(I am posting some photos not printed with the articles)
Global Writes, the 54 year old journal of the International Food, Wine and Travel Writers Association (http://global-writes.com/ ) published Sweet Fire in Ushuaia, my article on the incomparable food enterprise Dulce Fuego in Ushuaia, Argentina run by 20-something-year-old chefs.
The unexpected fireworks were free, in celebration of the 2010 New York Marathon that would be run the following day. We had just stepped out of Pasha Restaurant on West 71st Street, when the booming commenced. It was an unexpected end to a pleasant Turkish dinner, one of the great cuisines. The interior of Pasha is comfortable with soft lighting and well modulated background music. From 5:00 to 7:00 PM the $23.95, 3-course, prix fixe menu is well thought out attracting repeat customers with five choices from the main menu (not the boredom of so many prix fixe selections.) My wife had the prix fixe with a salad, Piya (Cannellini beans tossed with sweet onions, scallions, parsley, tomatoes, and extra virgin olive oil) with warm flaky rolls to absorb the herbs. Alabalik Tava followed (Boneless brook trout dusted with cornmeal and pan seared). Dessert was a wedge of perfect baklava – (non-syrupy) – spice, nut and honey infused pyhllo pastry. For $24.95, I had the fish entrée of the day: a whole, wood-grilled Chilean Sea Bass. Its moist white meat was encased by its crispy, herbed skin. Side dishes were crisp, steamed vegetables and an herb-infused rice pilaf. It was not wise to arrive on a Saturday night without a reservation – even if it was only 5:30 PM. Yet Pasha was gracious and had a table that was not booked until 7:30 PM, but I would recommend reservations since the dinning room was full by 6:30.
At West 78th’s Drilling Company Theater, we attended a moving and jarring new play, superbly acted and produced by this award-winning 11-year old company. Eric Sanders’ Reservoir is a heart wrenching look at the psychological detritus of war – the “survivors”. At $18/ticket, the Drilling Company proves that top theater is found everywhere in New York before it moves on to $200/ticket on Broadway. Saturday evening’s dinner, theater (and fireworks) cost less than $130/couple.
Actually, Lederhosen Bierhaus is not nearly as kitsch as their home web site suggests. On Grove Street, off Christopher Street in the trendy East Village, Lederhosen has the atmosphere of a neighborhood bierhaus. In my two visits, over a six month period, I’ve yet to see any staff wear either lederhosen or rhinestone decorated milk-maid dresses. Of course, I’ve yet to order the decidedly college-fraternity sized boot of beer. In smaller, more manageable quantities, their superb selections on-tap, and in bottles, set the stage for equally authentic Bavarian bierhaus food. Main courses ranged from the classic Schnitzel to sautéed herring fillets with mushroom sauce (I had that). Each generous portion comes with a variety of sides, minimum four – green and red cabbage slaw, potato salads, sautéed potatoes, bean salads, spatzzle. (average entrée $10 – 19) Soft, aromatic, in-house pretzels are served with german mustards ($3.00) along with a variety of wurst on crispy rolls with toppings ($5.00), appetizers for pickle and herring lovers ($5.00) and generous soups and sandwiches ($5.00- $10.00) round out a menu to be enjoyed in a convivial atmosphere that’s hard to top – unless you just really don’t like German food, but then…you can always try their flights of beer (8, I believe) with shots of schnapps.
On our first visit to Lederhosen we were with an Austrian friend who was impressed with the quality of this everyday German pub faire. In the picture above the three dishes are from left: Boneless Herring Fillets with a choice of sauces ($10), Currywurst grilled beef sausage ($5.00) and Wiener Schnitzel ($17) Ah yes, those are lederhosen hanging from the ceiling (top left). The restaurant has three small rooms that fill quickly for lunch and dinner. Reservations are not accepted except for special occasions, but waiting times are typically not long, and you can always have a beer while you stand in the social bar entrance area.
Marie’s Crisis Cafe, 59 Grove Street,is oddly unique in bridging a number of Lower Manhattan social stages. The below street level bar is dark as should be expected when in an 18th century building – once home to Tom Paine, where he penned his famous revolutionary essays The Crisis Papers. It went down-hill after that going from bar/brothel to worse until Prohibition (by the 1920’s it was known as Marie’s). After Prohibition’s 1930’s end, Marie’s somehow qualified for a stunning WPA funded reverse painted glass wall mural depicting both the French and American Revolutions, launching a new era.
On Grove Street just off Christopher and 7th Ave, (and only 4 or 5 blocks from the Lederhosen) this area of the Village was always known for being largely gay, hip and culturally cutting edge. For over 35 years the latest reincarnation of Marie’s Crises Cafe has witnessed the neighborhood’s transformation from grunge to designer chic. Yet Marie’s Crises Cafe has remained a relaxing, straight-friendly, singing piano bar and neighborhood hangout. My wife, friends and I have spent several evenings enjoying the ongoing concert with professional theater pianist playing at the separate piano bar. The pianists of the evening have terrific voices and encyclopedic musical theater repertoire, but its the participation of patrons that take Marie’s to a different level. We’re not talking karaoke here. Regular patrons at Marie’s are often the seasoned professional as well as the young aspiring male or female stage singers. There is more standing room than sitting room and the bar is basic but inexpensive ($6 – $7/beer and $8 – $10/shots and drinks). Yet there’s no cover for this top-notch entertainment.
Between Lederhosen Bierhaus and Marie’s Crisis piano bar, a Friday evening in Manhattan’s Village for two, with dinner, entertainment and drinks cost us less than $100.00
We were staying with a friend on Staten Island, a pleasant, free, 20 minute ferry ride that passes Governor’s Island, the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, but it’s viewing Manhattan at night that’s magical. Staten Island’s an article in itself, but one restaurant stands out, amidst a sea of mediocrity.
We had Sunday dinner at Bayou Restaurant, 1072 Bay Street, in the middle of a nondescript commercial strip. Yet there’s nothing nondescript about the execution of its Louisiana inspired menu. My wife, a New Orleans native was impressed with the Cajun Seafood stew, our friend’s Seafood bake and my rack of lamb – all with Cajun spices and Louisiana’s French/Spanish inspired sauces. Dinner per person, with wine and tip, for 3 was $136.00 ($46/per person). Everything else we did that day of the Marathon was free(no, we didn’t run…now if it was a hike…).
True, we spent the weekend at a friend’s apartment, but before the invitation, I had planned to use some rewards points for two-nights at a first class Manhattan hotel that, without points, would have cost $600 for the weekend. Responsible use of travel reward credit cards can result in significant savings on future trips.
For a bit over $350/couple we had dinner and entertainment for three weekend days, two nights, plus subway fares on the city’s efficient, renovated system. Manhattan on a budget? Actually, no – Manhattan on the smarts. With a little reading/skimming – New York Times (paper or on-line), New Yorker magazine and blogs – it’s easy to create a list of favorites.
There’s nothing like New York…at least to visit for a weekend.
I well remember the crumbling elevated rail (the Hi-Line) from 34th street to the warehouses, bakeries and docks 13 miles down Manhattan. To my teenage eyes in the 1960’s it was all part of the look and aromas of the exotic multi-ethnic, working class warrens of Chelsea and lower Manhattan. Forty years later the area still retains a touch of the exotic even if its present day residents vacation in the ancestral countries, eat in the upscale ethnic restaurants and live in multi-million dollar condos.
The 1929 Hi-Line rail link ceased in 1980 and crumbled until gentrified Chelsea residents created the Friends of the Hi-Line in 1999. In just ten years, this dynamic organization cut through the bureaucracy, gained powerful supporters, financial backers and opened the first of three sections of what is a unique urban elevated park.
The High-Line’s design is a deft melding of urban chic, live performance art, natural landscaping incorporating the essential rail road backbone, art installations, arts & crafts, cafe stalls and a tiered public plaza overlooking Tenth Ave.
Valerie Hegarty’s art installation actually hangs on the fence that separates Section One from continuing construction on the remainder of the park. A stroll on a pleasant autumn weekend afternoon was relaxing and stimulating in only a way great urban centers create. Yet where Central Park hides the visitor from the city, the High-Line provides a panoramic view.
Even if you just need to walk the ten blocks from Gansevoort Street on 10th Avenue in Chelsea up to 20th Street, then why not use the Hi-Line rather than street level. You might even meet up with a …oh wait…that was the 1960’s. This doll’s a great 1930’s jazz singer, on the Hi-Line.
“I’m not an artist; I’m not a wood carver!” Ralph was emphatic, “I don’t know how to take a piece of wood and make anything.” With strong, calloused hands, Ralph Eyre held a gnarled silver gray piece of driftwood up to the light filtering through a sawdust caked window of the century old shed that was his workshop. “I just see the bird in the wood; I don’t carve it. It’s there.” His finger touched the smooth wood and traced the outline of the neck, then the beak. “See, there’s its eye,” his finger pointed to a small dark knot, then flowed down a graceful back to the end of its tail feathers. His blue eyes gleamed with a child’s reality of the obvious. This was not a metaphysical moment. The bird was in the driftwood, and I could clearly see its presence. After a dozen years visiting Ralph, purchasing many of his birds, watching him work and listening to his stories, I didn’t just believe him; I saw the bird before his finger touched the wood.
For forty years, with the assistance and fierce devotion of his wife, Winnie, Ralph Eyre found over 20,000 birds hiding in the driftwood roots of native Nova Scotia spruce, sumac, white cedar and barberry. I had the great fortune of interviewing Ralph and Winnie in 2002, their last year at the 100 acre farm outside Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. Winnie passed away in 2006 and Ralph followed in 2007 at the age of 90, but their legacy lives on.
Like living birds, no two of Ralph’s driftwood creatures are alike. “It’s nature’s way of imitating art. I just release them from the wood,” he said without pretension. Mounted on exquisite pieces of driftwood, they found homes throughout North America, Europe, Japan, “And I know there are a few in Vietnam.” With no advertising, Ralph was living proof that it it’s good enough, they will come. And they came back to the Eyre’s farm summer after summer, bringing friends, relatives and the friends of relatives. I know; I was one of them. I also know I’m not the only one who gave more as gifts than I kept for me.
Each bird began its life as a weathered piece of driftwood, 90% of which are tree roots. Ralph became fascinated with the intrinsic beauty of tree root driftwood in the late 1940’s while stationed in the Yukon. He observed the techniques and styles of several self-educated First Nation craftsmen. In the late 1950’s, while on a camping trip to Nova Scotia’s Lake Rossignol, he was stunned by the quality and quantity of its driftwood. “It must have been stacked 20 to 30 feet tall on the shore.” While others were looking for First Nation artifacts, “I loaded my canoe. It must have looked like a crazy driftwood freighter.”
As Ralph and Winnie explained the process, I watched their eyes sparkle from both the pleasure they found in their work and the obvious love for each other – when Winnie passed away in 2006, they had just celebrated their 63rd. wedding anniversary. Their tools and methods were simple. “I start with collecting tree roots that have been submerged in the lake maybe for 30 or 40 years. They’re dead but preserved. Many are riddled with worm holes. That gives them character and texture.” For at least a year, hundreds of pieces lay on long wooden tables outside his workshop drying in the sun. He studied a seasoned piece of wood, discovered the bird and traced its outline using a black crayon. Depending on the size of the piece, he used a chain saw and/or hand axe to cut away the wood trapping the animal. A wood rasp and disk sander was applied to reveal its form. Winnie then joined the process by hand sanding, giving each piece a smoothness that rivals silk and highlighting the subtle shadings of color and grain unique to each piece of wood. After applying sanding sealer and roughing the surface slightly with steel wool, she used ordinary neutral Kiwi shoe polish that added a soft, rich glow. “No verithane,” Ralph said, “too glossy.”
Another piece of driftwood was carefully selected to provide the base. Nothing was altered on this piece, “I want a polished bird on a natural wood base. Maybe it’s a single bird resting, or ready to take off, or a family with the daddy bird off to the side protecting the mother as she looks at her eggs.” Eggs were beautifully painted nodules of sea kelp resting in a nest of haw in a natural hollow in the wood. “Selecting the right piece of wood for the base is important”, Ralph added, “It gives the bird a story.”
Stories were important to Ralph and Winnie. A back room of their barn/showroom was the “museum.” They discovered more than just birds in the wood. On one table was an exquisite driftwood shoe complete with the Old Women and all her children. Within a wire cage was a driftwood tree with dozens of swinging monkeys from its branches. A collection of mermaids and sea animals sun themselves on ocean worn rocks. An entire circus train, with each wooden carriage containing animals, now is part of the permanent folk art collection of the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia – the premiere museum in Halifax. None of these were ever for sale, but I knew more than one child that was gifted with a dinosaur or lizard while their parents perused the hundreds of birds on display.
Ralph’s vision didn’t stop at animals. He discovered the perfect piece of driftwood, weighted with just enough embedded rocks to make a fascinating lamp base. Or the correct oval piece, with a slight indentation, for a freeform fruit bowl.
Their playfulness and joy in living makes using the term “National Treasure” trite, and they would have been embarrassed if I had insisted on that title. Yet the prices that they placed on their creations were an embarrassment. After 40 years (late 1950s – early 2000s) and 500 works of art per year, the average price ranged from $10 to $25 . On many occasions Ralph would tell me that few people would want to pay more for his simple birds. When I ask again, “Why do you sell the birds for so little?” Winnie jumped right in, without hesitation and with genuine enthusiasm, “Because of all the people who come and visit us! We love the people. We get cards at Christmas from all over, and they come back and bring their friends. It’s just wonderful! They might not come back if we charge more.”
Many a business person would question this economic wisdom, but for Ralph and Winnie Eyre, they saw a treasure hiding in the driftwood that few people will ever discover – the secret to a life fulfilled through the sheer pleasure of following their passion.
The fire’s roaring in the kitchen of the 1696 Thomas Massey House, trying to take the chill out of the beautiful autumn morning in this 17th century stone house. Eight of us are gathered around a colonial cooking icon – Clarissa Dillon, Ph.D. I’ll refrain from using the word “legend” since I heard one well known Philadelphia chef recently reject that term when applied to him saying, “I can’t be a legend; I’m not dead yet.” Neither is Dr. Dillon, an octogenarian who next year on her annual trip to the British Isles will study whiskey distilling in Scotland.
Clarissa is one of the foremost authorities – and she’ll freely say still a “student”- of 18th century American Colonial cooking, farming, gardening and household activities. I’ll leave all the details to your exploration of her web site. Needless to say, she’s a stickler on authenticity – writing, editing and traveling extensively to get the facts and set the history books straight.
A life-long teacher, she conducts seminars, cooking and gardening classes at many 18th century historic homes that are the legacy of William Penn’s Pennsylvania colony – Pennsbury Manor, the Wyck and Morris Mansions, Pottsgrove Manor, Anselma Mills, Ephrata Cloister just to name a few.
On this Saturday morning we are learning about, and preparing, an autumn dinner on an open hearth using 18th century utensils with vegetables and herbs from the Massey House garden.
Stewed duck with bacon and veal forcemeat
It’s confusing at first when I hear the word “receipt” used instead of recipe, but our modern word is, well, 20th century. For years, receipt meant cooking preparation instructions as well as accounts, and even Dr. Dillion says it’s often confusing until she sees the actual document.
Colonial American receipts were, for the most part, English, which makes perfect sense. After all, we were English colonies with very English sensibilities. Catherine Brooks, The Complete English Cook, 1762, was one of the popular sources for Colonial kitchens.
Brooks’ receipt for Stewing Ducks Whole: (all receipts are written in 18th century format)
Draw your ducks (pluck the feathers, etc.) and wash them clean, then put them into a stew-pan, with strong Broth, Anchovy, Lemon-peel, whole Pepper, and Onion, Mace and red Wine; when well stewed, put one piece of butter and some grated bread to thicken it; lay force Meatballs and crisped bacon round them and garnish with Shallots.
To translate: for 8 servings – 2 to 3 whole ducks covered with water or chicken stock. Add 5 to 6 chopped anchovy filets, peel of one lemon, 12 – 15 whole pepper corns, and one large onion chopped, 1 t. ground mace, and 1-1/2 cups red wine. Simmer until ducks register 165 degrees with a meat thermometer. Remove the ducks from the stock and keep warm. Strain the stock. Skim as much fat as possible. (If you prepare in advance, refrigerate both the ducks and the stock overnight. All the duck fat will solidify on the top and you can simply remove it.) Return to the fire, or stove, and add 1 to 2 cups of bread crumbs and ¼ pound of butter. Simmer until thickened.
Anchovy fillets, and other small salted fish, had been used since pre-Roman days as a salt substitute. Until the 19th century, salt was an expensive item commonly used for food preservation, not in a bowl on the dining table unless you were very rich!
Catharine Brooks’ Veal Force-meat Balls:
Take half a pound of suet, as much veal cut fine, and beat them in a marble Mortar or wooden bowl; have a few sweet Herbs shred fine, and a little Mace dried and beat fine, a little lemon-peel cut very fine, a small Nutmeg grated, or half a large one, a little pepper and salt, and the Yolks of two eggs; mix all these well together, then roll them into little round balls, and some in long ones; roll them in flour, and fry them brown.
To translate: for 8 servings – I’d use 3/4th pound each suet and ground veal. Buy suet from a butcher or good grocery store (DO NOT use suet for birds!!!) and chop very fine in a food processor. Add 1t. crushed dried thyme, 1 T. fresh minced parsley, 1/2 t. nutmeg, ¼ t. mace, ½ t. grated fresh lemon peel, ¼ t. each salt and pepper and the egg yolks. Roll into balls and coat with flour or bread crumbs. Fry in butter.
Bacon: Cut half a pound of sliced bacon into thirds and fry until crisp.
Presentation: Arrange the ducks on a platter, arrange the meatballs and bacon around the ducks and sprinkle with 2 sliced shallots. Serve the gravy in a separate bowl.
In the 18th century, pies were generally thought of as savory dishes whether made from beef and kidneys or fruit. Ann Peckham’s 18th century Cranberry Pie was meant to be served as a side dish. As a counter point to the richness of the Duck dish, the tart cranberries and flakey crust were terrific. In the 18th century, the crust was frequently so thick it was not meant to be eaten. It served as the “dish” from which the filling was spooned out.
Ann Peckham’s Cranberry Tart:
Roll a sheet of tart paste, put it into your dish, boil up some cranberries with loaf sugar; when cold put them in, and trellis them over with the puff paste, cut a border out to lie round your dish, and bake it.
To make the paste for tarts: Take a pound of flour, and half a pound of butter, rub the butter into the flour, two eggs, and a little water, and make it into a paste.
To translate: Make the filling by combining 1-½ pounds of fresh cranberries and 1 to 1-½ pounds of sugar. Place on the fire, or the stove, and bring to a boil. Simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. Drain through a colander. (Reserve the liquid, if you wish, adding ½ to 1 pound more sugar. Bring to a boil until reduced by half, and you have a cranberry syrup to use on pancakes, etc.)
For the crust: Cut the butter into the flour either with two knives, a pastry blender or in a food processor. In the bowl, using clean hands, lightly rub the flour and butter together to coat the flour with the fat, BUT don’t knead it together like bread. The heat in your hands will melt the butter and toughen the dough. Add the eggs and combine with a fork. If the mixture is not combining into a ball sprinkle in a little ice cold water just until the dough forms. Roll out 2/3’s of the dough and line a deep pie pan. After the cranberries have cooled to room temperature, pour into the crust. With the remaining 1/3 of the crust, roll out and cut into strips making a lattice design on top of the pie. Place into an oven at 375 degrees for 45 minutes until the crust is golden brown.
If baking on an open fire, place the pie pan into a cast iron Dutch oven and cover with the lid. Place on the coals of the fire, or better, on a cast iron trivet above the fire, and cover the top of the lid with coals. Rotate the Dutch oven after 20 minutes. Check the pie after 40 minutes by removing the coals from the top of the lid and checking to see the color of the crust.
Serve the pie as a side dish to the duck.
Carrots are carrots and even in this very late October day, they were still fresh in the garden. Scorzonera though is something else and you’ll not find it in any market. You have to grow it yourself. Known in England as Viper grass, its root is the only edible part, but it’s a very thin root. After scraping the skin off, what you have are very thin pieces of a root vegetable which was fried or steamed and frequently cream and butter were added. Its flavor is akin to a mild carrot. In the 19th century it fell out of the general cooking repertoire and was replaced by parsnips. Since the amount was so small we simply added them to the carrots and simmerd both over the fire for about one hour.
Hard apple cider was the beverage of choice for the common English/Colonial person for most meals and the major reason for cultivating apple trees in the first place.
As delicious as this dinner was, more fascinating were the tidbits of knowledge I was able to absorb at this first class.
The green tops of the carrots were used as a wool dye. After boiling, the wool turns yellow.
Claret, a common wine in English receipts, is French Bordeaux.
Suet for all recipes is the thick layer of creamy white fat that cushions the kidneys.
Kitchen gardens were first created by the Dutch and not adopted in England until the 16th century, even then only the affluent had extra land around their houses for a garden. Most kitchen gardens were for medicinal purposes – sage, turnips and potatoes being among the many forms of produce used for medicine. The average person gathered wild herbs, green onions in the spring, nuts etc. for cooking until the 19th century.
American colonial cooking was not in any way influenced by the Native American diet – with the exception of common vegetables such as corn. Native Americans, considered savages, were ignored and condemned. John Bartram, the famous 18th century Philadelphia medicinal gardener grudgingly served as a go-between with the Onondaga in order to increase his knowledge.
The Colonial diet was as far from organic, vegetarian and low-fat as one can imagine. Human manure was commonly used as fertilizer. Meat was devoured especially in winter and copious amounts of fat were used in all dishes.
Cheese was a summer substitute for meat since cattle was not slaughtered until winter – they needed the summer to fatten. Cheese and butter were made in late spring and summer when the grass the cows were munching on were free from spring onions and other weeds that would taint the milk sour. Most cheeses were of the soft, fresh variety. Obviously the wealthy could afford to preserve or import high quality, and harder, English cheeses such as cheddar.
Because hearth cooking made it difficult to keep food hot while waiting for the remainder of the meal to cook, dishes were frequently eaten at room temperature which often does not detract from the flavors. All dishes would be placed on the table at once – even those deemed “sweets.”
A very wealthy household with many servants frequently served three courses with an average of 20 – 25 different dishes per course – “buffet style.” Meats, fish, seafood, vegetables, pies and puddings would all be part of each course. The first course would be “hardy” – beef, etc. Second course lighter – chicken, small birds, etc. The dessert course usually consisted of fresh and dried fruits, nuts and chocolate coated nuts.
Wine was made from everything including turnips and parsnips and brewing beer was part of every houshold and farm. “Fresh water” for drinking was an anomaly. Wherever there were towns and farms, lakes and streams were polluted with human and animal waste.
This is just the proverbial “tip of the ice berg” when it comes to my knowledge of 18th century food preparation, but it was sufficient to make me desire more!
The Thomas Massey House hosts authentic Colonial dinners, by candlelight, several times during the year, check their web site, and will host a Christmas house event on 11 December 2010 highlighting the food of the various ethnic groups that comprised Penn’s colony. Pat Martin is the very capable, and overly modest, chef of these dinners.
Oh…the church key. Clarissa said it soon will cease to be manufactured because few liquids these days are canned that necessitate the punch section of the opener. Except that in Colonial cooking, items such as canned milk are necessary. She urged that we all stock up on this simple and effective tool. Nothing, including Dr. Clarissa Dillon, ever loses its usefulness!