allowed on the set to get ready. I usually have about 15 minutes to unpack the coolers, put the ingredients on display and get the stove-top heated. We begin our cooking segment with a 30-second lead-in, usually after the local sports report. Teresa introduces the dish we’ll be doing and then we break to another commercial. I don’t have a lot of time to grill shrimp when we go live on KLXY -- only four minutes total for cooking time and discussion of the dish with my co-host. I’m lucky to have Teresa as my host. She knows food and cooking. She knows that prosciutto is cured Italian ham and she knows it’s thin and slightly salty. She knows to ask if smaller prawns will work for the recipe. And without prompting, she’ll ask why I’m using fresh Dungeness crab instead of canned lump crab meat. At the end of the segment we cut to one last commercial. As we come back live, Rick and Teresa are their normally gracious selves, tasting the stuffed shrimp and declaring it delicious. The show is a wrap. One more taste-test lies ahead before we can bring this journey to an end. What will the crew say about my "Shrimp Stuffed with Crab?" They tell me the stuffed shrimp were delicious. But you know what they really liked? What impressed them the most? The radishes. About a week after Sunday’s show, I went back to Williams Seafood to get some photos of the shop for this story. I find Mike behind the counter cutting fresh tuna steaks. "At least it looked fresh this time," he says. + + + Epilogue Shortly after I finished this piece, I began working with KXLY on our next cooking segment, which was scheduled to take place on Sunday, November 16. The plan was to cook some unique side dishes that the home cook could easily do to accompany the holiday turkey or prime rib. At least that was the plan until I picked up the local newspaper on November 2. When I turned to the business section, I saw the ominous news: "KXLY cancels weekend news program." I immediately contacted the producer. I had been cancelled -- a victim of the horrible state of the economy. I felt like I had been kicked in the gut. Cancelled after seven years and dozens of live cooking segments. Cancelled. Because "Sunday Morning Northwest" wasn’t the lead-in program to "Good Morning America," on the weekdays, it relied heavily on local advertising for its survival. ABC wouldn’t (and KXLY couldn’t) carry the burden of producing a local show that didn’t feed into network programming. With so many local businesses filing for bankruptcy and others literally closing the doors, one of the first budget items to go was television advertising -- advertising revenue that paid to produce "Sunday Morning Northwest." I wasn’t the only on-air "personality" to get the pink slip. The weekend weather "person" also got her walking papers. Rick and Teresa Lukens returned to the security of the KXLY-AM 920 radio booth and continue with their weekday morning drive-time show. And I have taken an unwanted leave of absence from local television. At least for a few months. Loyalty is not a word that is highly regarded in the television business. If ABC cancels you, you talk to NBC and so I’ve shifted my ambitions to KHQ -- the local NBC affiliate. KHQ airs a local morning program seven days a week. So if the culinary Gods are praying for me, someday soon I’ll begin doing a live cooking segment on the "KHQ Morning News." * * * David Ross lives in Spokane, but works a one-hour plane ride away. When he's not tending to his day job -- or commuting -- he writes about food, reviews restaurants and -- obviously -- does food presentation. He is on the eGullet Society hosting team for the Culinary Culture and Kitchen forums.
  21. <img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1231864284/gallery_29805_1195_1099.jpg" hspace="8" align="left">by Margaret McArthur “She can’t even boil an egg!” Before she stopped being able to boil water, that was the last word on kitchen cluelessness. Between you and me, that cook with the bad rep got a bad rap. It’s easier to poach an egg, fry an egg, whip up an omelet, or serve forth a souffle than it is to soft-boil an egg. It’s easier to shuck oysters, pass the CPA on your first sitting, or train cats to pair socks than it is to produce a perfect soft boiled egg. A perfect soft-boiled egg has a completely cooked white and an oozing warm yolk. A few seconds too few, and you’ll tap open a nauseating translucent-white/cool-yolk combo that goes straight into to the dog’s dish. A few seconds too many, and the yolk’s soft but stiff—a medium-cooked egg. (I’ve never understood the medium-cooked egg; it seems like a soft-boiled or hard-boiled gone wrong. But with lots of butter and regrets, it’s edible.) Last winter I craved a soft-boiled egg. I wanted to wash my dusty collection of bird-bodied eggcups, some unused since I scored them at a long-ago tag sale or my first visit to a Sur la Table in Santa Monica. I wanted pain de mie, toasted, buttered and cut into soldiers. I got greedy: why not two soft-boiled eggs, scooped warm from their shells onto a nest of toast points? I’d lost my job, the Black Dog of depression was my faithful mutt, and the grey days of February were broken only by oral surgery and the bloody orgies of Tess Gerritsen thrillers. Even the best-adjusted lady—and I’m medium-adjusted at best—would get wiggy. In my darkest hours I considered going into the egg cozy business. What better way to keep my fingers occupied (and my smoke count under forty a day) than to create egg couture? What better way to while away a few months of meds, Monster.com and unemployment checks? I realized I was reverting to craftswoman consolations, and that I’d better slap on some eye makeup, pull out an egg carton and check out any new thinking about how to soft boil an egg. My father was the family egg cook, and I remembered his recipe for a Four-Minute Egg: lower an egg into a pot of water at a gentle boil, set the timer for four minutes. Remove when the timer dinged. Daddy made a reliable soft-boiled egg. Research beguiles me, so I whiled away a few hours with cookbooks. According to the experts, from the Rombauers to Harold McGee, Daddy had it all wrong. What I’ll call the “Slow Start” is accepted wisdom in egg cookery. Put a 70-degree egg into a saucepan, cover with an extra inch of cold water, bring to a boil, then simmer for two to three minutes. North Americans don’t leave eggs on display in cunning wire baskets, nor do I know how to find an egg’s armpit and take its temperature. Sure, I could have warmed one in hot tap water for a couple of minutes, but that seemed like fussiness; we’re talking about a boiled egg here, not zabaglione. My plan was to cook the egg for the longer suggested time and if necessary, try, try again. I’d paid $1.79 a dozen at Walgreen’s for my test subjects and I could afford to be fearless; I wasn’t experimenting with sturgeon eggs. I filled a small deep saucepan with water and slipped in the egg. The problem with the Slow Start Method is that it requires devoted pot-watching, because the timing starts when the water reaches a boil. The cook has to see when the rolling bubbles form. I’m sure there’s a remote thermometer out there that would beep as the water reached 212, but that seemed like mucho materiel for a fifteen-cent test subject. I lurked, the water boiled. I turned it down so that it maintained a tranquil bubble, and set the timer to three minutes. I busied myself buttering toast then stood, tea strainer in hand, to pull out the egg when my squat red kitchen timer chimed. A boiled egg is hot, wet and slippery. With the help of a potholder I wrangled it into an egg cup and stood there counting back the years—the last time I’d boiled an egg, Oasis and Blur were thumping from my daughter’s bedroom. I performed a gentle tap tap tap with my paring knife and reached for the toast fingers. Raw egg white. Slimy, snotty, raw egg white and a thin liquid yolk that was barely warm. I tossed the egg, tossed the toast—almost tossed my cookies—then refilled the saucepan with water and deposited Test Subject 2. I didn’t spend a lot of time waiting for the water to boil because the phone rang. By the time I’d convinced a landscaping company that I was planning to let my property revert to prairie, the water was preparing to churn out big-boy bubbles. I adjusted the heat, set the timer for three minutes, and made more toast. When the timer pinged I started counting. When I reached twenty (one thousand) I pulled the egg, beheaded it and danced a victory Watusi: the white was cooked firm, its texture neither rubbery nor shiny and glutinous. The yolk was runny, lightly thickened and clung to the toast like White-Out on a black satin jacket. I topped up the butter and salt and pepper in the perfect Brancusi serving vessel and thought: “I stressed less the last time I made Beef Wellington!” Washing up, I pondered. Slow start, rolling boil, and three minutes and twenty seconds to soft boiled bliss—too much pot watching and counting for fifteen cents worth of perfect protein. I don’t have a timer that ticks off to the second. Waiting around for the pot to boil was dandy; I could wipe off a couple of cabinet doors or start a batch of yoghurt. But the counting method was primitive. I cast about to find a better metric for that three-minute twenty-second paradigm. I reeled with my brilliance—I was a freaking genius. I have the perfect set-up in my kitchen, a CD player with a remote. All I’d need was to find a 3:20 track, cue it up and hit Play. No need to buy a more sensitive timer, no dorky counting. All the February misery and meds were as nothing. I was on my way back, Baby! I tore into the glittery stacks of CDs, only to face another challenge. My beloved Motown/Stax selections rarely hit two minutes, let alone three. After spending four hours I’ll never reclaim, I found two possibilities for my digital egg timer: The Who: “My Generation” (3:18) and The Bagpipes and Drums of Scotland: “When the Battle is Over"(3:21). My husband couldn’t see the coffee table for the CDs when he got home. Neither would he buy into my brilliance—he gave me the same wary glance that I’d last seen when I told him that our path to a whiz of an old age was going to be strewn with designer tea cozies. He thought I was nuts. He was right. I’d entered culinary Cuckoo Land. <div align="center">+ + +</div> I just wanted a soft-boiled egg I could eat without the bagpipe overture. The Slow Start Method wasn’t making it, so I decided to forget the Rombauers and McGee and try my father’s Fast Start Method. I wouldn’t have to mooch around the kitchen, catching the water as it hit 212. I could stick a pan on the stove, walk to the mailbox, answer the phone or run out for cat food and cigarettes, tasks short enough to assure me a pot of boiling water. Father didn’t know best, or he’d used smaller eggs. A four-minute egg done Fast Start was the exemplar of what I can’t gag down. I was negotiating sutures and bleeding gums, unable to chew a steak or gum Rice Krispies, I was empty and angry. I was hungry. Why couldn’t I boil an egg? I make my own marshmallows. I can knock off puff pastry without the maidenly dew of sweat. I can bone animals and fish big and small. My Paris-Brest, my babas au rhum, my bacon and eggs get good press. Not only can I make a perfect pate, I can source caul fat in the 'burbs. But I couldn’t boil an egg. I was as committed to my goal as Newton was to The Calculus. As to mathematics and time, I discovered that my microwave—a machine I've owned for ten years—had a timer that counted to the second. (That’s what happens when you store your microwave at knee level.) As severe as Marie Curie in her lab coat, I in my apron set out to make lab notes. February15: 4:20. Threw it out. White nowhere close to done. Oatmeal for lunch. February 17: 4:35 Tossed it. 15 extra seconds didn’t make much of a difference. Yoghurt and a banana. February 18: 4:50. Almost! White still too soft, but I ate it! (Pick up some pepper later.) February 20: 5:00 White cooked. Yolk thick and runny! Perfect! I’d conquered the soft-boiled space/time continuum. I’d come up with a nice round number—five is an elegant array of minutes. I could pull an egg straight from the chilly Styrofoam carton. I could eat an egg for lunch until the sutures melted. I could look forward to ancient decrepitude sans teeth, sans everything, knowing that I’d still be able to gum a soft boiled egg. Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote a story called “The Birthmark,” in which the husband becomes so disturbed by a tiny stain on his gorgeous wife’s cheek that the birthmark blinds him to her beauty. When I had topped my excellent egg, the albumen was still a micro-millimeter unset where it met the yolk. My obsession egged me forward: I knew in my bones I hadn’t achieved perfection—I was roosting on mere excellence. That slippery remnant of white became a preoccupation, the niggling doubt that I’d failed to capture the egg-cup grail. How to firm up the ends without risking a medium-boiled egg? I wasn’t going to mess with my five minutes learned the hard way, no Siree Bob! I considered finding the wire holder that comes with the Easter egg dye kit, and parboiling each end for fifteen seconds before lowering the entire egg into the pot, but that would feel like cheating because it would require extra counting. (Nor did I want my husband to suggest that I should adjust my meds.) But that twist of wire was my Newton’s apple—it sent me free associating about Easter baskets. I prick one end of the eggs I hard boil for Easter, to protect them from cracking. What if I pricked both ends, exposing the white to some extra heat? There was no hard science to back up my hunch, just intuition and desperate, piteous hope. I wanted to crack this ovoid mystery and move on with my life. I punched two neat holes with the very needle I’d used to appliqué satin braid to my baroque egg cozy. I lowered the egg into boiling water. I set the timer for five minutes. I found a forlorn English muffin at the back of the fridge, and started it to toasting. I fretted. When the magic minutes were up, I stood my egg in its cheery cup, and crossed myself. I topped my prize, and checked the white. God must listen to the prayers of atheists: it was perfect. Not excellent, perfect. As Simon said: “Time, time time, see what’s become of me, while I looked around for my possibilities. I was so hard to please.” Time flies. Time is of the essence. Had I but world enough and time. There’s a time for every purpose under heaven. The time for my purpose was five minutes flat. <div align="center">* * *</div> Margaret McArthur, aka maggiethecat, is the former editorial director of the Daily Gullet. She writes, cooks and tends her garden near Chicago.
  22. <img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1228018228/gallery_29805_1195_7950.jpg" hspace="8" align="left">The Daily Gullet is proud to present this exclusive excerpt from The Essential Bartender's Guide: How to Make Truly Great Cocktails. by Robert Hess Bartenders are culinary alchemists using the various liquids and flavorings at hand to create tasty beverages that will entice and entertain their customers’ palates with a balance and explosion of flavors reflecting long years of training and carefully honed skills. Unfortunately, comparing modern American bartenders to the classic bartenders of just a hundred years ago is often like comparing the fry cook at a 24-hour truck stop to a classically trained chef at a celebrated restaurant. Bartender training used to be long and involved. Its methodology was comparable to that used to train gourmet chefs. However, most bartenders today have no training at all. They tend to rely on a dog-eared recipe book to learn their craft in a trial by fire. Of course, bartenders make the drinks their customers order. They are rarely challenged. There is, however, a light at the end of the tunnel. An increased understanding of the cocktail is beginning to take place and, with this understanding, consumers are seeking to find bartenders who can realize the culinary potentials of the drinks they make. Cocktail as Cuisine The cocktail can and should be seen as a cuisine with all the potential and wonder that this implies. Bartenders are masters of this cuisine and should be expected to take their role as seriously as if they were a chef turning out masterful dishes for their customers. Likewise a consumer should approach a cocktail with as much attention to its quality as possible. Wine, beer and even coffee can be seen as liquid cuisines which embody the notion of craftsmanship, dedication and quality. Like the cocktail, they haven’t, however, always been seen as such. Today, sommeliers are commonplace at restaurants. They help diners create a memorable pairing between the food from the kitchen and the wine from the restaurant’s cellar. Drinkers, who would have once seen an inexpensive white zinfandel as their go-to wine, now cherish the robust and complex flavors of a cabernet sauvignon or pinot noir. Across the nation small microbreweries are producing a variety of craft beers full of flavor and character. While the large commercial breweries and their almost flavorless beers are still top sellers, an educated beer drinker is always on the lookout for new and interesting brews to provide their palate with a little adventure. Once it was believed that great coffee came out of a can and the percolator was the most popular way to brew a cup. Today, there are a variety of gourmet roasters which have created a dedicated consumer base. People may drive miles out of their way to buy coffee. They will grind whole beans at home and carefully brew their coffee to get just the right flavor for their morning cup. While cocktails haven’t yet achieved this level of large scale craftsmanship, dedication and awareness, there is a definite momentum in that direction. Bartenders are enthusiastically studying, researching and training in order to create exquisite cocktails based on classic methods. Customers are seeking out these bartenders and allowing them to provide drink recommendations instead of simply having the same tried-and-true cocktails over and over again. The “Cocktailian” Palate The delight that comes with an appreciation for cocktails is easily acquired. It’s a matter of simply educating your palate, not much more difficult but a lot more fun than A-B-C. The appreciation for unknown flavors is something that we can be open to throughout our lives. There’s always a thrill encountering and discovering something new. When we’re young and first begin to drink wine, we are unlikely to start with an appreciation of a robust wine like a cabernet sauvignon or zinfandel. Often our choice is a mild sweet wine and the memories of fruit juices and soda pops it produces. After hiding away in the sweet soda pop wines for a while, we might strive, for example, to impress a date by taking advantage of a sommelier who, by offering an education on the available wines, helps to push our palates forward. Eventually we end up ordering and appreciating the same complex red wines that once sent us running for cover. Regrettably, there isn’t yet the cocktail equivalent of a sommelier, a role model to help our understanding of the culinary potential cocktails can provide. This is why many drinks are closer in a flavor profile to soda pop wines than vintage cabernets. Balancing Act Appreciation of the cocktail as a culinary beverage begins with its balance of flavors. Not too sweet, not too sour, not too strong, but something blending all of the presented flavors in a form that creates what could almost be considered a brand new flavor. This “new” flavor should, as you come to the end of your cocktail, bring a wish that the glass contained a little bit more. For both the bartender and the consumer, the cocktail should represent a great culinary adventure. This recognition and appreciation will return the dignity and stature the cocktail enjoyed nearly a hundred years ago. <div align="center">+ + +</div> Robert Hess (aka DrinkBoy) is a founder of The Museum of the American Cocktail, and host and executive producer of The Cocktail Spirit, a web-based video series presented through the Small Screen Network. This exclusive excerpt from The Essential Bartender's Guide: How to Make Truly Great Cocktails is presented with the kind permission of Mud Puddle Books and the author. Cover photograph by Amy K. Sims.
  23. <img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1221417463/gallery_29805_1195_47214.jpg" hspace="5" align="left">by Margaret McArthur I moved my Mother-of-the Bride frock to the guest room closet last week. Its lines, a concoction of curves and cinches, reminded me of my mother's coffee cakes -- that childhood whiff of streusel supplanted for a blessed moment the memory of me busting my middle-aged moves to "White Wedding." Because midnight blue sequins would have morphed me into the Mother-of–the-Undead (on a slab, wearing a toe tag) I'd run out of formal options. Knowing one thing was true -- I couldn't afford Carolina Herrera – I took a trip to Joanne Fabrics to find a dress pattern. There it was: Vogue Vintage 2401, circa 1952. It's vaguely New Look, sporting the same face-framing collar of my mother's wedding gown, three-quarter sleeves, and more darts than a pub in Paddington. No zippers or buttonholes, praise God, but some severe structure. I looked at the sketch: the dress was Nancy Mitford; Kay Kendall; Eloise's absent mother -- my mother. My mother's girlfriends. They were slim, those ladies. I can't figure out how my mother and her girlfriends remained soignée swans rather than dumpy ducks, because they ate, best as I can recall, six meals a day: Breakfast, Coffee, Lunch, Tea, and Dinner; finally, late-night grilled cheese sandwiches and beer with Johnny Carson. They never exercised, except for a twirl around the dance floor at the Country Club or nine holes of hit-and-giggle on the Ladies' Nine. My mother's breakfast might have been wheat germ, blackstrap molasses, and a cup of coffee. That left her an hour to bake a coffee cake, restore the kitchen to its alien gleam, don careful makeup, a pair of capris and a saucy sweater. Her girlfriends were coming for Coffee with a capital C. Entemann's Raspberry Swirl in a foil pan wouldn't do; that would be announcing that you were a slut. It was home-baked and Maxwell House all the way. The swans left about eleven-thirty so they'd have enough time to greet the cob and the cygnets for lunch. With those time constraints, yeast and almond paste were out of the question when it came to quotidian coffee cake. Whipped up in the Mixmaster, then baked in an eight-inch pan, sporting a sugary streusel or glaze, they had the wholesome allure of the smart girl in the old baggy sweater who was a guy magnet in tenth grade: the appeal of modesty. Modest, and thrifty too. The day after I relocated my dress, I baked my mother's go-to recipe. I found it tucked away in the pocket of a ring binder, scribbled on the back of a souvenir postcard from my parents' first trip to the Uffizzi. "Lois's Coffeecake": Mummy wasted no words -- she couldn't very well scribble over Botticelli's Venus – and Lois didn't waste time on measurements for the streusel. The ingredients cost less than a scone at Starbucks and the cake took thirty thrifty minutes from mixing bowl to mouth. (Research makes me suspect that Lois owned a copy of The Joy of Cooking -- her recipe is a near-clone of the Rombauer Ladies' "Quick Coffee Cake.") Wrapped tightly and zipped in the microwave for ten seconds, it's as good with Thursday's coffee as it was with the Sunday papers. Just as speedy is Dorie Greenspan's "Swedish Visiting Cake" from Baking From My Home to Yours. The Swedish friend who shared the recipe with her told her that if you started when you saw your girlfriend turning the corner, the cake would be on the table as soon as the coffee brewed. (Well, maybe if the corner were half a mile away). Baked in a skillet, fragrant and crunchy with almond extract and almonds, I don't dream of streusel. I conjure Carl Larsson's kitchen. Brownies and blondies were stirred in a saucepan, to the accompaniment of Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. We kids counted these confections cheap -- common currency for dessert. What we lusted for was the solitary square of coffee cake our friends' mothers had left uneaten. Why did we crave those cakes, so much plainer than the fudge-frosted brownies and Nanaimo Bars whose presence on the sideboard sustained us through the thousand Brussels Sprouts my mother insisted we eat every single day? Was it the tender, cakey crumb, the cinnamon crunch of streusel, or the guilty pleasure of spreading a chunk of cake with butter? Perhaps it was the seductive scarcity of the four-inch square remaining in the pan -- a tease, a whiff of the frivolous feminine society we kids could never join. They weren't baked for us -- they were the property of the sisterhood of swans. <div align="center">+ + +</div> From My Mother's Recipe Card: Lois's Best Coffee Cake Oven: 375 F Butter one 8" x 8" square pan Cream:<blockquote>1/4 C butter 1/3 C sugar</blockquote>Beat in:<blockquote>1 egg 2/3 C milk 1 t vanilla</blockquote>Sift and add:<blockquote>1-1/2 C flour 1/4 t salt 2 t baking powder</blockquote>Spread into the pan. Top with a layer of brown sugar, cinnamon, pea-sized dabs of butter and coconut or nuts if you have them. Bake 25 minutes. Serve hot, spread with butter. <div align="center">+ + +</div> From Dorie Greenspan's Baking From My Home to Yours (Houghton Mifflin 2006; by kind permission of the author): Swedish Visiting Cake <blockquote>1 C sugar, plus extra for sprinkling Grated zest of one lemon 2 large eggs 1/4 t salt 1 t pure vanilla extract (optional) 1/2 t pure almond extract (optional) 1 C all-purpose flour 1 stick (8 T) unsalted butter, melted and cooled 1/4 C sliced almonds, blanched or not </blockquote>Getting Ready: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a seasoned 9-in cast iron skillet or other heavy ovenproof skillet, a 9 inch round cake pan or even a pie pan. Pour the sugar into a medium bowl. Add the lemon zest and blend the zest into the sugar with your fingers until the sugar is moist and aromatic. Whisk in the eggs one at a time until well blended. Whisk in the salt and the extracts if you're using them.. Switch to a rubber spatula and stir in the flour. Finally, fold in the melted butter. Scrape the batter into the skillet and smooth the top with a rubber spatula. Scatter the almonds over the top and sprinkle with a little sugar. If you're using a cake or pie pan, place the pan on a baking sheet. Bake the cake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until it's golden and a little crisp on the outside; the inside will remain moist, even slightly damp. Remove skillet from the oven and let the cake cool for five minutes, then run a thin knife around the sides and bottom of the cake to loosen. You can serve the cake warm or cooled, from the skillet or turned out onto a serving plate. <div align="center">* * *</div> Margaret McArthur, aka maggiethecat, is the editorial director of the Daily Gullet. She writes, cooks and tends her garden near Chicago. Art: Leda and the Swan, by one of his pupils after a lost painting by Leonardo DaVinci. Reproduced under the Wikimedia Commons license.
  24. <img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1217687514/gallery_29805_1195_12828.jpg" hspace="8" align="left">by Peter Gamble The mind of a grade seven History student is a very strange place. Mine was in 1977. Once a day for 45 minutes Mr. Elliot would relate another aspect of Canadian history to a roomful of confused and curious tweens. He told us how the Indians in scant skins walked here all the way from Asia. The badass Vikings came from the other direction in crude boats from Greenland but, despite notorious fortitude, couldn’t make a go of it. And then there was a dandy parade of Europeans: Cabot, Cartier and Champlain, each one dressed in an absurd combination of shiny metal and weird textiles. Samuel de Champlain was the standout character for me because he was the undisputed father of New France, a renaissance man and a pioneer bon vivant. The more I learned, the more I admired him. The foppish looks belied a man capable of great adventure and leadership. That ridiculous facial hair and those crazy boots -- I wanted to be right there with him on a cartographic odyssey. Hell, I wanted to be him. Was this a man crush? I can say with certainty that Champlain created something worthy when he founded “L’Ordre de Bon Temps” in the winter of 1606. The Order of Good Cheer was the first gourmet food club in North America. This summer, only 402 years later, I officially became a member. At the start of the 17th century there were no established European settlements north of Florida. An earlier attempt at winter camping went horribly wrong for the French under the command of Pierre Dugua de Mons who had been granted a Royal Commission for a Christian crusade in New France. On a tiny island in the St. Croix River that separates Maine from New Brunswick, Champlain was lucky to survive when half the colonists died of scurvy. He couldn’t have known what caused all that death but surely better food would’ve helped. They decided to try a new spot across the Bay of Fundy at Nova Scotia’s Port Royal, birthplace of Acadia. Moving agreed with them. The Annapolis Valley offered everything a fledgling community in wild North America could need. They grew herbs and vegetables for potage, and they had access to a whole whack of fish and fresh game. They brought flour and wine from France. Things went well in the summer of 1605. Winter was better than before, but it was still very long and another dozen settlers died from scurvy. The next year Champlain came up with an idea “to keep our table joyous and well provided." <blockquote>We spent this winter very pleasantly, and had good fare by means of the Order of Good Cheer which I established, and which everybody found beneficial to his health, and more profitable than all sorts of medicine we might have used. This Order consisted of a chain which we used to place with certain little ceremonies about the neck of one of our people, commissioning him for that day to go hunting. The next day it was conferred upon another, and so on in order. All vied with each other to see who could do the best, and bring back the finest game. We did not come off badly, nor did the Indians who were with us. <div align="right">-- Samuel de Champlain, <i>The Voyages, 1613</i></div></blockquote>Brilliant! Stave off boredom and enrich the diet with a friendly cooking competition. Each man would get a shot as Chef du Jour and a chance to earn bragging rights. It’s not known exactly what made it to the banquet table but there’ve been many scholarly guesses. L'éclade, or mussels cooked under pine needles? This was not uncommon back in Champlain’s old world neighborhood. Faisan en casserole? A braised pheasant isn’t a stretch. Pâté de chevreuil, or venison pie? You bet. Confitures aux canneberges, potage à la citrouille, or anguille à létuvée? That’s cranberry marmalade, pumpkin soup and steamed eel, candidates all. There would’ve been moose, caribou, beaver, otter, bear, rabbit, porcupine and raccoon. Plenty of ducks, geese and partridge in addition to an abundance of seafood meant a ton of possibilities. And hey, these guys were French. If you go there today you’ll find the Port-Royal National Historic Site of Canada, simply known as The Habitation. It’s a best guess replica of what once stood four centuries ago. The original compound was looted and burnt in 1613 by the Virginian Samuel Argall, the same guy who kidnapped Pocahontas -- now there’s another piece of work. I told the girl at the entrance kiosk that this summer’s visit to The Habitation was thirty years in the making. I’d built a damn popsicle stick diorama of the place back in the seventies long before she was born. It was time to see how the experts made out with the full scale monty. I saw a silver gray wooden palisade wall wrapped around several steep Norman roofs with a grassy cloister hidden in the center. The whole thing is a square maybe a hundred feet per side. There isn’t any signage, just a few students in period costume who’ll answer your questions in French or English. I had lots of questions. We saw stretched pelts and black bits of iron everywhere. There were hewn logs overhead and roughly cut planks of knotty pine underfoot. The walls were loaded with rustic filigree. Sitting at the large imposter table I reached out and held a young pewter spoon and thought about all those tough bastards trying to make the best of things. It was like making a long overdue connection with a very old soul. This was a sacred spot. After the tour we drove a half hour south to Digby in order to have ourselves sworn in and receive the official Order of Good Cheer certificate. Anyone can do this, there’s no fee and no meetings. The only requirement is to visit the province for at least three days and promise to come back, according to the Tourism Bureau. I now regard Champlain as a great man but, like all of us, not without flaw. In his early 40’s he married Hélène Bouellé -- a twelve year old girl from France. That’s the age gap between me today and me in grade seven. He was also a big part of the Jesuit agenda hell-bent on converting the savages. What could be more offensive than a Black Robe buttinski telling me my faith tradition is all wrong? Four centuries is indeed a long time. Those mornings before grade seven History we had music class complete with ukuleles, recorders and sing-a-longs with Mrs. White. I can’t remember her voice, only her challenging appearance. She was sturdy, pale, had lots of hair, and always wore her famous leather vest. I thought about last week’s drive-in movie featuring Charleton Heston as an astronaut, and I wondered if my music teacher was really Doctor Zaius in drag. Mrs. White showed us the ABC’s of music, and Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge. She also taught us a different version of the Woody Guthrie classic, the one sung north of the 49th parallel, throughout Upper and Lower Canada, and here in the Maritimes: <div align="center">This land is your land, This land is my land, From Bonavista, to Vancouver Island From the Arctic Circle to the Great Lakes waters, This land was made for you and me.</div> <div align="center">* * *</div> Peter Gamble is an eater, a husband and a father to 3-year old twins. His origins are in Toronto but he now runs a building design company from his home in Shad Bay, Nova Scotia. Illustration by the author.
  25. <img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1217687514/gallery_29805_1195_5301.jpg" hspace="8" align="left">by Chris Amirault Last month, my wife and I devoted three days in Hua Hin, a town on the eastern coast of Thailand, to walking the beach, exploring the rambling markets, and hiking up hills to beachfront temples. Unfortunately, the tropical flavor of those days had a bitter edge: fearing fraud, our banks froze our accounts when we tried to withdraw money at the Bangkok airport. After two weekend days arguing with automated phone systems, we finally reached a human who permitted us to withdraw funds. Relieved, even chuffed, we headed into town for a celebratory drink. Since much of Hua Hin had quieted down, we headed for the expat bar strip, a two-block stretch frequented by westerners seeking something other than pad thai and wave-lapped sands. Though prostitution is illegal, Thai bars serve as de facto brothels, and farangs pay to drink pricey libations with the house girls or ladyboys then pay more for off-site leisure activities. Seeking other sorts of leisure, we chose the emptiest bar and sat down at a table just off the street. Across the way, two girls that looked just a couple years older than our tween daughter sat, enervated and bored, eyeing the sporadic low-season traffic, while three ruddy South Africans cheered on a besotted chum tormenting a bicycle taxi driver. I grabbed my wife's hand, trying to squeeze out a smile. "Time for a drink?" I asked. "I'm fine," she said. Watching Hua Hin's quasi-covert sex industry from the sidelines was okay with her, but she had no desire to lubricate it. <div align="center">+ + +</div> Harry Craddock, legendary bartender and author of The Savoy Cocktail Book, famously declared the one and proper way to drink a cocktail: "quickly, while it's still laughing at you." Usually, I think he's damned right. Having found my way to cocktails after years of enjoying scotch neat with a wee dram of water, I know the difference between nursing a tasty room temperature drink for a good long while, and watching a crisp, cold one go downhill as it warms in a beading glass. Of course, sometimes Craddock's assumption is wrong. Sometimes cocktails don't laugh. Sometimes they scowl. Craddock, no doubt, prepared his share of scowling cocktails. Indeed, in one night, he may well have prepared several rounds of cocktails that scowled more fiercely than any others in the 20th century. As the webtender wiki documents, in 1927 the Marion Star told a brief, poignant tale about when Harry met Prohibition: <blockQUOTE>The last legal cocktail in America is reputed to have been mixed at the old Holland House on Fifth Avenue by a Harry Craddock. Word drifts back from London that Craddock is now frosting the shakers at the Savoy. He took a boat the next morning pouting and has never returned.</blockQUOTE>In Imbibe!, his book on Jerry Thomas, Craddock's 19th century forebear, cocktail historian Dave Wondrich ends his introduction by celebrating the craft in which one makes "a few cents worth of whiskey, sugar, and frozen water into a glimpse of a better world." Perhaps it's old fashioned to speculate that, with a few dashes of Angostura thrown in, that whiskey, sugar, and frozen water gave Craddock a glimpse of a bitter world. <div align="center">+ + +</div> Most discussions of bitters focus both on Angostura bitters, the familiar potion that any self-respecting bar in the world surely must have, and on Peychuad's bitters, the peculiar red concoction from that peculiar red city, New Orleans, that is reputed by some to be the critical element in the first cocktail, the Sazerac. Like all drinking (hi)stories, this claim is dubious: most cocktail historians such as Dale DeGroff place the first cocktail far earlier, more than two decades before Antoine Amedee Peychaud hung a shingle and started selling his health tonics. However, all agree that watered, sugared hooch with a bit of bitters is the trunk from which the cocktail tree grows. In 1806, Harry Crosswell, editor and writer of the Hudson NY Balance and Columbian Repository, wrote what Wondrich calls a "snarky little item" referencing 25 glasses containing "cock-tail." Responding to a letter asking what the heck that meant, Crosswell explains: <blockQUOTE>Cock-tail, then, is a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters -- it is vulgarly called bittered sling, and is supposed to be an excellent electioneering potion, inasmuch as it renders the heart stout and bold, at the same time that it fuddles the head.</blockQUOTE>Rendering heart stout and head fuddled, bitters are the smoldering doyennes of the cocktail world. They're more nuanced and sophisticated than you realize (and, frankly, than you are), they're made of mysterious ingredients (including a few poisons), and they're a hell of a lot tastier than those sweet things you're eyeing at the end of the stick. However, save for Gary Regan, most authors of recent cocktail books treat bitters the way Benjamin treated Mrs. Robinson, so potent and complicating that the entire affair just needs to be kept mum. Listen to Regan's exulting description of bitters, in the key "Foundations of the Bar" chapter from his Joy of Mixology: <blockQUOTE>Of all the items in this chapter, bitters are the most important . . . Two drops of bitters added to a Lemon Drop cocktail will drastically alter the drink, giving it an added dimension. Most customers won't even know there are bitters in the drink, but most will be able to discern that this cocktail stands head and shoulders above the vast majority of Lemon Drops.</blockQUOTE>If, like me, you read "Katharine Ross" for "Lemon Drop" and "Anne Bancroft" for "Lemon Drop with a few drops of bitters," then you've graduated. <div align="center">+ + +</div> A few drops of bitters can both enliven and balance an otherwise pallid libation. Half an ounce or more of bitters is another thing entirely. 19th-century Italians seem in particular to have mastered the craft of producing tipples of hair-raising bitterness. Fernet Branca, a synethesthetic beverage that tastes astoundingly brown, is often credited with cultivating post-prandial digestive calm; I'm convinced the effect is created by the erasure of every other flavor in your mouth. Other effects are less physical and more emotional. I've often wondered if Craddock tossed back a warm Negroni before clutching his coat below his chin and boarding the boat to Britain. It's unlikely, though, since Craddock left for London at least a decade or two before the Negroni, made with equal parts gin, sweet vermouth, and Italian bitters, appeared in print. You've got to love the story, though: Count Negroni ambles into a bar in Florence, orders an Americano with no soda and extra gin, and gets the keeper to toss an orange twist for good measure, the citrus oil spilled across a bitter sea of booze. For existential clarity, you need order nothing else. Both the Negroni and the Americano depend on one Italian bitters in particular, the dense, 60-ingredient apertif invented by Gaspare Campari that bears his name. Campari does not create what the cocktail press calls a "gateway drink," save for a few notable exceptions like the Jasmine, Paul Harrington's grapefruity concoction of gin, Cointreau, Campari, and lemon juice. Indeed, if more than a drop gets near a drink, most people just think the result tastes appalling. The fact that the classic formula obtains its characteristic hue from the female cochineal, an insect that resembles a wax-covered tick, well, that doesn't help either. But when a brutally bitter drink is just what you need, Campari is a scowling Virgil to your weary Dante. <div align="center">+ + +</div> I walked back to the bar and began the process of getting the drink I needed. Pointing, I walked the bartender through each step: equal parts Gordon's gin, Martini & Rossi sweet vermouth ("Please open that new bottle, if you don't mind"), Campari, stir with ice, and strain into a glass with more fresh ice. As I sat down, my wife nodded toward my drink, hoping with her eyes that I'd quaff it quickly. Behind us, two Brits discussed which Bangkok clubs allowed blow jobs right at the bar, obviating the need for departure fees. Across the way, the taxi driver struggled to pedal the lurching South African down the street. If there was potential for joy in Hua Hin that night, it wasn't for us. Some drinks can indeed fuddle the head, but others can chart a course through moments of unbearable understanding, if only one knows to order them. I grabbed my camera and took two quick snaps, seeking to capture the Campari red of my Negroni against the red of our table's plastic rose. Then I threw back the drink, and, the bitter crimson tonic filling my mouth, walked with my wife out into the velvet air. <div align="center">+ + +</div> Those hellbent on drinking the darkest, bitterest concoctions will enjoy this hybrid of the Trident and the Negroni. It uses Danish caraway-speckled Aalborg aquavit and the Italian apertif Cynar, which contains among its dozens of ingredients our favorite prickly thistle, the artichoke. If Trent Reznor lacks a favorite cocktail, someone should pass this along. Black Trident 1 oz Campari 1 oz aquavit (Aalborg) 1 oz Cynar Stir with cracked ice and strain into a chilled glass. If you insist on a glimmer of hope, twist an orange peel over the top, rub it on the rim, and drop it in. More balanced and less bleak tipplers seeking a layered bitters drink may enjoy this one based on the Toronto Cocktail: Corktown Cocktail 2 oz rye (Rittenhouse 100, if you've got it) 1/4 oz Cointreau 1/4 oz Fernet Branca 1/4 2:1 demerara syrup dash orange bitters (Regan's No. 6 is good here) dash Angostura bitters Stir and strain -- and since you're capitulating with the Cointreau, you certainly should twist, rim, and drop an orange peel. <div align="center">* * *</div> Chris Amirault (aka, well, chrisamirault) is Director of Operations, eG Forums. He also runs a preschool and teaches in Providence, RI. Photo by the author.
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