Meyertini

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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).
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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.

Meyertini

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

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

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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?
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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.

food.jpgIngredients:

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.

1938

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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Food for Thought