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July, 2007 | Manolo's Food Blog
Archive - July, 2007

Eat Locally, Read Locally

Reports of the budding locavore movement got Mr. Henry thinking. What if ALL forms of sustenance were to become local? What if right-thinking persons such as Mr. Henry were forced by farsighted, busybody children not only to favor local growers but to go local in every other pursuit?

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Mind you, Mr. Henry is all for reducing his carbon footprint, as well as for reducing his monthly expenditures and daily caloric intake. He is strictly conservative in these important domains. However, why should he exclude all foods and libations apart from sustainable ones grown within a 150-mile radius of New York City?

This sort of artificial food radius is all perfectly fine if you find yourself residing in central California surrounded by the premier fruit and vegetable fields in America. But what about the rest of us? What if Mr. Henry were forced to drink New York wine and (shudder) bourbon whiskey? (Yes, sour mash like Maker’s Mark will do if caught in a Montana rainstorm, but honestly, can you fathom an American gin?)

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This month Mr. Henry has elected to pursue twin ideals: he will be not only a locavore but also a localector. He will read exclusively novels written about New York.

Cathleen Schine’s new novel The New Yorkers is an irresistible tossed salad of quirky, crunchy, local characters. Deliciously unexpected characterizations pop up mid-sentence the way an heirloom tomato surprises you with flavors of mint, citrus or papaya. Try some today.

Personal Sense Of Style

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What accounts for Mr. Henry’s personal sense of style?

Without question, appearances matter. On this he agrees with Oscar Wilde (or was it Racine? or The Manolo??) who said that only shallow people believe fashion to be unimportant.

Those who know him by sight agree he does not conform to the dictates of common custom. More than once while wearing socks with sandals he has been accosted in the streets of New York by Nordic tourists in the mistaken belief that he was one of their own.

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On the question of Mr. Henry’s personal style, between Little Henry and Stinky there is a marked difference of opinion. Little Henry maintains that Mr. H. resembles Arwin the janitor from Disney’s The Suite Life of Zack and Cody. Stinky strongly disagrees, arguing that Mr. Henry resembles more closely Mr. Bean.

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“But you’re not as ugly as Mr. Bean,” Stinky added sympathetically.

When arranging his morning accouterments, however, Mr. Henry’s mental self-image seldom strays toward fresh faces from among the popular pantheon. He imagines instead a revolving array of legendary bad boys – Harry Flashman, James Bond, Rowdy Yates – icons that have stood the test of time.

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Like the imaginary antecedent of “it” in phrases such as “it’s a nice day,” Mr. Henry’s looking-glass reflects not only what is there but what is not. It compensates by adding an imaginary compliment. It imagines his hairline to be closer to his eyebrows than true measurement might find, though lately the eyebrows of their own accord have been striving to bridge that sad gap.

Mr. Henry imagines, as well, that he does not live in a grasping military-industrial empire or a burgeoning police state. Thus, he wakes each day to a glorious egalitarian democracy of free expression and social harmony.

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And so it is with personal style. Sometimes the referent is imaginary. For clothing he strives to dress in harmony with the seasons and with attention to practicality. He likes a well-fitting suit, preferably one cut from super-100 worsted wool. But normally he finds his closet offers few solutions more comfortable and forgiving, more soothing to the temperament, more freeing to the imagination than a Patagonia shirt and J. Crew chino. In this everyman disguise he glides unnoticed past average citizens who do not suspect his secret life as an arbiter of taste and fine things.

Recently, spying him dressed in small round eyeglasses and wide round sun-hat, his dog-run friend Mary compared him to Mr. McGoo, a mainstay of his youth but a rare figure on today’s dramatic stage. Sometimes the imaginary referent gets a little misplaced. mrmagoo.jpg

Since Mr. Henry’s principal concern is in food as an expression of personality, as clan sign and in-group marker, he seeks expressions in food that others seek in fashion. He notes the most common examples of this, notably the great cry of “yeah!” from the studio audience whenever Emeril says, “and now we gonna add some gaaaaahlic.”

Indeed, food has become fashion. Food is to this decade what fashion was to the last – a popular obsession that is at the same time a genuinely exciting genre of high craft. While this obsession may not last, for the moment throughout the U.S. there is a full-blown, accelerating hunger craze for fine cuisine, a gustatory tulip-mania.

Like all popular movements, this one has born lots of nonsense, e.g., Emeril Lagase and Sandra Lee. Nevertheless – and now Mr. Henry betrays delirious optimism – everyone is not a boob. Here and there good recipes get made, new pairings shack up. Life goes on, except, of course, for those life forms we eat.

Summer scallops

knee-high.jpegOn the Fourth of July, the corn was not quite knee-high. Tomatoes were good but not magnificent, not yet the stand-alone dish they will become next month. Garden arugula was bright and not too sharp, happily reminiscent of Italian varietials. Peppers and onions came off the grill with flesh still meaty and toothsome.

Still, although Mr. Henry does not like to complain, the tastes of the weekend were beginning to be a bore. Meat grilled outdoors is all very fine but without a skillful marinade lacks both subtlety and complexity.

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On a lazy Sunday morning at Paul’s country house, however, Mrs. Henry, ever the clever one when given a moment’s free time, created an appetizer of scallops that was the most exciting new taste of the summer. Completed in five minutes, it was beyond compare.

She brushed the broiling pan with olive oil and arranged a quart of sea scallops across its surface. In three minutes they were nicely browned yet still soft to the touch of a finger. [Don’t let them get rubbery. There is no need to cook them solidly throughout. So long as they are warm inside, you’ve done your job.]

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She served them on top of a cool, fresh relish. To a peeled, seeded and diced tomato she added coarsely chopped cilantro leaf, the juice from half a lime, a pinch of salt and — now for the genius — one peeled and diced peach. The flowery aroma of peach married to its tangy tomato cousin created a subtly balanced liqueur, lighter than a wine sauce, which perfectly supported the scallop’s mild sweetness.