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Fatty liver

Men, if you think hair loss, knee pain, backache, a pot belly and manboobs will be the most fearful consequences of old age, add one more specter to the list: a fatty liver.

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Mr. Henry has one. (The wags might say Mr. Henry is one.) The discovery of this ticklish condition, however, has led to a new diet breakthrough.

Mr. Henry’s surefire weight loss method. Lose ten pounds in ten weeks!

How? You ask how?

First, develop an undiagnosable digestive disorder preventing you from eating more than appetizer portions at one sitting. Coffee, cheese, or anything fatty gives you nausea and stomach cramp, so they’re off the menu until further notice. Because your liver has grown fatty, your gastroenterologist will advise you to limit alcohol consumption to one drink per day. (You can sneak another, but don’t tell Dr. Romeu.)

Second, when the child goes off to camp for three weeks, prepare nothing at home more ambitious than salad with something grilled tossed on top (and maybe a little green tea). If you go out to eat, order only the appetizer. (Refusing to be buffaloed by wait staff, Mrs. Henry has been doing this years.)

Third, make sure your air conditioner breaks on Saturday evening. New York City repairmen don’t retrieve messages until Monday, no matter how plaintive, and don’t begin to act until Tuesday or Wednesday. Furthermore, make the AC chiller unit shatter its drive shaft. (Replacement shafts are never in stock.) If you do this during the worst heat wave of the summer, you’re bound to lose nearly a pound per day. Mr. Henry offers his personal guarantee. When it’s this hot, the most anyone can hope to consume is popcorn and white wine.

Fourth, eat a diet inspired by French cures for la crise de foie, even though such a term is not accepted by medical science, even in France. Eat artichokes, salad, bitter greens, lemon, papaya, mint and ginger. (Ginger helps the stomach empty its contents into the duodenum. You had to ask.) Then eat more artichokes.

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Here is a southeast Asian style salad dressing that transforms romaine lettuce, carrots, Thai basil, tomato and grilled chicken into princely fare:

1 teaspoon grated ginger
1 teaspoon peanut butter (or sunflower butter)
juice of half a lime
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
three dashes of Tabasco
2 tablespoons vegetable oil (olive oil is not the best, but it’s OK)
salt

Dingle jingle

In the Irish village of Dingle,
the Henrys decided to mingle.
When three pints of Guinness
had settled within us
we sang out the following jingle:

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In Dublin fair city
where streets are so bitty
we side-swiped a girl named sweet Molly Malone.
She whirled her Pierce Arrow,
through the streets broad and narrow,
crying “Jaysus, you eejits are a menace on the roads!”

In Ireland while driving
your hopes of surviving
depend on how close you can drive past the hedge
When a big bus comes at ya’
and threatens to splat ya’
you’d better stay left or you’ll never go home.
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Road signs in Kerry
make locals quite merry
for they’re written in Irish and Irish alone.
When befuddled tourists
confront language purists
the tourists stay lost on these windy small roads.

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Windy small roads, windy small roads,
the tourists stay lost on these windy small roads.

Eggplant variations

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For three days Mr. Henry stared at three little eggplants lying wistfully in the vegetable drawer of the refrigerator. On a hot afternoon in the Citarella market they were beautiful, purple and plump, the most attractive vegetables on display. He bought them without a care and without a plan. Then he faced a moment of decision.

Summer is a languorous time of year, a time when there is time to spare, a time for experimentation with short pants and odd vegetable preparations.

Mr. Henry makes a mean Moroccan zaalouk, a fine Lebanese babaganoush, a veritable ratatouille, and a convincing caponata. Although these are not difficult dishes, to roast them requires firing up the oven for a good 45 minutes, or in the case of the ratatouille and its Sicilian cousin caponata, preparing the other ingredients takes at least as long. Eggplant parmesan is even more of a chore. All are best avoided on hot summer afternoons when you don’t want to heat up the house.

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Long ago he made a lightly-battered fried eggplant by first soaking eggplant slices in milk to combat the eggplant’s natural bitterness. Now that Mrs. Henry installed her fancy convection oven, what would happen if he simply soaked eggplant slices and then blasted them in the convection oven? Would he get a mushy eggplant ragout that fell apart on the spatula? Would he get an eggplant rigor mortis permanently fused to the pan?

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In this perilous world, boldness and cunning have their rewards. Milk may not be an ingredient that leaps to mind when considering the eggplant. In Consider the Oyster, however, the peerless M.F.K. Fisher (John Updike called her “our poet of the appetites.”) lists a dozen recipes for oyster stew (which is not really a stew at all, but that is another discussion). All but one recipe contain milk, and lots of it.

What about buttermilk?? Such a pairing could be interesting. But where to look for spices and flavor ideas? Both buttermilk and eggplant are found in Middle Eastern cuisine. Given that eggplant has been central to Jewish cuisine, perhaps Claudia Roden in her masterful The Book of Jewish Food might have an answer.

rodenjewishfood.gifTurkic peoples, Iranians, and Indians often use a spiced yogurt dressing but, alas, Claudia does not include recipes containing both eggplant and buttermilk.

Not dissuaded by the absence of traditional recipes, Mr. Henry seized his chance. After all, we live in the New World. Marinating for several hours in buttermilk and a bit of nutmeg, eggplant slices were cooked two ways: half were fried in olive oil, half were baked. Slowly fried in olive oil, slices emerged crispy and perfectly ready to eat. After 15 minutes the baked slices received a topping of grated parmesan and bread crumbs and then went back in the oven for another 25.

Curiously, although the baked slices were good, not mushy, fried slices came out better. They had that desirable crunchy exterior and soft interior. As Kit Pollard remarked in an inspired moment on her blog Mango & Ginger, they remind one of soft shell crab. Indeed, the eggplant is a mysterious playmate.

In the end, however, neither preparation with buttermilk exceeded the pleasure of a first class caponata enjoyed with a Rosso di Montalcino. Perhaps our Old World ancestors knew something after all.

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.

California mulching

Lately Mr. Henry has been thinking a lot about dirt.

Riverside Park has exploded with flowering plants that must have been stirring in the dirt for some time, unseen and unheard, because last week all at once they burst forth in a simultaneous crescendo, intoxicating each stroller, jogger, and rollerblader. Walking along the Hudson this morning Mr. Henry was nearly overcome by the cherry and crab apple blossoms. The air was thick and its perfume was rapturous.cherryblossoms.jpg

Last week, as well, the wet earth began to exude a loamy aroma, a black bouquet captured in truffles, red wine, roquefort, and root vegetables.

There is nourishment in dirt, and not just nourishment for the body. Working a garden, aerating the soil, planting, trimming, mulching, bending over for hours, these are activities that soothe the soul. (Your back may remember them differently, however.)

As she does every year at springtime, Mrs. Henry once again announced her resolve to move back to California. When asked just why she feels this compulsion, she responds opaquely, “Wouldn’t you prefer to live in California?” as if such sentiment were self-evident to anyone with half a wit.manzanita_bark_lg.jpg

Televised images of redwood forests stir her vitals. At the merest mention of avocados, manzanita, or heirloom tomatoes she whirls dervish-ly around the kitchen issuing grim promises to cabinets and countertops that pretty soon she’s moving back west to start a garden.

Little Henry greets these seasonal pronouncements with an eye rolled heavenward and a deep sigh identical to the sigh Mrs. Henry has perfected through years of practice.

There is nothing much to eat in the market this month that is fresh, but no matter. Morning and evening, together with his noble hound Pepper, Mr. Henry bathes in the smell of cherry blossoms in the park. The vapors of spring substitute for the fruits of summer.

For dinner he buys a simple chop and opens a simple bottle of wine. He roasts baby Yukon gold potatoes and tosses french beans in parsley. The evening walk is so gentle and kind that he does not seek complications at the table.
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Offbeat spring salads have begun to appear – mâche and baby arugula – welcome treats after winter’s steady diet of romaine. If Mrs. Henry had a garden right now, she might dig out greens that had “wintered over.”

Earthworms are wriggling. Hibernating amphibians are exhuming themselves. Migrating songbirds are arriving and building nests. Mrs. Henry is muttering and baking banana bread. Mr. Henry hides quietly in his study.

Nagging questions

Radical changes in routines are afoot in the Henry household.

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Over Christmas at her vacation ranch in the Catskills, Pepper picked up an intestinal bug prevalent in beaver scat (Who knew?) and began losing weight. Saintly Dr. Brown, font of veterinary wisdom and love, promptly and permanently removed raw chicken from the Pepper Food menu because of the possibility of salmonella poisoning. Until the system re-boots, Pepper eats Hills canned “prescription diet W/D.” To his dog-savvy readers Mr. Henry asks: What is the best dog food?

More distressing was Mr. Henry’s breezy abandonment of principles with regard to mixed drinks. He has long maintained that the classic dry martini is the one and only mixed drink that passes muster or, in this lifetime, passes his lips. The flu’s choke hold on his head and chest sent him ransacking the refrigerator for anything to sooth his sore throat, and ransacking the whiskey cupboard for anything alcoholic to suppress his cough. Lurking behind the buttermilk was a lone bottle of tonic, an odd lot leftover from summer.

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Tonic water, it turned out, acted as a tonic to the malaise. Somehow this came as a surprise to Mr. Henry, another example of flu-induced woolly-headedness, perhaps, or his long-standing prejudice against mixed drinks and their drinkers. With the last Meyer lemon added, a cold glass of bitter tonic tickled his numb palate and set his heart a-race.

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Furtively adding a dash of Hendrick’s gin before 5:00 p.m., he settled back to enjoy the successes of British colonialism, to lay down the white man’s burden, and to watch the televised make-believe that passes for frank political debate in this country. To tonic drinkers out on the information highway, Mr. Henry asks: Does tonic make your heart race, too? (And might it color your political views?)

For those interested in an excellent prècis on how to use the Meyer lemon, by the way, take a look at Cooking with Amy.

The real vehicle of betrayal came at Naughty Mary’s house in the guise of an exquisitely delicious orange aperitif of three parts Hendrick’s, one part Lillet, and a dash of orange bitters. Now that he has become a drinker of aperitifs, of flowery-colored aperitifs, no less, Mr. Henry can no longer hold up his head at the club. It comes as a comfort, therefore, that he holds no club membership.

Order and Sequence

Though not a fussbudget, Mr. Henry likes order. He likes first things to be first and fair to be fair. He may admire the rugged wild, but he prefers his personal world to be tame.

In matters of style, he likes things to look like what they are, hence his preference for Art Deco over Art Nouveau. In language, he likes things to be called by their real names, hence his abhorrence of “the war on terror,” yet another pernicious Orwellian locution that has gained common currency through mindless repetition.Ludwig_Van_Beethoven.png

Having spent all last week trying to untangle the spindly white cords of his new Apple earbuds, Mr. Henry finds his tired mind benumbed by software tutorials and Lilliputian iPhone keypads. He yearns for order, for routine, for the comfort of homey, established habits.

He longs for a day when each morsel of food and each sip of drink follow one another like the swelling dum-dum-dum of a Beethoven crescendo.

Wine experts discuss “pairings” with food, but what about sequence throughout the day?

Mr. Henry finds that what he ate for lunch influences his choice of wine for dinner.

Since he does not drink wine for lunch, the alchemical advantage that an appropriate wine provides to the digestive process must await the dinner hour.

Like a hunting hound, the initial dinner sip races down Mr. Henry’s eager gullet tracking faint scents of lunch far, far down the tract. Thus, Mr. Henry does not want to throw an earthy red from the Languedoc onto a sushi lunch, even with six hours of distance between them.

In daily routines he strives to achieve chords of harmony spiced by notes of dissonance – the organic order of music.

In traditional societies, rigorous rules of order apply, although sometimes these remain hidden from foreign eyes. Fausta regaled Mr. Henry with a Thousand and One Nights tale from India:

At a princely home in Jaipur for lunch she was presented with a dozen dishes, a dozen sauces, and a dozen pickles. Before Fausta could begin, the lady of the house carefully schooled her in the meal’s subtle order.

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Naturally enough, mild flavors were to be enjoyed before strong ones. Other pairings were more unexpected. While coriander still lingered on the palate, for example, a certain chutney was recommended. With Indian food especially, a cuisine overwhelmingly complicated both to prepare and to enjoy, a road map to proper order and sequence can be enormously helpful.

Julie Sahni’s Classic Indian Cooking, a book that has been staring down from Mr. Henry’s cookbook shelf for nearly three decades, lists recipes that require two days of preparation, a trip to Queens Boulevard for ingredients, and two prep chefs. From the cook they demand perhaps too much order.classic indian cooking-thumb.jpg

In this Orwellian world, orderliness itself has become a luxury – not the “law and order” kind, mind you, in which law is bent to better impose order. No, Mr. Henry is speaking of the luxurious order of solitude at breakfast, a companion at lunch, and a family at dinner. Mr. Henry would like to place his order for more of this kind, if you please, and pronto.

And what about the little strings running the length of a banana which usually break when pulled away? Cannot scientists address this affront to order? banan02.gif

Choctál

Mr. Henry is brand loyal. For decades he has kept the same barber, tailor, dentist, doctor, mechanic, and partner in marriage. For decades he has used the same personal products – the same soap, the same shampoo (the 2-in-1 kind, nothing fussy), and nearly the same toothpaste (now opting for one with more peroxide). He would still be buying Noxzema shave cream had they not removed most of the menthol and “improved” it into a goopy, flowery mess.

Change for its own sake pains Mr. Henry. (It is impractical, after all, to be an iconoclast unless you find some new, genuinely improved icon as replacement.) Though a religious and political firebrand, in personal habits Mr. Henry more closely resembles a hound curled up by the fireplace.

Notwithstanding these noble instincts, when first he tasted Choctál, in an instant he knew he would stray.

Heading for the ice cream locker at Zabar’s, he literally stumbled over the Choctál lady blocking the aisle. Peeved, he tried to sweep right past her. Doesn’t Mr. Henry KNOW that chocolate ice cream always disappoints? After years of disappointment, he no longer grouses about the lingering aftertaste of Hershey’s syrup lurking in every common brand. Now to satisfy his chocolate ice cream needs he simply shaves Scharffen Berger bitter onto Häagen-Dasz vanilla. Can there be a finer, simpler postscript to a meal than this?

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Yes, there can.

With one reluctant spoonful of chocolate from Ghana, he was a goner. Overwhelmed by feelings of guilt and shame – guilt at having strayed from his allegiances, shame at what little self-control he foresaw he would marshal – he bought three pints at a serious $7.00 each. Because it is an ice cream made with gelato technique, that is, with less air, the intensity of Choctál satisfies after only a single scoop. The price, therefore, is not outrageous.

The taste is absolute heaven.

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There are four flavors of chocolate, each from a single region. The darkest is Dominican, a spiraling, swooning ascent into chocolate valhalla.

The most enticing to the Henry household was Ghana, which, though still a dark chocolate, concludes with a bright, joyful, almost fruity finish. The Madagascar vanilla is unequalled in delicacy of aroma.

When he recovers from rapture, Mr. Henry will face the inevitable melancholy. First, he will worry about his waistline. Second, he will brood. Will this mid-life dalliance lead to more perilous infidelities? His remorse will surely be dark and bitter.

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