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


Snowbound by a fresh nine inches, exhausted by skiing in high altitude, and hopelessly out of wine, Mr. Henry sensed now was not the time for caution or for retreat. He called upon his pioneer spirit of rugged individualism, the hallmark of his character.

Luck favors the prepared drinker, and as luck would have it days before Mr. Henry had purchased a sack full of lovely little Meyer lemons despite bitter recriminations from his otherwise even-tempered consort. “And just what do you intend to do with those?” she asked with rising tone and rising eyebrows.

At that instant he wasn’t sure exactly what, but yesterday inspiration struck.

Last week Naughty Mary had come over to the apartment, you see, carrying her traveling martini field kit: one shaker, one bottle of Hendrick’s gin, one bottle of St. Germain elderberry liqueur, and a handful of fresh sage leaves. To everyone’s delight she made a sage martini (borrowed from restaurant I Sodi in Greenwich Village).

Drop a few sage leaves into the shaker, add a gargantuan pour of Hendrick’s and muddle them together with a wooden spoon. After a few minutes add ice and much less St. Germain, shake and strain into cold glasses. (Quantities are approximate with Mary, but she never falters.)

Elderberry liqueur tastes remarkably like fresh lychee fruit, by the way. In the martini its sweetness is nicely undercut by sage’s aromatic bitterness.

Inspired by Mary’s success, Mr. Henry improvised.lagitana.jpg Making-do with what’s at hand – isn’t that the American spirit?

Seizing an open bottle of La Gitana dry manzanilla sherry, he mixed his first original cocktail. Dry sherry is slightly salty on the palate and seems to bring forward the tartness of the Meyer lemon.


teaspoon or so of Meyer lemon juice
liberal pour of dry sherry
double that amount of gin

Shake and strain, or else find a handy motel glass and just drink it, for Lord’s sake.

Mr. Henry’s high regard for the original martini, peerless expression of the bartender’s art, made him hesitate to name this gin cocktail a Meyertini. After drinking one, however, cleverness clouded his better judgment – precisely the state of mind he had been seeking.

Drinking in Utah

mormontemple.jpgAlthough both cities are charted on a grid, Salt Lake City is different from New York.

In Utah the pairing of beverage with dinner hangs principally on which one gets a buzz moving quickest.

If you happen to be in the mood for a beer, Utah restricts you to 3.2% alcohol, an odd brew lacking body or bite and utterly bereft of buzz.

If like Mr. Henry you were looking for a Côtes du Rhone at the State Liquor store, the only place you can legally purchase wine, spirits, or beer with higher than 3.2% alcohol, you’re going to fail. Wine here is arranged by varietal in ascending order of price. Since Côtes du Rhone is a blend of grapes, within the caverns of the State Liquor store a Côtes du Rhone simply cannot be found.

In grocery stores checkout people are overwhelmingly cheerful. The produce man abandons his lettuces to help you find the Meyer lemons. Smiles spring forth without hesitation or guile.

But State Liquor store personnel, working as they do among sin and shame, have a hard edge around the eyes, more like blackjack croupiers than adherents to the Book of Mormon. Jostled in the aisles by predatory drinkers on dark and secret missions, a casual shopper gets roughed up.

The last time Mr. Henry stood in lines this long was at Disneyworld, a place that, come to think of it, resembles Salt Lake City, architecturally as well as culturally. The treacle-sweet songs sung by calico-clad greeter girls at Temple Square is pure Disney pageantry, and so are their ankle-length pioneer dresses.

And what could be the architectural sources for the Mormon Temple itself apart from storybook fantasy?

Andalusian feast

alhambra.jpgMr. Henry cannot go to Andalusia.

One reason for this regrettable fact is that Andalusia no longer exists, having disappeared in 1492 after the reconquista. Granted, he could fly to modern Granada, Cordoba, or Seville, once the seat of medieval Islam’s glorious efflorescence, but modern airplane tickets require currency not available in current household accounts.

Or he could repair to the infinitely richer resources of the imagination. For this he need look no further than Food: The History of Taste, a compendium of lively historical essays sublimely illustrated to entice all the senses – sight, sound, taste, smell, and travel.

While Mrs. Henry was out last week, Mr. Henry doctored one of her staple recipes transforming braised chicken into an Andalusian feast, one not only quick and foolproof but remarkably inexpensive, truly a feast for the New Depression.


9 skinless chicken thighs
1 medium onion
6 plum tomatoes, peeled and diced
1 cup raisins
1 cup cooked chick peas
1 cup green olives
¼ cup dry sherry (fino)
pinch of cinnamon
saffron (if desired)
salt and pepper

If plum tomatoes are not in season, a medium-sized can of crushed tomatoes works perfectly well. Quantities are approximate.

In a non-reactive pan brown the thighs in olive oil. Set aside. Add the sliced onion, wilt thoroughly and add the tomatoes. Sauté until the tomatoes are soft. Add the rest of the ingredients as well as the chicken. Cover and braise slowly for a good 1 ½ hours either on stovetop or in the oven. The thighs will release just enough juices to create a proper braising liquid.

Serve with a crusty bread or over brown rice. A light red like a pinot noir or a Côtes du Rhone provides an appropriate pairing. As with any stew, it’s better the second day.

After re-reading H. D. Miller’s Food article, The Birth of Medieval Islamic Cuisine, Mr. Henry has begun planning a trip to Baghdad – before its destruction by the Mongols.alhambraview.jpg

a platter of figs

If you only buy one cookbook this season, but this one:tanisplatter.jpg

a platter of figs and other recipes
by David Tanis

In Mr. Henry’s mind, cookbooks fall into categories. There are baking books replete with wizardry and spells. Mr. Henry avoids these completely.

There are quick cookbooks featuring television personalities, picture books aimed at people who don’t like to cook.

To judge by the book jacket covers, television cook-men come in two types – those with grizzled mugs and stumpy fingers or those with blush and lipstick. Television cook-women flash smiles so toothy they look as if, should dinner not work out, they might just take a bite out of you.

Mr. Henry is happy these people have found a road to success but he has no intentions of eating their slapdash cuisine.

Like love, cooking takes a little time and a little imagination. Quickfires can be marvelous fun but not for every day. Nothing brings out real flavor like marinating and braising.

Unable to sleep, Mr. Henry repaired to a platter of figs in hopes it might quickly send him off to dream of wonderful things such as, for instance, figs on platters. He found it riveting, impossible to put down, and he read it cover to cover. In recipes and incidental remarks the writing is brief, radiating an assurance of life well lived.

Most delightful of all, this is not a 2000-recipe assault on common sense. (Who even wants 2000 recipes in his head, Mark Bittman?) In a platter of figs there are recipes for 24 meals from start to finish, each a meal to cook and share with 8-10 friends, each a bountiful vision that to Mr. Henry’s eye looks like pure heaven.

You’ve got to get ahead living your life, after all. Auden understood this. auden1939.jpg

Musée des Beaux Arts by W. H. Auden

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters; how well, they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.