Between reading the new Himmler bio (Author: Peter Longerich) and writing my book about the psychology of being a chef, I am busy planning this year’s New Year’s Eve feast. It’s a logistical challenge as it involves not just the Eve, but The Morning After.
We’ve settled into a routine here in The Haas Test Kitchen so that helps.
This year it’ll start with 50 gm of something called Siberian Baerli caviar, described on the Russ & Daughters website as: “A fabulous discovery for caviar lovers. Hailing from the Siberian sturgeon, this Osetra-style caviar has been produced under exacting and natural conditions. Its glistening beads have a firm texture and complex nutty flavor; color can range from dark to slightly golden.” Nice, huh?
Then we’re talking white truffle flavored pasta tossed with cheese, butter, black pepper, and parsley.
Finally, it’s roasted branzino with lemons. Easy, easy, easy.
The next A.M.? It’s The First Annual Salmon Competition with Nova and belly from Russ & Daughters going head to head with Nova and belly from Barney Greengrass. May the best fish win!
Did you have a wonderful Christmas? I did, too! The best ever. It began early in the morning, way before the sparrows even thought of stirring let alone taking wing, when two cast iron pans stovetop soon yielded a big batch of crispy bacon from Gatton Farms. As I have noted earlier, this is the best bacon on the planet earth. Don’t know about the shuttle, but probably as good as whatever is fried up in outer space. Served with Challah from Hi-Rise transformed magically into Freedom toast, covered with Vermont maple syrup, and accompanied by Kona coffee and blood o.j., whatever crossed our paths later in the day was seen through a narcotic like, food induced haze.
Presents? Did someone say presents? Peelers, scrapers, chocolate cigars, etc. My very own Breville citrus juicer. This baby can take two oranges and get a big, pulp filled glass of juice out. Delicious! Tasty! It is all good.
For the XMAS dinner: A slow roasted Hudson valley duck: Drippings cooked the Brussels sprouts, long and baby carrots, and leeks. The fat drained, I added white polenta to the vegetables and some Gorgonzola, and enough water to get the grain smooth. A bed is made from this, the duck shredded, and placed atop the bed, and one, old German Riesling later, it was All Tannenbaum All the Time.
With so little time left before Santa makes his appearance–I’m talking about the real Santa here, not one of the inebriated jokesters masquerading as Santa–I wonder if it’s time to reflect on the nature of goodness, the year past, and what lies ahead.
No? I didn’t think so.
Better just to enjoy life, build fires, and thank the homeless man, reeking of urine, who opened the door to the bank so that I might use the ATM this morning. What lesson might we cull from that simple act of kindness? Will he remember the gesture? Or will it remain hidden in the folds of a wider blackout? Indeed, he was ataxic.
I’m caught up in the buzz and hum of the holidays. Really. It began on Thursday night with a Kwaanza celebration at Project HipHop held in Dudley Square. Curried chicken, patties, rice and beans, kale, candles lit, rhymes sung, lots of dancing, and memorable conversations.
The next day, the very next day, it was off to the North End. Might as well have been on The North Pole. People were cheery, every storefront was decorated, lines were out the door. I had slices @ Galleria Umberto, truly the best Sicilian pizza on the planet, and then headed over to Craigie on Main. Feeling thankful to be part of the show there, I organized a staff lunch: Two trays of pizza from Galleria Umberto and my nine hour braised pork shoulder. Chef praised the pork, and even served the sauce to his son, Charlie. “You should be proud of this,” he said. I was.
Then last night I returned to my home for what some people might call a Hanukah Party. More candles lit, no singing or dancing, but Kwaanza like in its rootedness of history and deprivation. Or something. Anyway, we’re talking the crispiest latkes I’ve ever had, along with haus gemacht apple sauce and sour cream. Vow, as they saw in The Old Country, vow.
And tonight? XMAS EVE: One big Piedmontese style beef steak from EATALY, bone in, from cattle raised in Montana. Cannellini beans I brought back from Italy. Does this say Buon Natale or what?
I think it’s fair to say that we’re all quite familiar by now with George Clinton’s epic Kwaanza song wherein, preaching, as it were, to the choir, the rainbow tressed Funkmeister cajoled us with the lyrics, “So this Kwaanza, and what have we done? Another year older, a new one just begun.”
Well, tonight, a few days in advance of the actual onset of the holiday, I’ll be in Dudley at a Hip Hop potluck to celebrate this, that, and the other thing. I was gonna make my jerk, but the trek to get fresh thyme was daunting. Yes, it was.
So instead we’re talking David Chang’s recipe for steamed and then fried Korean style chicken. This isn’t delicious, this is crazy delicious. Crazy.
I suppose we’ll hear The Youth enter our consciousness with an array of the work done through PHH (Project Hip Hop). Can you tell I’m a proud board member?
Anyhow, pass the peas!
OK, so last night the decision was reached, after much back and forth, to meet friends, S & S, in Central Square for dinner. The idea was to find a place for under $125. Chef Maws steered me to his new favorite haunt: Brick and Mortar.
No sign, up stairs above Central Kitchen, what we have here is a very beautiful, long, brick walled room with perfect, subdued lighting, high stools, and, when we were there, Stones playing. Nice, right? We had very good, ice cold Plymouth gin Martinis and a couple of bar snacks. Snacks: Salted, roasted curried nuts. Blue cheese stuffed dates with bacon wrapped around them. Really delicious. This is the kind of bar I wish I had in my neighborhood, just down the street, as I’d stop in after work. But, hey, we walked there, it’s a mere 1.8 miles, door to door.
We had thought of having dinner @ Brick and Mortar–they just started serving a more extensive menu–but Green Street Grill (GSG) is so near and the menu is bigger, and while no one had eaten there in years, it seemed like a good idea.
A short wait at the bar for a table and soon we were regaled with marrow on toast, fried lobster spring rolls, a burger, salads, and mac and cheese with bacon on it. Belgian style beer with a shot of Rittenhouse on the side. (Is this the same Rittenhouse family from “Animal Crackers?” I didn’t think so.) None of the food was very good, but it was enjoyable to be out and about. (I mean, honestly, $17 for a bowl of elbow macaroni with Cheddar cheese? )
There is obvious talent in kitchens throughout the city, but such an extraordinary lack of focus. I mean, it’s not rocket science to open a simple, refined Italian-American place, is it? But, no, chefs want to dazzle us, comfort us, and surprise us. Sigh.
And yet: I’d go back to GSG in a heartbeat. You know why? Of course you do.
Because it’s not about the food.
Basically, this town excels at bars that sell food. Why not? Drink up!
Sad news, ain’t it?
Orwellian, atheist, rabble-rouser, and gifted writer.
A good quote from the man:
“Alcohol makes other people less tedious, and food less bland, and can help provide what the Greeks called entheos, or the slight buzz of inspiration when reading or writing. The only worthwhile miracle in the New Testament—the transmutation of water into wine during the wedding at Cana—is a tribute to the persistence of Hellenism in an otherwise austere Judaea. The same applies to the seder at Passover, which is obviously modeled on the Platonic symposium: questions are asked (especially of the young) while wine is circulated. No better form of sodality has ever been devised: at Oxford one was positively expected to take wine during tutorials. The tongue must be untied. It’s not a coincidence that Omar Khayyam, rebuking and ridiculing the stone-faced Iranian mullahs of his time, pointed to the value of the grape as a mockery of their joyless and sterile regime. Visiting today’s Iran, I was delighted to find that citizens made a point of defying the clerical ban on booze, keeping it in their homes for visitors even if they didn’t particularly take to it themselves, and bootlegging it with great brio and ingenuity. These small revolutions affirm the human.”
Can you believe it’s just ten days ’til Christmas? Where does the time go? The excitement is palpable, in the air, TOOT (“the opposite of tenuous” for those of you NITK ["not in the know"] regarding the latest text acronyms). In Boston, the traffic gets bad, it gets good, it comes in waves, like mood swings, like hives, like butter on one slice of bread, but not the other. Thing is: Students are driving frantically around picking up gear, then they disappear, home for the friggin’ holidays. And we all know what friggin’ means.
I’ve managed to avoid shopping for gifts in stores, and while this means bad news for small retail, cars meant bad news for horses and buggies. The times they are a-changin’. (Who better to quote on the death of retail than the son of a small furniture store owner?)
So, yes, Virginia, I went online and bought a few things. Well, let’s be clear: I bought everything on line. All kinds of goodies that we’ll need to keep TOP SECRET until XMAS AM when, over a breakfast of Gatton Farms bacon and Hi-Rise challah transformed into Freedom Toast, we will all exchange gifts and try super hard to figure out what to do the rest of the day. Does the Knicks-Celtics game sound like fun? I didn’t think so.
Meanwhile, in offices where I show up, it’s Candy Heaven or Candy Hell, sleigh bells on door knobs, mangers, etc. We’re talking state offices, folks, where a few brave souls have taken to heart the call to, “Put Christ back into Christmas.” In contrast to private hospitals and schools where, like the Marranos of old, true practitioners of The Faith exchange secret handshakes and whisper, sotto voce, “Merry Christmas.”
Me, I see it for what it is: In Mumbai this past September we got snarled in huge holiday traffic. It was the annual Festival of Ganesh. Statuaries of the Elephant God were paraded, bright lights were on, sweets were distributed, etc. And I swear, all around me, I heard, “Can you believe Ganesh Chaturthi is already here?”
This is not Santa:
It’s not going to happen today or tomorrow or next week or next month. It might not even happen within the next six months. But 2012 will bring the return of the Mark, the Franc, the Lira, etc. I kind of missed all the colors, shapes, and historical faces and places on regional currencies. The Euro is fun, but it’s bland.
For goods coming from Europe, the collapse of the Euro will mean that anything originating in Switzerland will be crazy-expensive. Same with France and Germany. Italy will be about the same since the backing of the currency is a huge game of Let’s Pretend We’re Solvent. But, oh, what style!
Me, I’m thinking about the advice of a banker friend who, two weeks before Lehman Brothers collapsed, told me: “Buy guns and water.” I have the water. I don’t have the guns.
Paul Krugman’s piece in the NYT today was dour and accurate in all regards about this “situation.” So was Michael Lewis in “Boomerang,” which I just read. He could have called it, “Pension Fraud,” but that’s not as catchy. Brilliant book.
Who’ll buy the stuff being made here, too, I wonder.
But, wait, this just in from Gilt City. Price does not include tax and tip, so we’re talking, what, minimum $300 per couple. Note that it’s black truffle butter, domestic black truffles, and black truffle jus. Note that it’s not white truffles. Note that the experience, in their words, “Will almost seem criminal.”
“$115 per person Truffle Dinner at Clink
- Clink’s executive chef Joseph Margate will make you a firm believer in the pleasures of “umami,” the often-ignored fifth taste sensation of savoriness.
- The jail-turned-hotel’s atmosphere is certainly arresting, with three-story arched windows, iron and granite elements and walls that whisper of Boston’s most famed criminals. Clink’s cozy dining nooks were once jail cells.
- Each dish is cleverly paired with just the right vintage for an exquisite wine experience.
- Gilt City members can indulge in a four-course truffle dinner so savory, it will almost seem criminal. You’ll begin with sashimi of yellowtail with black trumpet mushrooms and black-truffle-butter powder. Fresh pasta with truffled pecorino and domestic black truffles leads in to the next course of beef short ribs with fingerling potato puree and black truffle jus. Consider the decadent truffled rice pudding brûlée the equivalent of time off for good behavior.”
With Christmas around the corner, and sleigh bells jingling in my mind and on the radio, I am stocking up on supplies for long winter mornings. This, of course, means bacon. Bacon and Freedom Toast, Bacon and waffles, Bacon and eggs, BLT’s, Club sandwiches, you name it.
The challenge is finding the best bacon. The bacon of my dreams. Bacon, like pizza and sex, is always good, in my experience, but when bacon is amazing, why, it’s out of this world, it’s the potato chip of the food world. (I recognize that some people say that the potato chip is the potato chip of the food world, but that’s way too philosophical for me.)
It is not easy to find great bacon.
I used to rely on Allan Benton’s products. We all know about him. I mean, he is the man. Tennessee. Chang sings his praises, and so on. And y’know? I love his bacon. And I love his hams. But he has a three week wait to get his stuff, at a minimum, and he can’t guarantee just when things will show up.
That leaves Nueske’s, but they charge about $18 to ship and that’s not right. It’s not.
Searching, searching, searching, I discovered Gatton Farms: Father’s Country Hams. Bremen, Kentucky. I ordered one pound each of hickory smoked, honey glazed, maple, and bourbon bacon. The bacon arrived on Friday: $7 for shipping, total order was $41. I froze three packages and this A.M had the honey glazed.
Wow. I mean: WOW. Perfectly smoked, good fat but not too much fat like the Berkshire hogs, sweet and salty, crispy.
Gatton Farms also sells other varieties of bacon, whole hams, cracklins, sausages, seasonings, beaten biscuits, ham jerky, bacon jerky, sauces, salsas, and, in a nod to Satan, “Father’s Piglets Bacon Snacks.”
What are, “Father’s Piglets Bacon Snacks?”
Well you might ask.
According to the company catalogue, these are, “Tasty bits of famous dry cured bacon that have been hand cooked with brown sugar and chopped pecans.” Does that sound splendidly addictive or what?
You can find Gatton Farms, just like I did, on the web: http://www.fatherscountry hams.com
You won’t be sorry You know how some eating experiences change your life? This is one of them. Bacon will never taste the same.