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July, 2006 | Manolo's Food Blog
Archive - July, 2006

Mollycoddling the Idle Fat Rich

For those who simply can no longer appear publicly in a bathing suit, summertime is not a season for simple pleasures. For that subset whose incomes permit a weeklong stay at $1,000 per night and who seek extreme privacy, self-indulgence, a hint of lost aristocracy, and sprightly, trim servants at every corner, however, The Canyon Ranch is their Shangri-La.

Snugly nestled in the gentle, green Berkshires, The Canyon Ranch at Lenox, Massachusetts, is the modern American sanatorium, the 21st century replacement for Bath, Marienbad, and Baden-Baden.

The Canyon Ranch does not accept casual drop-ins, stays of fewer than three nights, or dinner reservations from those not staying at the spa. How Mr. Henry managed to slip inside the compound’s lofty stone gates may be the subject of a future post, but not this one. Let him merely relate that on a recent afternoon he found himself in the pool-house men’s room furtively wriggling into his Speedo long-legged racers (chosen not for their Olympic provenance but because when he wears the scanty Speedo classic racer, other Henry family members roll their eyes, point, hoot, and in general behave with the scantiest appreciation for Mr. Henry’s delicate dignity).

After a delightful swim all to themselves in a mammoth pool, Mr. and Mrs. Henry repaired back to the bathrooms to throw on long trousers and to await the promised 4-star, low-cal, modern scientific dinner. For those of you currently searching for an exciting way to disinherit your progeny, look elsewhere. Though the swim was delightful, the dinner was a bore.

For starters, alcohol is not served at The Canyon Ranch, red wine’s vaunted salutary effects on the cardio-vascular system notwithstanding. The compound is drier than south Utah. Since guests, glassy-eyed from an afternoon massage or lecture on the large intestine, are shuffling around in their comfortable clothes, i.e. fat pants, and since they are annoyed and hungry from the small portions served by hectoring Ranch menu experts, the mood in the dining rooms is decidedly downbeat.

Joylessness, in fact, seems to pervade the place. Because they are on their feet working all day, the staff are fit and perky. The guests, on the other hand, are uniformly dumpy and glum, each over-indulged face fixed in a sulk from denial of its customary hourly stuffing. In the Holiday-Inn style corridors they do not speak. At each brush past a chaise longue amply filled with another terrycloth-robed New Yorker, they avoid eye contact. Is this the way mental hospitals feel?

As a sanatorium, The Canyon Ranch must be judged a success, and a success as a fat farm for the super-rich, too. But as a health spa it fails.

From a choice of six entrées, two were white pasta. (Clearly, the executive chef has not read Mr. Henry’s Dietary Dicta.) Mr. Henry’s smoked trout served on leaden mashed potatoes was dry and fusty. Mrs. Henry’s curried garbanzo beans served on a thimbleful of soggy rice were over-spiced. Salad dressings were exceptionally uninspired, heavily dependent on a not-very-good oil of unascertainable origin. Vegetables were slathered in the same oil in lieu of a fine Tuscan extra virgin, a glaze of veal stock, or good, old-fashioned, tasty butter. The only choices of vegetable, by the way, were spinach or (are you ready?) edamame -– an utterly inappropriate side dish because they are eaten with the fingers. Dessert presented the thorny dilemma of choosing ice milk or sherbet. Service was rushed and faltering, more New Jersey diner than Old World restaurant.

Sweet was the evening’s single flavor theme, a scandalous absence of food awareness completely consistent with bad middle-American eating habits and completely inconsistent with sustained slimness.

Just before he committed some serious breach of etiquette, Mr. Henry grabbed his faithful consort and sprinted for the car. In half an hour he was embracing a draught Guinness in the basement of The Red Lion Inn, Stockbridge, MA, listening to a pleasant imitation of James Taylor, and enjoying the scuffed, quirky, Yankee authenticity of it all. Though the hallways creak, the beds do not.

At breakfast in the lovely old Dining Room, The Red Lion serves the finest oatmeal imaginable, accompanied by a maple syrup that actually contained a goodly modicum of boiled tree sap.

They burn the beans

Finding himself at Zabar’s late in the afternoon, his arms already laden with foodstuffs, with no time or energy left to forage further afield, Mr. Henry to his horror realized he was out of coffee. Since Mrs. Henry never touches the stuff and consequently has no appreciation of what a conundrum he was in, a cell-phone call for wifely assistance was not in order.

In his urban peregrinations, Mr. Henry regularly attempts to locate an Oren’s Daily Roast which, he maintains, has the best beans in town for an infusion method (french press) cup of coffee. Failing that, he buys wherever he finds something that looks reasonably roasted.

However, he never ever buys coffee at Zabar’s. You see – and it pains him to criticize a store so conveniently located and offering such good breads, cheeses, and smoked fish – Zabar’s burns the beans. They over-roast them until the coffee, no matter which variety, uniformly lacks the subtler aromas, becoming bitter ash. In this regard, Zabar’s resembles Starbucks and a host of other celebrated purveyors of coffee.

But then Starbucks is essentially a franchise for steamed milk. The coffee is secondary. If proof were needed for this, when coffee prices suddenly doubled some years ago, Starbuck’s did not raise their prices one whit. The cost of the coffee in a single espresso is eleven cents – and that is the cost after the roaster has imposed a quintuple mark-up.

Truth be told, Zabar’s has always been an establishment more concerned with price than with quality. This not meant to be a derogatory statement. They understand their market. As many failed restauranteurs have learned, Upper West Siders won’t pay.

At that very moment beside the coffee bags appeared a willowy blue-eyed Mexican boy straight out of “Y Tu Mama Tambien” who offered me a free sample of Jalima brand coffee from Mexico.coffee.beans.jpg

In a whisper I complained to him that I never buy coffee here because it is over-roasted. He nodded in conspiratorial assent and suggested I try Jalima H & A Gourmet bean grown in Veracruz. Medium ground and vacuum packed, the Gourmet is a marvelously rich brew with hints of citrus and chocolate, delicate and refined, perfect for the french press.

Mr. Henry falls in love

When Mary came in from the country carrying a diapered basket of fresh-laid hens eggs, Mr. Henry stared at their beautiful light blue and speckled brown shells wondering, “How can he do justice to these most perfect of nature’s industrial designs?”

eggs.jpegFor the preparation of perfect scrambled eggs unsullied by even the slightest fatty aroma from his trusty cast iron pan, a pan that did such yeoman service these many years, he decided that the time was finally ripe to spend an astonishing $99 on the ultimate professional stove-top tool – a pan that would not waste even one morsel of Mary’s eggs stuck to its sides, a pan that would not force Mr. Henry to further inflame his mouse-flicking right forearm tendon in a heavy-duty clean-up.

Mr. Henry is in love with his new 8-inch All-Clad copper core fry pan with stainless steel face.

For the ultimate three-minute breakfast or lunch, place your copper core pan on a low flame for a good two minutes until its magical golden center is ready to radiate. (A dollop of crème fraîche in the eggs lends a marvelous creamy tanginess.) You may use a metal spatula here – none of this mamby-pamby plastic – because the stainless steel is not harmed by tiny scratches. Toast two slices of Amy’s organic peasant wheat sourdough bread on which to place your velvety confection. Throw in butter. Almost as soon as your eggs hit the pan they are done.

If you soak your pan while you dine, the clean-up is effortless. The gently flared lip, the long metal oven-ready handle, and most of all the superior browning capabilities of the stainless face with copper core have left Mr. Henry in a swoon not matched since he first drove Mrs. Henry’s BMW. Car owners speak of the interface between man and machine. Mr. Henry is fully satisfied by All-Clad’s high-speed performance.

Summer avocations

In the inimitable manner of The Manolo, Mr. Henry feels obliged, almost compelled to share the following with all his gentle readers:

Mr. Henry is reading

Mr. Henry is listening to

Mr. Henry is watching

Mr. Henry is eating