Category Archives: Cooking

I Brake for Knit Projects

If I had to choose between these knitted winners, it would have to be the animal heads.

animal-heads

No, the full-body suit.

knitted suit

No, the meat. Definitely the meat.

knittedmeat

After this short commercial break, we bring you back to the Oscars, live.

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Skordalia With a Kick

If you are a garlic hound like me you could probably use some skordalia to warm you up in this bitter weather.

garlic-paintings-aceo-daily-oil

The Greek dip/sauce can open your sinuses, for sure. It’s a versatile kind of dish too. First of all, you can use either potatoes or bread soaked in water as a base. I first learned to make it with pulverized pine nuts but if I don’t have them on hand I use almonds or walnuts.

I have a fond memory of preparing skordalia with sunflower seeds once in a pinch, then scooping up the dip with green pepper wedges and washing it down with a pitcher of dry martinis. We were hanging out on a friend’s front stoop, and never was there a more perfect afternoon.

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It doesn’t have to be green pepper wedges, though – you can consume skordalia with pita bread or chips, with boiled beets, crispy slices of fried zucchini or eggplant, or really whatever whets your appetite. Or just grab a spoon and dig in. It’s always good.

Skordalia

  • 4-5 garlic cloves
  • 2 ½ ounces of walnuts
  • 1 large slice stale bread
  • ¾ cup olive oil
  • Salt

1.  Grind the walnuts.

2.  In a food processor process the garlic cloves with a bit of salt until they become a paste.

3.  Add the walnuts to the garlic paste and mix well.

4.  Soak the bread (without the crust, in water) and then squeeze well.

5.  Mix the bread with the walnuts and garlic mixture. Mix until smooth.

6.  Add olive oil gradually until olive oil is absorbed.

Add a spritz of lemon juice if you wish.

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Charles Marville’s Old Paris

It was a day of Old Paris in New York. The Metropolitan Museum had an exhibit, Charles Marville: Photographer of Paris, showcasing a Frenchman who was one of the first people to turn a photographic lens on the world, starting in the 1850s. I think the word “evocative” might have been coined to describe Marville’s glass-negative images, with their rain-wet cobblestones and ancient, crumbling Parisian walls. “When good Americans die,” said Oscar Wilde, “they go to Paris.” I was feeling pretty good.

12. Rue de Constantine  1866

I prepared myself to see the show with a cup of chicken velouté, properly French and exactly creamy enough. Julia Child’s pronouncement about velouté in The Way to Cook goes as follows: “Soups may be creamed in a number of ways, including great lashings of cream itself – an ambrosial item I shall soft-pedal here in favor of the velouté system
 with its flour-butter roux… which looks, feels, and tastes for all the world like a creamy soup but can contain as low as zero fat.” The Metropolitan Museum cafeteria is a place where you can eat hoity-toity French soup and eavesdrop as the people around you have erudite conversations about high art. Those speaking English in any case, which was the minority on this polyglot afternoon. The rest of the diners around me, for all I knew, could be discussing race cars or Swahilian TV stars or the price of eggs in Hong Kong.

We crowded into the elevator with a handsome, voluble French family who looked like they would be saved from every one of life’s hardships by the cut of their clothes.

Charles Marville began his career as an illustrator, coming to photography later in life (and early in the life of the medium, as it had only been invented eleven years before he picked up a camera). His early work displayed country scenes and self portraits, like the one of Marville on the bank of the Rhine, hand held up poetically to brow. The cathedrals at Chartres and Rheims offered fertile subjects for his developing eye. I liked the treasures he showed in a tableau at the latter, complete with a mysterious mummified cat. He also did cloud studies, incredibly difficult in an era when everything shot needed a different exposure.

Then Marville found his artistic voice. He began depicting the narrow, winding alleyways and lanes of Paris just as Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann was transforming it with new, grand boulevards and public buildings at the behest of Napolean III. The government encouraged him, too, appointing him the official photographer of the city, with a surprising sense that all this would be going away forever. It was now his job to capture the rapidly disappearing, incredibly textured urban micro-landscapes of the mid-century City of Light. The streets glisten, both with rainwater and the sewage that runs down every gutter.

Impasse de la Bouteille, vue prise de la rue Montorgueil. Paris (IIËme arr.), 1865-1868. Photographie de Charles Marville (1816-1879). Paris, musÈe Carnavalet. Dimensions : 35,90 X 27,70 cm Dimensions de la vue

It was a time that was somewhat appalled to see itself speeding pell mell into the future. Le Temps commented about “grand roads vomiting and absorbing torrents of pedestrians and vehicles” on some of the new perfectly paved roads. It is that very contrast that makes this work so poignant, of course.

Marville frequently used the motif of a “window” or opening at the back of the picture to lead your eye back.

Passage St Benoit. Paris (VIËme arr.), 1865-1868. Photographie de Charles Marville (1816-1879). Paris, musÈe Carnavalet. Dimensions : 36,50 X 27,60 cm Dimensions de la vue

After documenting the streets slated for urban renewal, Marville was assigned to capture for posterity some of the newfangled improvements Haussman had installed. These included two features that were futuristic at the time. Lamposts. There now stood some 20,000 gas street lamps where before there were none. Marville photographed dozens of them.

gas lamp

And urinals.

Urinoir (SystËme Jennings). Plateau de l'Ambigu. Boulevard Saint-Martin.   Paris (XËme arr.), 1858-1878. Photographie de Charles Marville (1816-1879). Paris, musÈe Carnavalet. Dimensions : 27,10 X 36,40 cm Dimensions du tirage

Called vespasiennes, the name derived from that of the Roman Emperor Vespasian, who supposedly imposed a tax on urine, these represented the ultimate novelty, private (relatively) and sanitary (relatively) and lit by those same spiffy gas lamps. The vespasiennes seemed antiquated when they were decommissioned at the end of the 20th century, but in 1860 it was like a spaceship-pissoir had touched down.

“A walk about Paris will provide lessons in history, beauty, and in the point of life.” So wrote Thomas Jefferson. At the exhibit I saw a photo with a heavy brown velvet flap hung down over the front due to the image’s sensitivity to light. There was a line of people crowding up at any one time to lift the curtain and see the magic underneath. It was a nice picture. But I felt that the magic was equally contained in each of the poetic photos around the gallery, impervious to time.

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The Burger of My Dreams

I am finally enough recovered from roiling bloat to write about the hamburger I consumed the other night.

DB Bistro Moderne stands on 44th Street in Times Square, on a block that is distinguished by the Harvard Club, the New York Yacht Club and the swanky hostelry attached to the restaurant called the City Club Hotel. The Algonquin, with its always-crowded, ever-literary lobby and comfy cocktail chairs, one of my very favorite places in New York, is right next door.

The-Algonquin-Hotel-NYC-3

We were celebrating Valentine’s Day early, knowing we were up for a snow pounding that might keep us in the day itself.

For years, we’d heard about a burger. A mythic burger, a burger for those of hearty appetites and gourmet tastebuds. In 2001 Daniel Boulud introduced the thing for an unseemly 27 dollars, but that only made people want it more.

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Now the price has risen to $32, roughly twice what we pay for dinner at our favorite ramen joint.

hot and delish

What the hey, it was faux Valentine’s Day. We arrived, we settled in among the blonde New York princesses with gaudy Chanel necklaces and thousand-dollar leather jackets, we ordered a non-alcoholic beer. The bread, studded with olives, went down fine. An arugula and frisee salad with a lemony dressing and lots of almonds tasted better than it sounded.

But what about the burger?

retro_vintage_kitsch_kids_eating_hamburgers_burger_sticker-r5733afe1d44b4938bfeb118e16c8bbd6_v9waf_8byvr_512How would that be? This burger, you see, is no ordinary burger, but a giant softball of ground sirloin embedded with strips of brisket, a chunk of foie gras and a soupcon of black truffle.

DB-Burger-Vancouver-by-E-Kheraj

It’s a long way way from the simple but tasty culinary icon that Wimpy loved.

wimpy

How did we get from there to here?

I have learned that the Mongol Army under Genghis Kahn would stuff filets of meat (sometimes beef, sometimes lamb) under their saddles as they rode so that it would crumble and cook in time for lunch.

genghis-khan-soldiers-images

America’s own Hannah Glasse gave a recipe in her 1770 Art of Cookery that paired minced meat (cooked) and toast. Other cultures have long dined on meatballs, kissing cousins in a smaller ball of beef.

So the claim of the United States to inventing the burger has only a partial foundation in truth. Emigrants from Hamburg brought versions of minced steak to New York in the late nineteenth century, where they were served raw or lightly cooked in exclusive restaurants such as Delmonico’s, sometimes accompanied by a raw egg, and sometimes for breakfast.

delmonico's kitchen

The mechanical meat grinder, invented in the mid-1800s – mincing had earlier been done with a chisel – made mass production of ground beef possible. It’s thought that the hamburger in its present form originated as cheap eats at a county fair in Wisconsin, or Ohio – somewhere in the land where people needed sustenance to traverse the games, exhibits and rides. A slick of Heinz ketchup, patented in 1888, soon tagged along.

burger sign

On this night, our DB burgers landed in front of us with a thud, encased in a polished Parmesan bun, stuck through with wooden sticks and cut neatly in half. On full display were the slices of short rib and diseased goose liver, in lush cross section. A bite through the red of the beef released the flavors of fresh red onion, tomato jam and mustard. No Heinz 44 for this baby.

We could have eaten half but managed the whole. It was juicy, meaty, greasy, messy as a burger should be. But was it the best? Was it $32 worth of hamburger? When the bill arrived we told them that we’d gladly pay them Tuesday for a hamburger today.

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Pot Lucky

Just a neighborly event. The lightest of snows twinkled outside the windows. Someone said, You may not see each other for six months but you’re still glad they’re there. There was a list, a neighborhood email listserve, and these 60-odd people were on it.

The pot-luck took place in the carriage house of the local nature preserve, Teatown.

scenery_teatown1

Such communal feedbags have a history, dating back to the sixteenth century, when pot-luck meant “food provided for an unexpected or uninvited guest, the luck of the pot.”

In this bowling-alone world, community often strikes me as a missing element. Or perhaps that’s just because mine is a solitary profession, handcuffed to my computer keyboard, staring out the window at the winter. I was happy now to talk to people I barely knew about books we’d read, about composing music, about keeping chickens.

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Above all, we spoke about the deep drifts and ice outside that affect everybody.

As Bilbo Baggins once said, “I don’t know half of you half as well as I should like, and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.”

Someone brought a soup enriched almost to a stew with wild rice. Someone else baked a crusty bread. When the desserts came out there was a deep-burnished chocolate bundt cake studded with cherries that had folks lining up. We all shared food, shared companionship. A hat was passed to send kids to the local summer camp.

No one spoke about plumber referrals, or the other information that flies across the internet on the listserve. No one talked about rowdy teens on the roads, or co-mingled recyclables.

separate-recyclables

Above all, no one became embroiled in the deer situation, the bane of the neighborhood, the divisive question of whether to leave the overpopulation alone or somehow control it, and if so, how to do so. It would be a fraught conversation. We let it go. (Though some wry soul offered venison sausage on the buffet table.)

We were gracious, putting faces to names. We shook hands, kissed cheeks. We were neighborly.

Outside, it continued to snow.

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Sweetly Wild

Animal Planet produced a popular program Raised Wild that profiles people who have been nurtured by monkeys, by a pack of dogs, by a flock of chickens. In researching Savage Girl I came across parental bears and goats and even a girl raised by rats. The mythology goes back to Romulus and Remus, boys suckled by the same she-wolf. The two man-cubs eventually went on to rule Rome. Nothing that takes place in my novel should shock anybody who has viewed Raised Wild. But it might surprise the Savage Girl herself to come across a box of Valentine’s-packaged Wild Child candy hearts.

wild child hearts

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A Room of One’s Own-Thank You Virginia

A belated happy birthday to Virginia Woolf (born January 25th), a writer whose fiction I idolized when I was around sixteen. I had the firm conviction that her novels To the Lighthouse and Mrs. Dalloway, innovative, modernist, poetic, were about as good as literature got.

Virginia Woolf cu

When I discovered Woolf’s book-length essay A Room of One’s Own, in college, I was thunderstruck. And I’ve never lost that feeling. I re-read Woolf’s arch 1929 critique of a sexist world, a discriminatory educational system, the need to nurture female talent, and I’m still pumping my fist in the air.

“A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” A Room of One’s Own

Adeline Virginia Stephen was born on January 25, 1882, to Julia Stephen, a model for Pre-Raphaelite painters, and Leslie Stephen, a well-known biographer. She had seven siblings and half-siblings, and was brought up in an upper-middle-class Kensington household. That she suffered some sort of mental disorder (she was probably bipolar) was clear from her first breakdown at the time of her mother’s death in 1895. She collapsed again when her father died in 1904. In 1912 she married Leonard Woolf and in 1915 she published her first novel. Despite her recurring “madness,” she was able to publish and run Hogarth Press with Leonard and be active in the Bloomsbury literary group for the rest of her life.

Virginia and her sister Vanessa playing cricket

That’s Virginia and her sister Vanessa playing cricket, proving that she had a lighter side.

“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” A Room of One’s Own

On March 28, 1941, Woolf filled the pockets of her overcoat with stones and walked into the River Ouse, near her house, to drown. An object that moved me beyond words was the simple wooden walking stick she took with her into the river, found floating near where she went in, preserved in the collection of The New York Public Library and shown in an exhibit of the library’s treasures a few years back.

woolf's walking stick

“When, however, one reads of a witch being ducked, of a woman possessed by devils, of a wise woman selling herbs, or even of a very remarkable man who had a mother, then I think we are on the track of a lost novelist, a suppressed poet, of some mute and inglorious Jane Austen, some Emily Bronte who dashed her brains out on the moor or mopped and mowed about the highways crazed with the torture that her gift had put her to. Indeed, I would venture to guess that Anon, who wrote so many poems without signing them, was often a woman.A Room of One’s Own

There is one surviving recording of Virginia Woolf’s voice. She delivered a talk called “Craftsmanship,” part of a 1937 BBC radio broadcast.

VIRGINIA WOOLF

Here is Woolf’s take on Judith, Shakespeare’s erstwhile sister, also from A Room of One’s Own. Tell me if after reading this you are not also pumping your fist in the air.

“I told you in the course of this paper that Shakespeare had a sister; but do not look for her in Sir Sidney Lee’s life of the poet. She died young—alas, she never wrote a word. She lies buried where the omnibuses now stop, opposite the Elephant and Castle. Now my belief is that this poet who never wrote a word and was buried at the cross–roads still lives. She lives in you and in me, and in many other women who are not here to–night, for they are washing up the dishes and putting the children to bed. But she lives; for great poets do not die; they are continuing presences; they need only the opportunity to walk among us in the flesh. This opportunity, as I think, it is now coming within your power to give her. For my belief is that if we live another century or so—I am talking of the common life which is the real life and not of the little separate lives which we live as individuals—and have five hundred a year each of us and rooms of our own; if we have the habit of freedom and the courage to write exactly what we think; if we escape a little from the common sitting–room and see human beings not always in their relation to each other but in relation to reality; and the sky. too, and the trees or whatever it may be in themselves; if we look past Milton’s bogey, for no human being should shut out the view; if we face the fact, for it is a fact, that there is no arm to cling to, but that we go alone and that our relation is to the world of reality and not only to the world of men and women, then the opportunity will come and the dead poet who was Shakespeare’s sister will put on the body which she has so often laid down. Drawing her life from the lives of the unknown who were her forerunners, as her brother did before her, she will be born. As for her coming without that preparation, without that effort on our part, without that determination that when she is born again she shall find it possible to live and write her poetry, that we cannot expect, for that would he impossible. But I maintain that she would come if we worked for her, and that so to work, even in poverty and obscurity, is worth while.”

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