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June, 2008 | Manolo's Food Blog
Archive - June, 2008

Eden

Today Mr. Henry finds himself in London where the sun is shining. In Dickensian London, the sun did not shine. But in post-millennium London, the sun shines through clear skies. Streets are clean. The Thames is not malodorous. People are tall and apple-cheeked. Men show tattoos. Women show cleavage and leg. No one wears a hat.southbank.jpg

Sea breezes refresh foot-weary tourists rambling along the South Bank. In front of the old power station, now the Tate Modern, freshly planted aspens rustle musically. Street mimes strike frozen positions as standing statues. Their principal artistic achievement seems to lie in the heavy application of spray paint, all of a single color – a blue guitarist, a silver Merlin, a golden Mary Queen of Scots.

A sinuous, undulating woman with blond dredlocks danced erotically with a shiny hula hoop. Propriety prevented Mr. Henry from enjoying the full performance, however, propriety and a glance from Mrs. Henry.

Unwittingly the Henrys became caught up in a march for colitis and Crohn’s disease. Shortly Mr. Henry’s vitals began to rumble in sympathy. It was time for lunch.

At Terence Conran’s Skylon cafe, Mr. Henry ate a bowel-friendly sandwich of grilled courgette and minted hummous, a fresh and delightful pairing of flavors. In a spirit of adventure he bought a muffin of green peas, mint, and feta cheese. It was perfectly horrible. Indeed, the English are a courageous nation. The highlight of the meal was a bag of black pepper and sea salt crisps. The English genuinely appreciate the crisp.

“Mind the gap!” exhorted the Underground conductor. Inside the car, a placard quoted John Milton’s description of Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the garden:

They hand in hand, with wand’ring steps and slow,
Through Eden took their solitary way
Paradise Lost. Book xii. Line 645

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“Way Out” read the exit sign.

For dinner their hostess, My Phuong, poached a beautiful clear-eyed Scottish salmon, a special treat after this year’s shocking absence of Pacific salmon. Tangy and bright baby arugula earned its English sobriquet, “rocket.”

Is it the unexpected turns of phrase, the long days, or the driving on the left that so subtly disorients and pleases? Perhaps it’s the wicked high prices. Whatever the reasons, Mr. Henry is delighted to be here in this temporary Eden. Milton understood that all Edens are temporary, so find one for yourself and take your solitary way.

White balsamic

How hot was it last weekend? It was so hot that Mr. and Mrs. Henry had to trade favors to decide who went out to buy food. Ice cream melted during the walk home from the store. Black cherries which at the store were perfectly firm arrived home warm and soft. To make sure the bay scallops survived the blistering march up Broadway from Citarella, Mrs. Henry, ever the rugged survivor, packed blue ice in her grocery sac before setting out.
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Firing up the oven was out of the question. Some sort of savory salad seemed wanting. Mrs. Henry fried diced bacon and saved a little fat in which she seared the scallops. She tossed white beans (bottled, Italian) with fresh baby spinach in a vinaigrette made with white balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and lemon. Topped with diced mango and bacon bits, the dinner salad was the perfect reprieve from the day’s punishing heat.

Made from sweet trebbiano grape juice, not from wine, white balsamic vinegar is fruity and distinctly less acidic than red vinegar. It won’t overwhelm a mild dish like scallops or potato salad. Its sweetness also obviates the need to add sugar.

Mr. Henry’s delicate constitution presents a different category of challenge. Although he likes the taste of raw garlic, onion, green pepper, and scallion, his stomach responds repeatedly with complaints. If he roasts or braises these thoroughly, he can eat them in small quantities. But what if you want the taste of raw onion?
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Heaving only one or two sighs of exasperation, Mrs. Henry arrived at a neat solution for a potato salad eaten over the infernal weekend.

She finely diced a Vidalia onion and let it quickly pickle in salt with a liberal dose of her white balsamic vinegar.

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When combined with hot potatoes the pickled onion wilted, yielding its sharpness without denying its flavor. Celery added crunch. Flat parsley added color. A dab of Dijon mustard, a splash of olive oil, and a tablespoon of sour cream generated a creamy potato salad that looked as if it were made with mayonnaise but tasted lighter and fresher.

As for the soft cherries, she threw them whole into a great pot, added a tablespoon of turbinado sugar and a half cup of sake(!). After bringing them to a boil, she let simmer for half an hour until the cherries were plumped and the sauce caramelized. Cooled they became a delectable dessert and breakfast treat all the more remarkable for their unexpected spiciness – a hint of cinnamon, a suggestion of prune, the possibility of sherry. No one guessed the presence of sake.

Next time Mr. Henry will try stewing fruit in white balsamic. It’s sure to work.

Breakfast confessions

Mr. Henry is worried about his country.

It is not enough that we change our party, we must change our pastry, as well, specifically, our breakfast pastry. It’s a scandal.

New York magazine’s cover story this week reveals the frightful selections locals here choose first thing in the morning. Be forewarned. This is not for the faint of heart.

Each picture portrait with breakfast description is a snapshot pinpointing personality and temperament. 60 interviews, 60 lives in brief, most bound for wreck and ruin.

Mind you, there is occasional testimony of oatmeal or fresh fruit. Quite a few sit down to a lumberjack breakfast of every high caloric ingestible known to man – eggs, bacon, grits (with cheese!), biscuits (with gravy!), and so on – not a regime designed for longevity unless you eat little else for the remainder of the day, but a regime that does sustain and nourish. Two men ate a pure breakfast of four hard-boiled eggs, one of whom followed that with two more eggs. What could be simpler?

The overwhelming majority eat sweets. Ick. Nothing good from sucrose comes.

How can we expect to lead the world on a breakfast of pop tarts and Venti? With these beginnings, by 11:00 a.m. even the soberest citizens are ready to dispense collateral damage willy-nilly.

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The scariest of all must be the doughnut. Reason itself withers against a fried onslaught of fat and sugar.

Mr. Henry imagines guards at Guantanamo devouring jelly doughnuts and their sticky boxes, too. Wooh wooh wooh. Arggggggghhh! Off they go to force-feed the detainees.

The article revealed many mysteries. Two African-Americans ate turkey bacon. What could be the attraction? Is this a Black Muslim modification of the old-fashioned American standard?

Several people confessed to drinking alcohol in the morning, the very definition of alcohol dependence. Even alcohol, however, beats a breakfast of Coca-Cola.

Older people seem to have a better grasp of the importance of an appropriate breakfast. They don’t take their digestive functions for granted. The oldest man ate the breakfast best suited to gastro-intestinal happiness – an orange, cottage cheese and fig jam on wheat crackers, with English breakfast tea. This is more than a wise breakfast, it’s a tasty one. This man is clear-minded and well-balanced. Mr. Henry wants to vote for him.

Today Mr. Henry himself began with a small glass of fresh orange juice. While the coffee was steeping he ate half a banana and a large slice of red papaya. Because his noble hound Pepper does not permit a second cup of coffee before walkies, Mr. Henry’s oatmeal with raisins had to wait until after. (He adds a pinch of brown sugar and a splash of cream.)

After a second cup of coffee (french press) with whole milk, he is fully fed and fully caffeinated. Should he feel peckish at elevens, the best remedy will be an early lunch.