What Food Is, What Food Isn’t

Chiefly, food can distract us from more pressing, submerged experiences.  Standing over a stove or dining out, the aromas, textures, and flavors require focus.  That focus might go elsewhere.

Take last night.  Please.  We’re talking a gazpacho.  Could anything be easier to prepare, tastier, seasonal, or economical?  Followed by a few strands of bigoli in a guanciale sauce.  Piquant.  Finally, pan seared big-eye tuna tossed with Chinese chives, bean sprouts, and a light sauce of hoisin, soy, and ground cayenne pepper.

The entire prep took about 18 minutes.

Throughout it, I could forget a few key things in my life.

The “trick” is to limit the amount of time spent cooking, and use that cooking time in a restorative way.  Like a vacation from the mind–few things are as mindless as cooking.

As Summer Goes On

There’s a lot of loose talk about summer coming to close, and there are signs, too, but really?  No haste.  I will say that seeing Halloween decorations in a store yesterday unhinged me.

No, I’d rather acknowledge the daily, ever changing trees in this neighborhood, and how each day on walks one can see subtle and not so subtle evidence of lush, green renewal.

It’s a productive time for me, unusually, and I’ve been maintaining a steady diet of reading two good books each week, writing a few articles for national publications, and I’ve even written 32 pages of my new book that I can stand to look at.

I’m not sure why it is that I’ve been so focused.  Less gin?  Less drama in my personal life?  A sense, finally, of personal authority?

Even in the kitchen, focus is greater.  Alacrity of prep, etc.  Why, just last night in 20 minutes of prep there was a dry rubbed rack of pork ribs, gazpacho, homemade baked beans, and a salad of cherry tomatoes and fennel.

Meanwhile as Rilke, whose poems I translated ages ago for an undergraduate thesis, wrote:

My eyes rest upon your face wide-open;

and they hold you gently, letting you go

when something in the dark begins to move.

Where to Eat in NYC

Now that’s apparent that I’ll be in NYC more often than I’ve been since I was in high school, and having enough wherewithal to eat food other than falafel and pizza, it has become clear that I have to decide where to eat with more time on my hands than the usual three day weekend of five meals.

I’m enamored completely with il Buco di Alimentari.  That stays on the list.  So does Esca.  So does Rotisserie Georgette.  And there are others I enjoy very much, but when I look at menus online and think of meals in town, the list narrows.

Time to try new places.

I’m looking forward to checking out Black Seed and the new cafe @ Russ & Daughters.  Curious, too, about Barchetta (despite the strange menu of entrees).  Eager to go to Bar Primi.  Want to check out Heartwood, my friend Mark Fiorentino’s new place.  Kajitsu, new location, worth a visit.  Motorino, on the list.

Meanwhile, closer to home, it’s a big order from Browne Trading: Get cooking.

Time Is on My Side

It’s only 142 shopping days left until Christmas, last week I saw small acorns scattered on the sidewalk, and today bark of sycamore trees had peeled and fallen to the ground.  Yesterday evening it was dark at 7:30 P.M. when I returned from the fifth walk of the day with the dogs.

I’ve been keeping up with my regimen of reading two books a week, which started six weeks ago, and having finished with the very good novels, “The Last of the Vostyachs,” (Diego Marani), “Never Any End to Paris,” (Enrique Viula-Matas), and “Running in the Family,” (Michael Ondaatje), it’s on to, “The Lover” (Marguerite Duras), ” and “I am Zlatan” (Zlatan Ibrahimovic), and “Shire” (Ali Smith).

I don’t get out much.

That’s good news for a couple of reasons.

First, there are the eight good pages of my new book.  Eight pages I can stand to look at.

Then, too, it’s the cooking, which is mostly vegetarian, due to the bounty, such as the fried zucchini blossoms I made last night, but also includes tonight’s ground turkey with Chinese chives, fried tofu in hoisin, and hot sesame and black vinegar noodles.


Schweizer Bundesfeier

Like all of you reading this, I’ve been up early preparing for Swiss Independence Day.  How do we do it?  The bunting, the gathering of wood for the grill, the sausages, and, of course, gathering up the musicians. It’s never easy to find an accordionist who can play, S isch halt Vollmond.

After the morning ablutions, I drove over to the very wonderful Swiss bakery and bought croissant, weggli, and pretzels.  Their croissant are easily the best in the city because of all the butter they use and what seems to be a whole wheat flour.  The pretzels?  Well, you might as well be in a village in Switzerland.  They are that good.

The holiday in Switzerland isn’t marked by parades or jingo.  Just lots of grilling or raclette and fireworks.

I spent a huge part of my early youth in Switzerland, and as such it makes me feel younger still each time I’m there or in thrall of its mountains.  Those mountains certainly dwarf our petty, brief lives.

En guete!


One World, Two Worlds, Three Worlds, Four…

I woke up to the news of the bombing of a school in Gaza, but, thank goodness, there on Page One of the Dining section of the NY Times was Pete Wells’s review of Russ & Daughters Cafe, which I already had commented on yesterday.  You can see my comment online @ The NY Times.

Without the Jewish people, it seems that there wouldn’t be the same front page stories.

Throw in the lead story in today’s NY Times–“Paying Ransoms, Europe Bankrolls Qaeda Terror”–and you get the gist.  (How can an “a” follow the “Q” here?  What makes the terrorists think they don’t have to use a “u” after “Q” as most of us do?)

Is there a connection between these three events?  An obvious war crime, an obvious plate of delicious salmon, an obvious move to rescue hostages that, ironically, funds the very organization that kidnaps people so that more hostages can be taken.  It seems as if it’s a spiral in each case, a repetition that for the most part leads to nowhere.  Except for the salmon, which I’ll admit puzzles me.

Meanwhile, in news that is more likely to have a daily impact, there is the lead story in today’s NY Times Business section: “Ruling Says McDonald’s Is Liable For Workers.”  Basically, this opens the door for workers to be unionized at McDonald’s, saying that a franchise is part of a corporation and that the corporation is responsible for labor practices.  As a holder of large cap funds, including McDonald’s, I applaud the move.


Home Cooking

It’s now been just over a week since I’m back at sea level and in my home kitchen, which really has only one thing more than the kitchens I used in apartments rented over the past month: A food processor.

So that’s given me the opportunity to make gazpacho, cold corn soup, and the marinade for jerk chicken.  Simple, satisfying dishes that have a few good ingredients.

Living in a town where in restaurants you usually can’t see the plate beneath the pile of hodgepodge ingredients means that home cooking adds a lot to day to day life.

Luckily, we have Russo’s, a first-rate supplier of fruits and vegetables that draws on Italian-American views of food; New Deal, easily the best fish market I’ve been to in the United States; and, of course, UPS and FEDEX so that chickens and beef can be shipped when needed.  Add to the long-distance food supply: Browne Trading, in Portland, Maine, that sells fish to some of the country’s best restaurants.


At Sea Level

Down from the mountains since less than a week and the air seems thick and intentions unclear of all that surrounds me.  The nature here, in this neighborhood, is cultivated, and to be sure it’s lovely rather than harsh, but the aims implicit in the way things grow is rather an imposition than an expression of what would be true had things been left to grow as they do in the mountains, in the wild.

That said, it’s again turning inward, and vegetarian meals I’ve been preparing reflect a desire not to muck things up too much.

We’re talking no brainer gazpacho, fried eggplant in a spicy Sichuan sauce and sesame seeds, and corn stuffed ravioli.

Getting closer to what grows and is harvested rather than numbed and slaughtered.

Big City News

After a month deep in the mountains of the Oberland and Glarus, punctuated by interludes in Basel, Brienz, Bern, and Luzern, we find ourselves back at Eden au Lac on the lake of Zurich in our honeymoon suite.

The journey here on the train from Bern was short and lovely with good baked goods from Sprungli.  Sprungli, remember it.

Here in Zurich the heat is on, and the streets are crowded and the vibe is good and lively.  It’s always been an interesting city, one with an intentional feel, and from Joyce to Cole, troublemakers are attracted.

Tonight we’ll head over to a little pub of sorts near the university that I like very much.

One More Day in the Mountains

Just when I thought it was all over, and that it would be a calm and slow day beside the Brienzersee and a walk through Beatenberg, which sits above the Thunersee, I found myself in the mountains again.

The mountains pull me.  It’s an unsettling experience, more than a feeling and greater than cognition, something which unsettles me and stirs things up, and forces a recognition and than adumbration and then sadness, confusion, and flat out overwhelming joy.

So it was up by Luftseilbahn to the Niederhorn.  From there, on the ridge, we had views of two steep valleys, and many mountains, including Schreckhorn, Wetterhorn, Eiger, Monch, and Jungfrau.  Nothing short of shocking.

A lunch mid way down at a little restaurant beside a stable.

Through the forest and to the road that defines Beatenberg.  The rains came.  Then hail.  It was nothing short of a marvel.