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Sour Cherry Pie Recipe with Ruth Reichl

*This article was originally written for Hudson Valley Magazine by Mike Diago

PHOTO BY MICHAEL SINGER

 

Ruth Reichl and the few who hold her status in the food world live a life of pleasure that is out of reach for most. They hop around the globe, on a lifelong tour of exceptional meals, paying back the universe by sharing their food or their written experiences of food. Those who share well get to keep living that life. Reichl shares well. She offers vivid sensory bursts to her 1.2 million Twitter followers almost daily:

“Sun just came out! Brilliant rain-washed sky. Sitting on bright green grass, bowl of cherries in my lap. Happy.”

She writes memoirs, like her recent Save Me The Plums, detailing her time as editor of Gourmet magazine, that embed family history and recipes all within a fluid narrative.

On a cool evening in June we met for dinner at Gaskins in Germantown, and I heard that familiar voice in person. After warming up with a tangy runner bean salad, a wood-fired soft-shell crab entrée, and a couple of glasses of rosé, she began sharing a personal food ritual that began 25 years ago in her Columbia County cottage:

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Soft Shell Crab, Gaskins

“Have you ever had a sour cherry pie? Let me just say that you have not lived until you have had a sour cherry pie. I remember the first time I made one for a dinner party up here; everyone had their first bite and the room went silent. Then you just heard a quiet, ‘Ohhhh.’ Even my son Nick, who was 8 and a picky eater at the time said, ‘This is good, Mom.’

“While sour cherries are in season I go to the farmers’ market every weekend and buy tons of them. I spend part of an afternoon taking the stones out — a cook at Gourmet showed me the best way to do this is to open up a paperclip and just flip them out. Once they are seeded, I freeze most of them so that I have them all winter; the freezing doesn’t change them. To bake a pie mid-winter, look out at mountains of white, and then taste summer, it is just heaven.”

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Ruth Reichl, Instagram

She gave her thoughts on food and morality (“I won’t eat tortured food. I don’t want to eat an animal whose best day is the day it dies.”); food and cultural appropriation (“We have been appropriating foods and ideas from other places for all of human history.”); and she shared more of the moments of bliss she is famous for recreating on Twitter and in her books. Like the “most perfect meal she ever had” that “changed her idea of what food could be.” It was a simple meal she had in Crete in 1970 of homemade yogurt, fresh-caught fish, homemade wine, and garden-grown onions and tomatoes.

Through her storytelling Reichl allows people into her heaven, and, for us in the Hudson Valley, she reminds us we live there, too.

Sour Cherry Pie

ADOBE STOCK / NIKNIKP

 

Recipe Excerpted from www.ruthreichl.com

Most sour cherry recipes are too sweet, which ruins the unique flavor of this elusive fruit.  This one, I think, is just about perfect. Another bonus: unlike so many pastries, this one is better when it’s had a little time to itself, and it tastes better on day two (provided it actually lasts that long).

Crostata Crust

This can be a soft and difficult dough to work with in the heat of summer.  But unlike regular pie dough, it’s a cookie-like pastry that’s very forgiving, and refuses to get tough, no matter how much you handle it. When it gets too soft, simply put it back in the refrigerator for five minutes to let it cool off. It will become much more accommodating.

Mix one and a half sticks of soft butter with a third cup of sugar in a stand mixer until fluffy.

Break an egg into a small dish; reserve a bit to wash the pastry later, and add the rest of the egg to the butter. Toss in a teaspoon of vanilla.

Grate the rind of one lemon into 2 and a quarter cups of flour. Add a pinch of salt and slowly add to the butter/egg mixture until it just comes together.  Divide into two disks, wrap in wax paper, and put in the refrigerator to chill for half an hour.

Cherry Filling

Meanwhile, make the cherry filling by removing the pits from 2 pints of fresh sour cherries; you should have 4 cups once the pits are removed. To pit the cherries, open a paper clip one fold, and use it to flip the pits out.  Works like a charm!  The pitted cherries freeze well; I try to freeze enough to last at least until Christmas.  Do not defrost before using.

Melt three tablespoons of butter in a large skillet.  Add the cherries, a half cup of sugar and the juice of one lemon and stir gently, just until the liquids come to a boil. Don’t cook them too long or the cherries will start to fall apart.

Make a slurry of 3 tablespoons of cornstarch with 3 tablespoons of cold water and stir it into the boiling cherries. Cook for about two minutes, stirring, just until the mixture becomes clear and thick.  Allow to cool.

Crostata Assembly

Preheat the oven to 375 and put a baking sheet on the middle shelf.

Remove the pastry disks from the refrigerator.  Roll out the first one, between two sheets of plastic wrap, to a round about twelve inches in diameter.  This is the tricky part: invert it into a 9 inch fluted tart pan, preferably one with high sides.  It will probably tear; don’t worry, just patch it all up and put it back into the refrigerator.

Roll out the second disk in the same manner, put it onto a baking sheet (still on the plastic wrap), remove the top sheet of plastic and cut this into 8 or 10 strips, about an inch wide.  Put the baking sheet into the refrigerator to chill for a few minutes.

Remove the tart shell and the strips from the refrigerator.  Pour the cherry filling into the tart shell. Now make a lattice of the strips on the top, criss-crossing them diagonally.  Don’t worry if they’re not perfect; no matter what you do, the tart’s going to look lovely when it emerges from the oven.  Brush the strips with the remaining beaten egg, sprinkle with sugar and put into the oven on the baking sheet.  (You need the sheet to keep cherry juices from spilling onto the oven floor.)  Bake for about 45 minutes, until golden.

Cool for an hour, on a rack, before removing the side of the tart pan.

Eat gratefully, knowing that fresh sour cherries are a short-lived summer treat.

 

Iowa Cheese Sandwich Recipe & Bob Dylan’s New Morning

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July 19, 2019

It’s my last day at the Iowa City Writing Festival. I’m inflamed—brain and gut—from seven days of suckling on Iowa City’s greasiest spoons and absorbing writing guidance till saturation.

I arrived last Friday, July twelfth, and spent the evening searching for authentic Iowa City. There are nine central blocks with eighty-two places to eat or drink; forty-five have full bars. Most are utilitarian college drinking pens—tinted windows, tables, pitchers, sports TV—but there are exceptions. I visited a hip restaurant outfitted like a midwestern luncheonette and was met with prescribed Iowan warmth from the waitress: straight handshake, disarming full-body smile and two minutes of small talk. Initially, I thought I must be giving off intriguing out-of-towner vibes but then she carried out the same routine with the next two schlubs. I downed a rye and ginger and left.

Next, I found my way to a punk bar with sanctioned graffiti and affected teen mad-dogs comparing rap sheets. Two strikes. I watched Jaws overhead through a tallboy and headed out. It was live music night on the pedestrian mall leading to the hotel.  I stopped to catch some bluegrass and enjoy my buzz in the late evening Iowa breeze. As I sat on a ledge I chatted with two confirmed Iowans and finally got some intel: “Go to the Hamburg #2 up in Northside and get a breaded tenderloin sandwich.”

Saturday morning my first workshop instructor began, “Share an occupation that is NOT your profession.” Students shared: “a keeper of ponies,” “a counter of freckles,” “a preparer.” She asked, “What makes you a preparer?”

The Texan pastor answered, “I bet I’m the only one sitting here with a pocket knife.”

“Write that down,” she said.

She wanted us to write like we would speak. She used Emerson’s Self-Reliance to illustrate. In it, he writes, “God will not have his work manifest by cowards.” We wrote from a prompt for ten minutes and read aloud. The pastor’s theatrical presentation was lobbed off by the cutting Long Island voice of our instructor. “Did you write that? That is pre-written,” she said. His head (and probably his blade) drooped in shame—a preparer indeed.

After class, I ventured northeast of center to look for the Hamburg #2 but noticed another two-story beauty next to a construction site—a sand-colored box with gray brick face covering its lower third. A skin-and-bones old man sat on a bench in front, limbs all crossed, only moving one arm from the elbow joint to drag a neat cigarette. He looked coin-operated. A green and yellow striped awning that read “George’s” gave him a nice block of shade. I entered the bar and no one addressed me. A subtle yodel-speak (Fargo-light) permeated.

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I took a seat and respectfully observed. The menu overhead has a hierarchy of three items—cheese sandwich, hamburger, and cheeseburger—a quarter nut machine and hanging bags of Lays supplement it. Faux velvet-gold wallpaper glows under dangling Christmas lights behind the bar. A free beerback, (a short beer) comes with any straight liquor drink. Busch Light is ordered so often it becomes more of a grunt than a word, the way New Yorkers order a breakfast sandwich with salpepeketchup. I had two Wild Turkeys and their two Busch Light beerbacks, and resolved to return the following night.

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The next day in my second workshop I told two locals in the group—both white-haired Iowa women affiliated with the catholic sisterhood (the workshop is not religious)—how much I liked George’s. The taller of the two leaned back in her chair looking delighted and confused. “George’s? My friends and I have been going there for decades.” This just validated the place more.

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After class I headed right back, saddled up, and ordered the cheeseburger and the cheese sandwich. They both came out in wax paper. I had to open them to decipher which was which. I took a chomp out of each. I was expecting a grilled cheese for the cheese sandwich but it was just a cheeseburger minus the burger (sesame seed bun, ketchup, mustard, pickles, onions, and a slice of American cheese). Perfectly tangy, soft and sweet even with its poverty of burger.

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My body relaxed and I began chatting with the man sitting next to me. He told me, “I just retired. General Mills. Would have done it two days earlier but I wanted to stay for my last union vote. We won, but now they are trying to discount my vote because they know I stayed longer on purpose.”

“What are you going to do now?” I asked

“I’m making Frida Kahlo t-shirts and selling them,” he said.

I looked at his red and black t-shirt more closely and there was Frida, screen-printed and stretched out over his Busch Light-filled gut. “I’m an artist,” he said.

We drank to it as Bob Dylan’s “The Man In Me” played overhead. I remembered what my workshop instructor had said. Reality is never one-sided; if you are writing that way pull back.

* The breaded tenderloin sandwich follows the same formula as the cheese sandwich, just add a breaded pork tenderloin. I had one two days ago at the Hamburg #2, a place where presidential candidates go to project folksiness. Evidence of this is all over the walls. Other places I liked: TCB pool hall, where I played straight pool with the trans author of an essay titled Straight Pool, Pagliai’s Pizza—the best pizza I have had in the past year, (I ate mine outside listening to free music from blues world big B.F. Burke), and Dave’s Foxhead, known as the dive where the writers hang (turns out to be true).

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Cheese Sandwich Recipe

According to the bartender Alex…

“We have an electric broiler, so if we are making burgers we just put all of the ingredients except the burger [usually pickles, ketchup, mustard, sesame seed bun, American cheese] on the warmer on top and the cheese melts and the bun slightly toasts. If we aren’t making burgers we just heat up a piece of aluminum foil and throw the slice of cheese on it to melt for 30 seconds. Something about the properties of processed American cheese helps it melt perfectly.”

Bob Dylan’s New Morning

The song was well matched to the moment at George’s. The fact that “the Man in Me” is in The Big Lebowski firmly associates it with a divey good time. T. Bone Burnett, the musical archivist for the movie, chose it for a reason. The la las, the singsong, “Oh, what a wonderful feeling” and the slow skipping tempo are made for dive-bar-day-drinking-delight anywhere from the mid to far west. Drinking whiskey and swill, eating cheese sandwiches and floating around the easy flat terrain of Iowa City sounds exactly like this album, New Morning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Youko Yamamoto Picks: Oyakadon Recipe & Eiichi Ohtaki

Youko Yamamoto is the chef/owner of the incoming TANMA! Ramen and Bar in Kingston and a radio DJ on her show Noodling with Youko; she recently came over and prepared her selection of Oyakodon w/Eiichi Ohtaki. She told us how this association was born out a moment of embarrassment in front of her best friend’s cool older brother  Noriaki and his friend Matsumoto-san:

“In 1975, I was living in Fukuyama, Japan and getting ready to go to college in Sapporo. I visited my friend Satomi in the new apartment she shared with her big brother, Noriaki., who we looked up because he was three years older and in a popular band. That day he and his bandmate from Kyoto, Matsumoto-san asked us to make oyakodon. We were confident since we had spent our upbringings next to our moms in the kitchen so we went out to buy the ingredients for the oyakodon from memory and came back and cooked it. It was awful. Noriaki said ‘Girls, you really have to learn. Why don’t you call your mom.’ We were so embarrassed. It turned out my mother had never asked me to help with oyakodon because it was so simple; I didn’t remember how to do it! What we served them was basically a dry omelet because we forgot to add dashi!

When I got to Saporro for college I bought a giant cookbook and flipped right to oyakodon. During that time in Saporro I was playing piano and keyboards in a lot of different bands myself and I would always cook for all of the boys in the bands. Oyakodon was one of the common dishes and it was the first time I made it with real Dashi. During this time I began experimenting with cooking eating and tasting and I developed a lot of cooking skill.

The members of my band liked hard rock. We would play covers of Deep Purple and Jeff Beck, but I enjoyed listening to Japanese pop like Eiichi Ohtaki and Happy End—the music that Noriaki and Matsumoto-san used to play and listen to. So when I would be off cooking oyakodon for the band Eiichi Ohtaki was often playing.”

Eiichi Ohtaki

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Eiichi Ohtaki got his start in the early seventies with the group Happy End but he went on to produce solo work from the mid-seventies into the mid-eighties. His most famous album, A Long Vacation (1981), is listed everywhere as one of the most important Japanese pop-rock albums of all time—a quintessential summer album. It is worth a listen for the interesting way he combines super cheesy cruise ship lounge synthesizers, soft hazy vocals and pop melodies. Youko’s experience is better represented in the album Niagara Moon. It came out in 1976 and is what she was listening to at the time.

Niagara Moon showcases how Ohtaki gathers influences from every corner of the American popular music canon. Perhaps from a distance, it is easier to see the whole range of possibilities and imagine different combinations. He somehow combines the funky Rhodes-sounding piano, twangy country-rock slide, barbershop quartet vocals, Lousiana horns, and urban 60’s key-banging garbage pail rock. Give this a listen as you make the recipe below for oyakodon. As it says on the album cover it is “good at COOL time!”

 

COOKING with YOUKO
the original recipe “OYAKO-DON”

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INGREDIENTS for 4 servings

4 dried shiitake mushrooms
1 stalk of long scallion or Mitsuba                                                                                                   3C Japanese rice                                                                                                                                        2 boneless chicken breast                                                                                                                    1 onion                                                                                                                                                       4 eggs

Seasoning Sauce

 sake 2/3 C

water 2/3 C                                                                                                                                     shiitake juice 1 1/2 C                                                                                                                          mirin 3 oz
soy sauce 10 oz                                                                                                                             sugar* 2/3 Tablespoon
sea salt  2/3 Teaspoon

*not white sugar, organic evaporated cane juice highly recommended

 

INSTRUCTIONS

1. Tap shiitake mushroom caps to remove dust from gills, soak them in water in room temperature and leave overnight. Make sure the mushrooms are submerged in water—use a small plate for weight. Squeeze out mushroom juice and skim it through a tea strainer. Keep it aside.

2. Wash 3 cups of long grain rice. Add 3 cups of water and 3 cups of rice to a pot with a tight-fitting lid. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to low. Cover and cook for 12-15 minutes. Turn off heat, let rest for ten minutes, then uncover and stir.

3. Flambé sake in a saucepan, add all other sauce ingredients, cook, and keep on skimming the impurities. Cook it down to 2/3 of the original amount.

 

4.  Cut off stem and slice shiitake mushrooms 1/8” wide
Slice scallion in a sharp angle to 1/8” wide
Slice onion 1/4” wide
Slice chicken breast diagonally to prepare slices 1/4” thick, 1”wide x 2” long

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5. Sauté sliced onion with medium heat in a large pan until yellow, add chicken, and cook both sides to 1/2 way done.

6. Place shiitake mushroom slices on top, pour about 2/3 of the seasoning sauce (enough to cover all the ingredients) and cook until chicken is 2/3 done.

7. Turn the heat to medium-high, pour beaten eggs evenly, scatter scallion (or Mitsuba) slices, and cover the pan.

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8. Serve rice in an ample size donburi bowl and flatten the top. Add some of the sauce from the pan.

9. When the eggs are still slightly runny, use a spatula to quarter the cooked topping, and slide it over the rice with the sauce.

Meshiagare!

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Belgian Frites with Andalouse Sauce Recipe & Total Science

In 2001 I found myself in a swirling neon centrifuge of euro club-kid culture—the final act of separation between my mind and the rhythms of American teenage life as I knew it.

My father and I moved to a quaint Belgian town named Waterloo (famous as the site where Napoleon had his final tantrum). I was to attend my senior year at the local English-speaking high school.

We lived in an apartment off of a house occupied by a British, fellow 18-year-old named Mick.  I gathered evidence on what sort of scene I might be encountering: Mick was always perched in the room above a garage overseeing the comings and goings of zippy tricked out hatchbacks and scooters through the smokey light of a single-window; French language banter and pumping drum and bass music were audible at all times; before long I ventured up to check it out.

A dim, low-ceiled attic space with throw-away couches lining the perimeter harbored various international refugees from parental supervision. Between spliffs, chuckles and rounds of Tony Hawk Pro Skater; Mick, Fabby, and Tim; from England, Italy, and Holland respectively; and others from South Africa, Turkey, Serbia, and Belgium; were forever plotting weekend missions to Brussels to see Drum and Bass DJ’s at electronic dance clubs. These were a far cry from the house parties I was raised on in NY. A friend back home had recently told me about his adventures at the club Limelight in Manhattan so I was aware that there was a modicum of coolness attached to this sort of thing; I would just need a companion as I acclimated.

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Mick introduced me to Joli Bois, a local friterie that sold the most long, steamy and sumptuous Belgian Frites wrapped in a paper cone and topped with a choice of sauces—the creamy, orange-colored ‘Andalouse’ was always my pick. As the crew talked techno I’d slouch into a futon mattress, gripping the hot paper cone, and space out within the obscurity of a mixed cloud of hash smoke and frites steam. I grounded myself in each bite of hot salty potato mush as the cacophony of French and electro-thumping carried on. Inevitably, the spell would be broken as me and my full belly were ushered into the cramped backseat of a Seat Ibiza for an express ride to the club.

The usual destination was Gare de Bruxelles-Chappelle—an abandoned subway station turned thumping underground rave venue, covered in decades of accumulated street art. It was a feast for my teenage appetite. After many consecutive weekends there my feeble and disgruntled fist pumps transformed into genuine grooving.

The music was dark, it was street, it was primal and it made you feel like the whole club was going to turn into to ecstasy dealing techno werewolves halfway through the night—and they sort of did. As the sun came up in the early morning I’d find myself confused and in strange places: once in a downtown office building watching army tanks rattle down the middle of the street, and another time at some enchanted forest park between Brussels and Waterloo; all part of the drum and bass mystery I suppose. Often times I’d hit the reset button the next day by ordering another cone of frites—always from Joli Bois—and letting the warm steam re-hydrate my mind, body, and soul back at the garage. Their function had changed but, thankfully, their form had not.

Before I knew it that year was over and I was on a flight back to upstate NY. I haven’t listened to that music or come across a comparable frites stand since.

Total Science

Total Science happens to be the only act I saw at ‘Gare’ that I can remember by name. After some quick research on the pair of DJ/producers , (Paul Smith and Jason Greenhalgh), it looks like they came together in Oxford, England in the late eighties, were initially interested in Hip-Hop and then followed a course of a dark, fast-tempo electronic music until eventually arriving at Drum and Bass, where they made their most significant mark. Greenhalgh is most famous for his Champion Sounds and the later drum and bass production he did prolifically as part of Total Science, most actively around 2001, the year I saw him. Thanks to Spotify, a quick listen brought the music and memories all back into focus even after 18 years (another whole lifetime!) drum and bass free. As I make the frites recipe below I am playing this album:

Belgian Frites:

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First a word on nomenclature: French fries should probably be called Belgian fries. One theory is they were named French because of the language Belgians were speaking when Americans encountered them eating this dish—likely around World War I. Call them French Fries stateside if you want, (nobody wants to sound like a snob), but understand the probable origins.

Ingredients: The frites from Joli Bois seemed longer than any naturally born potato I’ve ever known; maybe I’m just superimposing them in my mind, but each frites seemed to reach all the way to the bottom of the cone. In any case, I liked them this way; buy the longest potatoes you can. In Belgium they use Bintjes but American readers can just use Idaho. Older potatoes work better since they have lower water content. The only other ingredients are salt (Iodized works well here; fries are one of the few places I use it) and fat (animal fat is traditional but any low smoke point fat works fine).

Preparation:

  1. Peel and cut the potatoes as long as possible, just under a centimeter squared. Soak them in cold water for about 5-10 minutes to remove excess starch and then dry them thoroughly.

2. Fill oil about halfway up a large dutch oven and heat to 320 F (160 C) (use a candy or oil thermometer).

3. Add a batch of fries—1-2 handfuls—and fry stirring regularly until they are mostly cooked through.  No more than 8 minutes.

4. Cool for 1/2 hour, spread them out if you can so they don’t stick. You can do more batches of the first frying as you wait. Just ensure the temp comes back to 320 after each batch.

5. Raise the oil temperature to 375 and fry again for just 2-3 minutes to crisp them up. They should be very light gold.

Andalouse Sauce:

This is the king of all frites sauces and I would recommend keeping the condiment on hand to add to frites among other things—smeared over a burger for example. You can easily buy it here but making it is easy. Stir the following ingredients together vigorously and let them sit in the refrigerator for up to a day but at least a couple of hours.

1 cup mayo

2 tbsp tomato paste

2 tbsp minced onion

2 tbsp minced bell peppers (one red one green ideally)

1 tbsp of lemon juice

salt to taste

Serving:

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If you are going to make these often and you can get large quantities of the authentic paper cones here . Otherwise, do what I do and fold a brown paper bag down. Drop a hefty glob of the andalouse sauce on top and eat with fingers or a fork. Get small wooden frites forks here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Legend of ‘Champ’: Eyewitness Accounts

 

Champ——the prehistoric god of the lake— didn’t bestow Lucas, Alex, Mario and I with any good luck on our ice fishing trip trip last February. We left without fish or new lake monster sightings to add to the record. Perhaps in the age of smartphone cameras, she’s been laying low. In the late eighties/early ’90s though…

“I started as a disbeliever, went right on past being a believer, to being a knower.” Walter Tappan, on Champ Eyewitness Sighting #235 July 5, 1988

“A lot of people believe that there is one wretched creature that’s been in the lake for millenia but that’s really absurd. There would have to be a breeding colony.” Richard Deuel, Champ Scientist

 

Pickled Pike Recipe & Stan Rogers

A briefing just popped up on my phone from the New York Times. It reads, “It will be colder in the Midwest today than in Antarctica.” Terms like polar vortex and instant frostbite are broadcasting from Zoraida’s radio upstairs. All of this frostiness has me reflecting on an ill-fated ice fishing trip I organized last February to the island of North Hero on Lake Champlain near the Vermont/Canada border.

I’ve idealized ice fishing since hearing stories about my French Canadian Great Grandfather Leopold Arbour’s exploits: lumberjacking for a living as he made his way to Schenectady from the Gaspe Peninsula (near Newfoundland), legendary Irish jig dancing at parties, and sitting on a cold, dreadful lake all day staring into a black hole as he drank copious amounts of blood-thinning whiskey. Last year I recruited the first three brave and mutually foolish souls I could find. I stoked their imaginations with tales of the sharp-toothed Northern Pike known regionally as the water wolf, and the (mythological?) Champlanian lake monster, Champ. The final team comprised: Lucas, a globe-trotting filmmaker who has roughed it everywhere from the high peaks of Nepal to the fast streets of Manila; Mario, a longhaired carpenter, history buff and roots music crooner; and Alex, our resident journalist, deep thinker, and political operative.

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Sweater, Northern Pike (Waterwolf), Leopold Arbour (left to right)

Alex, Mario and I drove north to meet Lucas, his wife Kate, and their baby Ayla at their Vermont cabin. We gathered reports of snow-covered mountain roads and an incoming blizzard along the way; We verified these reports as we slid around the crisscrossing frozen-mud tire tracks leading up to the place. We arrived, spent an evening sharing food, drink, and stories around the woodstove, and fell asleep to the sound of Irish folk tunes sung and strummed by Mario. Before fading out completely I poured what was left of our bottle of Wild Turkey into Grandpa Leopold Arbour’s glass flask—an ancient relic wrapped with leather and emblazoned with a Canadian Maple leaf—and packed it in my coat for the next morning.

When I woke up the sky was pitch black aside from ghostly white wisps of snow. Lucas was on the phone in the kitchen having a tense conversation. I entered the room as he clicked the phone on its base and glanced away. It was his Vermont fisherman dad Ron, “You guys are crazy. You will never make it!” As predicted, the snow had fallen all through the night and was still coming down in full whiteout mode. I picked up the phone and called Bruce, our North Country contact on the ice, to gauge his reaction. With the earnest and oblivious cheer of a mountain man, he told me things were “all set!” Everyone else floated into the kitchen, each taking their turn glancing out the window silently, with extra pause, jaws hanging down slightly, but when no one made serious mention of the impending doom it became clear I had prepared a ship without an anchor—a well-chosen crew indeed. With a shrug, we departed.

The trip northward involved all the expected hazards—backsliding, getting stuck, low visibility—but the experimental conversation and humor that accompanies 4 unsupervised men was the biggest road hazard of all. Lucas recommended we “gun it!” just prior to spotting our first accident, Mario argued in support of previously assumed-terrible 90’s artists Alanis Morisette and Third Eye Blind, Alex gave his case for unfiltered communism, and I DJed seethingly violent gangster rap playlists with one hand as I steered the ship with the other.

We arrived and found Bruce. He explained with a chuckle that the Snowmobile had seized up and that we’d be dragging a sled a half-mile out onto the ice in the blizzard carrying a hundred pounds worth of equipment through a couple of feet of snow. With another shrug we started hauling; I noticed Alex was wearing suede ‘desert boots,’ but not complaining. We arrived and started a fire in the shanty wood stove. Bruce’s sidekick—a young man who is apparently always eager to demonstrate Vermont’s lax weed culture—informed us that ice fishing doesn’t just happen in the shanty; you have to drill holes in the ice of the surrounding lake and then stand outside watching the tip-ups—a small tripod that sits over the hole and shoots a flag up if you have caught something. If you catch something or lose the bait, you have to stick your hands into gelid ice-water and fidget uselessly with the hook until he feels enough pity to come over and help—imagine threading a needle using frozen hot dogs as chopsticks. After the first round of this bullshit we headed into the shanty to thaw out. There are four holes to pole-fish from in there but it is not usually where the action happens.

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Left to right: Alex, Lucas, Mario

I pulled the flask from my pocket. Surely  the spirit of Leopold would come in the form of Wild Turkey. We each took a ceremonious swig followed by less ceremonious swigs until it was all gone. We sat there staring into our respective icy fates, spirits only thawed slightly from the whiskey when a giant black shadow circled under the ice. Champ? The Water Wolf? It disappeared and then circled back in a rush and all of our poles ripped down out of our hands snapping against the ice…just kidding. Lucas caught one fish that may have just been re-caught bait—it certainly looked that way when he held it up beside his 6′ 6” frame. According to Bruce, because of our late arrival, the prime feeding time had passed. We endured the rest of the day, checking our tip-ups faithfully, so as not to disappoint the spirit of Leopold. Maybe that spirit has more to do with enduring conditions that are horrible by every sensory measure and staying put with a gritty smirk and wild whiskey glazed eyes. Who knows? With a final shrug, we trekked back off the ice. The snow had finally let up.

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The Pairing

 To feel the spirit of Leopold without having to go through all of that, I recommend pairing Pickled Pike (of the water wolf variety if you can catch it) or pickled Herring or Mackerel. My great-grandfather used to pickle everything and had a basement full of provisions.  Eat these with a sheath of saltines and perhaps some pickled eggs straight from a jar with cold, stubby fingers. The more you have to struggle the better. As you work, play some Stan Rogers, a Nova Scotian Folk musician I came across after investigating Irish chunes that Mario sent me. The nautical themes and Celtic feel recall the icy winds we endured that day, Mario’s singing the night before, and my great-grandfather’s jig dancing. Some of the best songs I encountered were Oh No Not I, (3:36) and The Jennie C. (14:17) both of which can be found on this album, Turnaround, below.

Stan Rogers

Pickled Pike (or other fish)

Recipe Author: Hank Shaw

Ingredients

  • 1 cup kosher salt
  • 5 cups water, divided
  • 1 pound pike, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (*don’t worry about the bones, they will dissolve-MD)
  • 2 cups cider or white wine vinegar
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seed
  • 2 teaspoons whole allspice
  • 2 teaspoons black peppercorns
  • 2 leaves bay
  • Peel of 1 lemon, sliced and white pith removed
  • 1 medium red onion, thinly sliced

 Instructions

 Heat 4 cups of water enough to dissolve the salt. Let this brine cool to at least room temperature, preferably colder. When it is cold enough, submerge the pike pieces in the brine and refrigerate overnight. Meanwhile, bring the sugar, vinegar, the remaining cup of water and all the spices to a boil. Simmer 5 minutes, then turn off the heat and let this steep until cool.

When the pike has brined, layer it in a glass jar with the sliced lemon peel, bay leaves, and red onion. Pour over the cooled pickling liquid with all the spice and seal the jars. Wait at least a day before eating—ten days is better. Store in the fridge for up to 1 month.

 

Fisherman’s Eggs Recipe & Andres Segovia

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This pairing is inspired by the 1958 movie version of the Old Man and the Sea, starring Spencer Tracy (I never read the book. So what?); The old hazy camera tech makes it feel like a memory and the story deals with the willingness to risk annihilation in order to achieve something, be something, or find your old self again.

Santiago, an elderly Cuban fisherman, hasn’t caught a fish in 84 days. The town’s fishermen are losing respect; even his young apprentice Manolin has been told by his parents to stay away from him. Santiago is now officially salao, meaning cursed. He returns to his fisherman’s shack every night alone and defeated. Manolin sneaks over there in the mornings to bring him a newspaper and to prepare him simple food with coffee.

On the 85th day, Santiago heads out in his small wooden skiff viciously determined. After a long while, he feels a tug on his line; an enormous marlin that will purge his bad reputation. Unfortunately, he can’t reel the giant fucker in. But he’s not going back to shore empty-handed. If he does he might as well be salao forever and Santiago is not going out like that. He holds on to the line through two days and two nights, as it twists and turns in his grip, shredding the skin of his hands. The fish finally weakens and he pulls it in and ties it to the side of the boat. As he trolls it back to shore, sharks begin to circle. He fends them off with a makeshift spear but not before they devour the meat. He arrives to shore with a bare carcass. The townspeople pity him and back to the shack, defeated and alone, goes poor Santiago.

This must have been about Hemingway’s own struggle. Leading up to this book, he was a bit like the old man: aging, feeling depressed and going through a long slump of his own. This book was his own redeemer like the marlin would have been for Santiago. He won Pulitzer and Nobel Prizes for it.

A lot of people go through trying times that can drive them to greatness or defeat, that is why stories like this one are so popular. My own battle came in my early twenties. After spending four years of high school in four different countries, constantly re-adapting, I was spat back onto a familiar surface with familiar friends in Albany, NY. Although I knew it well, I felt far away and unable to reconnect. I began floating through life’s motions for years, moving around some more, feeling like I had potential but not knowing where to fit. I found something that I loved, that I could become great at through hours of practice, ignoring the outside world: the Flamenco guitar.

I neglected relationships, work, and money. I traveled back and forth from NYC for lessons and concerts two or three times a week after working a full day upstate; often, I wouldn’t get home until two in the morning. On regular nights, I would string together four hours of practice regardless of how late it kept me up.

I made quick progress, but when I witnessed the rapid-fire alzapuas and picados of more experienced semi-pro players, I realized I had a long way to go. Flamenco requires decades to master, and I was starting late. I had to cram— ignoring the famous quote of classical master Andres Segovia: “anyone who practices more than three hours a day is stupid or lying.” A dull pain crept into my wrists, arms, and back, part of a chronic pain condition that had leveled other guitarists. I played out once more couple of months later, but the following morning I couldn’t open my hands. As calls came in for my first paid work, I had to turn them down. My arms felt like the marlin carcass, tendons shredded and meat falling off the bones; My spirit felt like the old man’s. I had to drag myself back to my cabin and start over.

That was years ago, and though I still have the condition, I have a much more balanced, happy and healthy life now. I play guitar casually, cook more, and spend time with my friends and family.

One of the dishes I cook often is Fisherman’s Eggs. It reminds me of the rustic seaside setting of this film; It seems like the type of one-skillet meal Manolin would have prepared for Santiago along with some crusty bread to nurse his spirit back to health. I’ve included a quick recipe for pan con tomate, a Spanish staple that brings the right combo of crunch and acidity to this meal. Cook this for a quiet early morning breakfast before heading out to do your days tasks.

Andres Segovia

 Andres Segovia’s gentle melodies are perfect for nursing an ailing soul. Every note he plays is drenched in tone. Also, he kind of resembles Santiago with his stout stature and gray hair. He was enormously popular during the time the Old Man and the Sea came out. Anytime I talk to someone of that generation about flamenco guitar they say, “how bout’ that Segovia.” He was actually a classical guitarist not flamenco but whatever. You will still find his records in thrift stores and estate sales across the country and you might even find a VHS of this movie scattered in the same heap.

Fisherman’s Eggs Recipe

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Ingredients:

4 cloves garlic (minced)

2 -3 tbsp flat-leaf parsley roughly chopped. Reserve a couple whole sprigs.

1 can of sardines in oil

1 shallot minced

Olive oil

4 eggs

Hot sauce

  1. Prep all your ingredients
  2. Heat a cast-iron skillet rubbed with oil for four to five minutes on broil.
  3. Remove and add the garlic, chopped parsley, onions, and sardines with oil, breaking up the sardines roughly.
  4. Mix with salt, pepper, and more oil and return to the broiler for four to six minutes.
  5. Remove it again, stir and gently pour eggs over the top. Add two whole sprigs of parsley over the eggs and return to the oven until whites are cooked but yolks jiggle. 3-4 minutes.
  6. Add salt, pepper, oil, and hot sauce to taste. Serve with pan con tomate and strong coffee.

Pan Con Tomate

Ingredients:

Baguette. Sliced in half lengthwise and quartered crosswise. Lightly toasted.

2 garlic cloves, peeled halved

2 tomatoes

Olive oil

  1. Rub toast lightly with garlic
  2. Cut tomatoes in half, remove most seeds with a finger and grate flesh side down on a box grater.
  3. Spread pulp over garlic toast and with more salt and pepper and a glug of olive oil.

 

 

 

 

 

Flamenco Food Vibes

Here is a documentary from Tao Ruspoli that features, Juan Del Gastor, my flamenco teacher in Sevilla. He comes from a long line of Flamenco Gypsys that includes gods like his uncle Diego Del Gastor. I got some hilarious cooking lessons similar to the one Ruspoli is receiving in the video. Del Gastor has a rustic style of cooking. As I recall, we were making soup one day and he boomed at me, “Sin Pelar!!”, basically meaning, “Stop peeling the vegetables you fool! Throw them in whole!”

The second video is about Flamenco in the coastal Andalusian town of Jerez; it highlights the Morao family.   The opening scene shows him eating pan con tomate as it is often eaten, at a neighborhood tapas bar over coffee and the newspaper.

 

 

Paella Recipe & Camarón de la Isla

IMG_0147-2Nothing will ever match my first wood fired paella. When I was twelve and my family lived in Spain, we took a road trip out to the farmhouse of some family friends in the dry Spanish countryside near Pamplona. When we arrived there was a stout old man standing over a fire, roughly shoveling heaps of shrimp and vegetables the massive pan on top. I watched all the ingredients simmer while the aroma of the saffron tied everything together.

I must have blacked out the wait because my memory cuts to sitting at the long indoor table, cheerfully cramped with about fifteen other people, all staring at the delicious heap of yellow rice topped with whole shrimp and mussels. I had learned to correctly peel the head and skin off a whole shrimp earlier that year, so there was nothing slowing me down. After eating to exhaustion my sisters and I climbed up into the large farmhouse attic where we each took our place on one of many guest beds. An old woman who lived there came upstairs and covered each of our bellies with warm blankets to help digestion. After a long nap, I went outside and found my place on a hammock where I swung blissfully.

A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of putting on my best re-enactment of that cooking performance for about twenty friends here in Beacon. My research tells me that original Paella was made from rabbit so I made sure to use one whole rabbit along with a whole chicken.  I cheated a little by cooking with an outdoor gas burner—mainly because I have not yet set up a fire area in the backyard of my new house. I must say that cooking this way is far easier but less thrilling—thrill being the more important factor. Nevertheless, this was one of the best Paellas I have ever cooked and the guests seemed to like it too!

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Paella

Ingredients: Aside from the rice, I’m leaving off exact measurements because I want you to be able to adjust per the size pan you use. A few guidelines though: give half a cup of rice per person and rice should be cooked in a layer no more than 3/4 of an inch thick to ensure more rice is in contact with the pan and you develop some socarrat (crust). Use 2 1/2 cups of liquid for each cup of rice.

Chicken pieces and livers

Rabbit pieces

Mixed vegetables: artichokes, green beans, fava beans work well

Tomato sauce

Stock or water

Saffron, quickly toasted and crumbled

Rosemary sprigs

Whole garlic cloves

Short-grain rice

  1. Level the pan using a carpenter’s level.
  2. Heat the pan until nearly smoking and then apply a generous pool of olive oil to the center.
  3. After the oil is hot, add enough chicken and rabbit pieces to cover the bottom with a few inches between each piece. Brown for five minutes.
  4. Add the livers for three minutes.
  5. Add vegetables and garlic (5 minutes)
  6. Add enough tomato sauce to coat the ingredients without having everything swim in it. Stir occasionally until the sauce begins to stick. This will make your sofrito. The longer it takes the deeper the flavor. At least twenty minutes.
  7. Add stock up to the screws of the paella pan.
  8. Add several whole rosemary sprigs and bring it all to boil for ten minutes.
  9. Add a pinch of paprika and a pinch of toasted and crumbled saffron threads per cup of rice. Mix and taste for seasonings here.
  10. Add rice and bring to a strong boil for ten minutes.
  11. Remove rosemary and garlic
  12. The heat should get to a low over about ten minutes. Maintain this until the rice is cooked and the liquid is evaporated. If the paella is dried and the rice isn’t done add SLIGHTLY more stock and wait a little more.
  13. If it is nearly done and there is no crust (socarrat) at the bottom you can add a little heat at the end.
  14. Remove from heat and cover (use dish towels, brown paper bags, aluminum foil…) and rest for five minutes.
  15. Garnish with lemon wedges.
  16. Either plate it or pass out forks and eat straight from the pan (like they do in Valencia).

Camarón de la Isla

Camarón (José Monge Crúz), was regarded as a god in the flamenco world. He is to flamenco singing what Paco de Lucia was to flamenco guitar. The two played together during the seventies in what was one of the most productive and innovative times in the centuries old flamenco tradition. After Paco went on to focus on a solo career Tomatito served as Camaron’s principal guitarist beginning with the album below. This album is perhaps the pinnacle of the modernization of flamenco that happened in the seventies. It contains more pop and latin rhythms than a more strictly traditional flamenco would. This makes it a bit more fitting to play for a general crowd at your paella party.

Buttermilk Pancake Recipe & Willie Nelson

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Don Fonda was a king in the realm of pranks and wisecracks.  He would spin yarns to us grandkids about his days working at the telephone company—like the time he switched around the gas gauge and the speedometer in a co-worker’s truck, or the time he drove a fussy trainee deep into the Adirondack Mountains, looking at him suggestively the whole way, and then finally lunging at him,”come ‘ere ya big lug!” He could tell a one-liner that would make you bust a stitch. One of his routines was to point out a buxom woman as we were driving around in his Ford F-250, Big Red, and say in his mock-hillbilly voice, “Mike, look at her; you can tell she’s a girl because of the long hair” and then slap his knee and pant out big a laugh.

He was immaculate in the way he kept everything from his garage to his marriage, and he had mastered methods for life’s maintenance that he generously passed along. He would show you a clever way to wind up an extension cord so that it could hang perfectly from a nail, or model how to use the right amount of humor and humility to keep the tone of a marriage soft.

When I was thirteen my mother and I lived with my grandparents for a while, during which time he shared many of these gems of wisdom.  On weekend mornings he would stand over the stove making steaming batches of pancakes, shoveling them off to the family without sitting to eat until everyone else had gotten theirs. I’d stand in the kitchen watching and I’d hear the same bit of advice each time: to always add buttermilk. Later he’d show me how to tie knots or we’d watch an old movie like Jeremiah Johnson. He’d always turn to me and imitate Robert Redford’s frontiersman mentor in the movie, “you know how to skin grizz’ boy?!”

He was a true classic and the undisputed patriarch of the family. We all look back on him in our own ways but I tend to remember him most when I’m cooking up batches of pancakes for my own little family now on weekend mornings. My wife wonders why I put on Willie Nelson every time I’m cooking pancakes but somehow the combination opens a portal into his spirit for me—although I think he was actually more of a Kenny Rogers fan.

Something about flipping pancakes on a buttery cast-iron pan while listening to Willie Nelson conjures up the type of American experience that my grandfather lived for.  I think his greatest joy besides family was being on the road. In retirement, he convinced my grandmother to sell their house and live in an RV for a year—which he smoothly turned into five. He probably would have fit right in with Willie Nelson’s Highwaymen had he played an instrument!

Willie Nelson: Both Sides Now

Buttermilk Pancakes with Scrambled Eggs

Ingredients:

One cup buttermilk, one cup of flour, one egg and one teaspoon of baking powder.

Instructions:

1.Mix the dry ingredients adding salt and sugar according to preference. I use a tablespoon of sugar and a few pinches of salt.

2. Mix the eggs and buttermilk in another bowl.

3. Mix the wet ingredients into the dry.

4. Get a cast-iron pan nice and hot so it’s almost ready to smoke, melt plenty of butter to cover the surface and ladle in the batter.

5. Once the steam holes have poked through and they have hardened just a bit flip them once. Continue adding butter.

5. As each one finishes add it to a plate, put a pad of butter on top and then cover it with a large bowl. You’ll be amazed how warm they stay while you finish cooking.

6. After you’ve cooked your last pancake mix in a little pancake batter to the egg scramble and pour them into the same piping hot cast iron pan. They shouldn’t stick at all if the pan is hot enough. You should continuously move them for about ten seconds and voila.

Bacon

As a side note, if the stove top is overly occupied what I like to do is cut the whole pack of bacon in half and add all of the pieces to a baking sheet to cook in the oven. They will come out crispier than you think. Just preheat to 400 degrees and leave them alone for about fifteen minutes.

I hope you like…

RIP Don Fonda 1931-2000

 

 

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