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

Inner Hen

Reports of Mr. Henry’s bird have been greatly exaggerated.1923-11-22-life-norman-rockwell-cover-thanksgiving-ye-glutton-400.jpg

A turkey is only a turkey, after all, not a pheasant, a goose, or a quail. Its flavor profile, as the foodies like to say, sings one note – mildly sweet.

Like stock market investors this year Mr. Henry once again fell victim to irrational exuberance. Upon spending $129 for an 8 ½ lb. Heritage Foods turkey raised in Kansas, he expected it to rise up and dance on the platter.

Yes, it was the best turkey he ever tasted. Yes, there was satisfaction in knowing he was eating a bird that according to explanatory information in the FedEx carton enjoyed an active social life (i.e., made it with a Tom or two). Far be it for Mr. Henry to prevent a turkey from fulfilling her inner hen!

But were these small pleasures worth the price? Was this bird three times better than the Citerella no-antibiotics and no-hormones bird of yesteryear?

Not really. Its bones did yield an exceptionally flavorful soup, however, an unanticipated bonus.

thanksgiving-by-rockwell.jpgThe dry salt rub did work perfectly. Skin was crisp and golden. The breast emerged bursting with juice because Mr. Henry cooked the turkey upside down. Although this left the skin on the breast a bit soft and pale, since no one at the Henry table eats skin there were no bruised feelings.

At home you dressed your dressing and stuffed your stuffing. You served a bountiful table. While feasting, discussions kept veering back to the wayward economy or Barack’s brilliant new economic team.

Was that so hard to do? To cook for a large table, that is. To cook at home and eat together is the essential family ritual, after all, the central sacrament of community.
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Marcella Hazan makes excellent arguments in today’s New York Times:

The food Americans eat that is made fresh at home by someone who is close to them is shrinking compared with food consumed at restaurants or prepared outside. And while eating out or taking in may save us time or bring us enjoyment, I would argue that it deprives us of something important.

I am my family’s cook. It is the food prepared and shared at home that, for more than 50 years, has provided a solid center for our lives. In the context of the values that cement human relations, the clamor of restaurants and the facelessness of takeout are no match for what the well-laid family table has to offer. A restaurant will never strengthen familial bonds.

Thanksgiving

Inevitable as taxes or that other thing, turkey day is coming. Family may be coming. Guests should be coming. The table will be heaping.

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If you opt for a restaurant, however, shunning your traditional responsibilities as cook, will you still be able to savor that quintessential American feeling? In this defining moment, will you stand down? Can you so easily shirk the burden of history?lincoln.jpg

Will you nobly save, or meanly lose, the last, best hope of earth?

Take heart. Small variations of the Thanksgiving dinner are permitted. Be forewarned, however, your recipes will be compared to those of august and venerated forebears, relatives and antecedents hovering in calendric conjunction.

Don’t screw up.

At the Henry household, labor is divided. Mrs. Henry bakes the pie. Mr. Henry roasts the bird. Unable to reach agreement on stuffing, they each make their own.

Mindful of all that has gone wrong, and of all that can go wrong and be blamed squarely on him, Mr. Henry threw money at the problem. He ordered a Heritage Foods turkey online for the princely sum of $129. (This better be one tasty turkey, brother, because already the vacation is in jeopardy.) It promises to arrive by FedEx on Tuesday before Thanksgiving, which leaves not quite enough time for the dry salt to fully absorb. All the same, Mr. Henry will rub salt and give thanks.

Special thanks will be offered this year to the good Glinda who divined Mr. Henry’s turkey uncertainty and sent him this attractive recipe from the L.A. Times. By the way, the hot oven option works best.sumo.jpg

Dry salt rub is, indeed, an efficacious method for roasting. For years Mr. Henry has been flinging salt on meat like a sumo wrestler entering the ring.

Cranberry sauce is de riguer. This recipe is foolproof.

Mrs. Henry will surely make the classic pumpkin chiffon pie. (The trick is to pre-bake the crust – what potters call “bisque.”)

Stuffing is the cook’s signature dish. Mrs. Henry will make a simple bread and sage stuffing for the masses. Mr. Henry will make Nadia’s aromatic 1001 Nights saffron and chestnut forcemeat. The wine will be a Burgundy, a light one, perhaps a Côtes de Ventoux, who can say?

Maenad Diet

Once in a while someone sends a comment that overwhelms Mr. Henry with protective, avuncular feelings.

Avila writes :maenad.jpg

I believe I would be able to stick to this diet if I wasn’t essentially nocturnal. Any suggestions for a college student who gets hungry enough at 2AM to break rules 2, 4, 9, 13, and 16?

She is referring to Mr. Henry’s Dietary Dicta (with exceptions), an early screed posted way back in April 2006.

From the vantage point of his estimable age and education today he feels a positive obligation to expand upon his previous theme, even though he thought he had covered the topic quite nicely the first time.

As a prefatory aside, would it be too avuncular to expect you, Avila, a college student, before learning how to eat, an important life skill, to be sure, first to master an equally important life skill, namely, the rules for the subjunctive?

“if I wasn’t essentially nocturnal”  tsk tsk tsk.

Dear Avila, not only are you nocturnal, a biorhythm consistent with late adolescence, but you probably have the digestion of a linebacker, as well, which is to say your metabolism permits you to eat any darn thing you want, day or night, with the same wild abandon you hook up or break up with lovers.

Mr. Henry’s protective, avuncular thing is giving way to overpowering feelings of envy. Go ahead and have a cigarette while you’re at it, Avila. What the heck.

Once it’s mid-day and your Dionysiac urges are momentarily sated, dear maenad, please pause to think about what you are asking. You want to flout rules forbidding eating after dinner, skipping dessert after dinner, eating fried foods for dinner, eating candy, and most important of all, going to bed hungry! These are the essential tenets of the belief system, the sine qua non without which you don’t have nada…..except too much body fat.

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Life can be long for those with genius for living. But to live long, unlike the great Antonio Gaudí, you must avoid getting run over by the tram.

As you get older you may notice that trams come along more frequently and from unexpected directions. There is the late night pizza tram, the ice cream in front of the TV tram, the third glass of wine tram, the crunchy snack food tram, and the “oh my feet hurt and I’ve had a long day so I’ll skip my workout” tram, any one of which will flatten you and fatten you dead.

Word of Mouth

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The world is changing. Indeed, the election proves that the world has already changed.

The world of eating is changing, too, and profoundly for the better. By now the locavore movement is well established as a culinary ambition, one with expanding political and ecological implications. All across town farmer’s markets pop up in unexpected places – schoolyards, church grounds, and forgotten plazas.

Sitting at your desk dreaming of new flavors, how do you get connected? In the bad old days you found these events by word of mouth, by knowing someone in the know.
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Now, just in time, Edible Manhattan is out. A new food magazine that began in Ojai, California, Edible finally cracked the big city. Valuable as a shopping and dining source, it is equally inspiring as bedroom reading. The inaugural issue features excellent articles on New York City tap water and on Manhattan beekeepers, two topics of keen interest to Mr. Henry who has always hated people who carry bottled water and who has always harbored a secret longing to keep bees on the terrace.
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In the new issue Regina Schrambling writes about Duncan Hines – an actual person – who in 1959 published the Zagat’s of its day. Who knew? Mr. Henry always thought Duncan Hines was like Aunt Jemima, Betty Crocker, or Mrs. Butterworth – an ersatz icon of ersatz cuisine.

Armed with Edible Manhattan and an eco-friendly cloth shopping sack, Mr. Henry feels prepared to venture out from his little village on the Upper West Side, a village more populous than Wyoming, mind you, but a village nonetheless. The great metropolitan expanse lies before him.

Courageously he will take a southbound train for Union Square to hunt wild mizuna, parsnips, and spring lamb.

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Restaurant theory

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Charles Darwin often said that “no one could be a good observer unless he was an active theorizer.”

Accordingly, Mr. Henry has been theorizing. Why do so many New Yorkers spend so much money going out to eat?

Americans as a whole do not save. We know there is entirely too much waste in our budgets, but should so much of our budget go to our waists?

The Obama nation, if it comes to pass today, is going to have to cinch it in, brothers and sisters, because the reckoning is near, the reckoning of monthly accounts, that is.

As raincoaster so aptly points out, habitués of restaurants very often don’t have the wherewithal to support such a lifestyle. Night after night, careening towards insolvency, impelled by some hidden Darwinian urge, they push through the portals of fancy eateries.

Are these self-destructive people somehow advancing an agenda, raising their status, or perpetuating the species in ways we cannot see?

Even to observe this calamitous feeding behavior requires a larger dispensable income than Mr. Henry’s own, and requires, as well, an elastic schedule. If you walk the noble hound Pepper no later than 7:00 a.m. every morning, how can you have lingered until midnight in a downtown restaurant? Each night before bed he must also allow enough time to wrestle Mrs. Henry away from the endless presidential election TV extravaganza or whatever news machine that will now takes its place.

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Mr. Henry’s theory is that people are searching for knowledge, the same reason Eve ate the apple when in truth she wasn’t particularly hungry. It is curiosity, a desire for hipness, and a struggle for dominance over the pack.

The best restaurants inform the imagination while seducing the palate, a marriage of skilled work and artistic flair. Most restaurants, however, offer only a casual fling – a flirty sauce, sweet and sour, less interesting than ketchup, or else an utterly inappropriate one-night stand like sushi with tabasco.

If you really want to taste the pleasures of life, if you really want to get to know someone new, get together and cook.